What do Adventist Millennials Believe about Women’s Ordination?

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I have a love for Millennials. At nearly 80 million in the United States alone, they comprise the largest generation in history, and will shape much of what takes place in our nation and around the world. Even though the Millennial generation (those born approximately between 1980 and 2000) outnumbers the Boomer generation in terms of its size, they are practically nonexistent in churches. By one estimate, only 15 percent of Millennials identify themselves as Christians.

While there are many Millennials in total, only one of five is in church today. Within Adventism, the population is not only largely absent in churches, they are also generally underrepresented in leadership within the church. This is one group that our church needs to intentionally reach out to.

With the topic of Women’s Ordination as a key agenda item at this year’s General Conference Session in San Antonio, some researchers wanted to know how Millennials viewed this heavily discussed topic. So, there was a study released by the ClergyEd.com and the Religion and Biblical Languages Department at Andrews as they investigated the views of ordination and women clergy within Adventist Millennial young adults (that is to say, those Millennials who remain in the church). Through a connection with a friend, I was able to get a copy of the full report which you can read by clicking here. What were the results of this survey and what lessons can we learn from it for the future of our church?

Within the survey, 679 Millennial young adults, approximately a third of which were born outside of the United States, were asked the following five questions:

  1. If they agreed or disagreed with the ordination of women clergy
  2. If the decision to ordain would positively or negatively influence their perception of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
  3. Would the decision to not ordain would positively or negatively influence their financial support of the church
  4. If they identified with conservative or liberal ideologies
  5. If they would withhold tithe if the corporate church organization endorsed inequality in hiring practices with regard to female ministers/corporate leaders

The report drew the following conclusions from that survey in brief:

“While Millennial young adults (18-32 years) largely support the idea of women being ordained to ministry and many would have a positive to very positive response to this action, it would seem the decision to not ordain women, for many, would not be a deal breaker when it comes to their perception of the Seventh-day Adventist church and their willingness to support this church financially.”

If you’re a more visual person, you may find the following charts helpful:

Being a Millennial myself, I see three positive take away points.

  1. The future looks bright for our church.*

The findings seem to imply that young adults aren’t caught up in the labels that seems to infiltrate the larger population of the church. Only 25% considered themselves as either liberal or conservative. I’ve shared before why I hate labels, but this point builds a strong foundation for meaningful dialogue and tackling the hard issues we face to face as a church in the future.

*Of course, it goes without saying that, unless we do something to reach and nurture Millennials on the path of discipleship, statistically speaking, the church of tomorrow might also look bleak.

2. Adventist Millennials are committed to mission.

Contrary to what some fear mongers have claimed in the recent past (that no matter what the vote is this summer, there will be a split in the church), Millennials generally aren’t in favor of taking their toys and going home or starting a new organization. This issue is not a make or break deal for them. Although many are in favor of ordaining women, we can hold convictions and live with those who disagree with us.

3. Further study is needed.

This survey was very eye opening. It revealed some unexpected findings. For example, there was the realization that, although small, there is a higher percentage of women than men who disagree strongly or disagree slightly with ordaining women. This apparently left the surveyors wondering why this manifested itself as well.

In their opinion:

“It could well be that hostility towards women by women exists within the Seventh-day Adventist church or that some women feel that the type of woman who presently enters ministry is one they feel is not suited to this role. Additionally, this result could simply be due to opposition not being gender specific, given females outnumber males both in this study and in the church organization. Further analysis should be undertaken as many more factors other than those mentioned above could be influencing this unexpected result found in Millennial young adult women aged 18-32. The church organization should thoroughly investigate the underlying factors of opposition towards the ordination of women, as there may be some very real and problematic issues that may need to be addressed outside the ordination issue itself. This analysis will be undertaken using Beyond Beliefs data in the near future.”

Either way, this provides some informative and relevant information for those who are passionate about reaching and understanding the next generation.


Note: The Beyond Beliefs study is a major research project that sought to investigate what 679 Millennial young adults (ages 18-32) really think of each and every one of the 28 Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist church and 90 other factors that influence their faith. See www.beyond-beliefs.com for more information about this study and to sign up for email updates about current and future publications and free reports.

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Called to be Free

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I grew up in church. We went to church at least 3 times a week, sometimes more. Since my dad was also an evangelist, we had months were I spent most nights setting up the three carrousels of projector slides, along with a “dissolver” (Google it!).   I also set up the movie projector with two reels, to watch a movie about the dangers of smoking called “I’m Sorry Baby” and another one about the life of Jesus that was pretty cool. I got a lot of church, but not enough Christ.

I liked going to church. The only thing that I struggled with was all the rules and regulations that did not make sense to a teenage boy. They say that rules without relationship leads to rebellion, and that is exactly what happened to me. I was shown the what without the why. I received knowledge without power. That has three negative consequences:

1.Knowledge without power is frustrating. You never feel secure, because you never know when you have done enough. Should you pray one or two hours? Maybe an all-nighter would be even better. You work towards victory instead of from victory. There is never a finish line. It’s the race where the dog can never reach the rabbit right in front of him. It’s like the song says “Forever running, but losing the race…” One of the most vivid memories of growing up is having a constant feeling of guilt. I knew what was right, yet I couldn’t do it. That was very frustrating. It happens to plenty of Christians every day. Think about it for a moment.

  • Millions know about the dangers of smoking, yet plenty choose to do it.
  • Millions know about the benefits of going to school, yet many drop out.
  • Millions know about the consequences of premarital sex. Yet teenage pregnancy is rampant.
  • We know what to do. But we don’t. Why? Because information is good, but not good enough.

2.Knowledge without power is dangerous. It can make you feel superior, and act superior. It can make you think that all you need to convert someone is to share information with them. I had no problem reciting the eschatological timeline. I could produce all the texts that proved why we were the correct church and Catholics were not. This is dangerous, not because prophetic information is not good, it is, but because when conversion has not happened, knowledge can be used as a billy club, even if in your own private life you are struggling with secret sin. This Ellen White quote summarizes what happens in an unconverted heart:

“There need to be far more lessons in the ministry of the Word of true conversion than of the arguments of the doctrines. For it is far easier and more natural for the heart that is not under the control of the Spirit of Christ to choose doctrinal subjects rather than the practical. There are many Christ-less discourses given no more acceptable to God than was the offering of Cain. They are not in harmony with God.”{VSS – The Voice in Speech and Song pg 342.3}

3.Knowledge without power makes secondary issues, primary. The greatest battles in the church I went to growing up were secondary issues. Hair length for guys. Movie theater attendance. Whether jeans were appropriate for church. Long battles. Lively discussions. Always followed by more rules and less freedom. When we make everything a sin, eventually nothing becomes a sin. It seemed to me that the greatest questions of life, were left unattended, especially the most important one, how to develop a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I understood that concept, and the knowledge of a loving Savior traveled the hardest 18 inches in the world, from my head to my heart.

He wants to make you free, forever.

In summary, it seemed that people in my church (and sometimes in my house), were more interested in compliance, even if conversion didn’t happen. As long as you looked the part, it was OK. Fear was used as motivator to change. The problem with that strategy is that it never lasts. Jesus changes from the inside out and that takes time. What He is after is character transformation, not just compliance to the rules. He wants to make you free, forever.

I know for sure one thing. That same God who freed me 20 years ago, wants to free you too.  Will you let him?

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“The Same”

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The hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.

The Baptist church in Redmond, OR greeted me with the warm glow of yellowing aged fluorescent fixtures casting a dull yellow light on a brown and gold carpet.  I walked past the tables that bore numerous CDs and peered into a dimly lit sanctuary.  Up front was a man in a dingy sweater and torn jeans.  He wore no shoes.  I was late, but I was just glad to have made it.  I was a boy of 14 – happy to be with some fellow youth at a real modern music concert.  The song spoke of prairies and the peace the man felt when he was in them.  He launched into a song swearing to not despise his brother for his weakness and not regarding him for his strength.  The voice was not full.  It was not punchy and bold.  It was broken.  It was an old tractor, grinding along and tearing up hardened soil, turning my sometimes cynical teenage attitude upside down and leaving the soft, dark parts of my soul exposed for planting.  The next song is one that buried itself deep, though it would not spring up immediately.  He sang of a man who “took off his shoes and scratched his feet” and who “did not take a wife.”  He spoke of how the “hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.”  I had grown up with The Bible in Living Sound as my daily bread.  I knew all the stories of Jesus fish coin to silver shekels.  Somehow, though, I had never thought of the measured diction coming from my double tape deck as the words of a homeless man.  The Jesus in my Bible story books did not look in the least bit homeless.  He looked like he had just participated in a Bible times Pantene Pro V commercial.  What a stark contrast to the picture presented by this raspy voice singing with a bright guitar.  I would never forget that evening spent with Rich Mullins.  I would never get a chance to have another.

Years later, I sit in my classroom reading a book with my students that has shown me more spiritual truths than perhaps any other I have ever read.  I know what line is coming.  It is my favorite line – one I have tried to make one of the great guiding passages of my life.  It washes over us and I paused, savoring the moment.  “Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.”  Students give teachers strange looks when teachers pause with a look of spiritual ecstasy on their faces.  It’s there for a reason. My mind flashed back to a man in tattered clothes talking about a homeless man in a little church in central Oregon.  “The same.”  The similarity between the honest character of Atticus Finch, Rich Mullins, and Jesus centers on this simple phrase.  “The same.”

When I read the gospels, I see a Man with a single-minded focus on praising the genuine.  Every time He interacted with people, He was real.  “Birds have nests, and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”  I can’t think of a better way to sum up the term “real” than this.  Rich Mullins put it elegantly when he stated:

Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted.

“…If I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted.”

There seems to be little that Jesus could give less of a flying flip about than the wrong appearances causing distractions.  A sinful woman caresses His feet with tears and perfume.  It doesn’t look right.  It looks like He is perfectly used to partaking in evil.  He doesn’t care.  It is genuine.  He blesses it.

He hangs out with sinners.  He comes eating and drinking.  He gets a reputation for it.  He does not care.  He interacts with people who are genuine.  Woman at the well: genuine.  Roman Centurion: Jesus wanted to go to the man’s house – Jesus heals his servant: genuine.  Woman who gives her mites: genuine.  Lepers: genuine.  Canaanite pagan woman: genuine.  He raves about these people.  It’s like he cannot get enough.  “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

Rich Mullins struck a deep chord in me because he was real.  Ever since I was young I felt it was, for me, a practice in self-righteousness to dress up for church.  Here, in Rich Mullins, I heard it laid out simply why I felt this way.  It is hard to reach out to the broken when one is trying to keep one’s Sabbath clothes nice.  It is hard to be real with my students when I’m pretending I don’t make mistakes.  I tell people that dressing up for church can damage one’s self and one’s relationship with the least of these and I often get a look that says “Blasphemy!”  What’s more, I watch as children sing songs about dressing up and putting nice clothes on for Jesus.  I wonder how we got here.  It’s not Exodus.  The people were only to wash their clothes to come to Sinai.  It’s not in the Old Testament.  David worships naked.  We have lots of sack cloth and ashes.  Camel hair seems to be a thing…  The nice clothes thing is not in the gospels.  The man who dresses up to come to the feast is told to discard his attempts at covering himself.  The early church seemed to have a dress and judgment problem.  James 2:1-9 describes the situation of rich people being granted places of honor in corporate worship and poor people not.  Today, it is rare in many churches to see poorly dressed people on the platform in honored positions.  Why might that have importance?  Because if a poor person comes to a church and sees no one with whom he or she can identify on the platform, the message he or she gets is pretty clear.  “You get fully integrated when you look presentable.”  If poor people cannot imagine themselves at that place of being that put together, they will likely not feel there is any future in such a church for them.

That’s what the grace is for.

Here, however, is the other side of it.  Jesus met with Nicodemus where he was at.  He met in dialogue with the rich young ruler.  He ate with affluent pharisees.  Jesus meets us where we are at.  There is nothing more genuine than where we are at.  Jesus wants us to come as we are.  One of the biggest reason I am humbled by the label “Christian” is that Jesus Christ loved the genuine.  He thirsted for it.  I have that same thirst.  I look at my inner being and I see layers of façade and mask.  I see someone who is afraid to show my vulnerabilities.  Someone who chooses to go along with the crowd far too easily.  I am no monk.  I do not identify with the poor well at all.  My only hope is that I see God working on me a little bit at a time.  Perhaps, someday far in the future, Jesus may truly say of me, “Steve is the same in his heart as he is on the public streets.”  This is not that day, but it is a little closer to it than yesterday was.  That’s what the grace is for.
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Somethings Happening: An Interview

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A few weeks ago we published a blog titled “The Self Murdering Church” by Suzanne Ocsai. While the first part of the article was originally written in 2011 it’s relevance has not waned. In fact, people are still sharing it and talking about it. However, interesting as “The Self-Murdering Church” may be it was not written in a vacuum. Suzanne herself says “I wrote this… 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.”

Many who read this immediately asked the question, “Where is this manuscript?” or, “When will it be published?” And after a long process the manuscript has finally been published as a Kindle e-Book in December, 2014[1] titled, “Somethings Happening: The Behind the Scenes Story of GYC”. Excited to see that the manuscript had finally been published I caught up with Suzanne for a short interview focusing mostly on the contribution “Somethings Happening” makes to the Adventist conversation. Below is the interview followed by details on how to purchase the book.

Suzanne, before we talk about your book I’d like to get to know you as a person a little bit more. Tell us about yourself, what you are currently doing, and how God has blessed you?

I’m the graphic designer for the North American Division. I like Ricola and plan to vacation in Iceland one day. God has blessed me through having a supportive family and friend group.

Besides writing, is there anything else you enjoy doing?

Photographing men with beards for my Beards with Stories project!

Breads with Stories project? That sounds epic. Tell me more!

Beards with Stories is a social media project that I started about 1.5 years ago. If I see a guy with a cool-looking beard I’ll often stop and ask him if I can photograph his beard and interview him about the story behind why he decided to grow a beard or what beards mean to him. Then I post the photo and story on Instagram (@beardswithstories), Facebook, Twitter (beardsWstories), and Tumblr (beardswithstories.com). It’s a little bit like Humans of New York but just men with beards.

Walk us through how God led you to college and ultimately where you are today. Has it been an easy journey?

No it has not been an easy journey. I didn’t think I was going to be able to attend college especially not a private one. There were many semesters when I didn’t know if I would be returning either because of finance issues. But God made sure I was able to graduate and that was a huge blessing! I remember when my status as a student moved from Freshman to Sophomore, it was probably one of the happiest moments because I’d accomplished something I thought would never happen.

Your book “Something’s Happening: The Behind the Scenes Story of GYC” has been in the Adventist spotlight recently. How long did it take you to write the book? What were some of the challenges you faced?

I wrote the first draft in eight months but it took a total of four years from start to publication. Some of big challenges were that I was working with a controversial subject within the church. I faced the initial judgment while trying to contact certain people from both “sides” for interviews. They didn’t know what I was doing or what I was trying to accomplish and if they wanted to be part of it. Most everyone was willing to at least give me one interview though. Some refused, but it was only a handful.

Other challenges came when GYC decided not to purchase the books if printed for their conference and I got a letter from the acquisitions editor I was working with at Pacific Press letting me know that they were no longer interested in publishing the book.

I believed that the story needed to be told and was planning on trying to self-publish before Adventist Today offered me a contract.

Those were just some of the challenges faced.

Talk to us a bit about the journey the book takes the reader on. Is it simply a historical report or is there a deeper place it seeks to take us to?

I wanted to tell the story of how GYC started and what was the driving force behind the organization. I didn’t seek out to come to any conclusions. I had a lot of questions about the organization that I knew other people also had and I wanted to answer those questions.

How about the journey the book took you on? Where were you – in a spiritual sense – when you started? Where are you now that the book is over?

In a spiritual sense? Honestly, I don’t like questions like this because they seem to want to denote some waiver in faith that is strengthened through trial and all ends well and we are now more committed than ever. My faith in God during the process and afterward never waivered. I’ve always loved and trusted Jesus and that never changed. Did my relationship with my church change? Yes. But overall I’m still in the church and still a contributing member. Did I go through challenges? Of course. Did a get angry. Definitely. Did I want to leave the Church? Yes. Did I doubt God? No. I think if this did anything spiritually for me was show me that my faith does not have to be connected to a denomination, church, or religious entity. My faith is my faith, and no one can take it from me.

I think all of us, as Christians and Adventists, sense that there is a lot we can and must do to lead the church toward the community God desires it to be. Do you see yourself and “Something’s Happening” as a part of that movement?

I think that understanding something is key to breaking down prejudices. I hope that my book helps people understand where both sides were coming from. In that sense I believe that it is helping.

If there was one thing you wished your book accomplished in the lives of those who read it and in the church as a whole what would it be?

There are a lot of stuff that’s said about GYC (and the Church youth department). A lot of speculations without foundation. Like I said earlier, I want readers to understand that these were real people with real passion who made something happen despite the odds. I also want the reader to come to an understanding of what that caused others in the church to feel and what really happened behind the scenes. I believe that when we better understand where each other are coming from we can better work together. Hopefully once the political steam dissipates people will be left with something they can use to understand each other.

What message do you have for the young and spiritually strong or struggling Adventists out there?

Know your personal convictions and live boldly according to them.

_____

[1] http://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/02/04/somethings-happening-provides-inside-look-gycs-founding-story

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If you would like to purchase “Somethings Happening: The Behind the Scenes Story of GYC” you can look it up at Amazon.com, on a Kindle device, or just click here.

SuzanneOcsai (Small)

Y. Suzanne Ócsai is a full-time graphic designer, writer, and speaker. She graduated from Southern Adventist University before moving to Maryland to work for the Office of Communication in the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Recently, she founded Beards with Stories, a social media project that features men with beards and the stories behind why they grow them.

Be Selfish!

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Maybe it is a gift… or, maybe it is a part of me that cries out for approval, possibly both… but I have always been a chaser. A pursuer. Not in a creepy, sketchy way, but a way in which I want others to know they are loved.

When someone in need calls, I answer. When my husband wants a table of food and I am desperately tired and wish he could just make a bowl of cereal or his own sandwich, I still cook. When I receive a gift card to buy myself a treat, I spend it on loved ones who are in need… I typically call first, write first, buy the gift first, make the invite first, rescue someone first… As I am on my journey to better health, I realize how I keep getting myself in this situation where I am desperate to lose weight.

Putting others first is a beautiful gift. To live a selfless life, and loving others more than yourself…only God could help us live such a sacrificial life.

While I strive for this daily, and I truly enjoy giving to others more than I do myself, I am dangerously neglecting who I am; and if I am honest, I am a little bitter because I feel so unchased (this can be tackled in another post).

We forget about our health, not just physically but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. When we forget, it takes its toll, and we end up binging on all kinds of vices to feel better. Mine = food;
especially chocolate!

It is not selfish to focus on you for the sake of improvement. Nor to have goals to achieve greatness. In that sense, I would echo the words of Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper “Sometimes it’s important to be selfish. What have you done for YOU lately?”[1]

Now of course, I’m not actually suggesting we be selfish in the sinful kind of way. Bob himself explained what he meant when he posted, “Taking care of yourself IS NOT selfish. Think about it. If you don’t care about yourself, how can you take care of anyone else!” I couldn’t agree more. [2]

God can use us so much more effectively when we live our lives to it’s fullest potential. Don’t grow weary in doing good for others. And don’t grow weary in doing good for you – in an
unselfish way. I guess a good way to sum it all up is like this: “Take the time to be unselfishly selfish.”

I need to remind myself of this daily: Stop. Slow down. Take a breath. Focus. Reconnect with yourself and your Maker. Then you can do even greater things for Him.

Here’s to another month, by the grace of God, of self-discovery, improvement, and successes.

Candy

photo credit: 2011 You Go Girl Half Marathon – Mile 2.7 via photopin (license)

[1] https://twitter.com/mytrainerbob/status/129716667839287297

[2] https://www.facebook.com/mytrainerbob/posts/10151010407085205?fref=nf

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Dear Church

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Let’s talk about BLESSED. No, not #blessed—hot boyfriends and beauty vacations and big screen TVs. Let’s talk about the supernatural riches that God decided to give you just because you’re His.

God’s servants, Paul & Sosthenes, write:

I always give thanks to God for you
because of His grace that He gave you in Messiah Jesus.
Because in Him you have been enriched
in every way—
in all your speech and in all your knowledge—
because our testimony about the Messiah
was shown to be true in you.
Therefore
you do not lack any spiritual gift
while you wait eagerly
for our Lord Jesus, Messiah, to be revealed.

He will keep you
strong to the end,
so that you will be blameless
on the day of our Lord Jesus, Messiah.
Faithful is God, who has called you
into fellowship with His Son,
Jesus, Messiah, our Lord.*

If I were God and saw my church acting like a bunch of wild hypocrites, legalists, libertines, and quarreling hot heads, I’d probably greet them with something like, “Knock it off, you ungrateful dummies!”

But when God wanted to send a message to His church in Corinth in the first century—a church where members were sleeping with prostitutes and shrugging off participation in idol worship, where people got drunk at communion, where people were all about status and celebrity pastors, where worship services were a bit like madhouses—the first thing He said was, “I’m blessing you.”

God’s love letter to His church:

Dear Church,

In Jesus I gave you grace.
In Jesus I have enriched you in every way.
I have enriched your collective speaking.
I have enriched your collective knowing.
I showed that the good news about Jesus is true by making it true in all of you.
I made sure that together you had every spiritual gift.
I am committed to keeping you strong until the end.
I invited you into intimate friendship with Me through My Son.
I am faithful.

Love, the Father.

 

*1 Corinthians 1:4-9
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How to Get Rid of “Worldliness” In the Church

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The following is an edited excerpt of a manuscript for a sermon I preached some time ago titled, “Worship is Life.” The sermon was mostly an analysis of Paul’s description of worship in Romans 12:1-2. The excerpt below deals with the second point in the text which I feel is the most misunderstood one – the issue of worldliness. First the text, then the notes.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Paul says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” In other words, don’t be worldly. Now, what does it mean to be worldly? When I was a kid my father made my brother and I wear church clothes to public school. He wouldn’t allow us to wear jeans because he didn’t want us to be like the “world.” Is that what it means to be like the world? I have been studying what the Bible says about worldliness among Gods people, and the interesting thing is that when the Bible speaks of the world in the church, when it speaks about worldliness among Gods people it’s hardly ever talking about the stuff we talk about. Our definition of worldly is small compared to the Bibles definition. We say silly things like, “The new pastor doesn’t wear a tie! The world is creeping into the church!” Or, “Our church puts the songs on a projector now. I’m telling you the world is coming into the church!” “Can you believe? The church doesn’t have pews anymore. Since when do we have chairs in a church. We are becoming like the world!” Any of you ever heard silly stuff like that before? It’s nonsense! Now let me clarify. I am not saying that we should just accept every new thing as though it didn’t matter. That’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is this: for many of us our definition of worldliness doesn’t go any further than external things. But when the Bible talks about the world in the church, more often than not it’s talking about character. Worldliness in the Bible isn’t “the youth are wearing Roman skirts instead of Jewish ones.” Worldliness in the Bible is Christians who gossip like the world. Christians who hate like the world. Christians who argue like the world. Back stab one another like the world, criticize each other like the world. Christians who are lazy, uncompassionate, merciless, unloving, indifferent and judgmental. That’s biblical worldliness. Its not about wearing jeans, growing dreadlocks, or playing the drum set but talking about the elder behind his back, mistreating your spouse, ignoring your children, and avoiding people at church that you don’t get along with. That’s worldliness.

In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul says,

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”

With this in mind, it’s perfectly possible to be a good conservative, orthodox, traditional Adventist who does everything by the book and still be worldly. Really? Are you serious? I thought I was a godly person because I no longer listen to music with curse words. I thought I was godly because I no longer watch violent movies. I thought I was godly because I don’t have tattoos, or piercings, or a Mohawk on my head. Well, I’m not arguing against any of that, but let me ask you: Are you impatient? Are you constantly arguing with people in church. Do you mistreat your children? Do you envy others? Do you gossip or slander your pastor and your elders and deacons? Worldliness is not just culture guys, its character. Do you love only those who love you? Jesus said,

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:46-47).

Worldliness goes a lot further than external things which – more often than not – are a matter of opinion. This is one reason why some of the worldliest people in Jesus’ days were the Pharisees and likewise, I believe that some of the worldliest people in the church today are the people who are always arguing about religion and doctrine but show no love for their neighbor and no compassion for their brothers and sisters. And if worship is a state of being, if worship is a 24/7 phenomenon then you cannot be worldly and a worshiper at the same time. Let me make it clearer. You cannot talk to your wife and children any old kind of way, gossip, boast, and slander during the week and then show up here on Sabbath and think you are worshiping God. You’re not worshiping God.

In Isaiah 29:13 God says,

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

It’s so easy to point at the young man with dreadlocks and call him worldly. It’s so easy to point at the old lady with a necklace and call her worldly. We develop our own definition of worldliness and then run to judge everyone who fits that definition, all the while oblivious that our judgmentalism, criticism, and accusations are ten times more worldly than any necklace or pop-fashion item could ever be. We are so fast to decry how worldliness is creeping into the church and yet we fail to realize that it has been there all along hiding underneath our suits, ties, kosher skirts and pretty conservatism. We are so fast to point to the problem out there and slow to realize that the real issue is in us – not because of external things but because of our attitudes. I have never heard a pagan say, “I don’t like that church because they wear jeans” or, “Christians are hypocrites because they all wear jewelry.” But I have heard many a pagan say, “Christians are hypocrites because they are unkind, unloving, and judgmental.” My hope is that we would stop focusing so much on the external forms of worldliness and instead turn our attention to the real enemy of our witness – our un-Christlike characters.

Today I want to invite you guys to read through the following verses. Meditate on them. Memorize them. Journal one a day for the next week or so for your personal devotion. Lets allow the truth found within these passages to purge the worldliness in our hearts and make us more like Jesus.

Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Mark 12:31 ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Romans 13:10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Colossians 3:14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

1 John 3:16-18 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Matthew 23:8 …you have only one Master and you are all brothers.

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Christ is Enough, Served Plain.

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My husband likes bold flavors; so do I. Ever since I started making burgers at home — with peppers, onions, garlic, all that great stuff mixed right in — I can barely stomach the bland burger joints. But, if a burger joint is my only option, it has to be covered in all sorts of extras to bump up the flavor — pickles, onions, sauces, etc. Meanwhile, when I make burgers at home, my husband refuses to put much of anything on them because he says it messes up the big, bold flavors already there. He wants it served plain. That’s how I view the gospel. It’s big, and bold, and adding other things just messes it up. The gospel, served plain, is enough. Christ, alone, is enough. I want to be constrained to this one thing: Jesus Christ, and that Christ crucified.

 

So often we Christians set forth with behavior modification plans, seeming to believe that our goal is to correct the minutia of each others’ behaviors. We even seem to spend more time arguing doctrinal beliefs with professed believers of God than introducing a Risen Savior to a dying world. That just messes up the flavor. Lift Christ, exalt Christ, magnify Christ, point to a crucified, risen, and returning Savior! Heart Check: If the people we’re engaging don’t gain a better glimpse of a crucified Christ, or have a richer experience with a Risen Lord, or yearn more deeply for a returning Savior, what have we really gained?

 

Live like somebody died for you!

Policing and modifying others’ behaviors won’t teach them of a crucified Christ and won’t coax them into relationship with Him. Exemplify Him who was reviled but didn’t respond with contempt. Live like somebody died for you! Cry out for mercy and forgiveness for those who are hurting (crucifying) yu! Endure suffering so that those who don’t know Christ may come to know the power of His cross and resurrection. “If we can awaken an interest in men’s minds that will cause them to fix their eyes on Christ, we may step aside, and ask them only to continue to fix their eyes upon the Lamb of God. They thus receive their lesson.” [Ellen G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p. 1113

 

Likewise, the message, “Jesus is coming soon,” should never be used as a foreboding omen, but as a joyous proclamation that the same Christ who literally loves us to death is returning for us. As Ellen G. White noted, the shortness of time ought not be urged as an incentive to seek Christ. It savors of selfishness. Is it necessary that the terrors of the day of God be held before us to compel us through fear to right action? This ought not to be. Jesus [alone] is attractive. [TMK, p. 320] Guilt, shame, fear, etc. are never sustainable motivators for healthy relationships (with God or man).

 

Why do we insist on telling Christ He’s not enough?

The only thing we need to hammer home is the message of Christ and His unfailing, unrelenting love. I know many want to insist we must have standards, and we must be a peculiar people, but I promise you His love is enough. His mercy, His grace, His peace, His sacrifice is enough. The message of the cross is forever enough. I know our legalism and desire to feel secure in the framework of rules will have us rebutting, “We have to uphold a standard.” But, Christ IS the standard. The grace dispensed by our crucified Lord will forever be the highest standard to which we could ever aspire! Heart Check: Why do we insist on telling Christ He’s not enough?

 

I’ll leave you with another favorite excerpt from Ellen G. White’s writings quoted in Evangelism (p. 272). “There are many who try to correct the life of others by attacking what they consider are wrong habits. They go to those whom they think are in error, and point out their defects… [However,] those who seek to correct others should present the attractions of Jesus. They should talk of His love and compassion, present His example and sacrifice, reveal His Spirit…There is something richer to speak of. Talk of Christ, and when the heart is converted, everything that is out of harmony with the Word of God will drop off.” Although specifically referencing others’ dress, she was talking about the work Christ does in the hearts of men to help their behaviors reflect their relationship with Him. Adding anything else to the work Christ does in each person just messes up the flavor. Christ is enough, served plain.

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Is It Okay if It’s Broken?

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“Is it okay if it’s broken?”  My car had fallen victim to the epic “Snowpocalypse,” also known as the “Great Dusting of 2014.”  There I was, gleefully enjoying the glory of the inch of snow I’d waited three years for, when a dog, also relishing the wonderful phenomena, jaunted right in front of my car.  I don’t think I would have been able to stop on a dry road, no less a snow covered one. It was him or me. So with a thud the poor pooch took a tumble courtesy of my front bumper.  Fortunately, that large dog seemed to obtain only minor injuries.  My front bumper, on the other hand, was not as hopeful of recovery – it sustained a nice long tear leaving a large chunk of plastic corner dragging pathetically.

I felt bad for the dog, and bad for my pocket book!  I didn’t enjoy having to drive around with my ghetto-style, duck-taped front bumper mistakenly implying, “someone can’t drive.”  Yet after finding out how much replacement would cost, I was ready to consider other options.  Thus, there I was, super glue in one hand, gorilla tape in the other, attempting save my cash while hiding the bash.  But in spite of my best I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-but-I’m-doing-it-anyways efforts, I just couldn’t get it all the way “right.”  Part of the crack wouldn’t go back in line fully for gluing.  I got some glue smudges on the plastic.  I couldn’t find a way to get the plastic vent cover in right without some tape on the outside.  And though my repair actually held the cracked bumper together quite well, I couldn’t fully erase the scar of the damage.

That’s when that almost audible voice seemed to pierce through my fretting consciousness: “Is it okay if it’s broken?”

For a vessel made of dirt to let light shine out of it, it must have some cracks.

I froze. I knew instantly that this was about more than just the car.  There I was, attempting to do to the car the same thing I do with my life. How many times in my life do I inherit a “scar” – whether through my own doing, something done to me, or just results of our messed up world, and I try to cover it.  I try to fix it.  I know I can’t fully make it right, but maybe I’ll at least be able to make it so people won’t be able to notice.  I mean, I wouldn’t want people to think…. Being broken is one thing.  But being visibly broken??

Now I’m not saying that God can’t heal completely – the Bible is very clear that He can.  And I’m not saying that God won’t give us victory over sin – I know that He does.  But sometimes, on this side of heaven, there may still be scars.  We may still be a little bit… broken.  When Paul prayed about a certain weakness he had, all he got was “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  If that weakness, that scar, that brokenness will bring God glory, am I willing to wear it?  Paul also mentions that our treasure is in earthen vessels so people will know specifically that it’s God’s excellence, not ours (2 Cor. 4:7).  And if you think about it, for a vessel made of dirt to let light shine out of it, it must have some cracks – some openings.  Essentially, it has to be broken to fulfill its purpose.

So Michelle, is it okay if you’re broken?  Is it okay if others can even see that you’re broken?  Lord, help me to remember that it is.

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The Beauty of Healthy

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“Stop trying so hard to lose weight. You are a mother. You are busy. It’s exhausting. And you are beautiful anyway!”

I really appreciate the fact that some people notice that I am a busy mother and I am exhausted. I also appreciate that people think I am beautiful regardless of my size. We need more people like this in the world. Really! I agree that you are beautiful, whether you are large, medium or small. We all are unique masterpieces with our own personality, character, gifts and talents. We ALL have something to offer in this life. We all are beautiful in many ways. However, beauty does not necessarily mean we are healthy.

I was shocked when I weighed myself the other day. I decided I would measure my weight loss success via body fat percentage as well as the number on the scale. (I also use clothing sizes to help me monitor my progress). I measured my body fat percentage and I was an astounding 41% body fat! FOURTY ONE! Almost half of me is pure fat. Do you realize that is not healthy? For my age, I am supposed to be around 19-25% body fat. So I have over 20% of unnecessary fat surrounding my organs.

I believe I am a beautiful soul. I have a lot to offer. But unless I make the choice to get healthy, before I get worse, I will not be able to offer myself in the most beautiful way possible – a healthy way. God deserves the best of me. So do those that I love. And lets not forget that I deserve the best of me as well. This isn’t about looks or vanity – its about health.

I am currently in week 1 of being more intentional about my health, clean eating, and exercise. I hope you will start to think about your health too, and make healthier choices if you haven’t already. I pray for God’s amazing grace to pour out on me, and each one of us as we make the choice to live and be healthier.

“Jesus be our strength. Be our self-control. Be our focus. Be our determination.”

By God’s grace we can do this!

Stay tuned for my weight loss journey results next week!

photo credit: Cohen.Jeffrey via photopin cc

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