Christianity Today and Adventist Separatism

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Recently I was at work checking my Facebook page. Obviously it’s important that I see whatever may be posted as quickly as possible. So I scrolled through the pictures of their vacation, of her best duck-face, and of his new motorcycle. Suddenly, something caught my eye. The keywords were: Christianity Today, Adventists, and Ben Carson. It peaked my interest for its not often that Adventists are mentioned by, well, other people. So I clicked on the link.

It’s funny how I react to these kinds of things. Why should I get so excited when Christianity Today mentions Adventists? Am I looking for validation? As if Christianity Today will finally just admit that we are right about all of it so I can go to all my non-Adventist friends and say, “Ha! I told you we were right! See Christianity Today says so!” Sadly, this didn’t happen. As I read the article I was disappointed. The article, called The Season of Adventist’s: Can Ben Carson’s Church Stay Separatists amid Booming Growth?, is ultimately neither generous toward Adventists nor well-crafted. It paints a false dichotomy between Adventists and Evangelicals and then uses only quotes from conservative leaders to back up its points. It simplifies the differences of opinion in Adventism into two groups: those who hold to traditional Adventist practices and doctrine and who want to ensure continued and deepening separation from evangelicalism, and those who reject Adventist doctrine and practice and seek to join with evangelicals. This is problematic, because there are many Adventists who do not subscribe to either of these camps and have a more balanced view. In addition, the article never actually defines what it means by evangelical (is it referring to history, theology, politics, soteriology, mission etc?). In doing so it misses the fact that most Adventists actually consider themselves evangelical, at least in most areas. Its simply an incomplete analysis.

How many non-Adventist people have I actually engaged today?

Honestly, I could continue to critique the article. There are problems with everything from the image to the summary of Adventist’s history with evangelicalism. But the fact is, on a personal level, the article comes too near to the truth for my own comfort. I could wax eloquent about the need to join with other evangelical Christians in the areas of common ground, to never be a group of people that ceases to learn from others (obviously with the Bible as the foundation and filter) in the areas of ministry and cultural interaction. I won’t because then I would miss the most important question.  How many non-Adventist people have I actually engaged today? This week?

I ask this question as one who grew up in the Adventist Church, went to Adventist Elementary School, High School, and College. In High School I worked at Adventist summer camps and now I work at an Adventist company(albeit slightly unorthodox, I’ll get to that). We can get up in arms about our leaders’ quotes, or the article in a magazine, but how often do we stay in an “Adventist Ghetto” like Collegedale or Loma Linda long after we are done with school simply because we have friends that don’t eat pork, and a job that doesn’t require that we work on Sabbath.

Before about a year ago, if you had asked me to name the amount of interaction I had with those not in our denomination, I would have answered proudly, “Some classes at a public university, a job selling Aflac, and…Oh! For a class I had Bible studies with a Baptist!” Then God led me to a job as a Adventist-owned Christian radio station in a town where the Adventist presence is fractured. Essentially, if we want any ministry to happen we have to connect with other evangelical churches. It has been an amazing experience.  A few weeks ago a couple of guys invited me to a ministry meeting at a restaurant on Friday night. My wife and I talked and felt like it was important to hold to our beliefs about the Sabbath. When I met up them later I told them that we couldn’t make the meeting and why. I was honestly a little nervous, as the new guy, the last thing I want to do is alienate any ministry. I was pleasantly surprised by their support and encouragement. Later in the conversation the topic turned to the radio station being a unifying force among area churches. I said that I hope we could be a bridge to connect people to different churches and he turned and said to me, “Yeah but we want to do it in such a way that it doesn’t pressure anyone to compromise their beliefs.”

Right then it hit me, the trick to acting as Christ acted isn’t to remove ourselves and create our own faux-culture with veggie-versions of everything (although I do love Fri-Chik). The secret to impacting culture is knowing what you believe and why and then being that person in the middle of life’s chaos.

So Christianity Today, next time write a better article, one that captures the complexity and nuance of Adventism in contemporary culture. But thank you…thank you for reminding us of our most important doctrine: that God sacrificed everything to connect with people that were utterly different than him and that its time for us to do the same.

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Braden Way is a cool guy from Oregon who likes Fri-Chik and Starbucks. A theology graduate from Southern Adventist University, Braden now works at KTFY (88.1 FM), a radio station broadcasting a Christian contemporary format. You can follow his blog at 2worlds1god.blogspot.com 

 

 

 

 

Article Cited:

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra. “The Season of Adventists: Can Ben Carson’s Church Stay Separatist amid Booming Growth?”. Christianity Today. January/February 2015, Vol. 59, No. 1, Pg 18.

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Tom Brady’s Illuminati Super Bowl Trick and 5 Ways to Stop Internet Misinformation

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A while ago, I wrote another piece about misinformation on the internet but, every New Year brings new misinformation. So here it goes again.

First off, okay, Tom Brady doesn’t actually have an Illuminati Super Bowl Trick, but you are reading this, which shows that you are the target audience for this article. In today’s world where anyone with a keyboard and Internet connection can claim to be an authority, you have no doubt come in contact with (and maybe even shared) information which is simply not true. It has become especially important for people to be able to identify the difference between real information and misinformation that floats around online, as well as how to properly respond to it.

That being said, here are FIVE easy principles to stop misinformation on the Internet.

1) Source check:

Sometimes, the easiest and simplest way to determine if something is true or not is by checking out the website providing this information. There are many fake news websites that are dedicated to writing news that isn’t actually real (yes, believe it or not, it does exist and it is hilarious!). If you see any “news” coming from The Onion, The Daily Currant, The Borowitz Report, News Mutiny, Hollywood Leek, The Spoof, etc., the news you are reading is not real; it is fake and intended to be a joke.

 For those that don’t know yet, BarelyAdventist is a satire site dedicated to spoofing Adventism. It’s funny, lighten up.

A few sample headlines would be like these taken from other sites:

  • “Study Reveals: Babies Are Stupid
  • “Area Stoner Has Mind-Blowing Out-Of-Cheetos Experience”
  • “Study: Dolphins Not So Intelligent on Land”
  • “Kennedy Slain By CIA, Mafia, Castro, LBJ, Teamsters and Freemasons”
  • “Couple, Married by Ryan Bell, Wonders If They Are Still Married”
  • “Collegedale Man Arrested for Trying to Dump Burning Coals on Neighbor’s Head”

A key word that you should keep in mind here is satire. Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon and as a tool to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society (Elliott, Robert C (2004), “The nature of satire”, Encyclopedia Britannica).

If you are not sure if something is true or not, here are some good websites to keep in mind:

Snopes.com

Google.com (it’s really that simple)

Also, even if the website isn’t satirical, it could still be extremely biased either politically, religiously or otherwise and be misinformed. Remember just check your sources.

Get the point? This brings me to our second principle:

2) If it sounds too ridiculous to be true, it most likely isn’t true.

Last year around this time, there was a rumor that Pope Francis recently said at a Vatican council that, “the church no longer believes in a literal hell, Adam and Eve were fictitious, all religions are true, and the Catholic Church is going to start ordaining women priests”? Hmm, the Pope will really admit that his entire church has been wrong all along? Doesn’t that all sound just a little too out there? Yeah, that’s because it most likely is not true.

There are a score of more recent news stories that I could point to but just remember this rule: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… it’s a duck.

3) Don’t post up anything that you’re not prepared to defend.

This is a great principle that I go by which has probably saved me more times than I can count. Just because something is interesting to me doesn’t mean that I should share it. This goes with the previous two principles; if I haven’t done my research and am not prepared to defend what I have found, I don’t waste my time by hitting “Share.” Only share what you yourself have checked into and can defend. Don’t share something because it is shocking and you want to be the first person on your News Feed to break this incredible news you just heard… that’s usually the fastest way fake news is spread.

One caveat to this point is that you also shouldn’t spend all your time defending what you write. If you post something up and are willing to defend it, but have an overwhelming response or if responding would take away time from doing something else more productive, keep your responses short or don’t engage to begin with.

4) Be ESPECIALLY suspicious when it comes to any conspiracy theory.

Recently, I saw a YouTube video claiming that there was a demonic conspiracy behind the Monster Energy Drink. That goes along with another one about the SDA logo being masonic (because the letter A looks like a pyramid and we all know how Freemasons loooooove hiding their symbols right under our noses? Insidious…). Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t something going on behind the scenes (after all, Adventists do believe in this thing called “the Great Controversy,” which exposes a conspiracy of sorts). But by their very nature conspiracies cannot be proven either fake or true. So what have you just done? You’ve put a piece of unverifiable information on the Internet which doesn’t edify the body of Christ as much as it creates a feeling of fear and dread about the “Devil’s work”.

Conspiracies don’t always attack others. Sometimes, they even attack within the church. Just this past week, I received an anonymous email (those are the best ones) about a supposed conspiracy theory being pushed in 2015 by the SDA church leaders and the Nature of Christ. A good Adventist conspiracy theorist recipe consists of one half-truth, sprinkle in generous amounts misapplied Ellen White quotes and have it presented by someone with a borderline personality disorder.

The insidious power behind  the Deflategate scandal.
The insidious power behind the Deflategate scandal.

As a pastor, I would rather uplift Jesus and His work instead of anything that the Jesuits, Illuminati, Knights of Columbus, Masons, The Muppets, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, or any other secret organization may or may not be up to. More than that, though, posting these kinds of things that cause fear/speculation do nothing to bring people into a closer walk with Jesus. Oh, it may scare them to think, “Man, times are really getting close to Jesus’ second coming. I should really get my life together.” But fear is typically a very terrible and short-lived motivator because once the feeling of fear wears out, you tend to slip back into old habits.

For a GREAT article the dangers of conspiracy theories, check out this article from Liberty Magazine and another one by my friend, David Hamstra.

5) Don’t be a fact check Nazi.

Okay, so you may have followed all of the above principles and realized that Tom Brady doesn’t have any Illuminati tricks. But, how do you go about in pointing out this error to your friend who has this misinformation all over their social media page? Remember the golden rule: do unto others as you would like them to do to you. How would you feel if someone publicly called you out online? Sometimes, the best thing to do is one of three things:

  1. A) Send them a private message (if they are a friend).
  2. B) Write them a simple note that corrects their information and provide them with a source for your corrected information.
  3. C) Do nothing. Yes, this is sometimes actually a good option.

As another blog site put it:

“Being helpful and pointing out a hoax or false rumor is nice, but if doing so begins to damage your ability to be productive, it’s time to hang up your hat. Everyone has that one friend that will continue to re-share everything in their feed, no matter how many times they’re reminded to double-check. Sometimes the best solution is to say nothing at all.

Ultimately, you have to realize that you’re not going to fix the Internet’s problems single-handedly, which is a very liberating thought. You are free to do other things. Your life does not need to center around exposing Nigerian princes.”

Don't be this guy.
Don’t be this guy.

Put these principles into practice in your life and you will soon be a helpful, trusted source of factual information for those around you!

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For Such a Time as This

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Imagine that you are a soldier crawling through the underbrush, trying your best to stay alive. It’s the Civil War, and you are right on the edge of a brutal battle. You’re crouching alone in the mud behind a large, rotting log, when through the mist you spy a soldier striding through the woods straight toward you. Your heart pounds as you focus intently: what color is his uniform? Is he in blue—or gray?

Within the body of Christ today, an alarmingly similar mentality is escalating. Whenever a certain topic enters a conversation, the brethren lean forward anxiously, trying to discern: which side is this person on? They visibly bristle if their fellow “soldier” is discovered to be on the “other side.”

The topic is, of course, women’s ordination. Suddenly families, churches,ministries and friendships are being ripped apart based on loyalties to what are declared to be the only two “sides.” I am astonished at how quickly people are labeled and defenses are lowered.

I’m afraid for our church. This movement is stark evidence that being “all of one accord” is now of far less consequence to us than conquering each other. Instead of pre-Pentecost putting away differences and coming into sweet accord, we’re bickering like the disciples in the Upper Room. Once again we have fallen into the deadly distraction of arguing about who is the greatest.

Before we start sputtering the arguments of either “side” regarding unity with our supposed enemies, let’s set aside what is, to me, the largely irrelevant discussion about whether we can call women pastors, or pray for them by laying hands on them. In other words, don’t try to figure out what color of uniform I’m wearing as you read this, because if you’re on either side, bad news, I’m not on your side. But good news: I’m also not on the other side.

I’m suggesting that maybe God’s side isn’t either one—that He is the God of unity,not war. He is the God of love, of perseverance in covenant relationship, not of divorce. Because while we argue, because we argue, souls are dying. I know. They’re emailing me. Dozens, no, hundreds of them, from around the world. And those are just the few who have found my email address somehow, or looked me up on Facebook.

And only those actually doing personal ministry like me realize what’s happening. Let me shift gears and explain why.

Decades ago, the humanistic psychology movement duped Christianity. Spiritual leaders were assured that “professionals” could now take over the messy work of counseling. Many relieved pastors escaped hours of tedious counseling regarding marriage problems, addiction issues, depression, anxiety, and the emotional scars of abuse. When concerns arose because secular psychologists were dragging scores of people away from dependence on Christ for answers, “Christian”counseling materialized. Christian counselors could listen non-judgmentally too, helping people “find the answers within themselves” without reference to Scripture unless such was requested (since the gospel was seen as optional for emotional healing). Pastors also dutifully accepted training in Christian counseling,although some pastors admittedly became frustrated at how little actual progress was attained using professional “unconditional positive regard.”

Counseling became synonymous with a huge waste of pastoral time. As it became more and more of a time-waster, pastors were forced to refer out much of their counseling in order to have time to tackle the “real” work of pastoring—administration, preaching, setting up committees strategizing for church growth, and a few stop-smoking seminars and prophecy seminars thrown in for evangelistic fervor. After all, they weren’t really trained to help people with all that other stuff.

In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel.

This ministry focus shift was one of the most colossal mistakes in Christian history. In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel as the“well” to quench to the thirst of the heart. Even worse, it became the placebo preventing people from seeking the only cure for idolatry disguised as addictions, marriage problems, and depression. The Christian church abandoned the Word of God as the key to unlocking heart issues. In one generation, we forgot the simple principle of the gospel: if I don’t worship God, I will worship self in the form of whatever idol captures my heart. And without the gospel, I will be powerless to break free.

It’s no shock that divorce, abuse, depression, anxiety and addiction have skyrocketed within the church in nearly identical proportion to the world in the last few decades. In the place of an uprooted gospel that boldly broke the chains of sin, a humanistic self-help culture has mushroomed. No one falls for the ludicrous idea that the water of life could transform a sexually addicted woman into someone who “thirsts no more.” Come on, Jesus. We know better than that now! She needs counseling.

But suppose that nothing but Christ could quench the thirst of the woman at the well—how would He do it? By sending this serial adulteress to her male pastor for counseling regarding her sexual addiction and codependency? Hold on a minute. What pastor wants to be thrown under that bus?

Actually, I’m not sure who would be in greater danger in that situation, her or the pastor. Most pastors at present don’t even know how to apply the gospel to their own addictions. Statistics tell us that nearly 50% of pastors are now addicted to Internet pornography—never mind TV, movies, social media, work,popularity, other forms of sexual deviancy, or—the list goes on.

So where would we send the woman at the well? The secular humanistic psychologist? I hope not. The Christian counselor who will only bring up Jesus if she requests it—and then only as an optional addition to a curriculum of “unconditional positive regard”? That’s scarcely any better.

What she needs is a woman in ministry to come alongside her and lead her to Jesus. And considering the looming disaster that is her life without Christ, I’d say that whether that woman in ministry is called a pastor, or has had hands laid on her in prayer, is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is that she is biblically trained (as a biblical counselor, perhaps?) and available for service.

In this context, it suddenly becomes clear why our church has been advised, from the earliest years of its organization, to put women into ministry positions,and pay them similarly to men. In the current context of explosive controversy,perhaps it is best that, rather than arguing about historical or biblical limitations or opportunities for women in ministry, we focus on at least obeying what all of us agree God has commanded: that we put women into ministry, at least to other women, and pay them. Because I can tell you, while we stand on the shore and argue about lifeboats, our women are drowning by the thousands for lack of personal ministry from other women.

The woman at the well is not an irrelevant example. As I write, one-third of those watching Internet pornography are female. Lest we think that sexual addiction is still primarily a man’s problem, add to that the number of women addicted to novels, music, movies and fantasy. Based on my experience as a biblical counselor, I’d say we should be as concerned about sexual addiction among women as among men.

But it’s not the only crisis crying out for personal application of the gospel. What about the women dealing with bitter marriage problems, who will only too eagerly welcome the caring attentions of a godly male pastor? In addition, with the skyrocketing of porn has come sexual abuse like the world has never seen. Conservative statistics tell us that at least one-third of our women have already been sexually abused by age 18. That number is escalating every year. Where should we send these women for help? To male pastors? Seriously? I’m asking the question because these women need answers.

These women need personal ministry, and they need it from other women. Sexual abuse strikes at the heart of a person’s ability to keep the law of God, because it is one of the most powerful arguments against God being a God of love. If God does not seem loving to me, how can I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Never mind loving my neighbor as myself! To love and forgive abusers is impossible without the empowering love of God within us.

In this context, how can we shrug off the desperate need for women in ministry?Let’s stop arguing about calling them pastors and ordaining them. Let’s focus on what matters: obeying the commands of God. Let’s put women into ministry,at the very least to other women, and pay them. I have a hunch that if we prayerfully focus on Spirit-filled obedience to what 99% of us agree is the clearly revealed will of God, the other stuff will work itself out. Unlike a bitter couple hurtling toward a nasty divorce, let’s focus on our 99%agreement: we need women in ministry, at least to other women.

What I am proposing is simple and radical, and could change the face of the debate: Let’s lay down our crusades for all-or-nothing. Rather than making our goal“winning,” like the disciples in the Upper Room, we can instead make our goal Spirit-filled unity in doing what we all agree God has commanded.

Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.

Let me be more specific. If you are convicted that women should be pastors, big deal–seeking to unitedly obey God’s clear commands is not failure. If you are convicted women shouldn’t be pastors, big deal–see previous answer. Because all of the options on the table right now are, in my opinion, bad ones. Put women into ministry only in cultures where calling women “pastor” is culturally acceptable, while shrugging off the needs of our desperate sisters in other regions of the world? Those women are writing me despairing appeals for help, and I’m telling you, that’s not enough. Successfully ban all women from the main avenue to paid ministry currently available in the church? Practically, how does that solve this desperate need for women to help women? Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.

Perhaps this battle has not been a distraction from God’s call. Maybe it has been the opposite: a wake-up call from our loving Savior, showing us how far we have fallen from Spirit-filled willingness to put aside our differences and wash one another’s feet. Maybe, rather than being a call to arms, this is a call to service, to radical humility, to the “one accord” experience necessary for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not make the same mistake made in 1888. Because I don’t know about you, but I want to get off of this rock and go home.

“The righteousness which Christ taught is conformity of heart and life to the revealed will of God.” DA 310

 

387961_10151189420875204_236355998_nNicole Parker was once a zealot intent on changing the world, but is now an astonishingly domesticated homeschooling mom living in quite possibly the tamest town on earth–Collegedale, Tennessee. While engaged in her mundane tasks of chopping veggies and sweeping floors, she enjoys lofty theological ponderings, a pursuit also enjoyed by her husband Alan, a professor at Southern Adventist University. This penchant has led her to inch her way through a master’s degree in biblical counseling, and now has her devouring a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University. However, she has zero intention, and even less desire, to become a pastor. Check out her website at www.heartthirst.com

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Three Ways Churches Mess Up Community Service

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Have you ever wondered how Jesus, an unknown preacher with an unpopular message was so effective reaching crowds of people? It’s a one word answer. LOVE. People did not follow Jesus because of his diet. They were not attracted to him because of his dress. His compassion showed that you can at the same time call people to holiness while loving them intensely through the process. In order to do that, you must love. We love through our service.

When serving your community, avoid these three mistakes:

1.  Figure out a plan on your own.

The best people qualified to tell you what the needs of the community are…wait for it…the community. Not your board. Not the conference community service director.

Last church I pastored, we went out in the community and asked them what their interests, needs and hurts were.  It was a simple survey, but very telling (I can share if you’d like).  It was interesting that only 30% of the people that lived in a 5 block radius of the church knew who we were. That is pretty consistent with the percentages of people in the United States that are aware of us. When I hear people talking about persecution, I want to ask them: How are they going to persecute someone they don’t even know exists?

After the survey, we then developed programs to meet the needs.  That transformed the church in a fortress mentality FUBU church to a community oriented congregation.  First of all, we were surprised such a very small percentage of people we asked knew who we were.  That made an impact in us, since it was a five hundred member church in the middle of the Hispanic community.  Second it helped us target more effectively our community.

 

2.  Wheel reinvention:

There are already organizations that provide many services in your community. Instead of re-inventing the wheel as we often do, why not join worthwhile organizations in what they are doing? Here is a good starting point: http://www.voa.org/ Invite organizations that have purposes akin to yours.  We need to be cautious about who we bring in, and what their agenda is, but we have to realize that we did not invent the wheel.  There are community and religious organizations that have been doing at least some of what you are doing, usually for a longer period of time.  In an event at the Hillsboro church, we invited several organizations to participate, including a local Christian college counseling department as well as representatives from the local hospital and police department.  Just their exposure to our church ministries, opened many doors.  We got five hundred teddy bears, a grant for food, free cholesterol screening, more than forty computers for a lab, all free of charge.

 

3.  Avoid politicians.

Many times we have been reluctant to engage politicians, sometimes with good reason. One of the first things I do when new in a district is finding out and meeting with the mayor, council members, and representative. It’s also not difficult to contact the governor and senator. Why should we connect with the powerful in our community?

*They can point you to need areas.

*They can point you to other organizations.

*They can provide resources, volunteers and funds. This can get tricky, so tread softly.

I usually introduce myself and tell them that we have an interest in improving our community through a holistic approach that includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I ask them 3 questions:

*What are the greatest needs of this city/town?

*What organizations or people would you suggest I talk to?

*Are there any initiatives that you’re implementing that we should take a look at?

I have always found them ready to talk and willing to help. Even secular mayors like the one in Portland was touched by the actions of Christians in the community.

We can’t be perfect, but we can strive for excellence. Serve, like Jesus. Make it a way of life.

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The Question You Aren’t Asking About Church Authority

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Alright, Haystack readers, I want your help with this one. With all of the recent conversations on Seventh-day Adventist media outlets and blogging websites regarding women’s ordination, one of the main arguments that keeps surfacing is one that denounces the General Conference’s decision to reopen the women’s ordination question for further discussion. Many feel there’s no finality to the decisions that have been made in the past, so how can we hope for finality in decisions to be made in the future? It’s a fundamental issue that goes much deeper than the discussions on women’s ordination. At what point do we question long-held practices and traditions, and at what point do we draw a line in the sand? How much finality should there be in church decisions?

While it’s a justified question, it’s also a question that tends to make people uncomfortable. We aren’t so certain about change. And, that’s rightfully so. Change can threaten the purity of the church. By changing practices, will we eventually come to change beliefs? Too much change can even threaten the church’s very existence.

By changing practices, will we eventually come to change beliefs?

When looking at this issue, it’s hard not to think of this question in relation to the Israelites as they struggle through the wilderness and in their Promised Land. Do you know what strikes me every time I read Exodus-Judges? Each time the Israelites begin to incorporate practices from the other people groups around them, they eventually come to take steps away from God. It’s like they can’t let outsiders in without muddying their own religion. If we just had the example of the Israelites, it would be easy. We’d try to do right where they failed and never alter long-held practices. We’d steer clear of new ideas altogether.

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s difficult not to think of the Jewish leaders in the New Testament. They were so afraid of letting change in that they hardened themselves to love. They no longer looked to the needs of their fellow man. They became so focused on keeping themselves pure that they eventually took steps away from God. With two extreme examples of God’s people on both sides of the question, what is the modern Seventh-day Adventist church to do? While we certainly don’t want to change our beliefs to the extent of losing sight of our mission and message, we simultaneously don’t want to harden ourselves so much that we forget God’s calling to love both Him and our neighbors.

I believe a deep part of the human heart thirsts for a sense of finality. We want there to be an overt answer. Yes, even in a post-modern culture, we still crave absolutes. Of course we do. It’s only natural. Our world was never intended for such chaos. We prefer our answers to come in black or white. We don’t want to go near any shades of grey. Who knows what may happen in grey areas? At times, it seems preferable to just avoid the grey areas completely. But, if we always avoided grey areas, what new heights would we be able to reach? How would we ever share the incredible message that God has given us?

Pay close attention here. I’m not advocating for a lack of truth or a shifting truth. I believe in truth. I believe in absolute truth. I believe in absolute biblical truth. I’ve said it before, but I’m certainly not afraid to say it again. I am a Seventh-day Adventist Christian because I believe the truth that I find in my Bible most closely correlates with Seventh-day Adventism. As long as that remains true, I will always be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. At the end of the day, I believe God empowers people to work for Him. I trust my church leadership. The church leaders are in the positions they are in because God allowed their placement there. However, while I believe that church leadership, structures, policies, and principles are divinely instituted, I do not believe that the church leaders, structures, policies, or principles are divine in and of themselves.

Why is that important? There’s a huge distinction between the two. If the church itself were divine, there would never be any need for it to change. It would have had all of the tools it ever needed from the onset and every decision would be final. However, the church is not divine. The church leadership is divinely established. Thus, God chooses to work through living people, present situations, and current environments. This means that though many church decisions are final, they are not all infinitely final.

Don’t believe me? Our church’s history is filled with incredible individuals who have been willing to ask difficult questions to determine what decisions are based on the Bible and what decisions are based on tradition. Martin Luther went against the grain of church tradition to reassert the Bible as sole authority. Ellen White and her family were willing to question their faith tradition in search of greater truth. After that, the disappointed Millerites were willing to take yet another look at their beliefs and their “church” to figure out what they had missed. And those were doctrines! Ordination isn’t even doctrine. How can we not be willing to even open up dialogue about it?

So, here’s the thing. Because of this distinction between being divine itself and being divinely placed, the church has to be willing to continually study and reevaluate interpretations on theological issues and ecclesiological practices. The church as an institution, a movement, and a body of believers needs to be able to grow. We have to be willing to question the way things have always been done. I’m not saying that doing so will necessarily bring us to a point where anything changes. I am saying that something is wrong if you are afraid or unwilling to open up dialogue on a particular question. We may have truth, but we don’t have all of the answers. We have to continually be willing to go to God and search for those particular answers with the truth that He has given us.

I’m not advocating for rebellion. I’m advocating for fresh, critical thinking.

Does there come a point in time when we have to go against the grain of what has always been done? I’m not advocating for rebellion. I’m advocating for fresh, critical thinking. I’m advocating for a willingness to put aside our prejudices and individual perspectives to evaluate the way it’s always been done. Though the church manual is important, the church manual is not divine. It cannot be used in place of the Bible. They are not the same. While the church manual is an authoritative source, it is not absolute. It’s open to discussion and interpretation. It’s changed and edited as the years go by. Words have to be altered. Ideas need to be expanded.

Let’s be clear here. The Bible does not change. God does not change. However, I’d like to think our capacity to understand the Bible and to know God more deeply has no limits. I’d like to think that every time I open my Bible, I’m opening myself up to learn more. I’m opening myself up to learn anything fresh that God plans on teaching me. If that were not the case, what would be the point? Why would we continue to read the Bible if we weren’t open to reevaluating our finality on certain practices?

This is the deal. It may not be time for a revolution, but it is always time for some serious rethinking. How can you deny that? The members of the church are ever-changing, and the environments that those members are living in are not the same. While some decisions are permanent, some decisions are appropriate for a period of time. With every new challenge, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to see how the wheel fits with the current model.

So, what do you think? Where do you draw the line? Right now, the question is women’s ordination. Tomorrow, an entirely different issue may arise. At what point is it rebellion and at what point is it merely standing up for what’s right?

I’d love discussion on this post, however, I do ask that we show both sides of this conversation respect. Godly people are on both sides of these discussions. Let’s not correlate our beliefs with any sense of superiority. All opinions, thoughts, and/or comments are welcome here.

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Friends

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“I’m starved!”  My stomach had begun to consume itself in a desperate bid for survival.  My band mate looked over at me and grinned.  “Me too!” she said.  “Where should we hit?”  The vermillion McMenamins sign beckoned to us from its perch above I205.  We went in, ordered Cajun tots, and talked about our band, our church, and a broad spectrum of ideas.  The tots proved my last well-flavored meal that I have ever had at McMenamins.  Every meal I’ve had there since has been over-salted and overpriced.  My friendship with Shelly is, though long distance, still good.

Our friendship is not, however, unique.  I’ve always had female friends.  They have been, in a great part, some of my best friends.  From the time I was young, I just got along better in many ways with girls.  I wasn’t ever a huge sports fan, and I’ve always liked talking relationships more than I’ve liked talking trucks, so girls’ perspectives have, in general, been more close to my interests.  I can honestly say that I would not have the respect I have for women, nor would I be where I am without a perspective both balanced from male points of view as well as female points of view.

When growing up, my friends continually would tease me about whatever girl I was hanging out with at the time.  I found it strange that they had such a binary perspective.  There are few things more boring to me than binary perspectives.  I often find myself dreading to explain the problems with binary perspectives to people because I often feel like I’m doing someone else’s homework for them.  I got sick and tired of me telling these people that my friends and I were that… friends, and that they should try thinking of girls as other people, not just an embodiment of the idea of the “other”.  This is not to say that I didn’t have romantic attractions to a few of the girls I hung out with, I did from time to time, but they didn’t like me in that way and so I was content to simply be friends.

Then came My Best Friend’s Wedding.  On a movie night at academy this film showcased a clear reality: that to “just be friends” is a choice, just as love itself is a choice.  In the film, the main character’s best friend, a guy, plans to get married and the main character realizes that she loves him.  She tries to break up his marriage, but in a rare show of Hollywood brilliance, the film portrays a man who is committed to his path.  The man, even though he could have abandoned his fiancee, chooses not to.  I realized something in the midst of that film: If the definition of being “just friends” means absolutely no physiological reaction to a person of the opposite orientation than you, then it may not be possible for men and women to ever be “just friends.”  This physiological reaction is the same kind of phenomena that might make one want to hit someone who is threatening, or to run from a dangerous situation rather than to stay and help.  These are real reactions, but they are not wrong.  Giving into them in the wrong contexts can be wrong, but these urges themselves are normal. What makes the groom in My Best Friend’s Wedding admirable is that he sees these emotions for what they are, puts them aside and chooses to lay those feelings aside and to see her as a friend.

This is a perspective that seems lost on a large swath of the modern American population.  In 2012 NPR did an interview with researchers who asked the question: “Can men and women just be friends?”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2012/06/17/155197529/can-men-and-women-be-friends

The researchers concluded that, assuming both persons were straight, such a thing was unlikely.  Their conclusions were based upon interviews which dovetailed with a theory that “over evolutionary history, men who received subtle signals or ambiguous signals of sexual interest, needed to act on them because if they didn’t, they would have been out-reproduced by men who did.”  The researchers come to the conclusion that the tendency towards attraction exists, therefore the thing we know as “just being friends” is unlikely to exist.  It seems that the researchers’ definition of “just being friends” is nearly meaningless.  So if having physical attraction excludes the term “just being friends” how about when one is both a friend and a mentor?  What if one is a friend and a basketball rival?  What if one is a friend and an employee?  Is not everyone a friend and something else in this scenario?  Are not all of our relationships vulnerable to jealousy, codependency, or abuse?  We have many natural tendencies, but are we defined by them or by our choices that keep them at bay?  We do not avoid friendships from the same gender because they may come with complications, and some of these complications come with risk of consequences that rival the risks of divorce.  Yet, because what is to be gained is valuable, we take those risks.

For all of these reasons, my wife is not just the mother of my children, she IS my best friend.  She is the one I tell my deepest fears to.  She is the one who shares my sadnesses and joys.  However, she is not the only woman with whom I am good friends.  I regularly talk with and hang out with both men and women.  Sometimes in public, sometimes alone.  My wife knows about every one.  She likewise is free to have private conversations with her male friends.  Around here is where someone usually brings up a mistranslation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22.  It is a text that does not address outward appearances but the appearances of prophecies that may be either good or evil.  The context resonates more with Christ’s life, for He seemed to care less whether what he did appeared sinful or not.  He had a reputation as a glutton, and a friend with thieves and prostitutes.  He spoken to a woman alone by a well.  He let a sinful woman wash his feet in public.  What did He gain from these friendships?  What reason is there to practice the spiritual discipline of friendship with people from both genders?  Do not such situations lead to infidelity?  For people in weak marriages, absolutely.  I have found so far in my experience that marriages do not end because of affairs.  Affairs happen when marriages meet their spiritual end.  I believe that there is a strong case to be made that divorce and attempts at infidelity come from intimacy deficits between people, not surpluses. Beyond that, I think there is a danger in the separation that comes from a society that sees binary outcomes as inevitable. There is further danger in a society where a large portion of the populace only experiences significant communication of ideas and emotion with the other gender through one representative member of said gender. It is little wonder in my mind that there is a gender gap on so many issues. It is little wonder that we have a wage gap.  A political power gap, and that in this day and age, we deny women in ministry equal standing.  I would argue these things come from not being really known.

I would argue we, as a society, have made being alone with a member of the opposite sex mean something risque though it is not inherently so. So when men and women are with each other, both sides think of it in that light. However, if one challenges these stereotypes, seeing the sexual tension that may arise as simple physiology at work and nothing more significant, then one is in a place where one can make a conscious choice against the physiology and simply be friends with no other agenda. One defeats ones urge to objectify the opposite sex. One then can learn from another individual’s perspective, regardless of the gender, and learning is what the journey is all about.
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The Regional/State Conference Divide: Can Change Happen?

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“You shouldn’t bother interviewing with white Conferences. They won’t hire you because you’re black.”

When these words were spoken to me by a former conference administrator I knew, I remember feeling like I was having an out of body experience. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this. This can’t be real.” After all, we were living in the 21st century in the United States of America.

If you were like I was up until the age of 18 and have no idea what I’m talking about, let me spell it out for you: in several unions in the Seventh-day Adventist Church within North America, there are administrative divisions in the church divided primarily based on race in order to better serve those people groups.  There are “state conferences,” which cover one or more states, and “regional conferences,” which cover the same area, but usually also larger territories than the state conferences (hence the difference between “regional” and “state”).  However, among some circles, the former have been referred to as “white conferences” while the latter known as “black conferences.”

The reasons for the creation of the distinction between state and regional conferences are many and have different levels of nuances. There were societal pressures that served as pressure cookers for the split that would eventually happen (more on that in the links below). Now, it would be nice to say that the church established regional conferences as a concession to only the “external” societal pressure that they faced in trying to reach out.  However, historically, that is sadly not true.

Racism, particularly in the form of segregation, infiltrated the policy and unconscious culture within the Seventh-day Adventist church in America in the early part of the 20th century.  This racism was manifested in hiring discrimination, underrepresentation in leadership, unfair financial practices, and persistent segregation of policies.

Dr. Delbert W. Baker outlined 15 events that either directly or indirectly provided an impetus for the establishment of Regional conferences. The threads running through these incidents were a deep desire for evangelistic empowerment, Christian fairness, and administrative partiality. You can read this list by clicking here.

What we find is that, by the 1940’s, the formation of regional conferences was the climax of long dissatisfaction within the Black community about the church’s treatment of their community and mission; it was an easy and convenient way to provide a “separate but equal” administrative structure where Black Adventists leaders could advance professionally while having their own structure and White Adventist could have their own.

I know that is a pretty bold statement to make.  However, I am comfortable saying that because there is plenty of historical evidence to support it.  Below are some examples of leadership discrimination manifested when the church appointed White leadership over the Black work during the early part of the 20th century, even though the church had already produced some very capable Black leaders by then:

*Although the equivalent departments for Germans and Scandinavians were led by people of the targeted ethnicity, for nine years (1909 through 1918) the North American Negro Department was led by a White man.
*The editor of Message, the denomination’s magazine for Black leadership, had a White man as its editor for 13 years from 1932 through 1945.
*Until 1932 Oakwood’s top administration (the Historically Black Adventist University) was White.

I wrote a four-part series on the matter which can be found in the following links (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). I’ll say right off the bat that I’m not an authority on this issue, it was just my attempt to get a conversation on the issue going. Feel free to read it.

Now what can be done to remedy the situation?

Like any challenge, the best first step is become educated on the issue. However, from a pragmatic standpoint, I like the three steps that Dwight Nelson gave in a sermon on this topic.

  1. Make sure that your own heart is not color-coded or prejudiced.

We need to check our own hearts to see if we harbor any resentment toward others and give those things to the Lord.  How are we supposed to move forward in the vehicle of progress if we are constantly looking through our rearview mirror?  Despite what may have gone on in the past, make a commitment to be an agent of change in this world.

As an interesting side note, Pastor Nelson, quoting an author by the name of James Ditte, noted that those who hold conservative social values (as many Adventists tend to) are more at risk to holding racial prejudice.  The quote says:

“Those who are conservative in their social values (most evangelicals) are more likely to be racially prejudiced… more conservative attitudes on these issues [war, divorce, capital punishment, abortion, socialized medicine, rehabilitation of prisoners, and welfare] are correlated with more restricted and prejudice-like attitudes on racial issues.  To be sure, the correlation is not perfect.  There are many non-prejudiced individuals with conservative social views, and vice versa.  But the correlation is more likely than not.”

A caveat to this previous point, however, was the attention to one’s personal life.  “Most notable was concern for the devotional life.  Persons who thought that prayer and devotional life were important were more likely to hold favorable and tolerant attitudes towards [minorities].”

So, if we want to ask the Lord to help us to see others through His eyes, some suggestions can be as simple as reading though the Gospel story daily and meditating on the life of Christ and Calvary.

  1. Cross the line!  Choose a church with a racial mix.  Don’t only congregate with people of your own ethnicity.
    It isn’t enough to talk about integration; we have to step out and meet people from the other aisle.  If you have a State/Regional conference church mix in your area, visit a few that you may not have visited before.  I know that I always benefit from doing this. You could even consider joining a church where you are not the ethnic majority!
  2. Talk to your leaders.  Ask them why we have to be “separate but equal” administrative structures.
    I’m not saying revolt, but it is important that your leaders know what is on your heart. Sometimes what leaders need is a bit of encouragement from someone to get them to believe that this kind of change is possible!

On that note, Pastor Nelson and the rest of Pioneer Memorial Church have just started a petition to bring awareness and action to this long pending issue. Please check out and consider signing their petition by clicking here.

As this petition mentions, “Adding your name to the list will speak loudly to the church that it is high time we all come together “on the basis of love” (Philemon 9) and model to society the unity that only Christ can bring.

The time has come to end this separation. Let’s begin “a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19/44:3).”

Maybe it’s my experience growing up in a cultural melting pot like Miami, or being the product of an interracial marriage who is married to someone from another interracial marriage, but I think that unity in diversity is what Christ had in mind for his Church. I try to defy stereotypes because I want to be judged as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, by the content of my character, not by the color of my skin.

So what do you say? Let’s make our voices heard and bring about this much needed progress.

Other Sources:

 Delbert W. Baker, “Regional Conferences: Fifty Years of Progress,” Adventist Review 172, no. 49 (November 1995): 12-14.

Kessia Reyne Bennett, Resistance and Accommodation to Racism Among Early Seventh-day Adventist Missionaries in the American South, (Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, MI), p. 65.

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I Have a Dream…Realized!

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In the parable of Luke 19 there is a man who goes off to a foreign country to receive a kingdom. He leaves others in charge while he is gone. They are to rule over the finances that he has given them with wisdom and shrewdness. At the end of the parable, the man returns to receive those who he left behind and their increase. As a result of their care, they are put as rulers over cities in the man’s kingdom.

 

This parable is about Jesus. Jesus has come to earth, given His people a commission, then returned to heaven to receive a kingdom. Our commission is to win people’s hearts to Christ’s kingdom. Think of yourself as an exile or ambassador in a foreign land. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 1 Corinthians 5:20

 

This is why Christ was focused on changing people’s hearts in a spiritual way. This is why He didn’t set up a kingdom on earth. He told Pilate when He was being accused of insurrection, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36 The only place that Christ’s kingdom exists on earth is in our hearts, our minds, and our relationships, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20, 21

 

It is becoming popular to be an activist in our world today. People want to make a difference in other’s lives…physically. They see injustice and they seek to fix the injustice by compassion on the person and a zealous pursuit of legislation that will change the situation permanently. Believe it or not, a lot of this culture has risen as the result of an intense evangelical effort to push the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. The idea that you can begin living heaven on earth now is as easy to find as a google search for “books about the kingdom of heaven on earth”.

 

“But today in the religious world there are multitudes who, as they believe, are working for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ as an earthly and temporal dominion. They desire to make our Lord the ruler of the kingdoms of this world, the ruler in its courts and camps, its legislative halls, its palaces and market places. They expect Him to rule through legal enactments, enforced by human authority. Since Christ is not now here in person, they themselves will undertake to act in His stead, to execute the laws of His kingdom. The establishment of such a kingdom is what the Jews desired in the days of Christ. They would have received Jesus, had He been willing to establish a temporal dominion, to enforce what they regarded as the laws of God, and to make them the expositors of His will and the agents of His authority. But He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36. He would not accept the earthly throne.” (Desire of Ages see below)

 

Here is my question to you: Are you trying to make America (or whatever nation you are from) Christ’s kingdom?

 

Peter and Daniel tell us that this earth and the kingdoms of this world will be destroyed. This is good news considering that America in Revelation 13 is a dragon under cover of the lamb. The idea of heaven on earth may sound nice, but it wasn’t at all the example of Christ, and it is only nice for those that aren’t suffering from extreme poverty, illness, disease, rape, murder, distress, etc. Those people need the hope of Christ and His Kingdom IN Heaven where all of that will be wiped away and people will be healed and renewed.

 

“The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart.” (Desire of Ages see below)

 

The activism that Christ is calling men to is to spread the legislation that is already in place in the heavenly kingdom. We must be active in our implementation of that legislation and directing hopeless eyes toward the hope of Christ and a future. Be compassionate upon those who are in need and neglected, but then point them to heaven where Freedom Rings! Point them to the city that is never dark and whose light blazes with the light of the lamb and God himself.

 

This is actually what made the experiences of the most faithful people of scripture unique. They didn’t identify themselves as being citizens of some earthly kingdom, but they saw themselves as pilgrims passing through. They believed in a heavenly city, and they found their calling as ambassadors or exiles in enemy territory. Their mission was to faithfully point people to God’s kingdom where He will wipe away every tear, and heal all illnesses and disease, and put right all the wrongs that have been committed. (Hebrews 11 and Revelation 21-22)

 

So what does that mean for how we choose to be political activists while here on earth? Should we try to make a difference in the legislative halls in the countries that we live in? Are we called to ignore the methods of democracy and focus on comforting people in their distress, rather than permanently fixing their needs legislatively? Does Christ’s example of being aloof from earthly governments demonstrate to us how we should act? Was Christ actually a political activist in some way? Are we not supposed to take political offices? If that is the case, where do we draw the line? Defendant but not lawyer? Lawyer but not judge? Judge but not politician? And what are the implications for rallies and marches? What about demonstrations? Occupy Washington? Or how about the way we use Facebook?

 

Sam and I were wrestling with these very things last night. We couldn’t agree about where to draw the line… too many questions. What we both were very certain about is that the reason or purpose for what you are doing matters the most. If you are being an activist for recognition, then its wrong. If you are doing something because its popular, then its wrong. Even if you are doing something that is right but not for the purpose of building up the Kingdom of God, then you are doing it wrong.

 

That is without a doubt the message that Christ preached, and the message that we want to preach at The Haystack. Become an activist building up the Kingdom of God! In your actions draw your brothers and sisters and family and friends (both real and spiritual) together. Think about how you can speak out about injustices while simultaneously building relationships even with your enemies. When Christ delivered His list of woes to the Pharisees, it was with tears in His eyes and a desire to draw them back to Him through those words. Christ was even pursuing the heart of Pilate while He was on trial. Jesus didn’t treat the rich young ruler, or Zacchaeus with rudeness. He wanted to unite their hearts with His.

 

I can tell you this. When I think of Dr. King, I really, truly, honestly believe that he would have accepted me through and through. I believe that he really did want to sit together enjoying a Sabbath afternoon while our children played in the yard. I hear through his words a uniting voice that draws races together while pointing people toward God’s ideal. His voice builds up the kingdom of God! In all areas of activism, this should be our hearts desire – draw all mens hearts to Christ in unity. That’s what happens when Christ is lifted up.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once delivered a famous speech. It is known, by most people, as his “I have a Dream” speech. Here are some brilliant lines:

 

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

 

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

 

But not only that:

 

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

 

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

 

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I must tell you Dr. King that your dream of unity and freedom will be realized! In fact, it is guaranteed. But it probably won’t be in Mississippi, nor will it be in Georgia, nor will it be in New York. In fact, it seems that it won’t ever be fully realized in this “great” nation of America. Our problems of racism in the hearts of humanity lie too deeply rooted for any kingdom of this world to fix. Our nature is too broken to be mended by our great nation, or any great earthly nation for that matter. However, there is a kingdom where this cry will be heard echoing throughout the universe… it is the Kingdom of God! I promise you this… when that day finally comes, I will stand on the sea of glass knowing that racism has been beat. I will take up your offer to sing right next to you, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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The Desire of Ages: Not With Outward Show

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf

Confusion, Perfection, and Christianity’s “S” Word

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“But sometimes I just don’t know how much I’m supposed to do and how much God’s just going to do!”

I was genuinely complaining to a friend because I was genuinely frustrated. I mean yeah, I understood the whole salvation by grace thing – in concept at least – but I also knew that after this accepting Jesus’ “justification” thing came this other thing: Sanctification. Oh that “s” word… I’d heard it described as the work of a lifetime – the process where after the “come as you are” saved but grace event, we are to change, to struggle, to fight sin, to eventually become “perfect?”

“Look Shell, they say we’re saved by grace, but you know that’s not all. After that you’re supposed to dress a certain way, give up certain things, become a vegetarian…. So whatever. I guess I’m going to hell then.”

This time it was an even more frustrated friend venting to me. And it stung me. But what could I say? I could try to assure them that “No, Jesus just accepts you like you are,” but what could I say to all the other “stuff?” Did I even know how this thing worked? All I knew was that if this “sanctification” issue was big enough that it could make someone just throw up their hands and give up on having a relationship with God, then I needed to figure it out.

To give some context to this “s” word discussion, I’ve found that as Christians, and specifically Adventist, we may allow certain statements and ideas to really scare us when it comes to sanctification:

  • “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
  • “It is only by long, persevering effort, sore discipline, and stern conflict, that we shall overcome” (Acts of the Apostles p. 560).  
  • “We are not yet perfect; but it is our privilege to cut away from the entanglements of self and sin, and to advance to perfection (ibid p. 565).

We read statements like these (often without surrounding context) and conclude that our “privilege” is to cut, to fight, to work really hard to advance toward some sanctified perfection that we might possibly measure up to if we really try hard enough.

But friends, that conclusion is simply not congruent with the gospel message. Nor do I believe it’s what either Ellen White or the Bible is trying to imply. But I’m not going to give a long theological discourse on sanctification, perfection, or the salvation process. Because I heard all those, I sat in the classes, I made the arguments – but it didn’t solve things. No, nothing solved the questions and fears – until I had a real experience with the God of the gospel.

Somewhere along the way I finally “gave up”.

You see, somewhere along the way, after I finally “gave up” and started to seek the heart of God, something began to change. I started to see God as the one who truly does accept me “just as I am.” I started to realize that His promises toward me really were true. And instead of trying to do this whole “sanctification” thing, I kind of just… quit. Yeah, it sounds bad…. But in quitting, I guess I finally started letting go. Instead of trying to do or be anything, I just found myself on my knees before Jesus over and over, saying, “Well, here’s me… You promised You could do something with this mess, so here You go!” I looked my lack of sanctification right in the eye, embraced it as reality, and then threw it down to the feet of Christ.  And interestingly, I think more actual “sanctification” has happened since starting that habit than in many of my combined years of pursuing sanctification before. My life truly started to change. Things I’d struggled with for years just weren’t a big deal anymore. Wounds started to heal. Life started to be, well, real “life” again. And almost sacrilegious as it may seem to some, life with Jesus has become… fun!

In the light of all this, the other day I read one of those quotes again…

“So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained” (Acts of the Apostles p. 561).

In times past, I would have thought something like, “No stopping place?! Oh great… more work, more trying, and never enough… forever!!” But the other day I found myself saying instead, “No stopping place?! Wow. That’s great news! That means that what I’m experiencing with God now is only going to get better!”

Yes, I now believe that one of the greatest misunderstandings in the Christian life is the idea that once the new believer “honeymoon” stage is over (if we ever had one), life as a Christian kind of simmers down and levels out. That initial high wears off and we settle in for the long self-subduing haul. Yet I’ve come to realize that’s totally not true. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Christian life is meant to get better in time – just like a marriage is meant to deepen and grow, or how they say a fine wine gets better over time (wait, did I just analogize Christianity to fermenting wine? I’ll retract that ;).

Now I’m not trying to say we won’t have struggles nor imply that I don’t have to come face-to-face with my sinful, selfish self everyday. But I have realized something that I’d like to share with those who, like myself, have struggled with this “sanctification” thing: Biblical sanctification is not all about some grueling sacrifice or reaching some standard, and it’s definitely not about my works. By grace, sanctification simply says, “the best is yet to come.” The God who’s been changing my life in amazing ways is going to keep doing it, and He won’t stop short (see Philippians 1:6). You think Jesus is great now? Just wait. He’s only getting started. And that’s the sanctified truth.

photo credit: Toni Blay via photopin cc

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The Self-Murdering Church

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Epilogue

Note: I wrote this first part in the summer of 2011 after I finished writing my manuscript on the first 10 years of GYC history. I was trying to sort through everything I’d learned about the behind the scenes workings of GYC, my Church Youth Department, and the Church as a whole.

Our Church is dying. No, it’s not just dying . . . it’s killing itself.

How? You ask. I’ll tell you how. I was faced with the how the entire time I was writing this book. I didn’t see it at first. I didn’t even realize our Church was dying when I started the project, but soon enough I saw it. And it made my heart break.

I’ll be honest, writing this book depressed me. Oh, yes there were high points. I loved seeing how GYC was able to begin against the odds of not having enough money or support from their local conference in California. I also loved the time my Church youth leaders gave me to interview them—talking with them was truly inspiring.

But in the end, I came back to the same realization that undoubtedly MOST people in our Church have, yet aren’t talking about or doing ANYTHING to remedy! The Divide. Yes, we are a divided Church that will not stand unless we decide to start working together for the common goal of seeing Jesus return in our lifetime. I mean, is anyone really that thrilled about living on a planet where children are sold into slavery, women are abused, and men are destroyed by the other men seeking more power than they deserve? Really?! No. Don’t even call yourself Adventist. Because we, by our very own name, are seeking the Second Advent of Christ.

What divides our Church is our pride.

We are divided over many things. But it all comes down to this . . . it’s not what we view as the correct form of worship that divides. It’s not our varying views of theology that divides us. It’s not dress reform that divides us. It isn’t any of that . . . while the fact that we vary on all of those points probably doesn’t help . . . that ISN’T what divides us. What divides our Church is our pride. It is our pride in each one of those areas. We say, “I’m better than you because I only sing out of the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.” We say, “I’m better than you because I wear dresses . . . I’m not causing my brother to stumble.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t exclude people who live alternative lifestyles.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t condemn people for praising God with drums and contemporary Christian music.” We say a lot of stuff that doesn’t mean anything!

But what we don’t say a lot of is this, “I love you even though I don’t agree. I love you even though I think you are wrong. I love you and I know that I don’t have everything completely correct either, but you know what, I am, and I believe you are too, still searching for how God would have us be. How can we work TOGETHER to find HIS ideal?

While writing this book I saw how the two sides (GYC verses the Church Youth Department) couldn’t get along–leadership on one side seemed overly condemning while leadership on the other side wasn’t willing to confront the condemnation head on, and so the young people were caught in the middle to clean up the political mess.

In every generation this happens. 1888 . . . remember the story of that GC session? Pride. And the young people were let down.

When I saw this happening to my generation, I cried. I was so angry and hurt. Why haven’t we grown past this? Why aren’t the youth the most important segment of our Church? Why are our Church leaders on both sides making us choose between the left and the right?

I love my Church. But as I’ve grown up in it I’ve come to see that this judging back and forth is not just something solely between GYC and the Youth Department but something that spans the entire spectrum of Adventism. From GYC to JCI, from the chaplains offices to the youth ministries office, from Women’s Ministries to Pastoral Ministries, from the General Conference to the North American Division and all the other Divisions, from the Michigan Conference to Southeastern California Conference. We are divided. We are separate. We love to point fingers and call each other out. I know . . . I’ve done it. I’ve been overwhelmed with anger and hatred for the side I thought was against me.

But what made me cry that day in my room was obviously not the good I saw on any of the sides. It was the fact that because of pride and personal differences, the good of both sides was not able to be measured together. I believe God ordained people on both sides for a special work. But I don’t believe He ordained one side above another. When I came to the end of the book, what I discovered made me angry because I felt like I had to choose one side over the other.

WE’RE ONE BODY, I wanted to shout . . . Please, get your act together or you won’t have young people to pass your offices to. And I’m talking to the left and the right! This IS NOT one sided. It takes two to tango, whether you dance or not.

In my frustration a question popped into my mind. If we are divided, will we not be attacked? But . . . you don’t often hear about countries in civil wars being attacked. Why not, they’re wide open . . . Why didn’t England attack the United States during the Civil War?

I did some research into this and discovered the reason . . . and that reason . . . made me even angrier.

England didn’t attack the United States for several reasons. 1. England was conflicted as to which side it really wanted to support publically. 2. It was thought that dealing with two separate republics would be easier than one. And then came the third reason . . . the worst reason. They were selling weapons to both sides. They were making money off us . . . while we were destroying ourselves! We weren’t a threat . . . so there was no need to fight us . . . so they decided to make money off us as we killed ourselves for them.

If they were to join a side they would have lost money by entering the war; supporting their soldiers while losing one side of “clients.”

Now, I love my English friends, but this just made me slightly upset . . . to say the least . . . they were making money . . . MONEY . . . off us, while we were killing ourselves.

And then I saw the analogy. We, the Seventh-day Adventist Church are in a Civil War. We are fighting each other for our own agendas while the Devil makes money off us in the form of souls we are neglecting.

Because, while I interviewed each side of the “war” I heard one resounding theme. “We want to be the last generation on earth; we want to reach the world for Christ.”

Really?

Because as long as we continue to fight ourselves we will NEVER be a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Until we can come together and become a united force, we will continue to lose valuable souls that Christ died on a cross for.

Obviously we’re really good at fighting, what if we took that passion and turned it toward the real enemy. Not each other, but to Satan. What if we could unite against the real traitor? How much could we accomplish?

How can we unify? Only through Christ and getting into His Word. Only through daily seeking God in our own lives can our hearts be humbled and changed. By beholding we become changed. And when we start to behold God above ourselves and our agendas and even our personal viewpoints can we become that united Church that can be a threat to the enemy.

In the end, I refuse to choose a side. I will continue to attend and support GYC as I will continue to attend and support my Church youth events. If there is something I don’t agree with at either, I will voice those concerns to the appropriate people and dialog with them about why that was chosen. While understanding there is a Divide in my Church, I refuse to acknowledge its power. Because to me, it has none. I am a Seventh-day Adventist. Not a right-wing Adventist or a left-wing Adventist. Not a Spectrum Adventist, not a GYC-Adventist, not a One Project Adventist, not a Michigan Conference Adventist . . . because I don’t believe God cares if I read Spectrum or if I attend GYC or any other event the church has to offer. What I believe He cares about is whether I have a personal relationship with Him . . . because that’s what guarantees He’ll be able to spend eternity with me . . . the whole reason He came to earth and died on a cross and in three days rose again . . . so I could live with Him forever.

So, until we can set aside our pride and come together with the single goal of getting addicted to the Word of God, we can forget about being the last generation on this earth.

Three Years Later

My journey with my church has morphed and grown since writing this in 2011. I’ve become involved heavily within my church. Through interning two summers at the North American Division headquarters in the General Conference building, through becoming an NAD senior youth volunteer coordinator, through joining the board of the Society of Adventist Communicators—all these things gave me greater insight into my church but also allowed me to see more of what I disdained about my church through allowing me an up-close vantage point.

I’ve found myself more than once being dishonest to the words I wrote in this piece. I’ve picked sides. I’ve neglected relationships based on what side I thought a person was on. And in the end, I’ve found that this is a lonely and broken way to live. This piece was written out of love and youthful idealism for my church. Part of which turned to cold cynicism when I saw more things wrong than ways to fix them—when I saw church leaders continue brushing things under the rug.

Then I looked in the mirror, and I saw my church staring back at me. Yes, church can be defined in many ways . . . the structure . . . the people . . . the building . . . but I choose to believe it is all three and maybe more . . . and I am part of that composition. I am the church. And what I do and say does play a role no matter how small that is. If I choose to bad mouth one organization and uplift another I am in fact tearing down my church. And when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who was doing just that. Someone who hated a brother just because he identified himself with an organization I disagreed with. Someone who disdained a sister because she felt compelled to live a more restricted life. I was someone who was quick to judge others yet even faster to defend myself and my shortcomings.

I am my church and I am human and I am failing. I am killing it. And I am ready to now take responsibility for that. By God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness and direction . . . through putting down my man-made idols and walls built from bitterness and pride, hopefully I can become a healer and not a killer. Someone who binds up wounds instead of constantly pouring salt into them. Someone who is a unifier and not a divider. Someone who lets others grow at their own pace just as I want others to allow me to grow at my own pace. Someone who loves and doesn’t hate the people who also look into their mirrors and also call themselves the church. Someone who is like Jesus to the world. This is my prayer. This is my wish. This is my continuing story.

Note: This article was originally published by Suzanne Ocsai at sdaunder30.wordpress.com. It has been re-posted with permission.

photo credit: Funky64 (www.lucarossato.com) via photopin cc

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