Category: Uncategorized

Preston’s Baptism

A while back, Eddie, a good friend from the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist church called and asked me to study with his brother Preston. They had both just lost another brother, and Preston had questions about what happens when you die.  As I studied with Preston, I discovered he wanted to come back to Jesus and the Adventist church he grew up in. Preston also shared he was struggling with cancer, so we had an anointing service with Preston’s family as well as new church family. In the anointing service as well as his baptism, Preston found peace in giving all of himself to Jesus, including his all his sins and all his cancer, because Jesus had given all of Himself for him. Preston’s cancer and sins now all belong to Jesus, and all of Jesus’ promises belong to Preston!

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalms 103:1-5 NKJV

Studying With Preston

As we studied together Preston shared with me how we wants to minister to others by visiting people in nursing homes and other places where people need encouragement. Usually I ask people how they want to serve in the church, but before I had a chance to ask he was sharing with me!

Preston

Yesterday, Sabbath June 22, 2017 Preston was baptized, and very happy to belong to the family of God! Please pray for Preston that God will continue healing his cancer. Preston loves God with all his heart and wants to give Him the best he has to give!

Why Circumcision?

20170710_100842

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Monday’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, and if the Gentiles ever needed to be circumcised. Some have wondered why in the world God wanted the penis involved in a sign of loyalty. Some atheists have made fun of Christianity and the Bible over this topic.

What we need to understand is, the penis was the part of the body Abraham was trusting instead of God’s promise. Confidence in the flesh had to be cut out so all Abraham believed in was God’s promise. In the New Testament Jesus went to the cross and crucified all of our flesh, so that we could live by faith in His promises and not in our self confidence.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NKJV

In baptism we crucify all of our flesh with Christ. Romans 6:3-7. Like circumcision of old, baptism is a sign casting away the confidence of the flesh and trusting God’s promises to make us a new creation, God’s own recreation.

The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating any more, so instead of trusting in God’s promise, he took Sarah’s much younger handmaid, Hagar, and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This represents the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of trusting God to write them on  our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (See Galatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.

So God gave Abraham circumcision as a reminder to trust Him, rather than trying to solve His own problems.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT

Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Because Abraham trusted in his flesh to work things out, God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh that he was trusting, so he would realize that he could do nothing to fulfill His promises. He had to leave it all to God.

For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT

… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98

Now, instead of circumcision, we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water, symbolically dying to self, we rise up to a new life, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.

Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual similar to female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance but is still widely practiced, even though it is harmful to women.

It is worth noting that there is evidence to suggest that certain male health issuesare less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practiced, and circumcision also appears to have benefits for the wives. Others suggest that the same benefits may be experienced by proper hygiene. Thus everyone considering circumcision needs to prayerfully consider the reasons for and against the practice today.

Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would suggest, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or embarrassing an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second,  most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available.

Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.

Paul’s Authority and Relationship With The Church.

20170321_151413

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. Galatians 1:1 NLT

I remember sitting in church, no more than four years old, watching the preacher preach, and knowing (not hoping, not wanting, not thinking, but knowing!) that is what I would be doing one day. I am no Paul, and I did not have a Damascus road experience, but I realized, I was called by God and not man. Even though God has called me to ministry, He has still created opportunities for me to work within the church, even though I have my own self supportive ministry. The conference does not pay my salary, but I work along with them, and have no desire to run away from them, and they express their apprecaition for my team work. I say this, because there are those who feel that since they were called by God Himself, they do not need to work with the church.

Did Paul feel that being called directly by God allowed him to work independently of the church? No!

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. Galatians 2:9-10 NLT

We are all called to spread the gospel. Some of us do it as employees of the church, and some of us do it as lay members, or in self supportive independent ministries, but either way we are to work together as a team. This not only means that lay members cooperate with conferences. Conferences must also cooperate with lay members.

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”  “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. Mark 9:38-40 NLT

I remember back in the early ’90s, the church was battling independent ministries, and indepenadent ministries were battling the church. It has been a long time since I have heard of such battles and I am glad. Paul and the church cooperated together to spread the gospel. Jesus says don’t stop independent ministries from spreading the gospel. It is not the job of the church to destroy independent ministries, and it is not the job of independent ministries to destroy the church. It is the job of both to preach the gospel, and even though God may call some to work within church employment, and others to a self supportive or independent ministry, we may all work together as Paul did with the church in his day.

God may call and financially support us independently of the church organization, but He does not call us to minister independently of the church organization. The church needs us and we need the church. Paul was not called by human authority but he team worked with those in human authority. I encourage us all, lay members and conference officials to follow the Biblical example Paul has shown us.

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

Luther’s Understanding of Grace

Rays Port Charlotte-Skyway Bridge 065

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One day, while I was studying the Gospel Presenation with a retired couple, we read this verse.

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 NKJV

The husband had been raised Catholic, and while many of my Catholic friends understand grace, he told me, when we read that passage, that it was the first he had ever heard of us being saved by grace alone, without any works. That moment was an ephiphany for him, just like when Luther read, “The Just shall live by faith” in the Bible chained to the dungeon wall.

During our studies I learned the retired gentleman wanted victory over alcohol. He understood that works don’t save us, but he also understood that grace saves us from more than just death. Grace saves us from the power of sin.

Martin Luther understood this as well. After all, Luther read that “the just shall live by faith,” not the unjust. Luther understood that faith and grace makes us just as well as declaring us just. Luther understood that grace changes our lives. While visiting Rome, Luther was appalled at the sins he found even in the church. Luther understood being saved by grace instead of works, but he also understood that grace is not a license for sin.

He [Luther] entered the city, visited the churches, listened to the marvelous tales repeated by priests and monks, and performed all the ceremonies required. Everywhere he looked upon scenes that filled him with astonishment and horror. He saw that iniquity existed among all classes of the clergy. He heard indecent jokes from prelates, and was filled with horror at their awful profanity, even during mass. As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. “It is incredible,” he wrote, “what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 125.

Luther knew full well good works don’t save us, but he also knew grace saves us from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin. The Bible clearly teaches wherever we find grace, we also find, good works, obedience, and godly living.

After Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us we are saved by grace and not by works, Eph 2:10 tells us,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..

Grace produces the good works our strength and effort could never accomplish.

Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience….Romans 1:5 NKJV

Grace produces the obedience our human nature could never render on its own.

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

Titus 2:11-14 painted a totally different picture of grace than the one Luther saw in Rome. Actually Luther did not see grace in Rome. He saw every kind of sin, and Titus 2:11-14 tells us grace enables us to deny sin and live godly lives in this present age.

My retired friend took hold of God’s grace, and after praying with a mentor in the church one evening, he left the bottle behind and entered the baptistry. Grace has saved my friend from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin.

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

3 Quick Reasons Why it is Logical and Reasonable to Believe the Bible

Al Lopez Park
I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Last Sunday, at a graduation party, I had the pleasure of visiting with one of my former students from the Adventist school where I teach and give Bible studies. She is now attending a public high school in a different city. She told me how sad she is that at least half of her school population is self-proclaimed atheist. She said she is often asked, “How do we know the Bible is true?” She shared she needed some help answering that question, so here is what I shared.

While it takes faith to believe history books as well as the Bible, there are some ways to know if it is valid to put faith in a history book as well as the Bible. Here are some quick examples of why logic and reason warrants my faith in the Bible.First of all we all have to believe in something. Some people believe in evolution only because they read about it in a science book written by humans, and then turn around and say they don’t believe in the Bible because it was written by humans. Where would we be if we did not believe anything that humans wrote? For example, I believe Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, disappeared while swimming on December 17, 1967. How do I really know though? After all, I was a toddler on the other side of the world when this happened. I didn’t actually see or hear anything, and there is no body to prove anything either way. I have not even met anyone who ever actually saw Holt in the first place. How do I know his very existence was not made up? I believe it simply because I read about it in a history book. See, I have to put my faith in something.

  1. Here is one we don’t hear about much, but Revelation 9, written some 1,700 years before, gives us the exact day and year of the voluntary surrender of the Ottoman empire. When this prophecy was fulfilled, August 11 1840, many Bible skeptics became believers, when this prophecy was fulfilled.

2. Over 2600 years of earth’s history was accurately foretold by the image in Daniel 2. This includes Napoleon’s and Hitler’s defeats, as the prophecy says there will never be another one world empire. Clifford Goldstein revisited this prophecy affirming our faith is both logical reasonable.

3. Jesus perfectly fulfills all the Old Testament prophecies regarding the birth, baptism, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

Of course there are many more reasons why I believe, but here are three quick examples why it is logical and reasonable for the skeptic to put faith in the Bible. While we have all had emotional experiences with God’s Word, God does not want us to put faith in our sight or emotions. This is why in Luke 24, Jesus showed the men on the road to Emmaus Bible prophecy about Himself, instead of having them go by sight or feeling. what are some logical and reasonable examples of why you put faith in the Bible?

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

Suffering for a Purpose Brings Happiness

 

18198998_290045178090233_3095959430729891349_n

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I often begin my group Bible studies by having each member share a high and a low for their week. I wonder, if we asked God how His week went, what He would say? We may have seen a child mistreated, but God cried with every child on earth who was mistreated. We may have comforted a friend who just lost a parent. God cried at the bedside of every soul that died that week. We may cheer when our friend accepts salvation. God rejoices with every sold around the world that accepts salvation!
In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he explains how people survived concentration camps in world war 2. Without anything to be happy about, the survivors found a purpose for their lives to make living meaningful. Since then, many psychologists have written about how our lives need more than happiness. We need purpose and meaning. In the concentration camps it could mean encouraging another prisoner to hang on.

In Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ, he described how those in prison for their faith would “tithe” their soap and bread, by giving them to a weaker brother. Even in prison, their life had meaning and purpose by helping someone else and expressing their love for Jesus in the process.  Instead of just being happy, having meaning and purpose made them thrive even in dire situations.

I was going door to door, asking people to take a survey, to see if they were interested in Bible studies or any other service the church had to offer. A man answered the door cursing me, ordering me off his property. It seemed I could not comply fast enough. I felt I had been treated harshly. While this was not the first time I had been treated rudely, what happened next was unprecedented. As I walked down the street, I could sense the presence of Jesus, telling me, “Thank you for sharing in my suffering. Everyone left me at Gethsemane. Now I don’t feel so alone, knowing you have suffered with me.”  Granted I did not taste even a sip of the harshness Jesus drank. Still, as I prayed as I walked, I realized, while I could not be there to wipe the sweat from His face in Gethsemane, I could share in His sufferings today in my own realm. Somehow knowing I had shared a little sip of what Jesus tasted, made my afternoon meaningful. It brought me closer to Jesus. We shared something together.

Instead of asking God to remove suffering, the key might be to ask God to help us find a purpose for our suffering. Sometimes that purpose may be just as simple and yet meaningful as sharing God’s week with Him, so He doesn’t feel so alone.

Predestination in Light of the Cross

20170402_194818

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Satan knows our salvation is found in the love of God. Therefore he does his best to skew the love of God that shines from the cross. One horrendous ways he does that is by presenting a “gospel” in which the unbeliever, instead of perishing, is burned and tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Another way he skews the love that shines from the cross is by teaching that God’s sovereign will has predestined some people to be lost. They simply have no choice. This teaching suggests that because God knows the end from the beginning there is no way we could have any choice. John 8:36 tells us Jesus came to free us from Satan’s dominion over us. Thus the Almighty’s sovereign will and the purpose of the cross is to give us freedom so we can choose who we will serve.

So first, let’s look at choice.

In Genesis 24 Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. The servant prays for a sign showing who God picked to wed Isaac. The sign points to Rebekah. After much discussion and the family all agreeing God had picked Rebekah, look what happens:

 Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” Genesis 24:58 NKJV

So even though God knew the end from the beginning Rebekah still had a choice! Did God know Rebekah would say, “Yes”? Sure! Did he force Rebekah to say Yes? No!

On the fourth Sunday of the month all my friends know I am going golfing. Do my friends make me go golf? No! So knowing what will happen is not necessarily forcing what will happen. In the case of Rebekah and Isaac, God did arrange the meeting with Rebekah, but Rebekah still had a choice.

Of course, God foreknows much differently than we do. He reminds us that His ways are not like our ways. (Isa 55:8) Thus we just have to accept what He tells us, even when it is outside our realm of experience. That, too, is a matter of submitting to His sovereign will. Over and over He gives us a choice, and He also tells us He knows the end from the beginning. It was not God’s will for Israel to wander 40 years in the wilderness, but because most of the spies chose not to believe, that is what happened. It is not God’s will for people to starve to death around the world. These are the results of sin which are a by-product of allowing freedom of choice for this planet, and not specifically the consequences of God’s sovereign will.

Remember that we are in this sinful world in the first place  because God realizes that love without choices is not real love. That’s why He created Lucifer, even though He knew that he would become became Satan. God knew that, in order for love to reign in the universe, free choice has to reign too. Jesus says,

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32

Jesus is drawing everyone to Himself. Everyone. Nowhere in the Bible do we see where God chose anyone to be lost. We will get to that in a bit, but for now we see that while Jesus draws everyone to Him, obviously everyone is not choosing to be saved. That is why Paul tells us in Hebrews 2:3 not to neglect this great salvation and in Hebrews 4:7 not to harden our hearts against this salvation.

Jesus is drawing the world to Himself, and the only way to be lost is to resist this love! You have to choose not to be drawn to Christ, otherwise, according to Scripture you will be drawn to Him.

“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: Matthew 25:41 NKJV

Notice the fire is not prepared for anyone but the devil and his angels. Jesus does not say, “the fire prepared for the devil and his angels and those who I have not elected” or “those whom I’ve predestined to be lost.” He does not even say “Judas!” Clear and simple: The fire was prepared for the devil and His angels, and nobody else. Will Judas be there? Sadly inspiration tells us yes, but not by God’s choice. It will be by Judas’ own choice!

God’s choice is for us all to be saved, which leads us to the next point I want to share.

The Bible does teach predestination!

But it does not teach predestination without choice. Also, whenever the Bible mentions predestination, it is always predestination to be saved. The Bible nowhere teaches that God has preordained or predestined anyone to be lost.

“Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! Isaiah 45:22 NKJV

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved…1 Timothy 2:4 NKJV

“All” has to mean “All.” If God wants all humankind to be saved, that has to mean that He does not want anyone to be lost. Therefore He has not chosen or predestined anyone to be lost.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29

having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself…Ephesians 1:5 NKJV

These and Romans 8:30 are the only times predestination is mentioned in the NKJV. God’s predestination always leads to salvation. Nowhere does the Bible teach that anyone is predestined to be lost. Some people reason within themselves, independently from Scripture, that since God knows who is going to be lost, that takes free choice away. But Scripture teaches we are all predestined to be saved. Therefore the only way to be lost is by using our God-given free choice to be lost, totally independent of God’s plan.

Wait a minute though! Didn’t God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Yes, in the same way that the same sun that melts butter hardens clay. When we choose to resist God’s love we actually use God’s love as a way to harden our hearts.

Exodus 8:15 says,

“But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.”

And again in Exodus 8:32 we read,

“And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.”

So we clearly see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, while God takes responsibility for what He allows or does not prevent, since He gives us all a free choice.

Does Romans 9 teach us God wanted Jacob to be saved, but Esau to be lost? Didn’t God even say, “Jacob I loved, Esau I have hated?” Yes, but by using the words love and hate, God was not saying He loved one and hated the other as we use those words today. Remember in Luke 14:26 Jesus says we must hate our families in order to follow Him. Of course He simply means we must prefer Jesus over our families. Likewise, in Romans 9 Paul is not saying God wanted Jacob to be eternally saved and Esau eternally lost. That was not the issue of Romans 9. The issue is clear:

 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” Romans 9:12 NKJV

The issue was clearly the temporal birthright and not eternal salvation. God wants all men, including Esau, to be saved.

Some say that God predestined Judas to betray Jesus, but while God did know what would happen, it was not God who arranged for Judas to betray Jesus. It was not God but Satan that entered into Judas.

Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” John 13:27 NKJV

So we have seen that God wants all men to be saved, and that predestination in the Bible always refers to salvation and never condemnation. While God wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) does that take away our choice or does God give us a choice?

choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…Joshua 24:15 NKJV

I believe Ellen White stated it well when she wrote:

The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him. Desires for goodness and holiness are right as far as they go; but if you stop here, they will avail nothing. Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians. They do not come to the point of yielding the will to God. They do not now choose to be Christians. Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, you ally yourself with the power that is above all principalities and powers. You will have strength from above to hold you steadfast, and thus through constant surrender to God you will be enabled to live the new life, even the life of faith. -Ellen White, Steps to Christ Pages 47-48

Just as God worked everything out for Rebekah to be Isaac’s bride while she was still allowed to choose if she would “go with this man,” so today Jesus has worked everything out for us to be His bride, but He still gives us free choice. Will you go with this man?

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