Don’t be Afraid to Try!

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Does the past ever haunt you? Do you ever wish you could go back and do something differently? Every baseball season I am haunted by something that I did, or actually didn’t do when I was 12. Many springs ago, I was a Little League baseball player. It was my first year of organized baseball, while my peers had been playing for years. I had never played fastball before, and those 11 and 12-year-old pitchers threw fastballs by me so fast, that, to me, I might as well have been facing Nolan Ryan! While I did manage to get on base a few times by walking, my career hit total equals 1.

Funny thing is, while my parents came to most all my games, they missed the one game where I got a hit. When I hit that ball into right field, my teammates jumped off the bench and started celebrating like we had won the World Series. The other team was looking over at them, trying to figure out what the big deal was. I told the first baseman it was my first hit. Turns out my only hit.

Eventually I made it to third base, and what happens next, or didn’t happen, is what has haunted me ever since. While I was on third base, the batter squared to bunt. The infield came way in towards home, allowing me to take a gigantic lead off of third base. The pitch landed in the catcher’s mitt. The catcher slowly and carelessly tossed the ball back to the pitcher. That is when I thought, hey, I have such a huge lead off third base already, and the catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher so slowly, that if I break for home as soon as the catcher releases the ball, I can steal home before the pitcher throws it back! I waited for my chance. Sure enough the next pitch lands in the catcher’s mitt and the catcher repeats his same slow, careless toss back to the pitcher. However I did not break for home. Instead I thought, wait a minute. The coach is not telling me to run, and if I do get out I will look like an idiot in front of everyone. So I never tried to steal home plate. I was afraid to fail, so I never tried. Now, whenever I see Carl Crawford or B.J. Upton steal home plate, I think to myself, I could have done that too if I had just tried. Looking back now, I am sure I could have made it easily. Only my fear of failure kept me back.

I learned a lesson from standing on third base on that spring afternoon so long ago. Go ahead and try! Even if you don’t make it, at least you will know, instead of wondering about it for the rest of your life, like I have. Many people are afraid to knock on a door to tell somebody about Jesus.

When I was 15 years old, I learned my lesson from when I was 12, and I went door to door in my neighborhood, asking people if they wanted to study the Bible. Many said “no.” At least now I knew, instead of wondering if they did for the rest of my life. One family said “yes” and later accepted my invitation to come with my family to church! Many people tell me they are afraid to give a Bible study to a friend, because they may not be able to answer a question. I tell them, just do what I do. Say, “I don’t know.” The people won’t kill you for not knowing, and you can research it later, and come back with the answer.

A story infinitely sadder than my baseball story happened while I was a Bible worker in West Texas. An elderly married couple in my church told me that another husband and wife, their friends for many decades, had both died. They sadly told me they had never tried to share Jesus with them because they were afraid they would lose their friendship if they saw how “religious” they were! They were more afraid of losing a friend in this life, than they were of losing them eternally.

Friends, don’t be afraid of sharing Jesus. Like all things, you will meet with failure but also much success. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:14, that the gospel will be preached in all the world before He returns. Every time we invite someone to Jesus, regardless if they accept or reject the invitation, it is still one invitation, one decision closer to Jesus returning. Let’s remember too, that if someone rejects us, it is okay. We are an opportunity, but not their only opportunity. Go ahead and try. That is better than spending the rest of your life wondering what might have been.

When Michael Jordan, a famous basketball player tried to play baseball with the Chicago White Sox, the world laughed at him. He did not make it, but his words have always stayed with me. “I am not afraid of failing. I am afraid of not trying.” If that is true in sports, it is infinitely more true in evangelism! Don’t let the past haunt you. Go ahead and try!

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

The Bible Compared to Modern Christianity

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area

What the Bible says compared to what modern Christianity says.

Bible: He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, Hebrews 5:9
MC: All you have to do is believe. You don’t have to obey.

Bible: Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23
MC: You are favored and God will give you whatever you want.

Bible: You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. James 2:24
MC: If someone says you are justified by works they must be a cult leader.

Bible: “For David did not ascend into the heavens Acts 2:34
MC: David is in heaven now.

Bible: But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. Matthew 19:17
MC: Don’t let the Adventist Church trick you into commandment keeping. They are a cult.

Study the Bible for yourself.

Three Angels With a Message Worth Sharing

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” Revelation 14:6.

Who is this first angel and who are the three angels?

Revelation 1:20 says that the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches. So an angel would be like a leader or messenger to a church. Jesus begins His message to each church with, “Write unto the angel of the church of…” so He must be referring to an angel as being a terrestrial leader. When John saw the seven stars in Jesus’ hand, those stars were the angels, or ministers and leaders of the church.

Jesus calls us all to have a ministry in the church and a message to share with the world, and it’s comforting to know, that while we are messengers for Jesus, He holds all of us in His hand. Wherever in the world you are reading this – whether in a country with few Christian churches, and even persecution, or whether you are trying to share Jesus with your family members who all seem opposed to your message – rest assured, Jesus has you right in His hand and you are very special to Him! He will take care of you and make your ministry prosperous. You may find your ministry in a difficult place, but it is right in Jesus’ hands.

I believe the three angels in Revelation 14 make up the message that the Seventh-day Adventist church has to give to the world. These angels are sent out after the rise of the United States in Revelation 13, so this would fit the time prophecy. Thus I believe that the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are the three angels in Revelation 14, and, even more specifically, the three angels are you and I.

The Seventh-day Adventist church has a very important message to give to the world, so let’s see what it is.

The first angel has the everlasting gospel.

Now don’t all churches have the gospel? Yes, many people will be in the Kingdom because a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or Lutheran etc. missionary shared the love of God with them. However, as the book of Revelation changes scenes from the Dark Ages to the earth being “lightened with His glory” the gospel will be shining brighter than ever before.

The everlasting gospel which the Seventh-day Adventist church shares overcomes the legalism of Babylon. This last message is filled with grace and the glory of God and not the works of man. It shows the love of God more clearly than the gospel presented by most other churches.

Many churches preach that Jesus died for us, and then they turn around and tell us people don’t really die. If that is the case, then Jesus did not really die, and if He did not really die, then He did not die for us.

Many churches preach that sinners will be eternally tormented in hell while John 3:16, which is the crux of the gospel, says that sinners will perishRomans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment in hell. It’s impossible to fall in love with a God who has a “love-me-or-I’ll-torment-you-for-eternity-in-hell” mentality. While sin and those who cling to it at any cost must perish, God will not be delighting in their eternal torture. The punishment, which is death, is eternal; the punishing is not.

Many churches focus on the physical torture Jesus endured. The physical torture was terrible, but Jesus suffered way more than a six-hour pain endurance marathon. Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus “tasted death” for all men. It obviously was not the death of the righteous that He tasted; we all taste that first death for ourselves. Obadiah 16 tells us the wicked will be as though they never were. Jesus faced more than nail-scarred hands and feet on the cross. He tasted the death of the wicked, which means He experienced total separation from God. This could be why He was crying out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” instead of singing hymns of praise while He died, like John Huss did. You see, Jesus died a totally different death than John Huss. John Huss died the death of the righteous while he burned at the stake for his faith. Jesus was dying the death of the wicked.

Many teach that Jesus saves us in our sins while Matthew 1:21 tells us clearly that Jesus will save us from our sins. We can’t call Jesus a Savior unless He actually saves us, and according to Ephesians 2:1-10 we are saved by grace. What His grace saves us from is our sinful life.

So we see, Seventh-day Adventists not only teach a different day of worship, we also teach the fullness of the gospel. Our job description, in being messengers for Jesus, is to let the whole world know the love of Jesus.

You don’t have to be a TV evangelist to have a ministry and share this message. This gospel is so amazing that many will not even believe it when they hear or read about it. However, they will believe it when they see these principles of self-sacrificing love manifested in your life.

I remember a story about a man who was married for 50 years. At breakfast he always insisted on having the heel of the bread loaf for toast. He acted as though it was his favorite part of the bread. Fifty years later after his wife died, he stopped eating the heel. His nephew asked him why he didn’t like it any more. The old man explained that he never did like it. He just knew his wife did not like it either, so for fifty years he pretended he loved it so she would not have to eat it. That made a great impact on the nephew, and it helped him understand the gospel better than any evangelist preacher ever could.

The first angel teaches about judgment

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. Revelation 14:7

This angel is telling us of the judgment which began in 1844. Interestingly the angel says the hour of His judgment has come. What does this mean? It means God is the one being judged!

The judgment is not to see if God will accept us, Ephesians 1:6 tells us we are already accepted in the Beloved. The judgment is to see if we will accept God. Seventh-day Adventists preach a time of probation, but many do not realize that it is actually God who is on probation. God is being judged by the universe: Is God the mean control freak and tyrant that Satan makes Him out to be, or is He a God of love? Is God a good God or some psychopath saying, “Love me or I’ll kill you?”

Satan first attacked the character of God in heaven. Revelation 12 says there was war in heaven, but not with machine guns and tanks; it was a battle of the minds. Satan wanted God’s power but not his character.

I can see Satan playing mind games with the angels. I can see him going up to one of the other angels and saying, “You did a great job on that project God gave you. Did God give you any special recognition for it? He didn’t? Why that’s too bad. You know if I was God I would have thrown a banquet in your honor.”

And so Satan started these mind games trying to make the angels believe that he should be God and that God was not a God of love who was interested in their welfare.

Satan got a third of the angels to buy his lie. There may have been some angels who stayed in heaven but were not convinced who was right or wrong, until the cross. Then the whole universe saw the true character of Satan, who was willing to kill anyone who got in his way of being number one, contrasted with the true character of God who was willing to die on a cross and say goodbye to life forever to save others.

This is why Satan does not want us to understand the everlasting gospel. The everlasting gospel tells the truth about the character of God and the character of Satan. In the hour of His judgment those who clearly understand the everlasting gospel, free of legalism, will demonstrate that God is indeed a God of love. When we accept God we accept more than eternal life, we accept God Himself, along with all of His righteousness and goodness and power to live a victorious life.

The second half of this verse – “and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” – reminds us of the language used in the fourth commandment about the Sabbath. Many times we quote the fourth commandment from Exodus 20: 8-11 but let’s take a look at it in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

“Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day [is] the sabbath of the LORD thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that [is] within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and [that] the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.”

In Egypt the king made all the Hebrew slaves work so he could rest. God delivered the Hebrews from their works and gave them the Sabbath, explaining that it was God who created and made everything and did all the work so they could rest. God is reminding Israel that He saved them from the slavery of the Egyptians, and that it was not their works that saved them. Likewise God Himself will save us from the slavery of sin, by His grace and not by our works. The Sabbath is clearly a sign that it is God who sanctifies us and not our own works. We see this also in Exodus 31:13. We rest from our works on the Sabbath, remembering that our salvation comes from resting our faith in His amazing grace and not in trusting our works to save us.

The Sabbath also reminds us of our Creator whom Satan wants us to forget. If the Sabbath had never been forgotten, atheism would never exist. For example we use the sun to mark a year, the moon marks a month and the earth’s rotation marks a day, but what do we have to mark a week? The only thing we have to mark a week is the creation week which ends with the seventh-day Sabbath. So how do atheists explain the seven-day week?

During the reign of terror the French tried to do away with the seven-day week and replace it with a ten-day week. This did not work.

The Sabbath reminds us that we have a Creator who did all the work in creating us. It reminds us that we did not make ourselves by our own works. Even more, the Sabbath reminds us that we were redeemed by the works and sacrifice of our Creator and not by our own works. By resting on the Sabbath we show that the gospel is practical and not just a theory. He literally rested, and we literally rest our faith in Jesus, believing that He literally saves us.

And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. Revelation 14:8  

Many say that Babylon means confusion. Well it may, but it is not so much confusion about certain doctrines as much as it is about the gospel itself. When legalism mixes our works with God’s grace, it gets confusing. In Galatians 2:20 Paul gives us the pure gospel when he says, “Not I but Christ.” So many of us want to make it a combination of me plus Christ. Problem is, any time I make “me” a part of the gospel I have a corrupt gospel because “me” is corrupt. Does this mean doing away with good works? Not at all! It just means realizing that it is God who is working in us and not us. Philippians 2:13

Seventh-day Adventists teach that Babylon is a religious system which it is, but it is more than that. It is an attitude – an attitude that can be found in any system. Babylon is the attitude that I can save myself by my own works. It began with the tower of Babel.

Babel meaning “gate” and El meaning “God.” At the tower of Babel man decided they could work and build their own way to heaven. They did not think they could trust God to save them from another flood so they decided to build a tower and by their works save themselves. Thus Babylon symbolizes salvation by our own works, or legalism. Cain had the attitude of Babylon when he brought the works of his field and offered his own system of worship. But God could only accept Abel’s sacrifice – a lamb which pointed to the Lamb of God who could only save. Since then man has been presenting his own system of worship and even day of worship thinking he can save himself by inventing his own religion instead of accepting the gospel.

Years later Daniel 1 tells us that God gave Jerusalem into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands, but in Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar says “is this not Babylon which I have made?” And God says, “No! I made it and gave it to you.” But here is the attitude of Babylon again – that it is my works that save me.

During the Dark Ages people were taught that their works would save them. They could buy and work their way to heaven. They were also given a work day to worship instead of the Sabbath day of rest. So they were like Cain, worshiping their works instead of our Creator and Redeemer. When the everlasting gospel is proclaimed in all its glory, Babylon will fall! Man will see that we are not saved by our own religious works and inventions but rather are saved by the grace of God alone!

The third angel’s message assures us of the victory of grace over the legalism of Babylon.

Ellen White comments:

Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel’s message, in verity.”– The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890. {1SM 372.2}

If you are like me, your first glance at the third angel’s message does not make you think of justification by faith. As a matter of fact many people get wrapped up in works over this passage. Let’s take another look and see why it’s not about works but rather justification by faith.

Revelation 14:9-12 And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive [his] mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

The third angel’s message is justification by faith in verity because those who refuse the mark of the beast will not be allowed to buy or sell or do any business to provide for themselves or their families. They will be resting on the Sabbath and not working. Therefore they trust God to provide for them, and not their own works. This is justification by faith. Those who accept the mark so that they can buy and sell are not resting in Jesus or trusting Him to provide for them. Rather they are saying, “I do not trust Jesus to provide for me, so I am accepting the mark so that I can work and provide for myself.” This is salvation by works.

It is very important to notice that the ones who accept the mark and are trying to be saved by their works are rejecting the cross of Christ. The “cup of His indignation” is the cup that Jesus asked to be passed from Him, in Gethsemane. However, He drank that cup for us, at Calvary. Those who reject the seal of God, and the Sabbath are really rejecting the cross. They say, “I will accept the mark of the beast and provide my own salvation.” When they do this they reject the Salvation provided at Calvary, and instead of letting Jesus drink that cup for them, they must drink it themselves!

After all, if you do not trust Jesus enough to provide your daily bread, but rather accept the mark so that you can do business and put bread on the table yourself, how can you trust Him to provide for your eternal salvation? On the other hand, by rejecting the mark (works) and keeping the Sabbath and seal of God we are accepting the cross and justification by faith. Jesus drinks the cup mentioned in the third angel’s message so we don’t have to! We can all exclaim with Abraham at Moriah, “Jehovahjireh” My Lord Will provide!”

The third angel’s message is the climax of the battle between faith and works. For centuries man has been taught by tradition to save himself by worshiping a man made religion and even a man made Sabbath which is Sunday. Those who put their faith in Jesus triumph over the legalism of man made religions as they rest their faith in the One who gave all to save them. They cherish His Sabbath which is a sign that we are not saved by works but rather by His amazing grace!

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

Faith or Presumption?

In 2017 hurricane Irma came through Florida and many of us evacuated. I went to Tennessee to be with my sister. The morning the hurricane hit Tampa where I live, I received a text from a friend there who was unable to evacuate. She said she was afraid but she knew God was with her and that she would not get hurt. I thought to myself though, God was with my mother when she drew her last breath and died. Of course I did not text my friend back and tell her that God has been with many people while they drew their last breath. Just because God is with us does not mean we won’t die. When a storm comes having faith that God is with me is one thing, but having faith that I will not die is presumption. After all millions of people have died in various storms throughout earth’s history. I would have to be a blatant fool to think I’m a better Christian than millions of other people or even that I have more faith than those who have died in storms. 

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area

Its the same when I get in a car. I pray for safety and I know God is with me. I also know I have heard testimonies from people who survived a car accident where a loved one died. They say they too prayed for protection before their trip. A pastor friend of mine was killed in a car accident just a few Christmases ago. He was in his forties. Am I still alive because I am a better Christian than he was or because I have more faith? Of course not! To think I have survived storms and car accidents because I am a faithful Christian is beyond presumption. It is absurd! Millions more worthy than me have perished in storms and car accidents. I know God is with me regardless of my fate. While Hebrews celebrates the victories of the faithful it also recognizes the deaths of the faithful.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—  of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. Hebrews 11:35-38 NKJV

Faith is knowing what God has promised. God has promised me eternal life. See Titus 1:2. Presumption is assuming what God has not promised. God never promised me I would never die in a storm or car accident. 

So now let’s get to the title of our topic here. How do I know I have the assurance of salvation in Jesus and am not just being presumptuous that I am saved? Let’s take a look at some Biblical examples of people in the Bible who were being faithful and those who were just being presumptuous. 

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? James 2:18-20 NKJV

In the book of James we are taught that true faith will bear the fruits of good works and obedience. “Faith” that does not bring forth good works and obedience is a presumption which will not make us any better off than the demons who believe and tremble. 

Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.  And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”  Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. Acts 19:11-16 NKJV

The sons of Sceva were presumptuous because they did not know Jesus for themselves. By the way 1 John 2:4 says if we say we know Jesus but do not obey the commandments that just makes us liars. We know they did not know Jesus for themselves because they said. “The Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Paul knew Jesus. They did not. They were being presumptuous thinking the name of Jesus was a magic word like abracadabra. Jesus and Paul are not magic. They both got their power from an obedient relationship with the Father. 

 In Numbers 10:33-35 Moses sent the ark out before their battles and victories. However when Israel was in apostasy their faith i the ark turned into presumption and the ark itself was captured by the enemy in 1 Samuel 4:1-22. The ark was not magic. The ark was not a symbol of presumption. It was a symbol of their faith and obedience toward God. Without obedience the ark had no power for them. Much like Samson’s hair. There was no magic in his hair. His long hair was a sign of his loyalty to God. When he was no longer loyal to God the long hair was meaningless. See Judges 13:5

Romans 1:5 talks about faith that leads to obedience and Revelation 14:12 tells us God’s last day saints will have faith and keep the commandments. True Biblical faith produces obedience. A supposed “faith’ without obedience is mere presumption. In Matthew 4:5-7 Satan tells Jesus to jump off a cliff and have faith that God would save Him. However there no command from God to jump off a cliff. Jesus knew that jumping off the cliff would not be in accordance with God’s commands and would not be an obedient faith but mere presumption. By they way, today we wear seat belts in our cars and masks at church because while we have faith in God we were given no command to be careless and presumptuous with our safety and health. Jesus gave us an example of using common sense and faith in God at the same time. One does not cancel out the other. 

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. Hebrews 11:30 NKJV

But a few days later the children of Israel were defeated when disobedience led to presumption. See Joshua 7:1-26

While Romans 1:5 and Revelation 14:12 talk about faith and obedience David links presumption with sin. 

Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Psalm 19:13 NKJV

Faith is when we claim a promise in the Bible such as God is with us. Presumption is when we claim assurance the Bible never gave us such as I will never die in a storm or car accident. Or even that I will never get the COVID-19 therefore I do not need to wear a mask or social distance. In the wilderness Jesus used faith and common sense and so shall I. 

Faith leads me into good works. See Ephesians 2:8-10. Faith leads me into commandment keeping. See Revelation 14:12. Presumption encourages me to carelessness and sin. See Psalm 19:13

Matthew 7:21-27 teaches me claiming salvation without obeying Jesus is mere presumption. When I put God’s Word into practice I have the assurance of salvation. 

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

Resources for Healthy Small Bible Study Groups

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Shortly after returning home from college in the spring of 1985 I received a phone call from a friend from church on a Friday evening. He said a few friends were getting together for a Bible study and invited me. I accepted the invitation and what transpired was a long lasting fellowship and close friendships that continue to this day. There were six of us, and while we studied that week’s Sabbath School lesson together every Friday evening, we also had pizza parties on Saturday nights and went to ball games together and even worked together in different ways with our daily secular jobs. As a young person who lacked self confidence this group gave me a real sense of belonging and the encouragement that I needed. We studied together. We prayed together. We played together. We went to church meetings and camp meetings together.  Some by nature moved away and over time have lost regular contact. Still others I see every time I go home to visit, and we talk on the phone or Facebook almost every week. Funny thing is we did not really think of ourselves as a small study group. We were just friends who studied together. But years later after facilitating and coaching several small study groups I realize that is exactly what we were. That small study group that began in the spring of ’85 met every Friday night for several years. Even when “life” finally broke up the weekly continuity of study time the friendships continue to this day.  

Group Bible Study

While no small study group is perfect nor should it be expected to be, here are some things that I look back and see that made my first ever small study group healthy. 

  1. Diversity. We had mixed races. We had mixed ages. I was 19 and the oldest one in our group was in his 40’s. A couple in our group were married. The rest were single but another couple in our group got married as we were all studying together. You could not put a label on our group as far as race, gender or age or marital status. 
  2. Though close, we were not a clique. We often invited people to join us and some did for a while. Our friendship circles went well beyond our small group, and we always accepted each other’s friends at church and social activities. 
  3. We reached out and ministered to others. We checked in on the elderly. We befriended visitors and new members on both spiritual and social levels. I will always remember the trip a few of us made to the Eureka Springs passion play where we also took a new church member who was longing for friendship and we all had a great time. 

As I said earlier our small group studied the Sabbath School lessons together. That worked out well since our small group lasted for several years, and there are not too many Bible study curricula that will last for years, unless of course you want to just study the Bible itself which is a good idea. About ten years ago the church I was with started several small study groups. We found a wonderful group of lesson plans by Denis Sands. After asking permission I shared them on my website. You may find them here. I have used them for years now in several various small groups and they have been well received. The focus on building your personal relation with Christ and with others. Each lesson takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. Each lesson has a time for dialogue, fellowship, worship, Bible study and discipleship, and ministry and outreach in evangelism. Focusing on all these areas every week keeps our groups close and personal while also ministering and sharing with others. 

I would like to encourage you to be a part of a small group. It is a great way to grow spiritually and help others along the way. It  also gives you a sense of belonging and purpose in a worldwide church. Don’t let the current virus pandemic stop you. I actually have a new small study group that meets every Friday night on FaceTime. We have members in Florida and Tennessee who love meeting together every week. The possibilities are endless! It doesn’t have to be complicated to be healthy and effective. Like I said earlier, we did not even really think of ourselves as a small study group. We were just a group of friends studying together and helping others. I would like to encourage you to start your group today! 

let me know if you have any questions or need any help. 

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

Helli’s Profession of Faith Picture and Story

Today Helli was presented with her Profession of Faith certificate as she rejoined the Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist Church. When someone who has already been baptized by immersion becomes a Seventh-day Adventist member they have the choice of being re-baptized or joining on profession of faith.

Helli was born in Finland in the 1930’s. She had 7 brothers, one of whom was a Seventh-day Adventist. When Helli was 16 she studied to become a Seventh-day Adventist and was baptized and attended an Adventist academy in Finland.

In 1957 Helli came to the United States to study nursing at Washington Missionary College. In nursing school Helli made a life long Adventist friend named Sue. Over the years Helli drifted away from the church and what she had learned in the Bible. Now in her golden years she has moved near her lifelong Adventist friend Sue in Homosassa Florida. Helli lives in an assisted living center and visited the Homosassa Adventist Church before the quarantine. Helli became convicted of her need to practice the Bible teachings she discovered in the Bible so long ago. I studied with Helli through a screen window at her living center as we reviewed the Bible teachings she studied decades ago on another continent. Helli is once again an avid Bible student and also loves reading books from the Spirit of Prophecy like “Great Controversy” and “The Desire of Ages.” Helli once sold these books in Finland as a student Literature Evangelist. Today she is falling in love all over again with the books and the truth she knew so long ago.

Today As we presented Helli with her certificate she told us how happy and excited she is to be back home with Jesus in the Seventh-day Adventist family.

Helli did not let the sun set on her life before coming back to the One who gave His life for her. Please do not let the sun set on your life before you make the most important decision of your life. To give yourself to Jesus who gave all of Himself for you. I would love to help you with this decision and I would be happy to study with you no matter where in the world you are. You can contact me at racerthree@gmail.com.

Thank you for considering contributing to my ministry so I can continue leading people to Jesus!

“I Will Allure her…and Speak Comfort to her.”

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay Area.

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

 Why is how we say something as important as, or even more important than, what we say? How do you react to this statement: “Truth is truth, and people need to take it or leave it”? What’s wrong with this true statement?

A couple of years ago I had two youths come up to the platform where I was preaching. I asked one if he liked mints. He said, “yes.” So I reached in my pocket and handed him a couple of mints. He thanked me. I then asked the next youth if he liked mints. “Of course,” he said. I then reached in my pocket and threw a couple of mints towards him which he dodged and they fell on the floor. I told him, “Well there you go. You can have them!” He looked at me disgusted and walked away. 

Of course both young men were in on the illustration and knew what I was going to do. And, yes, I politely handed the second youth some nice mints after our little skit was over. The point was that often people do not accept truth because of the way it is presented. One of my favorite authors encourages us to present the cross of Christ along with every truth that we  present. 

The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. –Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 315. 

When we see the Sabbath in light of the cross, we see Jesus resting in the tomb after doing all the work to redeem us, just as He rested after creating us. We see our Savior telling us to rest from our works as we trust in His grace to save us. 

When we see the punishment of the wicked in light of the cross, we see Jesus dying on the cross so that those who believe in Him may not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16. Notice the opposite of eternal life is perishing and not everlasting torment in hell. We see the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life. Romans 6:23. Again the wages of sin is not everlasting torment in hell. It is death. In the light of the cross we see Jesus crying out “my God, my God why have You forsaken me?” We see Jesus tasting the punishment of the wicked for us, so we can taste His free gift of eternal life. 

When we see the cleansing of the sanctuary in light of the cross, we see how the love flowing from the cross saves us from the penalty and power of sin in our daily lives. Instead of working for our own salvation, we see how Jesus intercedes and works to free us from condemnation and from the addictions that rob us of our joy. See Psalm 51:8-12

When we present truth in light of the cross, we present the truth as it is in Jesus. Instead of seeing a God who wants to be worshiped because of His ego, we see a God who wants us to worship Him because He is the only God who loves us enough to die for us. In pagan religion, the humans sacrifice themselves to get the gods to accept them, but in Christianity God sacrifices Himself to get the people to accept Him. This is why we are to have no other gods before us. Because no other gods will love us the way God does. When we present the truth as it is in Jesus, we see the same love that is at the center of the cross is the same love at the center of the law. See Romans 13:8-10

This is the same love that God used in the Old Testament to win the hearts of rebellious Israel. 

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her. Hosea 2;14 NKJV 

God does not seek to win our hearts with a take-it or leave-it attitude. He allures us and speaks words of comfort to our broken sin-weary hearts. Too often God’s people have been like Peter, who, for zeal of protecting Truth, took his sword and cut off someone’s ear. He was actually aiming for his head and missed! This is not how Jesus protected Truth. Jesus healed (comforted) the man’s ear. In Hosea 2:14 God shares Truth by making it alluring and comforting to us. He does not make it alluring and comforting by watering it down. Rather He comforts us by sharing a Gospel and love that is powerful enough to save us from the sins that discomforts our peace and safety. See Romans 1:16

Jesus sends us on the same mission of peace He shared with us. It is the same mission of peace He shared in Hosea 2:14

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21 NKJV

How to Always be Ready to Share God’s Word

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV

Before baseball season begins there is spring training, where all the players get back into shape so they can perform at their highest level during the season. During the off-season they may have gotten a little out of practice and a little out of shape

.

I imagine the break in sports during the recent COVID-19 quarantine may have been a little frustrating for the players not knowing when and if they were going to play again this year. I suppose they had to stay in shape and be prepared when and if the season would resume, which it finally did.

 However Paul tells us there is no off season when it comes to preaching the Word of God. We must always be prepared during season and even during off-season. How do you stay prepared to preach the Word of God, especially if you are not a preacher?

About 30 years ago I was talking with a fellow preacher about doing sermon preparations. We were talking about how every elder should have a sermon in his hip pocket in case the scheduled speaker gets sick suddenly and can’t preach. However elders are not the only people called upon to preach. Stephen, a deacon in the book of Acts, was stoned to death and it wasn’t for adjusting the church thermostat. It was for preaching an impromptu sermon that cut the hearts of the listeners. Stephen was prepared because he was obviously well-read. My fellow preacher friend made the comment that, as long as you are well-read you will always be ready to preach. As you are constantly searching the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11), you are constantly finding new treasures (Matthew 13:44) that you can share on the spur of the moment. 

I have found this to be true. Several times in my ministry I have been asked to speak somewhere on the spur of the moment for various reasons. The pastor’s car broke down on the way to church. The pastor became suddenly ill. One time I was on vacation and showed up unannounced at a church where the pastor recognized me, and he decided my presence created an impromptu opportunity for him to finally sit with his wife during worship service. So he asked me to preach. Each time it would have been very easy to just reach way back to an old sermon I used before. While that has happened, of course, more times than not, when I am asked to preach on the spur of the moment, I share with the congregation the treasures I have been finding as I am studying God’s Word during that current week. 

It is totally true what my preacher friend said. When you stay well-read you will always have something to share – you will always have a sermon ready to go. 

Being humble enough not to preach even when prepared

Several years ago I was on the platform ready to preach when I saw the conference publishing director walk into the sanctuary, looking at the bulletin with a distressed look on his face. He was not scheduled to be there, but the look on his face told me that he thought he was supposed to be scheduled. So I left the platform and greeted him and asked him if he thought he was preaching today. He said he thought he was, but apparently was confused. I gladly told him to go ahead and preach, even though I was just moments from delivering the sermon I had prepared all week.

Just a couple years ago a gentleman showed up who was the boyfriend of one of our church members. He thought his girlfriend had made arrangements with the pastor for him to preach that Sabbath. She had not. The pastor was there and ready to preach his prepared sermon but gladly told the young man to go ahead and preach his sermon instead. A good Christian will always have the courage to preach the Word of God, while a good humble Christian will also not let his ego get in the way of letting another good humble Christian preach the Word of God. 

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

Vanessa’s Baptism Pictures and Story

In late 2020 Elder Henry Hodge was taking me to visit some of his Discover Bible School correspondence students. One of his students that we visited was Vanessa. When we saw each other we both remembered each other from a group Bible study we were in years ago at the Plant City SDA Church. We had a nice visit and Vanessa decided to start studying with me again. We began studying in her home but when the COVID-19 quarantine began we started studying on Facebook Messenger Video. With all that was going on Vanessa stayed very committed to our weekly studies and after a while told me she wanted to be baptized. Today, August 8, 2020, Vanessa gave all of herself to Jesus in baptism because Jesus had given all of Himself for her.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV

Our Plant City SDA church family enthusiastically voted and welcomed Vanessa into our church family. While many are still worshiping at home we had a good turnout to personally welcome Vanessa to the family of God. Vanessa even had her father and other family members come who had to travel a bit. It was a very special day for everyone!

We were all smiles under our masks as Vanessa was presented her baptism certificate which also contains our Adventist Biblical beliefs. After the service I was approached by one of Vanessa’s family members who wants to join Vanessa and me for Bible studies on Facebook Messenger Video. We are continuing to thrive and grow in Gods grace right through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t let the sun set on you before making your decision to give all of your life to the One who gave all of Himself for you. I would love talk to you or study with you to help you in this decision. The cool thing about studying online now is it does not matter where in the world you are, we can get together on Zoom, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger Video. You can contact me at racerthree@gmail.com.

A special thanks to all those supporting my ministry through this pandemic so I can continue sharing Jesus with the world. If you are interested to supporting this ministry with your monthly or one time contributions just click here. Thank you!

Equal Gifts While not the Same Gifts

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
Watch the video presentation of this article here.

We were in our last couple nights of evangelism meetings when a water pipe burst, flooding a room behind the sanctuary, near the baptistry entrance. One of the deacons told a local elder to help the other deacons pump the water out. The elder politely replied that he could not do that, because he had to visit with the baptismal candidates to clear them for the baptisms coming up. The deacon then accused the elder of being on an ego trip, thinking he was too good to do manual labor. But that was not the case at all. As an elder he had a job to do in getting people ready for the baptism, and could not do both at the same time.

The early church ran into a similar problem where certain necessary duties were keeping them from preaching and teaching.

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren,

seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-4 NKJV

Hence the office of deacons came into the church. Like the elders, the deacons were to be men full of the Holy Spirit. They are not less than elders, but their duties are not the same. Yes, Steven preached in Acts 7 and Philip baptized in Acts 8. Every office in the church carries the equal responsibility of sharing the gospel. But deacons and deaconesses are also given responsibilities of caring for the physical upkeep and maintenance of the church, and even caring for the physical needs of the members. This frees the elders from “waiting on tables” so they can be spreading the gospel.

That evening that the water pipe burst, the deacon told the elder that a real leader should never ask anyone to do a job he would not be willing to do himself. He then handed him a bucket insinuating that he should get to work and show a little humility and lead by example. There was only one problem. The elder had appointments with several candidates for the baptisms the next couple nights. They were waiting for him right then, and they worked the next day before the baptisms the following nights.

It wasn’t that the elder thought he was important. It wasn’t even necessarily that he thought clearing people for baptism was more important than fixing a water break. Obviously the water break had to be fixed to have the baptisms! Both the deacon’s job and elder’s job were equally important but not the same. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about different gifts and ministries in the church. He talks about how the foot and hand are both needed. However while the foot is equal to the hand, the foot is still not the hand. While being equal they are not the same. Each has their own distinct purpose.

Deacons are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and able to preach. And elders have gladly taken up the offering and locked up the church after a meeting, taken out the trash, so long as they can still accomplish their gospel responsibilities. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us one ministry is not superior to another, while Acts 6 tells us our offices are not the same.

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