And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 NKJV
While working as a Bible Worker and lay pastor in a small church in west Texas, several of the members told me they hoped I would stay there forever, because they could not survive without me. I was young and stupid enough to believe them. Fact is though, the church membership more than doubled, but not while I was there, but after I left! And, the people who came in after I left were not people I studied with. They were people who never heard of me and didn’t know I existed.
While taking the gospel and the salvation of souls seriously, I have learned not to take myself so seriously. I can rejoice even when someone rejects me because I know I presented them with an opportunity to make a choice. While I want everyone to choose Jesus I know not everyone will. Still, once the gospel has gone into all the world, and that last decision has been made for or against Jesus then He will come. Every decision for or against Jesus is one decision closer to the second coming. This is why its important to spread the gospel even if people do not accept it. Either way we hasten the second coming by just being the angel that takes the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people allowing people the opportunity to choose. So don’t be too disheartened when your missionary project does not yield the results you hoped for. It was successful in giving people an opportunity to choose either way.
But we are just that. An opportunity. Not The opportunity. Let’s not take ourselves so seriously. People can reject us and still accept Jesus. What people think about me is extremely trivial in the scheme of the great controversy. So don’t lose heart or take slights and rejections to heart. Just because someone says no to me, does not mean they will say no to the next person God sends. There is still hope.
After leaving Texas, and working in Florida as a Bible Worker for a few years, a pastor friend, from Texas called me. He asked how many baptisms my church had so far. I told him 90, with 48 of those being in the current year.
“Wonderful!” He exclaimed.
“And how many of those were from your work?” He asked.
“None of them!” I said.
Yup. After a church in Texas more than doubling its membership AFTER I left, I finally learned a thing or two.
While living in Texas, near Southwestern Adventist University I was good friends with a theology student and his wife. They recently had a baby one night when I called. The husband was quick to get off the phone with me. I thought nothing of it, but apparently he thought he owed me an explanation when he called back the next night.
He explained he had an argument with his wife when I called. His wife was trying to breastfeed but wasn’t succeeding, and was becoming frustrated. He then started instructing her how to breastfeed and she became very angry at him. I asked him, “How in the world can you tell your wife how to breastfeed?” His answer Was the classic example of how some students over estimate book knowledge when he very authoritatively responded, “I read it in a book!”
Around the same time, I talked to another theology student who was telling me how wise his grandfather was but then lowered his head in disappointment and said, “but he never got a degree, so all of his knowledge was wasted.”There are some things you just can’t learn in a book. A book might make you smart but it can’t make you compassionate, understanding and caring, and those are very important traits in a theologian missionary.
Degree or no degree, knowledge is never wasted. Also many confuse a degree with an education. There are actually many people who are educated through personal studies and practical experience who do not have degrees and there are people with degrees who have no practical knowledge. And of course there are plenty of people with both practical and theoretical knowledge. Those are the best!
It has been many years since that night I called my friend in Texas. He has gone on to become a wonderful pastor and an even more gracious, caring and understanding husband and father. He has learned some wonderful things from books, but it has taken more than books for him to learn to be caring, compassionate and understanding. It takes experience. It takes time alone with God in prayer as well as reading the Good Book.
When I am encouraging a Bible student who is discouraged with doubt and disappointments they will listen a little as I quote Bible promises, but they really become attentive, when I tell them how I have practically applied those verses in my life when I too have been disappointed and discouraged.
I can easily understand why my friend’s wife got so frustrated with him when he was trying to tell her what he had read in a book. Book knowledge is great, but it is pretty useless unless you yourself have put it into practice and succeeded. And I seriously doubt my friend ever put that book knowledge on breastfeeding into practice! Therefore with all the book knowledge in the world he had no right telling his wife how to nurse their baby. Likewise unless we are putting the Bible into practice we have no right to teach it to others.
You may study this week’s SS lesson on missionaries here.
A misunderstanding of this verse has crippled the success of many missionaries. A young student loses his parents, and his teacher is afraid to put her arm around his shoulder and comfort him for fear she might be accused of evil. A pastor is having studies with a bar tender in his home and needs to swing by the bar to pick up his umbrella he left, at the bar tender’s home. What will people think if they see him walk into a bar? Is that giving the appearance of evil? No! It is just giving the appearance of walking into a bar!
My purpose here is not to lessen the accountability of Gospel workers. My point is to help us, as missionaries, be healthy and balanced. Yes we must be careful not to put ourselves in compromising positions, but at the same time we must realize, there are some unbalanced people out there who will misconstrue and misrepresent just about everything, and we can’t allow them to cripple our ministry. It reminds me of when, after 9-11, President George Bush told his fellow citizens to go on with their daily lives, regardless of terrorist threats, otherwise the terrorists win. Likewise, if Satan can cripple our ministry by making us over-analyze and stretch our imagination to see how each action and motive can be misconstrued into something evil, then Satan wins.
The truly converted soul is illuminated from on high, and Christ is in that soul “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” His words, his motives, his actions, may be misinterpreted and falsified; but he does not mind it because he has greater interests at stake. –Ellen White, Testimonies, Vol. 5, Page 569
There is a line between giving “the appearance of evil” and someone else judging us.
I have seen other gospel workers’ ministries become totally paralyzed by their understanding of what Paul said about not appearing evil. The NLT version of Paul’s earlier quote simply says,
Just because someone else judges us does not automatically mean we have given the appearance of evil. And by the way, just because someone claims to have the gift of discerning spirits does not mean they really have that gift. They may just have the gift of judging and causing dissension. Jesus’ own disciples were surprised when they saw Him talking to a woman at the well. The Pharisees judged Jesus for hanging out with prostitutes and publicans, but He never gave “the appearance of evil”! They were judging.
A teacher can put her arms around a hurting child and still stay far from evil. A pastor can walk into a bar without it appearing to be evil, so long as he does not walk like he is drunk or make jokes about drinking. Joking about drinking oractually insinuating you are doing something evil is when you give the appearance of evil. Just because something can be misconstrued by someone with a dirty mind does not mean it is giving the appearance of evil. It simply means someone has a dirty mind.
Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15 NLT
Satan will use unhealthy, unstable people to misconstrue and misjudge our every move. We cannot let God’s work be paralyzed by people with wild and dirty imaginations. The key, I believe, is to have a healthy understanding of where the line is between giving the appearance of actual evil, and someone else just judging according to their unhealthy imagination. We can’t let unhealthy imaginations dictate our mission. It’s a matter of healthy boundaries – knowing where our responsibility ends and others’ responsibility begins.
Joseph had his motives and actions misjudged and misconstrued but in the end Pharaoh himself said,
“Can we find anyone else like this man [Joseph] so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Genesis 41:38 NLT
Obviously the prior accusations against Joseph did not mean anything to Pharaoh. He could see right through the false accusations and see Joseph’s mission was filled with the spirit of God. So long as our mission is filled with the Spirit of God, balanced healthy people will see through any false insinuations and God will make our mission successful just like He did for Joseph.
You may study this week’s SS lesson on Biblical Missionaries here.
One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. “The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent. Matthew 12:38-41 NLT
When I am on the campus of our Community Adventist school, and a student walks up to me with their Bible and asks a question, it makes me feel important and needed. When a student walks up to me with their composition paper and asks for me help it makes me feel like my passion for writing is recognized and appreciated. When a student walks up to me with their history book it makes me feel knowledgeable and helpful. But when a 5th grader walks up to me with their math book it makes me feel stupid and useless! Math was never my thing. But I don’t feel alone. I know a lot of parents who have trouble helping their kids with math, and I have met a few teachers who are lost without their answer sheets. Math baffles the best of us, and the math in Matthew 12:38-41 has baffled many.
Because of a misunderstanding of the point Jesus is making here, many have lost faith in the Friday crucifixion and have tried to move it to Wednesday, so they can fit Jesus in the tomb for three full days. Others have lost faith in the Bible completely because they say the math just does not add up here. That is very sad and unfortunate because believe it or not, Jesus’ point and the sign He is giving is really not about math at all.
Okay, some of you are not convinced, so let’s address the math issue first there. I will do so quickly because I want to get to the point, and I am not a math teacher. There are two theories. One theory is that any part of the day counts as a whole part of the day. The same is true for years. If a king became king on December 31 and lost his throne on January 1 the record books would say he ruled for 2 years, even though it wasn’t even a full year or even a full two days. So since Jesus was in the grave part of Friday, all of Sabbath, and part of Sunday, it was three days.
The second theory is that the heart of the earth is not even the grave. Remember how the Millerites thought the sanctuary was the earth that was going to be cleansed by fire in 1844? Turns out they had the time of the prophecy right, but the place wrong. They made an assumption that the earth was the sanctuary with no Biblical confirmation to their assumption. When it says “God so loved the world” inJohn 3:16 it is not saying God loved the rocks and the dirt. He loved the people. So when Jesus says the son of man will be in the heart of the earth, could He have simply been talking about the people and the population? If you take a day for a year in Bible prophecy (See Ezekiel 4:6) you have Jesus preaching in the heart of the earth for three years or three prophetic days. After all Jesus was in a tomb not the earth or ground.
I am not going to recommend which theory to believe here, because like I said, math is not my thing. I will say this. I am sure there was nothing fuzzy about Jesus’ math. He created math! I am also not going to recommend which theory to believe because the math part distracts us from the whole point Jesus was making.
In the story of Jonah you had a prophet who was more worried about his status and reputation as a prophet than he was about the salvation of souls. When his prediction of Ninevah being destroyed did not come true Jonah says,
Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” Jonah 4:3 NLT
Say what?! Jonah cared more about his status and reputation than he did about the salvation of 120,000 souls! If he wasn’t going to look good he did not want any part of it. Sadly this is how the religious leaders in Jesus’ day thought too! This is why Jesus used the sign of Jonah. In the story of Jonah you had the wicked Ninevites humbling themselves so they could be saved, and you even had the pagan sailors praying to God when they had throw Jonah overboard. In the story of Jonah everyone humbled themselves except the prophet who should have known better and been the first to humble himself! The sign of Jonah is that while Jesus was walking the earth Samaritans and gentile kings humbly worshiped Jesus but the proud Jewish leaders were not about to humble themselves and do so. This is the point Jesus was making. Don’t let the math distract you either way. Don’t let your pride get in the way of accepting Jesus as your Savior and don’t let your pride get in the way of leading others to Jesus. Pride was the downfall of Jonah and the religious rulers of Jesus’ day.
Is pride and arrogance still an issue in our church today? Are there some who are more worried about their status and reputation than the salvation of souls? Like I said before, I am no mathematician. A few times when I have had to sub for the entire today at our church school I have problems with the math part. A 5th grade girl brought a math problem to me one day, and I had to confess I was just as stumped as she was. Then I thought to myself, why are you telling a kid how dumb you are? Then I told myself, hey, if me looking stupid made the little girl not feel better about herself for not understanding then I did my job! Sometimes we can help people by humbling ourselves and not looking so high and mighty.
Unlike Jonah and the rulers of Jesus’ day, Jesus had no pride. Jonah would rather the whole world perish than for him to look like a fool. On the other hand, Jesus chose to look like a fool on the cross rather than let the world perish. Are you more like Jonah or more like Jesus?
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.
Ever wished you could be a missionary but never felt like you had the opportunity? Opportunities are everywhere! Just ask Jesus. He has a place for everyone to do missionary work. He uses everyday people like you and me in everyday life.
A few years ago, one morning I was checking in on an elderly, physically handi-capped man who is housebound. As always we had prayer before I left. In his prayer the man asked for God to lead us to people who we could share our faith with that day. I mused to myself, why did he say “we’? I’m the only one of us who will have an opportunity to meet people today. He will be bound to his chair at home all day. He won’t be meeting anyone.
later that evening, after my last Bible study, I checked my voice mail messages and there was a message from my elderly friend I had visited that morning. I called him back and he told me some exciting news. He told me that the cable repairman had come by to fix the TV and saw some Sabbath tracts on the end table by the door. He picked them up and told my friend that He was searching for a church. My friend invited him to church and gave him an enrollment card for Bible studies!
It wasn’t till after I hung up the phone (If you can even hang up a cell phone!) that I remembered what my friend prayed that morning. I thought it was a futile prayer given my friend’s condition, but God answered His prayer! Even though my friend could not get out of his chair in his home, God sent someone for him to minister to.
I have learned to never underestimate the opportunities God can provide for all of us to be missionaries.
After serving as a full time Bible Worker for 11 years at one church, I have recently become a part time Bible Worker for the Plant City Florida Seventh-day Adventist Church. It is only part time so I have picked up another job working part time, two days a week in a sandwich shop at an Adventist Hospital. Last Monday the full time sandwich shop worker was on vacation so I had to fill in for her. Sure I would rather have been doing my Bible Worker job that day, but I prayed and decided to make the best of it.
A lady came in and ordered a breakfast sandwich and sat down to eat. While I continued waiting on customers I noticed her watching me. After the line went away, she came up to me and asked, “Why are you so happy and cheerful? You are beaming.” I told her I am just a happy person. She looked at me like she expected more, so I said a little prayer, not wanting to sound preachy, and told her my relationship with Jesus makes me very happy. Her eyes lit up. “That’s what I thought!” She exclaimed. She said that she used to be very happy walking with Jesus but after a while Satan started attacking her more the closer she got to God, and it discouraged her away from God. I told her that if her relationship with God was making Satan upset that was a good thing and she should not relent. God was blessing her and it was making Satan mad. She told me she lives in Chicago and was here to help a friend having surgery. Since she was out of town I followed up by giving her the address to my In Light of the Cross Website and told her there were some articles and studies that may encourage her. I then went to wait on another customer.
After waiting on the customer I returned to the lady’s table and found she was already reading one of the studies on her phone. Then something interesting happened. Around 10:30 every morning that I work, the hospital cafeteria sends someone to cover for me so I can take a short break. Well, it was only 9:30 when someone happened to come to give me a break. This freed me up to talk more with the lady without being interrupted by customers. I shared with her how Jesus tells the church of Philadelphia that He opens a door that no one can shut, but yet He tells the Laodiceans that He knocks at their heart’s door. Heaven’s doors are always open. Its only our doors that close. I invited her to ask Jesus in her heart again. We prayed together right there in the sandwich shop. When we finished praying I still had some time left on my break, but I quickly and politely excused myself so I could go get some supplies from the store room. By quickly disappearing after our prayer it left our prayer and her decision resonating in her mind instead of some idle chit chat killing time.
On my way to the store room I realized that filling in at my temporal job that day did not prevent me from also doing my job as a Bible Worker missionary. Just like being bound to a chair in his house did not keep my elderly friend from being a missionary.
Critics of Christianity will often argue that Jesus knew beforehand that, though He would die, He would be resurrected to life. Thus, they ask, what was the big deal about His death when He knew it would be only temporary?
My mother knows that flying in an airplane is safer than traveling by car. She knows the sad statistics that people are killed every day on the highways, while a rare jet crash makes headlines around the world. Knowing all this, when my mother gets on an airplane she sure does not feel that it is safer! There is a difference between knowing and feeling. Jesus died as a man, not as God.
As a man, this is what Jesus experienced;
“In that thick darkness God’s presence was hidden. He makes darkness His pavilion, and conceals His glory from human eyes. God and His holy angels were beside the cross. The Father was with His Son. Yet His presence was not revealed. Had His glory flashed forth from the cloud, every human beholder would have been destroyed. And in that dreadful hour Christ was not to be comforted with the Father’s presence. He trod the wine press alone, and of the people there was none with Him.”-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 753, 754.
“The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.” -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 753.
Foxe’s book of Martyrs tells us John Huss was singing songs of praise as he burned at the stake for his faith. We wonder if John Huss, a mere mortal man, could be singing songs of praise as He died at the stake, why couldn’t Jesus sing songs of praise instead of crying out “My God My God why have You forsaken me?”
It is because John Huss died a totally different death than Jesus died. John knew he would be resurrected. He knew he was at peace with the Father. But on the cross Jesus was being treated the way we deserve to be treated so we can be treated the way He deserves to be treated. Think about this, Jesus always called God His Father.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
“I always do those things that please my Father.”
“I and my Father are one.”
But when Jesus was on the cross being treated the way we deserve to be treated He could not call God His Father! He did not know that He would be resurrected. Instead He cried out, “My God! Why have you forsaken me?” This fulfilled the prophecy of Psalms 22 of Jesus dying the second death.
Jesus was not crying out, “Why have you forsaken me till Sunday morning?” You don’t forsake someone when you leave them for the weekend. When I tell my Sabbath School class I will be preaching at another church next Sabbath, none of them ask me why I have forsaken them. They know I will be back the following week. When Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He felt abandoned forever. He felt what the wicked will feel.
Obadiah 1:16 says the wicked will be as though they had never been. Jesus was not facing a mere six-hour pain endurance marathon. A lot of cancer patients would gladly trade their years of battling cancer for six hours on a cross. The physical pain is not what made it the supreme sacrifice. What Jesus was facing was going into total oblivion and being as though He had never existed! While Satan was willing to sacrifice anyone who got in his way of being number 1, Jesus was willing to go into total oblivion if He could just save even one of us.
Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus tasted death for everyone. Jesus and Paul both refer to the first death as sleep. Jesus did not save us from that death, as we plainly experience that death ourselves. Paul did not say Jesus tasted sleep for every man. No, He tasted death, the death of the wicked. Yes, He prophesied of His own resurrection, but that was while He still felt the presence of His Father. When Jesus felt the Father turn His back on Him, He felt, as a man, that the promise of the resurrection had left with the Father. Jesus became the God-forsaken God.
Some say, how could Jesus have died the second death while He never lost faith in His Father? Remember Jesus had no sense of self-preservation. The sense of self-preservation belongs to Satan. Jesus had faith, but His faith was not that He would be saved but that you and I would be saved!
Some have a hard time wrapping their minds around this awesome love. Some refuse to believe that Jesus would be willing to die forever to save us. In that case they have made Moses more loving than Jesus. In Exodus 32:32 Moses is willing to be wiped out of eternity in order to save the children of Israel. Do you think Moses loved them more than Jesus loves sinners? Of course not! Only when Moses experienced the self-sacrificing love of God could he express such love. If you don’t believe that Jesus was willing to say good-bye to life forever in order to save us, then you believe that Moses demonstrated more love than Jesus.
Since the Jews were accusing Jesus of blasphemy they could have just stoned Him to death. According to Leviticus 24:16, blasphemers were to be stoned and not crucified. Yet Jesus was crucified. Why? Because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 tells us those who are hung are cursed by God. Someone could plead for mercy and have the hope of salvation, just like John Huss had, even though they were stoned to death. However, being hung was a sign you were cursed by God. Joshua 10 tells the story of five kings who refused to accept Israel’s God and were hung from five trees, telling the world they had rejected God and so there was no salvation for them. It was good-bye to life forever.
Friend, does this help you understand how much Jesus loves you? He could have come down from the cross and returned to heaven where He could wear His kingly Crown instead of the crown of thorns. He could have left the road to Calvary and walked on streets of gold. He could have left the mocking mob and returned to hear angels sing His praise. He could have returned to His mansion. Why didn’t He do just that? Because the thought of going back to heaven without you did not appeal to Jesus. Heaven would not be paradise without you, as far as Jesus is concerned.
There is nothing I would rather be preaching than this message here. It is the everlasting gospel in the three angels’ messages. This kind of love changes everything. It changes how we look at the cross and how we look at sin. Most of all it changes our hearts. The disciples were just a bunch of self-ambitious men until they saw this love displayed on the cross. After they saw this love they were willing to give everything – even their own lives. Revelation 15 tells us there will be a multitude singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. They will be filled with this self-sacrificing love just like Moses and Jesus. They will hate sin more than they hate death and they will love God more than they will love their own lives or self preservation.
Jesus’ love for you goes deeper than the nail scars. He loves you more than He loves life itself. He was willing to go into total oblivion and be as though He had never existed if that is what it took to save you!
Years ago Brett Favre, a famous American football quarterback said in a commercial,
“the history books won’t record me as a quarterback, but as a football player.”
As well as setting all kinds of passing records as a quarterback, Favre also was not afraid to block or even make tackles if the other team got the ball. While the quarterback position is considered a glamorous position, Favre was eager to work just like everyone else to win. He did not let his position define who he was. He let his hard work define him. When I saw that commercial I remember thinking to myself, I don’t want to be remembered as a Bible Worker or lay pastor. I want to be remembered as a Christian.
Jesus received His authority by his behavior and not by any title. Jesus was willing to work as a Servant to help others become winners.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 NKJV
While Jesus had not titles or glamorous positions neither did Enoch. Yet God took Him to heaven not because He was a high priest. He wasn’t. He wasn’t a king either. He was not the head elder at church or Bible Worker or pastor. Enoch was known for one thing. And that one thing is why He went to heaven without ever seeing death.
God’s messengers must tarry long with Him, if they would have success in their work. The story is told of an old Lancashire woman who was listening to the reasons that her neighbors gave for their minister’s success. They spoke of his gifts, of his style of address, of his manners. “Nay,” said the old woman, “I will tell you what it is. Your man is very thick with the Almighty.”
No matter what your talents, gifts or positions or titles are, your success comes from being “very thick with the Almighty.” Your entrance into heaven will be because you walked with God.
No one was ever taken to heaven for being a king or priest, pastor or elder. God takes those who walk with Him.