Nani’s Baptism Pictures and Stories

Four years ago, when I shared Natalie’s Baptism Pictures and Stories, I mentioned the Bible Study group Natalie and her family were in also spawned another Bible study group with her cousins and their families. Nani is a part of that Bible study group, and today she gave all of herself to Jesus by baptism, because Jesus gave all of Himself for her.

Nani Bible Study

Nani heard about the Bible study group I was having with her cousin’s family and asked me to have a Bible study group with her children and nephews.

Nani and Emanuel

Then her brother-in-law and his girl friend joined us, as well as other family members, and soon we were having about 11 family members in our new Bible Study group.

Group Dinner

As well as studying together every week, we enjoyed eating together, playing together, going to ball games together, and soon I became family!

Taina Dedication

As Jesus became a bigger and bigger part of their family life Nani and her husband Geo asked me to dedicate their daughter to Jesus. We did so at the Tampa First SDA Church about five years ago.

Nani Baptism

After a few years of group Bible studies, Nani made her decision to be baptized and we began baptism studies. Today was the long awaited day when Nani was baptized into the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Nani writes:

 I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I believe Christ died on the cross for my sins and was risen on the third day to show his everlasting love and forgiveness . In good faith turning my life to The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit is the best decision I have made.
I grew up around relatives talking about the word of God, reading the bible, at times attending church . I know the word of God but there is a difference knowing the word and following the word. I do not look for immediate perfection after baptism but by God’s grace and with His help I look to please my God in the best of my abilities. I am excited to say God is Love, and Love is God.
Nani Certificate
After the baptism I presented Nani with her Baptism Certificate, which contains the Bible beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Nani and her husband Geo plan to continue opening their home to group Bible studies and we are praying for more study group members to join Nani in baptism and walking with Jesus.
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Please don’t let the sun go down on you without giving your life to Jesus, Who gave His life for you! I would love to help you make this decision. You can contact me at 813-933-7505 or Racerthree@Gmail.com

Also thank you for supporting my ministry making this baptism and many more possible!

The Word of God in Action in the Flesh

honeymoon island

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area

Three weeks ago I was writing about how our community service centers provide practical ways for us to worship God, and serve the community. Currently, I have a group Bible study with several of our friends in the Homosassa Florida community, while they wait to get their food at the Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist Church’s food pantry on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Not everyone who comes for food chooses to join my Bible study, and that is totally okay. But you know what? They all get a Bible study anyway. When they meet our community service volunteers, who are full of Jesus’ grace they are seeing God’s Word in action in the flesh.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NKJV

Every place where Jesus spread grace and truth He was spreading the Word of God. He was the Word of God in action in the flesh. I believe I can say, that when people meet our community service volunteers it is like meeting Jesus. Paul says that by having the love of Christ, we too can be filled with all the fulness of God.

to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19 NKJV

Satan wanted to have God’s power but he did not want to have God’s self-sacrificing love and character. Of course we cannot be God. That is not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that we can be filled with God’s love and self-sacrificing character. When we are emptied of self, and filled with the grace and truth of Jesus, our works themselves will be the Word of God in action in the flesh.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. John 14:12 NKJV

Jesus says,

Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Luke 17:33 NLJV

Of course Jesus is talking about being empty of self in this life so we can have eternal life. I believe Dorcas is the perfect illustration of Jesus’ teaching on this point. Keep in mind, In the New Testament no mention is every made of a priest or elder be raised back to life, but we do see a selfless community service leader who was totally empty of self raised back to life.

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.  But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.  And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them.  Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.  But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.  Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. Acts 9:36-41 NKJV

I remember when I was a child, Seventh-day Adventist Churches named their community services centers after Dorcas, and they were called Dorcas buildings. Like Dorcas (Dorcas means gazelle in English), community services volunteers demonstrate to the community the love and compassion of Jesus today. Through community services centers we see a practical demonstration of the very essence God’s Word. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing practical services for the community, this is the one branch of the church the community would most obviously miss if the church were to disappear. More than that, our community service programs may very well be the most accurate picture the church portrays of God and His Word.

I know we are not saved by works. I realize many a hard worker has died at an early age. Still, I wonder if Dorcas was such a wise steward of her time and blessed so many people in the community, demonstrating God’s Word in action in the flesh, that God felt it necessary to extend her life? High priests, apostles, pastors and head elders have never been raised from the dead yet, but God raised a humble community services center worker back to life. That tells me community services workers have a very special place in God’s heart! Thank you to all of you who minister to the community at your local Seventh-day Adventist Community Service Centers!

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

Why You Can’t Go Home Again, And Don’t Really Need to

While some folks say, things aren’t what they used to be, I say, yes, but they never were what they are now.

I am a historian by nature. When I visited the Litchfield Congregational church, built in Connecticut in 1721, I tried to imagine all the sin-weary souls who had come to hear the Gospel preached for over three centuries inside those consecrated walls.

In 1991 I drove  to a remote little town in extreme western Oklahoma, to preach. When I arrived at the church, I went downstairs to get water. While downstairs I saw several Sabbath School classrooms, all totally vacant and abandoned.  The elderly couple who invited me home for lunch explained that all those rooms were packed with children back in the day. But they all grew up and moved away to find jobs. The husband was the school master back in the day, but had since  retired for decades, and, with no children around any more, the only traces of the school were distant memories. I remember a feeling of sadness coming over me as I thought of the hollow classrooms once full of life. I can’t say if it was the evangelist or the historian in me that made me wish there was a way to fill those classrooms with lively children again.

Over the years those hollow classrooms occasionally haunt my mind. Of course in my lifetime, I have seen changes in my own childhood church. It still has a thriving church school and Sabbath School department, but when my friends and I go home to visit, we remember days gone by when the church was much fuller. But I have to keep in mind that when we were kids our church was The Adventist Church in the area.  Today there are several Adventist churches in the area, and there really is no “The”  Church now. This is where the evangelist in me wars with the historian in me. The historian in me wants to re-create the church I grew up in. I want to go home again. The evangelist in me rejoices that there are new churches, and the gospel is being preached all over the area now, instead of in just one place. I understand my childhood church is slightly smaller now because people are spreading out to other churches to share the gospel beyond my little neighborhood.

Now my mind looks  back to those empty Sabbath School classrooms in the middle of nowhere in  Western Oklahoma. Is it really sad that the kids grew up and moved on to bigger places where they could find jobs? Not if moving gave them more opportunities to share Jesus with those in need! Now I look back at those empty classrooms in a different way. Maybe the primary Sabbath School teacher did not realize it at the time, but she was doing a lot more than teaching the children in her small town about Jesus. She was training them to be missionaries and take the Gospel from those little rooms and spread it all over the world! The historian in me looks into those vacant rooms and sees a church that died. The evangelist in me looks into those hollow rooms and sees scores of children leaving those sacred halls to share the Gospel in new places, meeting people around the world who need Jesus.

The church is a movement, not a history museum. The church is a people and not an old building standing out in a field where there used to be a town. While reality tells me that many of the kids probably left the church, I am sure many stayed in the church. Many of the children who  filled those old Sabbath School classrooms in western Oklahoma took the church with them when they moved away! The Sabbath School class did not die in those classrooms in western Oklahoma; the class just outgrew its walls! They grew all over the world! I look back now and realize children with whom I sat in Primary Sabbath School class in my home church are now scattered from the South Pacific Islands to New England and beyond. And you know what’s cool? We left four walls we used to meet in, but we never left the church. We took it with us! Just as importantly, we never left each other. We are in touch on Facebook and Sabbath School Net, where we still share ideas from theology to evangelism strategies. And of course we still get together personally when we can. A couple years ago, a former classmate, now a teacher, helped me put my Bible curriculum together while living 1200 miles away. You see, our little Sabbath School classroom did not die. Just the opposite. We grew so big we exceeded the boundaries of our four little walls.

I believe it to be the same with the little classrooms in a small town in Western Oklahoma. If I ever get a chance to return, and I hope I do, I will go downstairs and look into those empty classrooms again. This time instead of trying to imagine a class that once was, I will see a class that still is and even more. I will see a classroom that has grown into something much bigger and greater than it ever was. I won’t see a class that died in a little room. I will see a class that grew all over the world to help people all over the world who need Jesus.

When I think of my experience in the church, I realize in one sense, I can never go home again. The building I worshiped in as a child will never be what it was. That’s just fine. It was never meant to stay what it was. It was meant to grow. It was meant to grow beyond those walls into the rest of the world where people need Jesus. My church is now all over the word. So in one sense, I can never go back to my home church  again. In an even more real sense, my home church is all over the world now and is everywhere I go. And the even greater reality is, that I’ve never been home and never will be until Jesus comes. While the historian in me wants to reminisce about the way the church used to be, the evangelist in me says to keep growing the church. It’s not finished yet!

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

What Makes Jesus Angry?

DT Tampa july 4

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A Facebook meme reads,

“When asking what would Jesus do? Remember turning over tables and throwing a whip around are all within the realm of possibilities.”

I don’t know if the person who wrote that meant to be funny or not but they make a very valid point. Many times when people ask what would Jesus do? They are suggesting we just take the path of least resistance, but that was not always Jesus’ way. It is not a sin to be angry.

“Be angry, and do not sin”: Ephesians 4:26 NKJV

This verse tells us we can be angry and not sin. Did Jesus ever express anger? Yes He did. Besides turning tables over in the temple, He became angry when the people refused to extend mercy to a man who needed healing on the Sabbath.

And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Mark 3:5 NKJV

When Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in Mark 11:15-18 it was not because they were selling items inside the church. I remember as a child listening to someone complain about the Heritage Singers selling their albums in the church lobby. They took Mark 11 to mean that we should not sell things in the church, but that was not what Jesus was angry about. Jesus tells us what made Him angry.

Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? Mark 11:17 NKJV

The Jewish leaders had instructed the people that at Jerusalem they were to be taught to worship God. Here during the Passover week large numbers assembled, coming from all parts of Palestine, and even from distant lands….

The dealers demanded exorbitant prices for the animals sold, and they shared their profits with the priests and rulers, who thus enriched themselves at the expense of the people….

The worshipers had been taught to believe that if they did not offer sacrifice, the blessing of God would not rest on their children or their lands. Thus a high price for the animals could be secured; for after coming so far, the people would not return to their homes without performing the act of devotion for which they had come. The priests and rulers were called to be the representatives of God to the nation; they should have corrected the abuses of the temple  court. They should have given to the people an example of integrity and compassion. Instead of studying their own profit, they should have considered the situation and needs of the worshipers, and should have been ready to assist those who were not able to buy the required sacrifices. But this they did not do. Avarice had hardened their hearts. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 154-157

The problem wasn’t buying and selling in the temple. It was doing it in a way that was not friendly to those who came from distant lands, and those who had little money. They did not care that God’s house was to be a house of prayer for all nations, and not just the greedy money changers and priests.

So, when we see Jesus angry it is most always when someone is not being treating with mercy. Jesus is not passive when He sees others being abused, and He does not expect us to be either. Jesus definitely does not take a passive approach to child abuse.

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Luke 17:2 NKJV

Sounds like a threat to me! From Jesus! You know, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when we ourselves are mistreated, but Jesus never told anyone to turn the other cheek when a child or their aging parent is being mistreated. Many God-fearing Christians will turn the other cheek if you hurt them, but if you hurt their family that is a different story!

Just this morning, I was reading in John 11 about the resurrection of Lazarus, when I came to this passage,

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him,[f] and he was deeply troubled. John 11:33 NLT

I wondered why Jesus would have such a deep anger in this situation? I checked the commentaries, and one suggested that Jesus was angry with the way some of them were so hypocritical in their mourning, especially seeing how many of them would turn around  right after Lazarus’ resurrection and plot Lazarus’ death!

Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, John 12:10 NLT

John 11 goes on to tell that many at the resurrection ran to report what had happened in a way that showed they were not happy with the outcome, revealing  they only pretended to be mourning about his death.

So what makes Jesus angry? lack of compassion and hypocrisy.  Let’s ask Jesus to give us true compassion for others.

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

Sleeping in While Jesus Knocks at the Door

Tampa Bay 1

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While this week’s lesson mentions Song of Solomon, a passage comes to my mind from chapter 5, that maybe should be compared with Jesus knocking on the heart’s door of the church of Laodicea. Most of us are familiar with this passage in Revelation:

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Revelation 3:20 NLT

We are familiar with Revelation, borrowing imagery from the Old Testament. Christ’s message in Revelation 3 is to His beloved church.  Song of Solomon could be a metaphor of Christ’s love for His church. In Song of Solomon 5 we find a man possibly representing Christ knocking at a woman’s door, and we all know a woman represents the church throughout the Bible. Could this passage be a sad ending to the scene in Revelation?

I slept, but my heart was awake, when I heard my lover knocking and calling: “Open to me, my treasure, my darling, my dove, my perfect one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.” But I responded, “I have taken off my robe. Should I get dressed again? I have washed my feet. Should I get them soiled?” My lover tried to unlatch the door, and my heart thrilled within me. I jumped up to open the door for my love, and my hands dripped with perfume. My fingers dripped with lovely myrrh as I pulled back the bolt. I opened to my lover, but he was gone! My heart sank. I searched for him but could not find him anywhere. Song of Solomon 5:2-6 NLT

By, “I Slept, but my heart was awake,” many take this to be a dream. The woman hesitates to open the door, and apparently hesitates too long, as by the time she opens the door, the dream turns into a nightmare as her lover is gone. The seventy weeks of Daniel 9, tell us God knocked on the door of Israel’s heart for 490 years. The stoning of Stephen in A.D. 34 as a nation Israel closed the door on Jesus. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus seems to cry over Jerusalem as they closed the door on His love. If Laodicea represents the last day church, then we have examples of the 5 foolish virgins in Matthew 25 being locked outside the wedding. While a whore represents the apostate church in Revelation, a virgin represents Christ’s remnant people. (See Revelation 14:4). So the parable in Matthew 25 is about the remnant church, and five of them are foolish and locked outside of the wedding feast.

Let’s not be lulled into a fatal false sense of security. The dream which turned into a nightmare in Song of Solomon may be a wake up call. In Song of Solomon the woman finds her lover gone when she left the door closed while she was sleeping. In Matthew 25,five virgins find the door closed because they slept. Belonging to the right church is not enough. If we are asleep in the remnant church then we might as well just be asleep anywhere. Sleeping in the remnant church won’t save you. While God loved and cherished His Old Testament Church they still had some pretty severe wake calls, like their captivity in Babylon for just one example. While Jesus loves and cherishes His Remnant last day church, we too have had some severe wake up calls. The burning of the Review and Herald in 1902 for just one example.

The five wise virgins were not welcomed into the wedding feast just because they were virgins, or the remnant church. They were welcomed because they woke up. They had their lanterns or Bibles, and they had their oil which was the Holy Spirit. I am a 5th generation Adventist. My family Adventist heritage goes back to the beginning of Adventism. My great grandparents, who were 2nd generation Adventists were married in Uriah Smith’s home in Battle Creek. They would have met Ellen White had she not been in Australia at the time, but my great aunt did meet Ellen White. But my Adventist heritage means nothing. Being 5th generation Adventist does not get me or my family anywhere. If I am going to boast about anything, rather than boasting that I am 5th generation Adventist, I should boast that my family has always known and loved Jesus, probably well beyond 5 generations!

But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken! Jeremiah 9:24 NLT

Song of Solomon 5 is about a nightmare that could happen to us, but definitely does not have to happen to us. Let’s wake up now and answer the door to God’s love!

A Special Plea for my Bible Worker Fund

Bill

First, I would like to thank you all for supporting my ministry these last four years that my ministry has been 100% reliant on financial contributions from people like yourself. God has used people like you to provide for my ministry, and more and more opportunities for sharing the gospel are presenting themselves all the time. However in recent months many have  become unable to continue contributing for understandable reasons. Monthly contributions have been consistently lower lately while opportunities to share the gospel still flourish. I pray those who are giving can continue, and God will provide new contributors so that my ministry will not need to break stride. Again, thank you for your prayers and support! Contributions can be sent to the Plant City SDA Church, P.O. Box 5379 Plant City Fl 33563. Please mark checks “Bible Worker Fund.”

Below is a special appeal letter from Pastor Mark Swaisgood. Thank you for taking the time to pray and consider this ministry.

Plant City Seventh-day Day Adventist Church

P.O. Box 5379, Plant City, FL  33563(813) 752-4694

April 12, 2019

Dear Ministry Supporters and Future Supporters,

Nearly every day I hear a news report that makes me think that the second coming of Christ is very near.  With this feeling of His nearness in my heart, I also think of our need to get the invitation out for all people on earth to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  I believe God’s will is that all would be saved and live eternally with Him (even though we know many will not) when He makes “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).People everywhere need what Jesus offers, they need to know God’s great love for them, and they need the hope, comfort, and strength that only God’s Holy Spirit can provide us.  You and I need to maintain a living relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, and share His love and words of hope with our family, friends, and neighbors, inviting as many others as we can to have a living, loving, and saving relationship with God because Jesus IS coming again, and it could be very soon, even today.  So, I want to begin this letter by saying thank you to all the people who have so faithfully supported evangelism efforts through their financial contributions to conference pastors (through tithing) and to other gospel workers like Elder Earnhardt (in this case, through his Bible Worker Fund).  If you are, or have been, a financial supporter, THANK YOU.

I also want to share with you a “last days” vision for evangelism(when the laity will finish the work) in the Plant City and Tampa Bay area, as well as around the world.Not long ago the Florida Conference added the Plant City SDA Church to my ministry district, in addition tothe Lakeland SDA Church which I already had. This has brought me into a closer relationship with Elder William Earnhardt, who is currently serving as Plant City SDA Church’s Head Elder andas a Bible Worker in Plant City, Homosassa, and the Tampa Bayarea.Since my time is divided between two churches, I am very thankful to God for Elder Earnhardt’s calling and ministry to the Plant City SDA Church and beyond.  He is providing solid spiritual leadership. With his inspiring, Biblical, Christ-honoring sermons, worship service attendance has increased from just over 20 to almost 50.Our weekly prayer meeting is thriving for both young and old.  I am leading out in our youth studies and William is leading out in our adult studies. The former Plant City pastor letme knowthat Elder Earnhardt baptized 9 people, and he brought 3 more into church membership by profession of faith,in the Plant City SDA Church during the previous 4 years.  In the eight months since I have been the senior pastor at Plant City William has brought growth to God’s kingdom by preaching, facilitating Bible studies and seminars,and conducting baptisms at both Plant City and Homosassa SDA Churches.  This is one way the laity will be used to finish the work of Christ on the earth before He returns.  If you are already a donor, “Thank you.”  If you are not a donor yet, you too can be a partner as you support Elder Earnhardt’s Bible Worker Fund.

Elder Earnhardt has a unique ministry which is fully supported by contributions from people like you around the country.While Plant City members are among his ministry contributors, the Plant City SDA Church does not have the resources within itself to provide for his level of ministry to the area. Everything Elder Earnhardt receives for his Bible Worker ministry is from a Bible Worker Fund, which is maintained by faithful contributors, ordinary people with a vision to reach people for Jesus, people like you.

 

Elder Earnhardt’s Bible Worker Fund is currently being held for him by the Plant City SDA Church and his contributors are from near and far, as his ministry extends around the country. Elder Earnhardt is currently conducting Bible studies, seminars and evangelism training all over Florida, and even in other states through the power of the internet.  You can follow William’s ministry on Facebook, or check out his website at www.inlightofthecross.com.Recently, the Homosassa SDA Church had Elder Earnhardt in their church to baptize 6 precious souls he had been working with.  He also had a recent Week of Prayer in the New Port Richey SDA School, which lead to 15 baptisms.William recalls that over the years hehas performed countless baptisms in Tampa First SDA Church, Tampa Adventist Academy,and other parts of Florida.

Beyond our state’s boarders, Elder Earnhardt has also traveled to Peru, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas to hold evangelism meetings, revivals, and training seminars, which have led to even more baptisms.  Even while he is in Florida, William reaches around the globe with his personal blog ministry, as well as writing for Sabbath School Net. E-mails have come in from as far away as Australia, Peru, Chile, Africa, Canada, etc., sharing how William’s articles and “In Light of the Cross” Study Guides have led people to Jesus.

I first became acquainted with William at Camp Kulaqua, our beautiful Florida Conference summer camp and church retreat facilities, where I have worked for several years with our academy young people, as the guest pastor for Outdoor Education. Elder Earnhardt has mentoreda number of young people over the years, at Tampa Adventist Academy and Gulf Coast SDA School, who he brought to Camp Kulaqua for Outdoor Ed. That is how we got acquainted.  When I recently began pastoring in Plant City, I learned that William’s Bible Worker Fund had been supporting him four years so far.  William relies on monthly supporters and one-time contributors alike. William has also sought part-time employment in other types of work to supplement his income.However, it has come to my attention that in recent months the funds received for each month are not enough to cover his hours of work for each month and the Bible Worker Fund is being depleted faster than it is being replenished. Meanwhile,William‘s ministry is flourishing, with opportunities for even more and more Bible studies, revivals and seminars.  With so many people in our area and around the globe coming to Christ, and growing in Christ, throughhis ministry, and with the time of Christ’s coming getting closer every day, it would be sad to see his Bible Worker Fund become unable to continue to support his ministry in the months ahead.

You Can HelpFirst, I ask you to pray for Elder Earnhardt and his ministry, that God will continue to direct his path and provide for him and his ministry’s needs.Second,I ask you to either keep supporting William, or consider supporting his ministry with either a one-time donation, or, even more importantly, on-going monthly contributions.Third, please share this letter and invitation to become a supporter of the work of the laity, like William, who we are told will finish the work in the last days before Christ’s return.As the Holy Spirit leads, please send your tax-deductible contributions payable to Plant City SDA Church, P.O. Box 5379, Plant City, FL 33563.  Indicate on your check that this is for the “Bible Worker Fund.” I thank you, I know William thanks you, and, most of all, the many people William consistently reaches for Jesus will thank you in heaven.

In Christ’s Service,

Pastor Mark Swaisgood