Did the Repentant Thief get off Easy?

Fort Desoto Love Letters 030

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Many Christians squirm and struggle with the story of the repentant thief being saved without “putting in his time” or “earning” it. This story alone makes salvation look too easy. My response is, where in Scripture does it say salvation is supposed to be hard? How hard did Adam and Eve work to be placed on paradise to begin with? How hard did the angels work to be created in heaven?

Sure Jesus said,

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” Matthew 7:14

But does narrow and strait have to be hard?

Against popular belief, the Bible actually says,

The way of the transgressors is hard. Proverbs 13:15

Why? Because God’s love has made it hard for sinners to destroy themselves.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. Lamentations 3:22

At the beginning of my ministry I was working with a pastor who was very popular for his sound Adventist theology. He taught the importance of the law and obedience. He preached that Jesus saves us from sin not in sin. One night providence had us both at the bedside of a dying saint. An elderly woman who spent her entire life giving Bible studies, and baking pies to feed the needy. She was true to Bible doctrine. That night I watched while the pastor held this dear lady’s hand, and asked, “Do you love Jesus?” She would open her eyes long enough to smile and then quickly appear to fall asleep again. the pastor told her over and over, “Just rest in Jesus. He died for you and loves you.” What amazed me that night is what the pastor of righteous living did not say. He did not mention her avid Sabbath keeping, or Bible studies given, or how she fed the needy. I watched this lady die as the pastor encouraged her to cling to one thing, and one thing only-the cross!

Friends that  is how we are all saved, from the repentant thief to Methuselah with his 969 years of service, we are all saved by grace alone!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Nicodemus was equivalent to a General Conference official today. In John 3 Jesus never flattered Nicodemus with his position, titles or accomplishments. In John 3:14-17 He pointed him straight to the cross, as his only hope. The same hope given to the thief on the cross. So General Conference presidents are saved the same way the repentant thief on the cross was saved. This explains why Ellen White, wife of early GC president James White, asked him over and over on his death bed, “Do you love Jesus? Is Jesus precious to you?” She never mentioned his positions, titles or accomplishments. She knew those were worth garbage. She presented to her dying husband what Jesus presented to Nicodemus- the cross and the cross alone!

Sure it is important to point out that the repentant thief showed his repentance, not by saying he was sorry. He actually never said he was sorry. He did something drastically more important. He changed his attitude! He addressed Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord of his life. He made a confession that was backed up by the way he behaved in front of an unbelieving multitude.  That is exactly how we all are saved.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

This is exactly what the repentant thief did on the cross. And we all have the promise,

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13

It is worth pointing out that the thief was not playing games. He was not thinking to live as he pleased and then just repent at the last second. That of course is not genuine repentance. Because his repentance was sincere, he was saved the exact same way every repentant sinner is saved.

The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away: Wash all my sins away, Wash all my sins away; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away. -There is a Fountain, William Cowper 1772.

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

The Gift of Prophecy in the Last Days

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Referring to the latter days, Jesus in Matthew 24:24 warns of false prophets. Of course you can’t impersonate someone who is not real, so obviously Jesus recognized that the gift of prophecy would still be given out in the latter days. Joel 2:28-31 also tells us there will be those with the gift of prophecy in the last days. Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us the gift of prophecy is given to the church as long as we are growing up in Christ. So if we believe the Bible, we need to believe that there will be prophets after the Bible was written, because that’s what the Bible says.

A prophet doesn’t have to write in the Bible to be a prophet. John the Baptist, Miriam, Anna and several other prophets never wrote anything in the Bible.

Also, being a “lesser light” doesn’t mean one is not a prophet. In Daniel’s day, he was the lesser light, being compared to Moses who was the greater light of his day. Daniel had to pass the same test in his day, that every prophet has to pass in their day.

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Isaiah 8:20 NKJV

Following this same principle, In Acts 17:11 folks were searching their Bibles to see if what Paul said was so. Even though Paul wrote several books in the Bible, he was still the lesser light in his day pointing to the greater light, which in his day was the Old Testament. (Daniel was a lesser light in his day, but was found to be in perfect harmony with Moses and became a part of the greater light in Paul’s day.) In Acts 17:11. Paul was testifying about Jesus (Revelation 12:17 and Revelation 19:10 tell us prophecy is testifying about Jesus) and pointing people to the greater light, which was the Old Testament. So today someone with the gift of prophecy will testify of Jesus while pointing people to the greater light which is God’s Word.

While many today scoff at the idea of modern-day prophets, Paul warns,

Do not despise prophecies. 1 Thessalonians 5:20 NKJV

Instead he tells us to

Test all things; hold fast what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV

When a parent tells their youngest child, “Go tell your older brothers and sisters to come inside for dinner,” the older siblings can’t say, “We don’t have to obey you! Your’e our youngest sibling. You are nobody!” Even though they are the youngest, they have been sent by the parent. If the kids refuse to obey, they are not disobeying the youngest child. They are disobeying the parents. It is the same with prophets. If we reject a modern-day prophet just because they are just “one of us,” we are actually rejecting God and continuing the spirit of the Jews of whom Stephen asked, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute! See Acts 7:52.

As Paul said, we need to test the prophets to see if they are in harmony with the greater light which is the law and established testimonies of Jesus, i.e. the Scriptures. See Isaiah 8:20. Prophets also need to be tested to see if their lifestyle is in harmony with Jesus. See Matthew 7:15-23. Predictions must pass with 100% accuracy. See Jeremiah 28:9. If we find a prophet who passes the test we can claim the promise,

Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper. 2 Chronicles 20:20 NKJV

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

A Very Beautiful Disastrous Evening With Mother

Mom and me at Pier

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area about my beautiful mother.

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 is my favorite classical piece. I have a CD of Rachmaninoff performing the piece himself, that I randomly picked up at an estate sale in 2006. The pop song “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen borrows a section of the much older arrangement.

So I was very excited when I heard that the Florida Orchestra would be performing this selection in February of 2012. I made plans with a friend to get tickets. My mother told me she and dad would be coming down from Oklahoma, to visit at the same time. Mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, and was given two or three years to live if she had treatment. She refused chemo and was still with us 8 years later. In 2010 she fell and broke her hip, and then broke it again during a later surgery. She was frail now and had to use a walker. I told mom about the concert and she said her and dad would like to go with us.

I went to the ticket office and bought the cheap seats in the back like always. Concerts sound the same from any distance, so why pay more? I usually got tickets for Ruth Eckerd hall in Clearwater. This time I got tickets to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, right on the bay. I also prepaid for special parking that was supposed to be close to the entrance.

That night we arrived and the place was packed. The convenient parking I had arranged for was already taken. I think the parking attendants were a little overwhelmed. I got mother as close as I could, but we were still at least 100 yards from the door. Poor mother made it with us to the door. We showed the ticket taker our tickets. She looked at our tickets and looked at mom with her walker.  “To get to these seats you will have to climb about 20 steps,” she said. When I bought the tickets I did not realize I had bought tickets for the upper level, with steps to climb. Remember I usually got to Ruth Eckerd Hall, which is all one level, unlike the Mahaffey. The ticket lady told us the concert was sold out and all the handicapped seating was taken.

I felt terrible. What I thought was going to be a very special night was ruined. However, mother was not going to be denied attending the concert with me! The guide showed us to the elevator to the upper lever, but mother still had to climb at least 20 steps to get to our seats. (Maybe more. I honestly can’t remember exactly how many but it was a lot!) My mother was so thin and light that I actually wanted to pick her up and carry her up the steps. Mom, with her walker and help from dad and me started her climb up the steps. Some people already seated looked at us horrified, wondering why we were putting this poor old lady to torture. Some looked very concerned, and I am sure now, if they had known how far up were were climbing, they would have changed seats with us. Maybe I should have asked, but I was bamboozled by the chain of events and was very frustrated with myself for not being more careful selecting tickets. Of course the parking was not my fault. It did not turn out as I had arranged. I was very frustrated with the whole evening.

Mom made it to the top with her walker and our help, and enjoyed the rest of the concert. She never complained. Instead she bragged to her older sister later, about how well she climbed all those steps.

Now that mom will soon be gone for 2 years now, I look back on that disastrous night as one of the most beautiful evenings we had. What was more beautiful than the young woman on the piano that night melting our ears and hearts as she tickled the ivories, was my 76 year old cancer stricken mother, with a bad hip and walker, marching across the parking lot and up 20 or more steps to watch the concert with me! What she went through to spend the evening with me melts my heart.

Mother showed me that night at the concert how much she loved me, and what she was willing to endure to spend time with me. A love I will never take for granted, and a love I want to emulate. I thought the night would be about a beautiful classical music performance, but it was really about the performance of my beautiful classic mother. Mother has been gone for two mother’s days now. But until we meet again, I hope to love others the way she showed me how to love.

 

Inconsistencies With Lawlessness

Harbor Circa Pier

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Friday’s section of this week’s lesson asks,

“What is the problem with those who talk about the reality of sin and yet argue that God’s law has been done away with? What great inconsistency can you point out in that line of reasoning?”

There are many inconsistencies when people try to do away with the law. For one, without a law there is no sin. Romans 5:13 tells us sin is not charged against us without a law. 1 John 3:4tells us sin is breaking God’s law. If there is no law then I cannot sin. If I cannot sin then I do not need grace. If I do not need grace then I don’t need the cross. It was because the law could not be done away with that Jesus had to die.

Secondly I have met and I imagine you have too, people who quote all the commandments, until you mention the Sabbath. They then turn around and say the commandments were done away with. Funny, they didn’t say that when the other commandments were mentioned. There are many inconsistencies with that line of thinking but here is just one. The Sabbath predates the law at Sinai. So lets suppose the commandments were done away with. That would not get rid of the Sabbath, because the Sabbath was already instituted before the commandments were given. In Isaiah 66:23 we see the Sabbath will be observed throughout eternity.

I find it interesting that in Daniel 6:8 man claims man made laws can’t be changed, but in Daniel 7:25 man thinks to change God’s laws! The spirit behind thinking to change God’s laws, while claiming man’s laws are unchangeable can only come from the spirit who exalts himself above God. See Isaiah 14:12-14.

Those are some inconsistencies that I see. What inconsistencies do you see?

Why Support a Bible Worker Who Isn’t Even in Your Area?

There are plenty of Bible Workers to support, so why should someone support my Bible Worker ministry, especially if I’m not even in your area? First of all, God may not be asking you to support my ministry. He may be asking you to support workers in your own area. There are many Bible Workers worthy of your support. At the same time God may also be asking you to support ministries outside of you area, including mine. Here are some things to prayerfully consider, if you are asking yourself why you should support my ministry while I am far away.

Here is a letter Steven Vargas sent me from Chile. He shares how my ministry has helped him in soul winning while thousands of miles away.

Steven Vargas

Steven Vargas, High school student in Chile.

My name is Steven Vargas, and I am a former student of Tampa Adventist Academy, where Pastor Earnhardt was my Bible teacher. In his classes, he would always give the class Bible [chain referenced] studies to complete. Each week a different topic for example, Baptism, The Second Coming, The Sabbath, etc. Later that year I moved to Chile, where I was not able to attend a Christian school. It was difficult to adapt to my new school, but with God’s help I was able to do it. One day, a friend came up to me and asked, “Why are you so different?” I answered and said, “I’m a Seventh Day Adventist…”.Later that week, my friend asked why I kept the Sabbath and as soon as I heard that question, I remembered the Bible studies I used to complete in class. I asked Pr. Earnhardt where I could find them, and he lead me to his website, where I was able to find the bible studies. I asked if he had them in Spanish, and turns out he did. I used this to my advantage, and I was able to spread the word of God thanks to Pr. Earnhardt’s website. Sadly, my friend changed schools, but I will never forget the look in his eyes when I was giving him the bible studies. I hope to see him in heaven when God comes to take us. I give thanks to God for letting me preach His word through the bible studies of Pr. Earnhardt, and I hope to gain more souls for God thanks to them in the near future. -Steven Vargas, High School Student, Chile

Possibly God is asking you to support this Bible Worker ministry because it is literally reaching around the world! As well as giving studies in the Tampa Bay area, I have also provided seminars in person as far away as Peru and Connecticut. I also mentor other Bible Workers in other areas, and I thank you for supporting them as well. The In Light of the Cross website gets hits from over 175 countries every year. I also write and moderate for the Sabbath School Net, which reaches many more thousands of souls around the globe.

Also please consider that the Plant City and Tampa Bay area is a mission field like any other, with souls needing to hear the gospel.

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If you have prayed and felt God is leading you to financially support my Bible Worker ministry monthly or with a one time contribution, your support will be gladly appreciated! You may send your tax deductible contribution to the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church, P.O. Box 5379 Plant City, FL 33563. Please mark your check, “Bible Worker.”

Thank you to all my contributors past, present and future!

PS We are still working on online giving thank you for your patience. Meanwhile a few are giving from their online banking.

I am Living in my Last Days

DT Tampa july 4

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In 1979 when I was 14, I received a letter from the Tulsa Roughnecks major league soccer (football) team, asking me to renew my season tickets for the 1980 season. I could not believe my eyes. There it was “1980” in print! Growing up Seventh-day Adventist, I was told we were in the last days. The fuel crisis was going to bring an economic disaster, which would cause a national Sunday law. I never imagined the world lasting beyond the 70’s. Hence why it shocked me to see “1980” in print. I was sure the world would not last all the way until 1980.

Spoiler alert! 

It did.

Now we are well into the 21st century. By the way I love telling kids stories about growing up back in the nineteen hundreds. But I digress.

Meanwhile I have grieved the deaths of several loved ones, who I was sure would still be alive when Jesus returned. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s an Adventist child needn’t worry about parents growing old and dying, since we were always told Jesus would be coming back within the next five years.

Now I am closer to retirement than I am my high school graduation. Funny, in grade school we thought it would be forever until we graduated. Now its been forever since we graduated!

Still my faith in Jesus’ return has never wavered. I don’t feel Jesus has let me down, as He never promised to come back within the next five years. And Jesus never told my pastors and Bible teachers to tell me He was coming back within five years. That’s all on them, bless their hearts, they meant well!

Even though I always imagined myself hiding in the mountains during the time of trouble, when Jesus comes, I am now faced with the probability of my own death. I may be one of those resurrected when Jesus comes. People tell me I am still young, but I have done the math. If I live as long as my mother lived, I have 28 years left. I am not even promised that long, but based on life expectancy, my time on earth is probably less than 30 years. I am living in my last days!

whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. James 4:14 NKJV

Regardless if Jesus comes in the next 5 years or 200 years, I am looking at 30 years max that I have to endure this old earth. When I die my wait will be over. The next thing I know Jesus will becoming! 30 years is nothing! I am living in my last days! 

So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 NKJV

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

Two Things I Love About Daniel

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As we take a look at Daniel in this week’s lesson there are a couple of things I love about Daniel, that sometimes get overlooked. When his neck was on the line, I like how Daniel responded when God revealed to him the king’s dream.

Then Daniel went in to see Arioch, whom the king had ordered to execute the wise men of Babylon. Daniel said to him, “Don’t kill the wise men. Take me to the king, and I will tell him the meaning of his dream.” Daniel 2:24 NLT

Daniel’s relationship with God did not only save his life. It saved the lives of all the wise men, even the fake ones. Daniel’s first thoughts were of others, not just himself. So it is today. The entire world benefits from the Christian influences around them. Like when the disciples asked Jesus to calm the sea, it was not just calm for their little boat. All the boats on the sea benefited. Daniel wanted to save others. Later when the Persian leaders conspired against Daniel, it did not bother him that others did not have his back the way that he had theirs. Daniel knew God had his back and that’s all that mattered.

I also marvel at Daniel’s humility. Daniel 1:20 says Daniel and his friends were found to be ten times wiser. Yet when Daniel tells the king’s dream look what he says,

And it is not because I am wiser than anyone else that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wants you to understand what was in your heart. Daniel 2:30 NLT

Nothing is more annoying than a wise guy telling you how wise he is. Daniel realized smart people don’t tell you how smart they are. Daniel did not credit his wisdom. He credited God’s grace in wanting to reach the king’s heart. Daniel had more thank just Scriptural knowledge and prophetic understanding. He had people skills! So much so he flourished in the heart of Babylon without ever compromising his faith!

As we prepare for the end times, let’s not only pursue Daniel’s prophetic abilities. Let’s pursue his people skills.

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