Discipling or Cloning?

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa, Oklahoma.

While living in Texas I was taking a Texas history class at a community college. In writing a paper for class, I mentioned a political figure who was assassinated. I contrasted the pomp and circumstance of his funeral with the plain funeral of the man who killed him and was killed shortly after. I pointed out in my paper that, humanly speaking, the political figure was not any more of a saint than the man who killed him, yet he received greater honor. I then feared that my opinion might cost me a grade. Yet when I got my paper back, the professor had circled where I had written my opinion, and he wrote “Good point!” I got an “A”.

Later I told my friends that maybe the professor was not a big fan of the political figure I referred to. He agreed that that was probably why I got the good grade. Another friend responded, “Your professor may or may not have agreed with your statement. He did not give you an A because he agreed with your thinking. He was just glad to see you thinking!” In other words, my history professor was not trying to clone himself. He was trying to get people to read, study and think for themselves.

In evangelism it is very easy to try to clone people instead of making disciples for Jesus. Sometimes, while telling people to go by the Bible and the Bible only, we are blinded by our own traditions and can’t see to separate our traditions from plain Bible teaching. We end up teaching our view of what the Bible says instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible to others.

2 Timothy 3:16 reads,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

A while back I was working as a Bible worker in a church out in West Texas. A young man from a nearby college would visit our church and attend prayer meetings. We were glad to have him! He would come wearing a t-shirt and shorts. One night after prayer meeting an elder came up to me and said, “You need to talk to that boy and tell him we don’t dress like that for church.” There was only one problem. I couldn’t find anywhere in the Bible where it said you can’t come to church dressed like that. Sure there is counsel that we should wear our best and so forth, but who was I to decide what this young man’s “best” was?

Once a lawyer asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Jesus, while being God, set us an example on how to answer such theological questions. Jesus did not give His personal opinion or philosophy. He directed the man to the Scriptures.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” Luke 10:25-26 NKJV

Notice Jesus pointed the man to the law in the Scriptures and then asked him how he understood it, instead of telling him how to understand it. Jesus was allowing both the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to do their work. We mustn’t think that people have to think just like we do in order to be led by the Spirit.

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ.-Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 257.

Did you catch that? They were all led by the Holy Spirit even though they were not thinking exactly like each other.

I have met too many Christians who believe that if you are led by the Spirit that you will think exactly like them, because, of course, they are led by the Spirit. I have heard people say, the Holy Spirit will lead everyone to become vegan because that is what the Holy Spirit led me to become, and so if they are led by the same Spirit they will do the same. But consider this, Jesus was led by the Spirit and never became vegan! He did, however, practice a Bible principle of eating and drinking only to glorify God. See 1 Corinthians 10:31. Jesus followed the Bible principle of eating the best foods available, which were also biblically clean, in His time and place. We are to do the same. In some places that may mean eating vegan. In other places it may not.

We need to be careful not to confuse our personal preferences with biblical truth. While the Bible teaches religious liberty, many think that means they can just follow their personal whims and tastes, instead of real personal convictions of Bible truth. This is why Ellen white wrote,

Ministers who labor in towns and cities to present the truth should not feel content, nor that their work is ended, until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the effect of its sanctifying power and are truly converted to God. God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors than to have sixty make a nominal profession and yet not be thoroughly converted. These ministers should devote less time to preaching sermons and reserve a portion of their strength to visit and pray with those who are interested, giving them godly instruction, to the end that they may “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  –Testimonies to the Church  Vol. 4, p. 317. 

Consider this,

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. John 16:13 NKJV

 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21 NKJV

Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given.-Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 93.

Instead of cloning people to think and act exactly like us, shouldn’t we rather train them to study the Bible and rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth? When they study the Bible, the same Holy Spirit that moved the writers to write those words thousands of years ago is right there with them to help them understand those words today.

We need to remember that we all are human, and we all have human philosophies and traditions, no matter how biblically sound we think we are. Our job is not to clone people to be exactly like us, but to point them to the Perfect Example which is Jesus. This example is found in the Scriptures.

Ellen White, one of the primary founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spoke these as her last words to the church body, as she held the Bible extended on her hands:

“I commend unto you this Book.” – W. A. Spicer, Certainties of the Advent Movement, p. 202.

Our church founder’s job was not to do our thinking for us, just as my professor’s job was not to do my thinking for me.

Let’s exalt the Scriptures as our church founders did and, even more importantly, as Jesus did. As we study this quarter’s lesson together, let’s ask God to show us the difference between just cloning people to be like us, and making disciples for Jesus.

Meaningful Relationships or Time Wasting

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In her post, Life-Changing or Time Wasting, Lillianne Lopez cites that only 31% of Americans believe the Bible is inspired. Why do you think that is? I received a clue while I enjoyed reading Lillianne’s post.

A lady friend of mine instant-messaged me, saying she was frustrated with the singles websites, because the men contacting her were only after one thing – sex. She was disappointed she could not find anyone interested in a genuine relationship. I am sure they are out there. God has wonderful people all over the world. Still the question crossed my mind, is that why so many people don’t accept the Bible? Because, like the men contacting my lady friend, 69% of Americans are just looking for ways to gratify themselves instead of giving what it takes to make a meaningful relationship?The Bible does not do much for the pleasure seeker.

Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 NLT

The Bible does not do much for human pride.

 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. Romans 7:18 NLT

The Bible does not do much for those wanting to be in the elite social circles.

You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.Matthew 24:9 NLT

Hence, the temptation – since the Bible does not tickle our fancy we cast it aside as uninspired and navigate towards those who flatter our pride and cater to our whims. We flatter those who flatter us, calling them inspired and profound, while they flatter us by assuring us we are on the right track, or as Jesus puts it, the blind leading the blind. Many mega and not so mega churches, have dropped teachings about self-denial and commandment keeping from their teachings, because they learned they are just not good marketing tools. Some call this being “progressive,” while their strategy is really nothing new. It was used by the apostate church way back in the Dark Ages.

Little by little, at first in stealth and silence, and then more openly as it increased in strength and gained control of the minds of men, “the mystery of iniquity” carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work. Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity was restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions which the church endured under paganism. But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles for the pomp and pride of pagan priests and rulers; and in place of the requirements of God, she substituted human theories and traditions. 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, Page 49

What a clever marketing scheme! It really made the church grow by leaps and bounds. By worldly standards it was brilliant. Yet we cannot gauge the success of the church or our personal lives by worldly standards. I don’t think I told you earlier, that it was Christian websites and – may I dare say it – Adventist Singles websites my friend was visiting, while everyone was trying to get with her for their own sexual gratification, instead of a meaningful relationship with her.

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

See friends, God is a lot like my lady friend. He is looking for meaningful relationships, instead of a multitude of people seeking their own gratification. While I am happy being single, I think I could also be happy married. Meanwhile, I have my family, friends, church and people in all my study groups, to keep me so busy I don’t have time to be lonely. (I didn’t even tell anybody that last Thursday, on my day off, I actually sneaked down to the Florida Everglades for some alone time!) Meanwhile I meet single people who are lonely. They are not seeking sexual gratification. They are seeking meaningful relationships. One told me, “I know they say marriage takes a 50-50 effort on both sides to make it work, but I would be willing to give 90 and only take 10 if I could just share my life with someone.” My heart broke with sympathy when I heard that. I knew they were telling the truth.

Friends, if you are looking for self-gratification I can see why you would toss the Bible aside. Yet if you are looking for a meaningful relationship, let me share with you Someone who has already given, not 90% but 100%.

Since he [The Father] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Romans 8:23 NLT

Are you still hesitant because of the verses I shared with you earlier?

But what do we give up, when we give all? A sin-polluted heart, for Jesus to purify, to cleanse by His own blood, and to save by His matchless love. And yet men think it hard to give up all! I am ashamed to hear it spoken of, ashamed to write it.

God does not require us to give up anything that it is for our best interest to retain. In all that He does, He has the well-being of His children in view. Would that all who have not chosen Christ might realize that He has something vastly better to offer them than they are seeking for themselves. Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God. No real joy can be found in the path forbidden by Him who knows what is best and who plans for the good of His creatures. The path of transgression is the path of misery and destruction.  -Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 46

To all those who are looking for something beyond superficial self-gratifying relationships offered by the world, and would like a more meaningful and deeper relationship, may I introduce to you Someone Who is willing to give 100% to have a real relationship with you? May I introduce to you a God who loves you more than life itself? He has written a very eloquent and inspired love letter for you called the Bible. If you appreciate real love instead of superficial self-gratification, I know you will agree it is inspired.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Scripture, Not Circumstances Defines Reality

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When studying the prophecies of the Scriptures, many try to let worldly circumstances, and their perception of reality interpret God’s Word.

Problem is, when we go by worldly circumstance, reality becomes nothing more than perception. For example, Topps was the only baseball card company, when I began collecting cards when I was 11. Soon after that, Donrus and Fleer joined the baseball card making industry. In order to compete with the unwelcomed newbies in the market, Topps started printing on their baseball card packages, “The Real Ones!” Even at age 11, I knew Topp’s claim to be the only real baseball card company was nothing more than a mind game.  Regardless of the company, they were all pictures on cardboard. How could one be more real than the other? Regardless if you were Topps, Donrus, Fleer or a collector, what was “real” in this situation was only a matter of one’s own perception.  So today, many people play mind games, using worldly positions and titles to define who they are.  Jesus never did this. He let the  Scriptures, the Word of God define Who He was.

For example, right after Jesus’ baptism, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He fasted for 40 days. 40 days of no food took its toll of the humanity of Jesus. He does not exactly look like, nor probably feel like the Son of God. According to Desire of Ages, page 119, Satan takes advantage of this opportunity. Satan appears to Jesus, not with a red cape and a pitchfork, but as an angel of light. He reminds Jesus that one of the greatest angels in heaven has been banished from heaven. Satan takes advantage of circumstances, and his appearance as an angel of light, compared to Jesus’ appearance after 40 days with no food, and makes an insinuation, that Jesus sure looks more like a God-forsaken angel rather than the Son of God.  Satan tempts Jesus to prove that He is indeed the Son of God by turning stones into bread.

Jesus did not look to His circumstances or appearance. He had nothing to prove to Satan. Jesus answered the challenge by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. “ Matthew 4:4 Jesus had heard the Word of God, right after His baptism, say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17 Jesus would not go by circumstances to prove who He was. He did not need bread or any sign to prove who He was. He went by God’s Word and God’s Word alone, which said He was the Son of God.  After a plain “Thus Saith the Lord,” Jesus did not need a sign.

Three and a half years later, after the resurrection, Jesus is walking along the road to Emmaus. He meets two men who are downcast. Not recognizing Him, the men explain that they are sad, because Jesus had been crucified, and they had hoped He would be the Messiah. Again, Jesus does not go by appearances or circumstances. Jesus does not show them His nail scared hands and say, “Look, it’s me! I was crucified and now I am risen. I am the Messiah.”  Instead, Jesus,  “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27 Jesus did not want them to accept Him based on His appearance. He intentionally kept them from recognizing Him physically, because He did not want them to base their belief on what they saw or felt, or upon any physical circumstances. He wanted them to base their faith on the Word of God alone.

Feelings, appearance and earthly circumstances do not define who we are either. Just as God’s Word defined who Jesus was, God’s Word also defines who we are.  “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” 1 John 3:1 Just because two men walking down the road did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God did not mean that He was not. Just because Satan pretended not to recognize Him did not change the reality of the situation. God’s Word says we are the children of God. Don’t let Satan or the world, circumstance or appearances tell you any different. Let God’s Word define your reality.

You can study this week’s SS lesson here.

Worship: Conformity, Compromise and Crisis in Worship

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

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

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

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

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

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