11 Humble men and the Holy Spirit

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV

I often read this passage thinking of Jesus talking to the worldwide church, but reality is, verse 16 tells us Jesus said this to 11 humble fishermen. That was the worldwide church! He told 11 humble fishermen to make disciples in every nation! What an incredible command for 11 meager men! I don’t think they would have come up with such an ambitious goal on their own. Left to themselves I think they would have come up with a more realistic goal. But they weren’t left to themselves. Jesus was still with them and the Holy Spirit would help them accomplish more than that tiny group imagined possible.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. John 14:12 NKJV

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, Ephesians 3:20 NKJV

Each one reached one like Andrew always did, as well as preaching to crowds like Peter did in Acts 2, and they soon began multiplying as “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47. It is amazing to think that just as people today trace their family tree back for hundreds of years, that every believer today is a believer because someone was reached by someone who was reached by someone who was reached by someone etc. etc. who was reached by one of the 11 fishermen Jesus was speaking to! As a matter of fact, some have been reached today by one of those fishermen! A pastor told me when he was a teen, he found Jesus one night, when he picked up the Bible and read the book of John. Two thousand years later, John’s personal writings are still reaching millions firsthand!

Never has a group been so successful amidst such opposition!

Christ did not fail, neither was He discouraged, and His followers are to manifest a faith of the same enduring nature. They are to live as He lived, and work as He worked, because they depend on Him as the great Master Worker. Courage, energy, and perseverance they must possess. Though apparent impossibilities obstruct their way, by His grace they are to go forward. Instead of deploring difficulties, they are called upon to surmount them. They are to despair of nothing, and to hope for everything. With the golden chain of His matchless love Christ has bound them to the throne of God. It is His purpose that the highest influence in the universe, emanating from the source of all power, shall be theirs. They are to have power to resist evil, power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master, power that will enable them to overcome as Christ overcame.-Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 679-680.

How it must have comforted John, when He saw Jesus in the midst of the lamp stands which represents the churches. See Revelation 1:12-19. Jesus was still with His church,and has promised to never leave His church. So don’t you leave it either! As a matter of fact, by sending the Holy Spirit we all have local access to God. A former student of mine who moved to the mountains of Chile, wrote to tell me he had begun personal Bible studies with a friend on his way home from school. When my young friend shares the gospel on the rocky roads in the mountains of Chile, the same Holy Spirit is with him that is with the General Conference President in Maryland. The General Conference office has no location advantage. The Holy Spirit is all over the world!

With the Holy Spirit all over the world and Jesus in the midst of His church, we can do amazing things! Greater than we even imagine possible. The good news is it is Jesus’ church and not mine.A couple summers ago  the senior pastor at my church took another assignment. It was just me leading out until another senior pastor came in the fall. My church had a lot going on, and I almost became overwhelmed until I remembered it wasn’t my church! It’s Jesus’ church. When I was a lay pastor and Bible Worker in a small church in west Texas, the members occasionally told me they could not survive without me, and I was young and dumb enough to believe them. Fact is the membership more than doubled after I finally left! It wasn’t my church; it is Jesus’ church! Also during that same time, another church I was helping had a leader who thought he owned the church, since he thought he gave most the money. He tried to manipulate me to follow him instead of the senior pastor. I told him I work for Jesus and not the richest person in the church. He laughed at me! He finally took his money and left, thinking the church would collapse without his money. He forgot it was not his church! It was Jesus’ church, and right after he left, we had some evangelism meetings and so many people started coming into the church that we had to build a bigger building!

I studied with several young people in the first church I was talking about, and they were baptized. They came into the church with some new ideas. They wanted to change the times for Sabbath School and church service. The older members were upset and one of them told me, “Don’t let those kids take over our church!” She was insinuating it was her church and not theirs. Sadly every single one of those young people left! They did not want to take over the church. They just wanted to be part of the church.

Unfortunately some try to manipulate others by telling them it is not their church, it belongs to God, when in reality they just want to do their own thing, not God’s. So don’t let anyone tell you to keep your opinion to yourself because it is not your church, unless they are also willing to keep their own opinion to themselves, because it is not their church either. Fact is we are all a part of the church and have a responsibility and voice.

Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established. Proverbs 15:22 NKJV

But over every one of us, Jesus is the Head of the church. It is His church, and its success depends upon Him. John was glad to see Jesus in the midst of the candle sticks in his day, and I am glad to see Jesus in the midst of His church today. I am also glad Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit to help us fulfill the Gospel commission.  

Look how far the church has come since Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is just as powerful today and will help us take the Gospel into all the world when we depend and cooperate with Him. 

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

Interceding for our Persecutors

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Luke 23:34 NLT

It may seem hard to pray for God to forgive and bless our enemies, but it’s a healing balm for us as well as for them. I once heard a preacher on the radio say that you cannot feel bitterness while praying for God to lavishly bless your enemy. I did not believe it, but when I tried it, I found it to be true. After all, hasn’t God been extravagantly gracious and forgiving to us? Shouldn’t He give our enemy as much grace as He has given us? Shouldn’t we beg God to be as merciful to our enemy as He has been to us? I suppose I am using the term “enemy” loosely. It may not necessarily be an enemy but may be a friend who annoys us or a family member who frustrates us. Or it could be an outright enemy.

In 1979 at an Oklahoma radio station Wade Watts, a black minister, met Johnny Lee Clary, a KKK member, to discus racial issues between blacks and whites. Clary was full of hate, but Watts let him know, “You can’t do enough to me to make me hate you. I’m gonna love you and I’m gonna pray for you, whether you like it or not.” Clary did everything he could to test Watt’s love. He even burned his church down! Watts simply reminded him that there was nothing he could do to make him hate him, and he was going to ask God to forgive him for being stupid! You can read more about this amazing story here, but in the end instead of Clary getting Pastor Watts to hate him, Pastor Watts got Clary to love Jesus! Watts’ unconditional love and intercessory prayer changed the heart of a KKK member. Not only did Watts not hate Clary, but when Clary gave his heart to Jesus, the two actually became friends and worked in ministry together! By the way, Wade Watts was the uncle of J.C. Watts who is a former Oklahoma congressman as well as a former star quarterback for Oklahoma University. 

Image © Pacific Press Publishing Assn. Goodsalt.com

Jesus was not the only  biblical example of someone interceding for another who hurt them. When Miriam was disrespecting Moses, she was struck with leprosy from God. How did Moses react? Did he celebrate? No! The first thing out of his mouth was,

 “O God, I beg you, please heal her!” Numbers 12:13 NLT 

Years later Paul said,

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT 

Moses appreciated the reconciling love of God and wanted Miriam to be reconciled as well. Everyone who experiences the reconciling love of God will be given the ministry of reconciling others to God. To a heart subdued by the love of Christ it is not a chore but rather Paul describes it as a “wonderful message.” 

In the story of Job, Eliphaz was not the best friend to Job and also misrepresented God. In the end God told Eliphaz to offer a sacrifice, but it would only be accepted because of Job’s intercessory prayer on behalf of Eliphaz. 

My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. Job 42:8 NLT 

What an illustration of the power of intercessory prayer! Eliphaz will be accepted because of the prayer of Job. Not only did Job’s prayer bring healing to Eliphaz; it brought healing to Job himself.

When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Job 42:10 NLT 

Paul, who speaks of the ministry of reconciliation, had much to be thankful for concerning Stephen’s intercessory prayer as he was being stoned to death. Paul, who was called Saul at the time, received the coats of the men who stoned Stephen, showing he gave his blessing for the the stoning and thus was just as guilty as those throwing the stones. Did Stephen pray for retaliation? No. He prayed, 

“Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. Acts 7:60 NLT 

By interceding for his murderers Stephen reflected the unconditional love of Jesus. In a grief recovery class I was teaching, a few members expressed sorrow that they hurt someone who died suddenly before that person could forgive them. That is when I realized the significance of Jesus and Stephen forgiving their tormentors as they died. By having a forgiving attitude if we die while someone owes us an apology they can have peace knowing they were automatically forgiven. Stephen’s intercession and attitude of forgiveness may also  have led to the conversion from Saul to Paul. From Moses and Miriam to Watts and Clary and beyond, I suppose all eternity will be filled with stories about how the intercessory prayers of the persecuted led to changed hearts and lives both in this world and the great hereafter. 

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

The Salt of the Earth

Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. John 17:18 NLT

How did the Father send Jesus into the world? Did He send Him to a monastery where He spent all His time alone making sure He never came in contact with the world? No. The Father sent His Son into the world to work in a carpenter shop until He was 30. Working in a carpenter shop, He had a boss to please as well as demanding customers. He had deadlines to meet. He had tools that broke at the most inopportune times.  He certainly did not spend every waking moment sitting on a mountain top reading Scripture. He was thrown into the hustle and bustle of everyday life. That was how the Father sent Jesus into the world, and that is how Jesus sends us into the world. 

As Adventist Christians many of us struggle with being in the world without being worldly.  Many of us try to isolate ourselves from the world but that clearly is not the answer. 

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Matthew 5:13 NLT 

Salt is a preserving substance and, in order for salt to accomplish its purpose, it has to be mixed into the food. Salt has no saving influence sitting alone in the cupboard. Likewise we need to be mixing with the people of the world in order for our saving influence to be felt. As inconsistent humans it can be hard to find the right balance of being in the world but not of the world. Jesus is our only consistent example. 

Jesus saw in every soul one to whom must be given the call to His kingdom. He reached the hearts of the people by going among them as one who desired their good. He sought them in the public streets, in private houses, on the boats, in the synagogue, by the shores of the lake, and at the marriage feast. He met them at their daily vocations, and manifested an interest in their secular affairs. He carried His instruction into the household, bringing families in their own homes under the influence of His divine presence. His strong personal sympathy helped to win hearts. He often repaired to the mountains for solitary prayer, but this was a preparation for His labor among men in active life. From these seasons He came forth to relieve the sick, to instruct the ignorant, and to break the chains from the captives of Satan. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 151 

Notice Jesus did not just tolerate their secular affairs. He took an interest in their secular affairs. Being a Christian does not mean we isolate or quarantine ourselves from secular activities. After all, we will be building houses and farming in the new earth. We won’t be sitting on a cloud playing our harps all day. Being a Christian does not mean removing yourself from secular life. Being a Christian means taking Jesus into our secular life. For example one day at a Christian school where I was subbing one day a group of boys asked me to pray with them before their basketball game with another school that afternoon. They wanted to have a fun game that would be a blessing for all involved including the other team. They wanted to take Jesus into their secular activity. 

Here is what someone giving the testimony of Jesus shared to both parents and teachers.

Give some of your leisure hours to your children; associate with them in their work and in their sports, and win their confidence. Cultivate their friendship. -Ellen White, Adventist Home, Page 192

The testimony of Jesus is very balanced. While we need to guard our Christianity in playing sports, we also need to guard our Christianity in church board meetings too. I’ve heard some people say all sports should be condemned because they saw cheating, lying and corruption at a sporting event. Well I have seen cheating, lying and corruption in church board and church business meetings too. Shall we ban those also? No! We must bring Jesus into those meetings and into our leisure hours. We must make Jesus a part of our sporting activities as well as our church board meetings. We will not help Jesus win the great controversy between Him and Satan by hiding in a monastery. We help Jesus win the great controversy by bringing His righteousness into our workplace, our public school classrooms and our neighborhood and communities. 

We need Jesus to help us find the right balance between being in the world and not of the world. While the testimony of Jesus encourages us to live in the country, it also encourages us to do mission work in the cities. Just because we live outside the city does not mean we don’t still have a work to do inside the city. There is a balance. Jesus was very balanced between the mountain and the multitude and those who bear His testimony are balanced also. 

About 13 years ago an older gentleman from church asked me to go with him to the golf-driving range. I literally had no interest in golf. I thought it was the most boring thing in the world, but I went to be sociable. He told me, “There are souls to be won on the golf course.” That afternoon I became hooked on golf! It may be boring to watch but sure is fun to play. Meanwhile over the last 13 years I have found myself having spiritual conversations with people who would never talk to me inside a church. I started Bible studies with one of my golf buddies  and baptized him. My friend was right. There are souls to be won on the golf course. 

Last Christmas my church was stunned and heartbroken when Larry, one of our older members died suddenly. I performed his funeral where I met several people from the community. They shared with me how Larry touched their lives. A few of them were from the neighborhood diner where Larry often ate. Waitresses and customers told me how Larry shared Jesus with them and even gave them Bible studies. Even though Larry is gone now ,other church members are continuing to frequent the diner and share study guides, carrying on the legacy that Larry began. Larry did not hide from the community to be a Christian. Larry brought Christ with him into the community and into that diner. Larry was the salt of the earth or at least his corner of the earth. Will you allow Jesus to make you the salt of the corner of your earth? Larry made friends for God. Will you make friends for God? 

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

Whom do you Recommend?

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I personally don’t trust online reviews. I don’t know the people giving the reviews. I have read some pretty scathing reviews about restaurants that I actually enjoyed. For all I know, the people giving the scathing review are just bitter people wanting to ruin the reputation of a perfectly decent establishment.  But I do trust my good friends who know me well to let me know what places they recommend.

My mother, who has been gone a few years now, used to have a little green book. It was filled with her own personal reviews of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions  from places we visited driving all over the country through the years. That way we knew what places to visit again or not visit again whenever we were back in the area.  My mother recorded her own experiences and reviews as who would know her tastes better than herself?  After all didn’t David tell us to taste and see for ourselves what we think about the Lord?

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8 NLT 

I like to try new restaurants out for myself. Now during the quarantine I have been doing a lot more cooking at home. I have to say I have impressed myself with some healthy and tasty recipes I have tried or come up with myself. However I am a bachelor, and eating out with friends is part of my social life. So when my friends and I can’t decide where to go eat on a particular occasion, we often decide to try a new place. That way it’s great if we love it but no big deal if we don’t. We decide for ourselves what we like by experiencing it ourselves. That’s what David is telling us – experience the Lord for yourself. Don’t just take his word for it. “Taste and see” for yourself. To me that is a transparent and confident referral. When I walk by the food court at the mall the Asian restaurant has free  samples on  a stick set out for people to try before they order. By giving out free samples,  they are pretty confident about their product. David is being transparent and confident when he tells us to taste for ourselves and see that the Lord is good. 

So while I don’t trust recommendations from strangers, I do trust my own personal experiences. Next I trust the recommendation of a trusted friend. In Mark 5:1-20 a demoniac meets Jesus, who changes His life. Now if you read the story you will see that the demoniac had done some pretty embarrassing things. I am sure once he was in his right mind he shuddered to think about the things he had done. After being healed, he asks Jesus if he can go with Him. I imagine he needed a new place to start over, preferably  a place where no one had seen all his embarrassing behavior. Instead, Jesus sends Him straight home to his family and friends to tell them that Jesus really changed his life. After all, who could recommend Jesus better than a close friend who was demon possessed but was now in his right mind?  He could let them see exactly how Jesus had changed his life. This would be better than Jesus’ disciples going into his neighborhood and preaching.

Peter gave a great sermon at Pentacost. Philip gave a tremendous Bible study that led to an immediate baptism, but their dynamic preaching and teaching would be no match for the personal recommendation of a familiar neighbor and family member who had a life-changing experience with Jesus. Jesus knew that, more than dynamic speakers, the demoniac’s family and neighbors needed a personal demonstration that they could see for themselves. 

I mentioned my late mother earlier. I was 50 when she passed away, so I lived 50 years before losing anyone in my immediate family. I always pictured myself rolling up in a little ball  to die myself once anyone in my immediate family died. I used to ask my Christian friends how they found strength to go on after their parent died. Early in my ministry I would be comforting someone who had just lost their parent, but  I was actually observing them to learn how to survive whenever it happened to me. Sure I knew all the Bible promises and heard dynamic sermons about the second coming and resurrection. I even preached about it myself to people who told me they were blessed by it, but I was looking to my common everyday friends to see how they carried on after losing someone so close and precious to them. Even though I felt like I would just roll up in a little ball and die too, I knew by watching them carry on that God would help me carry on as well. One particular friend told me something very helpful when she lost her mother many years earlier. When I asked her how she carries on, she cheerfully smiled and replied, “My mother was able to live and enjoy her life without me before I was born, and I am able to live and enjoy my life without her now that she is gone.” It was so simple and made so much  sense. When my mother did die, of course I grieved, and I was okay with that. My greatest fear was not the grieving, my greatest fear was rolling up in a little ball and dying with her. But I did not roll up in a little ball and die. Just like my mother had a purpose for living before I was born, I have a purpose for living after she died. After all, as much as I loved my mother and love my family, I live for Jesus! 

My life and my ministry have flourished since my mother’s death due to the personal experience I have with Jesus – an experience which has been greatly encouraged by the testimony and referrals of personal trusted friends. in the same way, you are to be a living testimony to your family, friends and neighbors. Dynamic sermons by strangers have their place, but they are still just referrals given by strangers. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to let people see what God’s grace brought you from and where you are now. Seeing Jesus in the lives of my friends gave my hope. You can give your friends hope by letting them see all the changes Jesus has made in your life. 

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT 

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