Equal Gifts While not the Same Gifts

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
Watch the video presentation of this article here.

We were in our last couple nights of evangelism meetings when a water pipe burst, flooding a room behind the sanctuary, near the baptistry entrance. One of the deacons told a local elder to help the other deacons pump the water out. The elder politely replied that he could not do that, because he had to visit with the baptismal candidates to clear them for the baptisms coming up. The deacon then accused the elder of being on an ego trip, thinking he was too good to do manual labor. But that was not the case at all. As an elder he had a job to do in getting people ready for the baptism, and could not do both at the same time.

The early church ran into a similar problem where certain necessary duties were keeping them from preaching and teaching.

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren,

seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-4 NKJV

Hence the office of deacons came into the church. Like the elders, the deacons were to be men full of the Holy Spirit. They are not less than elders, but their duties are not the same. Yes, Steven preached in Acts 7 and Philip baptized in Acts 8. Every office in the church carries the equal responsibility of sharing the gospel. But deacons and deaconesses are also given responsibilities of caring for the physical upkeep and maintenance of the church, and even caring for the physical needs of the members. This frees the elders from “waiting on tables” so they can be spreading the gospel.

That evening that the water pipe burst, the deacon told the elder that a real leader should never ask anyone to do a job he would not be willing to do himself. He then handed him a bucket insinuating that he should get to work and show a little humility and lead by example. There was only one problem. The elder had appointments with several candidates for the baptisms the next couple nights. They were waiting for him right then, and they worked the next day before the baptisms the following nights.

It wasn’t that the elder thought he was important. It wasn’t even necessarily that he thought clearing people for baptism was more important than fixing a water break. Obviously the water break had to be fixed to have the baptisms! Both the deacon’s job and elder’s job were equally important but not the same. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about different gifts and ministries in the church. He talks about how the foot and hand are both needed. However while the foot is equal to the hand, the foot is still not the hand. While being equal they are not the same. Each has their own distinct purpose.

Deacons are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and able to preach. And elders have gladly taken up the offering and locked up the church after a meeting, taken out the trash, so long as they can still accomplish their gospel responsibilities. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us one ministry is not superior to another, while Acts 6 tells us our offices are not the same.

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

The Salt of the Earth

Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. John 17:18 NLT

How did the Father send Jesus into the world? Did He send Him to a monastery where He spent all His time alone making sure He never came in contact with the world? No. The Father sent His Son into the world to work in a carpenter shop until He was 30. Working in a carpenter shop, He had a boss to please as well as demanding customers. He had deadlines to meet. He had tools that broke at the most inopportune times.  He certainly did not spend every waking moment sitting on a mountain top reading Scripture. He was thrown into the hustle and bustle of everyday life. That was how the Father sent Jesus into the world, and that is how Jesus sends us into the world. 

As Adventist Christians many of us struggle with being in the world without being worldly.  Many of us try to isolate ourselves from the world but that clearly is not the answer. 

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Matthew 5:13 NLT 

Salt is a preserving substance and, in order for salt to accomplish its purpose, it has to be mixed into the food. Salt has no saving influence sitting alone in the cupboard. Likewise we need to be mixing with the people of the world in order for our saving influence to be felt. As inconsistent humans it can be hard to find the right balance of being in the world but not of the world. Jesus is our only consistent example. 

Jesus saw in every soul one to whom must be given the call to His kingdom. He reached the hearts of the people by going among them as one who desired their good. He sought them in the public streets, in private houses, on the boats, in the synagogue, by the shores of the lake, and at the marriage feast. He met them at their daily vocations, and manifested an interest in their secular affairs. He carried His instruction into the household, bringing families in their own homes under the influence of His divine presence. His strong personal sympathy helped to win hearts. He often repaired to the mountains for solitary prayer, but this was a preparation for His labor among men in active life. From these seasons He came forth to relieve the sick, to instruct the ignorant, and to break the chains from the captives of Satan. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 151 

Notice Jesus did not just tolerate their secular affairs. He took an interest in their secular affairs. Being a Christian does not mean we isolate or quarantine ourselves from secular activities. After all, we will be building houses and farming in the new earth. We won’t be sitting on a cloud playing our harps all day. Being a Christian does not mean removing yourself from secular life. Being a Christian means taking Jesus into our secular life. For example one day at a Christian school where I was subbing one day a group of boys asked me to pray with them before their basketball game with another school that afternoon. They wanted to have a fun game that would be a blessing for all involved including the other team. They wanted to take Jesus into their secular activity. 

Here is what someone giving the testimony of Jesus shared to both parents and teachers.

Give some of your leisure hours to your children; associate with them in their work and in their sports, and win their confidence. Cultivate their friendship. -Ellen White, Adventist Home, Page 192

The testimony of Jesus is very balanced. While we need to guard our Christianity in playing sports, we also need to guard our Christianity in church board meetings too. I’ve heard some people say all sports should be condemned because they saw cheating, lying and corruption at a sporting event. Well I have seen cheating, lying and corruption in church board and church business meetings too. Shall we ban those also? No! We must bring Jesus into those meetings and into our leisure hours. We must make Jesus a part of our sporting activities as well as our church board meetings. We will not help Jesus win the great controversy between Him and Satan by hiding in a monastery. We help Jesus win the great controversy by bringing His righteousness into our workplace, our public school classrooms and our neighborhood and communities. 

We need Jesus to help us find the right balance between being in the world and not of the world. While the testimony of Jesus encourages us to live in the country, it also encourages us to do mission work in the cities. Just because we live outside the city does not mean we don’t still have a work to do inside the city. There is a balance. Jesus was very balanced between the mountain and the multitude and those who bear His testimony are balanced also. 

About 13 years ago an older gentleman from church asked me to go with him to the golf-driving range. I literally had no interest in golf. I thought it was the most boring thing in the world, but I went to be sociable. He told me, “There are souls to be won on the golf course.” That afternoon I became hooked on golf! It may be boring to watch but sure is fun to play. Meanwhile over the last 13 years I have found myself having spiritual conversations with people who would never talk to me inside a church. I started Bible studies with one of my golf buddies  and baptized him. My friend was right. There are souls to be won on the golf course. 

Last Christmas my church was stunned and heartbroken when Larry, one of our older members died suddenly. I performed his funeral where I met several people from the community. They shared with me how Larry touched their lives. A few of them were from the neighborhood diner where Larry often ate. Waitresses and customers told me how Larry shared Jesus with them and even gave them Bible studies. Even though Larry is gone now ,other church members are continuing to frequent the diner and share study guides, carrying on the legacy that Larry began. Larry did not hide from the community to be a Christian. Larry brought Christ with him into the community and into that diner. Larry was the salt of the earth or at least his corner of the earth. Will you allow Jesus to make you the salt of the corner of your earth? Larry made friends for God. Will you make friends for God? 

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

Whom do you Recommend?

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I personally don’t trust online reviews. I don’t know the people giving the reviews. I have read some pretty scathing reviews about restaurants that I actually enjoyed. For all I know, the people giving the scathing review are just bitter people wanting to ruin the reputation of a perfectly decent establishment.  But I do trust my good friends who know me well to let me know what places they recommend.

My mother, who has been gone a few years now, used to have a little green book. It was filled with her own personal reviews of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions  from places we visited driving all over the country through the years. That way we knew what places to visit again or not visit again whenever we were back in the area.  My mother recorded her own experiences and reviews as who would know her tastes better than herself?  After all didn’t David tell us to taste and see for ourselves what we think about the Lord?

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8 NLT 

I like to try new restaurants out for myself. Now during the quarantine I have been doing a lot more cooking at home. I have to say I have impressed myself with some healthy and tasty recipes I have tried or come up with myself. However I am a bachelor, and eating out with friends is part of my social life. So when my friends and I can’t decide where to go eat on a particular occasion, we often decide to try a new place. That way it’s great if we love it but no big deal if we don’t. We decide for ourselves what we like by experiencing it ourselves. That’s what David is telling us – experience the Lord for yourself. Don’t just take his word for it. “Taste and see” for yourself. To me that is a transparent and confident referral. When I walk by the food court at the mall the Asian restaurant has free  samples on  a stick set out for people to try before they order. By giving out free samples,  they are pretty confident about their product. David is being transparent and confident when he tells us to taste for ourselves and see that the Lord is good. 

So while I don’t trust recommendations from strangers, I do trust my own personal experiences. Next I trust the recommendation of a trusted friend. In Mark 5:1-20 a demoniac meets Jesus, who changes His life. Now if you read the story you will see that the demoniac had done some pretty embarrassing things. I am sure once he was in his right mind he shuddered to think about the things he had done. After being healed, he asks Jesus if he can go with Him. I imagine he needed a new place to start over, preferably  a place where no one had seen all his embarrassing behavior. Instead, Jesus sends Him straight home to his family and friends to tell them that Jesus really changed his life. After all, who could recommend Jesus better than a close friend who was demon possessed but was now in his right mind?  He could let them see exactly how Jesus had changed his life. This would be better than Jesus’ disciples going into his neighborhood and preaching.

Peter gave a great sermon at Pentacost. Philip gave a tremendous Bible study that led to an immediate baptism, but their dynamic preaching and teaching would be no match for the personal recommendation of a familiar neighbor and family member who had a life-changing experience with Jesus. Jesus knew that, more than dynamic speakers, the demoniac’s family and neighbors needed a personal demonstration that they could see for themselves. 

I mentioned my late mother earlier. I was 50 when she passed away, so I lived 50 years before losing anyone in my immediate family. I always pictured myself rolling up in a little ball  to die myself once anyone in my immediate family died. I used to ask my Christian friends how they found strength to go on after their parent died. Early in my ministry I would be comforting someone who had just lost their parent, but  I was actually observing them to learn how to survive whenever it happened to me. Sure I knew all the Bible promises and heard dynamic sermons about the second coming and resurrection. I even preached about it myself to people who told me they were blessed by it, but I was looking to my common everyday friends to see how they carried on after losing someone so close and precious to them. Even though I felt like I would just roll up in a little ball and die too, I knew by watching them carry on that God would help me carry on as well. One particular friend told me something very helpful when she lost her mother many years earlier. When I asked her how she carries on, she cheerfully smiled and replied, “My mother was able to live and enjoy her life without me before I was born, and I am able to live and enjoy my life without her now that she is gone.” It was so simple and made so much  sense. When my mother did die, of course I grieved, and I was okay with that. My greatest fear was not the grieving, my greatest fear was rolling up in a little ball and dying with her. But I did not roll up in a little ball and die. Just like my mother had a purpose for living before I was born, I have a purpose for living after she died. After all, as much as I loved my mother and love my family, I live for Jesus! 

My life and my ministry have flourished since my mother’s death due to the personal experience I have with Jesus – an experience which has been greatly encouraged by the testimony and referrals of personal trusted friends. in the same way, you are to be a living testimony to your family, friends and neighbors. Dynamic sermons by strangers have their place, but they are still just referrals given by strangers. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to let people see what God’s grace brought you from and where you are now. Seeing Jesus in the lives of my friends gave my hope. You can give your friends hope by letting them see all the changes Jesus has made in your life. 

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT 

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

Making Forever Friends for God

Several years ago, a teenage girl who had several tragedies in her immediate family, started visiting our church with her parents. She was still trying to figure out who God was and who she was. Other kids started making remarks about her blue hair and strange wardrobe, so she declared she was not coming back to  church. She went to the atrium, where she sat on a bench to sulk. Soon an elderly traditional and conservative elder came and sat beside her. Now you wouldn’t think an old man in a traditionally stuffy suit would have a chance to reach the heart of a teenage girl with blue hair, now would you? But this old man was from Vietnam and came to the United States as a teenage boy. He too was made fun of because of his cultural differences and even because of his religion. He explained to this young girl that he did not let people making fun of him stop him from coming to church, and told her not to let people making fun of her stop her either. So on that bench you had an elderly Vietnamese man in a stuffy grey suit, sitting next to an American teenage girl with blue hair as they talked about all the things they had in common, and thus a friendship was forged.

Image © Review & Herald Publishing from GoodSalt.com

Years later when the elderly man died, at the funeral the mother shared with me how much he meant to her daughter. Even though her daughter was all grown now and living in a different area she would still mention his name affectionately. He was her forever friend who helped her find God as her Forever Friend. The best way to make a forever friend for God is to be a forever friend. We show people how God loves them by the way that we love them. 

Unfortunately there have been missed opportunities in the church to make or be a forever friend. 

Years before ever becoming, or even 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. Not too bright. 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 lay down until my sight came back.

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. I never heard from him again. At this point in my life, I was not really that familiar with the Bible Worker concept. My church never had one before. 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 have already been or will never be baptized too. So, years later when I became a Bible Worker, I told myself that, as well as being theologically sound, I also want to be relationally sound. I decided to be a genuine caring friend, as well as someone who taught theology.

I was studying with a man, in the first district I had been assigned as a Bible Worker, when he showed up to church with his 14-year-old step-daughter. She had never been to any church before. I went up to the parents of teenage girls in the church, and told them, a young girl is here who has never been to church before. Please have your daughters greet her and befriend her. One parent, who had two teen girls, shrugged her shoulders and said, “My daughters already have friends.” I could not believe what I heard. The other girls did not befriend her. Her step-father eventually went to another nearby Adventist church where he got baptized. I do not know the fate of his step-daughter.

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 older 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 whose elder only called you to tell you that you were 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 a card, “Bible Workers come and go, but friends are forever.” I did not think that much about it. Eight years later I also happened to move to Tampa Florida. 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 had forgotten this was exactly where he moved to years earlier. 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, huh? 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 through. Scott needed a forever friend. I am glad God moved me across the country to where I could reach out to him.

As a Bible Worker 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 do Bible work and give Bible studies. Believe me, if I can, anybody can. Even so, what a young teenage girl needed in a small church long ago, was not a Bible Worker 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.

Bible workers or pastors may get people baptized, but in order to see them all the way into the Kingdom, it takes more than a Bible Worker. It takes a forever friend. Will you be that forever friend?

Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. Daniel 12:3 NLT 

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

Allowing Scripture to use Humor and Figure of Speech

When I recorded this today I did not realize we were already at the end of the Sabbath School quarter. This year is flying by!