Faith or Presumption?

In 2017 hurricane Irma came through Florida and many of us evacuated. I went to Tennessee to be with my sister. The morning the hurricane hit Tampa where I live, I received a text from a friend there who was unable to evacuate. She said she was afraid but she knew God was with her and that she would not get hurt. I thought to myself though, God was with my mother when she drew her last breath and died. Of course I did not text my friend back and tell her that God has been with many people while they drew their last breath. Just because God is with us does not mean we won’t die. When a storm comes having faith that God is with me is one thing, but having faith that I will not die is presumption. After all millions of people have died in various storms throughout earth’s history. I would have to be a blatant fool to think I’m a better Christian than millions of other people or even that I have more faith than those who have died in storms. 

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area

Its the same when I get in a car. I pray for safety and I know God is with me. I also know I have heard testimonies from people who survived a car accident where a loved one died. They say they too prayed for protection before their trip. A pastor friend of mine was killed in a car accident just a few Christmases ago. He was in his forties. Am I still alive because I am a better Christian than he was or because I have more faith? Of course not! To think I have survived storms and car accidents because I am a faithful Christian is beyond presumption. It is absurd! Millions more worthy than me have perished in storms and car accidents. I know God is with me regardless of my fate. While Hebrews celebrates the victories of the faithful it also recognizes the deaths of the faithful.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—  of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. Hebrews 11:35-38 NKJV

Faith is knowing what God has promised. God has promised me eternal life. See Titus 1:2. Presumption is assuming what God has not promised. God never promised me I would never die in a storm or car accident. 

So now let’s get to the title of our topic here. How do I know I have the assurance of salvation in Jesus and am not just being presumptuous that I am saved? Let’s take a look at some Biblical examples of people in the Bible who were being faithful and those who were just being presumptuous. 

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? James 2:18-20 NKJV

In the book of James we are taught that true faith will bear the fruits of good works and obedience. “Faith” that does not bring forth good works and obedience is a presumption which will not make us any better off than the demons who believe and tremble. 

Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.  And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”  Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. Acts 19:11-16 NKJV

The sons of Sceva were presumptuous because they did not know Jesus for themselves. By the way 1 John 2:4 says if we say we know Jesus but do not obey the commandments that just makes us liars. We know they did not know Jesus for themselves because they said. “The Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Paul knew Jesus. They did not. They were being presumptuous thinking the name of Jesus was a magic word like abracadabra. Jesus and Paul are not magic. They both got their power from an obedient relationship with the Father. 

 In Numbers 10:33-35 Moses sent the ark out before their battles and victories. However when Israel was in apostasy their faith i the ark turned into presumption and the ark itself was captured by the enemy in 1 Samuel 4:1-22. The ark was not magic. The ark was not a symbol of presumption. It was a symbol of their faith and obedience toward God. Without obedience the ark had no power for them. Much like Samson’s hair. There was no magic in his hair. His long hair was a sign of his loyalty to God. When he was no longer loyal to God the long hair was meaningless. See Judges 13:5

Romans 1:5 talks about faith that leads to obedience and Revelation 14:12 tells us God’s last day saints will have faith and keep the commandments. True Biblical faith produces obedience. A supposed “faith’ without obedience is mere presumption. In Matthew 4:5-7 Satan tells Jesus to jump off a cliff and have faith that God would save Him. However there no command from God to jump off a cliff. Jesus knew that jumping off the cliff would not be in accordance with God’s commands and would not be an obedient faith but mere presumption. By they way, today we wear seat belts in our cars and masks at church because while we have faith in God we were given no command to be careless and presumptuous with our safety and health. Jesus gave us an example of using common sense and faith in God at the same time. One does not cancel out the other. 

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. Hebrews 11:30 NKJV

But a few days later the children of Israel were defeated when disobedience led to presumption. See Joshua 7:1-26

While Romans 1:5 and Revelation 14:12 talk about faith and obedience David links presumption with sin. 

Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Psalm 19:13 NKJV

Faith is when we claim a promise in the Bible such as God is with us. Presumption is when we claim assurance the Bible never gave us such as I will never die in a storm or car accident. Or even that I will never get the COVID-19 therefore I do not need to wear a mask or social distance. In the wilderness Jesus used faith and common sense and so shall I. 

Faith leads me into good works. See Ephesians 2:8-10. Faith leads me into commandment keeping. See Revelation 14:12. Presumption encourages me to carelessness and sin. See Psalm 19:13

Matthew 7:21-27 teaches me claiming salvation without obeying Jesus is mere presumption. When I put God’s Word into practice I have the assurance of salvation. 

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

“I Will Allure her…and Speak Comfort to her.”

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay Area.

Monday’s section of this week’s lesson asks,

 Why is how we say something as important as, or even more important than, what we say? How do you react to this statement: “Truth is truth, and people need to take it or leave it”? What’s wrong with this true statement?

A couple of years ago I had two youths come up to the platform where I was preaching. I asked one if he liked mints. He said, “yes.” So I reached in my pocket and handed him a couple of mints. He thanked me. I then asked the next youth if he liked mints. “Of course,” he said. I then reached in my pocket and threw a couple of mints towards him which he dodged and they fell on the floor. I told him, “Well there you go. You can have them!” He looked at me disgusted and walked away. 

Of course both young men were in on the illustration and knew what I was going to do. And, yes, I politely handed the second youth some nice mints after our little skit was over. The point was that often people do not accept truth because of the way it is presented. One of my favorite authors encourages us to present the cross of Christ along with every truth that we  present. 

The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. –Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 315. 

When we see the Sabbath in light of the cross, we see Jesus resting in the tomb after doing all the work to redeem us, just as He rested after creating us. We see our Savior telling us to rest from our works as we trust in His grace to save us. 

When we see the punishment of the wicked in light of the cross, we see Jesus dying on the cross so that those who believe in Him may not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16. Notice the opposite of eternal life is perishing and not everlasting torment in hell. We see the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life. Romans 6:23. Again the wages of sin is not everlasting torment in hell. It is death. In the light of the cross we see Jesus crying out “my God, my God why have You forsaken me?” We see Jesus tasting the punishment of the wicked for us, so we can taste His free gift of eternal life. 

When we see the cleansing of the sanctuary in light of the cross, we see how the love flowing from the cross saves us from the penalty and power of sin in our daily lives. Instead of working for our own salvation, we see how Jesus intercedes and works to free us from condemnation and from the addictions that rob us of our joy. See Psalm 51:8-12

When we present truth in light of the cross, we present the truth as it is in Jesus. Instead of seeing a God who wants to be worshiped because of His ego, we see a God who wants us to worship Him because He is the only God who loves us enough to die for us. In pagan religion, the humans sacrifice themselves to get the gods to accept them, but in Christianity God sacrifices Himself to get the people to accept Him. This is why we are to have no other gods before us. Because no other gods will love us the way God does. When we present the truth as it is in Jesus, we see the same love that is at the center of the cross is the same love at the center of the law. See Romans 13:8-10

This is the same love that God used in the Old Testament to win the hearts of rebellious Israel. 

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her. Hosea 2;14 NKJV 

God does not seek to win our hearts with a take-it or leave-it attitude. He allures us and speaks words of comfort to our broken sin-weary hearts. Too often God’s people have been like Peter, who, for zeal of protecting Truth, took his sword and cut off someone’s ear. He was actually aiming for his head and missed! This is not how Jesus protected Truth. Jesus healed (comforted) the man’s ear. In Hosea 2:14 God shares Truth by making it alluring and comforting to us. He does not make it alluring and comforting by watering it down. Rather He comforts us by sharing a Gospel and love that is powerful enough to save us from the sins that discomforts our peace and safety. See Romans 1:16

Jesus sends us on the same mission of peace He shared with us. It is the same mission of peace He shared in Hosea 2:14

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21 NKJV

How to Always be Ready to Share God’s Word

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV

Before baseball season begins there is spring training, where all the players get back into shape so they can perform at their highest level during the season. During the off-season they may have gotten a little out of practice and a little out of shape

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I imagine the break in sports during the recent COVID-19 quarantine may have been a little frustrating for the players not knowing when and if they were going to play again this year. I suppose they had to stay in shape and be prepared when and if the season would resume, which it finally did.

 However Paul tells us there is no off season when it comes to preaching the Word of God. We must always be prepared during season and even during off-season. How do you stay prepared to preach the Word of God, especially if you are not a preacher?

About 30 years ago I was talking with a fellow preacher about doing sermon preparations. We were talking about how every elder should have a sermon in his hip pocket in case the scheduled speaker gets sick suddenly and can’t preach. However elders are not the only people called upon to preach. Stephen, a deacon in the book of Acts, was stoned to death and it wasn’t for adjusting the church thermostat. It was for preaching an impromptu sermon that cut the hearts of the listeners. Stephen was prepared because he was obviously well-read. My fellow preacher friend made the comment that, as long as you are well-read you will always be ready to preach. As you are constantly searching the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11), you are constantly finding new treasures (Matthew 13:44) that you can share on the spur of the moment. 

I have found this to be true. Several times in my ministry I have been asked to speak somewhere on the spur of the moment for various reasons. The pastor’s car broke down on the way to church. The pastor became suddenly ill. One time I was on vacation and showed up unannounced at a church where the pastor recognized me, and he decided my presence created an impromptu opportunity for him to finally sit with his wife during worship service. So he asked me to preach. Each time it would have been very easy to just reach way back to an old sermon I used before. While that has happened, of course, more times than not, when I am asked to preach on the spur of the moment, I share with the congregation the treasures I have been finding as I am studying God’s Word during that current week. 

It is totally true what my preacher friend said. When you stay well-read you will always have something to share – you will always have a sermon ready to go. 

Being humble enough not to preach even when prepared

Several years ago I was on the platform ready to preach when I saw the conference publishing director walk into the sanctuary, looking at the bulletin with a distressed look on his face. He was not scheduled to be there, but the look on his face told me that he thought he was supposed to be scheduled. So I left the platform and greeted him and asked him if he thought he was preaching today. He said he thought he was, but apparently was confused. I gladly told him to go ahead and preach, even though I was just moments from delivering the sermon I had prepared all week.

Just a couple years ago a gentleman showed up who was the boyfriend of one of our church members. He thought his girlfriend had made arrangements with the pastor for him to preach that Sabbath. She had not. The pastor was there and ready to preach his prepared sermon but gladly told the young man to go ahead and preach his sermon instead. A good Christian will always have the courage to preach the Word of God, while a good humble Christian will also not let his ego get in the way of letting another good humble Christian preach the Word of God. 

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

Vanessa’s Baptism Pictures and Story

In late 2020 Elder Henry Hodge was taking me to visit some of his Discover Bible School correspondence students. One of his students that we visited was Vanessa. When we saw each other we both remembered each other from a group Bible study we were in years ago at the Plant City SDA Church. We had a nice visit and Vanessa decided to start studying with me again. We began studying in her home but when the COVID-19 quarantine began we started studying on Facebook Messenger Video. With all that was going on Vanessa stayed very committed to our weekly studies and after a while told me she wanted to be baptized. Today, August 8, 2020, Vanessa gave all of herself to Jesus in baptism because Jesus had given all of Himself for her.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV

Our Plant City SDA church family enthusiastically voted and welcomed Vanessa into our church family. While many are still worshiping at home we had a good turnout to personally welcome Vanessa to the family of God. Vanessa even had her father and other family members come who had to travel a bit. It was a very special day for everyone!

We were all smiles under our masks as Vanessa was presented her baptism certificate which also contains our Adventist Biblical beliefs. After the service I was approached by one of Vanessa’s family members who wants to join Vanessa and me for Bible studies on Facebook Messenger Video. We are continuing to thrive and grow in Gods grace right through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t let the sun set on you before making your decision to give all of your life to the One who gave all of Himself for you. I would love talk to you or study with you to help you in this decision. The cool thing about studying online now is it does not matter where in the world you are, we can get together on Zoom, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger Video. You can contact me at racerthree@gmail.com.

A special thanks to all those supporting my ministry through this pandemic so I can continue sharing Jesus with the world. If you are interested to supporting this ministry with your monthly or one time contributions just click here. Thank you!

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.