By Whose Standard Does the Church Gage It’s Success? The Prince of This World or the True Witness?

DT Tampa july 4

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus. Revelation 12:17 NLT

Often we let the world perception of success overrule what the True Witness calls success. We think if we are at peace with the world than we are all right. If the world thinks we are cool and gives us the thumbs up then we must be okay. But who is the prince of this world? Doesn’t the Bible say that the dragon is at war with those who keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus-the True Witness?

In Matthew 5  Jesus gives us the beatitudes. Each one is a stepping stone to a complete conversion. Once the conversion is complete and we are filled with God’s righteousness and pure in heart, Jesus says,

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:10 NLT

The persecution comes after the conversion. Why? Because those who are converted leave the others with no excuse for not partaking of God’s life changing grace as well. When I was taking 9th grade algebra, our teacher graded our tests on the curve. There was only one problem. The same girl always got a 100% on every single test. So we did not get a break or a curve. When we saw that this girl kept the standard right where it belonged, and did not bring it down for us, we ridiculed her. So it is today. A church that keeps the standards right where they belong, will suffer persecution. A church that upholds the testimony of Jesus over the prince of this world will sense a “war” and opposition.

When choosing a church let’s not look to see how well it fits in with the world. Let’s see how well it fits in with the Bible and Jesus, the True Witness.

 

Raising the Standard

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

My 9th grade algebra teacher graded our tests on the curve. This meant that the highest grade would be counted as 100%. So if the highest grade was 80, our 70 would be considered 70/80 instead of 70/100, thus raising our percentage and grade considerably. There was only one problem. The same girl got 100% right on every test, so we never got a break! The standard always stayed right where it belonged at 100, instead of 70 or 80. The mornings after our tests, we would be anxious to get out results, and to see what kind of a break we got with the curve, and every morning following our tests, we would be disappointed to find that there was no break. Someone kept the standard right where it belonged. That someone was not a popular person with the rest of the class. Why? Because they kept the standard where it belonged, and left the rest of us with no excuse for getting the poorer grades that we got. She was plenty popular the rest of the school year when she acted just like us, but when it came time for tests, her study habits made the rest of us look bad, and it was just easier to ridicule her for her study methods, than it was to actually study ourselves. Likewise, as long as our church blends in the world we will never be ridiculed or persecuted either. Satan has no reason to persecute a church that looks just like the world. As long as this girl was acting like us it was fine, but we found her study habits to be annoying.

I imagine Judas found the woman washing Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfume to be quite annoying. Not that the perfume did not smell good, but Judas clearly had no intentions of giving all he had for Jesus. On the contrary, instead of giving he tried to take whatever he could. But how do you justify your selfishness in the face of someone else’s giving spirit? Easy, you make them look like a fanatic. “What a waste” Judas said, “The money she wasted on perfume could have been better spent on the poor.” I guess Judas considered himself to be poor, since he wanted the money himself. So he makes the woman out to be fanatical. Do we do this today? Someone gives more of their time and effort for Jesus than we are willing to give, and so to make us look balanced, we portray them as extreme. The woman was no fanatic. She was in love with Jesus! But when people are doing more out of love than we care to do, we label them “legalistic,” “extreme,” or “fanatical” when in fact they are just simply in love with Jesus. Judas was not irked by her behavior when she was sinning all over the place. That did not make Judas look bad. But when she gave all she had to Jesus out of love, that exposed Judas’ selfishness and Judas became offended by her converted behavior.

In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus gives us the beatitudes which are also stepping stones to a complete conversion. Once the conversion is complete Jesus says,

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:10 NLT

Once God’s people become filled with righteousness and pure in heart, by God’s grace they will keep the standard right where it belongs, not because they are legalistic or fanatical, but because they are in love with Jesus. Now here is the key. Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for doing right. Sometimes we bring persecution on ourselves by doing what is wrong. We deserve that, and there is no reward for that. I once heard a man who kept getting harassed by creditors, saying he was being persecuted for being a Christian. No he wasn’t! He was persecuted for not paying his bills!

When God’s grace converts  us our standards will rise above the world’s standards, and just like the kids in my algebra class, and Judas, they will not like that. They will persecute us, but Jesus says to rejoice! For ours is the kingdom of heaven.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here. 

Want to Get Away?

I am writing tonight from the slightly overcast but still beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In the United States, we have an airline, called Southwest, who ask on their commercials, “Want to get away?” In each commercial someone will find themselves in an embarrassing situation, where they would gladly fly to the other side of the world and hide under a rock. The airline then suggests, getting on their plane to get away from it all.

In Mark 5 we read about a man who was in a very embarrassing situation before his conversion. When I tell you everything that happened with this man, you will agree with me, that after his conversion, he would gladly hop on an airplane to get away. However, Jesus sends him on a mission trip-back home!

For sake of time, I am going to highlight the story but you can read it for yourself here.

Sadly, demon activity has not changed much over the years. This man is hanging out in tombs, obsessed with death, much like those controlled by demons today. Jesus is life, and when we don’t have Jesus, all that’s left is death. He refused to be “tamed”, “taught” or “controlled.” The exact words may vary based on your favorite translation, but the idea is the same. He was not going to be bound by Biblical standards, like so many today, who do not want to hear what is right and wrong.

He cut himself. Today many cut themselves trying to find healing, not realizing, Jesus was already cut and wounded to bring them healing. The demoniac was tormented by the presence of Jesus. Today, an unconverted person does not want to be where Jesus can be found. They want nothing to do with Bible study, prayer meeting or family worship.

None of these demonic demonstrations phase Jesus. He heals the man and he becomes converted.  In verse 15 it tells us after his conversion, the man is clothed and in his right mind. Luke 8 tells us this man was naked at the beginning of the story. Mark tells us at the end that after the conversion he is clothed. Another sign of demonic activity is wanting to dress improperly or not at all. When we become converted we dress appropriately.

Now that the man is converted we see that he wants to be with Jesus. He tells Him in verse 18 that he wants to be with Jesus. Now I am imagining that if I had been seen by my  community, running around naked in a cemetery, that I would now like to jump on a Southwest airlines jet, or any jet for that matter and get away!  I think a nice mission trip to the other side of the planet is now in order, so I can preach the gospel about as far away as I can get from the people who saw me running around a cemetery naked, cutting myself.  But in verse 19 Jesus sends him on a mission trip-back home! Jesus tells the man to go back home and tell what wonderful things Jesus has done for him. Friend, if Jesus has done wonderful things for you, if He really has changed your life, you don’t need to get away. While foreign mission trips are fun, fruitful and rewarding, chances are Jesus may have a mission field for you right in your very home. Jesus doesn’t send everyone to the other side of the planet, as much as we may sometimes like that idea, especially after an embarrassing moment when we want to get away. Jesus may have a mission trip planned for you right in your very home.  The people saw the change in this man. So much so that in verse 15 it says it scared them or made them afraid! It must have been a real shock when the reality of what Jesus had done in this man’s life was seen.

If you run to the other side of the world people won’t see the change. If Jesus has changed your life, you don’t need to be afraid. You can proudly go back home, clothed with the righteousness of Christ and in your right mind, and tell them what wonderful things Jesus has done for you.

To go to the Sabbath School Network click here. To download the SS lessons to your cell phone click here.

Worship: From Exile to Restoration

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While studying this week’s SS lesson, two things became apparent to me.  God’s church has never been perfect. The sins of the church leaders described in Ezekiel 8 makes this clear. Many people today act shocked, to see things happening in the church, that ought not to be. They talk about how religious piety is wanting. They talk about the olden days when the church was pure. Friends, the church has never been pure and religious piety has always been wanting. People say, the standards are not upheld like they used to be. For example, I heard someone talking a while back about how when they were growing up, you never saw an Adventist drinking Coke or Pepsi at a church gathering, like you may today. True. We did not drink it at social gatherings but many of us drank it at home. So are the standards slipping, or are we just becoming more real? I am not condoning drinking Coke or Pepsi at Adventist gatherings or at home. What I am suggesting, is that we take a realistic look at things. Are our standards slipping, or are we just becoming less hypocritical, and not hiding what we really do, and who we really are?

I only use Coke and Pepsi as a handy illustration. We, as a church and as individuals, have issues much more pressing than soft drinks. This leads me to my second observation revealed in our SS lesson. Intercession. When we see things in the church that ought not to be, often our first instinct is to have the people responsible removed. Years ago, a children’s SS teacher told me how a pastor changed her life. She was a smoker and a SS teacher. Convicted she should not be smoking, and teaching the children, she confessed to her pastor that she should no longer be teaching the children. The pastor told her she had it all wrong. She should keep teaching the children’s SS class. It was the smoking she should quit! By God’s grace she quit smoking and continued teaching. When my shirt gets torn, it is easier to throw it away and buy a new one than it is to sew and fix it. When we see people with problems in the church, we think it is easier for them to just leave and get someone else, instead of helping mend the people with problems. Jesus is not into quick fixes. Jesus is not into throwing people away because they are broken. This is why He has stood by a church so imperfect for not just centuries, but millenniums. Jesus wants to mend and heal His broken church and broken people. What the church needs is prayer warriors like Daniel, who in Daniel 9 interceded for the church of his day, and even saw himself as part of the problem, and saw God, not himself, as part of the solution.  Instead of praying for people who we perceive to be tainting the church to leave, we should first intercede for them and pray for their salvation.  After all, if we truly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives and purify the church, why don’t we give the Holy Spirit time to do His work?

I understand church discipline is Biblical and has its place, but intercession has its place too, and it comes before church discipline. In the past we may have used church discipline as a quick fix. Throw away that old torn shirt and buy a new one. A Christ like Church will take the time to mend people, instead of throwing them away. This may make the church less than perfect for a while. That’s okay. It takes to time to fix things correctly. So I challenge you, instead of being critical of your church, intercede for your church. And I challenge you to go a step further. Ask Jesus to send the outcasts, that no other church wants  to your church!

Worship: Conformity, Compromise and Crisis in Worship

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s SS lesson asks, “What are some things your own society does not condemn that are clearly condemned by the Bible? More important, how much has society impacted you and the church in regard to these issues? That is, what things clearly condemned in Scripture might the church take too lightly, directly as a result of the influence of society?”

Things that used to shock the world several years ago are now freely accepted by the church. This makes me wonder, is the church following the Word of God, or just trying to stay a few paces behind the world in paganism? In 1939 the world (not the church, the world) was shocked when Rhett Butler told Scarlett, “Frankly my dear I don’t give a d—n” on the silver screen. Today it takes a lot more than that to shock not just the world but the church. Satan is smart enough to make a small gradual effect on the church. Before you know it, things that the world once saw as sinful, the church within time freely condones. It seems as though sin is relative. Well that’s not a bad movie compared to this movie which is even worse. This swimsuit is not that immodest once you consider what they wear on South Beach. Smoking marijuana is not as bad as Crack.  So, are we trying to follow Jesus, or just make sure we are not following the world too closely? Is our goal to be like Jesus, or is it to just not be too much like the world? Could it be that our goal is actually somewhere in between Jesus and the world? Is the Bible our guide, or is society and the Bible our guide?

Being a single Christian man in my forties I am surprised at how many older Christians believe sex outside of marriage is okay. People will not come right out and say it, but I believe many in the church today think the “no sex before marriage” rule only applies to teens. They bend the teachings of the Bible to agree with what is socially acceptable instead of the other way around. Even homosexuality is gaining acceptance in some churches. We are satisfied with the explanation that they must be born that way, totally forgetting the words of Jesus that we must be BORN AGAIN! Fact is, we all are born sinful so we must all be born again, including the homosexual. Of course the sex and entertainment world is not the only area we have let society dictate. I once heard a pastor in Texas say, “a homosexual church is not in any more open rebellion against God’s Word than is a church that keeps Sunday instead of the Bible Sabbath.”

Ancient Israel did not want to be governed by God’s standards, but rather wanted to have a king and be like the other nations. Today some churches want to gauge their success as though it is a worldly business. Instead of comparing themselves to the Word of God, they like to look at growth graphs and charts to gauge success just like worldly businesses do. When we gauge our success the same way the world does, we then try to use the same means to achieve success. I would like to point out at this time Dueteronomy 13:17-18. “He will increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your ancestors—because you obey the LORD your God by keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.” Success comes from the Word of God and not being socially accepted by society. In modern society we have the same challenge as ancient Israel. Are we going to follow God’s Word, or just stay a few paces behind the world?

There is another and more important question that should engage the attention of the churches of today. The apostle Paul declares that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” [2 Timothy 3:12.] Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber?—The only reason is, that the church has conformed to the world’s standard, and therefore awakens no opposition. The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian faith in the days of Christ and his apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the Word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. Let there be a revival of the faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled.  {Great Controversy, p. 48}

Redemption in Romans, Lesson 13

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This week’s SS Lesson covers Romans 14-16. Now Romans 13 ends with Paul telling us “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Paul is telling us to set a high standard for ourselves. In Romans 14 He transitions from looking at self to our attitude towards others, telling us, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, [but] not to doubtful disputations,” and “Let us not therefore judge one another any more.” What jumped out at me here, is that while Paul is telling us to set a high standard for ourselves, he also tells us not to judge our brother just because he does not have the same standards we do. This reminds me of something a pastor told me back in Texas, “We need to be conservative towards ourselves and liberal towards others.” How I interpret that is, We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard but not expect anyone else to have the exact same standards we do.

 

I remember when I was first learning how to golf I would go to the driving range. I was self conscious with the other golfers there who could see me. I don’t say watching because in reality they probably weren’t paying any attention to me at all but I thought they were. I did not want them to see me mess up. I would be relieved though when I saw them mess up, because it made me not feel so bad about myself when I saw that they too messed up. Then I remembered, something Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Again I was reminded to not watch others, but to strive for a higher standard.  I pray for God to help me reach His standard while at the same time accepting and not judging my brother.

 

 You may find more studies and devotionals at In Light of the Cross.

False and True Revivals

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As we study this week’s SS lesson, different churches and denominations may change their ideas on integrity, wholeness and holiness, but God never changes.

We are told in the last days there will be false revivals as well as a true revival of “primitive Godliness.” So how do we know a false revival from the real? In my line of work I am constantly meeting people who are choosing a church or denomination where they can feel like a Christian without having to live like one. Or if I can be a little bolder, they want to be called a Christian without living like Christ, and following His path of self denial and self sacrifice. Self remains a big part of their worship. Fact of the matter is, no matter what church or denomination you choose, there is only one way to heaven and that is through Jesus. Jesus says, “If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23  Churches may over time swing the pendulum back and forth between strict or lenient standards, but the words of Jesus never change. His standards never change.  Please consider the following from The Faith I Live By, page 326.

   Revivals True and Counterfeit

     Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. Matthew 7:16, 17

     Before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth, there will be, among the people of the Lord, such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times. The Spirit and power of God will be poured out upon His children. At that time many will separate themselves from those churches in which the love of this world has supplanted love for God and His Word. Many, both of ministers and people, will gladly accept those great truths which God has caused to be proclaimed at this time, to prepare a people for the Lord’s second coming. The enemy of souls desires to hinder this work; and before the time for such a movement shall come, he will endeavor to prevent it, by introducing a counterfeit. In those churches which he can bring under his deceptive power, he will make it appear that God’s special blessing is poured out; there will be manifest what is thought to be great religious interest. . . . 

     Wherever men neglect the testimony of the Bible, turning away from those plain, soul-testing truths which require self-denial and renunciation of the world, there we may be sure that God’s blessing is not bestowed. . . . 

     A wrong conception of the character, the perpetuity, and the obligation of the divine law, has led to errors in relation to conversion and sanctification, and has resulted in lowering the standard of piety in the church. Here is to be found the secret of the lack of the Spirit and power of God in the revivals of our time. . . . 

     It is only as the law of God is restored to its rightful position that there can be a revival of primitive faith and godliness among His professed people. “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16.

Click here to read more about modern revivals in the Great Controversy.

I want to see the church grow! But much more than this I want to see souls added to the kingdom of God!  While in my ministry, the churches I have served, have at times led the English speaking churches in baptisms for their conferences , I have always purposed to remember my true goal as a Christian Servant:

Our Goal–Truly Converted Members.–Ministers who labor in towns and cities to present the truth should not feel content, nor that their work is ended, until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the effect of its sanctifying power, and are truly converted to God. God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors, than to have sixty make a nominal profession, and yet not be thoroughly converted. These ministers should devote less time to preaching sermons, and reserve a portion of their strength to visit and pray with those who are interested, giving them godly instruction, to the end that they may “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  {Evangelism, p. 320.1} 

In the road to death the whole race may go, with all their worldliness, all their selfishness, all their pride, dishonesty, and moral debasement. There is room for every man’s opinions and doctrines, space to follow his inclinations, to do whatever his self-love may dictate. In order to go in the path that leads to destruction, there is no need of searching for the way; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad, and the feet naturally turn into the path that ends in death. {Thoughts on the Mount of Blessing, p. 138}

 

You may find more devotionals and studies at In Light of The Cross.