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.

Resources for Healthy Small Bible Study Groups

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Shortly after returning home from college in the spring of 1985 I received a phone call from a friend from church on a Friday evening. He said a few friends were getting together for a Bible study and invited me. I accepted the invitation and what transpired was a long lasting fellowship and close friendships that continue to this day. There were six of us, and while we studied that week’s Sabbath School lesson together every Friday evening, we also had pizza parties on Saturday nights and went to ball games together and even worked together in different ways with our daily secular jobs. As a young person who lacked self confidence this group gave me a real sense of belonging and the encouragement that I needed. We studied together. We prayed together. We played together. We went to church meetings and camp meetings together.  Some by nature moved away and over time have lost regular contact. Still others I see every time I go home to visit, and we talk on the phone or Facebook almost every week. Funny thing is we did not really think of ourselves as a small study group. We were just friends who studied together. But years later after facilitating and coaching several small study groups I realize that is exactly what we were. That small study group that began in the spring of ’85 met every Friday night for several years. Even when “life” finally broke up the weekly continuity of study time the friendships continue to this day.  

Group Bible Study

While no small study group is perfect nor should it be expected to be, here are some things that I look back and see that made my first ever small study group healthy. 

  1. Diversity. We had mixed races. We had mixed ages. I was 19 and the oldest one in our group was in his 40’s. A couple in our group were married. The rest were single but another couple in our group got married as we were all studying together. You could not put a label on our group as far as race, gender or age or marital status. 
  2. Though close, we were not a clique. We often invited people to join us and some did for a while. Our friendship circles went well beyond our small group, and we always accepted each other’s friends at church and social activities. 
  3. We reached out and ministered to others. We checked in on the elderly. We befriended visitors and new members on both spiritual and social levels. I will always remember the trip a few of us made to the Eureka Springs passion play where we also took a new church member who was longing for friendship and we all had a great time. 

As I said earlier our small group studied the Sabbath School lessons together. That worked out well since our small group lasted for several years, and there are not too many Bible study curricula that will last for years, unless of course you want to just study the Bible itself which is a good idea. About ten years ago the church I was with started several small study groups. We found a wonderful group of lesson plans by Denis Sands. After asking permission I shared them on my website. You may find them here. I have used them for years now in several various small groups and they have been well received. The focus on building your personal relation with Christ and with others. Each lesson takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. Each lesson has a time for dialogue, fellowship, worship, Bible study and discipleship, and ministry and outreach in evangelism. Focusing on all these areas every week keeps our groups close and personal while also ministering and sharing with others. 

I would like to encourage you to be a part of a small group. It is a great way to grow spiritually and help others along the way. It  also gives you a sense of belonging and purpose in a worldwide church. Don’t let the current virus pandemic stop you. I actually have a new small study group that meets every Friday night on FaceTime. We have members in Florida and Tennessee who love meeting together every week. The possibilities are endless! It doesn’t have to be complicated to be healthy and effective. Like I said earlier, we did not even really think of ourselves as a small study group. We were just a group of friends studying together and helping others. I would like to encourage you to start your group today! 

let me know if you have any questions or need any help. 

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

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.

Whom do you Recommend?

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Forever Friends for God

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

Image © Review & Herald Publishing from GoodSalt.com

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

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

Years before ever becoming, or even thinking about becoming a Bible Worker myself, I found myself on a church softball team, captained by the new local Bible Worker. I failed to eat breakfast before running off to play. Not too bright. In the middle of the game, I began to get dizzy and lightheaded. My team was up to bat when I pretty much blacked out. I was sitting right next to the Bible Worker and told him, as the batter was striking out, “I am blacking out. I can’t even see anything right now.” His reply? He threw my mitt in my lap and said, “That’s the third out. Let’s go take the field!” Not exactly the reply I was expecting. Needless to say, I did not go out onto the field. I managed to get myself to a nearby building where I got a drink and lay down until my sight came back.

I had heard people who had been studying with this Bible Worker say how wonderful he was. I guess already having been baptized, I was not a potential “notch on his belt,” so he was not that wonderful to me. He never even missed me when I failed to come back to the game. I never heard from him again. At this point in my life, I was not really that familiar with the Bible Worker concept. My church never had one before. Therefore I had never really considered becoming one, but on my way home that day, I remember thinking to myself, that if I ever did become a Bible Worker, I would not be like that one! I also told myself that if I genuinely care about people who are about to be baptized, then I would genuinely care about people who have already been or will never be baptized too. So, years later when I became a Bible Worker, I told myself that, as well as being theologically sound, I also want to be relationally sound. I decided to be a genuine caring friend, as well as someone who taught theology.

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

Later in another district, I was studying with a war veteran who needed a ride to the veteran’s hospital one day. Wanting to connect him with members of my church, I called several retired members and asked them to give this worthy veteran a ride. One person told me they were unavailable because, “That’s the day I water my garden.” And that was the most legitimate excuse! Not only did this veteran never come to my church, but that was also the end of our Bible studies. Do you blame him?

After studying a few months with a young married couple, they became baptized and joined my church of mostly older people. One of the older elders never reached out to this young couple, until finally he heard them say something in Sabbath School that was not theologically correct, so he took it upon himself to call them later in the day, to “reach out” and tell them that they were wrong! That was the only contact he had with them, and it was not long before they were out of the church. How long would you stay in a church whose elder only called you to tell you that you were wrong?

In Texas I studied with a teenage boy, that for sake of anonymity, I will call Scott. He found a ride to church every Sabbath, as no one else in his family came to church. Shortly after his baptism he moved to Tampa Florida. We had a going-away party for him, and I wrote in a card, “Bible Workers come and go, but friends are forever.” I did not think that much about it. Eight years later I also happened to move to Tampa Florida. One day, shortly after moving to Tampa, I ran across his name in my address book, and the address “Tampa Florida” jumped out at me. I had forgotten this was exactly where he moved to years earlier. I called the number, to find out that he was in jail. I arranged a visit. Not exactly the reunion I had planned with a former Bible student, huh? We were glad to see each other and had a lot to talk about since our last visit. He explained to me what had been going on with him lately and how ended up in jail. Towards the end of our visit, he told me, “When I moved away, you wrote in my card, Bible Workers come and go but friends are forever. I never forgot what you wrote, and now that you have come to see me after all those years, even though I am in jail, shows me you meant what you said.” I realized even more, that being relational is just as important as being theologically sound. I realized too, that even though he had been baptized eight years ago, my work with him was not through. Scott needed a forever friend. I am glad God moved me across the country to where I could reach out to him.

As a Bible Worker my goal goes way beyond seeing people get baptized. My goal is to see them in heaven. That means being a forever friend to those who are preparing for baptism, and to those who have already been baptized, as well as to those who I may never see get baptized. Some people think they can’t do Bible work and give Bible studies. Believe me, if I can, anybody can. Even so, what a young teenage girl needed in a small church long ago, was not a Bible Worker but a friend. A veteran just needed a ride to the hospital. A young couple needed someone from the church, to call them just to say hello, instead of just to tell them they were wrong. A young man sitting in jail needed to know someone still cared, even though he was less than perfect.

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

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

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

Allowing God to use Humor and Figure of Speech

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As we are studying this week’s lesson about how to deal with difficult texts I think one solution is to allow for the possibility that God was using what we call “figure of speech.” which is where a word or phrase is used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect. Maybe even allow God to use a little sarcasm at times? I want to be careful how I make this next comment. It is good for us to study and diligently search the Scriptures instead of just casually reading them. At the same time I think we sometimes make mistakes by being a little too intense in interpreting Scripture. Does that make sense? Here is an example of where some people in Jesus’ day were a little too intense with something He told Peter. 

Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?”  Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”  So the rumor spread among the community of believers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” John 21:20-23 NLT

See hat I mean? The people took Jesus’ expression “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” to mean way more than Jesus intended. They were way too intense about a simple expression Jesus made. While searching and studying Scripture we need to be careful to not let our imagination get the best of us to where we see things that simply are not there. My mother used to say she thought some people would get off track theologically (especially those trying to destroy the sanctuary message) by making some things more complicated than they really were. I see a lot of wisdom in her words. 

Another example of needing to allow God to use figure of speech and even sarcasm comes in a story in 1 Kings where Ahab had a history of not listening to God’s prophets and only wanting to hear from false or true prophets whatever it was he wanted to hear. In 1 Kings 22:15 Ahab asks one of God’s prophets if he should go to battle. 

So he came to the king. And the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall we forbear? And he answered him, Go, and prosper: for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. 1 Kings 22;15 KJV

God’s prophet Micaiah tells Ahab to go ahead and go prosper. But later Ahab suffers a terrible defeat and is killed in the battle. Did Micaiah lie? No, he was being sarcastic because he knew how Ahab only wanted to hear what he wanted to hear. The NLT makes it clear. 

When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should we hold back?” Micaiah replied sarcastically, “Yes, go up and be victorious, for the Lord will give the king victory!” 1 Kings 22:15 NLT 

See, the NLT affirms Micaiah is being sarcastic. I believe Jesus is also using sarcasm in Luke 8. 

He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’ Luke 8:10 NLT 

 Jesus is referring to a phrase in Isaiah 6:9 where he tells the people to not understand. Did Jesus really want the people to not understand? Of course not. He was being sarcastic. Like a teacher saying, “heaven forbid my students actually read this lesson and get a passing grade” the teacher is only being sarcastic because she knows her students aren’t going to read the lesson. 

John 7 gives us another example of where people are too intense with Jesus’ words. 

You go on. I’m not going to this festival, because my time has not yet come.” John 7:8 NLT 

I actually had a Facebook friend use this verse to expose the lies of the New Living Translation. He told us this verse makes Jesus look like a liar because later He does indeed go to the festival. My friend shared how the New King James Version got it right. 

“You go up to this feast. I am not [b]yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” John 7:8 NKJV 

My friend said the NKJV was correct because it uses the word “yet” therefore not making Jesus look like a liar since he later goes to the feast. Only one problem. Do you see the little “b” next to the word “yet”? That footnote tells us the word “yet” was not in the original manuscript. The NLT actually is more accurate with this verse than the NKJV. Obviously Jesus was not trying to mislead anyone about Him going to the festival. Did Jesus have a right to change His mind? Sure though I doubt that was the case. He did not go up with his brothers and that is all He was insinuating. My Facebook friend was being way too intense with this passage and in doing so claimed some versions were making Jesus out to be a liar when in reality my friend needed to just not be so intense with Jesus’ words and allow Him to use figure of speech. 

Jesus had a personality. He was not a drab and dreary individual. Some try to rob Jesus of His personality and even humorous personality by being way too intense with His words at times. I imagine when Jesus told the disciples that they were worth more than a whole flock of sparrows that there must have been a chuckle in His voice as He probably even laughed at the comparison. In Luke 24 Jesus calls the young men He met on the road “fools” for not knowing He would be resurrected. Do you think there was anger in His voice when He called them fools? I don’t believe so. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus says those who use the word “fool” in anger will be in danger of hell fire. Jesus would never contradict His own words. I can see Jesus telling these disappointed disciples with a big smile on his face and joy in his voice, “You fools! Have I got some good news for you!” Likewise when Jesus told the woman begging for His help that He was only sent to help the sheep of Israel. I can see a twinkle in His eye as He told her that, as He really just wanted to see what His disciple’s reaction would be. 

Let’s allow Jesus to have a personality and even a healthy sense of humor. Let’s allow Jesus to use sarcasm and figure of speech. With the Holy Spirit’s help this will help us not only understand God’s word better but even the loving character and personality of God.