Note – Ukraine is one of more than a dozen independent countries that have come out of the former Soviet Union. About the size of Texas, Ukraine has a population of 52 million as compared to 15 million in Texas. In August 1993 I was asked to go to the Ukraine to conduct an evangelistic crusade in the city of Chernovtsy. Two and a half weeks before I was to leave I received a telephone call from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists asking if I could drop everything and leave immediately to assist for two weeks in the city of Mykolayiv before going on to Chernovtsy. The church of 150 members in Mykolayiv had put 700 posters throughout the city advertising an evangelistic crusade. In addition they had hand delivered thirty thousand brochures. One of the members had given one year’s salary to help pay the cost. At the last minute the evangelist’s wife came down with cancer and he was unable to go. Four days later I was on the plane, headed for Ukraine!
We all experience them, and God can help us in incredible ways.
I WAS ON A WALK WITH LARRY, one of the dedicated church members in my new district.
“The church nominating committee would like to recommend that you serve as an elder during the coming year,” I said. “But they tell me that you have been asked every year for several years and always turn it down. Do you want to talk about it?”
He hesitated, then he spoke. “I think I can trust you, so I’ll tell you why. Everybody sees me as this wonderful person—except my family. They know what I’m really like, that I have a terrible temper. And if I were an elder, they would know I was a hypocrite. So I just say no. I’ve tried everything to get rid of my temper, but I can’t. Fifteen years ago, while in college, I was studying to be a pastor but changed my career because of my temper.”
I could feel Larry’s pain as he shared what had crippled his spiritual life for years. It was time to give him hope and a plan that would allow Jesus to transform him. “I want to give you an assignment that I believe will change you,” I said.
“I’ve tried everything.”
“Will you try one more thing?”
“Maybe. What is it?”
“You have a Bible?”
“You know how to find the book of Ephesians in the Bible?”
“Tonight, carve out time to be alone, open the Bible to Ephesians, and say this to God: ‘Please show me a verse that will really speak to my heart.’ Then start reading. Ask God to help you stay focused. I can’t tell you how long you will read, but God will show you a verse that will speak to you—maybe softly or maybe in a loud, powerful way. When you find that verse, say, ‘Thank You, Lord,’ and read it aloud several times. The verse will burn itself into your mind as you see it, say it, and hear it. Then write it down, along with a short prayer to God on why that verse really spoke to you. Tomorrow, start with the next verse and go through the same steps. We’ll get together a week from today, and I’ll ask you to share some of those verses and prayers with me. OK?”
“I’ll try it. I’ve never studied the Bible that way before.”
“Great! I believe God will speak to you in new ways.”
During the next few days, I asked God to speak to Larry through the Bible, to rewire Larry’s mind to reflect God’s ways of thinking and responding, and to honor Larry’s efforts to listen to His Word and build a new kind of relationship with Him.
At the end of the week, we got together. “So how did it go?” I asked.
“It was incredible.” Larry excitedly began sharing things from Ephesians that had spoken to his heart and what he had written back to God. He seemed like a new man. He was experiencing a spiritual breakthrough. He wanted to meet each week for several more weeks just to be sure he stayed on track. And a couple of
months later, he accepted the invitation of the church to serve as an elder. Soon he was preaching occasionally at a small church nearby. He told me his first sermon was from Ephesians 1.
AMAZING CHANGE When God’s Word is allowed to carefully do its work, we should expect to see lives changed. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).
Here are the parts of the Bible I recommend when people are experiencing intense emotions:
• Anger: Ephesians • Fear: 1 John • Lust: Matthew 5-7 • Discouragement: Philippians
But for true change to take place, we must allow God’s Word to have priority in our lives over any other media (movies, TV, YouTube, other books, and so on). Treating God with reverence means we also treat His Word, the Bible, with reverence.
In the Bible the word fear is sometimes used instead of reverence, which means the Bible describes two kinds of fear. Good fear comes from recognizing how powerful, wonderful, and majestic God is. It results in bowing before Him in reverence and worship. This is what it means when we hear the call to “fear God and give glory to Him” (Revelation 14:7). On the other hand, there is another kind of fear—a gut-wrenching terror that comes to people who hold on to a twisted idea of God that is completely unlike His character, causing them ultimately to back away from Him and into Satan’s arms.
When we take time each day to seek Jesus in Bible study and prayer, we begin to see God and ourselves differently. We see that He is far better than we ever imagined and that we are far needier than we ever realized. We begin to have a new identity in Jesus. We realize that, in Jesus, we are blessed, holy, blameless, adopted, accepted, redeemed, forgiven, and empowered. Each day Jesus gives us the good fear—a reverence for the One who made us—and takes away the bad fear that comes from a distorted picture of God’s character.
This daily communion with Jesus motivates us to give glory to God in all our decisions, including what we watch, listen to, say, eat, drink, and think. It takes away our fear of people who are threatening and intimidating. It helps us to shun evil, tell the truth, and hate covetousness. It gives us a sense of God’s presence and love throughout the day. It allows God to write His law and character in our hearts and minds. It gives us a clearer picture of God’s perfect, undying love for us. It allows Him to transform us! Will you make time this week to take God seriously enough to reach decisions that will honor Him? Will you make time to carefully listen to His Word, the Bible, each day in order to build that forever friendship with Him?
FURTHER STUDY ON “FEARING” GOD
• What does it really mean to fear God? Job 1:1 • When we fear (or reverence) God, will our fear of people who are intimidating be taken away? Exodus 1:17 • What two additional character qualities are identified with fearing God? Exodus 18:21 • What will we obey as a result of showing reverence to God?Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14 • Can we reverence and glorify God by the way we treat our bodies? 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 • When we reverence the Lord, what other relationships will improve? Colossians 3:17-21 • When people see Jesus change us, will it help them to glorify God? Luke 18:40-43
“Melinda, how has God brought you to this place in life?”
Sabbath morning during the worship service we always had a Celebrating Changed Lives feature. Today I was interviewing those who were joining the church that month through baptism, profession of faith and transfer.
“I had a really tough life growing up and got onto drugs early. Then because I needed money for drugs I became a prostitute. That’s when I became really hard-hearted.” Melinda’s two teen-aged daughters standing beside her started nodding their heads. “But there was this lady who was always so nice to me when I was mean to her and I couldn’t figure out why. She kept inviting me to a women’s Bible study group and told me some of the women had had a really tough life, too. When I finally came with her I knew I had found a spiritual home where I could grow and become like Jesus. Everything is changing in our home. Our words. Our music. Our pictures. What we watch.”
“Praise the Lord!” I said as I moved to the oldest daughter. “How has God brought you to this place in life?”
“It’s pretty much like Mom said. It’s getting better and better now. I like it.” Her younger sister agreed.
“And all three of you are telling the world today that you belong to Jesus and are uniting with His final movement! We are not perfect people but we are all in to let the world know that Jesus loves them, that He’s coming again soon, that He has a good plan for their lives, and that it’s time to take Him seriously. Welcome to the family!”
Not all of our Celebrating Changed Lives interviews on Sabbath morning are this dramatic. But all of them show how God is at work changing our lives. Some testimonies have featured victories in Sabbath work issues, relationships healed, decisions for baptism, new ministry or group leaders, a story from someone who handed out a GLOW tract, or those returning from a mission trip or spiritual retreat. Other times we have interviewed long time members about a turning point in their lives from years before, or how they first decided to return tithe.
If you want an evangelistic culture in church, one of the simplest and least expensive (free) ways to do it is to add brief (1-3 minutes) interviews during the worship service.
“And they [believers] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb [Jesus] and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Revelation 12:11.
Jacob: Baptismal Celebration Sabbaths
“Would it be ok if I said a prayer for you right now?” I almost surprised myself with my own question to Verna, the older lady cutting my hair. The conversation had wandered through the usual small talk and gradually drifted deeper and toward more spiritual things. She shared with me that she was going through a tough time and, seeing the tears forming in her eyes, I felt compelled to ask if I could pray for her, as I sat in the barber’s chair of that budget hair salon. “Yes!” She blurted out. After praying, exchanging contact info, and going our separate ways, months passed.
How do we strengthen and mobilize the church in ministry and mission? How to we win souls and develop soul winners? How do we make disciples who make disciples?
This spring It Is Written media ministry has assembled a team of seasoned soul winners to help every willing person add tools to their toolbox and inspiration to their hearts! John Bradshaw, Erik Flickinger, Alan Parker, Yves Monnier, Douglas Na’a to name a few. Every Sunday evening over 600 people have been tuning in live for the free webinar training, and many more have later watched the recorded presentations from this website.
On Sunday April 18 I was invited to talk about The Church’s Role in Discipleship.
Here are the five key points I covered with illustrations on how to carry them out.
1. Without a clear discipleship (mentoring) network we will lose lots of people. Exodus 18:17-18.
2. Make Disciples like Jesus did, not like the Rabbis did. Mark 3:14-15.
3. It only takes 3 people to start a group. Start as many as possible. Luke 10:1-3.
“Good morning Pastor Dan. I have a question. So recently I have been feeling convicted on a lot of things but mostly that my significant other and I should get married…mostly because living together ….with two kids is not only a so against God, but a bad example for my kids. NOW….with that said…although I am not a perfect parent nor person, I am, however DOING THE BEST I CAN. My kids are well loved, taken care of etc, but I can’t help but keep thinking that God wants better for me.
I’m feeling that we should run and get married right away….what’s stopping us you ask? The kids are on Medicaid and our household receives govt benefits, food stamps etc…if we were to get married, we would lose all of that. I am not working right now because I am home with the baby, we are down to one income and my significant other says he doesn’t want to get married out of “fear”.
I’m confused because I want to do the right thing, I want to be an example to my kids, but I’m scared. Scared that we will go homeless, food less, etc…I also want to respect my significant others feelings about getting married not out of fear, but when we both feel ready, but I DO FEEL READY.
I’m asking for direction and pointers maybe to help me make the right decision. Do you have any wise counsel or bible verses for me. Please. Thank you!”
St. Patrick was not Irish or Catholic. He was a British, Bible-believing Sabbath-keeping Church Planter in Ireland in the 5th Century! Here’s more about the real St. Patrick rather than the legends and fairy tales…
(An abbreviated form of this article is the Evangelism & Sabbath School Report to the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Mid-term Constituency in May 2021.)
Jesus is transforming people’s lives all over Texas, but how do you baptize them during a pandemic?
Verna was cutting a young man’s hair in the salon where she worked when they started talking about Jesus and the Bible. At the end of the conversation the young man, Pastor Jacob Serns, asked if she would like Bible studies and she agreed. As she learned Bible truths she put them into practice. Then she went through a testing time when her boss fired her for not working on the Sabbath any more. But she was determined to follow Jesus in every part of her life, including keeping His Sabbath holy. In August 2020, Pastor Jacob baptized her in the back of a pick up truck because there was no baptistry in the church the newly planted Benbrook Seventh-day Adventist church was renting.
The Lerma family had been receiving Bible studies from Pastor Marlon Wallace ever since they attended a public evangelistic meeting in Brownsville. They were now ready for baptism but what could they do with church buildings closed? They headed out to the Gulf of Mexico where the four of them were baptized in September 2020. Melissa, the mom, is now preparing to be one of the 100+ Volunteer Evangelists who will have their own evangelist meetings this spring.
I once saw a cartoon. In the first frame a pastor was visiting with someone in their home but thinking “I really should be working on my sermon.” In the second frame the same pastor was working on his sermon and thinking “I really should be out visiting.”
Is it possible to balance both? Or will visitation always take a back seat to preaching because there isn’t a weekly deadline? (See Inspired Insights below.)
Here are three keys that have helped me in pastoral visitation. Feel free to use or adapt them to your situation.
Don’t do it alone.
I was going to a new district and wanted to get into as many homes as possible. So I blocked off nineteen evenings for visitation in my first two months. I sent the dates to the first elder Rich Cavaness and asked him to work with the other elders to set up a schedule where they would go visiting with me. I would meet the designated elder at the church building at 6:30pm and have them back by 9pm. They could pick who we visited that evening or if they didn’t have anyone I would pick some families from the church directory. When female elders were involved we always worked in a team of three so there would never be a question of healthy relationship boundaries within the church. As we made our visits to families of members and interests my elders and I were bonding because of our on-the-job ministry together. By the end of the two months I knew all of my elders well and many of our members and interests.
One evening while visiting with elders Trudy Dant and Joni Steinberg we stopped by a care home for the elderly owned by some church members. When it was time to go I invited the family to join us for prayer along with several residents in the room.
Joni looked at one of the residents and all of a sudden almost shouted “Is that you Ruth?”
The elderly lady looked up quizzically. “My name is Ruth. Do you know me?”
“Twenty years ago did you live in that apartment complex downtown?” Joni described the apartment complex.
“Yes I did.”
“Ruth, you were the cookie lady!” Ruth smiled and nodded. “You often made cookies for those of us who lived there and you were always so kind. Back then I was far, far from God but you were always so sweet.”
The care home owners said “Ruth is one of our church members but she doesn’t get out much any more.”
I smiled at Ruth and said “All those years ago God worked through your kindness and the kindness of others so that Joni surrendered her life to Jesus and united with His final movement. She is now one of the elders in your church family.”
What an amazing providential reunion! But it never would have happened if I had been making the visits alone.
2. Make it high priority your first 90 days in a district.
It was my first Sabbath in a new district. After potluck I met with the Elders to talk about our mission of reaching the 1.5 million people in the metro area where God had placed us. I told them my first priority was to strengthen the connections within the church family and between each family and the Lord. I told them I would be sending a letter to every household on our church records letting them know they would be contacted by a church leader within the next 90 days to arrange for a simple survey if possible. The letter would state that if they did not hear from a church leader within 90 days they could call the church office and I as pastor would take them out to eat within ten days.
Favorite Quotation: “The persecutions visited for many centuries upon this God-fearing people [the Waldenses] were endured by them with a patience and constancy that honored their Redeemer. Notwithstanding the crusades against them, and the inhuman butchery to which they were subjected, they continued to send out their missionaries to scatter the precious truth. They were hunted to death; yet their blood watered the seed sown, and it failed not of yielding fruit. Thus the Waldenses witnessed for God centuries before the birth of Luther. Scattered over many lands, they planted the seeds of the Reformation that began in the time of Wycliffe, grew broad and deep in the days of Luther, and is to be carried forward to the close of time by those who also are willing to suffer all things for “the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 1:9.” P. 78.
Lessons I’ve Learned:
Among the Waldenses of the early Dark Ages, the Bible was the final authority in all of life, including worship, lifestyle, mission and the training of youth. It was studied, copied, and applied to the life even if it meant persecution and death.
Young people were taught to recognize God in nature, to endure hardship, to think for themselves, to submit to their parents’ authority and to copy and memorize large portions of the Bible.
In addition to the regular training every Waldensian youth received, each future pastor learned a trade to support himself. He spent three years in evangelistic mission service with an older, more experienced worker to teach him a spirit of self-denial and sacrifice before being assigned a church at home. This “missionary internship” also gave him experience in his future responsibilities of preaching the gospel, visiting the sick, training the children, counseling the wayward and settling differences among believers to promote unity within the church.
The Waldenses did not simply hide out in the valleys where they lived. As they studied the Bible, accepted the gospel and the Bible truths, and saw the prophecies being fulfilled they devised every means possible to tell the entire world about the hope in their hearts. Children and youth were trained from their mother’s knee to share Jesus and the Bible for the rest of their lives.
Although persecuted off and on for centuries, the Waldenses would rather lose possessions, property, comfort and even life itself than to participate in false religion or abandon their Bible faith.
In 2012 the Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church initiated “The Great Controversy Project (Read It! Share It!).” As part of the project Pastors Dan Serns and Adam Keating distributed God’s Holy Word: Is It Still Worth Dying For? (a portion of The Great Controversy) to religious leaders in the Richardson/Dallas area in February. We made some great friends and we continue to pray for the religious leaders of these organizations that the Lord will impress them at the right time to read the book and share its message with those in their circle of influence if they haven’t done so already. Why not try something like this in your area?
World Mission Society Church of God
Christian Science Church
St. Luke’s Lutheran
St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church
Tzu Chi Buddhist Center & Day Care Center
Grace Church of Richardson
Arabic Christian Church
Creekside Baptist & Vietnamese Churches
Calvary Petecostal Church
Neema Gospel Church
Richardson First Baptist Church
Watermark Community Church
The Heights Baptist Church
Richardson United Methodist Church
Islamic Association of North Texas, Seminary & School
Bo Hyun Temple Zen Center
Bennerri Korean Presbyterian Church
Trinity Fellowship Church
Greenville Avenue Church of Christ & Day Care Center
Waterview Baptist Church
Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue
“There are now true Christians in every church, not excepting the Roman Catholic communion.” The Great Controversy p. 449
“Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock.” Testimonies vol. 6, p. 78