Equal But Not The Same

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

The early church leaders 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 was telling me that a real leader should never ask anyone to do a job he would not be willing to do himself. He then handed me a bucket insinuating that I should get to work and show a little humility and lead by example. He wanted me to show that I was not too good to do manual labor. There was only one problem. I had appointments to clear several candidates for the baptisms in next couple nights. They were waiting for me right then, and they worked the next day before the baptisms the following nights.

It wasn’t that I thought I was important. It wasn’t that I thought clearing people for baptism was more important than fixing a water break. Obviously the water break had to be fixed to have the baptism! Both the deacon’s job and my 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.

Again, deacons are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and able to preach. Also, as an Elder I have gladly taken up the offering and locked up the church after a meeting, and taken out the trash, so long as I could still accomplish my gospel responsibilities. 1 Corinthians 12 tells me one ministry is not superior to another, while Acts 6 tells me our offices are not the same.

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

When Was The Last Time You Invited Someone Home From Church?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

 

When was the last time you had people from your church over to your house?

The New Testament speaks of churches in homes. See Romans 16:51 Corinthians 16:9Colossians 4:15,Philemon 1:2.

Years ago, when I became a Bible Worker at a church in Texas, an elderly saint informed me of a group of people who began having church in one of their houses. She wanted me to get them to come back to the “real” church because, according to her, having church in a house was not “real” church. Realizing that having church in a house was indeed “real church,” I reached out to them and began a wonderful friendship. We worked together and played together, even though they “assembled themselves together” for worship in a house, while the rest of us assembled at the church building.

God’s remnant church will look like the original church, and the original church first met in homes as well as meeting in the temple court. Meeting in buildings dedicated to Christian worship came later.

By the way, the order of service most Adventists follow for worship service does not come from the New Testament. It comes from the Methodists. Nothing wrong with that. Just saying. Occasionally I have gone to preach in a church building that only had about 15 members present. Instead of having church in the sanctuary “Methodist style” I persuaded them to come into the fellowship hall where we all sat in a big circle and had a “home church.” Instead of preaching a sermon I led out in a group Bible study. It was informal yet reverent and Bible-based. Many told me they found it refreshing. It was what I imagine church to have been like in the New Testament.

Notice even the churches that met in temple courts also met in homes.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Acts 2:46-47 NIV

To me, the fact that they met in each others’ homes shows me how dedicated they were to the church. They took the church home with them! The New Testament church was not compartmentalized. There were no boundaries between what belonged to the church and what belonged to them. Their home dining room was just as much church property as the fellowship hall.

Do we compartmentalize today? For example, let’s look at church fellowship lunches. Are they social or anti-social? For instance, do we meet for lunch at church so we don’t have to actually invite each other over to our house? We say we all meet at church so we can all socialize together. Really? Then tell me why when I visit various churches I see so many people eating alone at fellowship lunch. I often see families sitting alone at tables that could have just as easily been sitting alone at home. But it makes us feel more sociable if we eat alone at church?

Of course many people do actually fellowship during fellowship lunches. Still, I have to wonder why we aren’t meeting in homes more often? Again do we compartmentalize? Do we fellowship on neutral ground while protecting the privacy of our home? Does our church have borders, or do we hold all things common?

It may be said that we can’t invite the entire church over to our house at once, so some may feel left out. To that I would say, over time invite several people, and those who feel left out can invite people to their house! It works both ways, you know. 🙂

The New Testament church did not compartmentalize. They held all things common, even meeting in their homes. I believe the remnant church should reflect the New Testament church. In the last days Satan is working hard to polarize us and make us unsociable. Meanwhile God is drawing us together to make up, not an isolated people but a great multitude which no man can number, who reflect His character of love and hospitality.

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

What Does it Mean to Be Absent From the Body and Present with the Lord?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A song goes:

One day Jesus will call my name As days go by, ‘hope I don’t stay the same. I wanna get so close to Him that it’s no big change, On that day that Jesus calls my name! -Phil McHugh, One Day Jesus Will Call my Name

This takes us head on to the point of a Scriptural passage that many Adventists shy away from.

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 NKJV

Does this verse put us into defense mode? Do we feel pressured to explain what it is not saying? We should never study God’s word in defense mode. Acts 17:11commends people for searching the Scriptures with open minds, not defensive minds. So instead of getting defensive let’s look at what Paul is saying. I find the expression Paul uses being absent from the body and present with Christ similar to the same type expression he makes in Colossians.

For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, Colossians 2:5 NKJV

Paul is simply using a figure of speech as when he says absent from the body is to be present with Christ.

As I read all of 2 Corinthians, I seem to pick up on a theme, and it is not the state of the dead. The theme to me seems to be living in the Spirit as opposed to living in the flesh or the body. In 2 Corinthians 5 that theme is very apparent. For example,

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 NKJV

To me, Paul’s reference to being absent from the body and to be present with Christ is ongoing as we live on this earth. I see it here in Ephesians too.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:4-6 NKJV

To be present with Christ, and to sit together with Him in heavenly places would be the same, and is a currently ongoing process. In all of Paul’s writings he talks about living in the Spirit as opposed to living in the flesh. I see 2 Corinthians 5 as a continuation of his theme. Paul is describing the life in the flesh or body which separates us from Christ, as opposed to living by faith and being present with Christ right here on earth. He goes on in verse 17 and describes a new creation right here on earth.

This leads me back to the point of  Phil’s song, I want to be so close to Jesus now that it is no big change when He comes.  2 Corinthians 5 is teaching us to crucify the flesh, and live with Christ here on earth. Paul strongly hits this point again in Titus.

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 2 Corinthians 5:17 and again in Titus 2:11-14 grace changes us right here on earth in the present age. And it is because of this that we look forward to Jesus’ glorious appearing.

I am in my 50’s now, and to be honest, when I was young I thought I would be a lot more like Jesus by now. I know it’s possible for me to be more like Jesus, because I see people half my age or less, who haven’t known Jesus a fraction of the time I have, and yet they are way so much more like Jesus than I am! But instead of comparing myself to others and getting discouraged I stay focused on Jesus.

forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV

I know Jesus loves me, and I keep my eyes focused on Him as His grace draws me closer to Him day by day. The Scriptures describe how Jesus’ coming will drastically change the world with earthquakes and islands and mountains falling into the sea. But the plan is that it won’t change me much. I left the flesh when I was baptized and crucified to self.The plan is, that long before the second coming it will be seen that every day I am not living in the body or flesh, but in the Spirit as I practice the presence of Jesus. See Romans 6:3-6 and Luke 9:23. My heart is not with my body. My heart is already with Christ. When Jesus comes I will continue in eternity the life Jesus began for me here on earth. Today I want to crucify the flesh and be absent from the body and live with Christ here today as well as in heaven after Jesus comes.

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

Pray For Our Leaders

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: Daniel 4:34 NKJV

I don’t know how it is around the world, but here in the last days in the United States, we are becoming very polarized politically. I am afraid it is even affecting the church. A while back a young person in the church shared a meme on Facbeook, bashing a political figure with lies. I messaged my young friend and shared the documentation with her that the cruel meme was making a false accusation. She replied back that she did not need me telling her the meme was false because she already knew it was a lie. I asked her why she was spreading lies. She replied back, “They make the point I am wanting to make.” I replied back, “so your point is a lie?” She replied back that she had an agenda and did not need me judging her integrity. If it took a lie to promote her political agenda then so be it!

Sadly that is not an isolated case. Professed Adventist Christians are spreading lies and fake news about political figures to suit their political preferences. It is being done on both sides. What really saddens me is that many professed Adventist Christians are using social media to promote earthly politics instead of sharing the gospel. Not only are they being worldly focused but they are not even using integrity even by worldly standards. They are using lies, fake news and gossip.

In Daniel 4 we see a pagan king who repents and is saved. The first six chapters of Daniel are filled with stories that will be repeated as the prophecies in the last six chapters unfold. The image in Daniel 3 is similar to the mark of the beast. I believe if Daniel 3 repeats itself then Daniel 4 will repeat itself as well. I believe ruthless pagan political leaders will be converted int he last days. Why else would Daniel 4 be in the middle of other stories that are to be repeated in the last days?

As we prepare for the end time, instead of means that even the world recognizes as immoral, such as fake news, lies and gossip to bash political leaders who we think are pagan, lets instead pray for their conversion.

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV

May I also suggest that instead of hiding behind an electronic device on social media, to hurl insults at others, that sensitive issues are better discussed face to face in real life? I have yet to see social media solve a social issue yet. Social issues are better solved in social real life discussions. It also helps us to be more responsible and Christlike with our comments.

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

Persecution of the Peacemakers

That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other. Luke 23:12 NKJV

Jesus was the common foe uniting political enemies. So it will be in the last days.

Political enemies will be united as commandment-keeping Christians become the common foe of all nations.

you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. Matthew 24:9 NKJV

Some people challenge the Adventist interpretation of Revelation 13, because they can’t imagine the Unites States persecuting Christians, yet even Jesus says God’s people will be hated by all nations, and that includes the United States.

Jesus knew that in a sinful world commandment keeping would not be accepted. This may be why He said,

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. Matthew 10:34 NKJV

Many think this statement is out of character for Jesus. After all He is the Prince of Peace, and didn’t the angels sing, “peace on earth” at His birth? May I suggest that it is the actual peacefulness of Christians that will stir up the ire of the world in the last days?

The beatitudes are building blocks to a complete conversion. As the conversion process comes to completion Jesus says,

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 NKJV

But look what happens next to the peacemakers!

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV

Like Ahab persecuted Elijah for being faithful to God, accusing him of being the trouble maker (See 1 Kings 18:17), so the leaders accused Jesus of stirring up dissension. (See Luke 23:5) This will be repeated right before Jesus comes. Many Christians will deny Christ and the commandments, thinking it better to be at peace with the world. When Hitler rose up in Europe, many of his neighbors wanted peace at any cost, but it turned out that the only thing uglier than war was cowardice! This is why John said,

But the cowardly….shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:8 NKJV

Peter said,

For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:17 NKJV

In the last days we are to be peacemakers, but that does not mean being cowards in keeping God’s law. Let it be said of us, what was said of Daniel,

“We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” Daniel 6:5 NKJV

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

Truly Worshiping God Means Truly Trusting Him

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

“How can we make sure we aren’t involved in any false worship?”

It seems the question between true worship and false worship boils down to who we really trust. For example, the children of Israel turned to Aaron’s golden calf when they didn’t trust Moses to return. Saul trusted his own sacrifices when he didn’t trust Samuel to show up. When David numbered his army it showed he trusted in numbers more than God. So, how can we make sure we aren’t involved in any false worship now? One way is by relying upon God now instead of or own works or inventions.

Do I return an honest tithe, or withhold some or all to put bread on my family’s table, instead of trusting Jesus to put bread on my family’s table?

If I return an honest tithe than I am truly worshiping Jesus. If I withhold tithe to provide for myself then I am trusting my money instead of Jesus. I am worshiping money which has become my false God. Notice I am not worshiping it necessarily because I love money more, but simply because I trust money more than I trust God.

Do I work on the Sabbath because my family needs the money, or do I rest from my works on the Sabbath and put my trust in God to provide?

Same issue as tithe, right? It all comes down to trust. What makes us think we will be true to God’s Sabbath during the mark of the beast, when we are not even keeping it during times of peace and prosperity? If I think my job is going to save me then I am worshiping my job, which is false worship. By resting from my works on Sabbath I am trusting God and thus truly worshiping Him.

While taking a test do I cheat to make sure I pass, or do I trust Jesus to work things out for me even if I fail?

Even if we fail a test or even have to take a class over, God can work all that out for our own good. We truly worship God in school as we truly trust Him in school.

When I make a mistake do I try to lie my way out, or do I tell the truth and trust Jesus to save me?

Revelation 21:8 says all liars will be in the lake of fire. We can’t say we trust Jesus while trusting our lies to save us. When we lie we worship our lies instead of worshiping Jesus.

False systems of worship seem to come from not trusting what God has already set in place. When we learn to trust Jesus we won’t need counterfeit systems of worship.

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

The Immortality of the Soul and Satan’s Seeing is Believing Trick

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I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma

A Bible student excitedly told me about a movie he saw where someone died and went to heaven where he saw his dead loved ones. When I reminded him about thestate of the dead, he told me, “Well maybe they did not actually die. Maybe it was a dream.” He was quite emotional about the movie and told me it had strengthened his faith in God.

What could be wrong with that?

Well, it raises the issue of whether we regard movies as authoritative, or not. Do we put our faith in movies or other visual media? Bible-believing Christians regard the Bible alone as authoritative in matters of faith. Sadly, all too often entertainment films promote popular misconceptions rather than presenting what the Bible says.

Satan has been using the “seeing is believing” strategy right from the beginning. When Satan dressed up as a serpent, he offered Eve a treat that turned out to be a trick. God’s Word said, “If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” (Genesis 2:17 NLT), but then Eve saw that this serpent not only appeared to have eaten the fruit and did not die, but could also talk. This was pretty convincing “seeing is believing” evidence for her. You could disobey God and not die and at the same time enjoy benefits. If the serpent could talk after disobeying God, then what were the possibilities for Eve? The serpent appeared to be more credible than God’s Word because the visible proof was right there.

Eve believed what she saw more than what God had told her. How wrong she was! Eve ate the fruit and ultimately died. The serpent that Satan used died too, and one day Satan himself will die. It may have initially appeared God’s Word was not true, but God’s Word proved to be very true indeed.

Satan uses the seeing is believing trick in many other ways besides just death. During World War 2 many Bible believing Christians were sure Hitler was going to take over all of Europe, even though Daniel 2 says Europe will never again have a one world empire. After all it sure looked like He was going to win!  While Jesus traveled with His two companions on the road to Emmaus, it sure looked to them like Jesus was not the Messiah after all. Instead of having them recognize Him, he showed them in Scripture the truth about the Messiah. Why go to Scripture instead of just opening their eyes and letting them see Him? Because Jesus doesn’t want us going by the seeing is believing mentality. Seeing is believing is Satan’s trick. God doesn’t use that. He uses Scripture. Scripture is our safeguard from the seeing is believing deception.

Jesus has warned us that in the last days that :

“… some shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect”. Matthew 24:24.

He was warning us that we need to be aware of how easily we can be deceived by what we see.

The belief that the dead can communicate with us has been one of the greatest delusions playing on the emotions of the bereaved by insinuating that the dead are alive in a different dimension and can talk to us. In parallel with one of the great Awakening movements in the United States, the Fox Sisters appeared to be communicating with the dead in their bedrooms. However Jesus warned us in Matthew 24:26 that He would not be in secret places, such as bedrooms. Those who place their trust in the Bible need not be deceived even though it may appear that the dead can speak.

Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead? Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. Isaiah 8:19-20 NLT

The popular media are full of accounts of near-death experiences – in which people supposedly died briefly on the operating table or in other situations – and then “came back” through medical intervention or other means. They tell vivid accounts of what they experienced while dead. While there are scientific explanations for such experiences,1 most people seem to take these as genuine glimpses into the afterlife, particularly those who have had these experiences. After all, seeing is believing. This plays well into Satan’s overall plan of deceiving the people of this world.

A friend of mine was visiting some folk when their young son went missing. Tragically they found him face down in the pool with little sign of life. As they rushed him to the hospital, the mother was frantically praying to the Virgin Mary to save her son. But Mary could not save her son. She was dead. Sadly the boy died too.

In times of trouble shall we call upon the dead, or shall we call on Jesus who is alive and has conquered the grave? Shouldn’t we have a personal relationship with Jesus instead of dead people?

The story of King Saul clearly illustrates the danger of losing sight of our relationship with God. Saul, frustrated with not getting the message from God that he wanted, chose to consult a medium to call back Samuel from the dead. The medium in 1 Samuel 28:14 created the illusion that Saul was talking to Samuel, leading to a set of tragic results for him and his family.

The KJV says Saul “perceived” he was talking to Samuel. Samuel was not talking to Saul. It was an illusion created by Satan. Furthermore, it raised the question why Saul looked for comfort from a dead person to whom he had not listened while he was living, rather than listen to the living God.

Saul should have sought counsel from God instead of an illusion. Today we should seek counsel and courage from the Bible rather than movies and accounts of near-death experiences that depict popular misconceptions. Movies depicting people “crossing over” from the “other side” should not be our source of encouragement.

We can be confident in Scriptures like 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 where Paul describes the second coming and resurrection. He described for us how those who are dead and sleeping in Christ will be raised at the resurrection at the second coming and will meet the living in the air to be with Jesus to live forever.

Paul adds: “Encourage each other with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:18 We don’t need to be encouraged by Media Fiction or phrases like “They have gone home to be with the Lord” Which are found nowhere in the Bible. We can encourage each other with the hope found in the Scriptures which are tried and true.

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