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

Ciera 006

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?