How NOT to Study the Bible With Others

As we study this week’s Sabbath School lesson, about turning hearts in the end of time, I know many of us are praying for loved ones who have turned away. Sadly, many have been brought up in the Adventist church under legalistic and even abusive home and church situations. Because of this they have a hard time separating the message of the church from the people who abused them. I have talked with not just a few people who were raised in the church, who told me they left because of abuse and emotional reasons. Later though, while discussing doctrine they tell me the exact opposite of what they told me previously. They will say emotional reasons had nothing to do with it. They left solely because of doctrinal reasons. I tend to believe what they first told me.  Our emotions are tied closely to our theology, which is why all our doctrines need to present God’s love in the light of the cross.  This is why we must stay focused on the love of God while talking about every Bible doctrine.

At a funeral service a few years ago, I was talking to a lady who was raised in an Adventist home. She explained to me that she was no longer Adventist because the Adventist church talked about the law instead of love. She since has joined a church that she considers more loving. However, her new church believes in an eternally burning hell. I am not sure why she thought a church that teaches an eternally burning hell was a more loving church. I also wonder why she felt the law was against love, while it actually promotes love by helping us put people and relationships first. It makes me wonder if she was wanting to get away from the message of the church or just the people who did not show her real love?

We need to pray for and love people who have been hurt by legalistic and abusive Adventists, instead of just preaching to them. Jesus met many in His day who were hurt by legalistic leaders. He ministered to those who were hurt by legalistic and abusive Pharisees, instead of just preaching at them. Sometimes He did not need to preach at all. The woman taken to Jesus in John 8:1–11 had been abused by the very church leaders who dragged her to Jesus. She may have made some mistakes on her own, but Jesus did not preach to her. He did not tell her, “If you stop sinning, then I will stop condemning you.” No! He never condemned her in the first place! His message was “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The “go and sin no more” was not just  a command as much as it was a declaration of her freedom from the abusive lifestyle she had endured by abusive church leaders. Jesus healed her emotions and theology by ministering instead of preaching.

Understandably, many like the woman in John 8, who have been hurt by the church are angry. Anger often gets misdirected. Ty Gibson talks about himself being an atheist, because he does not believe in the God most of the world does not believe in either. His point is that the God so many people hate and don’t believe in does not even exist. God has been so misrepresented that the God they reject is not the real God. So many are angry at God when the God they are angry with does not exist. That is misdirected anger. Likewise in Adventism, many former Adventists are angry at an Ellen White who does not even exist. Her writings have been taken out of context literally and blatantly in many compilation books. Her writings have been used to beat people over the head. Thank God my family never beat me over the head with or crammed Ellen White down my throat. I grew up reading her writings for myself, and  I read how she always talked about love and grace. I would dare say that Ellen White herself would not appreciate the “Ellen White” that many have to come to know through abusive parents and teachers who used her writings in ways that were never intended, which was more like weapons instead of the testimony of Jesus.

A while back I was talking to a woman who told me Ellen White was legalistic and only taught we are saved by works. Of course this is  totally untrue. Later in the same conversation, she told me she knew Ellen White was a false prophet because she says Martin Luther will be in heaven, while we all know he drank and ate pork. I suggested that maybe Ellen White believes Martin Luther and everyone else will be saved by grace alone. This woman was so angry at an “Ellen White” that did not even exist, that she rejected the real Ellen White who believed salvation was by grace and not by works.

In ministering to many hurt former Adventists, we must realize their issues are not only doctrinal if at all. They are emotional. Instead of defending Ellen White, we need to realize the  “Ellen White” they reject may not even exist. Do not attempt to win them to Ellen White. Win them to Jesus, He is the One who saves. Show them the God of love in the Bible, and show them the love in all of the Bible teachings.

Seeing how our emotions and personal experiences are so closely tied to our theology, it is important to refrain from emotional mind games, while studying (debating?)  with and ministering to former Adventists who are hurting. I have talked with and tried to reason with  many former Adventists who tell me they are totally healed emotionally, while they continue attacking the church and Ellen White. Hurting people hurt people. As long as they are on the attack I know they still need love and healing. Emotionally healthy people don’t make a religion out of attacking others.

These mind games work both ways. It’s human nature to try some of these tactics, so we need to watch ourselves that we don’t use these tactics and don’t allow others to use them on us. Of course this applies to general Bible studies even within the church as well as outside. Here are four suggestions of what not to say while studying the Bible with others.

  1. When you get closer to Jesus you will understand. 

It’s been a while since I heard this one, but I have heard it. Just a few years ago  a lady in the church was disagreeing with me about Jesus dying the second death. She was getting frustrated that I was not seeing things her way, so she finally rested her case by smiling and assuring me, ‘When you get closer to Jesus you will understand.” In my frustrated humanity, I wanted to assure her, that while there are 9 billion people on the face of the planet now, probably a good 8 billion of them could teach me what its like to get closer to Jesus, but she was not one of them!  Now that would not have been nice of me either.
Maybe when we see we are not “winning our case” it would be better to just agree to disagree and leave it at that, rather than to say something silly we will later regret. We all know the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say, but there were times when even Jesus was silent in the judgment hall. If Jesus did not feel the need to answer every question, neither should we. Being silent is better than saying something foolish. By the way, I was talking with this lady again recently, and she was agreeing with everything I said years earlier about the cross, as if she did not even remember ever disagreeing with me.

2. You only believe that way because you were raised that way

I  have had several former Adventists tell me I am only an Adventist because I was raised Adventist. Of course they themselves are evidence this is not true! If they can leave, so can I. This also is not true when you consider the millions who have joined the Adventist Church with no previous family ties to the church. Ironically the people who use this argument on me are complaining about how judgmental the church is. Then they turn around and judge me. That’s human nature. Even as Adventists it is tempting to tell Sunday keepers they are keeping Sunday only because they were raised that way. When we do that we are judging their motives, which we really know nothing about. It’s best to just stick to Scripture. What happened generations before really doesn’t have anything to do with what Scripture is telling us.

3. Sounds like an idea from someone who was hit in the head with a rock when she was little!

It’s ironic that people who feel they were abused and mistreated in the church would turn around and make fun of a little girl getting hit in the head with a rock, but that is what many do. I have read it online and heard it in person. An idea from the Spirit of Prophecy is introduced and the person who doesn’t like it exclaims, “Sounds like something someone would say who was hit in the head with a rock!” A former Adventist with his doctorate explained to me that when Ellen White was hit in the head with a rock that it gave her a mental disorder which caused her to become a prolific writer. Of course when I asked non-Adventist medical doctors what he was talking about, they all said no such condition exists. Such comments are not only disrespectful; they are also irrelevant. When people make such comments, it shows they are still hurting. Remember, hurting people hurt people. There are those who do not accept Ellen White as a prophet, but would also never make fun of her getting hit in the head with a rock, because they are emotionally healthy and have no reason to hurt others. To these emotionally healthy people, the fact that she was hit in the head with a rock is irrelevant to her doctrine. Other comments that are irrelevant are, “So and So was a Jesuit.,” or “So and So was influenced by the Masons.” Such accusations are all hearsay. Furthermore it does not matter if the person making a statement was hit in the head with a rock, or had ties to the Jesuits or masons.  I have heard people say that the Secret Rapture teaching is wrong because it is a relatively new idea. No. It is wrong because it is not Biblical. I am sure when Rachael Oakes introduced the Sabbath to a group of Advent believers in the mid 1800’s several of them could have said, “That is a new teaching we have never heard before.” Or even, “Rachael Oakes in just a woman.” Or “Rachael Oakes is a Seventh-day Baptist. Baptists teach some things that are not right.” Fact is it did not matter if the Sabbath was a new idea or if it was introduced by a woman with a Baptist background. The only valid question is whether or not the seventh-day Sabbath is Biblical. Once again we need to stick to Scripture instead of discussing and judging  people and their possible motives.

4. The Bible translation you are using is a bad translation

I covered this idea more thoroughly in a previous post.  I have heard people call the NIV the Non-Inspired Version. They tell me you can’t preach the sanctuary message from the NIV. Well, sorry, but I have taught the sanctuary message from the NIV! No translation is perfect, including the KJV, but God has protected His Word through the ages so that everything that pertains to our salvation will be understood. If you can only prove your beliefs from the KJV, then you may want to question your own beliefs. Valid beliefs can be proven from all the translations. I find that various translations actually complement each other and help us get the big picture. For example in the KJV Job 27:3mentions “spirit.” In the NLT Job 27:3 mentions “breath.” The big picture is that the spirit that returns to God when we die (see Ecclesiastes 12:7) is simply our breath. Having said this, do not discourage someone from reading a version you may not like. The important thing is they are reading the Bible! When I became a Bible Worker over 26 years ago, I was surprised how many adults had trouble reading anything, let alone 17th century English. What good does it do for someone to stumble over all the words in the KJV  if by the time they finish a sentence they have no idea what they just read? When people ask me what the best Bible translation is, I tell them, “the one you are reading.” When people open their Bibles in any version it gives the Holy Spirit opportunity to work on their hearts. Please do not discourage a Bible student by telling them they have a poor translation. Instead encourage them to read whatever version they are reading.

In turning people’s hearts to their heavenly Father in the end times, it is futile to argue about motives for believing, or if a belief is new or where it came from. The only thing that matters is, is it biblical and does it represent biblical teaching correctly?

Cultural Influence and the Bible

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I suppose most Christians around the world would agree that the Bible takes precedence over  culture as far as deciding what is right and wrong. At the same time I think all of us are sometimes confused, thinking we are following the Bible instead of culture, not realizing that our culture heavily influences how we understand the Bible.

I will provide a couple of quick examples. When Jesus tells the woman at the well in John 4, that she had 5 husbands and the man she has now is not her own, those of us in the western world quickly judge her as a loose woman jumping from man to man. However, in the Eastern world at that time, a woman could not divorce her husband. That means that 5 men had already left her and the man she was with now was not even claiming her. Jesus’ message was not that she was a slut. His message was that while everyone else had left her thirsting for love, Jesus, the Living Water, would quench her thirst for love for all eternity, as He would never leave her.

Another example is in Numbers 12, when Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ Ethiopian wife. Many in the western world think they looked down on her because she was black. That’s because we live in a culture that not even 200 years ago had black slaves. But remember that was not the case at the time of Moses’ day in the eastern world. The Ethiopians were not slaves. It was the Hebrews that had just been freed from slavery. Instead of looking down on her, they were probably jealous, and were insinuating that Moses thought he was all that, because he upgraded in their minds to an Ethiopian woman.  (Of course snubbing your nose at anyone based on the history of their race is nonsense in any culture. We are all equal!)

See how our culture influences our understanding of Scripture?  So we need to be careful when we claim our traditions and standards are based on Scripture. I would dare say some are and some are not. I remember studying the Bible with a teenage boy, who asked for a ride to church. The family giving him a ride each Sabbath, gave him a tie to wear since he did not have one. They felt he should wear a tie. He thanked them, but never wore it. While their tradition was to wear a tie, he was not convicted that he needed to wear a tie. To the family giving him a ride, he needed to dress appropriately for church, but to him a tie served absolutely no purpose and was nothing more than cloth jewelry.  Yet the family would tell you that wearing a tie was a Bible standard while he felt not wearing a tie was a Bible standard.

This reminds me of a story that comes from my extended family.  My cousin’s husband was a missionary many years ago in Micronesia. The native women came to church topless. To them breasts were totally utilitarian. The missionaries gave the women shirts to wear to church. They were surprised when the native women returned the following Sabbath with holes cut out of the shirts to expose their breasts. When the missionaries asked why, they were informed that in their culture only prostitutes cover their breasts. The prostitutes were sexualizing their breasts for sale. These God-fearing church ladies were not wanting to come across as being sexually alluring, which is why they actually exposed their breasts.  It reminds me of what Paul wrote to Titus,

Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15 NLT

Even in our own culture we struggle with this. A friend of mine came back from visiting a very conservative pastor and his family. My friend told me he was shocked when the pastor’s wife breastfed in front of them without a blanket. He told me, “And I thought they were conservative!” I explained to my friend that the wife was probably so conservative that she never thought of breastfeeding as a sexual thing. Like the godly women in Micronesia she saw breasts as utilitarian.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe in modesty. I have written about modesty. But like everything else, we have to stop and ask ourselves if our convictions are biblical or cultural. Fact of the matter is that godly families around the world, and often even in the same cultures, have different ideas about what proper modesty looks like. Of course this goes for many other topics too. I was just using modesty as an example because I thought my cousin’s husband’s experience fit so well. Remember we must do all of our rebuking with Scripture according to 2 Timothy 3:16. The Scriptures will tell us exactly on what day to rest, but the Scriptures won’t tell us exactly how many inches a woman’s skirt should be from her knees. If I tell someone exactly how to dress, am I teaching them from the Bible or from my culture?

Some Bible  teachings have nothing to do with culture. For example the Sabbath is the seventh day in every culture. Leviticus 11 defines clean and unclean foods for every culture. But even though the Bible is clear that we should be respectful, each culture has different customs and traditions of showing respect. The same is true when it comes to modesty. As a matter of fact, I could share some quotes from the Bible with you that were totally appropriate in Bible times that would not fly today in our culture. For example, this is how David said he was going to capture all the men.

So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that [pertain] to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.  1 Samuel 25:22 KJV.

Newer versions word it a different way now – way that we say is more appropriate. But apparently in David’s day and in King James’ day, that was a totally appropriate way to talk and write to mixed company of all ages. So even when the Bible clearly teaches us to watch our mouths, the Bible itself words some things differently than we do today. That is because culture has greatly influenced our understanding of the Bible.

A few years ago I found a children’s Bible trivia quiz book that actually had a category for circumcision.  While I have publicly taught about Bible circumcision with all ages, the thought of using it as trivia in a children’s Bible game was a little too much for me, so I chose not to use that category.  At the same time I did not tear the section out, as  some have done, because I did not think it was appropriate. I decided not to use it myself and left it for the next person to decide for themselves.

We need to keep in mind that while Scripture does indeed take precedence over culture, that even Jesus recognizes that some things do vary from culture to culture, without contradicting the Bible. When that happens, Jesus gave us a simple rule to follow.

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12 NLT

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

Good News for a Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked Church!

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Picture it. Wewoka Woods, July, Oklahoma Adventist Conference Camp meeting 1992. I had planned on going down for the day, but some friends encouraged me to stay the night in a tent they had available next to theirs. When I went to lay down on the cot, my friends offered me blankets. I told them no one needs blankets in Oklahoma during July. Well guess what? Come three in the morning it gets cold in Oklahoma in July! While shivering on a cot at 3 am I realized why Jesus said,

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. Revelation 3:15 NKJV

When I was cold I wanted to go get a blanket and change my situation. As I laid there shivering I sensed my need. Lukewarm people don’t sense their need of anything. They have no desire to change their situation.

But how can we be lukewarm when Jesus knows we have good works? When we do good deeds for others it “warms” their hearts. Malachi 4:2 talks about the Sun of righteousness. The Bible likens righteous deeds with heat. In John 3:19 as well as other places, the Bible likens evil to darkness, which without light or heat is cold. I go and see grandma in the nursing home every week and that is good. That is hot. But the only reason I go is to make sure I’m in her will, which is dark and cold. So in the end, after seeing grandma I am just lukewarm, and my hypocrisy makes Jesus so sick He wants to throw up! See Revelation 3:16.

Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. Revelation 3:17-18 NKJV

Why does Jesus say to buy the gold and white garments? Isn’t salvation free? Jesus is referring to the bartering system.  He wants us to trade in our self-righteousness which makes Him want to throw up, in exchange for His robe of righteousness. He wants to take self out of righteousness since it is self that makes righteousness lukewarm. Lukewarm is not the absence of good works. It is the presence of self.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20 NKJV

Its hard to sense our need of Jesus when we are full of ourselves. But if we find our self-righteousness unappetizing, and hunger and thirst for Jesus’ righteousness (See Matthew 5:6) He will come into our hearts and dine with us and feed us His own righteousness.

Remember the door in heaven, in the message to Philadelphia? That door was open. Heaven’s doors are wide open. But when Jesus comes to Laodicea, He finds a heart that has works, but is so full of self it has locked Jesus out! Heaven’s door is open but Laodicea’s door is closed. When Jesus came to earth He was born in a stable because there was no room for Him in the inn. Later Jesus tells us there is plenty of room for everyone in His Father’s house. (See Luke 2:7 and John 14:1-3). Heaven has plenty of room. Heaven has an open door. If we are lost it’s because we had no room for Jesus and our heart’s door was closed.

Jesus hasn’t given up on Laodicea. He hasn’t given up on us! He has high expectations for His lukewarm, poor, miserable, blind and naked church!

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Revelation 3:21 NKJV

Working at UPS one day, my supervisor got frustrated about a mistake I made and berated me. He made me feel like I was useless and about to get fired, when he turned around and said something that gave me hope! He said, “You may think I am overreacting by getting so upset about this, but when you become a supervisor, you will understand why I got so upset.” In the middle of censoring me, he told me he expected me to get promoted. In the same message Jesus calls His people poor, wretched, miserable, blind and naked, He also talks about them overcoming just as He overcame!” Jesus encourages all of the 7 churches to overcome, but the church that represents the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, He expects to overcome “as I also overcame.”

There is wonderful news for a wretched, poor, miserable, blind, and naked church that recognizes it is cold and needs a Savior. Jesus stands at the door of your heart. Open the door. Give Him your rags, which only make you lukewarm and still leave you naked. He will clothe you with His robe of righteousness, so you won’t have to be cold, miserable and naked any longer. Heaven’s door is open. There is plenty of room. What do you say?

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

What is Jesus Saying About You?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Jesus has an amazing promise for the church of Sardis and all those who listen.

He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Revelation 3:5 NKJV

Imagine your name rolling off the lips of Jesus! Imagine Jesus telling the Father how faithful you are, while all the angels listen and nod their heads in agreement. Too often we get worried about what others think about us, especially if we think our future may be in their hands, whether its a prospective employer or prospective father-in-law or what have you. Yet,

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31 NKJV

Too often we needlessly worry about what others think of us. I have learned it does not matter. Years ago I heard a friend say, “What others think about me is none of my business!” I have adopted that as my own motto, though I have to admit I have not been 100% perfect at it. Still I have grown to understand that we all perceive things differently. The youngest child in the family perceives family dynamics so much differently than the oldest child, that experts say it is like growing up in totally different families. If a family can be perceived differently by different people, then so can an individual. We simply cannot control how the world around us perceives us. So let’s just leave all of that in God’s hands. The good news is it doesn’t really matter. Instead of worrying about what others say about us here on earth, our focus should be on the throne of God in heaven. What is Jesus saying about you before the Father and the angels? That is all that matters. If your name is rolling off the lips of the Son of God, as He declares you an over comer then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says!

“Listen to me, you who know right from wrong, you who cherish my law in your hearts. Do not be afraid of people’s scorn, nor fear their insults. For the moth will devour them as it devours clothing. The worm will eat at them as it eats wool. But my righteousness will last forever. My salvation will continue from generation to generation.” Isaiah 51:7-8 NLT

PS : As we study the Great Controversy in Revelation, we find another reason why we should not be alarmed by what others may think about us. The Great Controversy is not about little us anyway. Its about Jesus!

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

What’s Worse Than Persecution?

 

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Last week I wrote about the church of Smyrna which endured great persecution for being faithful to God, even when facing death. Bible Scholars agree the church of Smyrna represents the Christian era from 100 to 313. This brings us to the church of Pergamum, which  represents the time period of 313 to 538. During this time period persecution of the church seemed to cease. Why did persecution cease? Here is what Jesus says about Pergamum,

But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin.  In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Revelation 2:14-15 NLT

While the world appeared to convert to Christianity, in reality the church was converting to the world! Christ had nothing to criticize at all about the persecuted church of Smyrna, but when the church started to compromise to gain the approval of the world, it began to lose the approval of Christ.

The nominal conversion of Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 49-50

Persecution is what kept the church pure, and I believe persecution will one day purify the church again. In order to avoid persecution the church began to compromise its standards and beliefs.   As the church compromised to gain the world’s approval paganism seeped into the church. Such compromise was worse than persecution.  Now there is a balance we need to be aware of. I mean you have Daniel living smack dab in the heart of Babylon, and yet the king was his friend. Daniel had a way of never compromising truth and yet still being promoted by a Babylonian king! In Daniel 4 the king is converted. I pray in the last days for men and women of integrity in high positions to influence pagan leaders to give their hearts to Jesus. The stories in Daniel 3 and 6 will be repeated in the last days, and I believe the story of a converted pagan politician in Daniel 4 will be repeated in the last days as well. This calls upon Christians to use tact. With much prayer and Spiritual wisdom I believe we can live with the non-compromising faith of Daniel and Jesus, while being  friends with sinners. See Luke 15:1-2.  Even so, I realize that Daniel was still thrown in the lions den, and Jesus was crucified. We can’t make every sinner our friend, but we can use Christian tact to win many. And Christian tact does not, and in fact cannot include compromise with evil. Compromise with evil does not convert the world to the church, it converts the church to the world.

The sad thing is, even when the church made peace by compromising with the world, persecution still continued towards God’s faithful followers. Because the church was trying to win the approval of the world, the church itself began persecuting its own members who put the Word of God above the traditions of the world. It was no longer politically correct to call sin by its right name. It was no loner politically correct to put the Bible above human philosophy. I will let Paul explain what went on.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 NLT

To win the world to the church and escape persecution, the Pergamum church decided to start preaching what everyone wanted to hear, and not preach the things people did not want to hear. Did this please 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. –Ellen White, Evangelism, Page 320

When the Waldensians wanted to continue following the Bible they were seen as troublemakers invoking persecution on the church. To avoid being persecuted by the world the church joined the world in persecuting those who still followed the Bible! So by compromising with the world the church organization was no longer being persecuted, but the faithful members continued to be persecuted not only by the world but also by the church! When I was taking 9th grade algebra, our teacher graded on the curve. The highest score was considered 100%. So if they highest score was 80 and my score was 60 then I got 60 out of 80 instead of 100, which of course would raise my percentage score. There was only one problem. The same girl on every single test got 100%. So we never got a break! This girl was not popular when we all got our test scores back, because she made the rest of us look bad by keeping the standard where it was supposed to be. Likewise when the church is trying to lower the standard to make the world look good and feel comfortable in their sins, those in the church who keep the standard right where it belongs stick out like a sore thumb.

Years ago, my friends were telling me about how their daughter was being ridiculed and persecuted in her new Adventist School for being vegan. They were surprised because no one teased her about it when she was in public school. The public school kids thought veganism was novel and admired her for being a free spirit and standing apart from the crowd. So her parents were disappointed when the Adventist kids gave her such a hard time about being vegan. The public school kids were not offended by her veganism but the Adventist kids were, because they took it as a rebuke to their lifestyle. She was raising the standard and they all thought it made them look bad for not maintaining the same standard. Of course my friend’s daughter never thought was better than anyone else just for being vegan, but we often condemn ourselves when we see others following their convictions while we ignore our own convictions. And if we can persecute and find fault with them, then it makes us feel all better about ourselves.

May God give us the wisdom to be people of integrity while being friends to sinners. Jesus and Daniel did not compromise God’s Word in order to be friends with sinners and neither should we. That is nothing new. The Jews crucified Jesus in order to secure favor with Rome. So today so called Christians are persecuting those who “follow the Lamb Wherever He goes” in order to secure favor with a sinful world.

Jesus Himself never purchased peace by compromise. His heart overflowed with love for the whole human race, but He was never indulgent to their sins. He was too much their friend to remain silent while they were pursuing a course that would ruin their souls,–the souls He had purchased with His own blood.-Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 356

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

Why did John Write About Love so Much?

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I find it interesting that when John left the Island of Patmos, many historians agree that he pastored the church of Ephesus. Most scholars agree that John wrote the book of 1 John in Ephesus after he wrote the Revelation on Patmos Island. This intrigues me for a couple of reasons. After seeing the apocalypse, instead of writing about secret societies and conspiracies, John’s writings become saturated in love. It makes me wonder if the book of 1 John was an attempt to help the church of Ephesus find its first love again? As John looked at the church in the last days was that his concern as well? The very first sentence in the first volume of The Conflict of the Ages series by Ellen White, starts with “God is love.” The very last sentence of the last volume of the series, is “God is love.” When John beheld the conflict of the ages in his visions, was he more impressed by love than he was beasts and dragons? Do John and the Spirit of prophecy agree that the conflict of the ages is actually all about love?

The letter to Ephesus is for anyone who has ears to hear.

But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Revelation 2:4 NLT

After the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the disciples went forth to proclaim a living Saviour, their one desire was the salvation of souls. They rejoiced in the sweetness of communion with saints. They were tender, thoughtful, self-denying, willing to make any sacrifice for the truth’s sake. In their daily association with one another, they revealed the love that Christ had enjoined upon them. By unselfish words and deeds they strove to kindle this love in other hearts…..

But gradually a change came. The believers began to look for defects in others. Dwelling upon mistakes, giving place to unkind criticism, they lost sight of the Saviour and His love. They became more strict in regard to outward ceremonies, more particular about the theory than the practice of the faith. In their zeal to condemn others, they overlooked their own errors. They lost the brotherly love that Christ had enjoined, and, saddest of all, they were unconscious of their loss. They did not realize that happiness and joy were going out of their lives and that, having shut the love of God out of their hearts, they would soon walk in darkness. –Ellen White, Acts of The Apostles, Pages 547-548

In his gospel, John writes about a conversation Jesus had with a Samaritan woman. She tried to engage Jesus into a theological debate when He told her,

But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. John 4:23 NLT

Some churches have the truth but they don’t have the Spirit. When James and John offered to call fire down on the Samaritans, they may have had the truth, but they didn’t have Christ’s Spirit. Apparently there were those in Ephesus who knew better than to believe the false doctrines of the Nicolations. They had the truth, they just didn’t have the Spirit of Christ. They lost their first love. I encourage you to read the entire book of 1 John to see how John encourages Ephesus along with us to regain our first love. For now, lets take a look at a few passage in particular,

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

Theology is the study of God. God is love. I don’t care if your church keeps the Sabbath, knows what happens when you die, and everyone eats veggie links, while talking about who the anti christ is, if your church does not practice love it is theologically incorrect. Maybe this is why John wrote about love all the time?

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:20-21 NLT

John is talking about Agape. Agape is the love God has for bad people. Since God is not bad He does not need agape, so John wants us to show our agape by loving our brother who is bad. When we realize God has given us agape we will share it with others. When we find it hard to forgive and love bad people, it is often because we don’t understand how much God loves and forgives us when we are bad. Once we believe God agapes us we will find it easy to agape our neighbor. I imagine the church of Ephesus lost its first love when it took its eyes off of the crucified Savior and started looking at the faults of others. I imagine we get our first love back when we return to the cross and consider the awesome sacrifice that was made there.

It is blasphemy for me to think Jesus gave His life for the sinner lying in the gutter, but I am too good to give my time or life to save such scum. What? Am I better than Jesus? Is my life more precious than His? If Jesus gave His life to save sinners shouldn’t I give mine as well?

I heard Wintley Phipps say, “We love God no more than the sinner we love the least.” I believe that resonates with the gospel according to John. I believe it resonates with the book of Revelation and the conflict of the ages. In Matthew 25:40 regarding last day events, Jesus says how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him. I think that is why the same John who wrote so much deep theology in Revelation also wrote about love so much.

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

It’s Jesus’ Church, not Mine

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV

I often read this passage thinking of Jesus talking to the worldwide church, but reality is, verse 16 tells us Jesus said this to 11 humble fishermen. That was the worldwide church! He told 11 humble fishermen to  make disciples in every nation! What an incredible command for 11 meager men! I don’t think they would have come up with such an ambitious goal on their own. Left to themselves I think they would have come up with a more realistic goal. But they weren’t left to themselves. Jesus was still with them and the Holy Spirit would help them accomplish more than that tiny group imagined possible.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. John 14:12 NKJV

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, Ephesians 3:20 NKJV

Each one reached one like Andrew always did,  as well as preaching to Crowds like Peter did in Acts 2 and they soon began multiplying as  “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47. It is amazing to think that just as people today trace their family tree back for hundreds of years, that every believer today is a believer because someone was reached by someone who was reached by someone who was reached by someone etc. etc. who was reached by one of the 11 fishermen Jesus was speaking to! As a matter of fact, some have been reached today by one of those fishermen! A pastor told me when he was a teen, he found Jesus one night, when he picked up the Bible and read the book of John. Two thousand years later, John’s personal writings are still reaching millions firsthand!

Never has a group been so successful amidst such opposition!

Christ did not fail, neither was He discouraged, and His followers are to manifest a faith of the same enduring nature. They are to live as He lived, and work as He worked, because they depend on Him as the great Master Worker. Courage, energy, and perseverance they must possess. Though apparent impossibilities obstruct their way, by His grace they are to go forward. Instead of deploring difficulties, they are called upon to surmount them. They are to despair of nothing, and to hope for everything. With the golden chain of His matchless love Christ has bound them to the throne of God. It is His purpose that the highest influence in the universe, emanating from the source of all power, shall be theirs. They are to have power to resist evil, power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master, power that will enable them to overcome as Christ overcame.-Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 679-680.

How it must have comforted John, when He saw Jesus in the midst of the lamp stands which represents the churches. See Revelation 1:12-19. Jesus was still with His church,and has promised to never leave His church. So don’t you leave it either! As a matter of fact, by sending the Holy Spirit we all have local access to God. A former student of mine who moved to the mountains of Chile, wrote to tell me he had begun personal Bible studies with a friend on their way home from school. When my young friend shares the gospel on the rocky roads in the mountains of Chile the same Holy Spirit is with him that is with the General conference president in Maryland. The General Conference office has no location advantage. The Holy Spirit is all over the world!

With the Holy Spirit all over the world and Jesus in the midst of His church, we can do amazing things! Greater than we even imagine possible. The good news is it is Jesus’ church and not mine. Last Summer the senior pastor at my church took another assignment. It was just me until another senior pastor came in the fall. My church had a lot going on and I almost became overwhelmed until I remembered it wasn’t my church! It’s Jesus’ church. When I was a lay pastor and Bible Worker in a small church in west Texas, the members occasionally told me they could not survive without me, and I was young and dumb enough to believe them. Fact is the membership more than doubled after I finally left! It wasn’t my church it was Jesus’ church! Also during that same time, another church I was helping  had a leader who thought he owned the church, since he thought he gave most the money. He tried to manipulate me to follow him instead of the senior pastor. I told him I work for Jesus and not the richest person in the church. He laughed at me! He finally took his money and left, thinking the church would collapse without his money. He forgot it was not his church! It was Jesus’ church, and right after he left, we had some evangelism meetings and so many people started coming into the church that we had to build a bigger building!

I studied with several young people in the first church I was talking about, who were baptized. They came in the church with some new ideas. They wanted to change the times for Sabbath School and Church. The older members were upset and one of them told me, “Don’t let those kids take over our church!” She was insinuating it was her church and not theirs. Sadly every single one of those young people left! They did not want to take over the church. They just wanted to be part of the church. Sadly some try to manipulate others by telling them it is not their church, it belongs to God, when in reality they just want to do their own thing, not God’s. So don’t let anyone tell you to keep your opinion to yourself because it is not your church, unless they are also willing to keep their own opinion to themselves, because it is not their church either. Fact is we are all a part of the church and have a responsibility and voice.

Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established. Proverbs 15:22 NKJV

But over every one of us Jesus is the Head of the church. It is His church, and its success relies upon Him. John was glad to see Jesus in the midst of the candle sticks in his day, and I am glad to see Jesus in the midst of His church today. Because it is Jesus’ church and its success depends on Him, we can see amazing results today.

You can study Revelation with millions of others here.