Did the Repentant Thief get off Easy?

Fort Desoto Love Letters 030

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

Sure Jesus said,

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

But does narrow and strait have to be hard?

Against popular belief, the Bible actually says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gift of Prophecy in the Last Days

Ciera 006

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not despise prophecies. 1 Thessalonians 5:20 NKJV

Instead he tells us to

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

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

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

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

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

Inconsistencies With Lawlessness

Harbor Circa Pier

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am Living in my Last Days

DT Tampa july 4

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

Spoiler alert! 

It did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Things I Love About Daniel

20171218_151647487631712.jpg

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mystery of Iniquity and the Mystery of Godliness

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan has two mysteries –the mystery of iniquity and the mystery of Godliness.

The phrase, “mystery of iniquity” is mentioned only one time and only in the KJV.

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 KJV

Paul mentions the mystery of iniquity right after talking about a man

Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV.

Now while the KJV uses the word “iniquity” many other versions use the word “secret.” Also many other versions use the word “lawlessness” instead of “iniquity.” I am using multiple versions to get the big picture. In 2 Thessalonians Paul is talking about someone whose secret agenda is to overthrow God’s law and set himself on God’s throne.

Is this what also happened in heaven? Yes!

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Isaiah 14:12-14 KJV

John shares more light on this mystery when he says,

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, Revelation 12:7 KJV

Here we see an outright war. Not with tanks and machine guns, but a war of the minds. Lucifer is secretly trying to overthrow God’s law and government in order to set up his own kingdom. I imagine he was using flattery, bribery and mind games to secretly undermine God’s law and government and turn people to himself, just as he does now.

This is where the word “iniquity” comes in. Iniquity can be described as being bent towards or inclined towards self. Ezekiel has another clue in this mystery.

Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. Ezekiel 28:15 KJV

In heaven, Lucifer’s love, which was supposed to be centered on God others took a u-turn and headed towards himself. Somehow Lucifer mysteriously started undermining the importance of God and others and began his secret agenda of exalting self.

When things appear unexpectedly where they are not supposed to be, we call that a mystery. Part of the famous D.B. Cooper case involves a family finding a large sum of money while hiking in the forest. It was a mystery because the money was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was self-love supposed to be in an angel’s heart in heaven? No, it was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was there a logical reason for Satan to be at war with Christ in heaven of all places? No. It was not logical at all. The rebellion was not supposed to be there. That makes it a mystery doesn’t it? We can’t explain it or defend it. It’s a mystery.

Sometimes we are tempted to think, once we get to heaven we just automatically won’t sin any more, because we will be in a perfect world. Yet sin began in a perfect world! What a mystery!

However we do know there will be no sin in heaven.

Affliction will not rise up a second time. Nahum 1:9. NKJV

This leads us to another mystery, the mystery of Godliness. While many find it a mystery how a perfect being became so sinful, they also find it a mystery how a sinful race can become Christlike.

Obviously this is not done on our own. This mystery can only be performed by Christ working in us.

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27 NKJV

Revelation 10 gives us another clue to the mystery. John is given a book, which I understand to be the book of Daniel. It was sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. When the 2300 days in Daniel 8:14 came to an end, the expectation of Christ’s return in 1844 was sweet, but the disappointment was bitter. (I wonder if the thunders told John about the disappointment, but he was not allowed to write it down because some things must be learned through experience?) While they were disappointed in 1844 when Jesus did not return, Revelation tells us what would occur in 1844.

… but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. Revelation 10:7 NKJV

According to Colossians 1:27, the mystery of God is Christ in us. This leads us to the cleansing of the sanctuary, not just a building on earth or in heaven, but even more so the cleansing of the soul temple, so God can dwell right within us! See Exodus 25:8 and John 14:1-3.

Again this mystery can only be accomplished by Christ working in us. It is all grace.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 NKJV

In Titus 2:11-14 Paul describes a people on earth who have become Christlike. What a mystery! In heaven where you would least expect it, sin began. Now thanks to God’s grace, right here on earth, where you would least expect it, people become Christlike. John agrees with Paul. We don’t have to wait to get to heaven to be like Jesus.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 1 John 4:17 NKJV

I like the way Ellen White explains it:

That which alone can effectually restrain from sin in this world of darkness, will prevent sin in heaven. The significance of the death of Christ will be seen by saints and angels. Fallen men could not have a home in the paradise of God without the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Shall we not then exalt the cross of Christ? The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan. Angelic perfection failed in heaven. Human perfection failed in Eden, the paradise of bliss. All who wish for security in earth or heaven must look to the Lamb of God. The plan of salvation, making manifest the justice and love of God, provides an eternal safeguard against defection in unfallen worlds, as well as among those who shall be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. -Ellen White, Signs of the Times, December 30, 1889. 

In the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan we see a perfect angel in heaven who becomes sinful. We also see a sinful race on earth become Christ-like.

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

How I Got Out of Credit Card Debt

20170710_100842

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I often felt I would never get out of debt. I considered bankruptcy. After paying for things four times over I considered writing my creditors and telling them I was not paying anymore and they could just send me to jail if they wanted. I considered changing my identity and moving to New Zealand to start a new debt free life, but my credit cards were all maxed out and I couldn’t get a ticket. I literally had no money, as all the money I possessed I owed to other people. Instead of saving or paying anything forward all I was doing was paying things back. I was living a lie as the money I had wasn’t really mine. I was desperate.

Then I read that God creates miracles to help people repay their debts.

But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.” So the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float. Therefore he said, “Pick it up for yourself.” So he reached out his hand and took it. 2 Kings 6:5-7 NKJV

I was praying for a miracle. My parents had instilled in me the importance of returning my tithe, and I continued tithing even though even the money I was tithing was not my own. Or at least it was not returning the first fruits as my entire paycheck had already been spent before I even earned it. I forgave all my debtors hoping some of my debts would be forgiven as well. I greatly curbed my spending and as much as I could stopped using my credit cards. Then after over 20 years of credit card debt the miracle came.

I started 2015 with $10,000.00 in credit card debt. I was working for the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church as I had been for the last eleven years. They had been paying me a very decent salary (More than any of my other Bible Worker friends) and it would have been even better had I not been in debt. After eleven years the church could no longer handle the burden of my salary and benefits. They informed me I would be let go the last of April. Little did I know this was the beginning of the miracle that would get me out of debt!

The church gave me plenty of warning, so before my last day at Tampa First I had plenty of time to set up my own ministry through the Plant City SDA Church, where I would continue doing Bible Work in the Tampa Bay area and beyond, based solely on contributions from people supporting my ministry. I also got a part time job at Florida Hospital. Here God was already performing miracles. I have heard of people losing their jobs and going months without a paycheck. Well I don’t know why God was so good to me, but I actually received paychecks from my new jobs before I received my last paycheck from Tampa First! Also Tampa First gave me a very generous severance check. After tithing I used a portion of the severance check to help a friend pay off their child’s church school bill. The rest I applied to my credit card debt.

A golf buddy called and needed my help on the side with his property management company. I was inspecting property, and as well as making a few extra dollars, I was  given a car which he also let me use to get to my Bible studies. I wasn’t golfing anymore as I was enjoying my new regular Bible Worker ministry with two side jobs. Remember I entered 2015 with $10,000.00 in credit card debt? Well on the day before Thanksgiving that year, I paid off my last credit card, and woke up Thanksgiving morning with a zero balance on all my credit cards. What a Thanksgiving! It was truly a miracle that began with me losing my job, I lost my job and turned around and paid off all my credit cards!

Of course I could not keep up with two side jobs and my regular Bible Worker ministry, but God provided them long enough to get me out of debt.

I must share a miracle that happened the following year. My mother was dying and I needed to make an emergency flight home which was very expensive, plus I would be missing work. I prayed and told God I did not want to go into debt again but needed to be there for my family. I told God I was going to be faithful to my family whatever the consequences. I shared a simple message on Facebook that I was going home because my mother was dying. I wrote and implied nothing more. That evening a Facebook friend from Texas messaged me she was sending me a monetary gift. That gift paid for my emergency plane tickets both ways. It covered my time off work. It helped pay my share of funeral expenses with some left over which I put into savings!

I now only have one credit card which I transfer money from my bank to pay off as soon as the transactions are made. I don’t wait till the end of the month. I love seeing that zero balance on my card all month long! I am careful with my money. I don’t feel inferior to people who have more money than me. I don’t have any problems saying I don’t have the money to do something. It is not embarrassing to me. I am very thankful for the miracle God provided to get me out of credit card debt. Now when I return tithe and offerings it is actually my first fruits. It is actually my money that I earned from that very paycheck.

Remember in my last article how I shared how cool I thought it was that my dad could just spontaneously buy a new softball glove? Well a few months ago my car up and died. I was not expecting that. It turned out to be my battery. A friend jumped my car and I went to an auto parts store where I bought and had a new battery installed. I paid cash. Instead of being upset that I had an unexpected repair bill, I drove away from the parts store, feeling pretty good. A spontaneous bill already paid for! Thank you Jesus!

You may study this quarter’s SS lessons on Stewardship here.