GC 2015: What We’re NOT Talking About

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The other day I saw an article titled, “20 Things You Were Successfully Distracted From While Obsessing About Caitlyn Jenner.”[1] It highlights what was allegedly happening while the public was busy debating Jenner’s sex change, such as: the Patriot Act expired and Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, “which is like the Patriot Act on steroids,” NBC was caught manipulating footage, and so on. Similarly, I saw another recent article titled, “While We Were Distracted With The Confederate Flag Flap, Congress Quietly Forfeited our Entire Economic Future Via Fast Track Trade.”[2] Interesting… Then, just for kicks, try Googling “what the Ebola scare distracted us from.” Hmm….

I’m definitely not going to discuss the validity or absurdity of any of the above claims! But I do believe there’s a nugget of truth here: We can miss important things when we’re distracted. And if that’s true, then I’ve begun to wonder: could we be missing some important things going into the 2015 General Conference Session?

I have to be careful here, but leading into this GC, I’ve been hearing about pretty much one thing. Now I’m not saying that women’s ordination isn’t an important issue or that it’s just a distraction. It IS important, and I am glad people are prayerfully discussing it. But with every new comment, article, sermon, and blog I see come across my Facebook, hear referenced by a friend, or talked about at church, I can’t help but wonder: while we’re busy debating women’s ordination, what are we NOT talking about going into GC 2015? As I ponder this, here are just a few that come to my mind.

 

  1. Racial conference divides. Okay, let’s just jump from one hot topic to the next 😉 Now I understand that this may be more of an NAD issue to discuss than something that would necessarily require GC action. But in the division that is pushing so hard for the rights of women to serve, how are we STILL embracing a system of racially segregated conferences? While thinking our division so progressive, could we really be very behind? Now I understand that the system of regional conferences today is a lot more complicated than race – it would take a heavy, delicate, and painful process to change a structure that we’ve had for over 100 years. But seriously, even if we internally reason that the system is okay, what kind of witness does this give to the world? How backwards and prejudiced do we appear? While we discuss gender divides, maybe we need to look at our other divides as well.

 

  1. The aging of the church & clergy: As of 2008, the average church member in the North American Division was 51 years old. The average age of the population, on the other hand, was 36 years old.[3] Some like Tim Floyd have even compiled data indicating that 40-75% of baptized Adventist millennials will leave the church after their last Seventh-day Adventist educational experience.[4] I’m not going to verify nor dispute the statistics. But there does seems to be enough evidence to indicate that our church is aging. This aging affects the ministry too. In 2012 the Adventist News Network even ran an article stating that, “A recent review of pastoral demographics in the United States reveals that nearly 50 percent of Seventh-day Adventist ministers will reach retirement age within 10 years.” It then cites Denis Fortin, dean of the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, saying that the seminary was graduating about 100 individuals per year. But at the same time church leaders estimate needing 200 pastors per year in the future to fill vacancies.[5] We see the shortage even more when we consider that the same article states that 20% of the seminary students are female (which not all want to hire as pastors) and that the NAD has policies also discouraging ordaining those who have not completed the 7-year ministerial training program (leaving out those who have been trained as Bible workers, done shorter training programs, etc.). Thus, female pastors or not, we have a need – a shortage – coming in the ministry. And we have a need – a shortage – NOW of young people in our church. I’d love to see us talk more about what to do with this.

 

  1. Cost barriers to entering ministry. Branching off from the point above, I think we should take a moment to look at what it takes to obtain an Adventist education. Praise the Lord our Andrews University seminary’s master’s of divinity program is cost subsidized! I know that really helps the training and further education of those in ministry. But a master’s program requires completion of a bachelor’s degree first. And our Adventist undergrad programs can come with no small price tag. It pains me to see young people who feel called to pastoral ministry but are unable to pursue it because of the costs of the education. It also pains me to see people graduating with $60,000 – $100,000 of debt! In fact I know of conferences who don’t prefer to hire theology graduates with large amounts of student loans. So basically, a student may have to go into debt to get the requisite training for pastoral ministry, but then they may not be hired because of that debt? I don’t have an easy solution to the cost of Adventist education. I know it’s complicated. But as an adjunct professor at one of our Adventist universities (who coincidentally gets paid less to teach a class than a student pays to take it…), I’d love to have a second lifetime to spend coming up with a solution for this cost. Male or female, theology major or other, while we’re discussing who should be ordained, I’m watching young people being prohibited from ministry or mission work by either the costs of obtaining the education or the crushing debt load they’re left with when they finish.

 

  1. The falling apart of our homes: While we are debating proper understandings of headship, a 1997 study by Monte and Norma Sahlin found that 1 out of 4 Adventists surveyed had been divorced at some point in their life. And at least 272 out of every 1,000 Adventist marriages ended in divorce.[6] Two thirds of divorced respondents in the same study had minor children at home when they got divorced – thus more single parents. This means we have many Adventist homes run by single parents who don’t even have the option of deciding who takes headship – ready or not, they’re it. And while these divorce statistics may look better than those in the general public, it’s still clear that Adventist families are under attack too. In addition to divorce, a study by Rene Drum et al. found that when it comes to adults experiencing abuse in their intimate relationships, “it appears that Adventists in North America are on par with and in some cases—particularly with male victimization—higher than national statistics.”[7] Beyond just headship issues, the state of our families seems like it could definitely use some attention from our church about now. Otherwise while we discuss who should run our churches, the building blocks of these churches will be disintegrating before our eyes.

 

  1. Getting back to our Bibles: While we search, research, argue over exegesis, and fling spirit of prophecy references to figure out whether the ordination of women is Biblical or not, a 2012 study by LifeWay Research showed that only 19% of protestant churchgoers even read their Bibles daily.[8] Realizing the need, in 2013 the Adventist church launched the “Revived By His Word” program with a goal of having “at least half of the church membership involved in some aspect of systematic daily Bible study,” according to Mark Finley, an assistant to the General Conference president.[9] Praise the Lord for this. But it’s funny, I haven’t heard as much about the initiative this year – at least not near as much as my daily updates on the women’s ordination debate. I’m curious what might change if we spent more time reading our Bibles and less arguing about them.

 

  1. Mission to the Cities – what happened? At and after the 2010 GC session there was a big emphasis on evangelism and reaching our cities. President Ted Wilson preached on it. 24 cities were identified to target. “NY 2013” took on the biggest city on our country. There was a sense of mission. A sense of need. And hopefully a renewed sense of our evangelistic urgency. But interestingly, going into our next GC session, I’m hearing very little on that initiative. How did we do in reaching these cities? What will we do next? Have we inadvertently been like, “Yeah, we know we need to do evangelism, but right now we’ve got more important issues to discuss”? Okay, that may be a little extreme to say. But wouldn’t it be a different tone if our biggest topic of conversation going into GC 2015 was how we’ve done in our evangelism over the past five years and what we’re going to do to take things forward in the next five? How would it be if what concerned us the most right now was how we were going to come together this GC and discuss how we can fulfill our mission of reaching the world field for Christ?

 

And truly, that’s what my personal prayer is: that we not only prayerfully discuss women’s ordination this GC, but that we foremost come together to refocus on our mission and why we’re here as a church – a movement. We are in a time when our church faces many serious challenges – many that I’m sure are even more serious than the ones mentioned here, and many that we may not even anticipate yet. It doesn’t take much looking around to realize that we live in interesting times. Distracting times. End times. And I pray that whatever the outcomes at the GC this year, we rally around our mission and work together, with the Holy Spirit’s power and without distraction, to face the challenges and do the work we’ve been given. If we do, who knows how different our conversations may sound when/if we approach the next General Conference session. Lord help us.

 

 

[1] “20 Things You Were Successfully Distracted From While Obsessing About Caitlin Jenner.” Native Warriors, Accessed June 25, 2015. http://nativewarriors.net/20-things-you-were-successfully-distracted-from-while-obsessing-about-caitlyn-jenner.html

[2]“While We Were Distracted With The Confederate Flag Flap, Congress Quietly Forfeited our Entire Economic Future Via Fast Track Trade Authority” WorldTruth.TV, Accessed June 25, 2015. http://worldtruth.tv/while-we-were-distracted-with-the-confederate-flag-flap-congress-quietly-forfeited-our-entire-economic-future-via-fast-track-trade-authority/

[3] Sahlin, Monte. Adventist Congregations Today. Lincoln, NE: Center for Creative Ministry, 2003. P. 35, 36.

[4] Logan, Rachel. “Lack of Adventist Community Pushes Some Millennials to Marry Young.” Spectrum Magazine, December 20, 2014.

[5] Oliver, Ansel. “In North America, Half of Adventist Pastors 10 Years from Retirement Age.” Adventist News Network. May 2012. Accessed June 25, 2015. http://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2012-05-08/implications-of-aging-ministers-could-challenge-future-staffing/

[6] “Divorce and Remarriage in the Seventh-day Adventist Church: What the Divorce Statistics Say.” Adventist Family Ministries. Accessed June 25, 2015. http://family.adventist.org/home—divorce-and-remarriage-in-the-seventh-day-adventist-church.html.

[7] Drum, Rene et al. “Abuse in the Church.” Adventist Review, October 11, 2007.

[8] Rankin, Russ. “Study: Bible Engagement in Churchgoers’ Hearts, Not Always Practiced.” LifeWay Christian Resources, September 6, 2012. Accessed June 28, 2015. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/research-survey-bible-engagement-churchgoers

[9] “Americans Say Morality Down, but Shun Bible Reading as Solution, Survey Says.” Adventist Review, April 18, 2013.

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Biggest. Potluck. Ever.

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Biggest. Potluck. Ever.

Who hasn’t wanted to break a world record?  We’ve all looked at that guy with the world’s longest fingernails or the woman who is the world’s oldest gymnast and thought, “why couldn’t that be me?”

Am I right?  Of course I am.

That’s why The Haystack needs your help this July 9:  We want to break the Guinness World Record for the largest potluck ever!  The current champion for world’s largest potluck is Chandler Christian Church in Chandler, AZ.  They got 1,275 people at their potluck, securing them the world title (http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-potluck-party). But we’re Adventists . . . and this is GC.

So can we break their record?  Of course we can.

So here’s where you come in:  We need at least 1,276 people to meet us at the University of Texas, San Antonio downtown campus.  We’ve got a large area roped off in which all of the potluck attendants must remain within for at least 30 minutes.  Each person must bring something in order for their attendance to count.

What should you bring?

The potluck is going to be, you guessed it, haystack themed.  So bring chips, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, a favorite beverage, or even dessert.  Be as creative as you want!  If you like beets on your haystack, bring beets!  If you like habanero or ghost pepper sauce on your haystack, bring that too!  That’s why haystacks are so amazing:  We all have something unique to bring to the table.  Don’t forget to let us know what you’re bringing on our official event page (https://www.facebook.com/events/1003952122951106/1008835599129425/).

Is this really about a world record?

Definitely . . . but not entirely.  It’s going to be super, mega awesome when we break that world record, no doubt.  But the real reason we’re excited about this potluck is because we want to promote Christian fellowship and unity in the Adventist world church.  That’s what The Haystack has been about from the beginning.  Sure, it’s a ministry for young adults by young adults, but it’s also an attempt to emulate a Christ-like balance in a world of extremes.  Everyone has a voice.  Everyone has a valid opinion.  Everyone brings something to the table.

What will you bring to the table?
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Unashamed Because of Mercy

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I think stories are spiritual. They have the uncanny ability to hit the human’s mind and heart in a deep way that cold, hard facts can’t. Stories bring in and tie together complex truths of our world into a way that we can process it. Stories imprint on us. Stories pinpoint ideas. Stories offer emotional and psychology oxygen. Or…. they can also strangle us. Because stories are spiritual, I think they can go both ways. Not all stories are good stories. Not all stories offer good and happy endings. Some stories are down right diabolical and can terrorize a person’s mind with its ideas, and philosophies. Either way, stories stick with us. They help mold our minds, whether for good or bad.

I just finished a story that left me highly unsatisfied, mainly because the way it ended was just rather incomplete. Here was a character that spent the entire story searching for redemption for his past sins. He had a hidden grief that made him somber, closed off to other people; he was unwilling to love those who were willing to love him, kept people at arm’s length, hesitant to trust, all because he was still searching for redemption of his past sins. He was trying to reconcile his present life of a peaceful living with his past of being part of war. He vowed never to kill again and to use the same hands that have killed so many to protect people. And the question came to me, “what will happen when you are not there to protect the people you vowed to protect?” And sure enough, the enemy attacked his loved ones, those he wasn’t really willing to admit that he cared for, and he proceeded to shut down. He couldn’t do it anymore, he couldn’t go on with trying to find the answer and live his life when the closest ones to him were still suffering at his expense; he was too tired. His idea of redemption, his process of making things right for himself and within himself still had massive loopholes. He was constantly stuck in war no matter where he went with himself, even while being in a time of peace. He was struggling to make himself better, to no longer be the person he used to be and finding out that he really couldn’t.

And it made me sad. Here I was staring at this story, knowing that he was a fictional character, but I knew he represented a very real thing, and the thought that kept coming to my mind was, “If only you knew Jesus. If only you knew.” Because even though this character was fictional, he embodied a very honest reality of millions of people across the world and across the eras of human history.

Some of us live very defeated lives. Some of us think, “No matter what I will always be what I am.” Some of us have been affronted with very strong words that have equated us to nothing. Some of us are our own worse critics. Some of us just can’t let our past die. Some of us have people always throwing our dirt in our face. Some of us are even thinking of ending our lives. Some of us are just too tired to even get out of bed. Some of us just live in denial of our problems. Some of us are just too angry to even care. Some of us live a life of victimization. Some of us live a life of excuses. Some of us lie to ourselves. Some of us have been so beat up to even think. Some of us have so heavy of a past, we don’t even know what to do with it. Some of us are just here and that’s it. Some of us think that, “I will never be right. I don’t even know what right is, but I know that whatever it is, I will never be it.”

And here is where I want to talk about justification by faith, or righteousness by faith. The reality is if you are remotely Christian Protestant, or have grown up in the Adventist faith, these terms have been tossed around like sprinkles on Christmas cookies. It is almost like garnish in everyday jargon for the Adventist, reviewing Reformation history with Martin Luther and learning about the famous day when he came upon the verse, “the just shall live by faith,” (Romans 1:17). And we have probably heard of it close to a thousand times and still have no idea what it means, because unfortunately, sometimes the very ones waving the term around may themselves not even understand it.

But justification by faith, or righteousness by faith, (both terms are simultaneously interchangeable) is the very bread and butter of the thriving Christian. It is that welcomed gulp of fresh air after almost drowning. Righteousness means “rightness” or things done right or is right. Justification means the state of being justified and justified means being declared innocent or guiltless. Faith means, as defined in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (ESV).

A quick rundown on what faith is not; it is not wishful thinking, or a distant dream too good to be true. Faith is not crossing your fingers, hopping around on one leg, and throwing in a lucky penny in the wishing well. Faith is not blind belief, doing whatever is told to you even though there is no evidence for it. Faith is not pleading, and begging, and beckoning God to do just the thing that you want Him to do and holding your breath long enough. Faith is not positive thinking in difficult situations. Faith is not the Christian equivalent of luck.

Faith is trust.

So, justification by faith is, “trusting that you have been justified (innocent or guiltless),” or righteousness by faith is, “trusting that you have been made right.”

Some may argue that the definition of faith given by Paul in Hebrews leaves room for ambiguity, where he himself notes that faith entails believing in things that you cannot see. While I do admit that there will be some ambiguity, it does not necessarily mean that there is no evidence. There will always be ambiguity in regards to the things of God because He is God. There will be things of God that will always retain majestic mystery. There will be some things that we will not understand. However, even though God is mysterious, therefore deserving ambiguity, that does not mean that there is no evidence in order to trust Him. He has given us ample evidence in regards of His character and the type of person He is in the Bible, so that even if there is something that I may not completely understand that God is asking me to do, I do understand the type of being He is, and I know enough to trust Him for who He says He is and to go forward, knowing that He will not contradict Himself. The entire chapter of Hebrews 11, which is called the Faith chapter, is explaining this very thing, where Paul lists person after person who worked off of this very principle in their lives while following and loving God.

The principle of justification by faith is found throughout the entire Bible by those who followed God, but the actual principle itself is only mentioned four times: Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. Every person, those in the Old Testament, and those in the New Testament who followed God believed, lived, worshiped, loved, and grasped unto this truth. People in the Old Testament who sincerely followed God had to believe in His promise that a Messiah will come to make things right, us today and those in the New Testament who sincerely follows God has to believe in His promise that He provided the Messiah to make things right. The Old Testament looked forward. The New Testament looked back. At the pivotal center of it all is the Cross. Neither the Old Testament nor us living today, except for those who lived with Jesus, and even then, they did not completely see(understand), have seen what Christ has done for us on the Cross.

Jesus understands the situation of sin far better than we do. We are like fish in a fish tank, a fish lives in water, but he doesn’t really know what water is, other than he lives in it. He can’t tell you whether it is wet or dry, whether it is a liquid or solid. He doesn’t really know, he was born into it. We really don’t know what sin is, other than that it has some pretty serious consequences, it has made life miserable for us and we live in it. Other than that, there’s not much to say on our part. Oh, we can theologically and intellectually argue over it, but at the end, it was the theological experts that put Jesus on the Cross and Jesus Himself said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” Luke 23:34.

Once sin entered into our lives, Jesus knew exactly the type of battles that we were going to fight, the internal struggles that we will have with ourselves day in and day out, the constant search that we will have to make things right within ourselves. The search for redemption for things in the past, in the present, and the vain hope that everything will be fine in the future. The constant pleading for peace. He knew all of that and that is why He came. He came to offer us the answer to escape all that. He is the answer!

Jesus came. God with us. Jesus had the right relationship with God. Jesus had the right relationship with mankind. Jesus lived the right life. Jesus died the right death. While we struggle to do the right things, Jesus did the right things for us. Jesus is Right. It is Christ’s righteousness that saves us. Justification by faith (righteousness by faith) is strongly linked with Christ’s righteousness. And by being so, God showed us mercy. Beautiful, perfect, awesome, sweet, mercy. By accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, essentially what we are doing is casting off all the wrong things we have ever done, and accepting all the right things He has done for us. Putting on the robes of Christ’s righteousness. We are putting on His right deeds, His right relationship, His right life, and we stand made right in eyes of God because of Jesus. Reconciled with God. Connected with Him once again. No longer fighting or battling for redemption, but basking in its glorious light in the presence of God. That is justification. That is living in Christ’s righteousness.

Do you trust that Jesus’ right relationship with God is enough to cover your poor relationship with God? Do you trust that His right relationship with mankind is enough to cover your poor relationship with mankind? Do you trust that Jesus’ right deeds covers your wrong deeds? Do you trust that Jesus’ right living is enough to cover your wrong living? Do you trust that His death on the Cross is enough to cover for your death that was meant to be on that Cross? Do you trust in your Savior that He made you right? Do you trust that your Savior is right? All of these things are things that you cannot see with your own eyes, but if you accept these things, you are living out justification by faith; you are living out righteousness by faith. You are living in Christ’s righteousness. You have the assurance of things hoped for. You have the conviction of things not seen.

We will always have bad days; where awful reminders of pasts will rise up, or old insecurities will rise up, or depression snags us, or grief of a passed loved one comes on us with a new wave, or we fall into temptation, but claiming unto justification by faith, by remembering the promise and the provision that God has done for us on the Cross through Jesus Christ, by rejoicing in Christ’s righteousness, by trusting that Jesus is enough, that He is Right and that you have been made a new creature, that you have been made right in the eyes of God regardless of feeling like a failure, that you have the power of angels behind you, that you have been justified, redeemed, and forgiven; and that the mercy and long suffering of God is at your side, you will persevere. You will claim victory, “For you are not ashamed of the Gospel,” Romans 1:16, you will not live a defeated life, because you have a trustworthy and reliable Savior, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lords of Lords, that He has placed upon you His white robes and have been claimed His child. We have been made righteous, we have been made right. And that is a story that is true. And there are no loopholes, and it has a very complete and satisfying ending.

There is a powerful song that is quite popular right now in contemporary Christian music called, “Overwhelmed,” by Big Daddy Weave. I love that song; it brings me to tears almost every time I hear it. It just uplifts my soul and praises Jesus in a powerful way. There is a verse in the song that goes like this:

God, I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

Listen to the song, if you are not against or made uncomfortable by contemporary Christian music. It is a soft and worshipful song. Powerful. “God, I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy.” The picture of God with His arms wide open, scared in His hands and sides because of me, yet still searching for me and ready to accept me, and I can run into His arms because of His mercy is powerful. Just powerful. Redemption and being made right does not get any better than that.

If you are still curious to learn more about Christ’s righteousness, justification by faith, and overcoming sin in your life, I strongly recommend these three sermons by Dr. Steve Bauer. He takes you through the journey step-by-step, clear, real and precise with some practical tools. Don’t miss out.

Gripped By Sin:

https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/recordings/7629/gripped-by-sin.html

Gripped By Grace:

https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/recordings/7630/gripped-by-grace.html

Gripped By Christ:

https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/recordings/7631/gripped-by-christ.html
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Can We Find Healing From Racism’s Hurt?

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As we probably all know by now, a terrible event happened in South Carolina.  Someone full of hate walks into a church in Charleston, sits in worship for most of the prayer meeting, then near the end, starts shooting people left and right.  In the end, nine people died.  The manhunt ended a few days later.  This terrible act once again has plunged our society to confront issues of race that never really went away.

How are we to respond now in the wake of this. What lessons can we learn?

1.  Continue praying for the victims and those immediately affected by this senseless tragedy.

As a friend said to me on Facebook, “we should also pray for this young man who committed this act.”  Jesus, as he was being nailed to the cross and killed, prayed for those who were doing it by saying, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing!”  May this man experience God’s mercy and saving grace.

2.  We need to use this experience as a time of introspection.  

We as humans have an incredible knack for refusing to face reality and accept responsibility.  We tend to point to other people or factors and detach ourselves from evil acts, as if the potential for it were only relegated to others.

It’s easy to think that events in Nazi Germany, the Jim Crow Era, and even the events in Charleston couldn’t be repeated if we were the ones present.  We quickly forget that Sin has infected everyone (Romans 3:23).

A South Carolinian by the name of Ed Madden wrote a powerful poem shortly after the massacre which highlights this very point:

“When we’re told we’ll never understand”
Someone says a drug-related incident,
someone says he was quiet, he mostly kept to himself,
someone says mental illness,
someone says a hateful and deranged mind,
someone says he was a loner, he wasn’t bullied,
someone says his sister was getting married in four days,
a newsman says an attack on faith,
a relative says his mother never raised him to be like this,
a friend says he had that kind of Southern pride, strong conservative beliefs,
someone says he made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that you don’t really think of it like that,
someone says he wanted to start a civil war,
he said he was there to kill black people,
the governor says we’ll never understand.
*
He is not a lone wolf,
he is not alien,
he is not inexplicable,
he is not just one sick individual,

he is one of us,

he is from here,
he grew up here,
he went to school here,
he wore his jacket with its white supremacist patches here,
he told racist jokes here,
he got his gun here,
he learned his racism here,
his license plate sported a confederate flag here,
the confederate flag flies at the state capitol here,
he had that kind of Southern pride,
this is not isolated this is not a drug incident,
this is not unspeakable (we should speak),
this is not unthinkable (we should think),
this is not inexplicable (we must explain it),
he is not a symbol he is a symptom,
he is not a cipher he is a reminder,
his actions are beyond our imagining,
but his motivation is not beyond our understanding
no he didn’t get those ideas from nowhere.
mental illness is a way to not say racism
drug-related is a way to not say hate
loner is a way to not say one of us
we’ll never understand is a way to not say look at our history
Look away, look away, look away.”

3.  Words and prayers are not enough; we must also be agents of change here on earth.  

As a Seventh-day Adventist, I’m proud to see that our church issued a statement by President Dan Jackson sending condolences to the members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where this happened.

However, are statements enough?

There was a petition that swirled around to remove the confederate flag from Government places.  Incredibly, a few days ago, our governor Nikki Haley had a press conference to announce that they would officially be taking down the Confederate Flag down from the South Carolina State Capital building and other government properties.

However, are petitions enough?

No. We must not only speak but be willing to act courageously and proactively right the wrongs of the past.

As Seventh-day Adventists, it’s hard to be agents of healing in this situation when we ourselves still operate the same inherited segregated structures that were necessary when these types of tragedies were much more frequent.  Our own color-coded reality undermines our witness no matter how nicely worded we try to excuse it.

Yet, I’m proud that the Lake Union Conference recognized this in their formal apology to the Lake Region Conference (one of five conferences that make up the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota) for the racism that led to the establishment of the Regional work with their words:

“A simple, honest look at the segregated Church of the past, the segregated General Conference cafeteria, the Negro Department of the General Conference that was first directed by White men, the segregated hospitals that we know led to the death of Lucy Byard, the dismissive attitudes and actions… These and more issues were also major contributors to the establishment of the Regional work. That look, that review and recalling of history, takes a simple heartbeat in time for us to recognize the Church failed the Black community, specifically the many loyal pastors, teachers and members who stayed true to the message and mission of this Church in spite of its deep and many failures.”

Elder Don Livesay, the Union President who issued the apology went on to say the following:

“One could say that the White Church—the White members and leadership—merely reflected what was going on all around us. But God has not called His Church to reflect the evil of the world; God has called the Church to reflect His character, to treat each other in love—with the Golden Rule, in respectful ways, and to honor each other and all of God’s children.”

Words are good, but they’re not enough.  We need to take courageous action like actively removing a symbol of hate for many people, even though it represents heritage to others. We need to recognize where we as a church have failed each other and no longer be comfortable maintaining the status quo.

See the full apology here.

As Christians, we must fully understand that the Kingdom of God’s view on race is not so much concerned about co-existence as much as it is about reconciliation.  The church is supposed to be a microcosm of what God intends to do in the rest of the world.

4. Recognize that forgiveness is a powerful thing.

Charleston has also sparked a lively conversation about grace and forgiveness.

For example, Nadine Collier (the daughter of one of the victims) said as she fought back tears, “You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you.  It hurts me.  You hurt a lot of people, but may God forgive you.”

“On the one hand, [forgiveness] does call out the best in us. But it also can obscure the justice component, and it can feel like an easy fix for people,” said Howard Zehr, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University who reflected on the event.  “People think it’s forgive and forget, and it’s the opposite. It’s forgive and remember. The one common theme I’ve heard is that it’s a letting go, that this person is not going to control my life forever.”

“Forgiveness is a process: It’s something you commit to, but it doesn’t happen immediately,

Daryl Van Tongeren, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hope College who has also published works on forgiveness, said that the kind of forgiveness lifted up by the families of the Charleston victims has something to teach us all:

“Decision forgiveness is separate from emotional forgiveness.  It is possible that forgiveness that occurs quickly is likely decisional forgiveness: Making a commitment to forgive. This leads to future forgiveness, so it might signal that one is working toward forgiveness, which will likely take time. It’s important to note that justice and forgiveness are also separate, though related. Individuals can forgive while the justice process is being carried out. Moreover, forgiveness is not excusing, justifying, condoning, or pardoning an offense. Rather, one can offer forgiveness but still want justice to be enacted.”

At the end of the day, Jesus really knew what he was talking about.  “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing!”  Only when we tap into that power and experience it in our lives, our churches and our communities can we hope to see light at the end of this dark tunnel.  Let’s continue to pray for each other.

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And My House Shall Be Called A House of Prayer: Charleston, SC.

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“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.” Tears were in the voice of a mother who had lost her daughter to a gunman this past Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As she saw the young man who had chosen to take her loved ones’ lives in court, she chose to give grace. And because of that, through her eyes, though misty with sorrow and tears, the world saw a glimpse of divine love against this backdrop of tragedy. However, one wonders, is a glimpse enough?

A day after the massacre, a news reporter went on air asking, “If Immanuel means ‘God with us’ then was God with them?” It is a question asked often in the face of tragedy. If God truly does sit high and look low (Psalm 138:6), then were these deaths an oversight on His part? Or was He there, and simply choosing not to intervene? Did God not care enough to save their lives?

These are questions similar to ones likely asked by Jesus’ followers as He hung between life and death two millenia ago. God, the self-proclaimed embodiment of love, did nothing to stop His beloved son from being tortured and murdered. Later on, He did not stop his followers from being fed to lions, or burned at the stake. In fact, the annals of history have been violently stained by the blood of His children for centuries. God does not always keep those He loves from harrowing death. Why? He knows something better is coming soon. As an answer to the questions surrounding tragedy and death, God promises two things: a reward in eternity that will immeasurably surpass any loss on earth (1 Corinthians 2:9), and knowledge that none of His children’s lives are ever taken in vain (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20). So though the fires of hate breed the ashes of hurt, from the dust, hope rises.

Along with this hope, however, must come action. For every account relayed in the biblical canon of hate and hurt that God allowed to pass without intervention, there are ample counter-examples of when He acknowledged the mistreated (Exodus 3:7), spoke up for the defenseless (Proverbs 31:8), and challenged those who follow Him to stop injustice (Isaiah 1:17). As reported by individuals at the scene of the crime, the young man who has recently captured national attention raised a gun at his victims and reminded them that their race was the reason he was going to kill them.

In order to stop hate crimes like the tragedy in Charleston, SC, or the senseless deaths or mistreatment of persons like Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin, you, dear reader, have to choose to acknowledge the mistreated. You, dear reader, will have to speak up for those defenseless against a system often stacked against them. You will have to make a conscious effort to raise the next generation to be more aware of racial bias, prejudice, and injustice. And if you choose not to, the next victim’s blood will be on your hands (Ezekiel 3:18).

When the world asks where God is in the midst tragedy, may they see you, His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) showing them His love by both reflecting grace, and by fighting to prevent further tragedy.

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Verses Referenced:

Psalm 138:7 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the low; though lofty, he sees them from afar.

1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ the things God has prepared for those who love him

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Exodus 3:7 The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.

Proverbs 31:9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Ezekiel 3:18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.

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The Hideout Film Review: Shining a Light on the Dark Subject of Child Abuse

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The Hideout, written and directed by Southern Adventist University alum Daniel Wahlen, tells the story of a young girl who is taken advantage by her favorite teacher. Along with her friend, Sam, she is able to muster the courage to tell her mother what happened. Simple in premise, but immensely powerful, this beautifully shot and scored film touches on one of the most important issues that nobody in the church likes to talk about – child abuse.

Christa Beth Campbell’s performance as Holly succeeds in pulling us into the experience of a child who has their innocence stolen and can’t pick up the pieces. In some of the final scenes in the treehouse, Holly is so ashamed of what happened that she shies away from the touch of her own mother, Sarah, portrayed beautifully by Tomi Lavinder. The adorable Brogan Hall captures the hearts of the audience as Holly’s best friend Sam, who ultimately discovers what Mr. Williams did and helps Holly tell her mother. The sinister and nuanced character of Mr. Williams, played by Jim Chandler, is a character you can’t quite figure out, and makes you uncomfortable from the moment you first see him. The acting in this film most definitely makes it work.

Though the story tends to tie things up in a neat, if wrinkled and worn, bow, it is the only film I have seen that has captured so truthfully what sexual abuse does to a child. Shame, guilt, fear, loss of self-worth, and not being able to tell anyone. The rawness of Holly’s story and Wahlen’s directing comes from personal experience. He was inspired to do the film because a good friend from his childhood told him years later that she had been abused by a family member of Daniel’s.

In this story, Holly eventually tells her mother and Mr. Williams is locked up, which is unfortunately not how most stories of child abuse end. Many kids don’t share that they have been abused for many years, even into adulthood, and in some cases they never tell. This film not only gave the character of Holly a voice, but also gives a voice to so many who have suffered abuse and celebrates their bravery and strength.

How the conversation about whether or not film should be used in our churches has gone lately (i.e. The Record Keeper), this film might make some uncomfortable. It portrays a particularly vile evil and a particularly emotional darkness. It’s in portraying that darkness, though, that the film finds its power. Last May, the film was well received at the GC’s enditnow: Summit on Abuse, helping to make the stories of abuse tangible and facilitate conversation. As actor Jim Chandler said about working on the film, “While its unfortunate that there is evil, the evil has to be portrayed and it has to be portrayed truthfully.”

Do yourself a favor and catch the film online at The Hideout’s Vimeo channel, http://bit.ly/1Bk8A2E. Be sure to check out the behind the scenes shorts with cast and crew, too.

*Stats from the film: By the time they are 18, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused. Only 46% of these crimes are reported. Seek help at www.nationalcac.org or 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

Screenshots from the Film

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IMG_0022 (Small)Heather is the director of video for TheHaystack.tv. She is also a freelance writer and videographer. She is passionate about combining faith and art to produce great storytelling and currently lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan with her husband Jonny and their dog Leo.

Women’s Ordination Debate: The High Cost of Low Tactics

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I, like many thousands of Seventh-day Adventists, am looking forward to attending my first General Conference Session in person. It is a privilege that few get to experience in their lifetime as most GC sessions are held several continents away and visas and the high cost of the plane ticket prevents many from participating in the experience.

Every GC Session is pivotal and promises to have a sizable impact on the Church given the nature of its role. This Session seems to have taken on extra significance due to the issues centering on whether or not to ordain women to Gospel Ministry.

For the past few years, I have observed this issue develop and followed its inevitable path towards the floor vote at the Session this July. To say it is a contentious issue would be an understatement. I have watched church members shout down the General Conference President at Union constituency meetings, I have watched hours upon hours of independent media ministries lay out their case, read partisan sites on both sides of the issue, have had individuals accost me in the church parking lot after a passing reference to the issue in a sermon, and have seen people post comments or private messages to me on social media that border on hatred or worse.

My reasons for writing this post isn’t to convince anyone to change their mind on the issue but rather to speak to a small group of friends and colleagues in ministry on both sides of the issue that wield a measure of influence in our Church. My concerns are larger than the current issue and I hope that this post will help to start a dialogue that does not need to be public but one that needs to happen at some point.

I am concerned that some of the ministries in our circles have taken an approach that is difficult to back down from. In big mountain climbing there is a term called committing, that refers to slopes on the mountain that once embarked upon have to have to be climbed all the way up or the climbers die trying because a retreat is near impossible. The way the discussion in our circles has proceeded and the way ‘summits’ and ‘conferences’ (Secrets Unsealed) have portrayed things, our members have been led to believe that this issue is so serious that if the Church votes the other way the GC itself has apostatized. This “our way or the highway” approach is detrimental to getting any agreement on what needs to be done to finish the work. I hear our members talk of routine World Church processes discussed in terms that refer to Catholic or Papal systems. While none of our conservative leaders would outright make such a statement, the cumulative effect of our actions is contributing to a mass frenzy that is sowing seeds of a harvest many of us will be loathe to reap. In other words, we are sowing a harvest of anarchy, insubordination, and rebellion and it will sooner or later manifest itself in a harvest of separation, alienation of affection, and perhaps even outright violence. Consider how every perceived slight, real or imagined, from the organized Church leadership is cast in terms such as “papal”, “apostasy”, “bias” etc in our magazines and on our Facebook posts (Doug Batchelor). I read a recent article (Advindicate) that discussed how tithe dollars were being used to promote one view of women’s ordination (liberal) at the exclusion of the other (conservative) and have read other articles in the past that used politicized terms such as “gerymandering” and discussing the Church as two political systems etc.

I am also concerned about how leaders teach members to quickly categorize any speaker into some ideological box and tune them out. Of all human motivators fear is one of the greatest. It certainly helps ring in the donations. Real and lasting change though is brought about by the greatest human motivator: love.

I think that our side (if you want to call it that) has devolved from big ideas to small ones. We are quick to post emails and newsletters on the latest issue to drive donor contributions and have convinced ourselves and our followers that winning these ‘battles’ is what God called us to do. Taking the 3 Angels Messages to the World, the fact that many of our hospitals are chronically understaffed overseas, that millions have been baptized into our church and left within 3 years or other related issues have taken a distant back seat to hot button issues. We have become experts at developing or hijacking platforms (Youth Conferences and Social Media) to bludgeon our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am also concerned that many of our pastors are or in the process of making business model calculations to figure out if they can sustain their families without the ‘burden of having to run a church.’ It seems that if one can draw on a donor base that is large enough to supplant the Church’s salary then its better than the yoke of church employment.

I’m also concerned at how formal ministry education has been disparaged by some or viewed as a liability by others. With fewer and fewer conservative minded young men entering formal ministry training, the ranks of leadership are being filled by others and whether that is a good thing or not, one thing is certain, decisions are made by those who are at the table. As more of the older leadership passes into retirement over the next decade this will become more apparent.

To all of my friends in leadership or influence I ask, is this fight worth it? Are you committing to something that will be difficult to back down from? Are we not creating a culture of mistrust, dissent, and resentment towards all forms of leadership? Agitation is a double-edged sword, and trying to reason with individuals or groups who are incapable of submitting to a logical or formal process is self-defeating in the long run.

We need organization, we need processes, we need healthy conversations and occasionally strong debates but most of all we need to look to Jesus. We don’t need to repeat the mistakes our forefathers made (organization in the late 1800’s) and our fathers made (separation and independence 1960-70’s and onwards). They went to their graves without seeing Jesus come in their lifetime. If we continue this course of action the conversation is only going to increase in its intensity and its viciousness. We can choose to do better and be better.

“The greatest need of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is a paradigm reevaluation. We need to figure out where we are (Laodicean condition), where we need to be (the great Work of warning the world) and how to get there. Compared to this, everything else fades in significance.”

It is within our power to see Jesus come within our lifetime. Lets not lose it by engaging in tactics that breed mistrust, give rise to doubt, and lead to separation.

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Adrian ZahidAdrian Zahid is a senior partner at a management consulting firm in Southern California. A recent survivor from advanced staged cancer, he is trying to make the most of the second lease on life that God has given him. He is the co-founder of Intelligent Adventist and in his free time enjoys helping non-profits be sustainable and the Seventh-day Adventist Church succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission. You can check out his blog at adrianzahid.com

3 Lessons That Will Decide The Fate of Post-GC Adventism

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So we’re now less than a month away from the General Conference session in San Antonio. Obviously, the big item on the agenda in this year’s session will be the topic of Ordination. In what’s become as highly a polemical atmosphere as any Presidential campaign, it seems like everybody is trying to capitalize on the moment.

Just this week, I received a letter from the Adventist Review asking me to subscribe to their magazine with a heading something along these lines:

“Pastor Nelson, don’t miss any of the DRAMA at this years General Conference Session. Sign up now and receive the same daily briefings as the Delegates.”

No matter which way you cut it, this is a serious situation and there is no room to sensationalize or politicize what should be a prayerful, thoughtful, Spirit-led meeting of God’s people. If you’re unfamiliar with what the vote represents, Pastor Ty Gibson from Lightbearers spelled it out very well:

At the upcoming General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, a vote will be taken on women’s ordination. It will go one of two ways:

  1. A NO vote will make a universal rule forbidding women’s ordination throughout the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church.
  2. A YES vote will allow for each of the church’s 13 world Divisions to decide what is best regarding women’s ordination in their particular area of the world.

Regardless of which way you view the myriad of issues that we as a church debate about, we must remember that there will be a post-San Antonio world and the way we go into this meeting as a church is just as important as what happens in and after it.

I’m currently reading George Knight’s book If I Were The Devil. This book was published in 2007 through the Review and Herald (R.I.P.) in which he shares 14 tactics he would use if he were the Devil.

If I Were The Devil…[1]

1) I would put my best energies into getting the church to reject the ideas and plans of the coming generation.

2) I would get the church to think small.

3) I would get people to believe that there exists only one way to do something and that everybody has to do it that one way.

4) I would downplay the importance of new technologies in finishing the church’s work.

5) I would make pastors and administrators the center of the work of the church.

6) I would undermine the importance of the local congregation.

7) I would create more administrative levels and generate more administrators.

8) I would make Adventists afraid of the Holy Spirit.

9) I would encourage the denomination to keep playing the numbers game.

10) I would get Seventh-day Adventists to forget or at least downplay their apocalyptic heritage.

11) I would get Adventists to hold that all of their beliefs are of equal importance.

12) I would get Adventists fighting with each other.

13) I would get as many Adventists as possible to think tribally, nationally, and racially.

14) I would get Adventists to look miserable on Sabbath.

Right now, I’d call that book downright prophetic. With the battle cries of “certain war” and “a splintered church” regardless of which way the delegates vote, I’d say that the spirit pushing this idea sounds very similar to what Dr. Knight published.

Again, everyone take a deep breath. If we go back to the very first General Conference session in 1863, we see that the church was in the middle of an equally contentious issue. The big fight there was whether or not the church should become an organized entity to begin with! Many sincere Advent believers thought that by becoming an organized and incorporated church, that would mean that they were turning into Babylon and therefore, apostatizing.

The fear was that by becoming organized and incorporated (by obtaining legal status from the “land beast of Revelation,” which Adventists identify this as the United States), it would open up the floodgate to Satan’s influence. They used the Bible and their reading of it to prove their point.

Now, at our 60th General Conference session, the same base issue is on the floor again. Although this time the surface issue is ordination, the real root issue is the same. Namely, it is a question of hermeneutics (how we interpret the words of the Bible).  Gibson, again, describes both sides in this debate:

“The prominent voices in favor of a NO vote are telling us that the Bible clearly forbids the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, and that allowing women to be ordained would render the Seventh-day Adventist Church unfaithful to Scripture and to God.

The prominent voices in favor of a YES vote are telling us that the Bible does not forbid the ordination of women and, therefore, the church is free to do what it deems best on the matter for the advancement of the gospel.”

As a well-known saying goes, however, unless we learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it. What held the early Advent movement together as they started thinking about how best to serve God? What lessons can we learn from past history in order to see a vibrant post-San Antonio Adventist church? Here are a few thoughts that I think are important to keep in mind.

1) The church has always had a mentality of growing into more truth and not staying spiritually static.

At one point early in their history, Adventists believed that the door of probation had closed to the world after 1844. Obviously, today we don’t hold this view. Now, we have a worldwide mission across the globe and see the door of mercy open to all who would accept it. While we could also pick any number of other beliefs that developed over time within Adventism (e.g. Sabbath, tithing, health message, Trinity, etc.), this idea of progressive revelation was seen before the 1863 G.C. and even after it.

Going back to the original contentious issue (incorporation) at the first G.C., James White, who was the second, fourth and sixth General Conference president (and husband of Ellen), had a gradual shift in his hermeneutical thinking (again, how he interpreted the Bible). His interpretation of the Bible changed from allowing only things Scripture explicitly mentioned (he was originally anti-organization) to an interpretation that approved of anything that did not contradict the Bible.[2]

He would write the following to argue his point against his haters (which he had a lot of):

“we believe it safe to be governed by the following RULE. All means which, according to sound judgment, will advance the cause of truth, and are not forbidden by plain scripture declarations, should be employed.”[3]

At this point some may say, “Yes, but that’s what we’re arguing!  A plain reading of Scripture CLEARLY forbids (or allows, depending on your view) the ordination of women!” That leads me to the second point, which is probably the most important point to consider:

2) A vote that would help fulfilling of the mission of the church was of vital importance at that first G.C. session.

The driving force behind White’s change of hermeneutics and concepts of church structure was a growing Biblically based understanding of the mission of the church.[4]

Even though he had naysayers left and right, James White pushed for incorporation of the church because he believed it to be best for the future of the church. He said:

“It was not ambition to build up a denomination that suggested organization, but the sheer necessities of the case.”[5]

James and other pioneers developed a system that would eventually become the Seventh-day Adventist church which stemmed from a deep desire to accomplish the mission of the three angels messages of Revelation 14 that they believed God had entrusted to them.

The realities in the field were what led to the decision to incorporate. I’ve openly shared my thoughts on the ordination issue before so I’ll say it again: I believe that ambition isn’t what’s driving most women into ministry (I’d say that applies to more men, actually). Quite the opposite – why would a woman voluntarily subject herself to constant second guessing of her calling to ministry at a time like this? She could be used as a political football for either perspective while very little attention would be paid to her actual ministry!

Yet, the reality of the field is that sheer necessity is requiring our church to take action. Regardless of what your view of ordination is, there are already female elders and pastors faithfully doing work for the mission of the church around the world with and without being ordained. We already have ordained female pastors in China who see themselves a lot differently than the administration of the church explains them to be, “Ordained simply to meet government policy.” They see themselves as Adventist leaders with a mission! Again, these are the in-field realities that we are seeing today.

Out of curiosity, I wondered what James White would say about today’s struggle. We don’t know for sure. But here is an interesting quote where he speaks about how some people could be tempted to view the gifts of the Spirit (pastoring is one of those gifts) being bestowed upon one gender over another:

“We object to that narrow-souled theology which will not allow the old ladies to have dreams because the prophecy says, ‘your old men shall dream dreams;’ and that will not allow young women to have visions because the prophecy says ‘your young men shall see visions.’ These stingy critics seem to forget that ‘man’ and ‘men’ in the Scriptures, generally mean both men and women. The Book says that it is ‘appointed unto men once to die.’ Don’t women die?” (James White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 25, 1862; Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 24).”

While this quote doesn’t prove anything, the point is I believe James White would have sided with what was best for the accomplishing of the mission of the church.

The same missional spirit must be at the forefront in San Antonio. The question should be asked by all delegates, “What is the best for the accomplishing of the mission of the church in the future?”  We should not allow a polemical atmosphere to skew the balance between unity and diversity, rigidity, and adaptability that is necessary in a worldwide church.

3) Knowing God’s will is not easy, but how we treat each other matters more than the beliefs we individually hold.

Even though James White was able to push through the idea of incorporating the church, it came at a high price. No, the church didn’t split, but he did continue to face criticism and prolonged stress because of it. Over the years, this mental and physical overwork led to his premature death at age 60. Ellen White is said to have attributed his death, in part, to the exhausting work of leading a growing church in such a contentious time.

As for us today, how are all of these debates helping our health as a church? Are outsiders looking at our posts, videos, and discussions, saying, “Man, that’s the kind of church that I want to belong to!” Are we so caught up in our internal bubble that we forget that other people are looking at the way we act and are making judgement calls based on it?

You can win the battle over ordination but lose the war over souls in the end.

We have a worldwide mission to accomplish and a short time to do it. Yes, delegates from all over the world are going to be converging in Texas next month in one of the most important meetings in recent memory.

What we need more of is prayer. What we need more of is encouragement and reminders of God’s leading. What we need more of is individual fasting and corporate repentance.

We don’t need the partisan bickering that is being posted back and forth online and the mass mailing of books being sent to church mailboxes across the country. My plea for our church is to get it together for the sake of the Gospel. Whatever view of ordination you hold, if you judge or treat with contempt the people who hold a different opinion than you, don’t expect God to soften your heart for those on the other side in Heaven if you’re not willing to be led by the Spirit that way right now.

Resentment towards your brothers and sisters across the aisle will be the millstone that weighs you down and keeps you from glory. So stop with the YouTube videos, stop with the book mailers, and stop with the bashing. Let’s commit to praying for the future of our church, believing that our great High Priest is still in control. There will be a post-San Antonio world and we will get through this situation as a united church because Jesus is still there. Believe it.

Notes:

[1] George Knight, If I Were The Devil, pgs 19-25.

[2] Ibid, 74.

[3] James White, “Making Us a Name,” Review and Herald, Apr. 26, 1860, pp. 180-182.

[4] Knight, 79.

[5] James White, Life Incidents (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-Day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1868), p. 299.

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Is Phony Theology the Result of “New” Bible Translations?

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“Do you think that all of the false doctrines floating around today are because of all the different Bible versions we have?”

A friend of mine recently asked me this question. It’s a good question. I mean, unless you are a theological pluralist, all of us agree that there are some pretty wild and totally off the wall teachings out there that claim biblical support. So where do all these lies come from? Are all the different versions of the Bible responsible for them? Here are three reasons why I would say no.

  1. False teachings have been around since the first century of the Christian church where there were no “other” Bible versions. In fact, most of the false teachings around today are simply a repackaging of old lies. A lot of these lies were born during the early years of the church when the NIV, ESV, KJV, or any other translation did not exist. As a matter of fact, many people in these days had the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and they knew how to read them without a Lexicon. Regardless of all of this, dissident groups like the Judaizers and the Gnostics gained a foot-hold in the church. Over the next few centuries there were countless theological controversies like Pelagianism, Arianism, Adoptionism, Docetism, Monarchianism, Sabellianism, and plenty of other “isms.” All of these were born without the help of Zondervan and Thomas Nelson (both publishers of modern translations).
  1. This kind of question comes with a presupposition behind it. While my friend may or may not have had a presupposition, the question itself carries it. The presupposition is this:Modern heresies are the result of new translations, therefore all new translations must be rejected and only the old translations maintained.By “old translations” what is most often meant is the King James Version. At this point we enter into the KJV-only debate. Once again, the positions defending this are weak. The KJV, while a great translation, is not the only reliable one and other Bibles such as the NIV translate other passages more accurately than the KJV. Since I have already written on this topic I won’t go into detail here. To read more about my views on the KJV-only theory click here.
  1. Suppose we entertained the KJV-only mentality. Allow me to ask, how many false doctrines have been taught using the KJV? Do those who use the KJV inherently teach sound Bible truth or are there lots of lies taught from using that very same Bible? The answer is yes. A perfect example is Marshall Applewhite, the leader of the Heavens Gate cult that was responsible for a mass suicide of its members in the 90’s. Applewhite studied using a KJV Bible. Dave Koresh, the cult leader of the Branch Davidians was an ardent defender of the KJV-only theory. It is, in my estimation, pretty evident that a KJV-only world would not be a heresy free one. Thus, the idea that false doctrines are the result of new translations is without foundation.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that the answer to my friend’s question “Do you think that all of the false doctrines floating around today are because of all the different Bible versions we have?” Is no. While it may be true that not all versions are reliable for doctrinal study, and that some versions are terrible translations that can lend support to the spread of false teachings it is not true that false teachings are the result of modern Bibles. Neither is it true that the KJV is the only reliable translation and is itself, due to mistranslated texts, responsible for phony theology. The best rule of thumb is to get some good reliable translations and study them together, comparing scripture with scripture, and if necessary studying the original languages all under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as the “perfect” translation but Gods word has definitely been preserved and if we study with His help we will be ready to respond when we hear the lies.

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The Things That No One Is Talking About on Women’s Ordination

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I have recently read two blog posts that seem to be fairly popular. The one is by Ty Gibson on why the GC should vote yes on women’s ordination. The second is a rebuttal by Kevin Paulson on the shortcomings in his argument, and an expansion on the analysis of the subject matter he oversimplified in his post. I feel compelled to share my struggle, and tell you the stuff that I can’t figure out why no one is talking about.

Where did I stand on the “issue”?

To be honest with you, I have been a pretty hard advocate for women’s ordination. Like Ty, I also am a pastor in the Oregon Conference, and I have been with them for almost 7 years. About 2 years ago I told my Conference President that I didn’t want to be ordained unless women in the church were going to be ordained. There were moments of applause from some pro-ordination camps.

I was sharing this stance of mine with a wise friend who is a few years my older, and farther along in pastoring. He said that this was actually a poor decision because I would have more of a voice at the table if I was actually ordained. I thought it through, and then began back pedaling with my conference. Oh how foolish we are sometimes. I was simply trying to take a stand on the issue, and I feel like it was the wrong stand. It might have actually been the right position, but the wrong stand… if you know what I’m saying.

Along came a problem…

I decided to make some videos about encouraging conversations on the topic. I am a firm believer that conversations in love are what bring people together, even if they disagree on the outcome. We too often don’t speak in love, or we speak when we should keep silent (I am terrible at actually doing this stuff by the way). I studied pretty in depth to prepare my scripts. As I was making those videos I was trying to present both sides in complete objectivity, when all of the sudden I had a problem.

I realized -as I passionately spoke my thoughts on each side- that both sides had some really good points. Now I don’t say this out of ignorance. I got my Master’s Degree in Divinity at Andrews University at the Seminary. I was an excellent student and actually wanted to soak up all the knowledge I could from those brilliant scholars that are there. But, the more I studied, the more I was actually becoming confused.

Where DO I now stand on the “issue” now?

I can’t say which side I agree with. I honestly just don’t know. There are some pretty incredibly straight forward texts that seem to point in one direction, and then there is a huge argument of “what was said isn’t what was practiced”!

Where both the boys both fall short: (only a couple of points)

Ty’s argument –

1. It way oversimplifies the anti-women’s ordination position! Way, way, way, way oversimplifies. To think that anyone could boil down all the texts, history, and Ellen White quotes to two main “hinges” is ridiculous. The type of writing that Ty did is the direct result of our current social media world. If the topic was actually given the length it deserved, no one would have read his blog (here is where you can actually do some research- https://www.adventistarchives.org/ordination). So, Ty was forced to write this short discourse that actually didn’t do anyone any good because all it does is gain blind followers or anger the opposition (case in point: Paulson’s response blog). A leading professor at Andrew’s showed me one paper he was commissioned to study and prepare for the TOSC meetings (Theology of Ordination Study Committee commissioned by the GC – pronounced “toe C”) that was only one facet of the conversation, and it was 88 pages long!!!! ON ONLY 3 ELLEN WHITE QUOTES!! There is a lot of research that has been presented on this, and a lot of support for both sides of the argument.

2. It tries to predict the future. Come on Ty. Don’t guilt the world into supporting women’s ordination because it will divide the church if you don’t. That isn’t in any way an appeal for people to follow their conscience. That is the same mess that leaves us with “if you share the record keeper, then we will quit funding you.” That type of pressurizing prediction is actually trying to guilt someone into doing what you want.

3. It over and under applies hermeneutics. This is a term that means, basically, who was the original author, why did they write what they wrote, to whom was it written to, when was it written, what was happening when it was written (locally, nationally, world-wide), how many people were involved, what was the climate, what was the geology, etc., etc. The over application of this comes when someone uses hermeneutics as “the answer” instead of “a possible answer”. Honestly though, sometimes it is easy to see “the answer” and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes people are just guessing. It is similar to the Evolution vs. Creation discussion. No one that was there is still alive!!! So, we end up using a bunch of surrounding information to draw conclusions that aren’t in the actual, literal text. The under application comes when the author doesn’t actually account for their own hermeneutical lens. He probably did, and tried to be objective and came to his very strong conclusion. I can’t hate him for his opinion.

There are more issues, but I don’t want to lose whoever is still actually reading this, so…

Kevin’s argument –

1. The primacy of the male is what is called “inferred evidence” (I might have just made that up, but it works). You are reading the evidence and interpreting that evidence. Two people can read the same evidence and interpret it different ways. So, you are reading into Genesis a male primacy based on your interpretations of the text. Ty, along with many, many others, does not read that into the text, instead they read into the text what they’re hermeneutical lenses has been stained with.

2. The primacy of the male headship is not a good term or good pre-fall idea at all! Inequality of any sort is literally referred to by Ellen White as, well, why don’t you read it for yourself: PP 58.3

“Eve was told of the sorrow and pain that must henceforth be her portion. And the Lord said, ‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ In the creation God had made her the equal of Adam. Had they remained obedient to God—in harmony with His great law of love—they would ever have been in harmony with each other; but sin had brought discord, and now their union could be maintained and harmony preserved only by submission on the part of the one or the other. Eve had been the first in transgression; and she had fallen into temptation by separating from her companion, contrary to the divine direction. It was by her solicitation that Adam sinned, and she was now placed in subjection to her husband. Had the principles joined in the law of God been cherished by the fallen race, this sentence, though growing out of the results of sin, would have proved a blessing to them; but man’s abuse of the supremacy thus given him has too often rendered the lot of woman very bitter and made her life a burden.”

What I read here are 3 enlightening things: First, the pre-fall male headship is not supported by Ellen (gender roles possibly). Second, God did in fact intend for one to submit, and this was actually going to be a blessing but it ended up a curse. Third, it is man’s fault that things have changed and we are having this conversation. Which leads me to my next point.

3. God has traditionally tried to use men, but they almost always get in their own way. Men are the result of the need for women in the ministry Kevin. You and I have failed my friend, and women are the ones who actually step up and fill the needs where we fail. That is why there is no good answer to the question: Why does God so often in scripture actually use women in traditional male roles? Isn’t that going against the Bible?!?! It’s because Men suck! (sorry, too vulgar) We royally mess up: enter David (Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, Absalom), enter Abraham (Hagar, Ishmael, Lot’s family mess), enter Jacob (don’t even get me started), etc. etc. At some point, God literally changes the way He has traditionally chosen to work to do it differently. The real question is if that is what is happening here. Maybe the ordination of women means that we actually finish the work and Jesus comes back. IDK… I’m just making a predictive suggestion that might not be true.

4. Ignoring hermeneutics. Why is it that the plain reading of scripture is always thought to be enough support in itself? The one thing that I really, really agreed with Ty on is that you really need to study to understand tough issues. I’m not talking about the black and white ones… which ones are those by the way? I’m talking about the really tricky ones. If you don’t actually study the hermeneutics (see above for a little better definition) then you aren’t being fair to anyone. I haven’t yet seen the hermeneutics really addressed by the anti-women’s ordination camp.

(don’t read into the fact that one has 3 and one has 4 issues, it means nothing according to me, maybe something according to Freud)

What no one is talking about!

Women’s pay:

Maybe I don’t understand the situation, I mean I am only an unordained pastor in the system, but isn’t it a huge discrimination problem to not pay women as much as men. This is a clearly documented situation too. Commissioned will never make the same as ordained, and yet they are viewed the same by the IRS. I smell Millions of dollars in potential lawsuits. Even if you aren’t going to ordain a woman, you better pay her the same and give her the same retirement, that is just good business. I’m not even talking about Theology. Simply cover your butt!

The calling of God:

Ladies, in all honesty, I know this isn’t popular, but just do your thing. The only person you have to answer to is God, and the only person that you sin against is God. Don’t let decisions that will or have been made by man determine what  God is calling you to do. But be very careful as you are trying to discern God’s calling in your life. Don’t get ahead of yourself (a big problem of mine). It may be that God doesn’t want the SDA church to ordain women for good reason. It may be a not-yet answer. It may also be a let’s do this NOW answer. It honestly shouldn’t matter. Your identity and self worth is in Christ alone, not in what man may do to you.

Submitting to the church:

Holy Catholic meatballs. This really is going to sound Catholic, but we need to learn to submit to the church. We follow God’s leading and our Conscience first and foremost, but we can still submit to the church. Look at Christ. His first miracle He says, “Woman, my time has not yet come” yet he does the miracle! When He was 12, He leaves with His parents because, “He was obedient to them.” Right in the middle of doing His Heavenly Father’s work. Come on. Don’t get all high and mighty about leaving because a decision didn’t go your way. This honestly is not a “salvation issue”. (now someone can write a blog on how it is) Submitting to the church means that you are willing to believe that God is leading in your church. It is also willing to admit that we are not perfect as a church, and we are still growing. Don’t expect that any type of change will be quick. Quick change isn’t actually good for anyone.

I will stop for now, even though I always have more to say…

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