Why You Can’t Go Home Again, And Don’t Really Need to

While some folks say, things aren’t what they used to be, I say, yes, but they never were what they are now.

I am a historian by nature. When I visited the Litchfield Congregational church, built in Connecticut in 1721, I tried to imagine all the sin-weary souls who had come to hear the Gospel preached for over three centuries inside those consecrated walls.

In 1991 I drove  to a remote little town in extreme western Oklahoma, to preach. When I arrived at the church, I went downstairs to get water. While downstairs I saw several Sabbath School classrooms, all totally vacant and abandoned.  The elderly couple who invited me home for lunch explained that all those rooms were packed with children back in the day. But they all grew up and moved away to find jobs. The husband was the school master back in the day, but had since  retired for decades, and, with no children around any more, the only traces of the school were distant memories. I remember a feeling of sadness coming over me as I thought of the hollow classrooms once full of life. I can’t say if it was the evangelist or the historian in me that made me wish there was a way to fill those classrooms with lively children again.

Over the years those hollow classrooms occasionally haunt my mind. Of course in my lifetime, I have seen changes in my own childhood church. It still has a thriving church school and Sabbath School department, but when my friends and I go home to visit, we remember days gone by when the church was much fuller. But I have to keep in mind that when we were kids our church was The Adventist Church in the area.  Today there are several Adventist churches in the area, and there really is no “The”  Church now. This is where the evangelist in me wars with the historian in me. The historian in me wants to re-create the church I grew up in. I want to go home again. The evangelist in me rejoices that there are new churches, and the gospel is being preached all over the area now, instead of in just one place. I understand my childhood church is slightly smaller now because people are spreading out to other churches to share the gospel beyond my little neighborhood.

Now my mind looks  back to those empty Sabbath School classrooms in the middle of nowhere in  Western Oklahoma. Is it really sad that the kids grew up and moved on to bigger places where they could find jobs? Not if moving gave them more opportunities to share Jesus with those in need! Now I look back at those empty classrooms in a different way. Maybe the primary Sabbath School teacher did not realize it at the time, but she was doing a lot more than teaching the children in her small town about Jesus. She was training them to be missionaries and take the Gospel from those little rooms and spread it all over the world! The historian in me looks into those vacant rooms and sees a church that died. The evangelist in me looks into those hollow rooms and sees scores of children leaving those sacred halls to share the Gospel in new places, meeting people around the world who need Jesus.

The church is a movement, not a history museum. The church is a people and not an old building standing out in a field where there used to be a town. While reality tells me that many of the kids probably left the church, I am sure many stayed in the church. Many of the children who  filled those old Sabbath School classrooms in western Oklahoma took the church with them when they moved away! The Sabbath School class did not die in those classrooms in western Oklahoma; the class just outgrew its walls! They grew all over the world! I look back now and realize children with whom I sat in Primary Sabbath School class in my home church are now scattered from the South Pacific Islands to New England and beyond. And you know what’s cool? We left four walls we used to meet in, but we never left the church. We took it with us! Just as importantly, we never left each other. We are in touch on Facebook and Sabbath School Net, where we still share ideas from theology to evangelism strategies. And of course we still get together personally when we can. A couple years ago, a former classmate, now a teacher, helped me put my Bible curriculum together while living 1200 miles away. You see, our little Sabbath School classroom did not die. Just the opposite. We grew so big we exceeded the boundaries of our four little walls.

I believe it to be the same with the little classrooms in a small town in Western Oklahoma. If I ever get a chance to return, and I hope I do, I will go downstairs and look into those empty classrooms again. This time instead of trying to imagine a class that once was, I will see a class that still is and even more. I will see a classroom that has grown into something much bigger and greater than it ever was. I won’t see a class that died in a little room. I will see a class that grew all over the world to help people all over the world who need Jesus.

When I think of my experience in the church, I realize in one sense, I can never go home again. The building I worshiped in as a child will never be what it was. That’s just fine. It was never meant to stay what it was. It was meant to grow. It was meant to grow beyond those walls into the rest of the world where people need Jesus. My church is now all over the word. So in one sense, I can never go back to my home church  again. In an even more real sense, my home church is all over the world now and is everywhere I go. And the even greater reality is, that I’ve never been home and never will be until Jesus comes. While the historian in me wants to reminisce about the way the church used to be, the evangelist in me says to keep growing the church. It’s not finished yet!

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

The Priesthood and Temperance of all Believers

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While Seventh-day Adventists have a health and temperance message to give to the world, God has been using His people in every church and age to spread this message. A while back, I visited the Congregational church in Litchfield Connecticut, which was formed back in the 1700’s. When I got home, I Googled the history of this church, and found that Lyman Beecher was the pastor of this church from 1810 to 1826.

34 years before there was a Seventh-day Adventist Church, Pastor Beecher was famous in his day for preaching abstinence from alcohol, even while other pastors of his day were social drinkers.  Thank God He has pastors in every church and age, who simply go by the Bible.

Years ago I was driving home from a Bible study in the Fort Worth Texas area, when I heard a local Baptist pastor on the radio talking about alcohol. He brought up a very interesting viewpoint, I had never thought of. He quotedLeviticus 10:8-11 NLT

Then the Lord said to Aaron,“You and your descendants must never

drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle. If you do, you will die. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation.  You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean.  And you must teach the Israelites all the decrees that the Lord has given them through Moses.

He talked about how alcohol messes with the judgment center of the brain, and how Aaron’s descendants, the priests, were on a special mission and alcohol was to have no interference with their mission. They held a position which set them apart. I remembered listening to another pastor on the radio, years before, talking about why Jesus refused the wine offered to Him on the cross. See Mark 15:23. The health message is not about living longer. It is about living closer to God. Jesus was going to die on the cross if He drank the wine or not. Jesus refused the wine because He was on a mission and did not need alcohol interfering with His brain and connection with God and focus on His mission. It is the same with the priests.

The pastor in the Fort Worth area, drove home this point. While the Old Testament teaches all priests to stay away from alcohol the New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers.

 You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. 1 Peter 2:9 NLT

His conclusion was, no priest should ever touch alcohol. Every believer is a priest on a mission. Therefore all believers should stay away from alcohol so they can accomplish their gospel mission, and fulfill their role as priest.

While many people inside the Seventh-day Adventist Church today, debate abstinence and moderation in drinking alcohol, people in various Christian churches in various ages had abstained from all alcohol, based solely on the Scriptures, which remind us of our priestly calling.

You may study this topic further here. 

Why I Love Old New England Churches

I am writing today from beautiful New England.

This week I have been preaching and conducting a prophecy seminar at the Torrington Seventh-day Adventist church in Connecticut. Today, before my last meeting I was able to explore some older churches here in the area. Just as the United States is a melting pot of different cultures, so the Seventh-day Adventist church is a melting pot of different churches and denominations, made up of people from all denominations, who, in the mid 1800s came together during a religious awakening, and formed a church, taking Bible truth form each denomination and expelling non Biblical tradition, thus creating a church that goes strictly by the Bible, called the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I have a deep appreciation for each denomination and congregation who has preserved and shared with the world their light on the gospel and the Scriptures. God has always had a people. A people who love Him with all their hearts and want to follow Him. It is because of the light that each church had and shared during the religious awakening that I now have the light that I treasure as  a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Even the Seventh-day Sabbath was not new to the Advent believers, but was shared with us by Rachel Oaks, a Seventh-day Baptist.

This is a Congregational Church in Milton Connecticut, established in 1829. Jane, my friend from Torrington and I drove by this church, and Lauren a neighbor of the church, was walking her dog. When she saw we wanted pictures she ran and got another neighbor Laura, who unlocked the church so we could go in. Laura also shared the history of the church with us. There was an older church built in the congregation, but during the course of time it was painted yellow. Part of the congregation could not stand the color yellow so they built this church instead of going to a church that was painted yellow.

According to Life Sketches, Page 309 and other references, Ellen White and other Seventh-day Adventists commonly used Congregational churches for some of their evangelism meetings.

Here is the original organ. Can anyone tell me what kind it is?

Lauren shared with us, how these steps were to make it easy for people to step off their carriages.

A special thanks to Lauren (Left) and Laura (Center) for dropping what they were doing in the middle of their busy morning today, to show me and Jane (Right) their beautiful church. I am so glad that God worked it out so we would meet Lauren walking by the church at the exact time we passed by.

In 1838 this Congregational Church was built in Plymouth Connecticut.

In the churchyard lies a graveyard with the oldest gravestone reading 1749. Soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil War are buried there. Many of the grave markers attest to the deep spiritual fervency of the church at that time. One grave marker for one resting saint says that she “walked with God.”

This stone is hard to read it is so old. It says, “Beneath this stone lies Deac. Daniel Potter, who in a comfortable hope of one day rising to a glorious immortality fell asleepe October 29th 1773.” I did not misspell sleep. Apparently in 1773 that is the way it was spelled. With the understanding this soul had of the state of the dead, I can’t help but wonder if the Congregational Church did not share their understanding of this truth with the believers who helped form the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In front of the church is a memorial for President Lincoln and the members of this church who gave their lives in the civil war. As a Seventh-day Adventist I appreciate the sacrifices made by this Congregational church local congregation in securing freedom for all mankind, and keeping united a country that celebrates religious freedom so we can all worship God in accordance with our own conscience.

This is the First Congregational Church of Litchfield, Connecticut. This congregation has been meeting since 1721, but this current church was built in 1829. I took a few pictures of the outside, and then wanted to see the outside. Usually there would be nobody there during the weekdays, but on this particular day they were getting ready for a sale to raise money for missions. A lady getting ready for the sale, opened up the church for me and let me take pictures. She gave me a lot of history of the church. This is the fourth church this local congregation has met in. She was so nice, I gladly gave her a donation for her sale.

Check out this pulpit with a staircase! This pulpit, built in 1829 is a strikingly faithful reproduction, based on recollections and certain parts still in existence of the pulpit built in the 1700s.

This is the view from the pulpit. Check out the pipe organ. It’s a 21 rank, two manual reuter organ. Installed in 1971, it replaced an electrified augmented tracker pump organ salvaged from the previous church.

“There shall be nothing in the white, unadorned meetinghouse to distract the worshipers from a sense of the Living God and His Work, preached, read and made visible in the bread and the cup on the plain table.” –Congregational Church Documents

The Litchfield Congregational church has been faithfully served by 26 different distinguished and dedicated pastors since 1721. Two of these pastors also served on the battlefield. Timothy Collins was a surgeon during the French and Indian war. George Richards was a chaplain during the civil war. Judah Champion was the longest serving pastor for 55 years, until he retired at age 79.

It was an honor and privilege to be able to visit these churches, where the gospel has been preached to and hope given to many a sin weary soul for centuries. While the churches are beautiful and magnificent, it is the members of the congregations who receive my deepest respect and appreciation, for keeping the doors of these churches open, so people can hear the good news of God’s love. I also thank God that at one of the churches somebody just happened to be walking by who knew someone who could unlock the doors and let me in. I thank God that at the other church, a kind lady just happened to be there getting ready for a sale, and was kind enough to take a break and show us around.

I also appreciate the Torrington First Methodist Church, for allowing the Torrington Seventh-day Adventist Church to worship and hold evangelistic meetings in their church. This is where we held the Daniel prophecy seminar I was here for this week. The original section of this church was built in 1865.

I also want to thank the members of the Torrington Seventh-day Adventist Church for hosting me this week and making me a part of their wonderful family. Bruce (second from left), Larry and Jane helped set up each night before the meetings. Larry and Jane also had me to their home during the meetings. Jane has been studying for a while, with several of the people who came to the seminar, and will continue to prepare them for baptism later this month.