Enjoy all the Days of Your Life

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

But the godly will flourish like palm trees…..Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. Psalm 92:12-14 NLT

When I was young I was inspired by John Kennedy, because he was the most youthful U.S. president, and he showed what younger people can do. Now that I am older, I am inspired by Ronald Reagan, because he showed us what older people can do.

When I was 19 I was invited to join a home Bible study group. Everyone else was in their mid twenties to early forties. As well as studying the Bible together we did a lot of social activities, and as a 19 year old I thought it was cool that people in their twenties and even forties would hang out with me. Over thirty years later, I found myself at a restaurant, eating nachos with one of my college age Bible study groups, and I thought it was cool that people in their early twenties will hang out with someone in his fifties!

Its funny how our perspective changes as life changes. Many people fear getting older. I don’t. Long before I turned 50 a few years ago, a few people in their 70’s and 80’s told me the 50’s were the best years of their life. There are three reasons to love being in your 50’s. 1. People take you seriously. 2. Usually you are financially solid by 50. 3. Most people in their 50’s are still in reasonably good health. Some joke that while 50 is the new 30, 9 pm is the new midnight. It is true that in my early twenties whenever I would have a Bible study finish early in the evening, I would run over to the baseball stadium to catch the rest of the game. Today whenever a Bible study finishes early in the evening, I think, “Great! I can get to bed early tonight!” Sometimes I will force myself to do things I used to do, just to prove to myself that I am still young.

There are other advantages to growing older. Having worked with so many different churches and conferences over the years I know a lot of people. My friends list keeps growing. A couple of years ago when I had to evacuate Florida for a hurricane, there were several families between Texas and Tennessee that let me know their homes were open for me. As you get older you get wiser in choosing your friends, and over the years you have more friends to choose from. Also as more young faces appear in my life, I have more people to share my old stories with, who have not already heard them a hundred times. By the way, when an older person tells you the same story a hundred times, it is not because he forgot he already told you. It is because he gets to relive it every time he tells the story.

Speaking of younger faces, I have found working in the education field that everyone likes working with young people whether it is coaching and teaching, or just coming to school one day on career day to talk to kids about their career. I believe we all find hope for ourselves by believing we are making a positive difference in a young person’s life. Also kids keep us full of life. I remember a few months after my mother died, I was visiting family, which of course made me think of my mother. I left the visit to go join the 5th and 6th grade class from the school I worked with at an outdoor ed camp. While driving I became very sad thinking about my mother. I told myself once I got to the camp and was surrounded by youthful 5th and 6th-graders their presence would cheer me up and I would be happy again. Sure enough that is what happened. Those kids had no clue how they helped me overcome my grief!

Two thousand years ago, Mary, a young girl, probably around 14, was told by an angel she was having a baby. She went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who was on the other side of the child-bearing age margin, but was also with child. Their visit must have been very meaningful as Mary’s youth must have inspired aging Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s experience must have inspired a very young Mary. They both needed each other. Today we all need each other. We should not be afraid of growing old. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago. Psalm 23 tells us God’s goodness and mercy follows us all the days of our life. As a youthful Kennedy and an aging Reagan have both inspired my life, we all need both young and old people in our lives. What is more, whether we are old or young, people need us in their lives. Enjoy your youth. Enjoy your old age. Enjoy all the days of your life!

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

All the Days of my Life

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; Psalm 23:6 NKJV

This week’s Sabbath School lesson is about the seasons of life.

“A time to be born, And a time to die; Ecclesiastes 3:2 NKJV

Several years ago, I was talking to a friend who recently lost her mother. I had not lost my mother yet, so while being concerned for my friend, I also had my own reasons to see how she was dealing with her loss. I always had this fear that when my mother died I would just curl up in a little ball and lay there till I died too. I asked my friend how she found the will to continue with her life. Her response was unique. She smiled, almost shrugging her shoulders, she said, “My mother lived her life without me before I was born. I can live my life without her now that she is gone.” I had never heard a response like that before, but I realized she was right.

Reading this you may think it sounds heartless, but I assure you my friend was not being heartless at all. She was being real and practical. From the day of her birth till the die she died, God’s goodness and mercy was with my friend’s mother all the days of her life. Even before she had a family, God’s goodness and mercy was with my friend’s mother just as much as when she had a family. She enjoyed her life, and every day had purpose with or without a family. God’s goodness and mercy is also with my friend all the days of her life. My friend’s life is filled with purpose the days following her mother’s death just as much as the days which she had a mother. When I am preaching at a funeral I always assure the family that God’s goodness and mercy followed their loved one all the days of his or her life, and I assure them that now that their loved one is resting, God’s goodness and mercy will follow them all the days of their life as well, and not just the days that they had their loved one alive.

Its been almost three years now since I did indeed lose my own mother. I wrote a post for SSNET the week my mother died, and I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciated all the heartwarming comments that followed! I was surprised that I could even write that week. I was surprised I did not curl up in a little ball and lay there till Jesus came. I was surprised how my life continued. A couple weeks later, after my sermon, a friend commented that she was surprised I could preach so well right after losing my mother. I was just as surprised as she was, but I realized the obvious. As much as I dearly loved my mother, when she died, the reason I did not curl up in a little ball and die with her was because I live for Jesus!

My life continues because I continue living for Jesus. His mercy and goodness follow me all the days of my life. While my mother was living I lived for Jesus. Now that she is resting I live for Jesus. Every day has purpose. My mother would tell me wonderful stories about when she was younger before I was born. I loved hearing her stories. When I meet her again in heaven, I will be telling her wonderful stories about my life while she was resting. When we compare her wonderful stories about her life before I was born, and the wonderful stories about my life while she was resting, we will both joyfully proclaim, God’s goodness and mercy were with both of us all the days of our life! 

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

Good News for a Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked Church!

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Picture it. Wewoka Woods, July, Oklahoma Adventist Conference Camp meeting 1992. I had planned on going down for the day, but some friends encouraged me to stay the night in a tent they had available next to theirs. When I went to lay down on the cot, my friends offered me blankets. I told them no one needs blankets in Oklahoma during July. Well guess what? Come three in the morning it gets cold in Oklahoma in July! While shivering on a cot at 3 am I realized why Jesus said,

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. Revelation 3:15 NKJV

When I was cold I wanted to go get a blanket and change my situation. As I laid there shivering I sensed my need. Lukewarm people don’t sense their need of anything. They have no desire to change their situation.

But how can we be lukewarm when Jesus knows we have good works? When we do good deeds for others it “warms” their hearts. Malachi 4:2 talks about the Sun of righteousness. The Bible likens righteous deeds with heat. In John 3:19 as well as other places, the Bible likens evil to darkness, which without light or heat is cold. I go and see grandma in the nursing home every week and that is good. That is hot. But the only reason I go is to make sure I’m in her will, which is dark and cold. So in the end, after seeing grandma I am just lukewarm, and my hypocrisy makes Jesus so sick He wants to throw up! See Revelation 3:16.

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. Revelation 3:17-18 NKJV

Why does Jesus say to buy the gold and white garments? Isn’t salvation free? Jesus is referring to the bartering system.  He wants us to trade in our self-righteousness which makes Him want to throw up, in exchange for His robe of righteousness. He wants to take self out of righteousness since it is self that makes righteousness lukewarm. Lukewarm is not the absence of good works. It is the presence of self.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20 NKJV

Its hard to sense our need of Jesus when we are full of ourselves. But if we find our self-righteousness unappetizing, and hunger and thirst for Jesus’ righteousness (See Matthew 5:6) He will come into our hearts and dine with us and feed us His own righteousness.

Remember the door in heaven, in the message to Philadelphia? That door was open. Heaven’s doors are wide open. But when Jesus comes to Laodicea, He finds a heart that has works, but is so full of self it has locked Jesus out! Heaven’s door is open but Laodicea’s door is closed. When Jesus came to earth He was born in a stable because there was no room for Him in the inn. Later Jesus tells us there is plenty of room for everyone in His Father’s house. (See Luke 2:7 and John 14:1-3). Heaven has plenty of room. Heaven has an open door. If we are lost it’s because we had no room for Jesus and our heart’s door was closed.

Jesus hasn’t given up on Laodicea. He hasn’t given up on us! He has high expectations for His lukewarm, poor, miserable, blind and naked church!

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Revelation 3:21 NKJV

Working at UPS one day, my supervisor got frustrated about a mistake I made and berated me. He made me feel like I was useless and about to get fired, when he turned around and said something that gave me hope! He said, “You may think I am overreacting by getting so upset about this, but when you become a supervisor, you will understand why I got so upset.” In the middle of censoring me, he told me he expected me to get promoted. In the same message Jesus calls His people poor, wretched, miserable, blind and naked, He also talks about them overcoming just as He overcame!” Jesus encourages all of the 7 churches to overcome, but the church that represents the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, He expects to overcome “as I also overcame.”

There is wonderful news for a wretched, poor, miserable, blind, and naked church that recognizes it is cold and needs a Savior. Jesus stands at the door of your heart. Open the door. Give Him your rags, which only make you lukewarm and still leave you naked. He will clothe you with His robe of righteousness, so you won’t have to be cold, miserable and naked any longer. Heaven’s door is open. There is plenty of room. What do you say?

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

An Open Door No One Can Close

What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open: “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. Revelation 3:7-8 NLT

The church of Philadelphia represents the church that found the open door into the Most Holy Place in 1844.  This church also found a book open that had previously been sealed.

But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end. Daniel 12:9 NLT

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. And in his hand was a small scroll[book] that had been opened. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. Revelation 10:1-2 NLT

If the details in Revelation 10 follow the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1840 in Revelation 9, then the time period is around 1844, when the book of Daniel became an open book and the time of the end began.  Revelation 10:4 says that John was getting ready to write something down that the Thunders spoke, but was told not to write it.

What did they say and why was he told not to write it down? Obviously I have no clue for sure! But I do have an idea. In Revelation 10:8-10 John is told to eat a book that tasted sweet in his mouth but turned bitter in his stomach. Many believe that refers to the great disappointment in 1844 when people misunderstood that Jesus was coming to earth instead of going into the Most Holy Place ministry which had just begun. I wonder if the Thunders told John about the great disappointment, but he was told not to write it down? If I happen to be right, why would they tell him not to warn everybody so they wouldn’t be so disappointed? Because some things have to be learned by experience. Sometimes we have to experience problems personally so we can work out the solution clearly in our minds and see why that is the solution.

Most math books have some or all of the answers in the back. But it is not enough to just write the answer down. The teacher wants to see your work. She doesn’t just want you to know the answer, she wants you to write out and work out the problem so you know why it is the answer. The Bible tells us Jesus is the answer, but we encounter problems in life so we can know why Jesus is the answer. God wanted his precious church represented by Philadelphia to work out the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation so they would know by experience what the answer is, instead of just reading what the answer is.

Now back to the open door. While many believe the door is the door into the Most Holy Place, other scholars point at doors of evangelism that were open in those days. The American Bible Society was opened in the early 1800’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of all places! Publishing and spreading sacred literature became easier during this time. Add to this that when Jesus said, “what he opens no one can close, and what he closes no one can open,” I don’t think that applied to just one door. I think that is true about any door. If anyone has ever closed a door of opportunity on you, you can be sure of this, Jesus never opened it for you! If He had opened it for you no one would have been able to close it. No matter how things turn out for us we can be sure that man does not control our destiny. The same hands that were nailed to the cross and turned around and opened the seven seals holds our destiny.

It is also interesting that the church of Philadelphia is shown an open door in heaven, yet later when Jesus comes to the church of Laodicea He finds a closed door. If we are lost it won’t be because Jesus would not open heaven’s door. Heaven’s door is open. If we are lost it will only be because we would not open our heart’s door to Jesus. Next time we will take a look at the message to Laodicea.

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

What is Jesus Saying About You?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Jesus has an amazing promise for the church of Sardis and all those who listen.

He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Revelation 3:5 NKJV

Imagine your name rolling off the lips of Jesus! Imagine Jesus telling the Father how faithful you are, while all the angels listen and nod their heads in agreement. Too often we get worried about what others think about us, especially if we think our future may be in their hands, whether its a prospective employer or prospective father-in-law or what have you. Yet,

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31 NKJV

Too often we needlessly worry about what others think of us. I have learned it does not matter. Years ago I heard a friend say, “What others think about me is none of my business!” I have adopted that as my own motto, though I have to admit I have not been 100% perfect at it. Still I have grown to understand that we all perceive things differently. The youngest child in the family perceives family dynamics so much differently than the oldest child, that experts say it is like growing up in totally different families. If a family can be perceived differently by different people, then so can an individual. We simply cannot control how the world around us perceives us. So let’s just leave all of that in God’s hands. The good news is it doesn’t really matter. Instead of worrying about what others say about us here on earth, our focus should be on the throne of God in heaven. What is Jesus saying about you before the Father and the angels? That is all that matters. If your name is rolling off the lips of the Son of God, as He declares you an over comer then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says!

“Listen to me, you who know right from wrong, you who cherish my law in your hearts. Do not be afraid of people’s scorn, nor fear their insults. For the moth will devour them as it devours clothing. The worm will eat at them as it eats wool. But my righteousness will last forever. My salvation will continue from generation to generation.” Isaiah 51:7-8 NLT

PS : As we study the Great Controversy in Revelation, we find another reason why we should not be alarmed by what others may think about us. The Great Controversy is not about little us anyway. Its about Jesus!

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

The Morning Star in a World of Darkness

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

God has always had a people. Even during the dark ages there were those who overcame the darkness. Jesus promised them,

And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations— ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’— as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. Revelation 2:26-28 NKJV

John Wycliffe has often been referred to as the morning star of the reformation. How wise God was not to send all the light all at once. I remember our dean at Oklahoma Adventist Academy waking us up early in the morning, before daylight, by flipping a switch that turned all of the lights on in our dorm rooms. Going from total darkness to total light was blinding! It hurt our eyes!

God knew after 1260 years of darkness not to turn all the light on all at once. As the morning star gently pierces the darkness before the sun gently rises, so God gently pierced the spiritual darkness with the morning star of the reformation, and gradually brought more and more light until “the earth was illuminated with his glory.” Revelation 18:1 NKJV.

Imagine if Jesus had told Peter when He first met him, “Come follow me Peter and you will die upside down on a cross.” Peter might have run the other way! So Jesus revealed truth little by little to Peter instead of giving him all the truth all at once. In the end Peter was prepared to give his life to Jesus.

We need to pray for the same wisdom when sharing Jesus with out friends. Sometimes we wonder why our friends can’t see plain Bible truth, but it may be God Himself who is shielding them from light that may be too overwhelming for them right now. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would “guide us into all truth.” John 16:13 NKJV. It is important for us to let the Holy Spirit do His job, and for us not to assume the responsibility of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that brought a reformation out of the Dark Ages, is the same Holy Spirit that can bring our friends out of darkness too. The Holy Spirit may not want to use us as a blazing sun, but possibly as a morning star, gently piercing the darkness to prepare the soul for more light to come.

What’s Worse Than Persecution?

 

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Last week I wrote about the church of Smyrna which endured great persecution for being faithful to God, even when facing death. Bible Scholars agree the church of Smyrna represents the Christian era from 100 to 313. This brings us to the church of Pergamum, which  represents the time period of 313 to 538. During this time period persecution of the church seemed to cease. Why did persecution cease? Here is what Jesus says about Pergamum,

But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin.  In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Revelation 2:14-15 NLT

While the world appeared to convert to Christianity, in reality the church was converting to the world! Christ had nothing to criticize at all about the persecuted church of Smyrna, but when the church started to compromise to gain the approval of the world, it began to lose the approval of Christ.

The nominal conversion of Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 49-50

Persecution is what kept the church pure, and I believe persecution will one day purify the church again. In order to avoid persecution the church began to compromise its standards and beliefs.   As the church compromised to gain the world’s approval paganism seeped into the church. Such compromise was worse than persecution.  Now there is a balance we need to be aware of. I mean you have Daniel living smack dab in the heart of Babylon, and yet the king was his friend. Daniel had a way of never compromising truth and yet still being promoted by a Babylonian king! In Daniel 4 the king is converted. I pray in the last days for men and women of integrity in high positions to influence pagan leaders to give their hearts to Jesus. The stories in Daniel 3 and 6 will be repeated in the last days, and I believe the story of a converted pagan politician in Daniel 4 will be repeated in the last days as well. This calls upon Christians to use tact. With much prayer and Spiritual wisdom I believe we can live with the non-compromising faith of Daniel and Jesus, while being  friends with sinners. See Luke 15:1-2.  Even so, I realize that Daniel was still thrown in the lions den, and Jesus was crucified. We can’t make every sinner our friend, but we can use Christian tact to win many. And Christian tact does not, and in fact cannot include compromise with evil. Compromise with evil does not convert the world to the church, it converts the church to the world.

The sad thing is, even when the church made peace by compromising with the world, persecution still continued towards God’s faithful followers. Because the church was trying to win the approval of the world, the church itself began persecuting its own members who put the Word of God above the traditions of the world. It was no longer politically correct to call sin by its right name. It was no loner politically correct to put the Bible above human philosophy. I will let Paul explain what went on.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 NLT

To win the world to the church and escape persecution, the Pergamum church decided to start preaching what everyone wanted to hear, and not preach the things people did not want to hear. Did this please God?

God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors, than to have sixty make a nominal profession, and yet not be thoroughly converted. –Ellen White, Evangelism, Page 320

When the Waldensians wanted to continue following the Bible they were seen as troublemakers invoking persecution on the church. To avoid being persecuted by the world the church joined the world in persecuting those who still followed the Bible! So by compromising with the world the church organization was no longer being persecuted, but the faithful members continued to be persecuted not only by the world but also by the church! When I was taking 9th grade algebra, our teacher graded on the curve. The highest score was considered 100%. So if they highest score was 80 and my score was 60 then I got 60 out of 80 instead of 100, which of course would raise my percentage score. There was only one problem. The same girl on every single test got 100%. So we never got a break! This girl was not popular when we all got our test scores back, because she made the rest of us look bad by keeping the standard where it was supposed to be. Likewise when the church is trying to lower the standard to make the world look good and feel comfortable in their sins, those in the church who keep the standard right where it belongs stick out like a sore thumb.

Years ago, my friends were telling me about how their daughter was being ridiculed and persecuted in her new Adventist School for being vegan. They were surprised because no one teased her about it when she was in public school. The public school kids thought veganism was novel and admired her for being a free spirit and standing apart from the crowd. So her parents were disappointed when the Adventist kids gave her such a hard time about being vegan. The public school kids were not offended by her veganism but the Adventist kids were, because they took it as a rebuke to their lifestyle. She was raising the standard and they all thought it made them look bad for not maintaining the same standard. Of course my friend’s daughter never thought was better than anyone else just for being vegan, but we often condemn ourselves when we see others following their convictions while we ignore our own convictions. And if we can persecute and find fault with them, then it makes us feel all better about ourselves.

May God give us the wisdom to be people of integrity while being friends to sinners. Jesus and Daniel did not compromise God’s Word in order to be friends with sinners and neither should we. That is nothing new. The Jews crucified Jesus in order to secure favor with Rome. So today so called Christians are persecuting those who “follow the Lamb Wherever He goes” in order to secure favor with a sinful world.

Jesus Himself never purchased peace by compromise. His heart overflowed with love for the whole human race, but He was never indulgent to their sins. He was too much their friend to remain silent while they were pursuing a course that would ruin their souls,–the souls He had purchased with His own blood.-Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 356

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