God’s Word is our Authority

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Occasionally, at church or the Adventist school where I teach Bible and evangelism, someone will ask me, “What do we believe about such and such?” My response has always been, “I don’t know what you believe, but here is what I, and many Seventh-day Adventists believe,” and I show them in the Bible what I believe and why. I am not going to tell someone what they believe. That is not teaching. It is brainwashing.

During the dark ages, when people did not have access to the Bible, people trusted their priests to tell them what they believed, and because of that there was a lot of brainwashing going on.

Even before the dark ages, priests abused their authority, and tried to brainwash people into believing whatever they believed. This happened in Jesus’ day when those in “authority” were trying to capture Jesus.

When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded. “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? John 7:45-48 NLT

The guards experienced and heard the Word of God speaking to them, and believed. Since the pharisees did not want to believe, they mocked at this. in John 7 the pharisees miscounstrued Scripture to try and prove their point, but amazingly instead of hanging their hat on Scripture, they hung it on the fact that none of the rulers or leaders believed.

So if someone in “authority” believes something it is automatically right, and if they don’t then it is automatically wrong? The pharisees seemed to think so. Do some think that way today?

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. Acts 17:11 NLT

Like the Temple guards, the Bereans were interested in new ideas as long as they were found in Scripture. They didn’t believe something because Paul and Silas believed it or becasue a ruler did. On their own they searched the Scriptures daily to find truth.

I have heard Seventh-day Adventists telling their Baptist and Methodist friends to search the Bible for themselves because their pastors could be wrong. I have watched some of the same Seventh-day Adventists listening to their own favorite Adventist preachers, wihtout bothering to search the Scriptures, because after all, their pastor is Adventist so he is automatically right, right? Wrong! We all make mistakes, as we all continue to learn and grow.

Let’s not be like the foolish pharisees in John 7, who hang their hats on whether or not the rulers or those in authority believed something or not. Let’s be like the temple guards and hang our hat on the Word of God.

You may study this week’s SS 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. 

“In the Spirit”

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.  John 4:24

I am sure that you have friends that no matter how long you are apart from them, once you get together, your friendship resumes right where it left off, as though you had never been apart. This may sound weird, but maybe in one dimension you never were apart! We have physical dimensions such as time and space, but have you ever thought that there is another dimension we can be in that is not bound by time or space? To me, that dimension is the Holy Spirit. I believe why many of our Christian friendships take up right where they left off even after long periods of no physical contact is because we have actually been together the whole time “in the Spirit!”  Why do those friendships take up right where they left off as though no time has passed by? Because we are in the great “ I AM”. With God there is no time. He is in one eternal Now. He is not the “I WAS” or “ I WILL BE”, He is the I AM.  Same with space, The Holy Spirit is everywhere. The Holy Spirit is with our Christian friends, so if we are in the Spirit and our friends are in the Spirit then we are together.

As a matter of fact, all the love we receive from our friends actually comes from the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when I left my friends in Texas and went to Florida and made new friends there, I still received the exact same love I had in Texas. Love does not come form human beings. We can not generate love; all we can do is let the Holy Spirit’s love flow through us. Therefore, the love I receive from people half way across the world is the same exact love I receive from the people I live with right here. It all comes form God. So as long as you have God’s love you can’t miss a friends love, because the only love they gave you came from God and He is still with you!

I am so thankful for all my friends whom I can share God’s love with! Thank you all, who are my friends on SSNET, as well as my offline friends, for being a part of my life. I hope God has been able to love you through me as we worship Him in Spirit.

Can the Bible be an Idol?

DTTFL

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This is my very first Bible I was given, before I could even read. It has 20151223_104402

pictures, and I remember one Sabbath while the preacher was preaching, I was studying a particular picture of Jesus on the cross, and gave my heart to Jesus.

I was taught that my Bible was holy, and not to set it on the ground or put another book or anything else on top of it. You may say it became my “flag” of Christianity. We don’t let the flag touch the ground and we handle it very carefully. Yet a flag is only symbolic of a country. It is not the country. Likewise the actual materials my Bible are made of are not holy materials. The message is holy. The ink and paper are not.

One day, when I was about 6, I showed my Bible to a neighbor who was eating a hot dog outside. I let him handle my Bible not realizing he had mustard on his hands. I was horrified when he accidentally smeared mustard on my holy Bible! You can still see the mustard on the opening page. 20151223_104343 (1)I yelled at him and berated him for messing up my holy Bible! I still remember the sad look on his face when he told me he was sorry, and a little stunned at how upset I was.

But was I being a little Pharisaical? Was I dramatizing the impression the mustard made on the paper, instead of realizing the impression on the paper was meaningless? What was really important, was the impression the picture and story of Jesus made on my heart.  Unless the words make my heart holy, a pristine Bible is pretty useless.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Matthew 23:25-26 NLT

I think I missed the whole point of what Jesus was all about, when I hurt my friend’s feelings by yelling at him, because he accidentally smeared mustard on the “holy” papers of my Bible. Looking back I am quite sure now that Jesus cared more about my friend’s heart and feelings than He did the paper in Bible.

I realize now that I am just making an idol out of the Bible when I make sure nothing is stacked on top of it, but yet in real life I put “things” before Jesus. The words of the Bible have made it from the scrolls to books to electronic apps. Some people don’t think of electronic Bible apps as “real” Bibles. Yet I wonder if when Gutenberg’s press came out if people did not consider the “real” Bibles to still be on scrolls.

I think we are making idols out of scrolls, hard copy Bibles and apps, unless we realize and appreciate the Bible enough to impress it upon our hearts and do what it actually says. It doesn’t do any good for me to take the flag down out of the rain, and fold it carefully if I still turn around and betray my country. Likewise it doesn’t do any good for me to make sure no books are put stacked on top of my Bible if I am still putting things before Jesus in real life.

I don’t want to make a useless idol out of ink and paper. I want God’s Word to be alive and well in my heart.

You can study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Proverbs in Light of The Cross; God’s Word Proves True Every Time

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Every word of God proves true…Proverbs 30:5 NLT

God’s Word said “if you eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you will die.” The serpent said, “No way! Look. I ate and not only did I not die but I can even talk now.”  Eve believed in what she heard and saw from the serpent instead of believing God’s Word. Turns out God’s Word was true. She died.

God told us through the prophet Daniel that Europe would never be reunited into a one world empire after Rome fell. In World War 2 Arthur Maxwell’s superiors were so afraid Hitler would take over Europe that they asked him not to publish his article claiming, according to Daniel 2, that there was no way Hitler could win and take over Europe. Maxwell published his article anyways. Good thing he did, because it turned out God’s Word was true. Hitler lost. Europe has never been reunited into a one world empire.

In the wilderness Satan wanted to tempt Jesus and make Him doubt He was the Son of God. After all He probably did not look the best after 40 days of fasting. Jesus said He did not need any signs, like turning stones to bread to prove He was God’s Son. He had already heard God call Him Son at His baptism. Jesus put His faith in God’s Word instead of appearances. Turns out God’s Word is true. Even the centurion knew Jesus was God’s Son.

A boy told a story about dying and going to heaven. The Bible says when you die you remain in your grave, unconscious until Jesus comes and resurrects us. Like Eve, many people put their faith in what they saw and heard instead of God’s Word. The boy later recanted his story. Turns out the Bible is true. Those who die sleep until Jesus comes. 

The moral of my story is, whenever appearances, sight, sound and feeling all contradict God’s Word, God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures will prove true every time. Trust God. Trust His Word above anything you see, feel, or hear.

The Punishment of the Wicked, In Light of the Cross

I am writing today from the dark and stormy Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the dark and stormy Tampa Bay area.

To me, the biggest lie out of the dark ages is not that Sabbath was changed to Sunday, or that when you die you go straight to heaven. To me, no lie totally distorts the character of my loving heavenly father like the lie that sinners will be tormented throughout the endless ages of eternity. Fact is:

It is no arbitrary decree on the part of God that excludes the wicked from heaven; they are shut out by their own unfitness for its companionship. The glory of God would be to them a consuming fire. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them.  –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, page 17

Did you ever notice, in the New Testament, Jesus never told the demons He could not be around them? The demons told Jesus they could not around Him! For example see Matthew 8:29. So, the unconverted heart sees the glory of God as hell, while the converted heart sees God’s glory as paradise! When the fire inRevelation 20:9 comes down out of heaven and consumes the wicked, that fire is the actual presence of God. God’s presence will be hell to those who hate Him, while it will be paradise to those who love Him. By the way this is why the Bible refers to an eternal fire. God is the eternal fire. But God’s love is not going to torture them throughout eternity. God’s love will burn for eternity, but it will put sinners out of his misery instead of torturing them for eternity.

A skewed understanding of hell skews our understanding of God’s love and character, which is exactly what Satan wants. To properly understand the punishment of the wicked, like all other Bible teachings, we must look at it in the light of the cross. Please allow me to share a lesson from my series of In Light of the Cross Bible Study Guides, called the Punishment of the Wicked in Light of The Cross.

The Punishment of the Wicked

 

Brief overview: The wicked will be destroyed by fire. The punishment will be everlasting but the punishing will not. The wicked will die instead of being tormented for all eternity. See John 3:16Romans 6:23Obadiah 1:16Matthew 10:28Ezekiel 18:420.

 

Why it is important to know the truth about the punishment of the wicked:

 

I have a friend who is involved in a prison ministry that visits a juvenile detention center. My friend was telling me that they had recently shared the truth about hell with the young men there. My friend said the Chaplin at the jail got very upset with him for letting the young men know that the punishment of the wicked is not an eternity spent in hell but rather death just like the Bible says in John 3:16 and Romans 6:23. The reason the Chaplin did not want them to know the truth about the punishment of the wicked was because he wanted the fear of being tormented for all eternity to motivate them to behave.

 

The teaching of people being tortured throughout all eternity is the most satanic false doctrine of all! It totally misrepresents the love and character of God making it impossible to love and know Him the way He loves and knows us.

 

Why it is important to understand the punishment of the wicked in the light of the cross:

 

Many churches use hell and fear as a motivation for doing good because they do not properly understand the love motivation. They do not understand the depths of Christ’s sacrifice in dying the second death. They make the Cross out to be a mere pain endurance marathon instead of seeing a Savior who was actually willing to say goodbye to life forever in order to save the world. When the early church saw the depths of Jesus’ love and sacrifice it turned the whole world upside down! Meaning it changed everything! It was God’s love that constrained, empowered and motivated them. This love is the only motivation that will actually succeed. Galatians 6 talks of a faith that works by love, not a fear of punishment. In John 14 Jesus says, “If you love Me keep My commandments”, not if you don’t want to go to hell you better keep my commandments. We must uplift the cross and the truth about the cross like never before. Young men in juvenile centers and people everywhere else need to know that there is a God who did way more than suffer for six hours on a cross. He faced the second death for them. He loved them more than He loved his own life. He loved them so much that when tempted to come down from the cross and go back to heaven He chose to die instead. Simply put, Jesus stayed on that cross for the young men in the juvenile detention center because the thought of heaven without them was hell to Jesus! When the love motivation receives its due power it will accomplish so much more than the fear motivation invented by men. Some people quote John 3:16 all the time while preaching of an eternal torment of sinners while that verse clearly says those who do not believe will “perish” instead of being tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.

 

Further study on the punishment of the wicked:

 

What is the opposite of eternal life?

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NLT

Note: Those who don’t believe perish. They are not tortured for all eternity. Why does the unbeliever perish?  God did not kick Eve out of paradise just because she took a piece of fruit she was told not to. The Serpent told lies about God’s love and interest in Eve’s welfare which Eve and all mankind bought into. When Eve stopped believing in God’s love she stopped believing in her only source of life. At the cross Jesus dies for our sin of unbelief, and when we believe again in His love, we gain back the life we lost when stopped believing in His love. This is the message of john 3:16.

 

What is the wages of sin?

 

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23 NLT

Note: The wages of sin is death, and not eternal torment in hell.

 

What becomes of the soul or person that sins?

 

For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die. Ezekiel 18:4 NLT

Note: KJV says soul, NLT says person.  Both the KJV and NLT make it clear, the entire soul or person dies in hell and will not be tormented throughout eternity.

 

How long does the devil have?

 

Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!

And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!

But terror will come on the earth and the sea,

for the devil has come down to you in great anger,

knowing that he has little time.” Revelation 12:12 NLT

Note: The devil does not have eternity in hell or anywhere else. He has but a little time left to exist.

 

What will happen to him?

 

You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade.

So I brought fire out from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate.You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more.” Ezekiel 28:18-19 NLT

Note: Satan, like all sinners will exist no more.

 

What happens to both body and soul in hell?

 

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 NLT

Note: Neither soul nor body are tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Both are destroyed.

 

What do the wicked become?

 

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Malachi 4:1-3 NLT

 

What is the lake of fire called?

 

Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. Revelation 20:14 NLT

 

What is God’s promise?

 

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”Revelation 21:3- 4 NLT

Note: Sinners cannot be eternally tormented if there will be no more pain.

 

Can we trust that promise?

 

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”  Revelation 21:5 NLT

You can study this week’s SS lesson here.

Extremism is Extremely Evil

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Genesis 3:1 NLT

Twenty-nine years later, there are still some things I remember from my Composition class at Southern Adventist University. One thing I was taught is to avoid using the word “never” because it is extreme and usually unrealistic. For example, I heard someone say once, “I never golf, because when I do I play terrible.” Wait a minute? If they never golf how can they say they play terrible? Obviously they golf some, or they would not say that they play badly. So they can’t realistically use the word “never.”

Satan baited Eve into a discussion by asking a question which was obviously wrong so that Eve would feel obligated to clear up the misconception and join in a dialogue with him. He went to extremes by suggesting God told them not to eat of any of the trees.

Today, Satan likes to suggest that Christians are not allowed to have any fun, but that is no more true than that Adam and Eve were not to eat of any of the trees. Some of the Puritans believed that the more things they called evil and abstained from, the more holy they would become, but that is not how holiness works. Now I am not suggesting that we must sin a little every now and then just to stay balanced and moderate. God’s grace is well able to keep us in harmony with God’s law at all times. The problem comes when we make extreme standards that God never intended. God never said “don’t eat of any of the trees.” On the contrary there was only one tree they were told not to eat from.

There is a term I have come up with which I call, “overcompensating for the past.” For example, a young person becomes a born-again Christian and decides to burn all their satanic music in a bonfire. However they get a little carried away, and throw their John Denver and Joshua Bell CD’s in the fire too, declaring them satanic since they are not sacred. They vow to listen only to Jamie Jorge and the Heritage Singers from now on. I am sorry, but throwing your John Denver CD’s into the fire is not going to make up for having listened to real satanic music in the past, and only listening to the Heritage Singers is not going to make you more holy. We do not become more holy by finding more things to call satanic.

It was Satan who suggested that all the trees were evil, so I conclude that calling everything evil is not only extreme but also satanic within itself! (Some older manuscripts suggest Satan actually implied all the trees were okay to eat, which would be an extreme statement in the other direction.)

Another danger of extremism shows up when we have one favorite pastor or author. We decide everything they preach is the truth, never considering they could be wrong once or twice. At the same time we decide this other pastor or author is always wrong, never considering he could be right occasionally. Fact is that none of us are perfect. If Matthew had been “all that,” then we never would have needed Mark, Luke and John. Now I know they all agree with each other, yet the Bible gives us an array of authors so we can have a balanced theology. We learn from all of them.

Several churches have sprung up lately and drawn large congregations. The pastors seldom take a vacation because everyone loves to hear them preach. And if a pastor seldom takes a break from the pulpit I have to guess he loves to hear himself preach too! However after the pastor gets promoted and leaves, the congregation shrinks. Why?  It is because they were following a man and not God. It is not healthy to become attached to one individual.

When I have been having long-term Bible studies with individuals and they come to church, I am happy when I see them mixing with other people besides myself. I am glad when they choose to attend somebody else’s Sabbath School class besides mine! They have been listening to me teach the Bible to them for months, maybe years, and now they can get other people’s views and ideas, so they can form their own balanced theology. I only have so much to offer. I don’t know it all. I may have strengths, but I definitely have weaknesses, and other teachers can complement my weaknesses. A well-rounded Bible student has more than one teacher.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it definitely takes a congregation to raise a newborn babe in Christ. Over the years I have had several pastors ask me to give their children Bible studies for baptism. Since they are pastors, why don’t they just do it themselves? Because the pastors realize their children hear them teach at church and then every day in family worship. They realizes that for their children to be balanced, they will need to have other teachers in their lives besides just them. This is the difference between a good pastor and a cult leader.

I once talked to a member of a church who had the same pastor for over 15 years. He said they kept that pastor because he preached the truth while the other pastors are preaching heresy. I asked him how he knew their pastor preached truth while all others preach heresy. Turns out it was the pastor himself who told them this! That is not a balanced pastor. That is a cult leader. When Elijah claimed he was the only good prophet left, God let him know he was being a little extreme, as God had 7,000 back in Israel who had not run away like him.

Not only is hitching your wagon to one preacher or author extreme, but labels can be extreme also – conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive. Some people like to call themselves conservative and look down on liberals. Some like to be progressive and look down on traditionalists. Problem is they all can become extreme. Jesus was not extreme, as He was all four. Jesus was conservative with His rebukes and on one occasion just wrote them in the sand to avoid embarrassing anybody. But He was liberal with the bread and fish when He fed the multitudes. Jesus was traditional with his custom of going to church every Sabbath, but He progressed beyond man-made traditions and the pompous ceremonial hand washing the Pharisees had concocted.

I visited with a member of a church where I was a guest speaker. The member told me, the goal of their church was not to be conservative or liberal. Their goal was to just go by the Bible. Where the Bible said be liberal, they wanted to be liberal, but in other phases of life where it said to be conservative they wanted to be conservative. I like that! They avoided the extreme labels of conservative, liberal, traditional and progressive and just purposed in their hearts to be like Jesus.

Daniel purposed in his heart to be conservative when it came to his diet in Babylon, but when it came to getting the wicked magicians off the hook for not telling the king his dream he was very liberal!

Again, please do not confuse what I am saying by thinking I am suggesting we make a compromise with sin in order to avoid extremes. I am actually saying just the opposite. If we become extreme in having one favorite pastor or author, we will follow him not only when he is right, but also when he is wrong. If we have been exposed to several pastors and authors, we will more likely follow each one only as far as they are right. We don’t have our wagon hitched to any one person except Jesus.

If we label ourselves conservative, we will fall into sin when a brother needs mercy and forgiveness. If we label ourselves liberal, we will fall into sin when a brother needs to be warned about sin. If we label ourselves traditional, we will fall into sin when tradition contradicts the Bible. If we label ourselves progressive, we will fall into sin when we forsake traditions that are biblical.

Let’s avoid Satan’s temptation to follow extremes and let’s purpose in our hearts, like Daniel to follow God in all His ways, by studying the Bible and following it, without adding or subtracting anything.

 

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