Is Being Fruitful That Simple?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marreta’s Profession of Faith Picture

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

The Need for Un-Traditional Evangelism

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Mary, an elderly lady in my Tampa First SDA Church family, told me how she became a Seventh-day Adventist in the early ’30s in British Honduras, now Belize. She was school age, when her little brother noticed a huge tent going up in town. He told their mother he wanted to go to the circus. His mother told him there was no circus, as nothing was said about a circus in the papers or radio.

Still, little brother would not relent, so mother took the family on a walk to make sure there was no circus in the tent. At the tent, the mother told the boy to go look inside. It only took a moment for him to come back out and inform the family, “We can go home now. They are just having church in there!” The mother said, “I am too tired to walk any more now. Let’s go inside and rest a while.” The family then heard the gospel message which changed their lives forever. This is how my friend Mary, now in her 90’s, became a Seventh-day Adventist Christian and married a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.

In addition to all my small group Bible studies, I also have a golf group that meets the fourth Sunday of each month. I have formed a real camaraderie with the other guys over 18 holes, searching for golf balls in the woods and creek beds. While this group does not study the Bible on the golf course, we do have some in-depth discussions sometimes, waiting for the groups in front of us to tee off. One discussion resulted in some Bible studies after the game, which led to a father and son baptism. One Sunday after a round of golf, I went with one of the guys to lunch. He had been visiting our church, and commented that he wished the other guys would have had time to join us for lunch as he is really enjoying getting to know them. Hence, our golf group is bonding us not just to woods and sand traps, but to those who need Jesus. As a result, during our discussions, people are learning more than just how to improve their swing, but also how to improve their walk with God.

Some people may complain that our approach to evangelism is becoming too worldly. They say we should not try to imitate the world to win people to Jesus. I agree to a point. But I have even heard a couple of people say, we need to go back to our roots and those old-fashioned tent meetings. Old-fashioned tent meetings? Those old-fashioned tent meetings looked like the worldly circuses of the day! And because of the circus-like tent meetings, my friend Mary spent over 50 years of ministry as an Adventist pastor’s wife.  She is also a very “traditional,” balanced, well-versed in the Bible lady.

When people say we need to go back to the old-fashioned forms of evangelism, they often forget that at the time, those were actually pretty “modern” forms of evangelism – to arrest the attention of the people in that era. So today we need to do likewise.

Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention. We must be deadly in earnest. We are on the very verge of times of trouble and perplexities that are scarcely dreamed of.–Letter 20, 1893.
From Christ’s methods of labor we may learn many valuable lessons. He did not follow merely one method; in various ways He sought to gain the attention of the multitude; and then He proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel.–Ellen White, Evangelism, Pages 122-123

Sure, there are boundaries to everything, even evangelism, but when you hear someone say that a current form of evangelism is not traditional enough, remember we have been counselled to do “something out of the common course of things.” We must try various methods to gain the attention of the multitudes who so desperately need to hear about Jesus. Back in the day, we used “old-fashioned” tent meetings because they looked like “old-fashioned” circuses, which always drew a crowd. Today old-fashioned tents and circuses no longer draw crowds, so we must find new ways to draw people to hear about Jesus in our day, just like the tent people did in their day.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

She did so Much for me, and I Never got to Thank her

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In evangelism workshops its almost become a cliche now,

Jesus…reached the hearts of the people by going among them as one who desired their good. ….. He met them at their daily vocations, and manifested an interest in their secular affairs.-Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 151. 

But how interested are we really in other peoples own good, even when we do not profit from their prosperity? In my ministry I have been asked to speak at numerous funerals. Before the funeral I like to meet with the family in their home, to get stories and learn more about the deceased. I can know somone all my life and still be surprised what I learn after they are gone. I will be sitting in the family room, listening to selfless heroic stories about the dearly departed, and it touches my heart so deeply, I get emotional and I think to myself that I too, want to be a selfless loving person, but I joke with my friends, that by the time I walk out the door and get to my car, that emotion of being selfless and caring has already passed over.

Case in point. When I lived in Texas I had started a cleaning business on the side. Nancy was a friend of mine from church. She was a nurse and told a few doctors and nurses about my business and I was soon cleaning for them. Nancy and I would go to dinner or lunch occasionally, and I offered to pay since she was my best advertiser. She assured me she did not want anything in return. She was just happy to help me out and see me do well.

We were both in our mid 30’s, when one morning I got the shocking news that Nancy had suddenly died during the night. It was quite a shock as we had plans to got to lunch that day. When you are in your mid ’30s and your friends seem healthy, it is very unsettling to hear the friend you have lunch plans with for that day just died! Leter as I went to clean for a client Nancy gave me, the thought struck me, She did so much for me, and I never got to thank her! I realized on this earth I never would get to thank her by paying her back for her interest in my good. That’s when I told myself, to live a giving life just like her, so that when I am gone, people will say the same about me, he did so much for me, and I never got to thank him.

Only a few days later, at UPS the line I was supervising was short handed. I walked over to another line where there was a supervisior that I had helped out several times. I asked him if he could send someone from his line over to help me. He said, “no” I can’t spare anyone right now. Granted he was right, but at the same time it bugged me because I had often been in situations where I could send him help, but he never seemed to be able to help me. Frustrated I told myself to stop helping him becuase he never paid me back! Then it dawned on me, wait a minute! I told myself I wanted to help others so that when I died they could say I always helped them and they never got a chance to pay me back. But when the chance actually came I did not feel that way at all! Once again I was touched by the selfless love of a caring friend, telling myself that I wanted to be just as loving and giving, but when the rubber met the road I was back to being my same old self again.

Of course all that happened way back in my ’30s. Jesus never made past his ’30s here on earth but was still the perfect example. My friend Nancy, never made it past her ’30s but left me with an example that even in my ’50s I still struggle to immulate. After being raised in the church all my life, I often sigh and think, 50 years later, shouldn’t I be more like Jesus by now? So many people with not even half the advantages I have had are so far ahead of me. Yet the secret is not rocket science. Jesus went about seeking the good of others even in their secular affairs. Nancy did the same. The next time someone needs my help, instead of asking myself how they will thank me, I can tell msyelf, this is my opportunity to be like Jesus. If Jesus helped Nancy, He can also help me to be one who seeks the good of others, even though they may never be able to thank me.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Do you Know the Shepherd?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.” Matthew 14:15-16 NLT

The disciples realized the crowd needed food, but they were not equipped to feed a large crowd, or so they thought. So the decided the crowd should be sent to the villages where there were markets and restaurants. Those people were trained and equipped to feed a large crowd. Imagine the disciples surprise, and maybe even frustration when Jesus said, they did not need to got o the villages and “professionals” to get fed. He told them to feed them.

Have you ever met someone you wanted to share Jesus with, so you called a pastor or elder to study with them? Maybe that wasn’t necessary. Maybe Jesus wanted you to feed them-spiritually. Sometimes we may feel we are not “professional” enough to feed someone spiritually. I am sure the disciples did not feel “professional” enough to feed the crowd. Still, Jesus equipped them to feed a crowd. If you are willing, Jesus can use you to spiritually feed a large crowd, just as well as He can use a professional.

Remember the story of Balaam in Numbers 22? Yes the story was about Balaam’s reward for greed, but there is something else in this story too. God used a donkey to turn Balaam’s life around. If God can use a donkey to change someone’s life, don’t you think He could also use you?

God’s messengers must tarry long with Him, if they would have success in their work. The story is told of an old Lancashire woman who was listening to the reasons that her neighbors gave for their minister’s success. They spoke of his gifts, of his style of address, of his manners. “Nay,” said the old woman, “I will tell you what it is. Your man is very thick with the Almighty.” When men are as devoted as Elijah was and possess the faith that he had, God will reveal Himself as He did then. When men plead with the Lord as did Jacob, the results that were seen then will again be seen. Power will come from God in answer to the prayer of faith. -Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 255

The story goes of a pastor celebrating his 50th year in the ministry. At the celebration
Friend, do you tarry long with God? Do you know the Shepherd? If so, then you have a story to tell that will turn someone’s life around, without having to call the “professionals.” 
he invited a good friend and famous orator to read Psalm 23. He agreed so long as the pastor would read it afterwards as well.  The famous orator read the psalm with such oratorical mastery that the congregation applauded. The pastor then humbly approached the podium, feeling that he had been outdone. However when he read the beloved Psalm, the congregation was moved to tears. When the pastor asked the famous orator why people wept after his humble reading of the Word, the orator replied, “I knew the Psalm. You knew the Shepherd.”

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

“That’s Why I’m Here!”

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The late evangelist Ron Halverson tells a story where he was knocking on a door one night in Harlem New York. A young woman answered the door who grew up a pastor’s daughter, but had become a prostitute. The woman looked at the Bible in Halverson’s hand and said, “I’m not interested!” Quick witted Halverson responded as she tried to slam the door, “I know you’re not interested! That’s why I’m here!”

Granted, such an approach would not normally work, but this time it woke the young lady up to a need she had been neglecting. Sometimes we look at our mission field and think the grass is greener in other mission fields. Fact is, the green mission fields don’t need us as much as the parched fields do. The young lady, who answered the door to Pastor Halverson, may not have looked promising, but she actually needed his message more than anyone else in Harlem that night.

Once I was working in a church that seemed just as worldly as the….well, world! The youth teachers openly confessed to me, that they entertained the kids instead of teaching them, because they themselves did not know anything about the Bible. When I held evangelistic meetings the greeters were never around to hand out lesson outlines, because they went home when the meetings started! The musicians would come in and play before my presentation, and everyone would watch as they walked out and went home as soon as they were through playing. An elder in the church told me his neighbor wanted to come to the meetings and would I please give him a ride. I asked the elder why he could not just bring his neighbor to the meetings himself, since after all, they lived right next door. The elder told me he would not be coming to the meetings since he already heard it all before. It was very discouraging! I asked God why he sent me to such a spiritually parched church. God told me, because the church was my mission field just as much as the community. This changed my attitude, and instead of getting upset because the youth leaders did not know their Bibles, I took advantage of the opportunity to teach them about the Bible and Jesus. The leaders in the church became my mission field. Before long God sent other missionaries more skilled than myself, to help turn the church around. When I left, the church was not at all like I first found it. Thanks to God, and the other missionaries He sent, the youth leaders grew (and sadly some left) and there was a totally different spiritual climate among the entire church family.

I would rather have been in a church where the youth teachers knew their Bibles and the members were are on fire to do evangelism, but you know what? A church like that would not have needed me as much as this one did. While it may be easier and a lot more fun to work with people who are spiritually mature and on fire for the Lord, Pastor Halverson realized he was needed where people did not seem interested. I learned the same lesson.

When I was 11, I started piano lessons but quit after just a few weeks. A couple years ago, at the age of 48 I started taking lessons again. So I don’t like to say I actually quit when I was 11. I just took a 37 year sabbatical. When I started back up, my teacher just happened to be a college musician who I actually met a few years ago when she was only 11. She is more than young enough to be my daughter. Fact is, if I had stayed with my piano lessons when I was 11, I may have been able to teach her instead of her teaching me. Instead, at the age of 48 I began taking piano lessons from a 19 year old. She’s never said anything like, “You are almost 50 you should know all this by now.” She never said, “Look at how old you are. You should be teaching me but instead I am teaching you.” Instead she enthusiastically seized the opportunity to teach me in the here and now.

Sometimes we get discouraged when we see people in the church who we think should know more by now. Maybe they should, but instead of getting discouraged let’s seize the opportunity to teach. I need a good teacher like my piano teacher, because I don’t have it all together. I struggle with my timing among other things, so I need a good teacher. If I was a polished musician I would not need her. If everyone in the church already knew their Bibles and had it all together they would not need me. There may be more gifted musicians in the world that are easier to teach than I am, but it is because I am not a gifted musician that I need my piano teacher so much.

So if your mission field looks parched and pitiful, and you are tempted to think the grass would be greener in another mission field, remember, a greener mission filed would not need you, like the parched pitiful mission field does. If you look around your mission field and don’t see much potential or interest just remember what Pastor Halverson remembered, that’s why you’re here!

You may study this week’s SS lesson on missions here. 

Exciting New Opportunities in my Ministry, Thank You For Your Continued Support!

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

After 11 wonderful years, serving the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, as full time Bible Worker and lay pastor, my tenure has come to an end. Well, so to speak.There is a plan for me to continue. The Tampa First church has faithfully supported my ministry for 11 years, and I can’t thank them enough for all the opportunities and memories. While I have been giving Bible studies, training seminars and evangelism seminars, working with the church, school, community and out of state and country mission projects in some many various ways over the years, the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church has faithfully supported all my endeavors both local and abroad. They can no longer do this due to their own operating expenses. At the same time God is currently using my ministry to touch more lives than ever before! In just one of my weekly Bible study groups 8-11 un-churched souls attend every week. Others are currently preparing for baptism in my other study groups. We are having baptisms march 7, 28, and April 11 just in the immediate future.

However, that does not mean my ministry is over or that I am leaving the area. Pastor James Johnson, and the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church have proposed a way to keep me active the the Tampa Bay area and abroad.  Please read Pastor James’ letter of appeal here, to help support my ministry with continued monthly donations.  

My salary at the Plant City SDA Church will be supported strictly by donations. We need $5,000.00 a month. (This amount covers the employer’s part of social security as well as my part, and health and retirement benefits and workman’s comp as well as my modest salary.) As of right now we have just over $2,000.00 in pledges. And we have only just begun so this is very doable with God’s grace and generous giving. Under this plan, I will still be able to continue my work with Tampa First. Many people were hugging me last Sabbath, telling me how sorry they were that I was leaving. How ever, under this plan I won’t leave! I will continue my ministry at Tampa First as well as Plant City and the area schools and communities and around the world. I will continue

personal Bible studies and baptisms. Did you know in the last 11 years God has blessed me with around 300 baptisms? over 200 of those at Tampa First and others  as far away as Peru?   My Website reaches thousands around the world as well as my ministry with the Sabbath School Network. 

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I will also continue leading out in small group Bible studies and training others to do the same at Tampa Firsts SDA, Plant City SDA, Tampa Adventist Academy and beyond!

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I will continue giving prophecy seminars as well as preaching and training others to preach and teach as well.

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Jac, second from right, was in my class at Tampa Adventist Academy, on how to give Bible studies. This is a picture of him a couple years later, helping me teach a baptism class at Tampa Adventist Academy.

Lauren was also in my class at TAA on how to give Bible studies, and here is a picture of her later giving personal Bible studies to Julio, who was later baptized.

Lauren was also in my class at TAA on how to give Bible studies, and here is a picture of her later giving personal Bible studies to Julio, who was later baptized.

This is Julio being baptized!

This is Julio being baptized!

Your support to help me continue God’s ministry is greatly appreciated. So far, some have pledged $500.00 a month, while others have pledged $50.00 a month. One time gifts are also appreciated to help get the ministry started.

You can contribute now to the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church. PO box 5379 Plant City Florida 33563. In the check memo please write “Bible Worker Fund.” If you can contribute monthly, a note to that effect and how much would benefit us greatly! You can also print out Pastor James’ letter which includes a portion you can fill out, and return with your check. 

Also if your church needs a revival seminar, evangelism seminar or training seminar I am available. You can contact me at Laypastor@TampaAdventist.net or 813-933-7505.

To stay in touch with what is going on in my ministry please subscribe to this blog and/or like “In Light of the Cross” on Facebook.