Should Adventists Collaborate with Other Denominations?

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Are non-Adventist churches our rivals or our friends when it comes to evangelism? When we plant a church in a community, Baptists and Lutherans are already there. Should we be confrontive or collaborative with them?

Historically, our approach has been confrontation. A century ago and more, Adventist evangelists were often master debaters. They arrived in town, pitched a big beige tent, and challenged local preachers to doctrinal debates. Quick on the draw with silver bullet proof texts, the Adventist won the spiritual showdown. He carried much of the crowd into subsequent evangelistic meetings. Before leaving town, he planted a church. That’s how many Adventist congregations got started in the old days.

This approach, while effective in its time, left a bitter aftertaste. Churches founded on confrontation with fellow Christians were unwelcome in the community. Moreover, these congregations tended to be internally contentious, with Sabbath keepers fighting each other over nuances of doctrine, diet and assorted lifestyle issues. Many century-old churches still haven’t attained the unity for which Christ died. Contention is in their DNA, transferred from generation to generation. I know a little church that nearly split amid a nasty discussion about mushroom dishes at “fellowship” dinners.

We Adventists feel called to hold society accountable for threats and attacks against religious liberty, hoping to delay a national Sunday law. Freedom is precious to God and should be equally dear to us. But perhaps we need to do a better job of holding ourselves accountable to religious liberty in our own churches, where conflict and persecution happen with alarming regularity.

Some professed liberals are intolerant of those who do not subscribe to their subversive agenda. So-called conservatives sometimes care more about what people are eating than whether they have enough food to eat. Criticism from both sides often rises to the level of persecution.

Perhaps church boards should appoint an elder to monitor religious liberty within the congregation, for the sake of preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Most of us have come to realize that Jesus wants us to be nice, both among ourselves and with our neighbors. We are less likely to condemn Christians who worship on Sunday, and we are increasingly courageous in befriending them. We serve the homeless side by side with Catholics, without catching the mark of the beast. But the question remains: can Adventists committed to evangelism collaborate with other churches in town without compromising our unique message and mission?

We might learn from Ellen White. Her teaching and example admonished nineteenth-century Adventists who contended among themselves and their Sunday-keeping neighbors. In 1888, delegates convened in Minneapolis for a General Conference Session. Not surprisingly, a big debate ensued. Ellen White famously rebuked the contentious spirit—but what is not well known is that while in Minneapolis she collaborated with non-Adventist Christians. She spoke at a rally of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—fellow Christians who at that time were agitating for a national Sunday law. Obviously Ellen White didn’t agree with them about that. But she did unite with them on common ground in seeking moral reforms in American society. She became quite popular at these non-Adventist rallies—to the consternation of Sabbatarians more interested in being “peculiar people” than loving and collaborative neighbors.

Ellen White even entrusted her signature book, Steps to Christ, to non-Adventists for publication. She awarded initial printing rights to Dwight Moody’s brother in law, Fleming Revell. In writing other books, she often borrowed the language of non-Adventist authors, effectively collaborating with their teaching.

Here’s the point we should take home to our hearts: Ellen White collaborated with fellow Christians and we can do the same. We can cooperate with them regarding areas of common faith in Christ without compromising our unique doctrines.

I finally learned this in my own pastoral ministry. Joining the non-Adventist ministerial association provided opportunities to preach at a community Easter celebration. People who viewed me on local Christian TV greeted me at the mall as a brother in Christ. Pastors invited me to visit their churches and pray during services. One had me mediate a dispute among his elders. I joined a community Christian music group (no great contribution there, I assure you, but I did have fun and made friends for my church). The pastor of the city’s biggest church, who previously disliked Adventists, sponsored me as a law enforcement chaplain—connecting me with people in crisis whom otherwise I could never invite to church. One time a “March for Jesus” was moved from Sabbath morning to afternoon on my behalf. Fellow chaplains teased me about being a vegetarian—then wanted meatless recipes. Nobody accused Adventism of being a cult.

Meanwhile our Sabbath attendance doubled. The key was collaboration with the Christian community while preserving a distinctly Adventist message and mission.

Pastors throughout North America are doing all that and more in their communities. Let’s support them and join in collaborating with fellow Christians as we proclaim our message and plant our churches.

Note: This article has been used with permission of the author. Republished from outlookmag.org

photo credit: handshake via photopin (license)

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mw_feb2011Martin Weber, DMin, served as pastor, editor, author, evangelist and police chaplain across North America and taught pastors on five continents with the General Conference Ministerial Association. He is currently the Seventh-day Adventist product manager for Faithlife/Logos Research Systems in Bellingham, Washington. Visit his website in defense of fundamental Adventist beliefs: www.SDA4me.com.

8 Reasons to Stop Adventist End-Time Fear Mongering

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“The end of times.” They are words that can strike fear into the heart of the best of Adventists. It’s at about that point in the conversation when you wish you could sneak out and join your pre-tribulation rapture Baptist friends! Yes, you know you might be Adventist if your childhood nightmares were about running through the woods being chased by angry Catholics. Ok, for some of you that may still happen today! When it comes to the end of times, there are a lot of ideas that may cause confusion and fear: Am I truly going to qualify for translation? What if I cave under persecution? Don’t I have to achieve a certain level of “perfection” before Jesus can come? Isn’t the church going down the drain of compromise? Am I canning enough food?

Some of these questions may seem silly, but some are very serious. And all can cause a degree of fear about what’s to come. But below I’d like to present 8 reasons why I believe we need to stop spreading fear over the end times. (No, these are nowhere near full theological discourses on these topics. Yet hopefully they’ll give a little perspective and “turn the light on,” so to speak, for some of the under-the-bed end-time monsters we’ve feared).

  1. Because they’re going to steal your stash of food anyways. Seriously, in the end times, if things get really rough and you have a hoard of food, do you NOT think they’ll come looking for it? And yes, maybe God will miraculously hide it from them, but it could also be that He’ll let yours be the first to go. Because then you’ll actually have to exercise faith and trust Him to provide for you like the rest of the saints! Ok, I’m not saying that we aren’t counseled to prepare, grow our own food, get out of cities, etc. We are told this is wise and important. But if you’re trying to feverishly get off the grid and get setup in your own self-sufficient hideout before everything goes down, you may have another thing coming to you.
  1. Because your making through the end times is God’s business, not yours. So let me ask you: At what point in the future does your salvation STOP being about what God does and START being about what you do? Will your faith be strong enough to stand in the end-time persecution? Instead of fearing that question, why don’t you ask yourself a better question: Am I learning to trust God NOW? Am I giving God my everything NOW? Because if you are, then He should have enough raw material to work with to get you through the end times. Yes, by listening to God and surrendering today, you are doing the very best thing you can do to get ready for what’s coming tomorrow. And if God helped you yesterday to prepare for the challenges of today, what makes you think He won’t continue that all the way through the end? Like it’s been step by step the whole time and then when the end comes it’ll suddenly switch to some quantum leap that you may or may not make? Just study Ellen White’s vision of the narrow way and you’ll see that’s not true.
  1. Because the final generation folks won’t be any better than you. Wait a minute? How can I say that? “Not just anyone will qualify for translation, you know!” As if we have different classes of the saved you mean? Like the “first class” saved who get to see Jesus come and the “second class” saved who were only saved enough to be laid to rest before the end? Yes, God is merciful and there will be people laid to rest before all the trouble – praise the Lord! And yes, He knows what we can bear. But since when do we get to create “levels” of salvational status?  But wait: have I not read that, “When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own” (Christ’s Object Lessons p. 69)? See, these guys got it together! Some might say it’s because they won the hard-earned victory over eating cheese, fully embraced dress reform, or stood tall when the church was “compromising.” And these things may full well be true! But could it be that we’re missing the point of what it means to reproduce God’s character? If God’s character is truly love (1 John 4:8), then these would be the people who’ve allowed God to come into their hearts most completely. And since we also know there will be a shaking time when many in the church will exit and many others will enter (2 Thes. 2:3 etc.), are we really sure this group is going to “look” quite like we think it will? As some of the good looking “Pharisees” exit, might there be that one random guy in that final group who found Jesus toward the end, is fully sold-out for Him, and will be standing around with his long hair, necklaces, or torn-up jeans, munching on a bag of Cheetos he joyously found in the wilderness right before translation? Okay, I really don’t know, and Cheetos in the wilderness may be a little far-fetched. But you get the point. I’m only guessing here, but I have a suspicion that the makeup of that 144,000 might surprise us. But if you love Jesus with all your heart now, they’ll be a group you’ll fit right into
  1. Because standing without a mediator does not mean your best Friend leaves you. You might have read quotes like the following: “Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above, are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling” (The Great Controversy p. 425). Yeah, it will happen. There will be a time when right and wrong, good and evil, can be seen so clearly following the deceiver’s lies will have no appeal to us. In fact, The Desire of Ages p. 668 tells us that, “Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, though communion with God, sin will become hateful to us.” Halleluiah! It starts now. But does this mean that suddenly we’re left alone to conquer in our own strength? Like we’ve finally reached some holy state where we don’t NEED Jesus anymore? Friends, if I EVER – even at the very end of time – get to a place where I don’t think I need Jesus anymore, you will know I’m NOT right with God. No, Jesus may not be needing to mediate for our continued sins during this period, but this doesn’t mean He leaves us or that our strength and salvation is in anything other than Him and Him completely. Just like Jacob during His night of wrestling – He felt he was struggling alone, but Jesus himself was right there the entire time.
  1. Because it’s God who vindicates His character, not us. Going back to the idea of a last generation who will finally vindicate God’s character to the world, I again am not in any doubt that God’s people will show His character of love at the end. But this can sometimes be taken to make it feel like “we better get our act together otherwise the universe won’t be able to believe that God’s law can be kept and it’s up to us to prove it!” First of all, Jesus already proved that. Done. He used none of his divine power, and He did it! And yes, I believe that the same power He accessed is available to us today. Yet the idea that there must be some ambiguous critical mass of people in the end who get it together to some certain level where God can start the final events and his character be secure? Look through scripture: every time God’s name is to be vindicated, HE is the one that does it (Ps. 23:3, Ps. 79:9, Isa. 43:25, Eze. 36:21-24, and many more). Now yes, God DOES vindicate His name through His people! And yes, I do believe that God’s people at the end of times will be a witness to the universe. But nevertheless, let us not forget that it is GOD who vindicates His own name, not us. We are simply used by Him in this process. If the universe at the end is remarking about how good WE are instead of how good GOD is, something will have gone terribly wrong.
  1. Because not every new change or differing opinion is a sign that the church’s standards are going down the drain. New music that’s not in the (secretly canonized) hymnal? We’re becoming like the world! A new way of looking at something in the Bible? We’re losing our identity! Now, there are many “new” things that are not going to take the church in a good direction. But that doesn’t mean that everything new or different is a step down the road to perdition. I seem to find that a lot of our controversy in the church is not so much over issues themselves, but over fear. We are constantly on our guard. Constantly classifying people, speakers, and teachers as “safe” or “questionable.” And it’s true that many winds of false teaching and practice will threaten the church at the end – as they have in the past. It’s true that we must study scripture and be faithful to it! But if our Adventist pioneers saw how much we fear change and challenge, I wonder if they’d be rolling in their graves. In our zeal to preserve the message of these pioneers, are we losing their spirit? A spirit that was not afraid to ask questions, challenge beliefs, and follow God’s leading wherever it took them? Trusting that God would lead HIS church?
  1. Because it’s not your job to facilitate the shaking. As stated in the previous point, if we’re truly trusting God to lead HIS church, would we be so zealous to clean it out or so fearful of it’s corruption? Let’s not forget that in Matthew 13, God instructed the wheat and the tares to be left together till the harvest. The workers (us) were getting all freaked out that tares were growing with the wheat! But God let them be – even in HIS field – HIS church. He will sort it out in the end. Till then, can we be okay with believing that this is still God’s church that He loves – even with the tares? Liberal tares, conservative tares, tares that look like wheat, wheat that look like tares… God knows. You don’t.
  1. Because fear is not of God. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15). “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy 1:7). Maybe you fear that you’re not good enough or prepared enough for the end times, maybe you fear that you’ll fold under the pressure or not be “perfect” enough to stand in the final generation, or maybe you fear what’s happening in the church and are reacting in a phobic way because of it. Yes, we are most definitely to watch and pray. But we are not to fear. Fear is of the devil. Hope is of God. A hope that the same God who started the work will complete it – in the world, and in you (Phil. 1:6). Like Paul, we can say “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).  So will you commit it to Him today? Will you commit YOU to him today? No, you’re not ready for what’s coming. But He is.

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The ISIS Crisis: What Christianity Desperately Needs to Learn

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A desert sun bakes the blood on the backs of a few shackled men, as their legs slowly shuffle through the dirt beneath their feet. One stumbles into the crowd surrounding their path, legs buckling from exhaustion. A punishing gun hilt strikes him down, fading his world into black. When his eyes slowly open, and he finds a suffocating darkness. He can feel beads of sweat mixing with blood and tears. He hears the mumbles around him swell into shouts. “Allāh Akbar!” And then the sun floods into his vision as the bag over his head is ripped away. A gun fires, and he falls into the dusty ground, limp. A piercing silence lingers around the edges of his body before it is chased away by his wife’s screams. And the video goes viral.

In the past year, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has tirelessly worked to leave its mark on the world. From newspapers to YouTube, and everything in between, ISIS has commanded headlines, moved lawmakers, and it has begun to wrestle nations with tactics that have troubled the modern world. With radical fidelity to ancient Muslim practices, jihadists have moved towards bludgeonings and executions, explosions and crucifixions, and even the re-emergence of slavery – all in the name of the advancement of their beliefs.

The senior spokesman for the Islamic State, Sheikh Abu Muhammed al-Adnai, has propagandized “the Prophetic Methodology” as the principle reasoning for why the group is what it is, and why ISIS does what it does. They claim to, in essence, strictly follow Muhammad’s example and teachings (with relentless, unmalleable fervor). Practicing takfiri (excommunication) of kuffar (infidels), the Islamic State hopes to purge the world – and has begun attempting to do so, with harrowing brutality.

What if the cause of Christ possessed a similar (but balanced) passion?

Though ISIS recently attainted a foothold on the world’s stage, the story they tell is not a new one. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the son.” (Ecc 1:9) During the 1st century around the time of Nero, Christians were hunted as if they were beasts of prey. Thousands were imprisoned and thousands more lost their lives to unmentionable cruelties. And it was all done in the name of preserving political advantage and a familiar religion – a stone throw away from ISIS’ goals. The next wave of extremism associated with religion did not come against Christians – it came at the hands of professed followers of Christ. The 12th and 13th centuries are marked by the bloody massacres that occurred during seven major crusades led in the Middle East by the then singular figure of Christianity.

Solomon, in his wisdom and old age, saw that as the centuries turned, history would repeat itself – and it has. Not only did this turn of the century bring back the persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS and many other groups, but it has brought to light a religious dedication that has been largely unfamiliar to many. The excessive zeal sympathizers of ISIS display shines with striking contrast to the infamy of much of Christianity’s Laodicean attitude. Without endorsing any of the actions of ISIS, is it possible that Christians may have something to learn from the group?

What if the cause of Christ possessed a similar (but balanced) passion? In 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi publicly assumed the role of caliph, thousands of jihadists literally left all they had to move across the world to follow him. And in Luke 18:22, when Jesus said, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor…then come and follow me.” How many Christians truly relinquished their desire for the newest iPad, and instead chose to give that money to the poor? How many turned away from Hollywood for direction on looks and behavior and turned to follow Christ? When Bagdadi began to enact Sharia law, Muslim followers adopted its principles as a strict code to live by – as the only way to live. And in Matthew 22:39, when Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself”, how many Christians adopted regular volunteer programs or mission work? How many began to regularly help feed/clothe the homeless, or encourage the imprisoned, or help the local/national/international sick as Jesus asked in Matthew 25:34-36? Jihadist militants while on missions of murder have been known to chant multiple passages from their religious text, the Koran, committed to memory for guidance and “inspiration”. And how many millennial Christians can name (not even recite) five bible verses that could be used to tell someone else that God loves them?

For centuries, the earth has been ravaged by militant groups of people fighting for one religion, or fighting against another. The members of ISIS may live on the fringe edges of what is radical and what is humane, but in some ways when it comes to “being a follower” of what they believe in, they are putting Christians to shame. Now imagine what impact on the world there would be if a group of believers showing Christ-like, Spirit-led love were just as passionate about their faith.

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Divergent

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I finally watched the 2014 film, Divergent, which was based on a science-fiction book of the same name. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society where everyone is expected to choose one of five subcultures to live and work with. Each subculture, or faction, requires strength in and conformity to specific attributes, such as bravery, selflessness, intelligence, etc. The faction system is designed for control and predictability. However, as with all systems, there are flaws, one being when a person doesn’t neatly fit into any one category because they have strengths in all five areas. A person who doesn’t fit just one faction, but instead could fit many, is called “divergent.” Divergents, like the main characters, are a threat to the system because they can’t be pigeonholed into others’ preconceived notions, and they can’t be controlled. They are freethinkers who approach problems and solutions in ways others don’t, and quite frankly, can’t. Their thoughts and abilities far exceed the parameters of the five factions.

We have a God who is wild, uncontrollable, incomprehensible, and paradoxical.

If you’re human, like me, you rather enjoy some measure of control and predictability in your environment; you rather enjoy your compartmentalized systems. The flaw in your system, though, is that God is divergent. He doesn’t think or act like you do. He doesn’t conform to your system. Deep within us, we want a God who isn’t sovereign over us, but is subject to us, a God who is predictable or at least fully understandable by some stretch of our imaginations. Instead, we have a God who is wild, uncontrollable, incomprehensible, paradoxical — in short, He’s divergent. In fact, His ways diverge so much from ours that He’s said higher than the heavens are above the earth are His thoughts than our thoughts and His ways than our ways {Is. 55:9; Ps. 103:11}.The farthest object observed from planet earth is more than 13 billion light years away. God is saying His thoughts and ways are more than 13 billion light years above ours.

While we can only see a few options for solving our most difficult problems, our Divergent God, who towers more than 13 billion light years above our circumstances, sees our end from our beginning, and God foresaw our darkest days before we ever took a breath is the same God who orchestrates our brightest moments, loved us from before time began, and has promised to work all things together for our good. If we have committed to being submitted to such a God whose thoughts and ways are so above, then we’re choosing to give up any semblance of control. We’re choosing to give up what we thought our stories would be so we can fully embrace what He’s still writing out in our lives. When we follow the calling of a Divergent God with complete obedience, we relinquish the option for things to make complete sense. We have a God who is both full of wrath and full of mercy, a Man of War and Prince of Peace, a Lion, a Lamb, and a Shepherd. He’s above. HEART CHECK: Will you trust God is divergent when He seems silent? Will you obey His commands, even if they seem to counter human logic? Does a Divergent God have to make sense to your five senses, the five factions you believe His thoughts and ways should fit into?

God’s thoughts and ways are paradoxical to human logic and expected experiences. When a Divergent God wants to set us free, He makes us His bondservants. When He wants us to see Him, He causes blindness. Ask Paul. When a Divergent God wants us to follow Him, He chases after us. Ask Jonah. When a Divergent God wants someone to speak for Him, He chooses a stutterer, and to showcase His power, He’ll send you with a dried up stick! Ask Moses. When a Divergent God sets out to exalt your position, He takes the pathway through a pit and wrongful imprisonment. Ask Joseph. When a Divergent God wants to save His children, He does so by sending His Only Son to die!

As long as we are in control, God can’t be. In the film, the divergents make others uncomfortable, so they try to purge their society of divergents altogether. The divergents threaten the system of control, but in so doing, they save countless lives. Living in submission to a Divergent God is uncomfortable, and sometimes we want to get rid of HIS way, altogether. He threatens our systems of control, but but in so doing, He saves countless lives.
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The Godwin’s Law of Seventh-day Adventism

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Have you ever heard of Godwin’s Law? It’s essentially a saying that claims that the longer an online discussion takes place, the more likely it is that the discussion will eventually end in some reference to Hitler and/or the Nazis. My friends and I talk about it up in everyday life, too. If enough discussion passes, eventually someone brings one or the other up.

In Seventh-day Adventism (and Christianity in general), I sometimes feel like we have our own version of Godwin’s Law. Only for us, it has nothing to do with World War II and everything to do with hypocrisy. I’ve spoken to so many people about why they are leaving the church. Everyone has a different story. But, one key element is constant. I can almost count the moments until someone bring up hypocrisy as a predominating reason why the church doesn’t work. Often, they’ll tell me about a time when they saw a trusted church member acting in a way that they perceived as hypocritical (most of us have stories). And, no one wants to be a hypocrite, much less surrounded them.

And, you see, it’s not just something you hear when you talk to people. It’s something you hear pretty much everywhere. Just this week, I was watching a show, and the main character’s daughter decided that she just couldn’t take church anymore, all because the people there are too hypocritical. It’s like we’re conditioned to think of Christians as hypocritical. And, there are times when I think that’s a ridiculous reason to bring up. Of course, Christians are hypocritical. They’re human. We’re all hypocritical in some way at some time. Let’s get over it. Then, there are times when I get it. When I see that hypocrisy hurt people, and everything just feels so futile.

But until recently, I’ve never thought of myself as hypocritical. We don’t typically, do we? We pride ourselves in how real we are with people. Sure, there are hypocritical people in the church, but it’s not in us. It’s in the pew next to us, but we have mighty powers to keep it at bay. We’re straightforward. We’re honest. We love. We don’t judge. We walk the very same walk that we talk.

But I’ve come to the realization that maybe we call hypocrisy by the wrong name. Or rather, we should be more specific. Maybe, when we say hypocrisy, we’re really speaking of a type of spiritual elitism. And, perhaps, if we said spiritual elitism, it would hit a little closer to home. We’re talking about a group of people that we expect more out of because of their beliefs. They’re supposed to be good. And, I would say largely, that’s one of the biggest problems that society has with us. They expect more from us. We tell them to expect more. Yet, we don’t always behave in ways that correlate with that.

Lately, I’ve noticed that not only do I expect more out of myself because of my beliefs, but I also expect more out of God. I expect more results because of what I believe and how I live my life. Because even when my beliefs tell me that actions and results do not correlate on this earth, I just can’t help but expect them to. I can’t help but expect that if I do good, good will correlate with my life. If I’m working for God, He will bless me.

There’s a part of faith we don’t talk about. We’re told to believe Jesus is Lord, that He died on the cross to atone for our sins and that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). We ask Him to forgive us. We trust that He’s done just that. We get baptized, and we’re told to live as good a life for Christ as we can, although He stands in for our mistakes. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. But, here’s what we’re not told. We’re not told how to handle life once we’ve done all that. We’re not told how to keep spiritual elitism at bay. We’re not told how to keep ourselves grounded enough to avoid feelings of betterment.

Yes, we know that we aren’t saved by works. But without speaking it aloud, I think we often believe that if we do the right things, good things will happen to us, at least in the world of our church. But the problem is that no matter how much good we think we do, we are never good. The good in us is from Jesus. He changes us, but even our best actions on this earth are terrifically tainted with sin. Paul states it in Galatians in his typically bold, no nonsense way. He says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3).

Our entire faith is wrapped up in this idea that bad choices and broken nature do not end in bad consequences when we chose Jesus.

And, here’s the tricky part. If you let this idea that “you are good and should expect good” fester, you can easily reach the point where the belief that good should correlate with good leads to the understanding that bad should expect bad. You see, it’s easier than you think to lose sight of the entire gospel message. It’s easier than you think to forget the fact that our entire faith is wrapped up in this idea that bad choices and broken nature do not end in bad consequences when we chose Jesus.

And where does this lead? Not only does it hurt your relationship with pretty much everyone, it eventually destroys your relationship with God. If you expect Him to bring good into your life for your good actions, then you’re going to look to Him with mistrust when that good never comes. You’re going to blame Him when you yourself experience bad. And when you see “bad people” experience good events or even spiritual blessings, you’re going to see Him as unfeeling towards those trying to keep His laws. Even when intellectually you know He’s not. Because, our intellectual relationship with God is only part of the battle. Your emotional feelings towards Him always come to play.

It’s complicated. It’s always complicated, isn’t it? Spiritual elitism seems in some ways to be grossly natural. As the remnant, we believe we have God’s final message. There’s an element then that means we believe other churches with counter beliefs do not have the same message. However, it doesn’t mean we are better! It means we are called to serve. More responsibility (be it pastor, church leader, parent, teacher, or anything) does not equate to being better, and we have to stop mixing the two up. I think the trouble comes when we lose sight of the fact that we’re supposed to bring that message to the whole world. The trouble comes more when we focus more on the fact that we are the keepers of this last day truth and less on the delivery of that truth. And, it can happen in an instant. It can happen when you least expect it.

I’m tired of hypocrisy being the Godwin’s Law of Seventh-day Adventism. I want to stop giving people reasons to feel like Christians are hypocritical or that we see ourselves as better. Our mantra has to be that of Paul’s. I like how The Message paraphrases it: “Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof- Public Sinner Number One – of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off – evidence of his endless patience – to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever” (I Timothy 1:15-16).

There’s no way to pull down the fences between us and other people without recognizing them. To recognize them, you have to be brave enough to name them, even if those feelings don’t make a whole lot of “theological sense.” Triage is painful, but it works to start a route towards healing. The church and its mission are being crushed on so many fronts right now under the weight of its own brand of spiritual elitism, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Let’s do something about it.

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Five Things Parents Do That Make Youth Ministry Harder

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From youth workers everywhere, to parents anywhere: We love you and appreciate you, but we sometimes want to strangle you! After working for 22 years alongside my wife in youth ministry, I have seen from parents some mistakes I’d like to see corrected. Here are five of the most common ones:

  1. Punishing their kids with church.

Yes, you heard it right. Johnny or Maria behaved badly. As punishment from their infraction they can’t go to Camporee or youth group. I believe there are 1,000,001 other ways you can punish your kids. Please use them. One day, you will want him/her to go and she won’t want to. Why make that day come sooner?

  1. Make the youth worker work extra hard.

Many times the people that lead or volunteer in your youth group have kids of their own. They want to make a difference. They don’t have much time, just like the rest of us. Some parents make the least effort possible to get their kids involved in youth activities. I had the following happen too many times: Parents that would not pick up or drop off kids. After a long drive following an outing they expected the youth leaders to drop them off at the house (that usually was my wife). Once, coming back from an activity, one of the teens in the car contacted her parents that said they could not pick her up. After midnight, we had to go and drop them off. We did not mind, but, really?

  1. Never get involved, but make a big stink when you don’t like ___________________.

Please don’t write letters and complain because of hearsay or comments other parents made. Don’t you just love it when parents that put no work in and have not attended any of the events all of a sudden write nasty emails because of one event or situation that did not go right? Honor your youth workers. They are not perfect, and need correction like all of us. Give them grace. They take care of your kids.

  1. Using kids as pawns.

Some church members use kids for political games. Boycotting events and having kids to ask leading questions that really came from you are destructive and can really damage your teen’s faith. Millennials in their majority already think the church is shallow. They see church people not acting very churchy. Fight your own battles. Kids are not your pawns, messengers or political allies.

  1. Attending the youth ministry event and forgetting IT’S FOR YOUTH!

Some of these mistakes include taking over the lesson and not letting the teens speak, criticizing the music, dress, and content of the program. It’s not for you! Don’t show up for a camp and demand quiet at 10pm. Ask God for patience and a higher level of tolerance. You will need it. No one needs to hear all the stories about how great your youth group was growing up.

Will you help me pray for all youth workers today? We honor your service and dedication.

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My Story: My Experience With Race and Racism as an Adventist

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In the past, I have shared my perspective on the racial divide we face as a church.

However, one aspect of this issue that I haven’t discussed yet is my own experience with race and racism within my own life and the Adventist church. I’ve been sitting on this post for over a year but, today I want to do that and share why, despite the challenges, I believe in a better future.

To begin with: I’m mixed, both ethnically and racially (that’s my family and I in the picture above at my brothers wedding last year). My father is an Afro-Caribbean from the Dominican Republic, with some Haitian decent. My mother is from the Central American country of El Salvador. Although many people may think all Hispanic countries are the same (no, we don’t all eat tortillas), these two cultures are vastly different.  Here is where my struggle with cultural, ethic, and racial identity begins.

FAMILY

I’ve never felt fully a part of the racial or ethnic categories that I belong to. Let’s take a high-profile example: President Barack Obama. Although he’s biracial, many people tend to see him as one race or the other. Being half and half myself, I never felt like someone who belongs fully to one culture.

Case in point: I’ve never been to the Dominican Republic (this is sacrilege when I say this around my Dominican friends). I mainly know the generalities or stereotypes of the culture (mangu and plantains), but most of my knowledge comes second-hand. I don’t even know how to cook like them (although I wish I did).

I know about bits and pieces about DR’s culture and history.  I have heard many great things about the country, and though I physically resemble the people there, I have never felt culturally connected to what it means to be a true Dominican.

The same goes with my Salvadorian side.  I’ve been there twice, both times as a child, and I remember being stared at because I clearly didn’t look Salvadorian. My friend Anissa has gone through similar experiences. I loved her thoughts on this.

All of this isn’t even getting into the confusing fact that Caribbean and Central American cultures are worlds apart in music, food, and even vernacular. In short, my world was (and still is) confusing.

Another way in which I’ve never felt like I belonged is my less-than-stellar Spanish. As a 2nd generation Hispanic, my Spanish is imperfect. Although I’m a fluent speaker, I grew up here in the United States. We spoke Spanish at home, but to this day, I feel like I’m not fully able to express myself as well in Spanish as I do in English. This is, in part, one of the reasons why I rarely write posts in Spanish.

With this background in mind, you can imagine the challenge it is to answer the usually simple question, “Where are you from?”

The best answer I can give is, “I’m from Miami. My parents are Dominican and Salvadorian.”

SCHOOL

Although I was born in Miami Beach, we moved to Overtown, Miami and lived there for several years after my younger brother was born.  (Overtown is a historically Black neighborhood, which was originally called Colored Town during the Jim Crow era).  I didn’t see color then because I thought I looked just like everyone else.

My first hint of racial differences came in Kindergarten. I attended Miami Union Academy, a Regional Conference day school. When my parents weren’t able to afford it anymore, I then attended first and second grade at Phillis Wheatley Elementary, a public school in Overtown.

I couldn’t understand why, even though I looked like everyone else in the class, I was referred to as “the little Spanish boy” in both schools. I noticed shortly thereafter that my brother was much more lighter-skinned than I was, and I remember asking my mom why my brother was lighter than me. From that point on I felt different, like I wasn’t part of the Black community.

At around age 7-8 my parents moved to Miami Lakes, a suburb north of Miami. I transitioned from an all-Black neighborhood into an all-White neighborhood (by White, I’m referring to the Irish, Jewish, and light-skinned Hispanic neighbors we had). I was now part of the small group of Black students in the whole school. Now, instead of “the little the Spanish boy,” some kids referred to me as “the Black kid.” It was a different context, but I was still out of place. I was still the minority… even among the Hispanics.

I was not Black, I was not White, and I was apparently not fully Hispanic. What was I?

I committed myself to becoming a blend of everything in order to fit somewhere. This was really crystalized in my mind in 3rd grade, when I wanted to do the morning news in elementary school.  To audition, I was asked to read a small script for the teacher in charge of it.

I was told that “because of my accent,” I would not be fully understood. I remember being incredibly sad. From that point on, I worked on my pronunciation and dedicated myself to having as flat of an accent as possible in both English and Spanish. To this day, I throw people off.

A few weeks ago, someone called asking to speak with me. I told them who I was, and after a few minutes the person remarked, “You don’t sound like a Nelson Fernandez.” I get this with both English and Spanish speakers. I guess training paid off.

From the hood to the suburbs… I was the fresh prince of Miami Lakes.

CHURCH

Until the age of 8, I grew up attending Regional Conference Hispanic churches.   When we moved to the suburbs, we also switched churches and were now attending a Spanish-speaking church in the State Conference. To the Hispanic community, the Regional-State conference divide creates a huge mess.

You can read how here.

My earliest memories were spent being mostly confused regarding why another Hispanic church a few miles away wouldn’t be in the same conference as us, even though we were all Hispanic. All that we knew was that they were part of the “other conference.”

That still didn’t stop us. We attended churches from both conferences. We attended Youth Federations, campouts, camp meetings and interacted regularly with people from both conferences. My impression was that the pastors were the ones who had the chip on their shoulder about the division, because to me, as a kid, it didn’t affect me. It wasn’t until I got to college that I would be convicted that this divide was an issue that needed to be addressed at the larger levels of the church.

COLLEGE

I honestly had no idea that the Adventist church even had its own entire system of education until about 10th grade, when I had my conversion experience. Long story short, I decided to attend Greater Miami Academy, a State Conference day school, for 11th and 12th grades and settled on going to Southern for Theology after sensing the call to ministry.

While I was at Southern, my dad accepted a call to serve as an associate pastor in Fort Worth, Texas at a large Regional Conference church. I visited them during vacations and frequently got the opportunity to speak at this church, and other churches, in the area. Over the years, I was able to learn a lot of the backstory behind the regional-state conference divide, and why it existed from the Regional Conference perspective, from the conference administrators, pastors, and members of the churches. I was extremely disappointed and angry at the reality of our church’s racial divide.

I was angry not at the Regional Conferences, not at the State Conferences, but at the racism that had infiltrated the church and hid itself under the mantle of bureaucracy.

I realized that just like I had been rejected as a kid, the entire Black community had been rejected by their White “brothers in Christ.” The church had failed them.  Even after many attempts at trying to rectify the situation, the Adventist church marginalized, discriminated against, and ignored the needs of their community. The only feasible option that was left at that time in the 1940s was to divide the conferences based on race so that the Black community could finally have a voice.

It made perfect sense.

INTERVIEWS

Between my junior and senior year in college, I started becoming convicted that something needed to change in the church structure. Near the end of my time in college, I had two week of prayer series in different churches in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area. One was at a State Conference church, the other was at a Regional Conference church. Administrators from both conferences attended the respective weeks of prayer and, after hearing that I would be graduating soon, each encouraged me to send them my resume.

Speaking candidly, one of the Regional Conference Administrators told me the following:

“Don’t bother sending your resume to any State Conferences. They won’t hire you because you’re Black and Hispanic. They won’t know what to do with you.”

I put on my best poker face ever. In my mind, I’ve never believed that my skin should define how I lived my life. I grew up hearing and admiring the leaders in the Black community who fought against prejudice, not only within the White community but also within their own. One of them said something that came to my mind at that moment:

“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.”

Being a student at Southern, I decided to interview with the Southern Union conferences first.  I decided if that didn’t go well, I’d try the Southwest Union next. I had already amassed a pretty decent resume despite the fact that I went to a “White school.” I said, “Let God decide where I go.”

If you want to read some amusing anecdotes about how my first interviews went, you can read that journey here.

So I now work in a “White conference” but still push for racial reconciliation, not because it’s the easy thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do.

The process of change started right from the beginning of my career here in the Carolina Conference. The first time I was introduced to my colleagues after Seminary at workers meetings, I was speaking with someone in the lunchline, when an onlooker then remarked, “Wow, I’m so impressed. Your English is so good!” I replied tongue-in-cheek:

“Thanks! I’m from Florida. We speak English pretty well down there.”

Conversations about race, how we each relate to it, and how we respond to racism need to happen. Andrews University had a fantastic discussion on the topic last week that I want to encourage everyone to check out.

IN CONCLUSION

We still have not arrived at Dr. King’s dream, where people are judged strictly by the content of their character.  Yet, I remain optimistic and believe that a solution is within our grasp.  Why?  Because Jesus is still on the throne. The power that united a divided group of disciples is still available to us today.  We must be willing to step forth and claim that power ourselves.

But it’s not enough to simply pray about it.  Here are a few ideas that could be practical steps in reaching a solution to this problem.

In my case, I ended up marrying someone who understood my situation because she is also the product of an interracial marriage (and tomorrow is her birthday as a St. Patrick’s baby!). However, some family members didn’t attend our wedding because of my skin color.  In our marriage, we have experienced racism, too.

At the end of the day, the core issue in the State-Regional Conference debate is not primarily a policy problem, it is a people problem. Racism is a people problem.

We also have to start learning how to talk to each other in this situation. When people say, “Let’s do away with Regional Conferences,” It sounds like we’re saying that the problem is with Regional Conferences themselves (as if the problem originally came from the constituents of Regional Conferences). Historically speaking, this is not true; the Black community was left with little choice other than accepting the reality we face today.

On this note, I’m sorry if my posts come across like I’m only singling out the existence of Regional Conferences themselves. I’m not. I’m in favor of exploring a totally new system that brings in all people groups and where each individual culture is valued, respected, and included.  I long for a church that is no longer just Black and White, but one that can have a place for the in-betweens like me. Blogging is great, but we also have to be willing to act and make hard choices, even when they may not be popular.

If you’ve read until this point, consider yourself part of the discussion towards the solution.  Have thoughts?  Leave them below!

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The Colporteur Leadership Dilemma (part 2)

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The discussions were only whispered at first, but they were persistent. Should women be allowed to become colporteur leaders?

But by now the feminist movement was gaining alarming ground in worldly circles. Feminism insisted women should be able to force their way into any position men could fill. Feminism demanded that women become soldiers in the trenches of war! Worse, it spat in the face of God’s ordained plan for husbands to be the heads of families. Surely by allowing women equal opportunity to sell books, and especially to teach men to do so, the colporteur work was joining a spiraling downward trend toward evil.

It was decided that the church should not support or appear to join such a dangerous movement. Accordingly, almost all female colporteurs were removed from the field of ministry. Those allowed to continue until retirement were not replaced. In select liberal areas, a few were allowed to receive training, but this was frowned upon by other areas that held to what was considered a more biblical view of male headship. Those who received training were warned that they probably were receiving it in vain, as they would likely not be hired. This proved true. Females in the canvassing ministry became nearly a thing of the past.

This had an especially negative impact on the ministry of selling books to women, because many women would not open doors when men knocked, or confide to men about what books they needed. A few desperate women did appeal to men for help with heart issues, but problems of inappropriate interaction sometimes developed. After that, men were trained to avoid talking alone for any length of time, or in any depth, with women at doors. This tragic development, of course, meant that the women in most neighborhoods were left unreached, unable to buy the books they desperately needed. But it could not be helped. This, it was declared, was God’s way. Women who needed help would have to find it in self-help bookstores down the street.

For decades the canvassing work limped along with virtually no female assistance. Those who volunteered their efforts because of a strong sense of calling were sometimes reluctantly allowed to work, but books were only supplied to them at a rate that meant they worked basically for free. After all, confusion with the feminist movement could not be allowed. However, the women who could, kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

Finally, the work was suffering so greatly that the men in charge of colporteur programs decided to reopen discussion about women’s ministry. They formalized the debate by creating a committee of colporteur leaders to prayerfully study and examine the situation.

A strong unity was reached on some obvious points immediately: women had clearly been used by God in the past to spread His Word through canvassing, and God’s work was being grievously injured by the current approach. Furthermore, if women were doing this work, they should be paid for doing it—and paid equally with men. The current way of handling things was disgraceful and should not be tolerated. Almost all of the women called, qualified and burdened to do the canvassing work—including many of the most naturally gifted—had been turned away from the work. Almost to a man, everyone agreed this catastrophe must be remedied!

Ignoring this immediate crisis, however, the colporteur leaders now focused their time and study on three elements upon which they could not agree. Was it biblical to have a ceremony in which hands were laid on the women, and a prayer was offered for their ministry to be Spirit-filled? Could such women be called “colporteur leaders”? And most importantly, was it biblical to allow women to teach men how to canvass?

Most of the colporteur leaders freely admitted that they had benefited richly from women teaching or training them in the past. Many of the best books they sold were written by a female author. But some still held staunchly to what they claimed was the Biblical standard—that only men could teach or lead other men in spiritual matters.

On these points, the discussion raged, with leaders on both sides arguing passionately for their understanding of a Biblical approach. The longer the battle continued, the sharper it became, until a permanent canyon threatened to open between the two sides. “We cannot compromise,” both sides insisted. “We must obey the Bible.” Even the work that had been going well for decades was now threatened by the debate about allowing women to join in spreading the Gospel.

Finally, a tentative suggestion was made by a small group—women who were canvassers. Many of them had been selling books quietly for years, at little or no profit. Scores of others longed to do so, but could not, because they could not afford to leave their other responsibilities unless they were paid to do the work they felt God was calling them to do, selling books. Now they came unitedly to the committee to present a solution.

“Could we perhaps redirect our energies into solving the present crisis?” the women asked. “As we argue about these issues, women in the neighborhoods you are canvassing are dying without hope and without God. You dare not reach them, and even if you would, they dare not ask you for help.

“If we can be trained, equipped and paid decently, we will be happy to go out into the field and work. You don’t need to worry about calling us ‘colporteur leaders,’ or even about laying hands on us and praying for the Spirit to bless our ministries. Just let us work. Reduce the price of books to one that we can reasonably afford, and we can go out to save souls.”

And the women who could, kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

Note: To read part 1 of this installment, click here.

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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

Change or Die

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“If the rate of change inside an organization is less than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. The only question is when.”

That warning from corporate guru Jack Welch is more than a principle from the business world. It’s also true that religious organizations cannot thrive or even survive without making changes necessary to fulfill their God-appointed purpose.

So says Jesus in His Revelation letter to the Laodicean Church, which represents a group of self-professed commandment-keepers in earth’s last days. He describes them as lukewarm and unwilling to change: “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’” (Revelation 3:17, NKJV).

“We’re good, God. We thank You that we are not like those commandment-breaking Sunday keepers out there.”

But the Lord is not impressed by self-righteous assertions. He pushes past them to the core reason Laodicea resists changing for Him: You “do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17, NKJV).

So, spiritual ignorance that germinates pride makes the Laodicean Church change-resistant. What will Jesus do about it? In perhaps the most shocking statement ever recorded in red print, He declares, “I will vomit you out of My mouth” (verse 16).

Not a pretty picture of Jesus. But it’s there in the Bible—and it’s there specifically for us. The Laodicean message is primarily a warning to the corporate church, but there are implications for individuals.

How is it with you, personally? Are you an Adventist now because 20 years ago you quit your job to keep the Sabbath? Maybe it’s time for a spiritual update, lest your testimony become as stale as the smoke of those cigarettes snuffed out long ago.

I confess that I don’t like changes in my life. I’m getting old enough to resist them instinctively. How about you? Perhaps we need increased spiritual maturity as physical aging drains our energies. Physical change happens naturally (hastened by bad health habits we all struggle with), but spiritual change comes through an act of the will, in which we engage a Higher Power. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches this in its famous and effective 12-step formula for change. Number 4 requires “a searching and fearless moral inventory.”

But that’s only for addicts, right? Well, all of us struggle with addictive tendencies of one kind or another—the worst of all being Laodicean pride expressed in gossip about fellow Adventists, or in condemnation of non-Sabbatarians. How do we board the ambulance from Calvary that rescues us from our proud and ignorant lukewarmness?

A good first step is to quit blinding ourselves with self-flattery, assuring ourselves that because we are Adventists in good standing and the church is going through, we have nothing to worry about.

Somebody actually told me a few years ago when he and I worked for another Adventist organization: “I’m going to stay with the ship even if our president and I are the only ones left on board.” Some time later that president left office amid a cloud of questions, and I’m not sure what happened next with my friend’s faith.

Commitment like his may seem admirable, but it begs a couple of questions: What is our ship of salvation? And what is the church that is going through? Is it a computer database of names compiled at the conference office, or is it the corporate body of Jesus Christ, comprised of believers whose gospel faith in these last days motivates them to keep God’s commandments?

When the roll is called up yonder, will the angel Gabriel be reading from a digitized list downloaded from computers in Miami or Manilla? The New Testament says it’s all about having our names written in blood in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

I’m grateful for the privilege of being Seventh-day Adventist. Our church may be “enfeebled and defective,” but no more faulty than I am, I have to admit. Ground zero honesty is never easy, certainly not for me. And change is always a challenge, particularly within an organization of such a rich spiritual heritage as ours.

Note: This article has been used with permission of the author. Republished from outlookmag.org

photo credit: The Explorer via photopin (license)

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mw_feb2011Martin Weber, DMin, served as pastor, editor, author, evangelist and police chaplain across North America and taught pastors on five continents with the General Conference Ministerial Association. He is currently the Seventh-day Adventist product manager for Faithlife/Logos Research Systems in Bellingham, Washington. Visit his website in defense of fundamental Adventist beliefs: www.SDA4me.com.

Take Me To Church

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“Take Me To Church. I’ll Worship Like a Dog at the Shrine of Your Lies. I’ll Tell You My Sins so You Can Sharpen Your Knife. Offer Me My Deathless Death. Good God, Let Me Give You My Life.” – Hozier

I remember a bright green carpet – bright light slanting in through the window, dappling the floor.  A sunny day – the ends of church pews that shone like white lime tombstones in the flecks of dust hovering in the light.  I remember the feeling of stiff pants and a suffocating stiff shirt.  I remember the stress on my arm – a sidelong pressure of being pulled by the elbow.  I remember the sensation of my pants being pulled down, the fusion kiss of our star’s heat on my bare rump as if it were a priest blessing an infant for some sacrament.  I remember the lump in my throat and the heat in my ears.  I remember worrying what my friends would think of me – what the church people would think of me.  Then I remember succumbing to the purge.  This is my earliest memory of church.  I was 4 or 5.

Take Me To Church

The brush leaves scratch the amber windows as I make my way along the flower bed outside the red brick sanctuary.  My 19 year-old hands had opened desks, doors to classrooms, backpacks, and car doors.  Now they know a secret unto themselves – a vulnerability wrought by their own design.  I find a slit where metal frames meet alongside of one of the ragged panes of glass.  The unlatched window slides forward and gives me entry.  I come to the house of God in the evening like a thief in the night, breaking and entering in.  I scramble through the opening and make my way to the back to find the awaiting ecstasy.  This ecstasy lays casually on an old piano cover in the corner.  My friends’ possession, perhaps, but this evening it is mine.  A sacred music fills the wooden rafters and bounces off the bent beams.  I strum a full-bodied ovation balladeer and sing broken worship psalms to a room filled with empty pews and growing shadows.

Take Me To Church

I watch as one of my recently-graduated students steps down behind a white wall.  She is nervous, but she smiles as she speaks.  It rains from without and within.  Outside a parade passes celebrating an old saint and people wave green flags and duck under rainbow umbrellas.  Inside we await the arrival of a new saint.  The hand raises and the old familiar phrase washes over us.  “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”  She disappears for a split second and she rises back, still the girl that I am so proud of for being who she is, but now with something new, something added: a commitment.  I remember when I stepped out to make my commitment.  I still feel mid-stride.  I wonder if she will feel the same.  Will she sit in front of a pulpit someday when all of a sudden an unbidden smugness washes down to her from a preacher who does not wish to acknowledge how complicated a narrative can be?  Will she know what it’s like to feel called to a position for which God designed her soul, but that man has barred her from with a subtle condescension and a deft turn of chapter and verse in 1 Timothy?  Will she watch as women, who have made a solemn oath to have and hold each other until death, bring their children in the front door, only to find that citizenship in some corners of the Kingdom means being barred from any task of service until oaths are broken and families torn?  Will she be accused of not giving scripture a plain reading in Leviticus 20:13, by people who liberally interpret Leviticus 25:44?  Will she be denied recognition because someone walked by her window on Sabbath and saw something other than 3ABN on the TV?  Where will her path with the church lead?

Take Me To Church

Church means so many things to so many people.  The church has so very many faces.  I often find it so diverse and varied as to defy description or definition.  I never know what I think of the church.  When I’m around church people who are captivated by the mystery – the search – the chase, I find no more exhilarating company, and no higher passion.  When I’m among people who whisper of secrets and numbers that they divined from ancient works of art, but speak about these numbers as if they were observed in a mathematics times tables chart, I feel the walls closing in and I feel as though I have to get out.

I’ve been the “giggle at a funeral” and “[known] everybody’s disapproval” (ll. 1,2 – song lyrics below).  I’ve “heard them say it” (l. 9).  I’ve heard lips throw the accusation of sickness on those walking a fragile path to healing as if the intention was to turn them from the path.  I’ve heard voices whisper of the shaking with more reverence than they speak of the resurrection.  I’ve seen people who would have me “worship like a dog at the shrine of [their] lies” (l. 18).  Are they lies?  Or are their opponents the liars?  Is the inclusivity of love the lie or is the exclusivity of it?  Is it the Church leaders in Acts 21:25 that hold the last word or is it Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:8?  Or is it Matthew 15:11?

As Mary, Queen of Scotts once asked: “Ye interpret the Scriptures in one manner, and they in another. Whom shall I believe? Who shall be judge?”  Wouldn’t the easy answer be Knox’s answer: “Ye shall believe God, that plainly speaketh in His Word; and further than the Word teacheth you, ye shall believe neither the one nor the other. The Word of God is plain in itself. If there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to Himself, explaineth the same more clearly in other places; so that there can remain no doubt, but unto such as obstinately will remain ignorant.”

So there you have it: The splinters divide and divide again.  Denomination after denomination declaring over and over again: “They are the ones obstinately ignorant!”  Who is obstinately ignorant?  “They are!”  Who?  “ALL OF THEM!” and their voices say it again and again of person who disagrees with their positions.  “If they would only see that ours is exegesis and theirs is eisegesis.  If they would only see that our way of seeing it is right and their way is wrong.”  I am right.  Who is right?  Me – right now.  Not me when I’m eventually convinced of something differently in the future, and not me when I wasn’t yet convinced of the way I think right now.  Me – right now.  No… Now.  No…  NOW.

Take Me To Church

And this is when Jesus shows up.  There is a knock on the door.  I stumble forward.  It’s hard being a new dad.  I’m wearing a fluffy blue bathrobe and smile groggily.  Here I find a casserole and a friendly face ready to take care of my wife and me as we struggle through our fatigue to care for a new family member.  We mimic and repeat for a friend, for a stranger and on. Lights light lights again and again and the full beauty of the church stretches out before me.  Waves of simple caring bounce from person to person, hand to hand, heart to heart.  “We’ve a lot of starving faithful / That looks tasty / That looks plenty / This is hungry work” (ll. 36-39).

Take Me To Church

The light from the sun in that earliest of church memories dims by comparison.  That first picture of church dims by comparison to the church – HIS church.

Take Me To Church

Photo Credit: Hozier

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My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak 5
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes 10
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you
I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well 15
Amen. Amen. Amen

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death 20
Good God, let me give you my life

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death 25
Good God, let me give you my life

If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice 30
To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable? 35
We’ve a lot of starving faithful
That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

Take me to church 40
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

Take me to church 45
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

No masters or kings when the ritual begins 50
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean
Amen. Amen. Amen 55

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life 60

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life 65

– Hozier, Take Me To Church

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