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.

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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 Scripture to use Humor and Figure of Speech

When I recorded this today I did not realize we were already at the end of the Sabbath School quarter. This year is flying by!

Obedience is the Only Acceptable Expression of Respect

I am writing tonight from my beautiful hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23 NLT

When I tell one of my students at school to clean the dry erase board he does not come up to me several minutes later saying, “I memorized what you told me to do.” Memorizing is not the goal. Obedience is the goal. This is why I find this week’s Sabbath School lesson so crucial as it stresses the importance of not only understanding or even memorizing the Bible but actually doing what it says. I know people who show great respect for the Bible by not placing anything on top of it or by not setting it on the ground, treating it much the way we do our nation’s flag. This is commendable, but I believe and I’m sure you do too, that the greatest way to show respect for God’s Word is to do what it says. Otherwise not stacking things on top of the Bible or not letting it touch the ground is meaningless if we are not doing what it says. After all what traitor could stand before a judge and say, “Sure I traded military secrets to the enemy but I never let the flag touch the ground.” Treating the flag with respect is meaningless if we are betraying the nation it represents.

Today when writing even a pronoun for God like “He” and “Him” we capitalize the pronouns referring to God out of respect. However you may have already noticed that in the Bible the pronouns for God are not capitalized. What gives? Did the Bible translators have no respect for God and His holiness? No, they had great respect for God, but they realized that the best way to show respect for God is to do what He says, and not just simply write His name with capital letters. After all, writing pronouns referring to God with capital letters is quite hallow if we are not exhibiting the greatest form of respect which is obedience. 

After all, nowhere in Scripture does it tell us not stack anything on top of the Bible or make sure we write pronouns referring to God with capital letters. Nowhere in Scripture are we told the importance of merely memorizing Scripture if we are not prepared to actually  do what it says. In Luke 10 a lawyer engages Jesus in a theological discussion regarding the law and salvation. Jesus commends the lawyer for his theory on theology. But even as Jesus commends his theory as being theologically correct He also lets him know more than head knowledge and theory is required. 

Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” Luke 10:28 NLT 

Jesus was not satisfied with theological head knowledge. Jesus wanted the lawyer to do what the law says. Jesus then illustrates His point with the story of the good Samaritan, who practiced loving his neighbor. The Samaritan was doing in the story what the lawyer was only talking about. At the end of the story Jesus reiterates the importance of doing what the law says instead of just studying and memorizing the law. 

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:37 NLT 

A few years ago I was a part of a discussion where someone was saying that we don’t need to obey the health and temperance principles in the Bible. We only need to call upon the name of the Lord and we will be saved. He referenced Romans 10:13. I agreed that Romans 10:13 does indeed say those who call upon the Name of the Lord will be saved, but we can’t call Jesus “Lord” if we are not obeying Him. Matthew 7:21-23 makes it clear that we are calling on the name of the Lord in vain if we are not obeying His laws. After all obedience is the result of salvation. 

 Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. Philippians 2:12 NLT 

When Jesus was at the wedding party with His mother, and they ran out of wine, His mother told the servants something extremely simple but equally  profound.

“Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:5 NLT 

Many years ago I was the guest speaker at a church where a family had just lost a child. The pastor explained to me that they would take up an offering for the family to help with funeral expenses and assured me they would still take up the customary offering to cover my expenses traveling to their church. When the plea was made for the family’s offering someone testified how poor the family was. I perceived the Holy Spirit nudging me to tell the pastor sitting on the platform with me to collect all of the money for the family  and not to take up an offering for me. I sat there a few moments considering what I felt the Holy Spirit telling me. Did I have the money to pay for this trip myself? Then I perceived the Holy Spirit speaking to my conscience again, “What is there to think about or consider? I just told you what to do!” I then leaned over and whispered in the pastor’s ear to forget about my offering and give it all to the family. I never missed the money I would have received that day. More importantly I did what I knew God was telling me to do. 

It was not enough for me to know what God was telling me to do. It was not enough for me to memorize what God was telling me to do. The minimum God was requiring of me was to actually do what He was telling me to do. So it is with studying God’s Word. It is not enough to study. It is not enough to understand. It is not enough to memorize. We must obey the Word of God. 

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. 

Is Truth a Popularity Contest?

And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. Revelation 13:8 NLT

Sadly many put their confidence in popular opinion, while the Bible tells us the vast majority of the world will worship the beast.

Interestingly while Jesus claimed to be God, the majority accused Him of blasphemy and had  Him crucified for making such a claim. Later the beast claims to be God, but, instead of accusing him of blasphemy, the majority worships him. Truth is clearly not a popularity contest. 

Occasionally, at church or the Adventist school where I teach Bible and evangelism, someone will ask me, “What do we believe about such and such?” My response has always been, “I don’t know what you believe, but here is what I and many Seventh-day Adventists believe,” and I show them in the Bible what I believe and why. I am not going to tell someone what they believe. That is not teaching. That’s brainwashing.  Besides truth is not truth just because everyone in the Adventist church believes it. Truth is not a popularity contest in the church or the world. Truth is truth only if the Bible supports it. 

During the Dark Ages, when people did not have access to the Bible, people trusted their priests to tell them what they believed, and because of that there was a lot of brainwashing going on.

Even before the Dark Ages, priests abused their authority, and tried to brainwash people into believing whatever they believed. This happened in Jesus’ day when those in “authority” were trying to capture Jesus.

When the Temple guards returned without having arrested Jesus, the leading priests and Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

“We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

“Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? John 7:45-48 NLT

The guards experienced and heard the Word of God speaking to them and believed. Since the Pharisees did not want to believe, they mocked at this. In John 7 the Pharisees misconstrued Scripture to try and prove their point, but amazingly, instead of hanging their hat on Scripture, they hung it on the fact that none of the rulers or leaders believed. Is truth a popularity contest? If everyone  else believes something is it right, and if no one else believes it, then is it wrong? Is that how it works? 

The number of people who believe something simply because everyone else believes it is staggering. Take the state of the dead for example. Years ago I attended the funeral of a dear Adventist saint. Her family believed in the immortality of the soul and asked the Adventist preacher doing her funeral to “put her in heaven now.” The pastor replied that he could not do that since it simply is not true. However he told them he believed in liberty of conscience and freedom of speech so if one of them wanted to stand up and say she was in heaven, they could. So one of the family members stood up and talked about how her grandmother was now in heaven. I remember she kept saying “we cling to this!” Very emphatically, yet she gave no Scriptural reference other than that is what everyone believes. So I am not sure exactly what it was she was clinging to other than popular belief. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul tells us to “comfort each other with these words” about the resurrection. Sadly instead of comforting each other with the words Paul told us to use to comfort each other, many people use phrases about going straight to heaven when you die that are nowhere in the Bible and Paul nor anyone else ever suggested that we use. Sadly those phrases have been used so often that people believe it  because they have heard it so many times. 

When it comes to Sabbath keeping, I have heard so many people say that Sunday must be the true day because the whole world can’t be wrong. They forget that at the time of the flood only 8 people were right! Truth is not a popularity contest. 

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. Acts 17:11 NLT

Like the temple guards, the Bereans were interested in new ideas as long as they were found in Scripture. They didn’t believe something because Paul and Silas believed it or because a ruler did. On their own they searched the Scriptures daily to find truth.

I have heard Seventh-day Adventists telling their Baptist and Methodist friends to search the Bible for themselves because their pastors could be wrong. I have watched some of the same Seventh-day Adventists listening to their own favorite Adventist preachers, without bothering to search the Scriptures, because, after all, their pastor is Adventist, so he is automatically right, right? Wrong! We all make mistakes, as we all continue to learn and grow.

Let’s not be like the foolish Pharisees in John 7, who hung their hats on how many people believed or did not believe something. Truth is not a popularity contest. Let’s search the Scriptures ourselves to find truth. 

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