True Education

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Thursday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson asks the question, “In what ways, even today, might we need to unlearn a lot of what we have been taught from the world?”

When Jesus was telling Nicodemus in John 3:1-17 that he needed to be born again, I believe Jesus was including being re-educated. Nicodemus had a lot to unlearn. He had worked hard to get where he was by his own efforts to reach the standards of man which were built upon the traditions of man. This is why Jesus wanted Nicodemus to be born again  –that he could be taught the ways of God by God instead of the traditions of men by men . God was well aware of the power of tradition in that day, which is why God ordained that John the Baptist would not be taught in the schools of his day.

In the natural order of things, the son of Zacharias would have been educated for the priesthood. But the training of the rabbinical schools would have unfitted him for his work. God did not send him to the teachers of theology to learn how to interpret the Scriptures. He called him to the desert, that he might learn of nature and nature’s God. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 101

I am a big believer and supporter of our Seventh-day Adventist Christian schools, kindergarten through seminary. I attended Adventist schools from first grade into college. I have taught Bible classes, presented week of prayers and chapel services, and have  been a teacher’s aide and substitute teacher in our schools for  about 30 years. I have also given my own money to help pay the tuition for financially struggling families. I share this only so that you will understand I mean our schools no disservice by what I am going to write next.

I can go through all my Adventist grade school and high school yearbooks, and in all the yearbooks combined I will find a handful of students who are in the church today. Those of us who are in the church today have something in common other than going to an Adventist school. We had family worship at home. We were taught at home by the most powerful teachers and pastors in our lives  – our parents. As much as I love, support and enjoy being a part of the Adventist educational system, I cringe when on education Sabbaths, the preacher credits the school for people like myself remaining in the church. That credit belongs to my parents who showed me Jesus at home and taught me to have family worship as well as my own personal Bible study time even as a child. Now I would not have dedicated so much of my time and money if I did not believe in the importance of Adventist Christian education, but I also am afraid that we give our schools the credit that belongs to parents.

I believe one of the things we need to unlearn as a society is that all education takes place in a formal school. We need to learn the difference between having a diploma or degree and having an education. There are people without diplomas or degrees who are educated, and there are people with diplomas and degrees who are not educated. For example, I was talking to a friend who attended a university in Florida while a future famous pro athlete was attending who will not be named here. My friend told me while the athlete got his degree he was never seen on campus. He was never seen anywhere besides the football stadium.

While I did go to college and can say I am college educated, I did not finish my degree. I have worked with Adventist pastors who ,when we would have a slight difference of theological opinion, would mention their degree as though that gave more merit to their opinion. Some have mentioned their degree, implying it automatically trumped my understanding of the Bible. In other words, having a degree made them automatically right and me automatically wrong. Fortunately these situations have been very few and far between. Much more often, when I have  friendly “debates” or minor disagreements with people who have their master’s degree in theology, they never once mention their degree, but reason with me using the Bible and the Bible alone. They understand their degree does not make them automatically right. They reason with me from Scripture as something we both are familiar with, and we are on equal ground, both standing on the Word of God.

Satan is constantly endeavoring to attract attention to man in the place of God. He leads the people to look to bishops, to pastors, to professors of theology, as their guides, instead of searching the Scriptures to learn their duty for themselves. Then, by controlling the minds of these leaders, he can influence the multitudes according to his will. –Ellen White, The Great Controversy, Page 595

Recently, a pastor friend, who graduated with his Masters of Divinity from  Andrews University called me to see if his understanding on a passage in Revelation was correct. Even though he has his master’s in theology and I have no degree at all, I could tell in our conversation that he had great appreciation for my understanding of Scripture, so much so that he was asking me if he was right. While it does not happen every day, it was not the first time or the last. In 2 Corinthians 11:16 Paul admitted he was boasting a little for a purpose. If it sounds like I am boasting that some pastors from Andrews University call me for theological advice, it is only to make this point. You can be educated without having a formal degree. Like Nicodemus had to learn, we have to learn to stand on the Word of God and not our formal degrees.

I want to close by thanking my Adventist grade school and high school teachers who encouraged me as a child to be a Gospel Worker for Jesus and who even now encourage me and even financially support my ministry. There are too many to mention, but they know who they are, as I still communicate with them regularly. While I did not finish college, I will always be indebted to my professors, especially to the late Jan Haluska, who was my composition teacher. I love writing, and the writing skills he taught me have no doubt been the most practical skills that I have used daily throughout my life and ministry.

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

The Word of God in Action in the Flesh

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area

Three weeks ago I was writing about how our community service centers provide practical ways for us to worship God, and serve the community. Currently, I have a group Bible study with several of our friends in the Homosassa Florida community, while they wait to get their food at the Homosassa Seventh-day Adventist Church’s food pantry on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. Not everyone who comes for food chooses to join my Bible study, and that is totally okay. But you know what? They all get a Bible study anyway. When they meet our community service volunteers, who are full of Jesus’ grace they are seeing God’s Word in action in the flesh.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NKJV

Every place where Jesus spread grace and truth He was spreading the Word of God. He was the Word of God in action in the flesh. I believe I can say, that when people meet our community service volunteers it is like meeting Jesus. Paul says that by having the love of Christ, we too can be filled with all the fulness of God.

to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19 NKJV

Satan wanted to have God’s power but he did not want to have God’s self-sacrificing love and character. Of course we cannot be God. That is not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that we can be filled with God’s love and self-sacrificing character. When we are emptied of self, and filled with the grace and truth of Jesus, our works themselves will be the Word of God in action in the flesh.

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

Jesus says,

Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Luke 17:33 NLJV

Of course Jesus is talking about being empty of self in this life so we can have eternal life. I believe Dorcas is the perfect illustration of Jesus’ teaching on this point. Keep in mind, In the New Testament no mention is every made of a priest or elder be raised back to life, but we do see a selfless community service leader who was totally empty of self raised back to life.

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.  But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.  And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them.  Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.  But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.  Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. Acts 9:36-41 NKJV

I remember when I was a child, Seventh-day Adventist Churches named their community services centers after Dorcas, and they were called Dorcas buildings. Like Dorcas (Dorcas means gazelle in English), community services volunteers demonstrate to the community the love and compassion of Jesus today. Through community services centers we see a practical demonstration of the very essence God’s Word. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and providing practical services for the community, this is the one branch of the church the community would most obviously miss if the church were to disappear. More than that, our community service programs may very well be the most accurate picture the church portrays of God and His Word.

I know we are not saved by works. I realize many a hard worker has died at an early age. Still, I wonder if Dorcas was such a wise steward of her time and blessed so many people in the community, demonstrating God’s Word in action in the flesh, that God felt it necessary to extend her life? High priests, apostles, pastors and head elders have never been raised from the dead yet, but God raised a humble community services center worker back to life. That tells me community services workers have a very special place in God’s heart! Thank you to all of you who minister to the community at your local Seventh-day Adventist Community Service Centers!

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

Esequiel’s Baptism Pictures and Stories

Esequiel Myriam William

Several months ago, Myriam introduced me to her fiance, Esequiel. Esequiel was interested in Bible studies and being baptized. Esequiel is in the service and soon had to got to where he was stationed. He still continued his studies, and reported back that he had stopped eating pork when the lesson showed him in the Bible that it was not the best way. Since Jesus gave His life for Esequiel, Esequiel has chosen to give his life to Jesus. He has also chosen to give his life to his new bride Myraim, as well as his country.

Esequiel

Tonight Esequiel was baptized in Myriam’s home church, the Plant City Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Esequiel has the hope of eternal life!

Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved…Mark 16:16 NLT 

Esequiel Certificate

After the baptism, we had a reception, where we presented Esequiel with his baptism certificate. We also gave his and his fiance Myriam, the Jesus Centered NLT Bible. All of the members signed the Bible for them as a baptism/wedding gift. We hope they enjoy reading it together for years to come. We pray that Esequiel and Myriam both have a Jesus filled marriage and very happy life!

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Do not let the sun set before you make your decision to give your life to the One who gave His life for you-Jesus! I would love to help you with this decision. You can contact me at PlantCitySDAChurch@Gmail.com

A Special Plea for my Bible Worker Fund

Bill

First, I would like to thank you all for supporting my ministry these last four years that my ministry has been 100% reliant on financial contributions from people like yourself. God has used people like you to provide for my ministry, and more and more opportunities for sharing the gospel are presenting themselves all the time. However in recent months many have  become unable to continue contributing for understandable reasons. Monthly contributions have been consistently lower lately while opportunities to share the gospel still flourish. I pray those who are giving can continue, and God will provide new contributors so that my ministry will not need to break stride. Again, thank you for your prayers and support! Contributions can be sent to the Plant City SDA Church, P.O. Box 5379 Plant City Fl 33563. Please mark checks “Bible Worker Fund.”

Below is a special appeal letter from Pastor Mark Swaisgood. Thank you for taking the time to pray and consider this ministry.

Plant City Seventh-day Day Adventist Church

P.O. Box 5379, Plant City, FL  33563(813) 752-4694

April 12, 2019

Dear Ministry Supporters and Future Supporters,

Nearly every day I hear a news report that makes me think that the second coming of Christ is very near.  With this feeling of His nearness in my heart, I also think of our need to get the invitation out for all people on earth to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  I believe God’s will is that all would be saved and live eternally with Him (even though we know many will not) when He makes “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).People everywhere need what Jesus offers, they need to know God’s great love for them, and they need the hope, comfort, and strength that only God’s Holy Spirit can provide us.  You and I need to maintain a living relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, and share His love and words of hope with our family, friends, and neighbors, inviting as many others as we can to have a living, loving, and saving relationship with God because Jesus IS coming again, and it could be very soon, even today.  So, I want to begin this letter by saying thank you to all the people who have so faithfully supported evangelism efforts through their financial contributions to conference pastors (through tithing) and to other gospel workers like Elder Earnhardt (in this case, through his Bible Worker Fund).  If you are, or have been, a financial supporter, THANK YOU.

I also want to share with you a “last days” vision for evangelism(when the laity will finish the work) in the Plant City and Tampa Bay area, as well as around the world.Not long ago the Florida Conference added the Plant City SDA Church to my ministry district, in addition tothe Lakeland SDA Church which I already had. This has brought me into a closer relationship with Elder William Earnhardt, who is currently serving as Plant City SDA Church’s Head Elder andas a Bible Worker in Plant City, Homosassa, and the Tampa Bayarea.Since my time is divided between two churches, I am very thankful to God for Elder Earnhardt’s calling and ministry to the Plant City SDA Church and beyond.  He is providing solid spiritual leadership. With his inspiring, Biblical, Christ-honoring sermons, worship service attendance has increased from just over 20 to almost 50.Our weekly prayer meeting is thriving for both young and old.  I am leading out in our youth studies and William is leading out in our adult studies. The former Plant City pastor letme knowthat Elder Earnhardt baptized 9 people, and he brought 3 more into church membership by profession of faith,in the Plant City SDA Church during the previous 4 years.  In the eight months since I have been the senior pastor at Plant City William has brought growth to God’s kingdom by preaching, facilitating Bible studies and seminars,and conducting baptisms at both Plant City and Homosassa SDA Churches.  This is one way the laity will be used to finish the work of Christ on the earth before He returns.  If you are already a donor, “Thank you.”  If you are not a donor yet, you too can be a partner as you support Elder Earnhardt’s Bible Worker Fund.

Elder Earnhardt has a unique ministry which is fully supported by contributions from people like you around the country.While Plant City members are among his ministry contributors, the Plant City SDA Church does not have the resources within itself to provide for his level of ministry to the area. Everything Elder Earnhardt receives for his Bible Worker ministry is from a Bible Worker Fund, which is maintained by faithful contributors, ordinary people with a vision to reach people for Jesus, people like you.

 

Elder Earnhardt’s Bible Worker Fund is currently being held for him by the Plant City SDA Church and his contributors are from near and far, as his ministry extends around the country. Elder Earnhardt is currently conducting Bible studies, seminars and evangelism training all over Florida, and even in other states through the power of the internet.  You can follow William’s ministry on Facebook, or check out his website at www.inlightofthecross.com.Recently, the Homosassa SDA Church had Elder Earnhardt in their church to baptize 6 precious souls he had been working with.  He also had a recent Week of Prayer in the New Port Richey SDA School, which lead to 15 baptisms.William recalls that over the years hehas performed countless baptisms in Tampa First SDA Church, Tampa Adventist Academy,and other parts of Florida.

Beyond our state’s boarders, Elder Earnhardt has also traveled to Peru, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas to hold evangelism meetings, revivals, and training seminars, which have led to even more baptisms.  Even while he is in Florida, William reaches around the globe with his personal blog ministry, as well as writing for Sabbath School Net. E-mails have come in from as far away as Australia, Peru, Chile, Africa, Canada, etc., sharing how William’s articles and “In Light of the Cross” Study Guides have led people to Jesus.

I first became acquainted with William at Camp Kulaqua, our beautiful Florida Conference summer camp and church retreat facilities, where I have worked for several years with our academy young people, as the guest pastor for Outdoor Education. Elder Earnhardt has mentoreda number of young people over the years, at Tampa Adventist Academy and Gulf Coast SDA School, who he brought to Camp Kulaqua for Outdoor Ed. That is how we got acquainted.  When I recently began pastoring in Plant City, I learned that William’s Bible Worker Fund had been supporting him four years so far.  William relies on monthly supporters and one-time contributors alike. William has also sought part-time employment in other types of work to supplement his income.However, it has come to my attention that in recent months the funds received for each month are not enough to cover his hours of work for each month and the Bible Worker Fund is being depleted faster than it is being replenished. Meanwhile,William‘s ministry is flourishing, with opportunities for even more and more Bible studies, revivals and seminars.  With so many people in our area and around the globe coming to Christ, and growing in Christ, throughhis ministry, and with the time of Christ’s coming getting closer every day, it would be sad to see his Bible Worker Fund become unable to continue to support his ministry in the months ahead.

You Can HelpFirst, I ask you to pray for Elder Earnhardt and his ministry, that God will continue to direct his path and provide for him and his ministry’s needs.Second,I ask you to either keep supporting William, or consider supporting his ministry with either a one-time donation, or, even more importantly, on-going monthly contributions.Third, please share this letter and invitation to become a supporter of the work of the laity, like William, who we are told will finish the work in the last days before Christ’s return.As the Holy Spirit leads, please send your tax-deductible contributions payable to Plant City SDA Church, P.O. Box 5379, Plant City, FL 33563.  Indicate on your check that this is for the “Bible Worker Fund.” I thank you, I know William thanks you, and, most of all, the many people William consistently reaches for Jesus will thank you in heaven.

In Christ’s Service,

Pastor Mark Swaisgood

What Role Does the Bible Play in a World Where Everyone Does Whatever Seems Right In Their Own Eyes?

 

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I am writing tonight from beautiful Florida

You may also listen to and share the podcast version of this article.

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 17:6 NLT

We are created to follow our own conscience and moral convictions. Does that mean that we just do whatever is right in our own eyes? Lately I have heard people telling me that the Bible is a good book, but God gave us a brain to figure out for ourselves when to follow it and when not to follow it. Many believe human reasoning trumps God’s Word. Many pastors dance around the Bible and by the end of their sermons haven’t really said anything, because they were afraid to say anything, because they don’t want to offend anyone. They want everyone to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.  What could be wrong with that?

For one thing, the idea that you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong is exactly how sin began. Let’s take a careful look at the serpent’s lie after Eve told him they would die if they disobeyed and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5 NLT 

The serpent assures Eve she won’t die for disobeying God. After all, how dare God tell us what is right and wrong, much less give us consequences for having our own opinions and way of doing things! The Serpent tells Eve she will be like God. God makes the rules. God is the judge between right and wrong. If Eve becomes like God she will make the rules and decide for herself what is right and wrong.  This was implied in the serpent’s comment to Eve, “you will know both good and evil.”  In other words,

She would be a god. She would be a law unto herself. -Ellen White, Christ Triumphant, January 16. 

This is why it is so important that we follow our personal conscience and convictions based on God’s Word, instead of just following our own inclinations. Be careful when people tell you God gave you a brain to figure it out for yourself. The serpent was teaching Eve to rely on her own brain instead of God’s Word.

People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart. Proverbs 21:2 NLT 

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. Proverbs 14:12 NLT 

The problem is, everyone is right in their own eyes. The kindergartner on the playground, who hit his classmate who called him a name, is doing what is right in his own eyes. The man having an affair with another man’s wife is doing right in his own eyes. The woman is lonely and not being shown enough affection from her husband. In his eyes what he is doing is not lust. It is love. The husband and father who is cheating God by not returning an honest tithe, is just trying to make enough to support his family, so it is right in his own eyes. The possibilities are endless when we do what is right in our own eyes.

While people tell us to use our own brains to figure out right and wrong, this is what God’s Word says,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 NLT 

Jesus gave us the perfect example of not depending on our own understanding. Jesus was not a philosopher of sorts. As a matter of fact in Luke 12:14 Jesus refused to play judge.  In His humanity Jesus did not use His own reasoning or set Himself up as a judge as to what was right or wrong. So what did Jesus do? He did exactly what the serpent told Eve not to do, He went by God’s Word alone!

In Matthew 4 Jesus answers each of satan’s temptations with “The Scriptures say….” See Matthew 4:4, 7, 10. Jesus came to save the world, and satan told Jesus he would give it back to him if he would just worship him. Jesus could have reasoned that it made more sense to do that than to die on the cross. He could have used situation ethics and philosophized that saving the whole world would be worth worshiping satan, especially since He was going to die like a sinner on the cross anyways. But Jesus never used human reasoning, or His own brain as some say. He did not philosophize. He simply went by what the Scriptures say.

In Matthew 22 some religious leaders presented a story to get Jesus to reason with them about the resurrection. Jesus would not “reason” with them. He did not share His own ideas about how He thought it might work. All he did was reference the Scriptures. See Matthew 22:29.

In Luke 10:25 an expert in the law asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Instead of saying, “Well this is how I see it,” Or “my opinion is,

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”  Luke 10:26 NLT 

The serpent advised Eve to disregard what the Word of God said, and use her own brain to decide what was right and wrong. Jesus gave us an example of disregarding what we think is right and wrong, and to just go by Scripture, which is the Word of God.

If we follow the serpent’s plan we will just follow our personal whims and inclinations based on our preferences. When we follow Jesus’ plan we will follow our personal conscience and convictions based on Scripture.

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.