Is Vegetarianism Killing Adventism?

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I was sitting on a plane heading east, drenched in paraphernalia from an Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) school in the west, when someone sitting next to me leaned in uncomfortably close to ask if I was SDA (the conversation quickly went south). When she asked if I was “a Sevy”, I plead guilty. While I tried to steer our talk to the more salient points about being an Adventist (Jesus, the cross, redemption, and such), my new temporary neighbor could only seem to focus on one thing – the fact that I was vegetarian.

It took all of ten seconds for me to realize that this lady was from the South. After spending four years of undergrad in the South, I learned one or two things about the food there. The South is an area where many people bathe their food in butter as often as they bathe themselves in water. It’s also a place where young kids learn more from their plates about pigs, cows, and chickens than they do from their schools. It’s a place where people can sniff out a vegetarian a mile away – just as this lady had.

However, it wasn’t the fact that she was perseverating on me being vegetarian that bothered me; it was the fact that, to her, me being Adventist meant me being vegetarian. (I write this being well aware that at least half of the “Sevys” that I know are not actually vegetarian -even though I have a solid friend who once sworn to me that he was…while he was simultaneously downing a piece of fish.) What struck me most is that this lady was one of many strangers I’ve seen instantly associate being SDA with being vegetarian.

When did Adventist Christians stop being known as loving, devoted followers of Christ, and start being known simply as vegetarians? I understand that it is very possible to be both at the same time, but I worry that the world is no longer seeing both. It’s a troublesome explanation as to why so many people instantly think of Adventists as vegetarians and not as “loving neighbors” or “kind-hearted strangers” or as “ helpful citizens”, and instead, think of them as “vegetarians who go to church on Saturday.”

The health message is a vital one. The importance of a healthful, balanced diet is indisputable. But what good does it do if eating well does not come with infectious, God-fearing passion? And none of this is intended to chastise either vegetarians or meat eaters. It is meant to encourage both #teamVegetarians and #teamMeatEaters to love their neighbors as much as they love their stomachs. Our desire to live healthful, whole lives should never overpower our desire to live helpful, holy lives. Because if all the world ever sees is a bunch of picky eaters, then they will never truly see Jesus – and that could have devastating outcomes.

When my new friend on the plane moved the conversation from food to music, we found a common interest. The lyrics from a song we both loved while we were growing up read, “They will know that we are Christians by our love” (not by our diets).

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Cringe-free Worship Services

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If you’ve attended church for any length of time, you probably had a moment when you cringed when something inappropriate was said, someone acted a fool or a leader or pastor neglected to prepare for their part. When cringe-full moments happen the first people I think about are guests that might get the impression that worship done halfheartedly is the norm, not the exception. Give the wrong person the mic and bad things happen. For example: (these are all verifiable accounts of cringe-full Sabbaths experiences)

*A children’s story about the loaves and fishes that excluded the fishes because the one who was telling it was vegan and would not promote the eating of fish.

*A church where everyone is over 70. As children’s story time comes, (there are no children present) they go ahead and tell it anyway.

Here are three thoughts to keep in mind:

  1. Keep it positive.

I know there are hard scriptures, not every part of the bible is sugar and sweet. I get it. We don’t want sermonettes that produce christianettes. Even when presenting hard truths, present the hope that we have in Jesus. Why do we always equate seriousness with holiness?  Smile. Congratulate the ones that are early in Sabbath school instead of griping about the lack of attendance. Give people hope. Lord knows they need it.

  1. Keep it professional.

Many times I hear the following three excuses for a lack of professionalism in worship services when people in charge of special music sing out of tune, we start late, or have interminable announcements:

*They are committed.

*They are sincere.

*They are spiritual.

Question for you. Do you get operated by a bad surgeon that is spiritual? Would you take a chance getting on a plane with an inefficient yet committed pilot who is sincere in his desire to fly?

Sincere and effective. Spiritual and excellent. Committed and prepared. Let’s stop giving people passes just because they tried. Raise the standard.

  1. Keep it personal.

Instead of speaking to the crowd, break your audience down into individuals. What does the single mother need to hear? How about the elderly man that lives alone? There are first time guests, long time members and everything in between. Instead of addressing the crowd, address individuals. Personalizing the presentation will engage the people listening and will not exclude the ones that need a message from the Lord that day.

Praying that all your worship services will be cringe free!

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Jesus Is the Center of Preaching, Not You [me]

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It’s Sabbath morning, 11:30 am. The pastor approaches the pulpit to speak. He buttons his suit jacket, lays his Bible open, has a solemn prayer, then preaches passionately and winsomely on the evils of rollerskating and the virtues of walking on two un-wheeled feet. He closes with a powerful charge: “Brothers and sisters, say no to skates! Turn away from the foolishness of wheeled shoes and go forth in the glory of upright walking!”

I hope you’d be puzzled by this. Um… what? 

I hope you’d even feel indignant. This guy just wasted thirty minutes of my time preaching about foolishness. I hope you’d notice that he left out the message of the gospel.

But the gospel message, the message of the cross, isn’t just about what is said, but also how it’s said.

Paul says: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Paul says: I didn’t allure you with my glossy handbills. I didn’t impress you with my physique or designer suit. I didn’t awe you with my light show. I didn’t wow you with my rhetorical superiority. I didn’t woo you with my trendy terminology. I didn’t manipulate you with emotionalism.

The Corinthians might be yawning at this point. They’re living in times when your status was tied to the status and eloquence of your teacher, and they wanted something a little extra from Paul. The message of the cross was good, but it needed more celebrity, more panache, you know? But Paul just wouldn’t compete with the more eloquent, more flashy, more wealthy secular speakers strutting their stuff around town.

Maybe you and I would take the criticism to heart and work a bit harder on our impression management skills. Paul does not.

When the Corinthians complain that Paul is weak in worldly wisdom and not so good at attracting the applause of the affluent, he nods in agreement and then points out that it is in these places of apparent weakness and foolishness that God performs the strength and wisdom of the gospel.

For example, he says, “Whereas Jews asked for signs and Greeks seek wisdom, we proclaim a crucified Christ: to the Jews an affront; to Gentiles, foolishness; but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, a Christ: God’s power and God’s wisdom.” (1 Cor 1:22-24)

A man publicly humiliated and executed on a cross seems an unlikely place for divine power and wisdom, but there it is on display in Christ and Him crucified.

In fact, Paul can say in 1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ [sent me] to proclaim the gospel, and not in wise-sounding rhetoric, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of His power.”

If he had come with dazzling flourish, then the message of the cross would have been emptied of its power.

How could Paul have preached the message of a brutalized Savior in a way that celebrated human achievement and skill? How could Paul have proclaimed the self-sacrificing love of God in a way that attracted followers to himself, in a way that secured status for himself? How could he preach Christ with an air of celebrity?

And how can we? How could we? How can we fuss over our pocket squares and Sabbath socks as we stand to tell the world of Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels….that He might taste death for everyone? (Heb 2) How can we engage in one-up-manship, trying to out-preach, out-baptize, out-grow one another in the name of Christ Jesus, who, “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”? (Phil 2) How can we make our ministry about us, when the message is so very clearly about Him?
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Be Careful, Little Ears

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The city windows reflect sunlight.  They illuminate the pocked and broken edges of sidewalk slabs laid end to end in a trailing grid that binds roads into blocks from which towers of steel and concrete shoot hundreds of feet into the sky.  Tires tread the streets and feet tread those sun-illuminated gray pathways.  Here is the scent of a leather briefcase, there the sound of a cell phone ringing.  My attention drifts between women with pressed dresses and high heels and men in Armani wearing Swiss time pieces on their wrists.  Handshakes, laughter, luxury sedans, and giant sky scrapers, the temples of wealth, commune together here on Wall Street.  Of course, these scenes do not dwell here alone.  Old army boots jut out across those same sidewalk slabs.  Here a stream of alcohol trickles sideways.  There, urine cuts a sister path from under a slumbering mass of grime, and grit, and skin, and soul.  Cardboard signs of old men, young women, mentally ill, and frauds all lie strewn about their creators.  “Need bus fare.” One broadcasts.  Another says, “Fought for my country, but it didn’t fight for me.  Anything will help.”  Some need transportation, some need food, and some have no physical need at all, but are there for the handout.  All need love.  If one looks over the cast of companies and characters that inhabit this world, one might just miss idealists, but there they sit.  Beanies and beards, plugs in their lobes and piercing here and there, but in their midst a bearded man with a djembe drum wearing an off-white tee sits talking to them.  What is he saying?  I drift closer hear the words:

“… just strolled past him to his car.  This wealthy man did not once look at the poor beggar he stepped over as he went to buy, sell and trade.  The wealthy man had the chance to donate to charity, but did not.  He had a chance to volunteer at a local inner city school tutoring kids, but he did not.  He had the wealth needed to give this beggar a full meal for every day of his life, but did not once help him get a single morsel of bread.  Not one cracker.  Most of all, he deprived him any kind of interaction.  He simply stepped over him.

“The story goes that this wealthy man opposed social programs for the poor.  He paid for political ads to cut health programs.  He believed food stamps to be a disincentive to work.  He did not support the work of private charities either.  In fact, he despised all the poor he navigated around every day to get home.  At city hall, he complained about their loitering and backed a resolution to remove them from the public streets.

“Years passed and the poor beggar died of exposure, and it just so happened that the same week, the wealthy man crashed his car and died.  The poor man was caught up to be in heaven with his grandparents, his parents, and his siblings.  The wealthy man went to hell and lived there in the flames.  The wealthy man called out across the void of space and time into heaven saying, ‘Please, give me something to drink, for it is hot in this waste land.’  The beggar’s grandfather shouted back at the wealthy man, ‘You had comfort while you were on earth, and my grandson had none, but now he is comforted and happy, and you are to live in grief.’”

I listen on as this group of idealists and hipsters discuss with the storyteller themes of justice and injustice, rights to property, responsibility to fellow humans.  “What does it mean for life to be fair?  Does God create disparity?  Does man need to fight it?  What does it mean to have comfort?”

A new voice draws my attention to my left.  It rings in clarity and with alarm.  “You are being led astray by this stranger!  The Bible clearly states that the dead sleep!  They do not go to Heaven or Hell when they die!  They go into the ground!  See how stealthily the enemy works his little bit of falsehood into his story!  See how he wishes to fool you!  This is blasphemy, for a God of love would never make such a system!  See how he speaks against God!”

As I listen to this man, I wonder.  Does he see himself as relevant?  It is clear that those within the conversation do not.   One man shakes his head and grins at his companion.  Another straight up asks the newcomer who invited him in the first place.  A girl turns to a young man she holds hands with and derides, “That’s what you sound like when you try to talk to my family about Nascar, babe!  Clueless!”

The newcomer does not understand, and he continues on to point to texts, to books, and to anecdotes to try and convince them of his point.  His uncle’s friend knew a guy who fell prey to believing in life after death, and it led him to séances and spiritualism.  He had seen people drawn away into deception by such false teaching before.  The people around the story teller simply shake their heads, pat each other on the backs, they thank the storyteller for the discussion, and then they disperse to go their separate ways to try and fight for a more just world.  They leave the ranting man behind, not because they are rebellious toward him, but because he is simply not relevant to the conversation.

Our minds are tricky.  A devout fundamentalist Muslim’s conscience may warn against giving up female genital mutilation.  Slave owners believed they were preserving the God-ordained order to which God entrusted them.  We are easily fooled by confirmation bias, and often we mistake this bias for the work of our consciences.

When Harry Potter came out, we endured a cavalcade of books and videos denouncing the books as evil.  Some are afraid of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, George McDonald, and all the rest.  It hasn’t stopped either.  The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Percy Jackson have brought out similar responses from the Christian community.  There are people who build their whole idea of ministry on the practice of carrying on an irrelevant dialogue with popular culture.  They see Satan at work in every new film or book.  They frame every quote from literature in a literal Biblical context rather than dealing with quotes in the contexts of the narratives in which they dwell.  Most of all, they ignore the greater realities of the effects of pop literature on the world around them.  When actual research replaces anecdote, the world sees the ways that these stories can positively change attitudes.

At the end of the day, it is no sin to be irrelevant.  The man ranting at the story teller and the hipsters on the sidewalk is not evil or bad.  However, there is a consequence.  When we hear what we want to hear, and when we don’t actually listen to the contexts of the stories and ideas around us, people simply leave.  We have proven ourselves irrelevant, so what reason do they have to stay?  When a person is irrelevant, people don’t stay around.

So be careful, little ears, what you hear, be careful, little ears, what you hear, for you have biases and perspectives which may render your ideas irrelevant, so be careful, little ears, what you hear.

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Is Your God Narrow?

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I served a boss who took a genuine interest in the well-being of every employee under him. He cared about our vocational well-being: He motivated us, and fought for our promotions. He cared about our financial well-being. He shared with us financial wisdom from his life experiences, and advised us to spend wisely. He cared about our relational well-being. He didn’t hesitate to grant us leave. Encouraged us to leave home early so that we can enjoy time with family. People care about us, but God cares about us even more. When we gave our hearts to Jesus, He began a good work in every area of our life. Jesus said it this way: “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10, TLB).

Some of us have a very narrow view of God.

Some of us have a very narrow view of God. To us, God only enters the picture when it comes to church or religion. But the truth is, God is interested in every area of our life: Spiritual. Mental. Emotional. Relational. Financial. Vocational. His word shows us and teaches us how we can become healthy in every area of our life.

Spiritually healthy

Here are a few habits God says you need to develop to be spiritually healthy. It starts with you knowing that Jesus loves you, and He is your Savior:

1. Know that He loves you: “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19)

2. Love Him supremely: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30, NLT).

3. Meet Him daily: “Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily” (Proverbs 8:34).

4. Study and obey His word: “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14).

5. Love others unconditionally: “Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34).

6. Serve others unselfishly: “Use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

7. Spread the good news freely: “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

Physically healthy:

Here are a few reasons why God cares about your physical well-being:

1) Your body is His property: “For we are God’s masterpiece” (Ephesians 2:10).

2) You are connected with the body of Christ: “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15).

3) The Holy Spirit lives in your body: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in[a] you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

4) Jesus bought your body on the cross: “God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

5) He wants you to be healthy: “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit” (3 John 1:2).

Mentally healthy:

Speaking of mental health, God says:

1. Guard your mind: “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash” (Proverbs 15:14).

2. Examine your thoughts: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things..” (Jeremiah 17:9); “Examine yourselves to see whether you’re in the faith; test yourselves…” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

3. Renew your mind daily by His word: “..Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think..” (Romans 12:2).

4. Never stop growing and learning: “Those who get wisdom do themselves a favor, and those who love learning will succeed” (Proverbs 19:8, NCV).

Emotionally healthy:

God says “He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds” (Psalm 147:3, NLT). Many people have hurts and wounds, but God says He wants to heal them:

1. Reveal and confess your hurts to God so that he can heal you: “I kept very quiet…but I became even more upset. I became very angry inside, and as I thought about it, my anger burned” (Psalm 39:2-3, NCV).

2. Release those who have hurt you and trust God to do what is right: “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God..” (Romans 12:19, NLT).

3. Replace those old lies you believed with God’s truth: “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2).

4. Reach out to help others who are hurting: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Relationally healthy

Relationships matter to God. He counsels:

1. Choose friends wisely: “The righteous choose their friends carefully” (Proverbs 12:26, NIV).

2. Be genuinely interested about others: “Unfriendly people care only about themselves..” (Proverbs 18:1, NLT).

3. Have a cheerful spirit: “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you” (Philippians 2:14).

4. Be a good listener: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

5. Accept people unconditionally: “Accept one another…just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).

6. Help people feel appreciated: “Take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10).

7. Be understanding: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

8. Stick with them in tough times: “There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

Financially healthy

Speaking of financial well-being, His word says:

1. Trust God as your provider: “Everything comes from him…” (Romans 11:36).

2. Put Him first in your money: “The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives” (Deuteronomy 14:23, TLB).

3. Save and invest: “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets” (Proverbs 21:20).

4. Set up plans to pay debt: “Let no debt remain outstanding” (Romans 13:8, NIV).

5. Have a budget for spending: “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5, NLT).

6. Be happy with what you have: “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9).

Vocationaly healthy

His counsel on your vocational well-being:

1. Know that God is your real boss: “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23)

2. Work enthusiastically: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23, NIV).

3. Know that God uses difficult circumstances to build your character: “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:3).

4. Care about your work colleagues: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4).

5. Exceed what is expected of you: “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best” (Colossians 3:22, MSG).

6. Expand your skills and learn continually: “Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed” (Ecclesiastes 10:10, NLT).

7. Dedicate you work for God’s purposes: “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3).

God cares about every area of your life because you are His child. If it matters to you, it matters to Him. Sometimes we have a narrow view of our heavenly Father’s concerns for our life. He says I want to bless every area of your life. Commit it to Him.

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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

3 Things the Church Needs to Move Forward

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I love my church!

I cannot stress that enough. I am a “home-bred” Seventh-day Adventist, and I would never have it any other way. Because of the immense love I have for this movement, it occasionally bothers me where we are right now. In the last 10 years, I have visited Seventh-day Adventist churches in at least four different states, and only a few of them were “thriving,” if you can call it that. Yet, every once in a while I hear someone cite statistics proving how “great” our church is doing.

But it’s all denial.

Truth is, we are struggling! We hide behind inflated numbers instead of acknowledging our struggles, and we allow things to get worse. But it is time for a change. Here are three things that I believe the church needs to do to turn things around.

1. Return to the Mission at Any Cost

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit'” (Mt 28:18–19).

This Bible verse is what our church is all about! Or, at least, it should be. If there are a dozen “ministries” in the church and yet none are producing new disciples, then those “ministries” are useless! We have gotten distracted by our comfort and egocentricity, and have forgotten what our true mission in this world is. Going back to this mission will require painfully radical change. We have to turn our churches back to the world! We have become way too self-centered! Jesus’ orders were to go out—not to come in! Our mission was never to bring people into our buildings and get them to be vegetarians. Our mission is to go out of our buildings and make disciples that will follow us back. It’s sad that people have to come into our temples on Sabbath to find out what we are all about, because they cannot see it in any other way. What is it going to take?

2. Get Rid of Our “We-Have-the-Truth” Attitude

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (Jn 14:6).

Jesus’ statement of self-disclosure was full of power. He identifies Himself as “the way,” “the truth,” and “the life.” The theological implications of this statement are incredible. However, I want to focus on the second characteristic: truth.

God is truth. The most arrogant thing humans can say is, “We have the truth!” No we don’t! Don’t get me wrong—I am fully devoted to our theological foundation as Seventh-day Adventists. But we cannot boast about having the truth because no one can ever fully know God, who called Himself the truth! The moment the human mind fully understands God, He will cease to be God. Therefore, it will never happen! We, as the remnant, have a prophetic role in the last seconds this world has left. We know some truth, but we will never have all of it. Yet some of us think we do. This mentality of “theological arrival” is what is keeping the church from moving forward in many cases. It has filled our hearts with an unholy pride and a sense of exclusivity that has made us lazy and undisciplined students of the Word. We need to once again become like the young men and women who started this church. They were willing to keep a teachable heart as they studied the Word of God and were eager to do whatever it took to follow His will.

3. Embrace Change

“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Ac 15:19–20).

The very first executive meeting the Christian Church ever had was all about change. There were a group of Jewish Christians who believed that it was necessary for new Gentile converts to keep all the ceremonial provisions, including laws about sacrifices, festivals, and circumcision. However, under the leadership of Peter the new movement understood the need for change. They recognized the necessity to move away from culture and tradition in order to bring the Gospel to the world.

I once heard someone say, “We change when the pain related with the status quo becomes greater than the pain related with change.” I have found this to be true in many areas of life, but especially within the church. There used to be a time when Seventh-day Adventists were the “cutting-edge” of technology in regards to proclaiming the Gospel to the world. Then technology evolved. But we did not. Change is necessary for any organization to survive. We spend too much time and energy coming up with “biblical” arguments to excuse our unwillingness to change, to leave the known for the unknown. Imagine how different things would be if we embraced change and used it as a launching board to bring the Gospel to this generation. We have to stop complaining about post-modernism, technology, and music styles and embrace them as tools to glorify God as we bring the Gospel to the world.

Family, it is imperative that we rethink our ways. The times in which we are living call for radical measures and it all begins with you and me. My prayer is that first, we are able to really grasp the importance of our commission to bring the Gospel to the world. Second, that we keep a humble and teachable heart so that God can continue to reveal Himself to this church. Lastly, that we remain committed to Him to the point of changing and letting go of all the traditional baggage that slows us down in the final stretch of our run.

I love my church!

This article was originally published at 2worlds1god.blogspot.com. It has been reposted with permission.

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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

This Sabbath, Celebrate Grace!

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Got pulled over by a cop for a traffic offense? You were guilty. You knew the penalty, the punishment. But wait. The officer turns to you, advises you to be mindful about traffic laws, and lets you off the hook. Just like that. Has it happened to you? It happened to me. If it happened to you, you were a recipient of mercy. You were let off the hook, when you didn’t deserve.

Mercy is when you don’t receive what you deserve: punishment.

You may not have received mercy for civil law breaking, but when you gave your heart to Jesus, you met the God ‘rich in mercy’ (Ephesians 2:4). He showed you mercy when you didn’t deserve. Paul wrote:

“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5, NLT).

He saved us because of his mercy. Instead of punishing and giving us what we deserve (Romans 6:23), He saved us from the punishment. Isaiah said it this way:

“He took the punishment we deserved, and this brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5, ERV).

Mercy is not cheap. It is expensive because it costed His Son’s life to set us free.

Mercy is good news, but wait till you hear the other word. Grace. Grace is much more than mercy.

How so? Because mercy is not receiving what you deserve: punishment. But grace is when you receive what you don’t deserve: reward.

The prodigal son received mercy when the father accepted him as a son. Grace when he threw him a party.

The thief on the cross received mercy when he experienced forgiveness. Grace when Jesus promised Him paradise.

We received mercy when God saved us from the punishment for our sins. Grace when He gave us eternal life (1 John 5:11); made us sons and daughters (John 1:12), and reserved an inheritance for us for eternity (1 Peter 1:4).

Mercy and Grace are amazing! That’s why we sing that famous hymn Amazing Grace, and have many hymns praising God’s grace.

Not only is grace amazing. It is also the central theme in the Bible. It is about a gracious God who pursues us, came for us, cared for us, and coming again for us.

Note a few things the Bible says about grace:

Grace is God’s gift to me: “All of us need to be made right with God by His grace, which is a free gift through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24, NCV)
Grace is for everyone: “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11, NLT).
Grace comes through Jesus: “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, NIV).
Grace is received by faith: “God saved you by his grace when you believed.” (Ephesians 2:8, NLT).
Grace is God’s gift for all eternity: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Grace is God’s gift of forgiveness: “But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:15).
Grace is God’s power to change: “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16).

Yes, grace changes people. The apostle made it clear that the gospel of His grace and mercy is intended to turn people to God and from their sins (Romans 2:4). Grace not only forgives, it changes, transforms, rewires everyone who comes under its power.

There is more. When grace happens, gratitude happens. ‘And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory’ (2 Corinthians 4:15)

You can live a life of gratitude to God, not because of anything you did, but because of what He did for you. If you have put your complete trust in His Son to save you, He says He has given you life (you were born again), and has saved you:

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Like to thank him for His mercy and grace? Here’s what you can do:

  • Make a list of your grace and mercy experiences.
  • Talk with God over the list, and thank Him for each blessing
  • Share your experiences with your friends, and spread the joy
  • Keep the list, add to it and return to it when you need to remember His goodness

Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His grace!

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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

Love Is the Heartbeat of Revival and Reformation

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A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work.” (Ellen White, Review and Herald,March 22, 1887).

This particular quotation is often and appropriately heard these days amid a renewed quest for revival and reformation within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “True godliness” is our goal.

But what exactly is that? Everybody has his or her own opinion or conviction. What does Scripture say?

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

Do you catch the Biblical priority order there for anyone interested in experiencing a revival of true godliness? Task number one is to care for hurting people in trouble with selfless service for the Savior, both within our churches and in our communities. And while meeting the needs of a lost world, we must also avoid getting contaminated with its evil—loving the sinner while hating the sin, as is often said.

The primary purpose of true religion is relief of human suffering.

Too often those seeking revival become so obsessed in keeping themselves and their churches separate from the world that they overlook the primary purpose of true religion—relief of human suffering, not by condescending hand-outs but by coming close to people. By visiting them in their trouble we draw them into our fellowship. Keeping this in mind would transform self-centered, self-righteous, isolationist churches into living, loving communities of the Spirit that experience true reformation.

Such a revival would also generate evangelism within our churches, winning friends, neighbors and relatives who previously had been unimpressed by our doctrines.

Jesus said, “By this shall all humanity know that you are my disciples, because of the love you have for one another” (John 13:35).

So then love and compassion are core components to revival and reformation as well as evangelism for God’s Spirit-filled remnant.

Note: This article has been republished with permission from outlookmag.org.

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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.

Why God Did Not Make the Bible “Dummy-Proof”

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I have a hunch. OK, maybe its more than a hunch – a conviction. This conviction is so profound it challenges me on every level of my spiritual comfort. And its this. If God wanted to he could have made every truth of scripture super duper clear. He could have made them as dummy proof as the safety instructions on an airline card. And while there are things in scripture that are certainly crystal clear, there are other things that are not.

A perfect example is the issue of Women’s Ordination (WO). In a few months the Seventh-day Adventist church will be voting on whether or not to allow women to be ordained into the gospel ministry. The debate has been long and emotional. A committee was put together to study the topic and arrive at a consensus. No consensus was reached. Instead the committee arrived at 3 separate conclusions. And try as we may no one can demonstrate their position clearly from scripture. Regardless of whether you support or reject WO there is no clear “this is what God says” anywhere in scripture. The same goes true for many other topics in scripture that Christians disagree on. Historically these disagreements have resulted in intolerant behavior. Catholics have excommunicated Catholics. Catholics have persecuted Protestants. Protestants have persecuted Catholics. And Protestants have ostracized, ridiculed, and persecuted Protestants. The history of Christianity is bathed in divisions, coercion, and acts of violence toward those whose views differ from the majority. And now, as the WO vote approaches we see this same spirit of coercion at play. Name calling is common. Insults are the law of conversation. And demonization is promulgated in the guise of “exposing error.” In the midst of all this I have wondered, Why didn’t God make this issue perfectly clear so that we wouldn’t bash each other in the process of figuring it out? And then it hit me. He did it on purpose.

God could have made a dummy proof Bible verse for every single issue we face in this world, but he didn’t, and the conviction I now have is that God is more interested in love than he is in facts. God wants us to learn that in the midst of our disagreements we can love. He wants us to get to the place where we learn to treat each other with self-sacrificing passion even when we do not see eye to eye. The greatest revelation of love in the Bible is Christ giving himself fully for a humanity that did not love him in return. And this is the love that we must have for those we disagree with. So I have to wonder, as a supporter of WO, would I be willing to give my life for those who oppose WO? Would I willingly lay myself down for them? The answer is no. Of course not. Its hard enough to love those you agree with and consider your friends. Let alone those whose views make you angry. But this is what God is calling me to. To love – sacrificial, other-centered, self-abandoning love – those with whom I disagree.

And maybe this is the reason why the Bible isn’t always clear. Because if it was we would never go through the journey that confronts us with our most painful reality – our pride, arrogance, and love-bereft souls. But through the journey we can learn to love those whom we disagree with. Through it we can come to the place where we are no longer willing to be intolerant and hateful toward those “conservatives” or those “liberals” because our hearts are filled with an overflow of the love of God that pours out unto those we consider our worst enemies.

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Did I Deny Jesus to Fight for Truth?

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Conflict is scary. Sometimes a disagreement seems to threaten our most treasured relationships. There are so many conflicts in our church that some fear our church could be torn apart. So many are digging in their heels and making their stand.

I am impacted in a very real and personal way by one of these church debates, but that debate is not what this post is about. This post is about a much bigger problem, my own heart towards those who disagree with me. I became resentful of prominent people on the opposite side of the question and started mocking them to my friends. Underneath the clever insults, I was angry, hurt, and probably afraid as well. One day a good friend called me out, saying it made him afraid that he would one day find himself on the wrong end of my criticism. I had felt so justified in everything I said, yet I instantly knew he was right.

Since then I have come to believe that the biggest problems we have with controversy are not about the outcomes of the controversies, but the state of our own hearts towards each other. We have stopped seeing each other as fellow children of God, and started seeing each other as objects to be used and obstacles to overcome.

One of the most astonishing qualities that Jesus exhibited in his time on earth was his capacity to continue caring for individuals no matter how much pain and damage they caused. He wept over Jerusalem because he knew what would result from their rejection of him, he treated Judas with kindness and love though he knew he would be betrayed, and he prayed for the very ones who tortured and killed him at the very moment they were torturing and killing him.

By contrast, when insulted most of us have the impulse to go on a self-righteous tirade, to mock, and to show how foolish our enemies really are. Even if we don’t act on it, the impulse is there. We respond this way because of self-centeredness. Our nature is to be more concerned with the impact that someone has on us, on those we care for, or the institutions we want to protect than we are with the humanity person in front of us. Once someone is a threat, we want to control and contain them.

This is why loving our enemies is such a radical and difficult concept. Our concerns related to those with whom we have conflict are primarily external. They relate to what they have done, what we want them to do, and how they have impacted our own reputations. We are not thinking of them as people whose lives and experience matter as much as ours, but as objects with which we interact and from which we must get what we want, deserve, and need.

Jesus never treated people this way. And he taught us not to treat each other that way.He taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. He set an example of laying down his life for bad people, people who cause problems, people who sin, in other words, for us. And in the light of that forgiveness we have ourselves received, we must return forgiveness to other who we believe are bad people, sinners, and people who cause problems. Forgiveness means caring about them, and not trying to make them pay for the bad things they have done. We owe that to everyone, because we have received it from God.

These are the plain teachings of Jesus, that we love everyone. Yet for some reason, when we believe we are right on a theological point, we abandon these teachings and are consumed with anger towards others.

In fact, we even feel good about it. Conservative Christians are increasingly interested in winning the culture war to make this a Christian nation “again” and not in laying down their lives in service to others. The same happens in the Adventist church when people become more concerned with protecting their idea of Adventist identity from other Adventists who they believe threaten it. So they go to war. Beliefs are entrenched, the spirit is quenched, and our Adventist identity is made a mockery.

I am not concerned with passionate and vigorous debate. Anyone who knows me knows that. I am concerned by anger, hostility, name-calling, and the war imagery that is shockingly prevalent. I am concerned when our hearts towards each other go from the realm of grace to that of judgment. Never are we called on to judge others for their sins, always to extend grace and love even when we believe their actions or views need to be opposed. Opposition should be in the spirit of grace, love, and the last thing we every thing about in a conflict — humility.

This in no way undermines the importance of the issues themselves, rather it is a challenge to approach them differently. I want to challenge all of us to do some things that are opposed to our human nature:

  • to pray for those we disagree with, no matter how damaging or wrong we believe them to be
  • to ditch the fear of what could happen in exchange for trusting God with His church
  • to understand that we cannot and should not try to control others or to control the direction of God’s church
  • to show grace in the face of the mocking words or media we might receive from others
  • to remind ourselves of the grace we have received from God
  • to let go of the need to appear right and justified

The most important question is not about who is right, but about whether we have loved in the midst of the conflict.

As Christians, we are never free from the responsibility to see others as precious, valued, and loveable children of God. Scripture repeatedly says that if our love for God does not spill over into love for all his children, it is not true love at all. If we lose the desire to see those on the other side of the debate prosper and grow, just as we desire this for ourselves, we have lost more than an argument; we have lost the essence of our faith and a positive outcome to these debates is no longer possible.

It is lack of love, and not lack of agreement, that is tearing us apart.

Note: This article was written by Alicia Johnston and originally posted at roundtabletheology.com. It has been reposted with permission.

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Alicia Johnston is an obsessive reader, a poor guitar player, and a lover of sunshine. She is currently serving the Carolina Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as a church planting pastor. In a previous career she was a counselor and holds an MA in Clinical Psychology in addition to an MDiv. She got very tired of school before she was done.