#NoogaStrong: Terrorism and the Church

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Two weeks ago Chattanooga, TN made the national news as four Marines and one Navy sailor were shot and killed by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez who opened fire on a military recruiting center and then a naval reserve center. As a Chattanoogan and an American, it was tragic, it was sad, and it was called an act of terrorism.   We didn’t expect this kind of thing in OUR town…. It seems so wrong, so brutal, and such an attack on our identity and freedom.

Yet in the midst of it all, what’s been interesting to me is how the community has responded in the aftermath of this tragedy. The hashtags #chattanoogastrong and #noogastrong have been appearing not just on social media but now on billboards, signs, and posters all over the city. It’s become about a community standing together. It’s our rallying cry. Every evening there have been groups out on the freeway overpass waving flags and showing support. Churches have held prayer vigils. Great numbers attended the funerals. And just today I stood at one of the memorials looking over the sea of flags, notes, signs, flowers, and more. The men killed are revered as nothing short of fallen heroes. And Chattanooga stands boldly in display of our outrage against these attacks on our defenders.

But all this has made me think. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that our “adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He is the ultimate terrorist. He hates God’s government and is especially out to wreak havoc on the soldiers of God’s army – His church (Revelation 12:17).

And I can’t help but wonder: What if the church responded to the terrorist attacks of Satan like our community responded to the attack on these US soldiers?

When one of our fellow “soldiers” in the church gets shot at or dies spiritually, do we unitedly raise our flags against our enemy the devil in support of our fallen comrade? Or do we simply accept their defeat? Do we treat them as fallen heroes? Or do we write them off as weak defectors? “Poor Bob, I guess he’s fallen into sin…” “Did you hear what John’s been doing? I don’t know how he can expect to be a church leader like that.” “Well, it looks like Mary’s apostatizing into her old ways. We better bring this up at the next church board meeting.”

What if the church responded to the terrorist attacks of Satan like our community responded to the attack of these US soldiers?

Oh, I’m not trying to excuse or condone sin. But I do wonder: Do we realize that when someone falls they are a literal victim of a terrorist attack? Do we see that those who “leave the faith” are our fellow soldiers being shot at by the enemy? Do we believe that those captive to sin are war hostages just as surely as any POW in Vietnam or elsewhere? And if we really d0 believe these things, how differently might we treat the fallen?

Imagine if whenever someone in our church fell from the shots of the enemy and disappeared from our doors we followed “no man left behind” and no one moved on till we got that person back. Imagine if when a fellow soldier of the Lord was wounded, we all waived our prayer banners and gathered in vigils pleading for their restoration and healing. Imagine if people knew that the church was the one place that, no matter how they’d been hit, would stand for them, remember them, and fight for them. Imagine if Satan’s hostages comprehended that God’s church was continually working for their release and waiting with open arms to welcome them home. Imagine if the devil discovered that the more he tried to divide us the more united and determined God’s church would become instead. Imagine if when one of us went down, the devil knew he had all of us to contend with…

Yes, I’ve learned a few things from watching my city respond to attack and become #noogastrong. And I can only dream (and pray) that I’ll see my church do the same. Because when it does, I have a funny feeling things will never be the same.

“…and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18

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Fluent in Friendliness

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My wife, daughter and sister in law were driving cross country, from Virginia to Oregon. On Sabbath, they had to stop in the state of _______ and decided to attend church there. They pulled in with their U-Haul truck, also towing a car. Nothing says “I’m from somewhere that is NOT here” like a U-Haul! They were lukewarmly greeted at the door, skated down the aisle, endured worship by themselves in the pew, and left without being invited to lunch. This was a medium size church, next to an academy, a church that seemed healthy. I wonder, if that is an isolated incident.

No one believes they have an anti-visitor church. Very few people describe their congregation as cold. I can’t imagine that church members purposefully want to send an anti-social message to newcomers. Yet, it happens all the time. Here are 3 things you can do, to become a visitor friendly church.

1. Connect with people at times OTHER THAN the regularly scheduled opportunities. There are three times people usually get greeted:

*When they come in.

*At the “welcome” portion of the service.

*As they leave.

It’s the rest of the time that sends a message whether you are a friendly church or not. In the three times I mentioned, you are REQUIRED to. When you make an effort to connect outside those, the chances of them returning increase. It’s a sin for a visitor to sit by themselves.

2. Be sensitive in the “welcome” portion of the service. Who likes to stand up, and remain standing, while 200 eyeballs are on them? The answer is…NOBODY! In a survey with visitors, this practice is what they despised the most. To complicate matters even further, (at least in Hispanic churches) they call visitors the “flowers” of the congregation that day. That sends two wrong messages: The members are the thorns. Maybe accurate, but no need to rub it in and Pancho, the hard living macho man, does not like being called a delicate flower!

This practice is done more for us than for them. Stop it.

3. Don’t smother, or overwhelm. Both extremes are equally annoying. Visitors don’t speak “Adventese”. They don’t know what Camp-meeting, ABC, AY, elders, or Conference, mean. Please speak: short, English, with a smile. I have made my case before that announcements were probably created by Jesuits that have infiltrated our church. They must have. This is not 1812. People can read. Give them a bulletin and maybe, an announcement or two, BEFORE the service is over.

Hoping that these suggestions can improve our visitor retention. What are other ways you purposefully connect with newcomers?
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Selma and San Antonio

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I wonder what the dust would feel like.  If one would have stood just outside the blast radius, arriving at the scene moments after the explosion, what would it be like to breathe in that cloud of swirling debris?  What strength would pulse through one as one frantically pitched through the rubble of the Birmingham Baptist church?  When I was little, I remember going over small rises in speeding cars, and I remember that feeling in my stomach, the feeling of the road falling out from under me.

I can’t help think of my three-year-old boy.  He has a delicate rib cage.  When he raises his arms, I can count the ribs.  I can’t help think of my one-year-old boy.  If I press my fingers slightly into the soft skin just below his sternum, I can discern the precocious organs beneath, driving him into the next second of existence.  He is a small butterfly in my hands, and I marvel at how close he, and indeed we all are to mortality every second, and yet how resilient we are in spite of the fact.  I wonder what it would feel like to see a child’s hand jutting out from under the rubble, and to know that the delicate wings lay hopelessly crushed, that they will never beat again.

After watching Selma, it struck me that it is this perspective that may have driven Dr. King to march.  It led men and women, both white and black, to their graves, cutting them down in the heat of the southern harvest season, and in the mild cool of the southern winter.  This is why he preached.  It is why he prayed.

Watching that streaming debris of that bomb, my mind took me to another place of worship thrown into chaos with flying debris – coins bouncing off the floor, shouts echoing in the chamber.  “You have turned my house into a den of thieves!”

Some question Dr. King’s theology.  Some claim that Jesus was not involved with the politics of this world, but rather was only focused on building the world He would bring after the second coming.  One could make that argument, if one ignores every statement about the religious leaders of Israel – about their hypocrisy, about their political manipulations.  In order to make the argument that Jesus was not political, one must remain ignorant of the reality that Rome granted the Sadducees real political power to wield in Judea in exchange for the Sadducees keeping any Jewish rebellions at bay.  When Jesus challenged the religious rulers, He simultaneously challenged the political establishment.  Jesus’ dream realized meant an upheaval to the socio-political order of Judea.  It is impossible to advocate for service to the least of these without putting one’s self in opposition to the powers that create the least of these.  It is impossible to make social justice a false god, replacing God’s kingdom with a desire for mercy and justice because God’s kingdom IS mercy and justice.  One may as well say that we should be drinking water instead of dihydrogen monoxide.  Jesus was fundamentally political because His primary concern was politēs – citizens – free persons – for He came to make us ALL free persons.

At the center of Jesus’ call for evangelism is His commission to baptize and teach men to obey what HE commanded, and what are His greatest commands?  Love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  What did Jesus do for those He loved?  He defended them against the political powers conspiring to crush them.  He overturned tables.  He wrote in the sand.  He changed the world.

Dr. King spoke of a dream.  He used the metaphor of a mountain top to which he was climbing.  Jesus built the mountain.  He promised us the mountain.  The question, however, is how much do I want the mountain?  If I want the mountain, and yet I care not to follow in Christ’s footsteps to climb it, I show myself to be as sincere as the rich young ruler, who said he wanted a stake in the Kingdom, but turned away sad.

The work of the Seventh-day Adventist church has traditionally been one of evangelism, and so now, after the GC vote, people are calling for a refocusing on the mission of the Church, to bring people into God’s Kingdom.  They are calling for unity.  The question that the vote on women’s ordination belies is this: what is the nature of the Kingdom to which we are calling people?  Is the church’s vision for God’s realm one in which certain souls are relegated to being under the instruction and authority of other souls based upon no conscious choice that they have made?  Such a premise is as foreign a concept to justice as darkness is a foreign concept to light.

Racial hierarchy  has no place nor part in my understanding of the Kingdom.  Sexual hierarchy has no place nor part in my understanding of the Kingdom.  There can be no unity under such ideals.

Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.  What of the humility?  The humility lives in the truth that, though Jesus called me to lead people to the mountain, first he calls me there myself, and when I look into the deepness of my soul, I’m not there yet.  I need to be mentored in justice and mercy.  Dr. King mentored a whole nation in justice and mercy, bringing the social consciences of a whole nation to admit with their tongues that all persons truly should be treated equally.  This nation still does not acknowledge this with its actions, but at least King’s mentoring set its ideals as the North Star.  I need mentoring. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t march – I should.  It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t work for justice wherever I can lay my hands to it – I should.  It does mean that I must mentor those around me rather than write them off, just as Jesus mentors me without writing me off.  The dream is only realized for me if I want it.  If I want it, I should fight for it.  In Christ’s Kingdom, fighting comes in the form of mentorship, and mentorship only happens if I walk humbly, yet persistently.

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Why #GChaystack Was a Success

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Biggest. Potluck. Ever.

…well, not quite.

Last week there were about 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists in San Antonio for our church’s 60th General Conference Session.  We needed 1,276 of those Adventists to show up at our attempt to break the Guinness World Record for largest potluck.  We got around 1,100 (the official final count is still being processed by Guinness officials).  So we failed, right?  Wrong.  Let me tell you why we at The Haystack are not even slightly bummed by the turnout.

1,100 people showed up to a party we threw.

Ok, so it’s not 70,000–or even 1,276–but it’s still a lot of people.  On Thursday, as I was standing in the midst of the crowd of attendees, I thought to myself, “My goodness….this is a lot of hungry Adventists.”  And we fed them all!  And not only did we feed them all, we had a ton of food left over, which brings me to my next point…

We were able to donate that ton of leftover food to a local food bank.

We made arrangements weeks before to give all the leftovers to the Salvation Army.  So just by throwing this event we (and you, if you brought food) were able to feed lots of hungry people in the San Antonio area.  It wasn’t just haystack-loving Adventists who got fed, but lots of people who might not have otherwise had access to a good meal.

We brought fellowship and unity to many people who were feeling discouraged by a divisive and polarizing vote on women’s ordination.

As silly as this whole event may have seemed, silly may have just been what many people needed to recover from the day before.  We got people focused on a common goal, we made it fun, and it got people’s minds off of the fact that not everyone there agreed on a hot topic in SDA policy.  People from all over the world, many who believed women should be ordained, many who believed women should not be ordained, many who had never even eaten a haystack before (as crazy as that sounds!), showed up to make something great happen.  That’s called unity.  We hope our world record attempt can be a mini version of what we can accomplish as a world church:  Instead of unity in potluck, despite our differences of opinions on tough issues, let us find unity in Christ and in mission and in evangelism, despite those same differences.

So because we fostered Christian unity, because we fed the hungry, because we had a huge party with loads of positive vibes, we can’t see our world record attempt as a failure.  In our eyes, it was a massive success.  Not to mention the follow up conversations and ideas it has yielded (more details to come, but keep your eyes peeled for The Haystack coming to a campus near you).

Once again, thank you to everyone who helped make this event possible and successful!  We could not have done it by ourselves and we appreciate each and every one of you who attended and contributed to our cause.  Join us as we continue to strive for Christian unity in the Adventist church.  Just like in a potluck, everyone has to bring something to the table in order for our work to be successful.  What will you bring to the table?
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Post #GCSA15: 5 things Adventist Millennials can do after the General Conference

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It. Is. Finished.

 

Now what?

 

These are 5 things that you and I can do in light of, and in response to, what has happened.

 

1) Speak up.

 

Even Twitter didn’t see it coming – the interactive contribution of SDA millennials across the globe displaying the most effective use of a hashtag I’ve seen till date.

 

If Twitterverse has told me anything during the past week, it’s this:
Millennials have a voice. And we want to be heard.

 

So speak up. Raise your voice. Do whatever it takes to shake up the status quo, either in your local congregation or community. Do so in a manner that shows the clearest picture of Jesus.

 

And lest we forget: Few millennials with a relevant message spoke up once with a passion fueled by the fire in their bones.

 

Now they are 18 million strong. And growing.

 

2) Get connected to your local church.

 

Our current demographics within the Adventist church reveal that we are not the church of tomorrow, but the church of today. In light of that fact, the gross under-representation of young adult delegation at the GC could evoke in us one of two responses:

 

1- Express angst and continue to find reasons as to why we should have been better represented, or

 

2-Ensure our representation in #GCI2020 by getting plugged in now.

 

This is what Elder Gilbert Cangy, the youth director for the General Conference, had to say when interviewed about the process of becoming a delegate at the General Conference session:

 

“The General Conference, as an entity, does not choose delegates. The delegates are chosen as close as possible to the local churches. It only makes sense to trust the leaders closest to the local churches to know the individuals who can contribute in a significant way to the (future and direction) of the church (at large). Each division of the world church ensures the credibility of its delegates by “screening” them through the responses of union presidents and local church pastors.”

 

He later went on to say that when a young adult is faithful to the principles of our faith and is an affirming, empowering voice at the local church level, chances are that he or she will be noticed by other local leaders as someone who has the best interest of the church at heart. After that, it’s only a matter of time till their name is referred for nomination.

 

All this tells me that the surest path to becoming a delegate at the GC session always starts at the doors of your local church.

 

Get involved at your church. Lead a ministry. Be proactive.

 

3) Be informed

 

The GC session can be a cure for “denominational myopia.”

 

Let me unpack that.

 

As millennials, we have a high-functioning radar which detects anything from an ugly logo to an inefficient system. Scrutiny and critique can oftentimes be effortless.

 

So let me be the first to admit that it’s easy for me to get distracted by something that happens to me at church and indiscriminately color my perception of the church at large with a large, hairy, brush – all the while not realizing that I’ve haphazardly colored over some other things as well.

 

Myopia is simply being hyper-focused on what lies nearest to you that you fail to include the larger context. And I was myopic about my denomination.

 

Experiencing the GC, albeit for two days, significantly lessened this myopia by exposing me to the larger context of the world church.

 

Listening to the division reports, interacting with those from other cultures and nations, and seeing God’s activity among them showed me that the ‘church’ is more than just what happens to me in my local church.

 

The GC reminded me that the ‘church’ is bigger than its issues. The more I was informed, the less myopic I became. The more I got to know the larger context, the less I reacted to the smaller ones.

 

What we do is greatly impacted by what we are up against. Therefore the more we are informed about what’s happening in our local congregation, community, and the global Adventist community, the better we are suited to be game changers for the Kingdom.

 

4) Find a Christ-centered mentor who has your best interest at heart.

 

Nuff said.

 

5) Dig deeper into Scripture.

 

As I was scrolling through my twitter feed on the day of the big vote, I couldn’t help but wonder:

 

What if millennials were half as engaged and committed to spending time in Scripture as they were on their Twitter feeds?

 

What would that look like? How would that look like in their personal lives and in the lives of their communities?

 

Iconic theologian and author A.W Tozer once made this provocative statement:

 

“Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.”

 

Boom. *drops mic*

 

Friends, we are not just millennials but Seventh-Day Adventist millennials: a special group of people who have been entrusted with the end-time message of a living Savior to be shared with a dying world.
For us to be bold in the world, we need to first be humble before God in the prayer closet. The more we dig deeper into Scripture, the more leverage and arsenal we have along with the adults and leaders of our church.

 

Our cultural relevancy is largely dependent on our Scriptural fluency. When we are well-versed in Scripture, not only are we able to speak the language of other demographics within our denomination, but we become better influencers of those outside of it.

 

A lot of hurt and frustration has understandably ensued in light of Wednesday’s vote. I am right there with those who are disappointed. I’m sure those who are at the brink of leaving have legitimate reasons for doing so. If that’s you, my friend, I appeal to you sincerely – We need you and your pain. Some of the biggest turnarounds and movements in history occurred when a small group of people harnessed their collective dissatisfaction in effective and constructive ways. If you want to move forward, these 5 steps maybe a start. If not, hit me up. Let me listen.

 

These are just 5 things. What are YOU going to do after this session? Please leave a comment in the spaces below!

 

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You’re Not Too Good for The Church

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Every family has that one embarrassing member. Well, every family has at least one embarrassing member.

— A sister who snorts when she laughs and seems to laugh more than any normal person should.
— The uncle who has that terrible facial condition known as Unconscious Glare. He thinks he’s glancing around innocently, but he’s accidentally glowering at friends and strangers. The people near you at the restaurant move tables.
— The grandma who gave up on regular clothes some decades ago and now only wears muumuus. Even to your graduation.

But some families have people in them who aren’t just embarrassing to bring to pool parties, but members who bring shame to the family.

— How do you think it felt to be Anthony Weiner’s wife?
— How do you think it felt to be Richard Nixon’s brother?
— Or Jerry Sandusky’s mother?

When someone that you’re connected with does something great, you feel a sense of pride. It’s not you out there on the basketball court, but when your team wins the championship you cheer as if it were a personal accomplishment. When you see your kid brother walk across the stage to get his college diploma, when your dad earns a special award at work, when your best friend becomes a parent, your heart is aglow with pride in their accomplishments. Even though these are their accomplishments, it’s your heart that is smiling inside.

Shame works the other way. Even though it’s someone else’s notorious deed––abusing, cheating, lying, sexting––it’s your heart aching with disappointment and grief and humiliation.

After all that God has done to love us, save us, and sanctify us, it’s not hard to imagine how He feels when we tread over His will in order to fulfill our own. It’s not hard to imagine that God’s heart hurts when, in that split-second of decision, we ignore His voice and we act as if He weren’t there or didn’t care about us.

And since God has risked it all in front of an attentive, intelligent universe (Eph 3:10), it’s not hard to imagine that God would be ashamed of us faulty, twisted, rebellious, ungrateful, inglorious sinners. Anyone who acts the way we act would be someone that a holy God should be ashamed of, someone God rightfully wouldn’t want to be associated with, someone God would want some distance from, someone God would avoid committing Himself to. And how much more shame does it cause God when those unkind, ungrateful, unloving, unrighteous people are those who take His name and call themselves Christians.

In the gospel according to Hebrews, the amazing news is this: the divine and majestic Son (Hebrews 1) was made low, “lower than the angels,” made a real and true human being, and He was subjected to temptation, suffering, and death (Hebrews 2). And then this:

Both the one who makes people holy
and those who are being made holy are of the same family.
So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
(Hebrews 2:11)

WHAT? Not in spite of the fact that Jesus took on our humanity, not in spite of the fact that the Trinity took up our humanity into Their unspoiled fellowship, but because God made us part of His family Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters, even though we are not perfect in holiness.

So here’s the amazing thing: Jesus is not ashamed to call you His. Jesus is not ashamed to claim you, to wrap His arm around you and call you part of the family. Jesus is not ashamed to publicly commit Himself to you and love you lavishly in front of all the watching worlds. You’re messed up, but Jesus is not ashamed of you. What a Savior! What a God!

*moment of praise and awestruck wonder*

Now here’s the challenging thing: If Jesus doesn’t consider himself too good to be our brother, we dare not consider ourselves too good for His other brothers and sisters.

We’re waaaayyyyy too quick to dismiss the church because it doesn’t live up to our standards (wait… Do you even live up to your own standards??) and because church-y people are disagreeable to us, making comments we don’t like, holding opinions we don’t like, and voting in ways that we don’t like. Some of us have even given the church ultimatums: Start acting better or I’ll leave you and then you’ll really be sorry!

No one has higher ideals for His church than Jesus does, and even though no one has more of a right to walk out on the disappointing Gomer that we call the church, no one loves it more passionately or with more commitment than Jesus (Eph 5:25-27).

We’re an inglorious group of sinners-made-saints. And in His mercy, Jesus let you in. So don’t walk out. Don’t be ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Jesus isn’t.
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My Perspective As A Woman Pastor

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I could not go to GC. I do not have a TV. The live streaming of “The Hope Channel” was choppy in every 3 seconds interval at best. I found out about the “No Vote” for Women’s Ordination via my aunt, whom I was calling to offer her comfort after she lost her job, which in turn tried to comfort me. I kept receiving confirmation of the, “No Vote” through texts of my brother-in-law who is at the GC and through good, ole, trusty, Facebook.

My feelings? Kind of numb. The feeling of kind of being stuck. The looming question of, “now what?” hangs over my head. I am not angry. I am not bitter. I am not enraged. I am not disappointed. I am not shocked. I am not hurting. I am not crying. Just processing.

Some people are upset, angered and hurting for the “No Vote” and they weren’t even women pastors. Some people were pushing for the vote more vehemently than myself and women pastors that I know. However, when the decision was called for, some people are expressing their feelings, which they are entitled to, but yet, since not being women pastors, it doesn’t really affect them as how it will effect the women pastors. Yesterday’s decision put a new twist on how my future will look like. It puts a new twist on friends that I know who are women pastors and their future.

I have been oddly quiet during the whole endeavor, just really trying to see what will pan out during the whole situation. A lot of people have posted their opinions, but I am posting my perspective as a woman pastor. I am speaking for mostly for myself, I am giving my viewpoint, my experience, and what I have learned.

There are a lot of questions running through my head. Once again, I was not at the GC, perhaps these were answered already in the discussions. But I guess I can put it out there now. What are we going to do about the women pastors who are already ordained or commissioned? Will the title be taken away? Will they no longer be able to practice baptisms, marriages, child dedications, and anointings? If it is not taken away, will their work as ordained ministers be recognized now that the whole world church decided, “no”? Will other divisions and countries require a new “baptism”; a new “anointing” if they found out you were baptized or anointed by a woman? What about women elders? Since the argument has been made, and there is Biblical evidence for it, that there is no difference between pastor and elder? Why carry the pastor/ elder title as a woman? Why has the church allowed for women elders to begin with if there is so much friction about women pastors? Are we working off semantics? Should we even allow for ordained women elders? Should we even have women elders? Is it even fair now to allow women to be “pastors” to fill positions that “women are so good at”? Are these even the right questions to ask? There even seems to be a lot of confusion on what was voted on, and there are some articles going around with wishful thinking.

It almost feels that at the end of the day what women pastors will end up doing is working administratively or doing the work of Bible workers, but on steroids, with nothing to show really for being the “pastor,” there will hardly be any distinction. At the end of the day, we are allowed to minister, but being in ministry is not the equivalent of being a pastor. That’s what it seems that has been handed to us. Again, these questions may have been answered, but at the same time, right now, I don’t think there will be a satisfactory answer to all of it, because these are issues that are going to rise from it, regardless of what people say, and because it is so fresh.

Regardless of it all, when there is a vote, there will always be a happy group and a disappointed group. The happy group will always claim God’s favor and the disappointed group will always say that God allowed it. God does not always work in majority votes; God does not always work in minority votes. There is the hot topic till this day of GC 1888 to show what I mean. What is always hard in situations like these is that there are no clear, cut lines, regardless of what some would say. While not everyone from both sides may have exhibited Christ-like behavior to each other, I do know also that there were strong, God-fearing people on both sides, people who have prayed, fasted, poured over scriptures, entered into dialogue to try to understand the other’s viewpoint, and still arrived at different convictions while reading the same Bible, praying to the same God, and following the same Holy Spirit. Nothing hurts more than when someone dedicates their whole life to what God has seem to show them on a personal level, and another person comes and flippantly rubs it in their face that it was not God’s will and they were being unfaithful to God. Folks, that is nothing short of spiritual abuse and the ground preparation for a great faith crisis in that person’s walk with God.

Please don’t make the ignorant statement that if a person has a faith crisis from the “truth” being told, then they never had faith to begin with. That’s part of what makes recovering from a faith crisis to be such a difficult task to begin with, because what was once thought to be solid in your walk with God, you are finding that you now are questioning everything, from the Bible you read, to the prayers that you pray, to the church you go to, and to the God you worship, with the people that you worship. There are countless of examples in the Bible of mighty men and women of God who went through their own faith crisis while still actively holding onto God and having a relationship with Him, (Jeremiah, anyone?); Don’t be that person, the type of person who speaks before thinking in the Name of God and too prideful to realize that you made a mistake while realizing that you have left a brother or sister in Christ questioning Him. Instead of criticizing that person, please, for the glory of God, extend the hand of grace, and become a reason why you helped that person stay in the community of God, and not a reason why they left it.

I for one, and I think I can honestly speak on behalf of a lot of my women pastor friends, I did not step into the pastoral arena to push forth my authority over the men. I had no desire to showcase, “Women do it better than men.” I had no desire to uproot an established authority that God has placed on earth. What I was looking for was to help my brothers in Christ. To reach the places that they couldn’t go while still holding onto their hand. To show a hurting world that God also validates women in His work and that His hand was being extended to them. While women are being persecuted on the other side of the world because they want to learn how to read, I wanted to help them see that there is a God who stands up for us. I came because I was called. No person would eagerly put himself or herself in a position that was heated, difficult, sensitive, at times hazy, receiving insults, questioning my own faith, getting looks of surprise, having my ministry questioned from others, and my ministering considered second rate, at best sometimes, just to “help people.”

No, it usually takes a calling to get people through the difficult nights of praying and pleading with God when interceding for His people when they have been a stiff-necked people. It takes a calling to still show your face after what some would consider a humbling experience in GC 2015. It takes a calling to go and minister to a mother who has lost her job after a difficult divorce, to comfort a second mother who has received the diagnosis of breast cancer, to encourage an exhausted and broken pastor’s wife, to be the listening ear of a young woman who grew up in church questioning the existence of God, to be the arms of comfort for a young woman friend who is grieving the loss of a strong spiritual mentor after cancer and recovering from abusive parents, to offer hope to a friend who admitted to being bisexual, to tell a young teenage girl who is recovering from bulimia that God still loves her no matter what. It takes a calling.

I have gone through some difficult times on my journey being a woman pastor. Others have not had it as difficult as me; some may have had it harder than me. What I do know is this; it is not easy. And as a woman pastor who has gone through some bumps in the road, and have had to search for answers that only God could give, I just ask for a few things from my family in Christ.

1. Be understanding that not all women pastors are liberal in their theology.

For some reason, when people heard that I studied theology and that I was taking the steps to continue onto the path of pastoral leadership, they looked at me like I had three heads, and the infamous question would come, “What do you plan to do with that?” Then the next question that would come about, “What is your stance on Women’s Ordination?” And then would proceed to ask questions on trying to figure out my theological stance. It was almost a quick assumption that if I was interested in pastoral work, that I was a liberal in my theology. And while there may be women pastors who have liberal views, (by all means, I am not a voice for all women pastors), I just know that the majority of the women pastors I know, myself included, do not hold liberal views about theology or the Seventh-day Adventist church.

2. Understand that we are trying to be honest, God fearing Christians, just like you.

It was almost borderline pure amusement to see all the hate comments that I would read on articles that would be for Women’s Ordination, it was to either laugh and pray for strength, patience, and wisdom, or cry and become despondent. Some of the comments were just harsh, that we have received the Mark of the Beast and being used as puppets for Satan. And while I am sure that the other camp who was pro Women’s Ordination have not been innocent of harsh comments towards anti Women’s Ordination, it doesn’t get worse than that folks, to be compared to be used by Satan. Come on guys, not a single one of us have the authority, nor the wisdom, nor the concept of correct justice, nor the full picture, to be able to pronounce those type of judgments. Once again, I speak for myself along with other women pastor friends that I know, we strive to seek the face of God, we beseech Him to show us His will, to correct us when we are in the wrong, to humble us when we have been prideful, to put us where we will be the most useful, to have us work for His glory. My desire is to do the will of God.

Being combative with each other proves nothing. Both camps will have people who stood up for either side and will claim, “Praise the Lord that ‘So and So’ spoke the truth!” We are so quick to point out what we think will divide the church that we become almost paranoid about everything. We develop champions in our minds of people who spoke up for our viewpoint that we have deemed as Biblical. We are quick to cast stones to those who do not agree with our viewpoint, and rapidly mark them as unfaithful towards God and the church because they were not consistent with the viewpoint that we had marked as truth. Please understand that this helps nobody and it certainly does not help you in your witness towards others. The will of God, in how He has portrayed it in His word, should be the will of our life, not what we think His will is, but what He says it is.

3. Be considerate and kind with your words.

As a theology student on my first week at Southern Adventist University I was standing in the presence of a classmate who told me this after he found out I was a theology student, “Wow…. Southern has really lowered their standards in accepting you into their program,” in which he then proceeded to laugh and said, “Just kidding.” I am sorry, but that is not something to joke about. That comment essentially said that just because I was a woman, I have tainted Southern’s doors. I have heard others say that we are too emotional, or incapable of being able to minister effectively. You are surely entitled to your opinion, but please, there is no godly love being shown once you begin to make comments that degrade the worth and the capability of a fellow human being.

4. Please stop saying that our ministry as women exists because men are not doing theirs.

This honestly is probably the most frustrating to me, on two sides. The first side is that women are only in the picture because the men are not doing the work. It implies that we were second picked, only the second best, because well, “Someone has to do it.” It implies that if men were doing the job, then women would not be in the picture at all. Why do we have to have that mentality? Why is almost always an “either/ or” and not a “both”? Why can’t it be the both of us, men and women, working together for the kingdom of God? Men are called to a certain position of authority, and I understand that, but at the same time can I not help that man in that position of authority? Why does it have it be, “I am only here because he is not doing it?” It seems to treat the ministry that God has given me as second best. That I am second best. I have worth in the eyes of God and I am important in His eyes, but in front of my church family, I am second place. And I am only in second place because of being a woman and that’s it.

The other side that this statement shows is the low position that men are being held at as well. It is shoving men to the side and saying, “What you are doing is not good enough so we will bring someone who can do it.” What of all the countless of men who have done God’s work in the past and in present time? Those who have lost their lives to the cause and have laid their heads down to rest to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”? Of the countless of men who still stand up to preach, to share God’s word to a people yelling at them that whatever they do is never good enough? Their decisions as pastors are never good enough, that what they preached was not good enough, that how they handled the situation was not good enough, that what they said was not good enough.

We are worse than a nagging, embittered wife to the leaders of our church. Almost always, someone, somewhere out there has a better idea of what our men pastors should have done. Well, in the words of Pastor Henry Wright, “Get some scars on your soul first and then come and talk to me about how to run a church.” It is so easy to criticize on the sidelines when you are not in the fight. And it is also detrimental to your effectiveness in your personal ministry if this is the mentality that you have of yourself, you, as a man pastor. That there can always be something more done, sure, that you can always grow more in Christ, of course, but to ridicule yourself and to put the holy work that God has placed in your life as not good enough because you are not doing enough in what you think it should look like is going backwards and not forwards.

Let our ministry work together as part of the image of Christ, not as a competition on who can do it better, who is lacking, or just because a spot needs to be filled.

5. Invite me to be genuinely part of your team.

Invite me as your team because God lead you to pick me, not because it is the cultural fad to do so. I have gone through countless of interviews with conferences where almost all of them supported women in ministry, and women’s ordination. However, at the end, I did not receive jobs from them regardless of their words of support. It is much more appreciative to be invited, wanted, and needed, than to be told of support, or just being picked up to show “progressive” movement. As a woman, I value more an invitation to join a work than a civil responsibility to get something done.

6. Don’t turn a blind eye to the abuse of women in the church.

Even though the church passed a “No Vote” on Women’s Ordination in the world church, please, don’t let this be a set back for working towards women’s rights and recognition in the world church at large. While some have played up that the vote for women’s ordination is just culture pressure on sexism and gender discrimination, it would be unwise to say that this will not have an effect on how the world church has portrayed its view on women and their importance. While I recognize that there were plenty of women who were against Women’s Ordination, I also acknowledge that there were plenty who were for it, in part to give a voice to the women.  It would be naive to turn a blind eye towards the abuse that happens in the church in the Name of God towards women because the church voted, “no” on Women’s Ordination. While some may say that I am being extreme in saying this, and that just because the church said “no” to women’s ordination does not mean that it was an abusive act towards women. I understand what you are saying, and I acknowledge that, but hear my viewpoint. The church has had a long history of abuse towards women who have been made to keep quiet because of spiritual abuse due to their husbands or the men in their lives have manipulated it in such a way that if the women voiced their concerns they are being unfaithful Christians or not being submissive wives.

I just encourage the church to be proactive in helping the women who are being abused in the church, to properly discipline the men who have abused these women, regardless of their position in church leadership and to not encourage a shame culture towards these women, which unfortunately, almost always seems to happen when a woman finally stands up to speak for herself. Sometimes in the Christian culture, we act as if someone who demands their rights as a human being is all of a sudden usurping the will of God. We play the card that because we are sinners, we have no rights, and therefore we are working off of our selfish nature instead of being submissive. And while that can be true for a good portion of the human race, we also have to remember that we are made in the image of Christ, that we have been bought at a price, that we have been ransomed, and with that comes an inheritance of being God’s children. A person who cannot stand up for their self worth does not recognize who their Father is.

As a woman pastor, I will continue to minister, however that may look like. It may look like pastoring the church as an associate pastor, it may look like a Bible teacher, and it may look like as a school chaplain. I don’t know. What I do know is the willingness of being flexible in the calling that Lord has placed in my life, wherever He takes me, and how He takes me is important. I do know that God will be faithful to the calling that He has placed in my life. I understand why the world church took the vote that they took. I respect their decision and I understand what they had to balance as world leaders. I understand it is not easy to be world church leaders in a world that differs in cultures that spans over 24 different time zones, that all voices needs to be heard, that there are things that have to be weighed that we may not even know about. If we have erred, may the Lord grant us mercy as we sought to do His will. If we were correct, than praise the Lord that we pressed forward.

Let us not forget that when Jesus walked on this earth, the chosen church, His chosen church, was fragmented to many pieces, into the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Essenes to name a few. And while He was patient with all, and may have said strong words to them all, Ellen White points out that He said it with tears in His voice. It is never easy to walk the line between differing groups in the same church, but what I do know is that Christ Himself manifested love to all, took time to talk to them, to minister to them, to show love to them, and to save them. Desire of Ages tells the story of how once Christ was resurrected; many who were once enemies of Christ became His followers.

While things may be unclear on how to manage differing viewpoints within the church and the questions that come, and we beseech the Lord for His guidance; I know that this is perfectly clear: that the Lord has called us to love one another, that has never changed, to exemplify the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, and that if we differ in viewpoints, just like how the Jewish Church once did, and the early New Testament Church once did, we can never err in showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22). In these things, we can never go wrong, no matter what our differing viewpoints may be. Am I being too diplomatic? Perhaps, I am for some. Am I being too sensational for others? Perhaps, I am for some. This is my perspective. This has been a bit of my experience. I will respect the church, and its decision, I am still part of the church, and I will minister to and for the church, but at the same time, I answer to God and God alone. I go where He leads me. I cannot go against my conscience, and as God as my witness, so help me.
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3 Lessons for Surviving the Fallout of the Ordination Vote

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So here we are. We are living in a post San Antonio General Conference world. The vote on whether or not individual Divisions have the authority to ordain women in their field where they see it fit has failed. The vote was closer than I expected but at the end of the day, these were the results:

977- Yes votes
1381- No votes
5- Abstained

For many in the NAD and around the world, it is a sad day. I know many wonderful women who have dedicated their lives to pastoral service and this vote must come as a harder blow to them than it does to me.

As an online spectator and Twitter delegate, I couldn’t help but feel proud at times, but still overall disappointed by much of the politicking I saw before, during, and after the debate. Either way, we are now like the fish from Finding Nemo who found themselves in the ocean after passing through a very difficult time and asked, “Now what?”

Here are a few early thoughts:

1. No matter how stormy the GC session was, no matter how high the waves seem now, remember that Jesus still walks on water.

This vote does not mean that women cannot be pastors. Neither does this vote mean that there is going to be a mass purging of the women who already have been working in various levels of the church. What it does mean is that, even though they will have the same education, the church will not confer to them the full ecclesiastic authority of ordination like it currently does to men. Instead, they will still be “commissioned” (which is basically the same thing as far as tax law is concerned, but isn’t in a religious way).

While I was in favor of a yes vote, this new reality forces me to remember that this isn’t my church. It was never mine to begin with; it is God’s. Thus, I have to trust that God knows what he is doing despite my inability to see beyond our present reality.

2. We need to pray for our leaders.

I witnessed some great men and women of God in these debates who stood up and shared their convictions even in the face of a (sometimes) hostile crowd. I applaud the actions of people like Jan Paulsen, Elizabeth Talbot, Ricardo Graham, and especially Michael Ryan who did a phenomenal job at chairing a very contentious meeting. I saw role models in these people and took notice of them even while others booed and jeered at their responses.

We especially need to keep Dan Jackson and Ted Wilson in prayer. These two men, each very convicted in different positions before the vote, must now find a way to work together for the mission of the church. It’s not easy, but I want to ask that we all join together and ask that God would lead them both.

3) We need to still support women in ministry.

Again, it is important to remember that the church has not voted against women pastors. I believe that the Bible is clear of the fact that God calls women into ministry (including pastoral). However, as we saw today, there were, and still are various opinions on the matter. What the church has decided is that the whole church must move together on this issue or not at all.

So what can else I do, get bitter?  No.

I’m learning to realize that a spirit of negativity will eat away at our enthusiasm for ministry and our sense of united mission. I’m not saying that there aren’t negative elements at play all around us, but if we lose sight of Jesus, we will be in the same position as Peter was when he took his eyes off him: drowning in the ocean.

Speaking a Millennial pastor, I would urge all of us to not lose faith in the church, but rather, I pray that this experience would light a fire within each of us. God will raise up a generation that will seek his face and I’m committed to being a part of it.

Let’s not lose heart. It’s up to us to make a difference. Here is our chance to stand up, work together with those that we don’t see eye to eye with and reach those that need to be reached. That’s the mission I’m committed to. How about you?

In closing, now is not the time to plot revenge or gloat at the victory achieved. Now is a time for prayer. Now is a time for reflection. Now is a time for healing. What happens next?

Only God knows.

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God’s Crazy-Patient Grace: Thoughts on the “No Vote” at GC

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Sigh.

Disappointed.

A little heart broken.

Years of anticipation shattered.

“No.”

Wow. This is really disappointing. I thought the cancellation of the Record Keeper was bad. But this is worse. Way worse.

So what can I say? I’m not sure. I’m still trying to gather my thoughts and make sense of it all. It’s hard. Very hard.

And yet, the one thing that keeps me from becoming discouraged and enraged is the one thing that matters most above all: Jesus. Telling others about him, his love, his grace, his power and his kingdom. That alone is my passion. And guess what? I love Adventism. I love it because it is the one movement on earth that captures the narrative of scripture – its God-story – in a way that is breathtakingly beautiful. And come what may, I just cannot stop telling this story.

But what about the church? I mean, its one thing to love the Adventist narrative. But do I love the church as well? It’s administration. It’s politics. It’s “outdatedness”?

Truth is I do. Yes, it is horribly outdated. Yes, it drives me crazy at times! But I still love this church. And regardless of how disappointed I may be I will not allow a spirit of dissension and rebellion to take root in my heart. My church is not perfect. Not by a long shot. But neither am I. And yet, I can see the hand of God at work in both. I see him at work in my imperfect life. I see him at work in our imperfect church. So I hang on, not because of the administration or the structure, but because whenever I am tempted to despair I see the finger prints of God and it reminds me that this is his church and his grace – that crazy patient grace – is working still.

So I will continue to tell the Jesus-story. All of it. And I will continue to work with and pray for my sister pastors whose hearts are in this work. Let’s lose ourselves in Jesus and trust that he will guide us safely to the other side.

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I Want to Be Wrong About God

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We have a greater need to desire God than to deconstruct Him.

[/blockquote]I woke up with a strange prayer pouring out of my lips, “God, I pray You’re not who I think You are.” Before I could rightly wrap my mind around what the Spirit spoke through me, I followed it with, “God, I don’t want You to be who I want You to be.” I don’t want God to be the small God I keep expecting Him to be, to do just the small things I keep expecting Him to do. I don’t want to keep thinking of God in the same small ways I’ve been thinking of Him. For example, I remember hearing a tinkering noise while driving our SUV one day and whispering a prayer, “God, please just let our truck last… … … and help me to stop praying dumb prayers like this one!” The Word says we have not because we ask not, but the follow up of that passage is that even when we ask, we ask amiss. Even when I make my requests known, my own self-focus gets in the way of making requests in alignment with God’s will (James 4:2-3).

God’s been reminding me that if He is who I think He is, then He’s not who He says He is. If our finite thoughts could fully define Him, then how infinite a God is He, really? We have a greater need to desire God than to deconstruct Him. Each time we try to define Him, we instead confine Him. God is so much bigger than my thoughts and the space that stores them; He’s so much bigger than our explanation of Him. One phrasing I saw reminds us that our requests and thoughts about God are exceedingly, abundantly BELOW what God desires to do for us [Ephesians 3:20]. Even when I think I have it right about God, I’m missing the mark, and by a lot.

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God’s thoughts and ways are more than 13 billion light years above ours.

[/blockquote]All I need to understand about God is that His thoughts and ways are above [Isaiah 55:8-9]. Maybe when we really get this, we’ll be less inclined to argue with others about who God is and who He’ll use. Maybe then we can stress a little less about how He’ll work things out for our good. As I mentioned in a previous post, the farthest object observed from planet earth is more than 13 billion light years away. God is saying His thoughts and ways are more than 13 billion light years above ours. While we can only see a few options for solving our most difficult problems, God towers more than 13 billion light years above our circumstances and has already claimed victory.

What surprises us doesn’t surprise God, and what we think is right for Him to do is infinitely smaller than what He’s capable of doing. I thank God that He’s not who I think He is. I thank Him that He’s not even who I want Him to be. He’s wild, untamable, and in control. He doesn’t fit within our earthly definitions of Him. His infinitude will always bear some mystery, and with it should come a heaping measure of humility. With it should come a great deal of compassion for others and an open mind about what and who God will use to bring Himself glory. With this perspective should come a sense of peace that whatever problem you’re having right now has a myriad of solutions. A God whose love stretches from everlasting to everlasting, a breadth we can’t fully grasp, is a God I hope we’re all wrong about to some degree.

“It is not a static Christ we sing today, nor one who safely stays within the frame that history offered Him.” ~Bill Knott

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