Is Being Fruitful That Simple?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. John 15:5 NLT

Is it that simple? Can I be fruitful by just remaining and abiding in Christ?

I was reading John 15 the other morning, when this phrase jumped out at me. If I just live in Jesus I can be fruitful. Now living in Christ does not mean being idle. Yet the passage seemed so simple. I don’t need to hype up my evangelistic series. I don’t need a cutting edge technology-filled worship service to compete with all the other really cool livestream services.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful that my 91-year-old aunt can livestream her church worship service when she can’t make it to church. But let’s be careful. Vacations lose their meaning when they become all about the photo opps for Facebook, instead of the actual vacation. Do we get so wrapped up in making sure our livestream worship service is as smooth and hip as that “really cool mega church” that we forget our worship service is just that – a worship service?

Several years ago I had a Bible study group made up of non-churched youth. One week my church was having an evangelistic series with all the hip modern music, so I decided, why not take the kids and their parents to see this instead of our regular Bible study? Let’s show them we do more than just study. Let’s show them how “with it” we are. So all the kids and a few of their parents came. The music was wild, and while it was not my taste, I was happy, thinking the kids would be impressed. After the service I asked a 13-year-old in my study group, how it went over.  With shrugged shoulders he said, “I wish we would have had the Bible study instead.”

That was several years ago and I have since learned what Google has known all along. People like simple. Google doesn’t busy their home page with ads and articles like so many other search engines. They wisely keep it simple.

In Tampa I have a Thursday afternoon teen Bible study with mostly non-churched teens. Recently the kids and I were separated because of the public school holiday break. When we came back together, a high school Junior shared some questions she had come up with while studying the Bible on her own. She told me she thought Elijah’s story was similar to end-time events, and why. I agreed. Her family was not studying with her. She had no study guides. Just a young girl and her Bible alone with the Holy Spirit making amazing discoveries! So simple.

In Plant City, I have been assisting our pastor with a Wednesday night youth Bible study group. We started off playing games, serving refreshments and having a short Bible study at the end. Over time the game time has become shorter and shorter, and the Bible study time is becoming longer and longer. Not by the pastor or my design, but because over time the youth wanted to study more and play less! This tells me people today are not hungry for fancy programs. They are hungry for the simple Word of God. At Plant City we sometimes have hymns, we sometimes have the latest praise songs and teams, but every Sabbath young and old show up for the Word of God.

Come to find out, people are not hungry for particular worship styles and fancy programs. They are hungry for God. Jesus tells us if we simply abide in Him and His Word, we can bear fruit to feed a starving world.

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

What’s the Point of Being Holy?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! Luke 15:1-2 NLT 

Companion means someone you eat bread with. “Com” is Latin for “with” and “pan” is
Holiness is in the sanctuary message but the goal is intimacy.Latin for “bread.” So when Jesus was publicly eating with sinners He was publicly declaring them His companions and friends! This infuriated the pharisees, who prided themselves from staying away from sinners. Problem is, their pride also kept them away from Jesus! Jesus knew the only way sinners could ever become holy is if they hung out with Him all the time. Now, what if I told you, that if you are friends with Jesus so that you can be holy that you are missing the whole point? What if I told you Jesus does not want perfection as much as He wants intimacy? Jesus does not befriend sinners so He can make them Holy. He makes them Holy so the friendship can become more intimate.

“Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.” Exodus 25:8

God doesn’t live among us so He can make us perfect. He perfects our love to make our relationship more intimate. Another key Adventist belief is the second coming, but with the same goal.

I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:3

God wants intimacy with us, and that is why He wants us to be Holy.

For I, the Lord, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy. Leviticus 11:45 NLT

What does it mean to be holy? Does it mean living in the attic of a monastery at the top of a mountain? Does it mean only having baptized SDA members as contacts in my Google contacts? Does it mean eating Worthington Veggie Links instead of Hebrew National hot dogs?  Does it mean I only listen to the Heritage Singers and never set my radio dial to a secular station?

The English word “holy” dates back to at least the 11th century with the Old English word hālig, an adjective derived from hāl meaning “whole” and used to mean “uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete”. –Wikipedia 

If you Google “What does holy mean” you will find answers like “dedicated” and “set apart.” God is not looking for outward perfection. He is looking for inner intimacy. He totally dedicated to us. He is “wholey” dedicated to an intimate relationship with you, and wants you to be “wholey” dedicated to intimacy with Him. This goes back to why Jesus was eating with Sinners. He wanted to be their friends. By being friends with us His removes our unbelief and we trust and obey Him, not to be self righteous but to become even more intimate with Him!

When I was younger I wished I could be righteous like Enoch so I could walk close to God. Then I realized Enoch did not walk close to God because he was righteous. He sensed his weakness and this made him stick close to God. Just like the tax collectors and notorious sinners knew how weak they were, when they ate with Jesus and made themselves companions and friends with Jesus. Jesus wants to make you holy His just like He is Holy yours. He wants to be your friend and companion.

“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

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Why I Can’t Believe in Myself

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A while back I was having a conversation with a young man who was studying eastern religions. He asked me about my faith so I told Him I believed in Jesus. “But this faith in Jesus leads you to believe in yourself, right?” He asked. “No.” I said. “It actually makes me not believe in myself at all. Only in Jesus.” The young man did even try to hide his scowl, and as to this date has not wanted to hear anymore about my faith.  Apparently believing in yourself is very important to this young man, but how can I believe in myself, when I know all too well what Paul confesses?

 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. Romans 7:18 NKJV

Hard for me to believe in something where nothing good dwells.

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:23-24 NKJV

Romans 7 knows me all too well. This is why I wrote in a previous article, “The Bible is the only book that knows me.” But there is hope! Not in me but in Jesus.

 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:25 NKJV

My mind wants to serve God but my flesh wants to serve sin. So what is the solution? Paul shares the solution in chapter 8.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 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 8:1-4 NKJV

Jesus took my flesh with nothing good in it and crucified it. Now I can walk in the spirit and the law of love can be fulfilled in me.

 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 NKJV

In the physical world one must be born before they can die. In the Spiritual world one must die before they can be born.

For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Galatians 5:17 NKJV

When the Spirit wars against the flesh is it the good things or the bad things we cannot do? Which is stronger? The Holy Spirit or the flesh? The previous verse makes it obvious.

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 NLT

So if I walk in the Spirit I have victory over the flesh. Why do I need victory over my flesh? Why can’t I believe in my own flesh like my friend wanted me to? Let’s examine the works of the flesh and see how many of them are good things that I can believe in.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV 

Eeeww, I didn’t find anything good in there, did you? No wonder Jesus had to crucify my flesh on the cross, and I must crucify it daily. See Luke 9:23 You may ask how does one crucify the flesh? To be honest, I don’t know! Good thing Jesus took my flesh to the cross and did it for me! When I look at the cross the pride of the flesh dies.

For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. Galatians 6:13-15 NKJV

Its impossible to look at the cross and glory in my flesh.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride. -Isaac Watts

What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself. When men see their own nothingness, they are prepared to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. -Ellen White, Faith I Live by, Page, 111

Now that my glory is laid in the dust look at what is possible.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26 NKJV

 Notice while these fruits of the Spirit are seen in my life, they are not my works! We saw earlier how disgusting all my works are. No, these are not the results of my works, they are the result of the Holy Spirit living in me and producing His own fruit. 

When we live by faith on the Son of God, the fruits of the Spirit will be seen in our lives; not one will be missing. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 676 

See why I told my friend the answer is not for me to believe in myself?

 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, Philippians 3:3 NKJV

The circumcision are those like Abraham, who stopped trusting his flesh to produce the fruit that only the Holy Spirit can produce. God had Abraham put away the part of the flesh he was trusting in so He could trust God’s promises instead. I pray God will give me another opportunity to talk to my friend again, so I can explain all that is possible when we stop believing in ourselves and believe in Jesus. Then again, the Holy Spirit can have anybody explain that to him. What the Holy Spirit does in me He can do in anyone. After all, its not me working. It is the fruit of Spirit.

You may study this week’s SS lesson on the Holy Spirit here.

Tojie and Anthony’s Baptism

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Today Tojie and Anthony’s friends, family and teachers from Tampa Adventist Academy came to the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church to support Tojie and Anthony as they both gave all themselves to Jesus in baptism, because Jesus gave all of Himself for them. You may watch the video of the baptism and service here. Baptism starts at 17:10.

 

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Tojie is now in the 9th grade. When he was in the 5th and 6th grades he was in my Bible chain referencing class at Tampa Adventist Academy. Tojie told me a while back that he wanted to be baptized. Tojie and Anthony agreed to be baptized together so today was the day! Tojie writes,

“When I hear the word “baptism” the first thing that comes to mind is when Jesus got baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. He was virtually perfect, but he did it anyway. Not because he had to, because he wanted to. Jesus wanted to set an example for us all. I think we should do the same.”

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I met Anthony this year at Tampa Adventist Academy, where he is in the 8th grade. I enjoyed studying with Anthony as he is very transparent and sincere, and was not afraid to ask questions if there was something he was not sure about. His sincere quest for truth and Jesus has led Anthony to a very good understanding of the Bible and relationship with God. Anthony writes,

Baptism to me means that as I go under the water all my sins are being washed away, and as I come up out of the water I am free with a new start. I also believe I will have a stronger connection with God. I think he will have a stronger voice when He talks to me. When I read His Word I feel like things will be more visible. As I spread the gospel I will have a better understanding of God and He will reveal things to me.

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After the baptism Tojie and Anthony were welcomed into the church family along with Anthony’s parents, Leighcraft and Sherri-Lee, who were already baptized.  Pastor Brad Cassell went over the baptism vows and awarded them their certificates with the the Adventist fundamental beliefs.

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Please don’t let another day go by before giving your heart to Jesus. After all, you are not going to be able to keep your life anyway, so why not give it to the One who can save it for all eternity? I would love to help you with this step. You may contact me at LayPastor@TampaAdventist.net

Marreta’s Profession of Faith Picture

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On Sabbath, October 22, 2016 Maretta rejoined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Plant City. Earlier in the year Maretta was invited to some meetings being conducted by some young men from Southern Adventist Univeristy. Maretta attended more meetings than anyone else, and was soon coming to Sabbath School and church and helping out with our fellowship meals. She fit right in right away and has never looked back. Like most people who have fallen in love with Jesus, Maretta has been taking a friend with her regularly to Sabbath and School and church, who has also been having Bible studies with us. Maretta is glad to be back in God’s church and we are glad she is here!

Lying to the Holy Spirit

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

 

Once, I was talking to a church treasure who told me every week she finds a few empty tithe envelopes turned into the offering plate. She figured it was kids turning them in. I was more skeptical and wondered if it was adults wanting to look like they were giving an offering. This was before online giving. Either way, the church has always had people pretending to be more giving than they are.

You may say, “Well that’s really none of your business William!” and you are right. It is none of my business. It is nobody’s business but God’s. In the dark ages the church would bribe, guilt and bully people into giving them their money, and there are churches and ministries that do this today. Some ministries and individuals expect certain people to help them financially and are disappointed when they don’t, forgetting that everyone has the right to do what they want with their own money. Jesus tells a parable about some people working in a vineyard that were expecting the owner to give them more than others, but the owner rightly answered,

Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Matthew 20:15 NLT

God always provides, and even though I support God’s work faithfully, it was doing quite well before I came along and will continue to thrive after I am gone. God doesn’t need my money. I need to express my thankfulness to God for His love, and systematic giving is one way I do so. Notice what Paul says,

 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 NLT

I see three important things here.

1. You must decide how much you are going to give. This goes for tithe as well. Yes it is 10%, but some say you should tithe on your gross, others say net. Of course if you own a business you tithe on your profit, and only you would know what that is. For example, when I am studying with someone about tithes and offerings, I ask them, if your neighbor pays you $50.00 to mow their lawn, and you spent $5.00 on gas then how much did you make? You made $45.00, so you would tithe on the $45.00. (See Deuteronomy 14:22.) Bottom line is that Paul says you must decide in your heart. Be honest. I have my own convictions about tithing on the gross but I have no business telling you what to do and neither does anyone else. Paul says decide in your heart, that is, follow your conscience based on what you have read in God’s Word.

2. Paul says don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. If you don’t want to give, then don’t! God doesn’t need your money. The church and various ministries will survive and thrive without it. But your spirit will whither and die unless you give!

3. Paul says “God loves a cheerful giver” and so He wants us to give cheerfully. Giving is worship, and the Psalmist says enter His gates with praise and thanksgiving. Giving otherwise is not worship. God wants us to give where we can give cheerfully and what we can give cheerfully.

In one of my first districts as a Bible Worker I was looking for a place to live. At prayer meeting one night a family told me in front of everyone that they owned a place where I could stay for free. They said in front of everyone, that they were pleased to have me do Bible work for the church and stay at their place at no charge. When I got to where I was staying that night, they called me privately, to tell me they actually did want some rent. What they wanted the church to hear was different from what they were actually willing to do. That’s where the problem begins. In Acts 5 when Ananias and his wife sold their land, the problem was not that they did not give all the money to the church. The problems is they said they were giving all while they were not.

He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. Acts 5:2 NLT

The problem is that He was lying, saying he was giving it all while he was holding some back. Are we lying when we claim to be returning an honest tithe but are holding some back? Peter went on to say,

“Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” Acts 5:3-4 NLT 1

While it was nobody’s business what Ananias did with his money he was still lying to the Holy Spirit, which was much worse than lying to people! So while we may say it is nobody’s business what we give, it is God’s business, and we need to be honest with Him. God needs us to give where and how we can cheerfully, and honestly.


  1.  By the way, notice Peter says Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, and then later said he lied to God, thus demonstrating that the Holy Spirit is God. Some say that the Spirit is just the “spirit” or attitude of Jesus, but one doesn’t lie to someone’s attitude. One lies to a person. The Holy Spirit is a Person.
  2. You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.