When Everything Goes Wrong

Fort Desoto Love Letters 030
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. Job 3:10 NLT

While our experience may be different than Job’s, many of us have been in situations, so dire, that we even question our existence.

Wayne’s parents never married. Growing up, he learned to shrug off the names he was called on the church school playground, and ignore the older ladies whispering behind his back in church.

Wayne managed to work his way through school. He got a job, and then got engaged to his best friend. Finally he had someone who loved him and would never leave him, unlike the father he never even knew. He vowed to himself as much as to his fiancee that he would create the perfect home for her, and unlike his biological father, would always be there to provide for his future children. As he looked forward to the wedding, he hoped to begin a new and better life.

But then Wayne’s whole world came crashing down. First, his fiancee broke off their engagement. Then he lost his job. And when he thought he had found a new job at least, his new supervisor told him things were not working out.

Wayne came home to his empty apartment and threw himself down on the floor. Feeling as low as you can get, Wayne felt a huge void in his life.

No one called from church to check up on him either. What’s the point of surviving in a world where no one cares if you survive or not?  Wayne cried out, asking God why nothing was going right. Suddenly a thought came to him – but not from God. He reasoned that his parents never should have had the affair that brought him into this world, and therefore he was never supposed to be born! That has to be it, Wayne reasoned. Nothing works out for me, because God does not have a plan for my life, seeing how my parents never should have made me. His fiancee did not want him. His old job did not want him. Now things were not working at at his new job, and he wondered if anyone needed him or wanted him at all? It sure did not feel like he was wanted or needed by anyone. He was all alone, and it seemed nobody cared if he lived or died. And if no one cared if he lived or died, why should he? Who would miss him if he just vanished away? Obviously no one from his work, or his ex-fiancee.

Wayne was so sure his theory was correct, that the following day at lunch he shared it with a friend from church. When Wayne explained that nothing was working out because he was not supposed to be born, his friend surprised him, by responding, “That is the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard!” Wayne’s friend was close enough that only he could get away with a response like that, but it woke Wayne up enough to realize his theory simply was not true. After all, Solomon was a product of Bathsheba and David’s sinful encounter, yet Solomon went on to write inspired proverbs and became an ancestor of the Savior.

Long story short, Wayne discovered that God did have a plan for his life. Although he’s had his ups and downs, he has had many opportunities to see God’s hand in his life. And God used him and is continuing to use him to pastor his flock.

Like Job, even though God greatly loved and had a plan for Wayne’s life, did not mean his life was just a walk in the park. Even Mary, Jesus’ mother had her moments.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you! ” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! Luke 1:28‭-‬30 NLT

Mary was chosen. She was favored and the Lord was with her. I’m sure she didn’t feel that way when she heard her Son being called a demon and folks questioning the legitimacy of His birth, or when she watched Him being crucified. Still, she was chosen and favored, and God was with her.

If your heart is fully surrendered, take heart. Whatever storm you are going through. You are chosen. You are favored, and the Lord is with you. And yes! God has a plan for your life!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

The Job Challange

Al Lopez Park
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Whenever a new year rolls around, we see new devotional books come out. Some have been written by friends of mine and I am very proud of them. Occasionally the author will share a gem from the Bible, that quite frankly, I never would have found on my own. Still, my favorite devotional book is still the Bible itself. To me, nothing can replace the actual Bible, and as we study the Bible on our own, God Himself reveals those precious gems. Of course, my friends who write devotional books are not trying to replace the Bible. They encourage the readers to read the Bible.

Same with the Sabbath School quarterly authors. Our Sabbath School lesson quarterlies are well prepared and written. Like devotional books though, the purpose of the Sabbath School quarterlies is to get us to study the Bible. Last year, when our Sabbath School lesson was on the book of Matthew, Maurice Ashton challenged us  all to read the book of Matthew. That challenge was well received by many of you. Since the current lesson is on the book of Job, I would like to encourage everyone to read the book of Job for themselves this quarter. Those 42 chapters cover everything from the conflict between good and evil, and the gospel, and good news of a Redeemer. We find practical doctrinal teachings about death and the hope of a resurrection, as well as practical examples of how to help those who are suffering, and yes, how not to help those who are suffering.

Now if you are not an avid reader, 42 chapters may seem like a lot. If you just break it down to only 3 chapters a day, you can cover the entire book in just 2 weeks. Since the book is also divided by different people doing the talking, you break it up into sections that way as well. That way you get the complete thought that may over lap a chapter. If you don’t like reading, you may enjoy listening to someone else read. Remember, in Revelation 1 there is a blessing to those who read the book and listen to the book being read, (See Revelation 1:3). I believe that blessing goes for every book of the Bible, including Job. Maybe you can read or listen as your family reads for family worship, or you can study it with your small group. The other night in bed, I went to Job on my Youversion Bible app, and selected my favorite version and listened to several chapters before falling asleep.

This quarter I am reading the entire book of Job again, and I encourage and challenge you to do the same.

If you have already read it recently, may I suggest reading it again in a different version? I always find new gems when I try different versions. Again if you don’t like reading, I challenge you to listen to it. You will find that BibleGateway.org offers audio options for many Bible. You will also find Audio Bibles in the Android and IPhone/IPad app stores. Some can be used off-line, others require a connection.

Either way, I invite you to share on the Sabbath School Network discussions, the things God has shown you. God promises you a blessing if you do!

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

Was Job Just a Guinea Pig?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Occasionally I hear people ask why God used Job for a guinea pig. Why did God allow Job to be tortured just for the sake of making a point to Satan? Was Job just a pawn in God and Satan’s chess game?

At first glance it may appear so, but let’s look a little closer. Fist of all it is said of God,

In all their suffering he also suffered, Isaiah 63:9 NLT

Whatever pain Job felt, God felt it too. While watching a documentary on the holocaust, I heard a woman talking about seeing a small child killed by a concentration camp officer. She said, when that happened, she stopped believing in God. If only she had understood that God was suffering with that poor child. No, that in and of itself does not answer all the questions as to why God allowed Job to suffer and the holocaust to happen, but it does tell me God is not using humanity or Job as a guinea pig or as pawns in some chess match with Satan, if He is suffering just as much as everyone else. I don’t have to have all the answers to trust God. If God allowed sin and suffering, knowing it would cost Him His own dear Son on the cross, then I know there must be a good reason.

Job’s friends came up with a quick answer to the problem of suffering. Surely Job brought this upon himself! For some reason we feel better about God allowing pain and suffering if we figure they somehow deserve it. When we do this we misunderstand the character of God. Fact is God does not want to see anyone suffer, even if they deserve it.

Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

So while we are prone to draw peace form knowing people deserved to suffer, or brought it upon themselves, the fact that they may deserve it is no consolation to God. He hurts just the same.

Even though Job’s friends might not have had the right attitude, Job did learn and grow through his suffering. While he maintains his innocence for the most part of the story, at the end, Job said,

I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance. Job 42:6 NLT

While Job’s friends may have been more than a little rough on him, Job did have some precious lessons to learn, and yes, some precious revelations of God’s grace that could only be found through suffering. Even though God bragged on Job in the first chapter, He did not imply that Job had “arrived.” Job still had some things to learn about himself, and his need for God’s righteousness. Theologians have been trying to answer the question for ages, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” In fact, they’ve come up with a fancy name for it – theodicy. 1 The question why bad things happen to good people is actually hypothetical, because, there are no good people for bad things to happen to!

No one does good, not a single one. Romans 3:12 NLT

Job grew throughout the story, and in his suffering became more intimate with his Redeemer.

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Job 19:25-27 NLT

God did not allow Job to suffer like a guinea pig so God could prove a point to Satan. Job had to suffer to learn obedience just like Jesus did.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:8 NLT

The suffering and obedience led both Jesus and Job into intimacy with the Father. Again, I do not know why. Maybe you do and can comment below. But for now it is enough for me to know that if Jesus had to suffer too, there must be a good reason. My theory is simply that anything that was proven to Satan was not the main event. Job’s character growth and intimacy with God was the main event. The things Job endured were not just to put on some show for the devil to see. They were to bring Job closer to God, and to realize joys and victories, and yes and intimacy with God, that could not have been realized any other way.

  1. Theodicy covers a little more ground than just the question of why good people suffer. It deals with the questions of God’s goodness in the presence of evil.
  2. You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

The Need for Un-Traditional Evangelism

Tampa Cross
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Mary, an elderly lady in my Tampa First SDA Church family, told me how she became a Seventh-day Adventist in the early ’30s in British Honduras, now Belize. She was school age, when her little brother noticed a huge tent going up in town. He told their mother he wanted to go to the circus. His mother told him there was no circus, as nothing was said about a circus in the papers or radio.

Still, little brother would not relent, so mother took the family on a walk to make sure there was no circus in the tent. At the tent, the mother told the boy to go look inside. It only took a moment for him to come back out and inform the family, “We can go home now. They are just having church in there!” The mother said, “I am too tired to walk any more now. Let’s go inside and rest a while.” The family then heard the gospel message which changed their lives forever. This is how my friend Mary, now in her 90’s, became a Seventh-day Adventist Christian and married a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.

In addition to all my small group Bible studies, I also have a golf group that meets the fourth Sunday of each month. I have formed a real camaraderie with the other guys over 18 holes, searching for golf balls in the woods and creek beds. While this group does not study the Bible on the golf course, we do have some in-depth discussions sometimes, waiting for the groups in front of us to tee off. One discussion resulted in some Bible studies after the game, which led to a father and son baptism. One Sunday after a round of golf, I went with one of the guys to lunch. He had been visiting our church, and commented that he wished the other guys would have had time to join us for lunch as he is really enjoying getting to know them. Hence, our golf group is bonding us not just to woods and sand traps, but to those who need Jesus. As a result, during our discussions, people are learning more than just how to improve their swing, but also how to improve their walk with God.

Some people may complain that our approach to evangelism is becoming too worldly. They say we should not try to imitate the world to win people to Jesus. I agree to a point. But I have even heard a couple of people say, we need to go back to our roots and those old-fashioned tent meetings. Old-fashioned tent meetings? Those old-fashioned tent meetings looked like the worldly circuses of the day! And because of the circus-like tent meetings, my friend Mary spent over 50 years of ministry as an Adventist pastor’s wife.  She is also a very “traditional,” balanced, well-versed in the Bible lady.

When people say we need to go back to the old-fashioned forms of evangelism, they often forget that at the time, those were actually pretty “modern” forms of evangelism – to arrest the attention of the people in that era. So today we need to do likewise.

Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention. We must be deadly in earnest. We are on the very verge of times of trouble and perplexities that are scarcely dreamed of.–Letter 20, 1893.
From Christ’s methods of labor we may learn many valuable lessons. He did not follow merely one method; in various ways He sought to gain the attention of the multitude; and then He proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel.–Ellen White, Evangelism, Pages 122-123

Sure, there are boundaries to everything, even evangelism, but when you hear someone say that a current form of evangelism is not traditional enough, remember we have been counselled to do “something out of the common course of things.” We must try various methods to gain the attention of the multitudes who so desperately need to hear about Jesus. Back in the day, we used “old-fashioned” tent meetings because they looked like “old-fashioned” circuses, which always drew a crowd. Today old-fashioned tents and circuses no longer draw crowds, so we must find new ways to draw people to hear about Jesus in our day, just like the tent people did in their day.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Setting our Course by the Stars, not the Lights of Passing Ships

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

We  ought to set our course by the stars, not the lights of every passing ship. -Omar N Bradley

Jesus does not call us to follow other Christians. He calls us to follow Him.

I was seven years old, lying awake in the middle of the night, thinking about how Jesus died for me. I decided I wanted to be baptized and follow Him. I got up and walked into my parents’ room, woke them up, and told them I wanted to be baptized. They thought that was great, but told me we could talk about it at breakfast. Looking back, I don’t know why I had to tell them in the middle of the night. It wasn’t like I was going to be baptized before breakfast.

In the decades since that night, I occasionally have experienced people trying to bribe and even bully me, both inside the church and outside the church, to compromise my beliefs. A conference publishing director once asked me to do something on Sabbath, that I did not feel was appropriate. He told me the conference president wants it done on Sabbath, so I better do it or else. In that moment I remembered two things. 1. Jesus died for me and not the conference president. I owed my life to Jesus and no one else. 2. On that night long ago, as I lay in bed thinking about Jesus’ love, I gave my heart to Jesus, and not the conference president. Of course those threats came from the publishing director. I have no way of knowing if the order actually came from the president. The president never made the actual threat. I stayed true to my convictions, and as far as I know, no threat was every carried out. Sadly, soon after, the publishing director left the church entirely. That’s what happens when you follow people instead of Jesus.

Often people get discouraged when folks in the church let them down. However, inMatthew 26:50 Jesus still called Judas “friend” when he betrayed Him. Jesus was not the least bit phased by Judas’ betrayal, because Jesus already “knew what was in each person’s heart.” John 2:25 NLT

The Bible is full of examples where people are let down by others but God still provided.

You know how hard I have worked for your father, but he has cheated me, changing my wages ten times. But God has not allowed him to do me any harm. Genesis 31:6-7 NLT

Jacob was cheated by Laban, but thanks to God no harm was done. This is why Paul said,

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 NLT

We work for God not for people. Therefore we count on God to provide for us, and not people.

In my ministry various people have provided for me, for which I am very thankful. God has used different people at different times, but in the end it has always been God providing. I have learned to trust Jesus and not any one person or group of persons.

A while back when my verbal contract ended with a church, they gave me a generous severance. I wanted to use a portion of the money to buy a nice parting gift for the church to show my appreciation for their years of supporting my ministry. However, in the meantime, I heard about a family that had no money to pay the rest of their child’s Adventist school tuition. I decided helping them would be more practical than buying a nice gift that would collect dust in a church closet. I went to the school treasurer and paid off their school debt. Elated, the school treasurer asked if she could tell them who just paid off their debt. At first I thought sure, I would like for them to know that I care about them. But then I thought, Wait a minute. This gift actually came from God, and God is the One they need to trust in, not me! Next time God may use another person to help them. They need to know each time that God is helping them. They need to trust God and not me or anyone else. So I told the treasurer not to tell. All they needed to know was that God provided.

We are not called to follow other Christians. We are called to follow Jesus. We are not called to trust in other Christians. We are called to trust in Jesus.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

How do you Know if it’s a Friendly Church?

Tampa Storm 2012
I am writing today from the dark and stormy Tampa Bay area.

Back in the ’80s I was invited to preach in a church in Northern Oklahoma. I arrived in time for Sabbath school, and heard the Sabbath School superintendent talking about how everyone should be friendly, and if we have guests, invite them home for lunch. I thought how nice! After my sermon, as I was greeting people on their way out, the Sabbath School superintendent shook my hand, thanked me for coming and then joined her family in the car and drove away. As she walked away, I almost said, “So, am I supposed to follow you to your house?” Seems to me, we sometimes want to be known as being the friendliest church in town, without actually having to be the friendliest church in town, or being friendly at all for that matter.

I have often said that you can’t tell how friendly a church is on Sabbath morning. It is during the week that you find how friendly a church is. On Sabbath people will smile and greet you. By the way, may I throw out there, that if you are not the designated greeter, that it is even more important for you to greet others? When you are a guest and get greeted by the greeter, that is like the free space on the bingo card. Being greeted by the greeter does not make you feel extra warm and welcomed. You just perceive that as the greeter doing her job. While everyone is friendly during church, the question is how many are friendly after church? How often do you call your church members during the week? By the way, it is not your pastor’s job to be visiting everyone. It is your pastor’s job to encourage everyone to visit everyone.

Fellowship lunches are nice, but I have made some observations. I have seen entire families sitting at a table all by themselves. My reaction is, you could have sat all by yourself at home. I imagine they would like someone else to sit with. That is why they came, but no one else will sit with them. Oh sure, they will smile and wave at them, and even shake their hand when meeting in the hall, but genuine friendliness goes a lot farther than that. By the way, I realize many people drive great distances to church, and its not really practical to ask someone to your home for lunch when its a two hour drive. Therefore the church makes a nice meeting point for lunch and fellowship. But is that always the reason for having fellowship lunch? Could fellowship lunch at church be a nice way to be friendly without actually having to have someone come into your home? Could it actually be a way to be friendly while still being a bit standoffish? Do we meet people at church to avoid having them in our homes?

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, Acts 2:46 NKJV

Here I see the early church first of all not just being friendly on Sabbath but being friendly daily. I also see them doing it in their homes and not just the church. Indeed it is not on Sabbath, but during the week when you see just how friendly a church is.

In June, I published a post about losing my mother. I was so comforted by the comments and kind words that followed. It was healing to know that I had friends around the world that cared for me everyday and not just on Sabbath.

Just a couple weeks ago I had a  rare weekday afternoon free, and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team also had a rare weekday afternoon game, so I went to enjoy some alone time. While there I walked over to the section where I sat with my mother and father the last time they went to a game with me. Suddenly and unexpectedly a rush of sadness came over me. I went by myself to enjoy some alone time, but I am sure many of you will understand when I say, my alone time turned to loneliness and despair.  The Rays won 2-0 but as I walked out there was this huge cloud hanging over me, separating me from the sunshine of God’s love and the love of my friends. I know the sun is still there even when the clouds block it, and I know God’s love is still there even when “clouds” seem to block it.

I got in my car, feeling gloomy. I started driving towards the beaches that my mother loved so much. Then that gloomy cloud hanging over me started dropping raindrops of doubt. “You are all alone William. Look you are here all by yourself, no one cares!” Never mind the fact that I chose to go the game alone for some alone time! Never mind all the kind words people shared on SSNET and cards, calls and texts. But our emotions like to play mind games with us, and they lie to us about the reality of God’s love and the love of our friends and family. As I pulled over near the water to stop and pray, those raindrops of doubt started to pour. Now I know full well that the Bible and the Bible alone is all I need to know that I am very deeply loved. Even while my emotions were playing mind games with me, I knew not to trust my feelings and to trust the Bible. But something wonderful happened. The sunshine of God’s love broke through my metaphoric cloud. At that same moment when I thought I had myself convinced that I was all alone in the world now, my cell phone beeped and vibrated. I looked down and read this text from a friend far away.

Hey William, Just checking in to see how things are going. I was just thinking about you and wondered how you are?

In an instant I realized how stupid the gloomy cloud hanging over my head really was! I felt again what I already knew, that those raindrops of doubt were nothing more than hollow lies! God used a friend I had met years ago at church, who moved far away, to show me real friendliness, not in church Sabbath morning, but on a weekday afternoon.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

PS I want to take this opportunity to thank my friend who texted me that day from Indiana, and all my friends who continue calling and texting, keeping the clouds away.

A Tribute to Community Service Volunteers

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

How special are the men and women working in our community services centers around the world? Well consider this: Nowhere in the Bible do I read of a high priest being raised from the dead, or a pastor or head elder. But I do read this:

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. Acts 9:36-41 NKJV

I remember when I was a boy, Seventh-day Adventist Churches named their community services centers after Dorcas, and they were called Dorcas buildings. Like Dorcas, community services volunteers demonstrate to the community the love and compassion of Jesus today. Through community services centers we see a practical demonstration of the very essence of Who God is. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing practical services for the community, this is the one branch of the church the community would most obviously miss if the church were to disappear.

I know we are not saved by works. I realize many a hard worker has died at an early age. Still, I wonder if Dorcas was such a wise steward of her time and blessed so many people in the community, demonstrating the nature of God, that God felt it necessary to extend her life? High priests, apostles, pastors and head elders have never been raised from the dead yet, but God raised a humble community services center worker back to life. That tells me community services workers have a very special place in God’s heart and in my heart too! Thank you to all of you who minister to the community at your local Seventh-day Adventist Community Service Centers!

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