A New Commandment and Prayer for 2016


I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35 NLT

Dear Jesus, I know all about the Sabbath and clean and unclean foods. I totally understand or at least think I understand all the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation, and have taught several prophecy seminars. I know all about the mark of the beast and the anti-Christ. When it comes to love, I know how to be nice to people who have been nice to me and to be good to people who have been good to me. But this morning in your Word I saw something new. Oh, it’s always been there, and the Bible scholar that I think I am should have already seen it by now. I know I have heard it before, but this morning it struck me like a 2×4 right between the eyes. You said,

“Love each other. Just as I have loved you.”

Jesus, you said there was plenty of room in your Father’s house. If the innkeeper who didn’t have room for you were to show up at your house, I imagine you would have room for Him too, right? I just can’t see you telling him, “Sorry you left me out in the barn so you can’t come in. Ha ha serves you right!” I can see me doing that! But you aren’t anything like me.

I greet people who greet me. I do huge favors for those who do huge favors for me. I give to those who give to me, and I call that being a Christian, but you call that being a pagan! (See Matthew 5:43-48) In 2016 can you teach me love the way that you love?

Now that I ask that, I am sure the first time someone mistreats me in 2016 I will want to write them off or retaliate one way or another. But when that happens will you please promise to whisper in my ear, “Now, William! Now is your chance to be like Me!” 

I have given bread to those who have never given it back. Yet I still always have plenty of bread because you give me so much. I imagine if I love people in 2016 who never love me back, that I will still have plenty of love because you give me so much love too.

I can recite the fundamental beliefs. But I suppose pagans can do that too. I can preach and teach, but You have met your fair share of pagan teachers and preachers too, haven’t you? How can I show you that I am a genuine disciple of Yours? Ah, yes, by my love for others. By loving others not the way that pagans love but by the way that You love. That is what being a disciple is all about.

Jesus I am really going to need Your help in 2016! Because in 2016 I don’t want to lose weight or save up money or give up Nachos. With Your help I am going to do something totally supernatural and miraculous! I am going to love others the way that you do! I can’t do this without your supernatural presence in my Life. I can’t do this on my own. Who am I kidding? I can’t do this at all! Why don’t I just lay down my life and let You do it through me?

I am 50 years old. I was raised in the church and have been an elder ever since I was 22. Yet I have met 12-year olds who can love more purely than I can. I have seen pagans give the shirt off their backs while I clung to my coat. So I guess it’s time now for me to ask You to teach me what I should have asked a long time ago. In 2016, will You teach me to love, the way that You love?

Thank You, Jesus, for hearing my prayer.

Once Saved Always Saved?

Heron Channelside (1)

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A married couple in West Texas had some sad news as they welcomed me in to our weekly Bible study. We sat down at the table and they told me their neighbor’s son had just been shot and killed in another city in a shoot-out with police, after being caught in an armed robbery. They explained he had been living a life of drugs and crime his entire adult life, and it finally caught up with him and cost him his life. The wife then paused in the middle of her tragic saga and, foldingher hands beneath her face, she looked towards heaven, and said, “But thank God when he was twelve, he was baptized. So we know we will see him in heaven!”

I was at a loss for words. I said nothing that night, because it just didn’t seem like the appropriate time for a sermon. Those who teach “once saved,” do not realize how legalistic that is. They were baptized – the legal paper work was completed – and so they are in. However doesn’t Wednesdays section of this week’s lesson tell us something? If once saved always saved were true, then how did Lucifer lose heaven?

I have also heard people say “Once a child of God, always a child of God.” But my Bible tells me,

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.Romans 8:14 NKJV

That would lead me to believe those who aren’t led by the Spirit are not the sons of God. Didn’t Jesus tell some Pharisees in John 8 that their father was the devil? Granted, I did not know the young man’s heart. I am not the judge. God alone will separate the wheat from the tares and His children from those who are not. However, I need to examine my life to be sure I am indeed still a child of God today.

There is another comforting passage that has misconstrued by those teaching once saved always saved:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. John 10:27-28 NKJV

They say Jesus gives us eternal life, and we can never be snatched out of His hand. That is truly a wonderful promise! However, notice that He gives eternal life to those who are following Him. Furthermore, even though no one can snatch us out of His hand, we are still always free to go our own way. We were not created as robots, and we never will be robots. We will always have free choice. When we are sealed, we do not lose the power of choice, but rather, our choice seals our destiny. Those who suffer from the plagues in Revelation 16 are lost because they do not repent, and not because God is no longer forgiving. Free choice works both ways when the angel says,

He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. Revelation 22:11 NKJV

I was baptized when I was seven years old, but every morning I have a choice to make. I can follow Jesus or I can walk away. If I walk away it no longer matters that I was baptized when I was seven. As a matter of fact even though my baptism was way back in another century, if a ten-year-old was baptized yesterday and chooses to follow Jesus today, while I choose to do my own thing, then the ten-year-old becomes the more mature Christian between the two of us.

The story the couple shared with me that night was very sad. I do not want that story to be my story. I chose to follow Jesus was I was seven. I also choose to follow Him right now. I hope you choose Jesus too, each and every day!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Can the Bible be an Idol?


I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This is my very first Bible I was given, before I could even read. It has 20151223_104402

pictures, and I remember one Sabbath while the preacher was preaching, I was studying a particular picture of Jesus on the cross, and gave my heart to Jesus.

I was taught that my Bible was holy, and not to set it on the ground or put another book or anything else on top of it. You may say it became my “flag” of Christianity. We don’t let the flag touch the ground and we handle it very carefully. Yet a flag is only symbolic of a country. It is not the country. Likewise the actual materials my Bible are made of are not holy materials. The message is holy. The ink and paper are not.

One day, when I was about 6, I showed my Bible to a neighbor who was eating a hot dog outside. I let him handle my Bible not realizing he had mustard on his hands. I was horrified when he accidentally smeared mustard on my holy Bible! You can still see the mustard on the opening page. 20151223_104343 (1)I yelled at him and berated him for messing up my holy Bible! I still remember the sad look on his face when he told me he was sorry, and a little stunned at how upset I was.

But was I being a little Pharisaical? Was I dramatizing the impression the mustard made on the paper, instead of realizing the impression on the paper was meaningless? What was really important, was the impression the picture and story of Jesus made on my heart.  Unless the words make my heart holy, a pristine Bible is pretty useless.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Matthew 23:25-26 NLT

I think I missed the whole point of what Jesus was all about, when I hurt my friend’s feelings by yelling at him, because he accidentally smeared mustard on the “holy” papers of my Bible. Looking back I am quite sure now that Jesus cared more about my friend’s heart and feelings than He did the paper in Bible.

I realize now that I am just making an idol out of the Bible when I make sure nothing is stacked on top of it, but yet in real life I put “things” before Jesus. The words of the Bible have made it from the scrolls to books to electronic apps. Some people don’t think of electronic Bible apps as “real” Bibles. Yet I wonder if when Gutenberg’s press came out if people did not consider the “real” Bibles to still be on scrolls.

I think we are making idols out of scrolls, hard copy Bibles and apps, unless we realize and appreciate the Bible enough to impress it upon our hearts and do what it actually says. It doesn’t do any good for me to take the flag down out of the rain, and fold it carefully if I still turn around and betray my country. Likewise it doesn’t do any good for me to make sure no books are put stacked on top of my Bible if I am still putting things before Jesus in real life.

I don’t want to make a useless idol out of ink and paper. I want God’s Word to be alive and well in my heart.

You can study this week’s SS lesson here. 

When Spiritual Egypt is Safer Than Spiritual Israel


I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” Matthew 2:13-15 NLT
Joseph was warned in a dream to flee into Egypt, that in a heathen land he might find an asylum for the world’s Redeemer.-Ellen White, Confrontation, Page 2

Should “going back to Egypt” always be considered a bad thing? For a while Egypt was a safe haven for the Redeemer. Jesus could claimHeliopolis 1 as His home town as easily as He could Bethlehem or Nazareth. Besides Egypt being an asylum, do you think having a connection to Egypt, be it ever so brief, aided Jesus in being the Savior of the world?

Are there times that houses of worship that we might compare to “Egypt” could be an asylum to those who have been abused spiritually, physically or sexually in God’s church? Especially if the abusers were not dealt with properly? Is it ever possible that while we get frustrated because someone will not come out of “Egypt” that God could actually be keeping her in “Egypt” to keep her safe from someone in your church?

Several years ago I worked with a pastor who had previously ministered in the Southern United States. I was appalled, when he told me that a black family came to visit his church one Sabbath, and instead of welcoming them in, the greeter gave them directions to the black church across town! The pastor realized the greeters were not safe people in his church.

I have seen older people sit through a church service where the music was blaring so loud that it was causing physical pain to their ear drums. This goes beyond taste in worship music to physical abuse. Still the pastor told them if they did not like it they could just go somewhere else. Never mind the fact that the older people poured their heart and soul into building that church. Was the pastor being a bully? He claimed he wanted to make church a safe place for young people.

Shouldn’t our churches be safe places for blacks as well as whites? Shouldn’t churches be safe places for older people as well as younger people? Do you have to bully one group to make it safe for the other? I don’t think so. I am pretty sure Nicodemus as well as Zacchaeus found Jesus to be a safe person.

Is your church a safe place? Or would some people be more safe worshiping in “Egypt?”

The cold hard fact is, if for whatever reason, Israel was not always a safe place for our Redeemer, spiritual Israel may not always be a safe place either. Having worked 25 years in three different conferences, I have met people in every conference who were abused, sexually, physically and spiritually by a church leader, and the church refused to deal with it. Just moving the abuser to another church is not dealing with it! Should an abuse victim be guilted into staying in an abusive church just because it teaches truth?

Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was not the first Joseph to find asylum in Egypt. A Joseph before him was mistreated and sold into Egypt. I have often wondered, though, if Joseph enjoyed the separation as much as his brothers did! At the end of the story Joseph’s brothers, who were the ancestors of God’s remnant people, by the way, finally repented and became safe people for Joseph to be around. Until then, God kept Joseph safe in Egypt until His remnant became a safe place for Joseph to be, just like God kept Joseph, Mary and Jesus safe in Egypt until Israel became a safe place.

Most all of our Adventist churches are safe. We protect families from domestic abuse and create safe places to grow spiritually without judgment and condemnation. Many a young person has left the church, and been wounded by the world, and then loved back into the church, where they found healing and unconditional love. But let’s be honest. This is not the case all the time. So let’s not be judgmental of someone who may find healing in Egypt, just like Joseph did when his family, the ancestors of the last remnant, was not a safe place for him to be, or like the latter Joseph did, when Israel, for whatever reason, was not a safe place for his family.

  1. S.D.A. Bible commentary, Vol. 5 Page 291 suggests this is where Jesus’ family stayed in Egypt.        You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Where Did God Say He Wanted the Law Posted?

Fort Desoto Love Letters 030

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NLT

As humans we tend to gravitate towards legalism. We feel more holy about ourselves by posting memes on Facebook about how the ten commandments should be exhibited at court house squares and schools. Never mind the fact that God never told anyone to post them on courthouses or schools. He wanted it to be much closer to home than that.

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT

Some took the “bind them on their foreheads” literal and sewed them into their clothing. What could be wrong with that? Nothing, unless by doing it outwardly they were missing the inner application. Just like some have taken Jesus literally when He said to cut off the body part that causes you to sin. I think He simply meant to remove the temptation. What really needs to be changed is the heart. Cutting off body parts won’t do any good unless the heart is changed. Likewise posting things on our clothing and doors wont do any good unless the heart is changed.

I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart. Ezekiel 11:19 NLT

Now don’t go doing surgery on yourself! Let God perform this surgery. Doing it ourselves is very legalistic and futile. David realized how futile his own works and efforts were when he asked God

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Psalms 51:10 NLT

David’s legalistic attempts to cover his sin and make things righ led to one mistake after another-even murder! David finally understood He could not fix the problems himself legalistically, and handed the scalpel over to God and asked Him to perform the surgery.

It is quite legalistic to think that literally cutting off body parts and posting the law on courthouse walls will make us pure inside. So, if you are campaigning to have the ten commandments posted on courthouse walls and school halls, may I ask you, are these same laws already written on your heart? After all, while God never spoke of writing the law on schoolyards and courthouse lawns, He did speak of writing them on your heart.

I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts.Jeremiah 31:33 NLT

When God does this, we won’t need to campaign for the right to post the laws in our schools and courthouses. Whatever building we enter the law will be there, right inside of us. Like Paul said,

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. 2 Corinthians 3:2 NLT

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.