Lets Keep Studying Together

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:19-20 NLT

When Jesus said He would be where just two or three are gathered together, He was not limiting that to a physical location. The context Jesus is talking about is when two or three are in spiritual agreement He is with them.  While talking to the woman at the well, Jesus pointed out that the true place of worship is not so much about a particular physical location of worship but rather worshiping in the right Spirit. I like to think of the Spirit as a dimension all its own. I have friends all over the world but we are always together in the same place in the Spirit. I believe that’s why even if we go for a while without getting to visit that once we finally do its like we were never apart. Because we were together in the Spirit the entire time and spiritually we were never apart.

Remember, churches are not being closed. Buildings are being closed. We are the church. We are to remain open. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus did not send His church into a building. He sent them to all the ends of the earth to make disciples. Through technology and the Holy Spirit we can continue making disciples for Jesus around the world.

This is important  now because with the coronavirus Sabbath School classes are not able to meet physically. Millions are studying in their own homes. Some are still meeting in small groups but depending on where you are that could still be dangerous. Doctors are telling us the best way to stop the virus from spreading is to halt all physical social interaction. The good news is we have a safe place to study together without fearing the virus, which is in the Spirit. I have spoken with a lot of people over the phone this week, and some have told me that they are just fine on Sabbath because they have Hope Sabbath School or 3ABN. Those are great and so is SSNET. But we still need interaction. At least on SSNET we can interact by commenting on the bog, but as far as 3ABN and Hope Sabbath School go, we need more than online sermons and Sabbath School classes. We need interaction. This is why last Sabbath many church members called their brothers and sisters on the phone or even on video chats to study together and just as importantly pray together. Paul wrote in Hebrews 10:25 about always continuing to meet together. I believe today Paul would tell us  in this current situation to keep interacting together for fellowship and encouragement. I don’t want to put words in Paul’s mouth but I don’t think just watching online sermons or online Sabbath Schools accomplishes what Paul had in mind. I think to accomplish the spirit and purpose of Hebrews 10:25 we need to interact instead of just watching or listening to someone else do all the talking.

I hope during this time of physical social isolation people will take advantage of SSNET and comment. Many of you read the daily lesson study blogs but not as many comment and interact. We invite your interaction.  While 3ABN and Hope Sabbath School are great to watch online we all need to do more than watch. We need to interact. When it comes to the resources we have today of telephone and online video chats we can interact with people pretty much any time and anywhere. Let’s continue reaching out to the elderly, the lonely, as well as our current Sabbath School class members.

Don’t just watch. Fellowship. Interact. Let’s continue studying together. 

And the Devotional Book I Recommend for 2020 is…..

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

… the Bible!

Apple pies are great. I love them, especially with whipped cream or ice cream on top. They make a great dessert, and yes, even with everything else that goes into them, the apples provide real nutrition. Even so, for a daily breakfast routine I would recommend an actual apple over an apple pie. I just think an actual apple is more nutritious than an apple pie. That doesn’t mean I’m throwing grandma’s apple pie recipe away. It just means on a daily basis I eat actual apples. My stomach only holds so much food and if its filled with apple pies, then there won’t be any room for actual whole apples.

Its the same with devotional books and the Bible. Of course God created us to be social creatures. I actually learn from other people’s  comments in Sabbath School class and on Sabbath School Net. I learn from books other writers have written. So I am not suggesting you throw away your new 2020 devotional book any more than I am suggesting throwing away grandma’s apple pie recipe. Just make sure you are eating plenty of whole apples, and make sure you are actually reading the Bible. While serving as a literature evangelist I learned that during the years Arthur Maxwell wrote the Bible Stories , he read only the Bible as he did not want anyone else influencing his depictions of the Bible stories.

The other day I was teaching a 4th-grade Bible class in a local Adventist School in which I occasionally substitute. I asked the children why do we pray before reading the Bible? I received several good answers, but my favorite came from a boy who answered “Because Proverbs 3 says we are not to trust our own understanding but to depend on God for understanding.” What a great application of Proverbs 3:5 I thought! 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that those who wrote Scripture were moved by the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13 Jesus assures us the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. The same Holy Spirit that moved the writers to write those words thousands of years ago, is the same Holy Spirit that teaches us as we read those words. The Holy Spirit can teach you as easily as any theologian.

When I preach on Sabbath I like to make sure I use plenty of Scripture. That way if my own thoughts are worthless at least people got to hear actual Scripture, which is valuable. Most of my illustrations are my own, but of course I get ideas from others as well. When we read the Bible for ourselves we also have ideas the Holy Spirit gives us to share with others. If we do not read the Bible for ourselves then we are only getting ideas from others. This is not fair to them or to us. We are  not contributing our fair share and others are doing all the thinking for us. A mother breastfeeds her infant with the hopes that one day the infant will grow up to feed him or herself. Likewise we should not always rely on other authors to feed us. God wants to teach us all how to find our own spiritual bread in the Bible.

In Ezra’s day there was a reformation and revival as the people turned back to the reading of the Word. I think our church today is in desperate need of a revival and reformation  inspired by the reading of the Word.

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

The Most Precious Gift of all

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The night my mother was dying, I made an emergency flight to get out to see her. Problem was, my connection flight, in Love Field in Dallas, arrived several hours late, due to a tornado in Amarillo, where it was coming in from. I arrived home in Tulsa at 1:30 in the morning. I had an old friend from grade school scheduled to pick me up and take me to the hospital, when the plane was still scheduled to arrive on time. Even though it was a weeknight, with regular activities scheduled the next day, she insisted on still picking me up in the middle of the night, and driving me across town to the hospital, where I saw mom just hours before she passed away. Who would have ever dreamed, forty years earlier, when we were back in grade school, that one night, while living 1200 miles away, my friend would be there to help me in the middle of my worst night ever?

That night my friend gave me the most precious gift in the universe, which was time. She gave her time in the middle of the night, which gave me one more time with my mother.

One night, when I first got to Tampa, I was doing Bible work, when my car broke down. A friend who lived nearby, who had to work in the wee morning hours drove over and cheerfully helped me get my car fixed. Another case of a friend sacrificing his time for me.

When we think about stewardship, we mostly think of money. However, time is the most precious gift you can share. Time is the substance of life. When you give someone your time you are literally giving them your life.

As if that was not important enough, time is also money. A family may not be able to give $500.00 a month to the church, but they can give their time to clean the church, and save the church from spending $500.00 on a janitor, which in turn is the same as giving $500.00.

When I lived in the Dallas area, there was a sports coach who was a little rough around the edges, and wasn’t the most popular celebrity in the community. After he resigned, a lady wrote in to the newspaper to express her appreciation for the coach. She had attended a social gala with several area celebrities. She brought her 9 year old son, who had a rare disease, I’m sorry I don’t remember exactly what it was. She wrote that several of the celebrities patted him on the head, and then went on to their hobnobbing with the other celebrities, but the coach sat down with him and talked to him for over 30 minutes! The coach’s time with her son meant the world to the mother!

While we study stewardship this quarter, lets remember time is the most precious gift we have to share.

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