Growing in Christ; From Flower Girl to Bride

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  1 Corinthians 13:11

Many of us became Christians for childish reasons. We just wanted to go to heaven. That is okay. Jesus tells us to come as children, but He does not tell us to stay like children. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children…” Ephesians 4:13-14 In 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, Paul tells us, when it came to love he used to think like a child. Children obey when there is a reward involved. But as Paul grew and became a man, be put those childish motivations away, and his love developed into a mature, agape love.  An immature Christian may offer their body to burned or martyred if there is a reward involved, but a mature agape Christian will do it purely out of love. A mature agape Christian loves and obeys because Christ first loved us.

“ It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour’s matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary’s cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him.” –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 480

In the church today, we often hear the phrase, “salvation issue.” Some people will say they are not worried about a certain standard because it is not a salvation issue. That may be so, but wouldn’t we be selfish and un Christian to only concern ourselves with things that only relate to our own personal salvation? What about  concerning ourselves with glorifying God issues, rather than just salvation issues?

In Exodus 32, the children of Israel, worship a golden calf, and God threatens to wipe them out, and raise up a race named after Moses. However, it is Moses who intercedes and tells God if He does this, His reputation will be at stake. “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?” Exodus 32:12 Moses even goes so far as to say, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” Exodus 32:32 Moses is more interested in honoring God’s reputation than he is in his own salvation! Moses has grown up from “salvation issues” to “glorifying God issues.”

Revelation 15 speaks of an entire multitude in the last days who “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” Many songs are about stories or experiences. What experience do Moses and the Lamb have in common? Like Moses, Jesus the Lamb was willing to say goodbye to life forever if that’s what it took to honor the Father. “The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb.” –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 753 In Revelation 15 an entire multitude have grown up from thinking only of their own personal salvation issues, to glorifying God issues. Glorifying God is more important to them than their own salvation.

A flower girl comes to a wedding all prepared and ready. She is prepared and ready for the cake and punch that comes after the service. The bride has made herself ready, not for the cake and punch, but for the groom. We may come to Jesus like a flower girl all excited about the cake and punch, golden streets and mansions, but let’s grow up into a bride who cares about the Groom. We love Jesus not for the cake and punch, golden streets and mansion. We love Him because He first loved us.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Why Its Easy To Be Saved And Hard To Be Lost

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom [is] as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.  Revelation 20:7-9

As sad as this picture is, the people in this passage have accomplished an incredible feat. More miraculous than breaking the 4 minute mile, more incomprehensible than swimming the English Channel, with more stamina than those who have climbed mount Everest, these people have accomplished a feat totally un-matched. These people have managed to be lost!

Early Writings, Page 88 promises us, God “would sooner send every angel out of glory to the relief of faithful souls, to make a hedge about them, than have them deceived and led away by the lying wonders of Satan.” Yes, but these people described in Revelation 20:7-9 fought hard day and night over a lifetime to overcome all the angels in heaven, and even the Godhead itself in order to be lost! This feat is as remarkable as it is tragic!

True, Jesus says in Matthew 7:14, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way” “Yet do not therefore conclude that the upward path is the hard and the downward road the easy way. All along the road that leads to death there are pains and penalties, there are sorrows and disappointments, there are warnings not to go on. God’s love has made it hard for the heedless and headstrong to destroy themselves.” –Thoughts From The Mount of Blessings, Page 139.  “The way of transgressors is hard,” but wisdom’s “ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 13:15; 3:17

The fact that these all these people wind up being destroyed shows they fought hard against God’s will and plan. When the Son of Man sadly appoints them to their destination He also tells them they are lost because they took control of their own fate, instead of surrendering to God’s will and plans. “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:” Matthew 25:41 Hell is prepared for the devil and his angels. Hell is not prepared for you! If you end up there it is because you waged a great fight against all the powers of heaven. It also means you fought hard to earn the right to be destroyed. The wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23. Wages come from working hard, and you have to work hard to be destroyed when all heaven is working to save you.

While Hell is prepared for the devil and his angels, Jesus tells us what is prepared for us. “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34 “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 Hell is not prepared you for my friend. Hell is prepared for the devil and his angels. The kingdom of God is prepared for you. Instead of working hard in order to earn the wages of sin which is death, why don’t you surrender. Yes, I am asking you to surrender your battle against God and all His angels. I am asking you to surrender your just wages of death, which you rightfully have worked hard for and deserve. If you give up all that sin and death stuff which is rightfully yours. After all you have worked hard for it, and surrender it to Jesus, He would love to give you His gifts, which you have not worked for at all. Jesus has an everlasting kingdom prepared for you. He has rooms in His mansion where you can live Him and his Father. Surrender your will of self destruction to His will of giving you the gift of eternal life and an everlasting kingdom He has prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Don’t be in the multitude who accomplish the incredible feat of overcoming all the powers of heaven, scratching, biting, kicking and clawing their way to destruction.  Surrender the hell that you have earned for yourself, for the eternal life which God has prepared for you.

“The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God’s dear Son.” Steps to Christ, Page 27

You may explore this quarter’s SS lesson and other SS lesson related blog posts here.

Thank You, Joada Korgan

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area, while my heart is back at Tulsa Adventist Academy 35 years ago.

On a fall morning in 1978, I took my seat along with the rest of my 7th grade classmates at Tulsa Adventist Academy, as we set out to embark on a new adventure called junior high school. We were greeted by our teacher,  Joada, McGehee, who began by giving us a pep talk on where we were in life now. She told us we were not little kids anymore. She said we were becoming adults. We were somewhere in the middle, and on some days we would feel and be real mature, and on other days we would want to run out onto the play ground yelling and playing like little kids. She was right. For the next 35 years, some days I feel mature, and other days I want to go play on the playground. But I digress.

And so began my teen years, my formative years. For the next 6 years, Mrs. McGehee would be there every fall, winter and Spring day, teaching me history and English, and writing. She was even there when I made my failed bid for the Presidency in 1980. My campaign slogan was, “William Earnhardt for President: he’s poor but honest, just like Abraham Lincoln.” Well as it turned out I was not as poor or honest as Abe Lincoln, but when you are young you have big dreams and ambitions. One of my ambitions was writing. I started keeping a journal. I started writing poetry. I remember writing poems about this girl I had a crush on back then.  Today I look at that poem, written on yellow paper that used to be white, and I laugh at myself for writing such nonsense, that at the time seemed so real. I wrote sacred poems as well. I would share my writing with Mrs. McGehee and she would tell me I really had a gift for writing. I preached my first sermon when I was 15 and she was there to encourage me then too. During a period of your life, where you are not sure who you are in life, and where you are going, she was always there to encourage me on my way. She taught me how to write and even how to type. Who knew, while typing on those old typewriters  in 9th grade typing class, that one day I would be typing on blog posts? There was so much about the future we did not know.

Many years later, Joada McGehee, now Joada Korgan, ran across one of my devotionals online and sent me a personal e-mail telling me how proud she was of my writing and ministry. We kept in touch over the years by e-mail until Facebook came out and we became Facebook friends. She was there in 2008 for my parents 50th wedding anniversary. In September of 2011, she and her husband Julius, drove from Claremore Oklahoma, to Owasso to hear me preach as a guest speaker. Just a few months earlier she had written me, to put me in contact with a friend of hers here in Florida who needed some spiritual guidance. Joada told me how glad she was that I was there to help. It was cool being able to network with someone who goes all the way back to your childhood.

Last Friday morning my phone rang. It was the lady Joada had put me in touch with here. She was telling me that Joada had just been put on hospice and that It was only a matter of time. My first thought was that I had to tell Joada thank you before it was too late. That afternoon our mutual friend called, telling me Joada wanted me to call her. I called. She recognized my voice right away. I told her how sorry I was about the news and that I wanted to thank her for everything she had taught me and for encouraging me in my writing and preaching. Her first reply was ,”Well I know I made mistakes.”  I told her we all had. When you are young you can be critical of your parents and teachers, until you grow up and start making the same mistakes they did. Then I told her that was not what this call was about. It was about saying thank you to someone who had been one of my greatest cheerleaders over the last 35 years. We had a brief but meaningful conversation. I savored every encouraging word as it fell on my ear. Even when your ministry takes you 35 years and 1300 miles down the road, to another place and time, it still feels good to know, someone from your childhood is still there cheering you on. When someone has been there for so long, you start to assume they will be there forever. I was so glad I got to call and say thank you. In the 7th grade I wasn’t the best in getting my assignments done on time, but as we hung up she gave me my last assignment. She told me to be sure and pray for my classmates who have wandered from Jesus. I won’t forget this assignment like I did so many others. Thank you Joada for the pep talks in the 7th grade. Thank you for teaching me how to write and how to type what was on my heart. Thank you for the encouraging notes over the last 35 years. Thank you Jesus for the encouraging people in my life.  Today I got a phone call. Joada fell asleep in Jesus today. I’m glad I got to say thank you.

One Hope

       I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area. The site for “One Hope”
                                                http://www.floridaconference.com/onehope/

Scripture, Not Circumstances Defines Reality

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When studying the prophecies of the Scriptures, many try to let worldly circumstances, and their perception of reality interpret God’s Word.

Problem is, when we go by worldly circumstance, reality becomes nothing more than perception. For example, Topps was the only baseball card company, when I began collecting cards when I was 11. Soon after that, Donrus and Fleer joined the baseball card making industry. In order to compete with the unwelcomed newbies in the market, Topps started printing on their baseball card packages, “The Real Ones!” Even at age 11, I knew Topp’s claim to be the only real baseball card company was nothing more than a mind game.  Regardless of the company, they were all pictures on cardboard. How could one be more real than the other? Regardless if you were Topps, Donrus, Fleer or a collector, what was “real” in this situation was only a matter of one’s own perception.  So today, many people play mind games, using worldly positions and titles to define who they are.  Jesus never did this. He let the  Scriptures, the Word of God define Who He was.

For example, right after Jesus’ baptism, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He fasted for 40 days. 40 days of no food took its toll of the humanity of Jesus. He does not exactly look like, nor probably feel like the Son of God. According to Desire of Ages, page 119, Satan takes advantage of this opportunity. Satan appears to Jesus, not with a red cape and a pitchfork, but as an angel of light. He reminds Jesus that one of the greatest angels in heaven has been banished from heaven. Satan takes advantage of circumstances, and his appearance as an angel of light, compared to Jesus’ appearance after 40 days with no food, and makes an insinuation, that Jesus sure looks more like a God-forsaken angel rather than the Son of God.  Satan tempts Jesus to prove that He is indeed the Son of God by turning stones into bread.

Jesus did not look to His circumstances or appearance. He had nothing to prove to Satan. Jesus answered the challenge by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. “ Matthew 4:4 Jesus had heard the Word of God, right after His baptism, say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17 Jesus would not go by circumstances to prove who He was. He did not need bread or any sign to prove who He was. He went by God’s Word and God’s Word alone, which said He was the Son of God.  After a plain “Thus Saith the Lord,” Jesus did not need a sign.

Three and a half years later, after the resurrection, Jesus is walking along the road to Emmaus. He meets two men who are downcast. Not recognizing Him, the men explain that they are sad, because Jesus had been crucified, and they had hoped He would be the Messiah. Again, Jesus does not go by appearances or circumstances. Jesus does not show them His nail scared hands and say, “Look, it’s me! I was crucified and now I am risen. I am the Messiah.”  Instead, Jesus,  “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27 Jesus did not want them to accept Him based on His appearance. He intentionally kept them from recognizing Him physically, because He did not want them to base their belief on what they saw or felt, or upon any physical circumstances. He wanted them to base their faith on the Word of God alone.

Feelings, appearance and earthly circumstances do not define who we are either. Just as God’s Word defined who Jesus was, God’s Word also defines who we are.  “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” 1 John 3:1 Just because two men walking down the road did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God did not mean that He was not. Just because Satan pretended not to recognize Him did not change the reality of the situation. God’s Word says we are the children of God. Don’t let Satan or the world, circumstance or appearances tell you any different. Let God’s Word define your reality.

You can study this week’s SS lesson here.

The Great Controversy and the sin of Unbelief

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In order to have victory over sin, we must properly define sin. I believe the sin defined in John 16:9 is the cause of the sin in 1 John 3:4. Thus we must deal with the sin of unbelief in John 16:9 as our primary definition of sin.

As we take a look at this week’s SS lesson on victory over sin, I have a question.  For years we as Adventists have used 1 John 3:4 as our primary definition of sin which is transgression of the law. How would things change if John 16:9 was the primary definition of sin, which is unbelief?

With 1 John 3:4 as the primary definition we have God kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden and giving them death because they ate one piece of fruit they were told not to.  That is not unbiblical but it is only half the picture of the story and more importantly half the picture of God’s character. With John 16:9 as our primary definition of sin we have Adam and Eve placing their trust in Satan’s lies and not believing in God’s word. Thus they themselves turn their backs on God and forfeit their home through unbelief in breaking their relationship with God in lieu of the really cool serpent and fancy lies.

With 1 John 3:4 as the primary definition of sin we struggle with John 3:16 and wonder where works come in.  With John 16:9 as our primary definition we see that God gave His son to die for us and show us the truth about God’s love. Thus as we believe in Him, we now turn our backs on Satan’s lies, our relationship is restored and we have the eternal life that was originally granted in the Garden of Eden. We are now free to obey God, and the secondary definition of sin in 1 John 3:4 is fulfilled because we now trust God and therefore we trust His commandments.

Paul’s book of Hebrews is on the sanctuary and even the cleansing of the sanctuary.  In Hebrews 10:26 Paul writes, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Now if we use 1 John 3:4 as the primary definition of sin we have people going to hell because they made one mistake after knowing the truth. It is important to note that the entire book of Hebrews is explaining why Jesus has not returned yet and what He is doing in the sanctuary before His return. Paul admonishes the early believers not to give up their faith and stop assembling together, Christ will return. So I am sure the primary definition of sin in Hebrews 10:26 is the sin of unbelief. Paul is not saying that if you break the law after knowing the truth there is no more forgiveness. He is saying that if we sin in not believing in Jesus as the Son of God there will be no other sacrifice or Savior.

Now as we look at the cleansing of the Sanctuary in Daniel 8:14, we see that while God can and does give complete victory over the sin defined in 1 John 3:4, that still is not the main focus or goal of the cleansing of the sanctuary. “Our characters are not to be weighed by smooth words and fair speeches manufactured for set times and occasions; but by the spirit and trend of the whole life.” Review and Herald August 16, 1892. “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.“ {Steps to Christ 57.2}  If we take John 16:9 as the primary definition of sin in the cleansing of the sanctuary it changes things.  In the cleansing of the Sanctuary our minds and hearts (where the real sanctuary is) are cleansed from the lies mankind started believing in the Garden of Eden. We see the true character of God revealed on the Cross and we believe in Him. When our minds are cleansed of Satan’s lies we can make intelligent choices and choose the One who has already accepted and chosen us all along.

This changes how we look at a popular passage in the Spirit of Prophecy. “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.”  {Christ Object Lessons 69.1}  Traditionally  we have taken this passage to mean that once we get our act together and show the world God’s Word can perfectly be obeyed without making one single mistake, then God will come back to take us home. It is true by God’s grace we can have complete victory over every single sin. However that is not what the great controversy is all about. The great question in the great controversy is whether God is love or not. When God’s church perfectly reflects the character of God’s love, then the world can make an intelligent decision as to if they will believe in God’s love or not.  God does not want us to be perfect so we can go to heaven. He wants to perfect our love so that we give Him proper representation in the judgment, where His character is on trial. When the church perfectly appreciates God’s love then the chasm that we ourselves created by believing Satan’s lies will be healed.

I believe that if we keep 1 John 3:4 as our primary definition of sin then we will always be legalists and never be able to deal with the sin problem defined in John  16:9. I believe if we use John 16:9 as the primary definition of sin, we lose the legalism, grasp the big picture of what sin really is and what the great controversy is all about, and we allow grace to do its work in healing the sin problem defined in both John 16:9 and 1 John 3:4.

I will be the first to tell you that this is a huge topic and I don’t pretend to know it all or have all the answers. Please comment and let me know why you agree or why you disagree. Thank you! You can leave a comment below on this blog or contact me privately at laypastor@TampaAdventist.net

Why I Love Old New England Churches

I am writing today from beautiful New England.

This week I have been preaching and conducting a prophecy seminar at the Torrington Seventh-day Adventist church in Connecticut. Today, before my last meeting I was able to explore some older churches here in the area. Just as the United States is a melting pot of different cultures, so the Seventh-day Adventist church is a melting pot of different churches and denominations, made up of people from all denominations, who, in the mid 1800s came together during a religious awakening, and formed a church, taking Bible truth form each denomination and expelling non Biblical tradition, thus creating a church that goes strictly by the Bible, called the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I have a deep appreciation for each denomination and congregation who has preserved and shared with the world their light on the gospel and the Scriptures. God has always had a people. A people who love Him with all their hearts and want to follow Him. It is because of the light that each church had and shared during the religious awakening that I now have the light that I treasure as  a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Even the Seventh-day Sabbath was not new to the Advent believers, but was shared with us by Rachel Oaks, a Seventh-day Baptist.

This is a Congregational Church in Milton Connecticut, established in 1829. Jane, my friend from Torrington and I drove by this church, and Lauren a neighbor of the church, was walking her dog. When she saw we wanted pictures she ran and got another neighbor Laura, who unlocked the church so we could go in. Laura also shared the history of the church with us. There was an older church built in the congregation, but during the course of time it was painted yellow. Part of the congregation could not stand the color yellow so they built this church instead of going to a church that was painted yellow.

According to Life Sketches, Page 309 and other references, Ellen White and other Seventh-day Adventists commonly used Congregational churches for some of their evangelism meetings.

Here is the original organ. Can anyone tell me what kind it is?

Lauren shared with us, how these steps were to make it easy for people to step off their carriages.

A special thanks to Lauren (Left) and Laura (Center) for dropping what they were doing in the middle of their busy morning today, to show me and Jane (Right) their beautiful church. I am so glad that God worked it out so we would meet Lauren walking by the church at the exact time we passed by.

In 1838 this Congregational Church was built in Plymouth Connecticut.

In the churchyard lies a graveyard with the oldest gravestone reading 1749. Soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil War are buried there. Many of the grave markers attest to the deep spiritual fervency of the church at that time. One grave marker for one resting saint says that she “walked with God.”

This stone is hard to read it is so old. It says, “Beneath this stone lies Deac. Daniel Potter, who in a comfortable hope of one day rising to a glorious immortality fell asleepe October 29th 1773.” I did not misspell sleep. Apparently in 1773 that is the way it was spelled. With the understanding this soul had of the state of the dead, I can’t help but wonder if the Congregational Church did not share their understanding of this truth with the believers who helped form the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In front of the church is a memorial for President Lincoln and the members of this church who gave their lives in the civil war. As a Seventh-day Adventist I appreciate the sacrifices made by this Congregational church local congregation in securing freedom for all mankind, and keeping united a country that celebrates religious freedom so we can all worship God in accordance with our own conscience.

This is the First Congregational Church of Litchfield, Connecticut. This congregation has been meeting since 1721, but this current church was built in 1829. I took a few pictures of the outside, and then wanted to see the outside. Usually there would be nobody there during the weekdays, but on this particular day they were getting ready for a sale to raise money for missions. A lady getting ready for the sale, opened up the church for me and let me take pictures. She gave me a lot of history of the church. This is the fourth church this local congregation has met in. She was so nice, I gladly gave her a donation for her sale.

Check out this pulpit with a staircase! This pulpit, built in 1829 is a strikingly faithful reproduction, based on recollections and certain parts still in existence of the pulpit built in the 1700s.

This is the view from the pulpit. Check out the pipe organ. It’s a 21 rank, two manual reuter organ. Installed in 1971, it replaced an electrified augmented tracker pump organ salvaged from the previous church.

“There shall be nothing in the white, unadorned meetinghouse to distract the worshipers from a sense of the Living God and His Work, preached, read and made visible in the bread and the cup on the plain table.” –Congregational Church Documents

The Litchfield Congregational church has been faithfully served by 26 different distinguished and dedicated pastors since 1721. Two of these pastors also served on the battlefield. Timothy Collins was a surgeon during the French and Indian war. George Richards was a chaplain during the civil war. Judah Champion was the longest serving pastor for 55 years, until he retired at age 79.

It was an honor and privilege to be able to visit these churches, where the gospel has been preached to and hope given to many a sin weary soul for centuries. While the churches are beautiful and magnificent, it is the members of the congregations who receive my deepest respect and appreciation, for keeping the doors of these churches open, so people can hear the good news of God’s love. I also thank God that at one of the churches somebody just happened to be walking by who knew someone who could unlock the doors and let me in. I thank God that at the other church, a kind lady just happened to be there getting ready for a sale, and was kind enough to take a break and show us around.

I also appreciate the Torrington First Methodist Church, for allowing the Torrington Seventh-day Adventist Church to worship and hold evangelistic meetings in their church. This is where we held the Daniel prophecy seminar I was here for this week. The original section of this church was built in 1865.

I also want to thank the members of the Torrington Seventh-day Adventist Church for hosting me this week and making me a part of their wonderful family. Bruce (second from left), Larry and Jane helped set up each night before the meetings. Larry and Jane also had me to their home during the meetings. Jane has been studying for a while, with several of the people who came to the seminar, and will continue to prepare them for baptism later this month.