Nepal and Baltimore: When Prayer Isn’t Enough

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Luke 19:41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.

Since last week my twitter and Facebook have been inundated with two hashtags:

#prayfornepal

#prayforbaltimore

I believe prayer is important. I believe prayer is essential. I believe prayer is necessary. I also believe it’s not enough.

To sit idly, from miles away, without being moved to action, is not what God had in mind when he sent us as ambassadors of his kingdom to the cities.

So, what can we do?

  1. For starters, give.

Hashtags won’t feed a displaced family. Prayer can give hope, but it won’t rebuild a house. As we look at the cities ravaged by injustice, poverty or natural disasters we can do more than pray. We must. Consider for example giving to www.adra.org/ They already have a presence there. There are a myriad of opportunities to help in Baltimore. You can give, you can help with cleanup, and you can have meaningful conversations with minority communities.

  1. Ask yourself why, not just what.

When we see buildings burning in one city and in ruble in another, we must ask the deeper question. There are eschatological implications. There are sociological implications. There are even soteriological implications. Dig deeper. There is always something more. In order to effect change, it is not only important to look for answers, it is paramount we look for solutions.

  1. Remember the city.

In many cases, instead of loving the city, we have been leaving the city, not just physically but relationally.  Love is more than a feeling for the city, it’s action in the city.  Jesus cried for the city, and had compassion for the people living there. That was wonderful, but not enough. He took those feelings and put them in action, as he healed, preached, helped. Cities have not traditionally been known for being centers of discipleship, conversions or morality. Taking that into consideration, there are several attitudes that one can take towards the cities.  There are at least four in the bible:

  1. Leave the city. Acts 16:39
  2. Condemn the city. Luke 9:53-55
  3. Avoid going into the city. Mathew 16:21-23
  4. Love the city. Mathew 9:36

 

What will you? #dosomething

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Adventist Celebrities and the Idiocy of it All

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Celebrity culture seems to follow us like the paparazzi follow the celebs themselves. The obsession with beautiful and wealthy strangers is odd, but we rarely think about it because it’s ubiquitous. The celebrity culture is waiting for you at every check-out aisle. It stalks you at bus shelters, follows you on Twitter, shows up (inexplicably) on the evening news, endorses your breakfast cereal. Everywhere you look there’s a celebrity celebration happening.

. . . Even in the church? Yep. What can you call Joyce Meyer or Tony Evans or John Piper but Christian celebrities? (Any books that sell more copies with the author pictured on the cover are written by celebrities!)

. . . Is there a celebrity culture even in the Adventist church? HAHAHAhahahaaahaaaa! If you’ve been an Adventist more than a minute then you know the answer to that question is “Undoubtedly.” You could probably even name a few: CD Brooks, Mark Finley, Alejandro Bullon, Doug Batchelor.

There’s something in human nature that likes to make celebrities. You hear a series of great sermons by a speaker you really connect with and you want to hear more; when a lot of people have that same experience, the next thing you know you’ve got a preaching celebrity.

I’ve been a Christian long enough to have heard hundreds––even thousands––of sermons, and let’s be real: not all sermons are created equal, not all preachers are equally eloquent, not all pastors are equally likable. And our own individual experiences and personalities do influence what we connect with and who has power to influence us. But how quick we are to make it into a competition––(reality show idea: THE REAL PREACHERS OF ADVENTISM!)––and that’s where the evil enters.

When Paul wrote the Corinthian Christians, his heart bore the heaviness of worry. “I’ve heard you’re fighting,” he says (1 Cor 1:11). “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another says ‘I follow Apollos’; another person says ‘I follow Peter’; and yet another person says ‘I follow Christ.'” They were getting in arguments and pitting the ministry of one Christian leader against another. Can you believe it? I can. Because it sounds pretty familiar! I see this happen far too often in our family arguments about worship music or women’s ordination or [pick your issue].

Paul points out that this is stupid. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Christ?” (1 Cor 1:13) The reality of the cross shows this divisive celebrity culture as the vapid idiocy it really is. True wisdom and true power are seen in the mighty God on the cross, so that those who boast can only boast in the Lord Jesus (1 Cor 1:18-31), not in Paul or Apollos or Peter or Doug or Dwight or Carlton…

Using Christian leaders as arrows in our religious arguments, aggrandizing one preacher or one ministry over against another—these are indications that we haven’t let the reality of the cross go deep deep deep within us to shape our thinking. Whether it’s Rob Bell or Randy Roberts, David Asscherick or Sam Leonor, the One project or GYC: stop boasting in these people and these things. It’s stupid! Was Randy Roberts crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of David Asscherick? Brothers and sisters, this is wicked foolishness. We have to stop.

The greatness of our crucified Savior overshadows the charisma of any of His servants. “Therefore, as it is written: Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord!” (1 Cor 1:31)

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How To Avoid a Relationship Train Wreck

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No one gets into a relationship thinking: “This is going to ruin my life, alienate my family, friends, and leave me wounded (possibly for life)”. Yet it happens all the time. Not all train wrecks can be avoided, but most can. It’s interesting that after the train wreck happens, people look back and say “I should have seen it coming”. Fact is, you did. At least parts of it, but you lied to yourself by thinking your situation was different.

I am not a counselor or psychologist nor do I play one on TV, yet in 22 years of praying and listening to people I have seen some familiar patterns emerge. I share this “straight from my gut” blog not because I’m an expert, but because I care. Before the wreck happens, consider eliminating the following three phrases from your life:

  1. What’s wrong with _________________________________________. (fill in the blank)

Most victims of relationship train wrecks said that phrase at some point.

I know I’m married, but, what’s wrong with a little flirting?

I know he has issues but what’s wrong with being forgiving? Aren’t we all imperfect?

I know she seems controlling, but what’s wrong with caring?

The problem with the “what’s wrong with” phrase is that it makes excuses for character flaws. If you have to spend time arguing with yourself or with mature people who love you, trying to justify the unjustifiable, you are probably treading in dangerous grounds.

Train wreck!

  1. I can save him/her.

People that like to play savior usually end up crucified by the exact same people they are trying to save. It’s interesting to watch this dynamic unfold. Many times, the satisfaction of getting attention overrides the potential for a broken heart and results in compromised values. There is something inside of all of us that craves attention. Starting and remaining in a relationship with an unhealthy person makes forget two important principles:

People are worse than you think they are.

The process of change is going to be harder than you think.

When you add to the mix an intimate physical relationship (very common in unhealthy individuals and relationships) you get a perfect storm. If you are wondering whether an intimate relationship with a person you are not married to is a good idea, think about this: Complete intimacy without complete commitment usually results in a complete mess.

Train wreck!

  1. This is perfect.

This is the balance to #2. You’ve probably heard it said, that if it’s too good to be true it probably is. There is no such thing as a perfect person or situation. If it seems too perfect, question it. Healthy relationships have disagreements and imperfections. There is a difference between imperfections and dysfunctions. These are three markers I use to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships:

Control- are they trying to help you become a better you or a different you?

Abuse- once it happens it’s time to get out.

Vomit- when someone you just started dating or just met shares too much information with you (they vomit on you) it should be a warning sign something is not right.

Some of you are seeing the signs right now that a train wreck might be at hand. Stop coming up with excuses. Train-wrecks seldom end well. Pray for courage and surround yourself with a couple of friends to support you as you jump off. Better a scraped knee than a busted head.

Sorry for the bluntness.

No more train-wrecks!

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Why the Next General Conference President Should Be in Their 30s

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A few weeks ago was Global Youth Day in many churches.  At the AY program at my Spanish church, one of our Pathfinders gave a great presentation on an important figure in Adventism: John Nevin Andrews.  Andrews was the first Seventh-day Adventist overseas missionary and a great writer, leader, and scholar.

One incredible detail that I learned from his talk was that Andrews was the third president of the General Conference at 38 years old – and by that time, he had already been an ordained minister for 14 years.  That got me thinking:

“How old were the first few GC presidents in our church?”

My wife and I did a quick search and found the following:

These were the ages of the first five General Conference presidents when they first took office:

John Byington: 65
James White: 44
J.N. Andrews: 38
G.I. Butler: 37

(Note: Yes, those are four names, but they are the first five presidents.  Google it.)

Continue reading Why the Next General Conference President Should Be in Their 30s

God’s Law Is Holier, and His Grace Greater, Than We Think

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We often describe God’s law with these words. Perfect. Good. Holy. Righteous. But there is another word the Bible uses. Broad. The psalmist wrote:

“Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (New American Standard Bible, Psalm 119:96).

For Christians, there are at least three implications for God’s law being broad. First, God’s law is broad in the sense that it captures not just your actions, but also your attitudes, and affections. Why is this significant? Pharisees thought no sin was committed until you killed a person (Matthew 5:21-22), and committed the act of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), but Jesus said your attitudes and affections matter. Understanding that God’s law is broad meaning it includes not just the letter, but also the spirit, help us to relate accurately toward God’s law, and avoid having a narrow view of it’s requirements like the Pharisees.

Second, God’s law is broad in the sense that it captures everything to do with our relationship to God, and everything to do with our relationship to people. Jesus said that this broad law of relating to God and people is summarized in two greatest commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

From the story of the Rich Young Ruler, we understand that he failed to see what love for your neighbour obligated him to do. Here’s how the story goes:

In Matthew 19, Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young ruler responded: “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The Rich Young Ruler thought he perfectly kept the commandments of God, but Jesus said it wasn’t so. He failed to see that love your neighbour as yourself obligated him to assist the poor and needy according to his financial ability.

The Bible says there will be people in the last days who were satisfied and convinced that they kept the law of Christ, when in fact they didn’t. This will be God’s reply to such people:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:41-45).

We may keep the Sabbath, never take God’s name in vain, steal, kill, but we would still fall short of God’s broad law of love if we neglect other moral duties towards God and man that is revealed in His word. I cite a few of God’s moral commands toward our neighbour that are part of God’s broad law: accept one another (Rom 15:7), bear with one another (Col 3:13), serve one another (Gal 5:13), value one another (Philp 2:3), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), pray for one another (James 5:16), forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), help the needy (Proverbs 22:9), show no favoritism (James 2:9).

James stated that if we offend even in one point such as discriminating or showing favoritism against our neighbour, we break the whole royal law.

“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).

It’s this broad standard and high moral standard of Christ’s law that prompts some to say it is impossible for man to attain this righteousness this side of heaven. True, attaining this righteousness is impossible for man. The disciples understood this enormity of law’s requirement after Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler.

“When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25).

The third implication of God’s law being broad is that it is impossible for man by himself to meet this high moral standard of God’s righteousness. That’s why, God says, the right actions we produce by ourselves are in fact filthy (Isaiah 64:6). Further, He says all have sinned and are guilty of breaking His law of love, and deserving death (Rom 3:23).

So what does this all mean? How do we attain this broad standard of God’s righteousness, if we need this righteousness to live with God forever? The gospel or good news is that we don’t attain or earn this righteousness, because we can’t. We receive righteousness of God on the basis of faith. Paul wrote:

“…and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9).

We receive the righteousness of God apart from the law, meaning it comes from another place; it comes from Jesus Himself. It’s His righteousness. Paul also wrote:

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” (Romans 3:21)

Paul also says this righteousness we receive is witnessed by the law meaning God’s law witnesses this righteousness of God, and is fully satisfied that it is in harmony with itself.

So, we receive righteousness of God through faith in Christ, apart from the Law.

Two things happen to us when we receive this righteousness of God according to the Bible.

First, when we repent of breaking His law and inability to keep it by ourselves and trust Jesus to save us, Jesus comes into our life, and He covers us with His righteousness. We are counted as if we were perfectly righteous, and we are declared innocent completely before God and His law. We call this justification – God declaring us righteous.

“But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners” (Romans 4:5, New Living Translation)

Second, when Jesus came into our life, He took residence in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Paul said it this way, “I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When Jesus lives in me, He will come out in my actions, attitudes, and affections. This way, Jesus helps us to keep the broad requirements of His law (Romans 8:4) (and avoid the mistakes of Pharisees, and rich young ruler etc.). In other words, as I trust Jesus daily, He will guide me and tell me where to go, what to do, who to help, by giving me the power to obey His law and put my faith into action; and I will become more and more like Jesus. We call this sanctification – God making us righteous.

Praise God for Jesus! All this (justification and sanctification) was made possible because Jesus took the punishment for our sins (Isaiah 53:5) on the cross. He took the punishment for our sins in which he had no share, so we can be saved by His righteousness which we have no share (Rom 5:19).

Let’s summarize what we learned so far. God’s law is holy, perfect, good but it is also broad. It captures not only our actions, but also our attitudes, and affections. It encompasses all the moral duties and commands stated in God’s word and deals with our relationship to God and man. Its standard is impossible for man to meet; our righteousness is like filthy garments.

The gospel or good news we receive righteousness of God on the basis of faith. When we place our faith in His finished work on the cross, which is, Jesus took away our sins on the cross, we are counted as if we were perfectly righteous. In God’s plan, there is more. God wants us to be like Jesus. When Jesus lives in us, and we trust Him, He helps us to do the right thing and bear fruits of righteousness (Philp. 1:11).

Praise God for the gospel! Apart from Christ we are condemned, but with Him we are righteous.

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John Mendis is a member of the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist church in Sri Lanka and a financial consultant by profession. He runs his own blogsite at everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com

Long Distance Relationships and Jesus

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For the last three years, my fiancé and I have had the opportunity to enjoy the ups and downs of a long distance relationship. Since the moment we agreed to be exclusive with each other in this romantic, emotion-filled relationship, we knew long distance was waiting for us in the future because of our career choices. We had to make a decision at a very premature stage of our relationship. To pursue this adventure or not. We decided to commit to each other and to move on. A few months after, we found ourselves a few thousand miles away from each other with the ocean in between us. Being away from the person you are in a relationship with raises a whole new set of challenges that we just weren’t ready for. Going through this experience, we learned things that helped us stay afloat during this time, but they also taught me a lot about how Jesus relates to us.

Every Christian is in a long distance relationship with Jesus.

In one way or another, every Christian is in a long distance relationship with Jesus. Sometimes we struggle to keep the fire burning and compromise our relationship with Him to follow something or someone else who promises love and comfort for us today. But deep within our hearts, we know that those affairs are only a fantasy and that only God’s love can quench our thirst to be loved. How can we keep our relationship with Jesus alive? There are three important tips I learned from my long distance relationship that can make a difference in your relationship with Jesus. They sure did in mine! Here they are:

1. Start the day with her, end the day with her.
It did not take long for us to realize that in order to keep things going we needed to start the day together and finish it together. When everything else fails, we have something to look forward to. Every morning, we talk about our plans for the day, and every night, we talked about how much we accomplished. This allows Betsy (my fiancé) to give me her input on things before they actually happen and to hold me accountable at the end of the day. We practice this both ways, and it has really made a difference in our relationship.

Imagine what practicing this can do for you relationship with Jesus—making Him the first one with whom you share your plans every day. If you are someone who does it on a regular basis, then you know the value of practicing this. If you don’t, then think for a second how different your day could have been if you would have made Jesus part of it this morning. One of my favorite Bible verses says: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV). God has great plans for your life. I don’t know the plans you have for you, but I know this: God’s plans are better. Tap into His plan and purpose for your life every morning and every night! Let Jesus be who wakes you up and lays you down.

2. Make her part of your world
Living in two completely different worlds is very difficult. Different people, different setting, different culture! You name it! Before we realized it, our “worlds” had pulled us apart from each other. We became so consumed by everything around us that we got absorbed by it and separated from one another. It wasn’t long before the only conversations we had were those in the morning and those before going to bed. Even then, those conversations were short and dry. We were falling apart. Until one day we decided to make “us” part of our world. That meant small calls here and there, in between classes, and during lunch breaks. Even though I looked silly to some of my friends because of how many little phone calls I made a day, it saved our relationship.

Jesus doesn’t want to give you a blueprint of how your life needs to be every morning; He wants to be a part of it every day. He wants to come into your world and be close and intimate with you. Regardless of where we are or how far we feel, He pursues us desperately. The question is: Are we getting so absorbed by this world that we forget about our Savior? The Bible says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20, ESV). Think about the fact that the Almighty God, the One who created everything we know and see with the breath of His mouth, clears His schedule for you every day, regardless of whether you meet with Him or not. Let Him in! Remember that Jesus Christ gave His life so that you and I can live. Make Him your world.

3. Never lose sight of her love
Like every other couple in the world, Betsy and I sometimes fight. This is especially difficult over the phone. If your significant other is getting mad over something insignificant, the problem can sometimes be fixed with a hug or a little kiss on the forehead. Well, guess what? You can’t hug people over the phone. So every argument had the potential of becoming a big issue. Sometimes, out of frustration mostly, I run the risk of fostering thoughts in my mind that undermine her love towards me. So I often need to remind myself how much she loves me and how she shows me in many other different ways her love for me every day. This is the solution for every bump we have along the road.

Regardless of what your situation is today, remember one thing: Jesus loves you. Yes, life can get rough sometimes! Yes, things can often be more complicated than we wish they were! But that does not change how much He loves you one bit! I often hear people saying stuff like: “I am mad at God because of _______!” Really? Can you imagine if God actually got mad at you every time you walk away from the cross, where He laid His life for you? Instead, He chooses to love you despite of your shortcomings! When things get rough, don’t lose sight of His love for you! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).

This blog was originally posted on 2worlds1god.blogspot.com

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1462571_10202948363975082_112045582_oAuthor: Manuel Gomez is a theology student at Southern Adventist University and a proud red-headed Cuban who enjoys Starbucks. His passion is to help others experience a real encounter with a real Jesus who loves and walks intimately with each of us. He also runs his own blog at 2worlds1god.blogspot.com

Should “A Rape On Campus” Matter To Faith?

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If you’re looking for an article on rape in any direct way, I suggest that you close this tab and search elsewhere (one great place to start is Dee Knight’s post from December “Why the Wait”). This is not an article on rape. It cannot be understated how extremely important rape, the treatment of rape victims, and manner in which universities handle rape are as issues. In their own right, they each deserve the utmost delicacy and respect in treatment. However, I am not qualified to write that article. It is my true hope that this article does not in any way diminish, moralize, or trivialize any of those topics. Rather, this is my attempt to grapple with what significance can be found in how one particular reporter handled an alleged rape victim.

I saw the words “A Rape on Campus” in that little box on the right side of my Facebook feed (you know, the one that loves to inform you of all the “trending news”), and before I knew it, I was clicking into the Rolling Stone piece. If you’ve read the article, you can probably guess what comes next. As I began to skim the words, a sickening feeling overwhelmed my stomach. I was in absolute horror, appalled at the gruesome atrocities committed in the violent gang rape of a freshman student at the University of Virginia by several members of a key fraternity and the university’s alleged attempts to cover up said rape. It was the type of story that you’re somewhat hesitant to read, but you manage to force yourself to keep going you realize that if someone had to go through this unimaginable experience, the least you could do is read about it. If you’re unfamiliar with the original article, you can find it here. The article managed to break my heart and wrench my gut. At least, it did for a time. However, in a matter of weeks, I’d largely forgotten about Jackie and the deplorable acts reported in the article.

Until last week, when I once again saw the words “A Rape on Campus” light up that little box on Facebook. However, this time, the title read along with the news that Rolling Stone was now issuing a full retraction of the article. I clicked in to find a lengthy report done for Rolling Stone by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on the reporting done in the initial article entitled, “’A Rape on Campus’ What Went Wrong?” The subtitle read, “An anatomy of a journalistic failure.” If you haven’t had time to read the Columbia report, it expends a significant amount of effort explaining how the telling of the gang rape by Jackie, the alleged victim, could not have taken place in the manner in which she reported it. Many of the details were inconsistent. The writer of the article, Sabrina Erdely relied far too heavily on Jackie. She did not confirm details with the fraternity due to the fear the story would be front-run by some sort of PR piece. The writer had a distrust of the university for their perceived past mishandling of rape occurrences. Erdely deferred to Jackie in many ways that compromised the integrity of the reporting in the story. The identity of the alpha male in the situation was never verified, and the only friends Jackie called on the night of the rape were not called upon to corroborate any of the facts. The report goes on to explain how this article or Jackie’s story in the article should have been scrapped in almost any of its many stages of preparation and ultimately offers advice for journalists as to how to avoid this type of situation in the future.

In the end, “A Rape on Campus” was a sadder story than many of us could have imagined. However, this sadness was not for the occurrence of the gang rape as reported in the initial article. Rather, the sadness stems from the reality that the untruths told in the article will likely plague other actual rape victims. It has done the opposite of its proposed intentions. Rather than supporting rape victims, it has worked to cement an unsafe environment for rape victims to tell their story. It has helped solidify people in their immediate questioning and distrust of any individual who cries “rape.”

With that said, we’re about to take a turn. Remember, this is not an article on rape. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism report during the last several days. I don’t want to turn this into an “And the moral of the story is…” situation, however, I do believe there’s something specific to learn for us as millennial Adventists from the critiques made in their report. Ultimately, the report asserts that too much deference was given to the rape victim. The author was so concerned about not upsetting the emotional stability of the alleged rape victim that she failed to get tangible facts for the article.

Now, for the context of this discussion, consider us, as Christians, to be the rape victim. Don’t take that any further than that as Christians seeking to share the Gospel with other Christians, we have something to prove. In a similar vein, someone who claims to have been raped has something to prove. In order for a rape victim to be considered credible, they have to have facts. They have to be able to detail the account of their alleged rape to the best of their abilities. However, while their explanation is fact-based, it is also tremendously emotional.

Let’s keep our analogy going. The issue with Jackie’s story was that she did not have facts to framework her emotions. She had an incredible story, however there was little to nothing to verify it. And, sometimes, I worry that we face this very same struggle as Christians trying to get others to believe the story we tell, the account that we live our entire lives for. We get so fixated on the emotions of the gospel that we forget that there’s fact behind it, too.

You see, there are a few Christians out there who have more facts than faith, but there are a lot more of us out there that have more faith than facts. And, that’s good…to an extent. Our relationship with God is rooted in faith (I Peter 1:21, Ephesians 2:8). Our trust in the Bible is based on belief. However, at the end of the day, faith is just a fairytale without fact. Fact makes all the difference. Paul makes this abundantly clear when he writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14 NIV). It’s faith and fact working together that makes Christianity so strong. We have witnesses. We have real experiences. And, all of those are supported by the history we have in the Bible.

I think there are times where we gloss over the details of Christianity, because we aren’t so certain about the facts. And, sure, you could argue that Seventh-day Adventism potentially does that less than other Christian denominations through our upholding of the Bible, but that certainly does not make us immune to the problem. In fact, I would make the claim that this is a far more detrimental issue for those of us in 2015 than our denominational predecessors. As millennials, we care a lot about feelings. We want God to make us feel things. We think the way to people’s hearts is through what our religion can make them feel. That’s what will single us out. However, I don’t believe that’s the case, at least not an isolated feeling. Along with feelings and faith, it’s the message, it’s the truth, it’s the facts that matter.

Why do we do this? Why do we want to gloss over the details? We don’t always feel self-assured by them. It’s largely because our society so upholds science. It’s almost like we’re afraid of science. We’re scared that scientific study will somehow prove the Bible wrong. Or, for some of us, we’re not so certain we know enough to articulate the “right” answers. So, we refuse to engage in discussions on creation versus evolution. We shy away from arguing that the biblical figures did exist. We focus more on the New Testament, which often feels or appears more verifiable than the Old Testament.

It’s like we momentarily forget that science comes beneath the Bible. It is not in any position to judge the Bible or its authenticity. And, here’s the craziest part of all. We do have facts! God really did create the universe in a literal seven-day timespan. The Israelites really were in Egypt. David ruled a wealthy Israelite nation. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniels’ subsequent interpretation of it came true. Jesus was a literal figure. There is ample evidence to support the historical framework outlined in the Bible. And, while the miracles may take a measure of faith, that need for faith shouldn’t in any way hinder their plausibility.

So, what have I learned from the “journalistic failure” that is “A Rape on Campus?” I’ve learned that facts and emotions matter. Let’s stop apologizing for the facts of our religion. 2 Timothy 2:15 supports this, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (ESV).” God has given us enough tangible facts to have faith. However, in order to give us freedom of choice, He’s also given us room for doubt. Every belief requires at the very least a mustard seed of faith. The beauty is that we have the choice as to which leap we’re going to make with that mustard seed. Ultimately, we have to recognize that our beliefs are nothing without truth, and our truth matters not without belief. Faith and fact are not enemies. They’re two sides of the same coin. We need them both if we want people to listen to our story.

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Yeezus Christ: 3 Scary Ways I Become My Own Great God

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Kanye West is no stranger to controversy. He has been praised for his creativity by some and reprimanded for his immaturity by others (like that one time he flipped out during a radio interview with Sway). Someone, however, might have taken their devotion to Kanye a little too far.

Earlier this month, there was an article with the headline “TheBookofYeezus.” I took a closer look and found this:

A novelty Bible honoring rap artist, Kanye West, has been removed from a popular website in the wake of growing complaints. It is unclear whether or not the book is a hoax.

The Book of Yeezus, which is a nod to West’s sixth studio album, is said to be a “Bible for the modern day” as it replaces every mention of God in the book of Genesis with the rapper’s name. The text is still mostly the same as it appears in the first book of the Old Testament, but the word “God” is removed and the name “Kanye” is repeatedly used instead.

“In the beginning Kanye created the heaven and the earth… And Kanye said, Let there be light: and there was light,” the text reads.

Obviously, this didn’t go over very well on social media. The response was overwhelmingly negative with many people expressing concern that the book was “blasphemous.” Others thought it must have been a joke or a hoax.

I got to thinking about it and the thought came to me: “None of us are really above this type of self-exaltation.”

Whether Kanye knew about this idea or whether it was an admirer with a creepy devotion is not the point. The larger point is that we all have the tendency to make a god in our own image and put our names in the place of God’s if left to ourselves.

At its core, sin leads us to exalt ourselves before God (and others) positionally, relationally, and sacrificially. Consider how the first three sins, chronologically speaking, happened:

Lucifer (Isaiah 14:13-14)

“But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north… ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”

Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:5-6)

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Cain (Genesis 4:3-5; 8)
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast…Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Position

In the first sin, Lucifer wanted the power and prestige of deity and wanted something that wasn’t his to begin with.

Relation

The second sin was when the Serpent cast doubt on God’s intentions and convinced Adam and Eve that God didn’t really have their best interest in mind; he was holding something back on them. So their actions were fueled by a backdrop of suspicion and distrust.

Sacrifice

The third chronological sin was a murder that happened because Cain was upset that God didn’t accept his offering while accepting Abel’s. This final example is one that deals with the fundamental principle of worship: will I give all of me in response to God, or will I only give what and when is convenient. Abel had to kill one of his lambs in order to present his sacrifice, while Cain offered up the best fruits of his labors. While what Cain gave wasn’t bad in itself, it really represented a works-based form of worship because he showed up with something that required little sacrifice, unlike the killing of a lamb.

So, Cain killed his brother because he was upset that God wouldn’t accept his works as good enough.

In each of these examples, we see three different aspects of the common virus that has infected the Universe. At its core, sin is a heart issue more than anything else. It tends to make us lust after things that aren’t ours, makes us think that no one really has our backs and we have to look out for ourselves, and think that our own good deeds or efforts should be enough to earn God’s favor.

My Own Personal God

Worse still is that we’ll kill to get what we want, or if the outcome isn’t what we expected… especially when it comes to defending our form of worship (in the Cain and Abel case)

TheBookofYeezus could easily be TheBookof(YourNameHere) because, at its core, sin leads us to put ourselves at the center of the Universe.

This is all exacerbated by the world we live in today. While it has a lot of benefits, our media-focused culture of selfies, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook has been great at bringing this to the surface.

Of course, this doesn’t stop once we come into faith. Even on this point, if we ever stop learning or think we have come to the end of our understanding of God, we can even create a personal idol based on our own partial or limited understanding of who God is. Eugene Peterson described what can happen in his book Answering God:

 Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us…there is a difference between praying to an unknown God whom we hope to discover in our praying, and praying to a known God, reveled through Israel and Jesus Christ, who speaks our language. In the first, we indulge our appetite for religious fulfillment; in the second we practice obedient faith. The first is a lot more fun, the second is a lot more important. [5-6]

When we overemphasize God’s power over love or vice-versa, we open the door to either a view of God that sees him as a totalitarian, legalistic dictator, or nothing more than a senile grandfather figure who has general goodwill upon everybody.

When we exalt one over another and stop growing in our understanding of Him, we can, as Tim Keller says in his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God:

Left to ourselves, our hearts will tend to create a god who doesn’t exist. People from Western cultures want a God who is loving and forgiving but not holy and transcendent. Studies of the spiritual lives of young adults in Western countries reveal that their prayers, therefore, are generally devoid of both repentance and the joy of being forgiven. Without prayer that answers to the God of the Bible, we may be responding not to the real God, but to what we wish God and life to be like. [62]

We must not delude ourselves into thinking that blasphemy happens in the “secular world.” God invites us to lay all of our glory at the foot of the Cross and recognize that we were meant for so much more than to worship the feat of our own accomplishments by becoming our own gods and saviors.

Photo Credit: Kanye West via Google Images (Labeled for Noncommercial Reuse)

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Beyond Truth: Testimony of Manuel Gomez

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Do you have a testimony you would like to share on thehaystack.tv? Well it’s easy! Just send us a message on our Facebook page and we will get back to you.

I was born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Growing up in a communist country was definitely a challenge for my Christian walk. Every day when I left the house in the morning I knew my faith was going to be tested in some way, but this process helped me to lay a strong, logical, foundation to what I believed and why. However, there was one thing missing; a relationship with Jesus. I knew to keep every aspect of the Law and how to speak and behave properly, especially in church! But no one ever told me about this relationship with Jesus stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I was sure that Jesus came to this world, and died for me, and was risen from the tomb, and will come back eventually – but He was just way too busy making sure the universe functions properly to have, or even want, a relationship with this Cuban, red-headed, freckle-faced, little boy. This all changed in March 2006.

In March 2006, my dream came true. I found myself in a 62 foot yacht heading to Mexico in a journey to every Cuban’s promise land: The United States. After almost three weeks and a few stops, we finally made it. This new place brought a whole new set of challenges for which I was just not ready. Challenges that I realized I could not conquer on my own. I needed something else, I needed someone else. I needed Jesus, but I was sure He was too busy for such small business. The next few years were full of ups and downs, victories and defeat. But through all that, I started to realize that God was never too busy for me, and that my life was not “small business” for Him. As a matter of fact He had given His life so that I could live mine for Him. All this time He had been restlessly pursuing me, it was I who was keeping Him out. This was probably the most life-changing realization I’ve ever had. As I started to nourish my relationship with Jesus, I was amazed by His ever-lasting love, His never-ending grace, and His patience with me.

As a result of this experience we (a very special group of friends from my church in Hialeah, Florida) felt the need to share this beautiful experience with Jesus. Then we came up with “Fired Up” an outreach program based on our local church seeking to get teenagers and young adults engaged in active ministry, and to help them discover what it is to truly have a relationship with God. God used this ministry powerfully to make His calling and purpose for my life clear to me. I knew then and there that I needed to prepare to engage in full-time ministry. A year later, and after much denial, I was driving about 700 miles north from Miami, FL to Collegedale, TN. Southern Adventist University was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

Every time my strength has failed, His power has prevailed.

Going to Southern was both a challenge and a blessing. But between school, work, and a long distance relationship (which is another full-time job, just the kind that one doesn’t mind doing) it has been hard at times to stay afloat, but every time my strength has failed, His power has prevailed.

If there is one thing that I have learned in my few years walking with Jesus it’s that He is real. But He is real beyond simply the truth of His existence, He is real in your life and my life. I cannot even begin to express the transforming power that one can find in the realization that Jesus Christ, the One who created galaxies with the breath of His mouth, the One who walked on water, and died, and was risen from the death, is actively pursuing you, because He wants be real for you and with you.

Note: This article was originally published at redletterroundtable.wordpress.com

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1462571_10202948363975082_112045582_oAuthor: Manuel Gomez is a theology student at Southern Adventist University and a proud red-headed Cuban who enjoys Starbucks. His passion is to help others experience a real encounter with a real Jesus who loves and walks intimately with each of us. He also runs his own blog at 2worlds1god.blogspot.com

Coma: A Pause Between Life and Death

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There was a flurry of activity surrounding his body – buzzing sounds, blinking lights, hands flying in and out of view. There was shouting. There was a panic. Then there was a silence. The noises and commotion had not stopped, but the patient’s heart did. An eerie, ringing silence muffled the background noise––death was knocking. The stillness that comes from the awe of gazing upon the grandeur of death’s door was broken by a team of physicians who came crashing into view. They fought to save his life. And after seven minutes, the enemy of longevity, death, retreated. The man’s pulse returned; the physicians had saved his heart. However, they were not able to save his mind. His brain had spent too much time without oxygen, and the anoxic brain injury bell toll rang. He was standing on the edge of a coma.

Twenty-four hours later, the man showed little signs of improvement. Repeated testing of his brain-stem function gave little signs for hope. He wouldn’t speak, open his eyes, or move his limbs. He was estranged from his sons, so they debated over the phone from different cities about whether to keep him on a ventilator or to take him off. This man who once had hopes and dreams was now alone, trapped inside his mind. And then, the next morning, his niece showed up at the entrance to his room.

Hearing her uncle’s story, and seeing his condition brought tears to her eyes. As we explained the circumstances and discussed the expectedly extended trajectory of his recovery, she grabbed his hand gently and looking at us with watery eyes said she knew he would get better. He was showing minimal signs of recovery, but she had found reason to believe in spite of what she saw. And though it was touching to hear, it seemed as if time did not agree with her.

Days went by and the man did not improve. His sons could not come to an agreement on what to do with him and his niece could not relinquish her optimism. Every morning she sat at his side, his hands clasped in hers, whispering words of encouragement. It was something worth marveling at, really––seeing hope thrive like a single flower in such a barren valley of despair.

It was a privilege to witness such courage, and an even greater privilege to see her courage rewarded. The next day the man began to twitch when his nail beds were pressed. The following day his eyes opened. The day after that he began to turn his head when his name was called, and the day after that he began show responses to simple instructions like “raise your eyebrows” or “turn your head”. Within days his breathing apparatus was removed, and he was beginning to form words again.

The next morning when I examined him, he had taken leaps and bounds overnight. With effort, he was able to follow almost all my instructions, displaying remarkable gains. He was forming sentences and it seemed as if he was the most aware he had been since I first saw him. He was possibly more aware than he would have liked to be. With the return of his cognition came the full realization of his condition––he could barely move the lower portions of his body. When I asked him to raise his legs or move his feet, he was still having significant trouble. As his mind grappled with the reality that he still could not move his limbs at will, he looked at me with a pained expression and tears started running across his face.

I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t expecting him to cry. But his aged face stayed focused on my confused one. “Don’t lose hope.” I fumbled. “It may take some time, but you can do this.” I was at a loss for words and that was all I could scramble for. I grabbed his arm with intention, “Whatever you do, don’t give up.” He slowly nodded. He was being prayed for.

When rounding with the attending and team three hours later, I found the man was sitting up in bed seconds away from practicing walking with a physical therapist. My jaw was scraping against the floor. The injury he sustained could have removed his ability to ever walk or talk again. It could have left him in a coma permanently. And most people who survive that kind of brain damage, after months and months of therapy, leave with permanent, debilitating injuries. But there he was, only days later, defying all the odds. What is this power that moves over human life? What is the source of this hope, this courage, this strength that mankind shows in times of sorrow and duress? Who can reach into the depths of a man’s mind and lead him back to his loved ones safely? How could someone stand so close to the brink of death, and so quickly find his way back to life? Was this man’s entire recovery simply attesting to the magic of medicine? Or had I glimpsed into the eyes of a miracle? Was this the heart of the ministry of healing?

The room was lighted with smiles and laughter. The man was moving. He was speaking intelligibly. And what else would be some of his first words other than a quip about the POTUS? I smiled, reminded of these words, “By prayer the sick have been encouraged to believe that God will look with compassion upon them. A ray of light penetrates to the hopeless soul, and becomes a savor of life unto life.” (E.G. White, Adventist Review and Herald, 1900).

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