Why In Light of the Cross Bible Study Guides?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Tuesday’s lesson this week is about Christ centered doctrinral beliefs. This reminds me of a passage that has become the theme of my ministry.

The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. -Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 315. 

We are not saved by doctrine. We are saved by God’s love and grace. So why does Satan work to skew our understanding of doctrine when he knows we are not saved by doctrine? Because doctrines help us understand God’s love. Our understanding of His love determines whether we accept Him or reject Him. Satan wants to skew our understanding of doctrine in order to warp our understanding of God’s love and make us reject Him.

For example I have read a few testimonies from former atheists saying the reason they originally rejected God was because they could not imagine a God who would torture people throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Once they realized God isn’t going to torture people for all eternity they believed in God and accepted Him into their lives.

I read a book last fall, To Sleep with the Angels, by David Cowan and John Kuenster. It was about a Chicago Catholic school fire in 1958. The book explains several reasons that were avoidable that led to the deaths of 92 students and 3 teachers. The authors also address how the church tried to comfort the parents, but yet their “comfort” did not make any sense. Parents were told that God needed their children. But we needed them the parents countered. Also does that imply God doesn’t need the children who survived? Parents were told that God took their children to heaven because they were so good. Does that mean the rest of us are bad and God rejected us? Parents asked.

The punishment of the wicked and state of the dead are just a couple of examples of how false doctrines warp our understanding of God’s love. This is why a few years ago I put together a set of Bible study guides called, In Light of the Cross Study Guides. They are available on my personal website. The lessons can be read online or downloaded and printed out in PDF format. Over the years people have written and told me they have been used in church Bible study groups as well as New Believers Sabbath School classes. Recently a family from Tennessee wrote that they were enjoying the lessons during family worship. They have also been used as guides and supplements in baptism classes. I have provided both a King James Version edition, as well as a New Living Translation edition. You can also get the app for your androidphone, and always have a Bible study ready to share anytime, anywhere.

I pray these lessons may be a blessing to your and your friends as we study all Bible doctrine in the light of the cross. 

Giving out of Gratitude Instead of Hoping for a Reward

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This quarter we have been sharing encouraging testimonies, how God has blessed us when we returned our tithe. We encourage others to tithe so they too can receive miraculous blessings. However, this reminds me of a conversation I had with my senior pastor several years ago. I was studying with a family who owned a sandwich and malt shop. They started visiting my church after we studied about the Sabbath, but they still kept their malt shop opened on Sabbath and closed it Sundays.

This baffled me, so finally one evening I asked them, “Don’t you think God would bless you if you closed your shop on Sabbath and opened it on Sundays?” They both smiled widely, and replied, “God is already blessing us!” I had no comeback. I was stumped. I shared my conversation with the senior pastor and asked him how I was supposed to have a comeback to “God is already blessing us!” He told me the obvious. They should close their shop on Sabbath because God said to, not because God would bless them. Somehow I was making things so complicated I forgot how simple it is. Jesus says,

If you love me keep my commandments.” John 14:15

Now as we are studying stewardship and talking about tithe, I think it is great that we can share such miracles of God blessing us as we return tithe. However let’s not miss the point of why we return tithe. My fear is that we present God’s blessings as though they are His reaction to our faithfulness, when in reality our obedience, tithing included, is our response to God’s grace.

When I put my offering in the plate last Sabbath I was thinking about how glad I am that Jesus loves me and died for me! He has already blessed me. I owe Him. He does not owe me anything! I owe Him everything. If He never gave me another blessing, I would still owe Him all that I have because He already died for me. I don’t give to God so I can receive blessings, but because I have already been blessed. I want us to be careful. Testifying about how God has blessed us by tithing is a great thing to do, but let’s not short-change what Jesus did on the cross by insinuating that recent blessings made our obedience “worth it.” Like the three Hebrews told King Nebuchadnezzar,

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

Let’s remember we are faithful to God with our tithes, not because He will bless us, but because He already died for us. When we truly give out of gratitude, we will not be giving in order to get new blessings.

Tithing on Your Increase

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Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. Deuteronomy 14:22 KJV

Tithing on your “increase” is different than tithing on your “gross” or “net” as an employee. This affects people who are self-employed and/or invest in their business. An illustration I use when giving a Bible study on tithing is, that if you get paid $50.00 for mowing your neighbors lawn, and you paid $5.00 for the gas, then you actually made $45.00. $45.00 is your increase or profit. You would tithe on the $45.00 since that is what you actually made. By the way the $45.00 is what you would also pay taxes on, so both God and “Caesar” realize you made $45.00, and not $50.00.

Of course there could be other expenses too, like the cost of the lawn mower, but I think you get the gist of the illustration. Of course the cost of the lemonade you bought from the stand across the street would not count as a business expense because even though it quenched your thirst, it was not a direct business expense. Tithing on your “increase” is different than tithing on your “gross” or “net” as an employee.

I’ll give several other examples, as I see them, and I encourage our readers to contribute their examples.

Now “Caesar” realizes if you work in an office or campus, that driving to work and back is not a direct investment to your business. You do not write off travel expenses to work and back. However you do write off travel expenses while working. For example if I’m a courier doing deliveries, I would deduct travel expenses from what I am paid to find my actual profit, and then tithe and pay taxes on the actual profit. By the way your gross income would be considered your actual profit. Let’s say I pick up a kayak in Sydney and drive 170 kilometers to deliver the kayak in Newcastle, for $525. To find my profit I would subtract 66 cents a km, which would be $112, leaving me with a profit of $413. I would tithe on the $413, which would be $42 (rounded up). Of course I can round that up to $45.00 or even $50.00!

Now if I drove 10 kilometers to make the pickup in Sydney I would not count that against my profit because that was just getting to work. It was not an expense of the actual work itself. The way I see it, only things that you invested directly to making your profit would be deducted from your profit. Now if I traveled from my home to a courier training workshop in Melbourne, that would be a travel expense relating directly to my business and profit. Everyone needs to decide between themselves and God if something is a direct business expense.

Again, your profit is counted as your gross income which you would be taxed on and would tithe on. Sometimes when I am giving this study, people will ask me if they can deduct their home electric bill from their gross income and then tithe after that. The answer is “no.” Your home electric bill is not a part of your business or an investment in your profit. “Caesar” does not let you write off your home electric bill as it has nothing to do with your profit if you are not working at home.

You need to follow your own conscience and Bible principles on determining what your increase is, but as a general rule, if “Caesar’ sees an item as a business expense then it is reasonable to count it as a business expense regarding your increase (profit) and tithe.

I hope this conversation has been helpful, and we can discuss it further in the comment section.

Trusting God Instead of Knucklehead Ideas

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The question is asked on Tuesday’s section of this week’s lesson, “In what ways have you discovered for yourself the true spiritual blessings that come from paying tithe? How has paying tithe helped increase your faith?”

After returning home to Tulsa from Southern Adventist University, I got a job at Taco Bell, and at 19 years old moved into my own apartment. It was a nice junior one bedroom. My rent was only $200.00 a month. What I would give to take my current salary and go back to those days! My parents both served as treasurers for the Tulsa First SDA Church for decades. They had instilled in me the importance of tithe. My dad always says, “Church’s don’t have financial problems. They have spiritual problems.” If everyone sacrificed and gave systematically as the Bible says, the church will always have enough.  While paying an honest tithe, even while barely making above minimum wage I had no problems paying my bills. I remember getting bills in the mail and going inside and writing a check to pay them right away. I did not need to wait until the due date. God was blessing.

Funny thing is, as I started making more money I started running into financial issues. I had a budget, but did not carefully watch myself during the month, thinking I had plenty of money. Still in my early twenties, I got a job working in the warehouse of a business forms company, making almost twice as much as I was at Taco Bell. Not keeping close track of what I was spending, I ran into financial problems, and for the first time started falling behind on my bills. I had recently transferred to a smaller church outside Tulsa, where I was serving as an elder.

I was the youngest elder in the Oklahoma conference and the most immature too, as I came up with a knucklehead idea for my new financial problems. Had I still been in the church where my parents were treasures I probably never would have done this. I had recently been promised a reasonable raise at work, but every week it failed to show on my pay check. So I decided to use all my money to pay my bills, and stop returning tithe until I got my raise. Each week I recorded what my tithe was so I could pay it once my raise came, but week after week there was no raise on my check. I recorded what I owed in tithe to pay once my raise came. The tithe was adding up. Finally one night after a group Bible study I told an older lady in my church that I felt bad not being able to tithe, but that I would tithe once my raise showed up on my check. She said firmly, “William you are not going to get your raise until you return your tithe.” Now I knew good and well that people get raises all the time who never tithe. However I knew too, that God is a personal God, and He was speaking to me through my older friend.

We received our paychecks every Friday, but the following Friday I did not go into work as I had too much overtime. Yes, God was blessing me with overtime while I was waiting on my raise and even withholding my tithe. Even though I did not get my paycheck on Friday, I returned my full tithe that Sabbath. I did not know what I was going to do, but I knew I had to do what was right.

Monday morning I went into work and picked up the paycheck that had been lying in my box since Friday. I opened it up and there was my raise! Was the raise a blessing? Yes! But the greatest blessing was knowing a God of love was watching over me, and even speaking to me through my older friend in my Bible study group. He loves me and takes care of me. All I have to do is trust in Him instead of my knucklehead ideas!

One Single Book

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In studying this week’s lesson on being stewards of the gospel I remembered this story which I had previously shared several years ago. When Jesus fed the multitude He had the leftovers gathered so nothing would be wasted. I believe God wants us to be good stewards of the gospel, and I don’t believe God wants literature to be wasted either. Here again is a story of how God used a little forgotten book in the attic, that may have been considered a “left over crumb,” to save a family and countless souls.

Many years ago when I was a literature evangelist, I found myself working one day in the rolling green hills of Northeast Oklahoma. I remember meeting a lot of rejection early in the day. What bothered me the most as I was selling Christian books, was that many saw me only as a salesman, instead of appreciating my passion for sharing Jesus. Rejection plus being misunderstood equaled loneliness for me.

About midday, I walked into a Taco Mayo restaurant for lunch. Long before cell phones were common, or Bible apps created, I carried my Bible with me everywhere I went. I sat down at a table and opened my Bible “randomly” and found this verse,

Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him. Psalms 126:5-6 NKJV

That verse hit the spot! My career in soul winning was just beginning, and this was long before I would begin Bible studies with a family who would start attending church only after I studied with them for seven years in their home. This was long before I would meet Fred, a man I studied with in Oklahoma, who got baptized after I had already been serving in Texas years later. It was also years before I would meet the members of a small Pentecostal Sabbath-keeping church, who would all become members of the Mineral Wells, Texas, Seventh-day Adventist Church after I studied with them and befriended them for four years. (I say that the entire Pentecostal church became Adventist, which is true. The entire church consisted of five members.)

As a rookie evangelist I only had time to plant seeds, but not to watch them grow. I needed to learn patience. If I could have seen the future harvest, I doubt I would have felt so discouraged as I sat there eating my burrito, before I found that verse full of comfort and hope. Still, I should have remembered a passage that my leader had written inside the Colporteur Ministry book he gave me.

Christ did not fail, neither was He discouraged, and His followers are to manifest a faith of the same enduring nature. They are to live as He lived, and work as He worked, because they depend on Him as the great Master Worker. Courage, energy, and perseverance they must possess. Though apparent impossibilities obstruct their way, by His grace they are to go forward….They are to have power to resist evil, power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master, power that will enable them to overcome as Christ overcame. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 679-680

While I sat in that Taco Mayo in Grove, Oklahoma, back in 1990, my evangelistic career was too young to see the results that years and years of patient work brings. However I had stories and testimonies from veteran laborers, like Denton James, my union publishing director. He and his family found the way, when they moved into a home, and found an old Bible Readings for the Home lying in the attic. Denton found the Adventist church through that book and became a literature evangelist who trained many more people like myself to be literature evangelists. Back in 2008 I worked with his granddaughter in Tampa, Florida. She was serving as an ASI Bible Worker. Not long ago, Denton fell asleep in death after many years of soul winning. All those souls and trained Bible Workers and Literature evangelists can trace their success back to Denton James, who traced his success back to an old book found in an attic.

I often wonder who the literature evangelist was who sold that book to the family that left it in the attic to be discovered by Denton’s family moving in years later. Whoever it was, did they ever get discouraged like I did, that day I was working in Northeast Oklahoma. Whoever it was they may have seen many people get baptized as a result of their labors, or it is possible they saw no one get baptized. One thing is sure, that that literature evangelist went to his or her grave with no clue that years later a man would pick up one single book that had been lying around in an attic for years, dust the cover off and read it, not only becoming a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, but leading hundreds to find Jesus, who would lead hundreds more to Jesus.

Since I don’t know who sold the book Denton found, I can only speculate. Is it possible that was the only book he or she ever sold? Is it possible they quit soon after that because “it just wasn’t working out”? There will be thousands in heaven because of that one single book that lay lost in an attic for who knows how long. I can see the evangelist coming home at the end of that day after selling that one single book, and writing in a journal,

“It was a terrible day today. I worked hard all day long and met nothing but rejection and doors slammed in my face over and over. Finally a man bought just one copy of Bible Readings for the Home, from me, but I heard his wife scoffing at him, saying something like ‘It’s just going to end up thrown away up in the attic with all the other junk you buy from peddlers.’ This is so discouraging I might as well quit. At this rate I will never help anyone find Jesus.”

Or I could have it all wrong, but I do know this. The literature evangelist who left that book walked away from that home having no idea that hundreds would be in the kingdom because of an exchange that probably only took a few moments and netted only a few dollars or cents.

Just like that book, buried in a dark attic for years, so it is with the literature and words I shared on that frustrating day in Oklahoma so many years ago,

The good seed may for a time lie unnoticed in a cold, selfish, worldly heart, giving no evidence that it has taken root; but afterward, as the Spirit of God breathes on the soul, the hidden seed springs up, and at last bears fruit to the glory of God. In our lifework we know not which shall prosper, this or that. This is not a question for us to settle. We are to do our work, and leave the results with God….. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:6. -Ellen White, Christ Object Lessons Page, 65.

It is true as well of the seeds you sow.

How to Use the Tithe and Offering Envelope

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Understandably, there are many who are unaware of the difference between tithes and offerings. Many, even seasoned members are surprised to learn there is a difference. Tithe is not used for general use, like church maintenance, Sabbath School supplies and so on. The offerings cover those needs, while the tithe goes to pay the salaries of conference employed gospel workers. This is according to the direction of Scripture.

Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Numbers 18:21 NKJV

Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 NKJV

The tithe goes straight to the ministry, while offerings are in addition to the tithe. Occasionally local church treasures will receive a tithe envelope that looks something like this,

Tithe: $200.00

Combined Budget: $100.00

Conference Evangelism: $100.00

Total: $200.00

The problem is the total should be $400.00. The person filling out the tithe envelope was thinking that he was to divvy up the tithe between the other categories on the envelope, but tithe is its own category. IF one is only returning their tithe, it should look like this,

Tithe: $200.00

Combined Budget:

Conference Evangelism:

Total: $200.00

If you are returning tithe and offering, it would look like this,

Tithe: $200.00

Combined Budget: $100.00

Conference Evangelism: $100.00

Total: $400.00

Scripture makes a distinction between tithes and offerings.

“Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. Malachi 3:8 NKJV[Emphasis supplied.]

So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NKJV

Malachi shows us tithe is in addition to the offering. 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us while the tithe that goes to the ministry is 10% of our profit, the additional offering is what we purpose in our hearts.

My father was a church treasure for over 50 years, and would occasionally receive tithe envelopes filled out by those who thought the tithe was divided into the other categories on the offering envelope. Other treasures have mentioned it to me as well, though of course never mentioning names. Understanding how this can be understandably confusing to some, when I give personal Bible studies on stewardship, I always make sure I carefully explain how the tithe is sacred to Gospel Workers, and the offerings are in addition to the tithe. I hope this explanation will be helpful to some.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Seeking a Kingdom of Materials or Righteousness?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33 NKJV

Driving along Bayshore Drive in Tampa, I noticed some huge houses. I wondered what it might be like to have a huge home. Then I asked myself, why would I need a house with 20 rooms that I am not in? I can only be in one room at a time. What difference would it make if there were 19 more empty rooms in my house?

Often people say they are happy to live in a little cottage on earth, knowing up in heaven they have a mansion. Do they really need a mansion in heaven? Is the goal of heaven to live in a mansion? If so, are we not just as materialistic as people who love things here on earth? What difference does it make where our things are? First of all there is nothing wrong in and of itself about having a huge house. Some people buy huge houses, not to show off, but because they have the spiritual gift of hospitality, and so they need a big house to meet the needs of their guests.

My point is simply, that if we are seeking mansions in heaven then we are just as materialistic as those seeking mansions on earth. The only difference is our materials are somewhere else, but they are all still materials just the same. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus says to seek more than a material kingdom. He says to seek “His righteousness.” Whether I live in a cottage or mansion, what I really need is the righteousness of God. We are not to be looking for a kingdom of mansions, but a kingdom of righteousness.

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