I am Living in my Last Days

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In 1979 when I was 14, I received a letter from the Tulsa Roughnecks major league soccer (football) team, asking me to renew my season tickets for the 1980 season. I could not believe my eyes. There it was “1980” in print! Growing up Seventh-day Adventist, I was told we were in the last days. The fuel crisis was going to bring an economic disaster, which would cause a national Sunday law. I never imagined the world lasting beyond the 70’s. Hence why it shocked me to see “1980” in print. I was sure the world would not last all the way until 1980.

Spoiler alert! 

It did.

Now we are well into the 21st century. By the way I love telling kids stories about growing up back in the nineteen hundreds. But I digress.

Meanwhile I have grieved the deaths of several loved ones, who I was sure would still be alive when Jesus returned. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s an Adventist child needn’t worry about parents growing old and dying, since we were always told Jesus would be coming back within the next five years.

Now I am closer to retirement than I am my high school graduation. Funny, in grade school we thought it would be forever until we graduated. Now its been forever since we graduated!

Still my faith in Jesus’ return has never wavered. I don’t feel Jesus has let me down, as He never promised to come back within the next five years. And Jesus never told my pastors and Bible teachers to tell me He was coming back within five years. That’s all on them, bless their hearts, they meant well!

Even though I always imagined myself hiding in the mountains during the time of trouble, when Jesus comes, I am now faced with the probability of my own death. I may be one of those resurrected when Jesus comes. People tell me I am still young, but I have done the math. If I live as long as my mother lived, I have 28 years left. I am not even promised that long, but based on life expectancy, my time on earth is probably less than 30 years. I am living in my last days!

whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. James 4:14 NKJV

Regardless if Jesus comes in the next 5 years or 200 years, I am looking at 30 years max that I have to endure this old earth. When I die my wait will be over. The next thing I know Jesus will becoming! 30 years is nothing! I am living in my last days! 

So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 NKJV

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

The Mystery of Iniquity and the Mystery of Godliness

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan has two mysteries –the mystery of iniquity and the mystery of Godliness.

The phrase, “mystery of iniquity” is mentioned only one time and only in the KJV.

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 KJV

Paul mentions the mystery of iniquity right after talking about a man

Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV.

Now while the KJV uses the word “iniquity” many other versions use the word “secret.” Also many other versions use the word “lawlessness” instead of “iniquity.” I am using multiple versions to get the big picture. In 2 Thessalonians Paul is talking about someone whose secret agenda is to overthrow God’s law and set himself on God’s throne.

Is this what also happened in heaven? Yes!

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Isaiah 14:12-14 KJV

John shares more light on this mystery when he says,

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, Revelation 12:7 KJV

Here we see an outright war. Not with tanks and machine guns, but a war of the minds. Lucifer is secretly trying to overthrow God’s law and government in order to set up his own kingdom. I imagine he was using flattery, bribery and mind games to secretly undermine God’s law and government and turn people to himself, just as he does now.

This is where the word “iniquity” comes in. Iniquity can be described as being bent towards or inclined towards self. Ezekiel has another clue in this mystery.

Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. Ezekiel 28:15 KJV

In heaven, Lucifer’s love, which was supposed to be centered on God others took a u-turn and headed towards himself. Somehow Lucifer mysteriously started undermining the importance of God and others and began his secret agenda of exalting self.

When things appear unexpectedly where they are not supposed to be, we call that a mystery. Part of the famous D.B. Cooper case involves a family finding a large sum of money while hiking in the forest. It was a mystery because the money was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was self-love supposed to be in an angel’s heart in heaven? No, it was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was there a logical reason for Satan to be at war with Christ in heaven of all places? No. It was not logical at all. The rebellion was not supposed to be there. That makes it a mystery doesn’t it? We can’t explain it or defend it. It’s a mystery.

Sometimes we are tempted to think, once we get to heaven we just automatically won’t sin any more, because we will be in a perfect world. Yet sin began in a perfect world! What a mystery!

However we do know there will be no sin in heaven.

Affliction will not rise up a second time. Nahum 1:9. NKJV

This leads us to another mystery, the mystery of Godliness. While many find it a mystery how a perfect being became so sinful, they also find it a mystery how a sinful race can become Christlike.

Obviously this is not done on our own. This mystery can only be performed by Christ working in us.

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27 NKJV

Revelation 10 gives us another clue to the mystery. John is given a book, which I understand to be the book of Daniel. It was sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. When the 2300 days in Daniel 8:14 came to an end, the expectation of Christ’s return in 1844 was sweet, but the disappointment was bitter. (I wonder if the thunders told John about the disappointment, but he was not allowed to write it down because some things must be learned through experience?) While they were disappointed in 1844 when Jesus did not return, Revelation tells us what would occur in 1844.

… but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. Revelation 10:7 NKJV

According to Colossians 1:27, the mystery of God is Christ in us. This leads us to the cleansing of the sanctuary, not just a building on earth or in heaven, but even more so the cleansing of the soul temple, so God can dwell right within us! See Exodus 25:8 and John 14:1-3.

Again this mystery can only be accomplished by Christ working in us. It is all grace.

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

In Titus 2:11-14 Paul describes a people on earth who have become Christlike. What a mystery! In heaven where you would least expect it, sin began. Now thanks to God’s grace, right here on earth, where you would least expect it, people become Christlike. John agrees with Paul. We don’t have to wait to get to heaven to be like Jesus.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 1 John 4:17 NKJV

I like the way Ellen White explains it:

That which alone can effectually restrain from sin in this world of darkness, will prevent sin in heaven. The significance of the death of Christ will be seen by saints and angels. Fallen men could not have a home in the paradise of God without the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Shall we not then exalt the cross of Christ? The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan. Angelic perfection failed in heaven. Human perfection failed in Eden, the paradise of bliss. All who wish for security in earth or heaven must look to the Lamb of God. The plan of salvation, making manifest the justice and love of God, provides an eternal safeguard against defection in unfallen worlds, as well as among those who shall be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. -Ellen White, Signs of the Times, December 30, 1889. 

In the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan we see a perfect angel in heaven who becomes sinful. We also see a sinful race on earth become Christ-like.

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

Adventism and Narcissism

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A while back I wrote an article called Bible Cures for NarcissismThis morning a friend on Facebook was sharing the signs of narcissism, which I was already familiar with. However, as our Sabbath school lesson today is on the three angels message, something occurred to me just now.

One of the signs of being narcissistic is the need to feel special and superior. We feel as Adventists we have a special message and we do. But if we are not careful could that lead to narcissism? Do we think our beliefs put us in a “special” category of believers?  I heard an Adventist pastor years ago lamenting to his congregation that he was pretty much the last pastor preaching the three angels message and Bible truth. His church was scared to lose him and he had them convinced he was the last true preacher, and whoever came in after him would be a heretic! In talking to members of his congregation they felt very special to have him as their pastor, and felt superior to other Adventist congregations who were not privy to this special pastor. Were such attitudes leading to the gospel or to narcissism?

Its been a while, but I remember a few families in a church I was familiar with who formed their own study group. They were studying the Adventist message more deeply than those in the church, or so they thought. They started referring to themselves as the “remnant of the remnant.” They started isolating themselves, as they felt pretty special. Were they really becoming better Christians or just better narcissists?

Marco Torres wrote an excellent article on conspiracy theories. He writes, “Conspiracy theories have a way of making us feel like we are more spiritual than others because of the information we have.” I think he nailed it! I have talked to so many in the church who feel superior and more spiritual because they are “in the know.” I have met people who feel like they have a special understanding of our beliefs which puts them in a special class. When others don’t understand them that just makes them all the more special. Are such feelings the fruit of the gospel or narcissism?

Jesus is the Gospel. He is the opposite of narcissism. Instead of putting Himself in a special class He joined all of humanity. While James and John wanted to be in a special class in His kingdom (remnant of the remnant?) Jesus said He was the servant of all! In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus mentions a Levi, who was a special class of Jews, (remnant of the remnant?). He mentioned a priest who was “in the know” and probably had special information. Jesus did not identify the gospel with the priest or Levi. He chose a Samaritan to represent the Gospel. A Samaritan who had no concept of caste or special creed. A Samaritan who saw everyone as his neighbor and equal.

Let’s remember the three angels message is for every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. Its not for a select privileged group. Its for everyone! Its easy to fall for Satan’s counterfeit “spirituality” which leads to feelings of being special and superior, and to narcissism. John the beloved fell for it when he asked to have a special place in the kingdom. There is a cure for narcissism and it is the gospel! John fell in love with Jesus and later wrote,

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us. 1 John 1:3

While John once felt he needed to be in a special class, once he fell more deeply in love with Jesus and the gospel he no longer felt the need to be “special” or “exclusive.” He saw all humanity as his neighbor and equal, and invited everyone into the same fellowship he had with Jesus. Narcissism sets us apart. The Gospel sends us into the world!

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.

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.