Adventism and Narcissism


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!

Luther’s Understanding of Grace

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One day, while I was studying the Gospel Presenation with a retired couple, we read this verse.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

The husband had been raised Catholic, and while many of my Catholic friends understand grace, he told me, when we read that passage, that it was the first he had ever heard of us being saved by grace alone, without any works. That moment was an ephiphany for him, just like when Luther read, “The Just shall live by faith” in the Bible chained to the dungeon wall.

During our studies I learned the retired gentleman wanted victory over alcohol. He understood that works don’t save us, but he also understood that grace saves us from more than just death. Grace saves us from the power of sin.

Martin Luther understood this as well. After all, Luther read that “the just shall live by faith,” not the unjust. Luther understood that faith and grace makes us just as well as declaring us just. Luther understood that grace changes our lives. While visiting Rome, Luther was appalled at the sins he found even in the church. Luther understood being saved by grace instead of works, but he also understood that grace is not a license for sin.

He [Luther] entered the city, visited the churches, listened to the marvelous tales repeated by priests and monks, and performed all the ceremonies required. Everywhere he looked upon scenes that filled him with astonishment and horror. He saw that iniquity existed among all classes of the clergy. He heard indecent jokes from prelates, and was filled with horror at their awful profanity, even during mass. As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. “It is incredible,” he wrote, “what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 125.

Luther knew full well good works don’t save us, but he also knew grace saves us from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin. The Bible clearly teaches wherever we find grace, we also find, good works, obedience, and godly living.

After Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us we are saved by grace and not by works, Eph 2:10 tells us,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..

Grace produces the good works our strength and effort could never accomplish.

Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience….Romans 1:5 NKJV

Grace produces the obedience our human nature could never render on its own.

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

Titus 2:11-14 painted a totally different picture of grace than the one Luther saw in Rome. Actually Luther did not see grace in Rome. He saw every kind of sin, and Titus 2:11-14 tells us grace enables us to deny sin and live godly lives in this present age.

My retired friend took hold of God’s grace, and after praying with a mentor in the church one evening, he left the bottle behind and entered the baptistry. Grace has saved my friend from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin.

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

How do we Become God’s Elect?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This quarter’s Sabbath School lessons, provide interesting discussions on predestination and election, making me examine what I believe. I became especially intrigued by the word “elect.” What does it mean, and how does one become elected?

God has not elected only a select group to be saved

I find nowhere in the Bible that God has a special select group composed of only those He wants to save, or that there is anyone He does not want saved.

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 NKJV

As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ Ezekiel 33:11 NKJV

Ezekiel 33:11 is crucial, because we are going to see that the elect are those who turn from their wicked ways and live.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NKJV

God has not elected anyone for destruction since it is not His will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11 NKJV

While God may call some to “greater” roles than others, nowhere does the Bible teach that there is a group which God has decided He is not going to save. This is important, because I have visited with people who keep falling back into addictions and are tempted to give up, resigned that God does not want to save them. After much labor in trying to overcome, they are still heavy laden with the burden of guilt. Wait! Such people should not give up! These are the very ones Jesus calls! And He calls all of them!

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

God has not elected anyone for condemnation. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16-17 KJV

Since Judas was one of the twelve, even he was “chosen.”

Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? John 6:70 KJV

Many assume Jesus is referring to Judas as the one who had a devil, but Jesus and Scripture never say that. In Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter “Get thee behind me Satan.” In Luke 22, Jesus tells Simon Peter He has prayed for his conversion. So, regardless who the “devil” was in John 6:70, he was not elected to be a devil, nor had to remain a devil. In John 6:70 Jesus has chosen all 12 while He understands there is still some work to be done. This should give us all hope.

So who are the elected? Paul describes the elected.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:12-17 NKJV 

Ellen White expresses the same thought:

Every soul is elected who will work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. He is elected who will put on the armor and fight the good fight of faith. He is elected who will watch unto prayer, who will search the Scriptures, and flee from temptation. He is elected who will have faith continually, and who will be obedient to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. The provisions of redemption are free to all; the results of redemption will be enjoyed by those who have complied with the conditions. –Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 208

Now let’s finally answer the question in our title. How do I get to be elected by God?

God elects those who have been working on the plan of addition. The explanation is given in the first chapter of Second Peter. For every human being, Christ has paid the election price. No one need be lost. –Ellen White, SDA Bible Commentary  Vol. 7 Page 944.

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;  for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-11 NKJV  [Bold print supplied]

Those who are elected turn from their sins, remembering they have been forgiven and freed from sin. God wants everyone to be elected. God has not willed or elected anyone to be lost. Jesus has paid the price to justify, sanctify and turn us from our sins which have been forgiven, so we can choose to make our election certain.

Is the Role of the Church in the Community Just to Baptize People?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…. 1 Corinthians 1:17 NKJV

Does the church have to baptize every member of the community in order to serve its purpose? Is it possible God has some people cross our paths just because they need to be loved, regardless if they join our church or not?

Years before ever becoming, or thinking about becoming a Bible Worker myself, I found myself on a church softball team, captained by the new local Bible Worker. I failed to eat breakfast before running off to play. In the middle of the game, I began to get dizzy and lightheaded. My team was up to bat when I pretty much blacked out. I was sitting right next to the Bible Worker and told him, as the batter was striking out, “I am blacking out. I can’t even see anything right now.”

His reply? He threw my mitt in my lap and said, “That’s the third out. Let’s go take the field!” Not exactly the reply I was expecting. Needless to say, I did not go out onto the field. I managed to get myself to a nearby building where I got a drink and laid down. I had heard people who had been studying with this Bible Worker say how wonderful he was. I guess already having been baptized, I was not a potential “notch on his belt,” So he was not that wonderful to me. He never even missed me when I failed to come back to the game.

At that point in my life, I was not really that familiar with the Bible Worker concept. Therefore I had never really considered becoming one, but on my way home that day, I remember thinking to myself, that if I ever did become a Bible Worker, I would not be like that one! I also told myself that if I genuinely care about people who are about to be baptized, then I would genuinely care about people who will never be baptized. Even though I was not a Bible Worker at that point, I told myself, that as a Christian as well as being theologically sound, I also want to be relationally sound. I decided to be a genuine caring friend not matter what position I ever have in church.

Ironically I did become a Bible Worker, and found myself studying with a man, in the first district I had been assigned, who finally showed up to church with his 14-year-old step-daughter. She had never been to any church. I went to the parents of teenage girls and told them this girl had never been to church before. Please have your daughters greet and befriend her. One of the mothers shrugged her shoulders and said, “But my daughters already have friends.” The father ended up getting baptized in another nearby Adventist church. We never saw his step daughter again.

Later in another district, I was studying with a war veteran who needed a ride to the veteran’s hospital one day. Wanting to connect him with members of my church, I called several retired members and asked them to give this worthy veteran a ride. One person told me they were unavailable because, “That’s the day I water my garden.” And that was the most legitimate excuse! Not only did this veteran never come to my church, but that was also the end of our Bible studies. Do you blame him?

After studying a few months with a young married couple, they became baptized and joined my church of mostly older people. One of the elders never reached out to this young couple, until finally he heard them say something in Sabbath School that was not theologically correct, so he took it upon himself to call them later in the day, to “reach out” and tell them that they were wrong! That was the only contact he had with them, and it was not long before they were out of the church. How long would you stay in a church where people only call to tell you that you are wrong?

In Texas I studied with a teenage boy, that for sake of anonymity, I will call Scott. He found a ride to church every Sabbath, as no one else in his family came to church. Shortly after his baptism he moved to Tampa Florida. We had a going-away party for him, and I wrote in his card, “Bible Workers come and go, but friends are forever.” I did not think that much about it. Eight years later I moved to Tampa Florida. I had talked with him a few times after his move. One day, shortly after moving to Tampa, I ran across his name in my address book, and the address “Tampa Florida” jumped out at me. I called the number, to find out that he was in jail. I arranged a visit. Not exactly the reunion I had planned with a former Bible student. We were glad to see each other and had a lot to talk about since our last visit. He explained to me what had been going on with him lately and how ended up in jail. Towards the end of our visit, he told me, “When I moved away, you wrote in my card, Bible Workers come and go but friends are forever. I never forgot what you wrote, and now that you have come to see me after all those years, even though I am in jail, shows me you meant what you said.” I realized even more, that being relational is just as important as being theologically sound. I realized too, that even though he had been baptized eight years ago, my work with him was not over. Scott needed a forever friend. I am glad God moved me across the country to where I could reach out to him.

As a Christian my goal goes way beyond seeing people get baptized. My goal is to see them in heaven. That means being a forever friend to those who are preparing for baptism, and to those who have already been baptized, as well as to those who I may never see get baptized.

Some people think they can’t give Bible studies, but if I can, anybody can. Even so, what a teenage girl needed in a church long ago, was not just Bible studies, but a friend. A veteran just needed a ride to the hospital. A young couple needed someone from the church, to call them just to say hello, instead of just to tell them they were wrong. A young man sitting in jail needed to know someone still cared, even though he was less than perfect.

That morning on the ballfield, I needed a friend. I needed someone who cared for me regardless if I was someone about to be baptized or not. I needed what every other person needs, and that is a forever friend. Do the people in your community know that regardless if they ever get baptized or not, that they can find forever friends at your church?

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

We Are Not Their Only Opportunity for Salvation

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 NKJV

While working as a Bible Worker and lay pastor in a small church in west Texas, several of the members told me they hoped I would stay there forever, because they could not survive without me. I was young and stupid enough to believe them. Fact is though, the church membership more than doubled, but not while I was there, but after I left! And, the people who came in after I left were not people I studied with. They were people who never heard of me and didn’t know I existed.

While taking the gospel and the salvation of souls seriously, I have learned not to take myself so seriously. I can rejoice even when someone rejects me because I know I presented them with an opportunity to make a choice. While I want everyone to choose Jesus I know not everyone will. Still, once the gospel has gone into all the world, and that last decision has been made for or against Jesus then He will come. Every decision for or against Jesus is one decision closer to the second coming. This is why its important to spread the gospel even if people do not accept it. Either way we hasten the second coming by just being the angel that takes the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people allowing people the opportunity to choose. So don’t be too disheartened when your missionary project does not yield the results you hoped for. It was successful in giving people an opportunity to choose either way.

But we are just that. An opportunity. Not The opportunity. Let’s not take ourselves so seriously. People can reject us and still accept Jesus. What people think about me is extremely trivial in the scheme of the great controversy. So don’t lose heart or take slights and rejections to heart. Just because someone says no to me, does not mean they will say no to the next person God sends. There is still hope.

After leaving Texas, and working in Florida as a Bible Worker for a few years, a pastor friend, from Texas called me. He asked how many baptisms my church had so far. I told him 90, with 48 of those being in the current year.

“Wonderful!” He exclaimed.

“And how many of those were from your work?” He asked.

“None of them!” I said.

Yup. After a church in Texas more than doubling its membership AFTER I left, I finally learned a thing or two.

The Theme of my Ministry

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One Sabbath afternoon at a luncheon, I met a former Bible Worker, who asked me what the theme of my ministry was. I told him the cross of Christ. He sneered and told me my theme was rather cliche. He very proudly went on to tell me that his theme was the health message.

I wonder how many people have thought Paul’s ministry was cliche?

For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2 NLT

When I first became a literature evangelist many years ago, I was sitting in the conference president’s office along with a few other L.E.s talking about which book we should promote. A few of them said The Great Controversy. It tells us all about the Sabbath and the mark of the beast. I then suggested The Desire of Ages.  I explained why. Unless people are in love with Jesus, it won’t do any good to warn them about last day events. The Desire of Ages helps us fall in love with Jesus. Granted there is plenty of Jesus in the Great Controversy as well. It is also a Christ-centered book. However, warning about the end time events will not do any good unless people’s hearts are broken and they have fallen in love with Jesus.

If telling people that Jesus loved them enough to say goodbye to life forever in order to save them, does not make then want to see Jesus then warning them about last-day events will not do any good.

A while back a man joined our church who just wanted to talk about last-day conspiracy theories. One time when he was having such a discussion, I tried to get him to talk about his experience with Jesus and how his relationship with Jesus has changed his life. He could not do it. He could talk about Sunday laws and theories of how the mark of the beast would be distributed, but he could not talk about how Jesus had changed his life.

All are tested in different ways. On September 11, 2001, when several terrorists were willing to die if they could just kill others too, God magnified himself in the many rescue workers who were also willing to die if they could just save someone else!

Different people are tested in different ways. The rescue workers on 9-11 were not given the Sabbath test. But some followed Jesus by denying themselves and dying just like He did. Some of us will be tested with the Sabbath test one day. Whatever test we meet, we will be able to pass with flying colors if we fall in love with Jesus and make Him and Him crucified the theme of our lives.

You may study this week’s SS Lesson here.

Proverbs in Light of the Cross; Oppression and Human Nature

I am writing today from beautiful Florida.

I am writing today from beautiful Florida

Do not envy the oppressor, And choose none of his ways;  For the perverse person is an abomination to the LordBut His secret counsel is with the upright. Proverbs 3:31-32 NKJV

I already know you are not going to like this, but I have heard it said, “The only difference between Adolf Hitler and us, is that Hitler had the opportunity and we didn’t.” Now that is a terrible thing to say, but is it true? Let’s be honest. When left to our our human nature don’t we try to manipulate people and situations as much as is legal and socially acceptable in our situation? Do we try to control other people as far as we are allowed? If so, then that’s all Hitler was doing, controlling people as far as he was allowed. We don’t want to be called a “control freak” but we all know where the line is before we cross over into becoming a control freak. Do we try to get as close to that line as possible?

During the dark ages of papal reign and folks being burned at the stake for exercising their freedom to think for themselves, many fled to a new world where they would not suffer papal oppression.

Yet honest and God-fearing as they were, the Pilgrims did not yet comprehend the great principle of religious liberty. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others. “Very few, even of the foremost thinkers and moralists of the seventeenth century, had any just conception of that grand principle, the outgrowth of the New Testament, which acknowledges God as the sole judge of human faith.”–Ibid., vol. 5, p. 297. The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply rooted of papal errors. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 292-293

So these pilgrims, fled oppression and then, while meaning well, became the oppressors, once the opportunity was available to them. People use the term “papal” to describe someone who is being bossy, narrow minded and controlling. Yet it is not a papal issue. It is a human nature issue. Without God’s grace we all are as papal as the situation will allow.

See now, why some say the only difference between Hitler and us is Hitler had the opportunity and we did not? It may be an extreme illustration, but maybe not as extreme as we would like to imagine. I realize too, there have been people who had opportunities equal to Hitler who were very nice and not the least bit oppressive. Still, it’s something to consider.

Of course hopefully there is one difference. Hopefully we are living in the Spirit instead of the flesh.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1 NKJV

The only way to make sure we are not a Hitler, or a papal oppressor is to crucify self and let God’s Spirit live in us.

 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 

Jesus did not die to control us. He died to set us free from the sin that was controlling us.