Author: In Light Of The Cross

The Need for Un-Traditional Evangelism

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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

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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?

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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

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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. 

The Irony of Sympathy

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.Matthew 5:6-7 NKJV

I’ve been told the beatitudes are building blocks to a complete conversion. I find it interesting that after we are filled with God’s righteousness, instead of seeing ourselves as holier than others, we become merciful.

Several nights ago, as I was falling into my bed to go to sleep for the night, I heard a loud crash followed up by a boom! boom! boom! thud! I looked out my window expecting to see another fender bender on the little street outside my home. Instead I saw a broken-down fence and upside-down car on the grass. The man inside the car got out okay. Apparently he made the turn from one residential street to another a little too fast.

Years before I would have thought to myself, what an idiot! How can you have such an accident on a little street, while making a simple maneuver! However that is not what I thought this time. True, he was going too fast, but over the years I have learned the lesson not to make fun of people who make silly mistakes, because just as sure as I do, I will turn around and do something twice as crazy! Instead of making fun of him, or scolding him, the rest of the bystanders and I just made sure he was okay and had what he needed while we waited for help to arrive.

At UPS John, a seminary student, worked with me as a sorter. He was very mild-mannered and never lost it, even in the most stressfull situations. One day our belt was getting overloaded and I asked the unloaders to wait for us to clear the belt before adding any more packages. They did not listen, and more and more packages overloaded the belt. I became angry and said some things I should not have said. I caught myself and told John I felt bad for reacting that way. He assured me that this was a very stressful job, even more so when the unloaders don’t listen to you. He was right, but I marveled that even though he understood and was sympathetic, he still never lost it. He sympathized with me with his words, but he rebuked me like a slap across the face by simply living out a better example! It wasn’t what he said, it was what he did that showed me there was a better way to live.

My pastor once suggested that it is best to be “liberal” towards others and “conservative” towards ourselves. Hold yourself to a higher standard while cutting those around you a little slack.

Jesus is our perfect example in constantly forgiving all those around Him.

Here are some words to live by.Just like Peter, you don’t have to worry about forgiving your friends too many times. No one will ever sin against you more often than you sin against Jesus, and you will never need to forgive anyone as often as Jesus forgives you. I am going to throw in the oldest cliche of all time, just because it fits so perfectly here. “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” To be Christlike we must hold ourselves to a higher standard, while at the same time forgiving those around us. Jesus is the only One who ever lived a perfect life, and while He did so He sympathized with and encouraged sinners.

Often He [Jesus] met those who had drifted under Satan’s control, and who had no power to break from his snare. To such a one, discouraged, sick, tempted, and fallen, Jesus would speak words of tenderest pity, words that were needed and could be understood. Others He met who were fighting a hand-to-hand battle with the adversary of souls. These He encouraged to persevere, assuring them that they would win; for angels of God were on their side, and would give them the victory. Those whom He thus helped were convinced that here was One in whom they could trust with perfect confidence. He would not betray the secrets they poured into His sympathizing ear. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 91-92. 

How ironic that the One who has never sinned would be the most sympathetic and understanding friend a sinner could ever have.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

She did so Much for me, and I Never got to Thank her

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In evangelism workshops its almost become a cliche now,

Jesus…reached the hearts of the people by going among them as one who desired their good. ….. He met them at their daily vocations, and manifested an interest in their secular affairs.-Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 151. 

But how interested are we really in other peoples own good, even when we do not profit from their prosperity? In my ministry I have been asked to speak at numerous funerals. Before the funeral I like to meet with the family in their home, to get stories and learn more about the deceased. I can know somone all my life and still be surprised what I learn after they are gone. I will be sitting in the family room, listening to selfless heroic stories about the dearly departed, and it touches my heart so deeply, I get emotional and I think to myself that I too, want to be a selfless loving person, but I joke with my friends, that by the time I walk out the door and get to my car, that emotion of being selfless and caring has already passed over.

Case in point. When I lived in Texas I had started a cleaning business on the side. Nancy was a friend of mine from church. She was a nurse and told a few doctors and nurses about my business and I was soon cleaning for them. Nancy and I would go to dinner or lunch occasionally, and I offered to pay since she was my best advertiser. She assured me she did not want anything in return. She was just happy to help me out and see me do well.

We were both in our mid 30’s, when one morning I got the shocking news that Nancy had suddenly died during the night. It was quite a shock as we had plans to got to lunch that day. When you are in your mid ’30s and your friends seem healthy, it is very unsettling to hear the friend you have lunch plans with for that day just died! Leter as I went to clean for a client Nancy gave me, the thought struck me, She did so much for me, and I never got to thank her! I realized on this earth I never would get to thank her by paying her back for her interest in my good. That’s when I told myself, to live a giving life just like her, so that when I am gone, people will say the same about me, he did so much for me, and I never got to thank him.

Only a few days later, at UPS the line I was supervising was short handed. I walked over to another line where there was a supervisior that I had helped out several times. I asked him if he could send someone from his line over to help me. He said, “no” I can’t spare anyone right now. Granted he was right, but at the same time it bugged me because I had often been in situations where I could send him help, but he never seemed to be able to help me. Frustrated I told myself to stop helping him becuase he never paid me back! Then it dawned on me, wait a minute! I told myself I wanted to help others so that when I died they could say I always helped them and they never got a chance to pay me back. But when the chance actually came I did not feel that way at all! Once again I was touched by the selfless love of a caring friend, telling myself that I wanted to be just as loving and giving, but when the rubber met the road I was back to being my same old self again.

Of course all that happened way back in my ’30s. Jesus never made past his ’30s here on earth but was still the perfect example. My friend Nancy, never made it past her ’30s but left me with an example that even in my ’50s I still struggle to immulate. After being raised in the church all my life, I often sigh and think, 50 years later, shouldn’t I be more like Jesus by now? So many people with not even half the advantages I have had are so far ahead of me. Yet the secret is not rocket science. Jesus went about seeking the good of others even in their secular affairs. Nancy did the same. The next time someone needs my help, instead of asking myself how they will thank me, I can tell msyelf, this is my opportunity to be like Jesus. If Jesus helped Nancy, He can also help me to be one who seeks the good of others, even though they may never be able to thank me.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

August 2016 Open Newsletter to My Faithful Contributors

Dear Friends,

Several years ago, some friends of my ministry suggested for financial security reasons, that I start my own ministry. That seemed like a lot of work to me, so I put it off. Then in the spring of 2015 I found myself looking for a new job. I thought maybe now is the time to take my friend’s advice and start my own ministry. However that still seemed like a lot of work, and I am really not a maverick, and would rather work more directly within the Seventh-day Adventist organization. So one morning I woke up with an idea. Instead of asking people to contribute to my own ministry, why not ask them to contribute to something that is already organized within the church? So I asked the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church, if they would set up a fund that people could contribute to so that I could continue my ministry not only at Plant City but all over the place. As you know the rest is history and they said, “yes!”

Having been given the opportunity by the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church, I stepped out in faith, relying upon people being moved by the Holy Spirit to contribute. Amazingly, after a year and a half the contributions are still steadily coming in! I am delighted that so many of you are still faithfully supporting this ministry so that I can focus all my time on actual ministry instead of fundraising. Now, I have been advised by the Plant City SDA church that the monthly contributions are down just a tad. God is still providing, so nobody is in panic mode, but if you are a faithful contributor, and believe God is blessing you for being a contributor, I would ask you to pray and ask God if He would like you to invite others to contribute.

Since my last newsletter God has blessed in many ways. Thank you for allowing me a moment to share just a few of those ways.

Plant City:

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Last June I had my first Baptism at the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church. Joyce and her 13 year old daughter Madeline were not attending church, but Madeline wanted to learn more about Jesus, and this touched Joyce’s heart as well. Soon we were studying the Bible together and they both were baptized together. Joyce writes, “I am not perfect. I thought that God couldn’t love someone like me. I was so wrong. Through my bible studies, I learned how God loves me and is there for me. Each time I read the bible, it opens my eyes and heart to a loving and forgiving God.” I am currently teaching a baptism class during Sabbath School time, and Madeline wants to help me in this class.

In May and June we had students from Southern Adventist university come to the Tampa Bay area, holding prophecy seminars at Plant City, Tampa and other areas. I was able to attend some of the training and planning meetings to do a little mentoring and even taking some of the student Bible Workers into the community to invite people to the seminars and begin personal Bible studies.

The Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church has fully embraced me as their own and even asked me to serve as head elder for this current term.

Tampa Bay area:

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In the Tampa Bay area, I had personal Bible studies with Hans (Pictured) Cleveland, Paul and Nicson, who were all baptized during the June 2016 prophecy meetings at the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church. In addition to personal Bible studies my group Bible studies continue to grow strong in the Tampa area as well. Last Friday night, my group Bible study had 11 non Adventists, three of which have begun attending the Tampa First church after being in this study group. My other group Bible studies keep me busy as well. My Thursday afternoon teen Bible study group, again made up mostly of teens with no church, has some very faithful members. A few times a teen cannot make it to the study for family reasons or whatever, but they will join on Facetime or Skype.  This week Tampa Adventist Academy confirmed with me, my Bible chain referencing schedule for the new school year. This will be the 7th year in a row that I have been teaching the 5th and 6th graders how to chain reference their Bibles and give their own Bible studies to their friends and family. All this in addition to baptism classes and taking my turns with the weekly chapels. 

Around the World:

As many of you know, my mother passed away in the middle of June.  I had several unexpected expenses from last minute airline tickets to funeral costs and so forth. Right before flying out, I prayed and told God that I wanted to stay out of debt, but of course would do whatever my family needed me to do. Right after my prayer, a faithful contributor in Texas saw on Facebook that my mother was dying. She sent me a message telling me that I needed to be with my family and that she was sending a generous gift which helped me with all my expenses! This was truly a sad time for me, but I was very comforted to see God’s loving hand as everything unfolded.

Being in Tulsa for my mother’s funeral and caring for my family afterwards, gave me opportunity to continue my Bible Work in Oklahoma. I was able to reach out to former Bible students during my Oklahoma days. Alan, who I began Bible studies with back in the ‘80s and even came to the Owasso Seventh-day Adventist Church when I would preach there, was able to connect with me again, and I connected him with the current Owasso Bible Worker. Alan wants to resume Bible studies after all these years, and will be returning to the Owasso Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Twice while visiting my mother while she was sick, I was able to share the gospel  at the Broken Arrow Seventh-day Adventist Church.

I continue to write for the Sabbath School network, SSNET.ORG as well as my own website Inlightofthecross.com. Both websites are read from around the globe. A while back a church in Connecticut contacted me through ssnet.org and had me visit their church in Torrington twice to hold gospel meetings. Recently they told me of their plans to share my sermon on Youtube during the worship service.

So you see, even though Plant City SDA church opened up a fund where people can contribute to my ministry from around the world, this ministry also reaches beyond Plant City and goes around the world. It can even reach your neighborhood. All you have to do is give me a call. Thank you again for being such faithful loyal supporters and continuing to support this ministry, and for inviting friends to join you in supporting this ministry. Please follow me on Facebook and at InLightOfTheCross.com.

As always your tax deductable donations can go to the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church, P.O. Box 5379 Plant City, FL 33563. Please mark your contribution “Bible Worker Fund.” Thank you!