Tag: growing in Christ

Growth Group Lesson #1 – Growth

by Pr Denis Sand – sanddenis@gmail.com

Objective of today’s dialogue: Invite people to choose and commit to grow by being connected daily with God.

Additional resources: Read and study from Desire of Ages, Chapter 73, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, pp 674-677, 

Welcome (15) – Fellowship

• Give a warm welcome and express the purpose of Growth Groups: to grow closer to God and to help others who don’t know Him yet experience the same
• Go around and ask each one to share their names and one thing that makes them good friends.
• What kind of things brakes relationships?
• What do you do to maintain your friendships?
• What practical things would you do if you wanted to make a relationship grow?

Worship (15) – Worship
Psalm 92:1-6
I’m a friend of God
Draw me close to you
• Giving thanks: ask people to share reasons why they are thankful to God today. Take time to pray. Do a popcorn prayer with only thanksgiving.

Word (30) – Discipleship
• Read John 15:1-8
• Who is the gardener, the vine and the branches?
• What is the only way to have spiritual growth and why? v5
• In what way does God prune our characters? v2
• Since Christ is the Vine and we are the branches, how should we relate to this world/ground? What would this mean practically?
• What does it mean to remain in Him? v4-8
• How can we practically remain, live, stay connected to God in the midst of all we daily do?
• What does it mean and how can we bear fruit as a Christian? v8
• What kind of fruits are you producing and which ones would you like to produce? Why?
• What do you sense God telling you tonight?
• What changes will you do this week in order to make sure you remain connected to Christ?

• To do: Write now on a small card the key text of this week John 15.5. Carry it in your wallet or pocket, place it in your fridge and make sure you memorize it.

Works (15) – Ministry & Evangelism
• Share the vision with the group! Multiplication is our goal. Growth is our daily prayer.
• Ask: Do you have friends that need to grow in their relationship with God?
• Please write down their names and invite them to next week group meeting.
• How can we pray for each one’s challenges this week? share your requests
• Pray in groups of two

Refreshments– Fellowship
• Make sure you get to talk and know visitors!

The Scapegoat in The Sanctuary

Christmas Tree Cerca Pier

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

There is a song I remember singing a hundred years ago, when I was a teenager. It went something like this, “I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe.” Beautiful song, but not exactly theologically correct if you want to get technical. And no, I do not like to get technical and I guess it may be theologically correct in one way, but in another way, it’s not. You see, fact is, I can pay the debt that I owe myself. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of sin is death. I can pay for and atone for my sins all by myself with no help from Jesus, by dying. I am eternally grateful though, that Jesus did paid that debt for me! Because fact is, I could not pay the debt and live.

Satan, on the other hand, will have to pay the debt and atone for his sins himself.

“But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, [and] to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” Leviticus 16:10

The scapegoat is cast into the wilderness to atone for sin. The scapegoat represents Satan who, after the cleansing of the sanctuary and investigative judgment, has now been blamed for the sin problem. The guilt and responsibility for sin is placed upon the scapegoat who goes off to the wilderness. This represents Satan, after the literal investigative judgment, spending a thousand years after the Second Coming here on earth, as it lies wasted and barren. After a thousand years of considering his great idea to rebel against God’s government and start his own, he will then realize it was not such a great idea after all.

Still, many have trouble with the scapegoat representing Satan. The Seventh-day Adventist church is unique in believing Satan is the scapegoat. Other denominations ask how can Satan bear our sin? Good question! Fact is, he does not bear our sin, he bears his own sin. He shares our guilt when he tempts us to sin. While Jesus died for our guilt, He did not die for Satan’s guilt, so it is still placed upon Satan. Others point out that the word “atonement” is used. How can Satan atone for our sins? Again, he does not atone for our sins, he atones for his own sin by dying an eternal death. You see, often it is said Jesus died for our sins because we could not atone for our own sins, but this is not true. We can atone for our own sins by dying an eternal death. The wages of sin is death and we can pay those wages in full if we so choose. We can atone for our own sin if we want. Satan atones for his own sin and shared guilt in our sins by being the scapegoat sent off to die an eternal death (Revelation 20). The universe will no longer blame God for the sin problem. Ironically, when the sin problem has been done away with, the only trace of sin will be the nail scars in Jesus’ hands. Thus, the only Person who will bear eternally the result of sin will be the only Person who was totally innocent.

The perfect Lamb of God is my Savior for all eternity! Hebrews 7:25 says, “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” My Savior does not live so that He can force angels and humanity to worship Him and sing His praises. He does not live so that He can be a tyrant and boss everybody around. Once the sanctuary is cleansed, and guilt is put in its proper place, it will be seen that the Son of God lives to make intercession for sinners. We will be able to look as far in the past as eternity goes and as far into the future as eternity goes, and see that Jesus lives for one reason; to be our Savior!

You can study this week’s SS lesson here. You can download the SS lessons to your phone here.

Expressing Our Love

Nativity St. Pete

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, [so let him give]; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

I heard someone ask this Christmas season, why we give gifts to each other when it is Jesus’ birth we are celebrating and not our own. Good question. I think the answer comes from Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Really, if you think about it, it is no different than when we give tithes and offerings. Our money does not float up to heaven. It stays right here on earth where the tithe helps support the pastor, and the offerings help support everyone else, including the poor who represent God to us just as the pastor does.  So they way we express our love to the church and the poor, ultimately shows God how much we love Him.


Soviet Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, the author of Tortured for Christ, suffered terribly for the Lord. Yet he said that even while in prison, he saw fellow Soviet believers practice generous giving. “When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soap every day, we decided we would faithfully ‘tithe’ even that. Every tenth week we took the slice of bread and gave it to the weaker brethren as our ‘tithe’ to the Master.”


I am sure God did not demand that these prisoners tithe their bread and soap. Yet they felt compelled to, in order to express their love for God.  After understanding the awesome sacrifice Christ had made in expressing His love for them on the cross, they wanted a way to express their love for Christ. They wanted to give all of themselves to Christ since He had given all of Himself for them.


It is the same case with the woman in John 12, who broke open a bottle of ointment costing a year’s wages, so she could anoint the feet of Jesus. She was simply giving all she had because Jesus was giving all He had for her. Like the Soviet prisoners she needed a way to express her love.


God did not give us the tithe and offering system because he needed our money, but because He knew we too would need a way to express our love. God nor the church needs our money. Both were getting along just fine before we came along and both will do just fine after we are gone.


So why did God give us the tithe and offering system? I have a plaque with a picture of the cross and written are the words, “ I asked Jesus how much do you love me?” “This much” He said, ’Then He spread out His arms and died.”  God will finish the work with or without our money. Yet He has given us the tithe and offering system so that when He asks us, “How much do you love me?” We will have a way to answer.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Children And Baptism

I wrote tonight from beautiful gate 44 at Houston’s Hobby airport during a layover.

Many times I have been asked, how old should a child have to be before they can be baptized. Many people are surprised to hear I was 7 when I was baptized. I still remember the night I was lying in bed, thinking about the cross and Jesus’ love for me. I decided I wanted to be baptized. I went into my parents room, where they were sound asleep, and woke them up to till them the news. They were very happy, but told me we could talk about it more in the morning. Looking back, I guess there was no reason to wake them up in the middle of the night. I knew I wasn’t going to baptized that night. I wanted my friends to be there, and there was no way we could arrange all that in the middle of the night.

I only had one meeting with the pastor. He went over the baptism vows with me, and every time I said “yes”, he seemed to roll his eyes. I sensed he thought I was a little young. 40 years later my suspicions were confirmed, when I met him again and asked him if he remembered me. “Yes.” He said, “we baptized you a little young, didn’t we?” I assured him I was not too young and knew exactly what I was doing. 40 years later I am a Lay Pastor and full time paid Bible Worker, and elder and former literature evangelist. I did not tell him that in boast. I just wanted to reassure him, that at 7 years old, I knew full well what I was getting into, and ever since then have remained somewhat active in the church.

I have never forgotten and will never forget that day I was baptized. I was walking on air all day long. I knew God was with me. I also will never forget the night I was thinking about the cross and decided to be baptized. I think about it whenever I am put in a situation where someone wants me to compromise my passion or convictions. Over the years I have had people make both threats and promises in an attempt to get me to compromise. I always think about that night, when I was alone with Jesus and the cross, and I remind myself, Jesus is the one who died for me, not these people who are pressuring me to compromise. I gave my heart to Jesus, not to them.

So, when a parent tells me their 7 year old wants to be baptized, this is what I do. I give them a baptism workbook. No baptism workbook was ever given to me, or Bible studies for that matter, and I guess there is no Bible command to finish a workbook before being baptized, but it is an important step.

“Parents whose children desire to be baptized have a work to do, both in self-examination and in giving faithful instruction to their children. Baptism is a most sacred and important ordinance, and there should be a thorough understanding as to its meaning. It means repentance for sin, and the entrance upon a new life in Christ Jesus. There should be no undue haste to receive the ordinance. Let both parents and children count the cost. In consenting to baptism of their children, parents sacredly pledge themselves to be faithful stewards over these children, to guide them in their character building.” –Child Guidance, Pages 499-500

When I give the child the workbook, I also visit with them and their parents, and ask the child why they want to be baptized and what baptism means to them.  The answer they give helps the family and me determine how seriously the child is taking this step. By giving them the workbook, I am also giving them time to grow and mature during the several weeks or even months it takes them to complete it. I encourage the parents to help them with the workbook, but I am also available anytime to study with them, and I check in on them to see if the child, or parents have any questions. Parents often like their children to attend my baptism classes that I have at church and at the church school.

I find it somewhat frustrating, and maybe even amusing, when parents expect their children to understand everything and be perfect when they are baptized. Come on, adults don’t understand everything either, and are not prefect when they are baptized. We have room to grow after baptism too. It hurts me, when I see parents, hanging it over the head of a newly baptized child, that they should not have made this or that mistake, because they are baptized now.

Speaking of newly baptized children, Ellen White tells parents, “If they err, do not scold them. Never taunt them with being baptized and yet doing wrong. Remember that they have much to learn in regard to the duties of a child of God.” Child Guidance, Page 501.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20

This verse makes it clear that teaching comes before baptism, and after baptism as well. Neither children or adults know it all when they are baptized, though they should be adequately prepared. This is a very important and special step, in which everyone wanting to participate should be both properly encouraged and prepared.

You may study this week’s SS lesson on baptism here.

Why Go To Church?

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa Oklahoma (Boston Avenue Methodist Church)

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:25

Over the years, I have heard many people tell me they don’t need a church. They can just study the Bible for themselves. They don’t need to go to a church that is filled with hypocrites, even if there is always room for one more. However, you can’t have a “one-person” church and fulfill the counsel in Hebrews 10:25. By setting up His church, God does more than command us to study and worship. He commands us to do more than spread the gospel by ourselves. Hebrews 10:25 is a command to be social. Paul does not merely say, “Do not give up hope and do not stop studying the Scriptures. He says, “Do not stop meeting together in a social setting.”

Paul, of all people, knew the importance of a church. Once he was converted in Acts 9, God directed him to the city where he met Ananias and Barnabas and the rest of the church. Even though Paul had a one-on-one encounter with God, he still needed to understand the importance of living and growing in a church setting.

Paul counseled us to keep being social, because he knew it was not good for man to be alone. Now think about this for a moment. God creates Adam. Adam has God and God has Adam. Yet God does not say, “Adam has Me, and I am all that he needs.” No, God Himself says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18

Now let this soak in. God Himself is saying, “I am not all Adam needs! He needs a community.”

If you believe God is all you need and that you don’t need anyone else in your life, then you are contradicting the God you serve! He Himself says He is not all you need. You need a community of believers. God created a mate for Adam, and thus fulfilled some other obvious needs of Adam, but ultimately they fulfill God’s purpose of creating a community. God knew Adam needed more than just to be able to worship God alone. He needed to be able to worship and serve God with a community of believers.

If you ever date someone who tries to isolate you from your family and friends, be very concerned about that. If their love is a Godly love, they will love like God and encourage you to be social and active in your family and community. If God Himself realizes we need more in our lives than just Him, how dare a mere mortal human being tell us they are all we need!  If their love is from God they will not be egotistical and tell us we don’t need anyone but them. God’s love is a healthy love which does not isolate. A love that tries to isolate is very unhealthy.

Worshiping in a social setting such as a church, means we will meet hypocrites, and they will meet hypocrites when they meet us. Hypocrites are just people who do not live up to all of their ideals, and that is all of us. But by God’s grace, He is getting us there and will get us there. In the meantime we need each other to get there.

I have a community Bible study where people of all faiths are invited to our church on Wednesday mornings. One morning an elderly lady said something that has always stayed with me. She said, “If someone in the church keeps rubbing you the wrong way, maybe God is just using them to polish your character.” I think she is right. God says it is not good for us to be alone. We need a community of believers. Some will encourage us, and even those we don’t get along the best with, will help polish our characters.

We need each other!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Would Jesus Have Been Judas’ Facebook Friend?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 NIV

Facebook now lets you label all your friends and place them in categories. I can label them, family, close friends, just friends and even acquaintances, if I don’t think they quite measure up to friend. You have more control and power over your Facebook world than you do the real world. On Facebook you can delete a friend if they let you down. Can’t do that in the  real world, or at least not without going to prison.  If someone is posting evil things on Facebook I can just delete them. But years before Facebook, how did Jesus label His friends and deal with evil?

In Matthew 26 Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. If I had been Jesus my reply may have been, “you backstabber!” or “Traitor!” But look at Jesus’ response. “Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”Matthew 26:50 NIV Friend? Did Jesus call Judas, “friend?” yes He did. Was Jesus just trying to take the “high road?” Was Jesus Himself just trying to set a good example? I don’t think Jesus was just trying to be nice. Jesus was always straight with the people, especially the Pharisees when He called them hypocrites. Jesus called it the way He saw it. So when He called Judas friend, I am sure as far as Jesus was concerned they were friends.  Jesus looked beyond Judas and realized, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV Jesus considered Judas a friend, realizing that the real enemy, being more than flesh and blood, was beyond Judas, and was actually Satan.

If Jesus refused to label Judas anything other than “friend,” C.S. Lewis explains why we  in our humanity can’t really label people as being sincere or fake friends. ““Humans are very seldom either totally sincere or totally hypocritical. Their moods change, their motives are mixed, and they are often themselves quite mistaken as to what their motives are.”

Judas was not the only disciple that night, who we in our humanity would have trouble labeling on our Facebook. “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” Luke 22:49-51 NIV John tells us this disciple was peter, who later that night denied he even knew Jesus. Peter wanted to stand up for Jesus which was commendable, but his method was not. Peter thought he could overcome evil with the sword, but by healing the man’s ear, Jesus overcame evil with good. I am so glad that the same Jesus who healed the man who Peter hurt, can also heal the brother that I accidentally hurt in my misguided zeal for defending truth.

Jesus refused to label Judas an enemy. He saw past the mind games Satan wanted to play with Him, and realized Satan was the only real enemy. Satan tries to play mind games with us too. We can overcome evil with good when we see beyond the flesh and blood, and identify the real enemy as Satan. Satan will always use our friends and family unwittingly to hurt us. Many times they don’t even know they are causing us harm. They are not the enemy. Satan is the enemy. They are our friends. They may, by their misguided zeal cause wounds like Peter did, but just like Jesus, we can overcome evil with the healing power of Jesus’ goodness.

You can enjoy studying this week’s SS lesson here.

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.