How I missed the gospel as a PK

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I grew up in church. Since birth I was immersed in the church culture. Let’s count the times we connected with religion/church/biblical instruction.

We went to church:

Sabbath School

Sermon

Afternoon witnessing

Vespers

Sunday night

Monday night

Wednesday night

Friday night youth service

We had sundown and morning worship

I also attended an Adventist school

 

Since my dad was also an evangelist, we had months were I spent most nights setting up the three carrousels of projector slides, along with a “dissolver” (Google it!).   I also set up the movie projector with two reels, to watch a movie about the dangers of smoking called “I’m Sorry Baby” and another one about the life of Jesus that was pretty cool. I got a lot of church, but not enough Christ.

 

Yet for 22 years I missed the gospel. How does that happen? Am I the only one this happened to?

 

I liked going to church. The only thing that I struggled with was some the rules and regulations that did not make sense to a teenage boy. They say that rules without relationship leads to rebellion, and that is exactly what happened to me. I was shown the what without the why. I received knowledge without power.

 

That has three negative consequences:

  1. Knowledge without power is frustrating. You never feel secure, because you never know when you have done enough. Should you pray one or two hours? Maybe an all-nighter would be even better. You work towards victory instead of from victory. There is never a finish line. It’s the race where the dog can never reach the rabbit right in front of him. It’s like the song says “Forever running, but losing the race…” One of the most vivid memories of growing up is having a constant feeling of guilt. I knew what was right, yet I couldn’t do it. That was very frustrating. It happens to plenty of Christians every day. Think about it for a moment.

 

  • Millions know about the dangers of smoking, yet plenty choose to do it.
  • Millions know about the benefits of going to school, yet many drop out.
  • Millions know about the consequences of premarital sex. Yet teenage pregnancy is rampant.
  • We know what to do. But we don’t. Why? Because information is good, but not good enough.

 

  1. Knowledge without power is dangerous. It can make you feel superior, and act superior. It can make you think that all you need to convert someone is to share information with them. I had no problem reciting the eschatological timeline. I could produce all the texts that proved why we were the correct church and Catholics were not. This is dangerous, not because prophetic information is not good, it is, but because when conversion has not happened, knowledge can be used as a billy club, even if in your own private life you are struggling with secret sin. This Ellen White quote summarizes what happens in an unconverted heart:

“There need to be far more lessons in the ministry of the Word of true conversion than of the arguments of the doctrines. For it is far easier and more natural for the heart that is not under the control of the Spirit of Christ to choose doctrinal subjects rather than the practical. There are many Christ-less discourses given no more acceptable to God than was the offering of Cain. They are not in harmony with God.”{VSS – The Voice in Speech and Song pg 342.3}

 

  1. Knowledge without power makes secondary issues, primary. The greatest battles in the church I went to growing up were secondary issues. Hair length for guys. Movie theater attendance. Whether jeans were appropriate for church. Long battles. Lively discussions. Always followed by more rules and less freedom. When we make everything a sin, eventually nothing becomes a sin. It seemed to me that the greatest questions of life, were left unattended, especially the most important one, how to develop a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I understood that concept, and the knowledge of a loving Savior traveled the hardest 18 inches in the world, from my head to my heart.

 

One day, when I was still a kid, a well-intentioned parishioner gave me a bag of green army soldiers. It probably had a hundred of them. As a young boy, that was heaven. I started playing war immediately! When my parents came home, and saw what was happening, it was disappointing to them. They asked me to get some scissors, and proceeded to lecture me on the evils of war, and cut off all the guns from the soldiers. They encouraged me to become a medical missionary as they handed over all the green soldiers, which had less arms than before. I tell this story to give you a glimpse of the type of atmosphere I grew up with. I’m convinced my parents did the best they could. They loved us and wanted to see us in heaven, and went about it the best they knew how. Yet, the reality of the Christian experience teaches us that the key to conversion, is to bring Jesus into our heart. Our efforts should be dedicated to that end, because when that happens, real transformation takes place.

 

In summary, it seemed that people in my church (and sometimes in my house), were more interested in compliance, even if conversion didn’t happen. As long as you looked the part, it was OK. Fear was used as motivator to change. The problem with that strategy is that it never lasts. Jesus changes from the inside out and that takes time. What He is after is character transformation, not just compliance to the rules. He wants to make you free, forever.

I’ve tried to correct that in my kids. I will tell you what I did in an upcoming blog.

Don’t miss the gospel. Legalist say Jesus is not enough. Liberal say Jesus isn’t necessary. The gospel says Jesus is all. It drives, permeates and infuses doctrinal understanding, praxis and lifestyle.

Jesus is enough.

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Greeting Might Be Ruining Things

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In Denmark, Madagascar, Mexico, the United States–
In black suits, tee shirts, or calico dresses–
Three at every entrance or one crammed into the tiny foyer–

In every Adventist church I have ever been to anywhere in all the world there have been greeters. These are the faithful saints who hand you the bulletin, say “Happy Sabbath” with a smile, and watch you wander toward what you think is the sanctuary. They are Team Friendly and their presence might be the very reason people don’t feel welcomed at your church.

There is an enormous distance between greeting a guest and welcoming them. Like, a Grand Canyon-sized divide between greeting and welcoming.

Greeting is happy to see a new person walk through the door. Greeting acknowledges your arrival with courtesy and a show of friendliness. Greeting probably says “Welcome” when you arrive. Greeting smiles at you and subtly reassures you that you have made it to the place you intended to visit that day. Greeting hands you a bulletin to read.

But Welcoming learns your name. Welcoming cares about who you are and is glad that you in particular walked through the door. Welcoming wants to know if you have lunch plans and invites you over. Welcoming introduces you to another friend. Welcoming tells you about the frisbee golf outing you read about on the announcement slide and personally invites you to the park tomorrow afternoon to join a team.

Because all of our churches have greeters posted at the door, we feel confident that every visitor who walks into church this Sabbath has been smiled at and spoken to and been wished a happy Sabbath. And that confidence that we have in the effectiveness of our greeters makes us feel like the visitors have gotten all they need and we’re off the hook. We have basically outsourced our Christian obligation to welcome the stranger.

A personal story: My husband and I were new to town and just a mile from a church (that actually had a website!). We show up one Sabbath and are enthusiastically greeted by two ladies at the door. They hand us a mug with the church name and logo, and it has a few pencils and a notepad sitting in it. We find our seats for the service and it’s not long before the song leader asks the question no visitor wants to hear: “Do we have any visitors here this morning?” We probably would have tried to pretend we weren’t visitors, but the two of us were obviously of a different skin tone than everyone else in the congregation. After seeing our hands sheepishly raised, we were asked to stand and wave to the congregation, who was staring and clapping for us. [Note: Please don’t do this to visitors. It is objectively the worst.]

When the service ended, I and my husband smiled at a few of the people milling about and we made our way into the foyer. Where we stood alone for 15 minutes. Not a single person approached us or engaged us or acknowledged us with a handshake. It was awkward and finally we couldn’t take it anymore and we left.

It was obvious that we were visitors. If our skin tone and pencil-holding-mug weren’t a dead giveaway, then the embarrassing public display during the song service sure was. Every single person who passed by us or looked through us in that foyer after church knew that we were visitors and they chose not to meet us or learn our names or invite us for lunch. Why would these (probably well-meaning and otherwise nice) people leave us standing alone in their full church? Because they knew we had been thoroughly greeted and so there was no need for them to welcome us.

People who visit your church are looking for more than a greeting; they are looking for a church family, they are looking for friends, they are looking for a spiritual home, they are looking for a place to get connected and integrated, they are looking for a welcome. Be the one this Sabbath who offers it to them.

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I Thought I Was a Liberal – Until I Met the Conservatives…

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Terms like “liberal” and “conservative” can have such subjective and controversial connotations within the church. Yet according to dictionary.com, “liberal” simply means “favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.” And considering that, I thought I was a liberal. You see God had been doing a lot in my life to bring me to deeper understandings of what’s truly important. And as He brought me closer to Himself, it was interesting how things that had seemed like such big issues in my own life or in the church just didn’t seem that… important anymore. In the light of the gospel I found a security in my faith that I’d never had before. I knew the Lord – and that gave me more freedom to be okay with both those whose convictions were to the left of mine and those who were to the right. I could rock out with hands raised with the praise bands and meditate reverently on good ole’ hymns. No, I was not afraid of progress nor reform. I felt I’d finally become a “liberal” in the truer definition of the word.

 

But then I met the conservatives.

 

Yes, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Remember? I was secure in what mattered in my faith! But there, at the peak of my “maturity,” I found myself called to a place where I wasn’t supposed to leave my house without a skirt, there seemed to be more Ellen White study than Bible study, and people ate lots of carob – for fun! Yes, to some that may sound like heaven. But for me, well… I wasn’t quite prepared. And to be honest, it didn’t take long before my “liberal” self started becoming a bit frustrated and resentful.

 

All of a sudden I realized I wasn’t as “liberal” as I thought.

 

But in the throes of my conflict, God started to reveal a few more things to my not-so-liberal soul. And hopefully they’re ones that can apply to the larger quest for unity and a truly “liberal” spirit in our church as well.

 

1. Ask yourself: Does this bother me because it’s harming God’s glory? Or simply because it’s opposed to my preferences? Yeah… That’s been a hard question for me to answer… One of the people that really inspires me in this regard is the apostle Paul. On one hand, Paul was super willing to sacrifice his personal rights and freedoms. “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free?” Paul writes in 1 Cor. 9:1. But he continues:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law… I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NKJV).

 

Am I willing to do that? Am I willing to sacrifice the type of music I’d prefer in church, the type of clothes I’d prefer to wear, the type of food I’d like to eat – or whatever else – if that’s what it takes for the sake of the gospel?

 

Now on the other hand, there were some things that Paul stood very adamantly against! Speaking of circumcision for instance, Paul fumes: “But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.  I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves” (Gal. 5:11-12, NASB).

 

Why was Paul so strong on this and not on other things? I think that Paul realized what was going to get in the way of the gospel and what wasn’t. Circumcision, the misuse of the law, or any other teachings that diminished the message of salvation by grace alone were repulsive to Paul. While he constantly challenged believers to holier lives, he wouldn’t stand for any confusion over the gospel message – nothing that might supplant the cross of Christ. And here’s where I see it boiling down to today: If it is an issue that will dangerously damage people’s picture of God’s character and understanding of the gospel, then we have a reason to lovingly, tactfully, stand up. But if it’s something that is more related to my personal convictions and preferred lifestyle, it may be time for me to sit down and grab some carob.

 

2. Remember: We all think we’re the “balanced” ones. Look, I’ve even had someone tell me that I was “the most balanced person” they knew! So of course I must have it right [Smug look]. Well much as I’d like to believe that, I’m sure there are plenty of other people that know me who would see things differently. I’ve heard it said that we automatically tend to see everyone to the spiritual left of us as not serious/advanced enough in the faith (the apostates) and everyone to the right of us as fanatics:

 

“I don’t know why John’s still eating meat. I mean doesn’t he know the counsels on vegetarianism? But now Mary on the other hand, she insists on having everything vegan – and even raw! She better learn to be more balanced!”

 

Yes, the vegetarians will blast the meat eaters while chiding the vegans for their extremism, the vegans will look down on the ovo-lacto vegetarians while secretly disdaining the raw food proponents, and so on and so forth. Our definition of “balance” tends to be wherever we currently are. But we’re all on a journey of growth. Think of areas where you personally have grown and changed in your Christian experience – if the “you” of a few years ago met the “you” of today might he/she have seen you as either fanatical or apostate? Thoughts to ponder…

 

3. They’re not necessarily judging you. We don’t like feeling judged. But thankfully perception is not always reality. People are often not what we think they are. Some of the people that I’ve at first thought would be the most straight-laced and judgmental have floored me with how kind and loving they ended up being. It’s so easy to make a surface judgment, to stereotype, to decide what people are like before we’ve really given them a chance to show us. Believe it or not, not all northerners are cold and unfriendly, not all southerners are gun-toting racists, not all liberals are out to corrupt the church, and not all conservatives are out to judge everyone. Give them a chance before you decide. In fact I’d say that most times when I feel like “everyone’s watching me” or “everyone’s judging me,” they’re not. You may be nowhere in their mind at all! And if, by chance, they turn out to be judging you after all, remember that how people act is often a reflection of how they see God and how they believe that God sees them. Don’t hate them; have compassion on them. Love them. Show them what God is truly like. Who knows, you might just change their perception.

 

4. Can we still work together for a common goal? At the end of the day, we may still realize that we are stuck in a body of believers with people that we don’t agree with or naturally gel with. But we also have to realize that God’s stuck us all together for a purpose. We have a mission, and according to Matthew 13:30, that mission is NOT to go around figuring out who’s “wheat” and who’s “tares” so we can pull out the contaminators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downing the need for church discipline at times. Yet ultimately, it’s God’s job to purify His church, not mine. Our job is to somehow work together to accomplish a mission – a purpose.

 

One of the beautiful things about the 1 Corinthians 12 “body of Christ” analogy is that unity does not have to equal uniformity. Legs don’t have to look like hands. Eyes don’t have to function like ears. And likewise, when we realize we are different than each other, we may want to ask: How can we work together WITH our differences for the furtherance of the gospel? How might our differences actually lend strength to the work of the body? Even though I must stand within my own personal convictions and identity, can I still find common areas in which to work with those I’m not naturally as comfortable with? Might God have put them in the same church as me for BOTH of our sanctification?

 

Yes friends, I’ve come to believe that the work we’ve been given won’t be accomplished by those on the right; nor will it be finished by those on the left. It will only be finished by all of us – together. Lord, help me to be a true liberal. Even with those who are different.

 

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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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Cringe-free Worship Services

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

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

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

Here are three thoughts to keep in mind:

  1. Keep it positive.

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

  1. Keep it professional.

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

*They are committed.

*They are sincere.

*They are spiritual.

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

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

  1. Keep it personal.

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

Praying that all your worship services will be cringe free!

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3 Things the Church Needs to Move Forward

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I love my church!

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

But it’s all denial.

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

1. Return to the Mission at Any Cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Embrace Change

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

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

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

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

I love my church!

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

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

The ISIS Crisis: What Christianity Desperately Needs to Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Change or Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: The Explorer via photopin (license)

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

The Only Way to Keep Our Youth

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“I’m a young person, yes…but I want you to treat me like an adult.”

I tweeted this after a well-meaning older adult asked me in an overly-enthusiastic manner to help with a church service simply because I was a young person. Not because I had any credibility or skills in planning or participating in a church service. I didn’t mind being asked but I sensed I was being patronized at the same time. It seemed like this person was trying a little too hard to get young people involved and the moment felt fake.

You might be asking yourself, why is how they asked a problem, we’re supposed to be getting our young people involved in church, right?! Isn’t that what you want for yourselves? The answer to both questions is a resounding ‘yes.’ But how you go about involving us is also important. Within the church, it often appears that to be young is a handicap. Young adults often feel belittled or distrusted by church members and leaders long after the “real world” has entrusted us with many adult-appropriate responsibilities and forced us to stand on our own. We want to be defined by our actions, our mind, and how we choose to live our lives, not by our age.

The only way the Seventh-day Adventist Church can retain it’s youth is to mentor them.

I believe that the way to remedy this “ask-them-because-they-are-a-young-person,” way of cross-generational interaction is to form solid relationships between the older and younger generations within the church, yet not to relegate these relationships to within church walls. I’ll even make a broader, bolder statement and say that the only way I believe the Seventh-day Adventist Church can retain it’s youth and young adults is to mentor them.

Whether or not everyone appreciates, agrees with, or supports the cause and function of GYC, one thing is evident, the young adults who founded GYC and those who continue to run it had and have strong mentors who empower and guide them closely to achieve their highest aspirations while also treating them as capable adults. Every young person within the Seventh-day Adventist Church should be as privileged to have access to mentors who will listen, dream, and instruct them in the best way to go if that is something they want in their lives.

I was privileged to have this kind of mentorship in my life while a teenager and on into my young adult years. My life brought me in contact with many adults who guided me not only spiritually, but also emotionally and vocationally. I can name at least 13 off the top of my head who were there for me throughout the years. I also recognize that this may be a high number for a young person in the Seventh-day Adventist church. And not all young people will need a baker’s dozen on speed dial. However, one solid mentor, who a young person knows is invested in the future success of him or her, can alter the entire life of an individual.

You might be asking yourself, ‘How do I become an effective mentor to the youth and young adults in my church?” Or at least that’s the question I hope you’re asking. Let’s first examine two forms of mentorship and the results that come from both.

In his research paper titled “Research, Best Practices, and Resources for Effective Youth Mentoring,” Michael Garringer of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, cites research conducted by Kristine Morrow and Melanie Styles and published by Public/Private Ventures that looked at the effectiveness of both developmental mentors and prescriptive mentors.[1] Morrow and Styles followed 82 matches with 54 using the developmental style and 28 using the prescriptive style. Developmental mentors focused more on the relationship between their mentee and themselves. They worked on building trust and providing emotional support while letting the youth provide the goals that were brought to the match.[2] The prescriptive mentors focused more on “specific behaviors through targeted activities or even brought their own goals to the match.”[3] Between the two styles, the outcomes were almost completely opposite. “A surprising 22 of the 28 prescriptive matches had significant problems or closed outright over the course of the study, while 50 of the 54 developmental matches continued to develop.” Garringer writes that the findings do not suggest that every mentor relationship avoid dealing with issues but that the relationship aspect of the match be put first and the instructional aspect second.[4]

How can you become a developmental mentor? Here are a few ways:

  1. Connect with a mentee who shares a similar interest as you. The Impact Study also published by Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) recommend that mentors be connected “based on common interests.”[5] You don’t want to mentor someone who loves the outdoors if you prefer to chat while sipping a hot drink at your local coffee shop because chances are, one of you will not be completely engaged in the activities you choose to share.
  2. Approach them openly, without an agenda. You’re not going to be best friends right away and your goal is not to reform them but to be a friend and supporter to their success. A solid trusting relationship may take up to a year or more to develop (but it’s worth it! So do it!). In a study published in the American Journal of Community Psychology, which Garringer included in his research, it was stated that mentorship relationships that last a year or more, had the greatest positive impact.[6] However, the youth who were in mentorship matches that ended in less than three months actually had a worse outcome than those who did not have mentors at all.[7] At the beginning start small. Ask them about their interests, hobbies, and then plan things around what they talk about. If they play a sport come out to their games, if they love painting, buy some watercolors and ask them to teach you some new techniques. It’s about showing them you’re interested in what they’re interested in without an agenda to “save them from their wild ways.”
  3. Listen to them when they talk and affirm how they feel. The best thing you can do for building good communication between a young person and yourself is validating what they say. If it’s about the church, it may likely be negative at first (but you are the reason it won’t be negative forever!). Listen carefully and do your best to understand where they are coming from. Don’t even answer at first. Try and wait until they ask your opinion before presenting a counter take on the issue. That might be at the end of a long rant or next month or never, but they will appreciate you just letting them talk.
  4. Show them the ropes. If they happen to be interested in the career or field you are in, let them shadow you at work or connect them with a colleague. If there is an internship you know about that they might be interested in, tell them about it and help them prepare for the interview. If they are interested in a different line of work but you know someone in that field, connect them. It’s the little things that get a person off and running and on to the next stage in their life.
  5. Open your home. Many young adults in their college years are often hours away from home. Even with hundreds of students on a campus, those years can be filled with many lonely moments and empty stomachs. If your able to, have some kids over for Sabbath lunch or host a Saturday evening game night. Home cooked food or even ordered pizza in a real home goes a long way to curing homesickness while also letting the young adults know that you care enough about them to fork out a little dough (pun intended)—and that means a lot!

Life is not ever going to be easy for any of us, but by being a solid mentor in someone else’s life, you can help impact the next generation in a truly positive way. One of the most poignant pieces of advice that I’ve ever heard from someone in youth ministry was to start training your replacement the day you start your job. As a young adult in the church, it is my hope that our leaders will do just that. Why not be the shoulders that the next generation stands on to reach their full potential? Who knows, you just might be mentoring a future General Conference president—male or female.


[1] Michael Garringer, “Research, Best Practices, and Resources for Effective Youth Mentoring” (paper presented at The 2007 National Conference on Safe Schools and Communities, Washington DC, October 29–31, 2007)

[2] Garringer, “Research, Best Practices.”

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

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SuzanneOcsai (Small)

Y. Suzanne Ócsai is a full-time graphic designer, writer, and speaker. She graduated from Southern Adventist University before moving to Maryland to work for the Office of Communication in the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Recently, she founded Beards with Stories, a social media project that features men with beards and the stories behind why they grow

The Self-Murdering Church

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Epilogue

Note: I wrote this first part in the summer of 2011 after I finished writing my manuscript on the first 10 years of GYC history. I was trying to sort through everything I’d learned about the behind the scenes workings of GYC, my Church Youth Department, and the Church as a whole.

Our Church is dying. No, it’s not just dying . . . it’s killing itself.

How? You ask. I’ll tell you how. I was faced with the how the entire time I was writing this book. I didn’t see it at first. I didn’t even realize our Church was dying when I started the project, but soon enough I saw it. And it made my heart break.

I’ll be honest, writing this book depressed me. Oh, yes there were high points. I loved seeing how GYC was able to begin against the odds of not having enough money or support from their local conference in California. I also loved the time my Church youth leaders gave me to interview them—talking with them was truly inspiring.

But in the end, I came back to the same realization that undoubtedly MOST people in our Church have, yet aren’t talking about or doing ANYTHING to remedy! The Divide. Yes, we are a divided Church that will not stand unless we decide to start working together for the common goal of seeing Jesus return in our lifetime. I mean, is anyone really that thrilled about living on a planet where children are sold into slavery, women are abused, and men are destroyed by the other men seeking more power than they deserve? Really?! No. Don’t even call yourself Adventist. Because we, by our very own name, are seeking the Second Advent of Christ.

What divides our Church is our pride.

We are divided over many things. But it all comes down to this . . . it’s not what we view as the correct form of worship that divides. It’s not our varying views of theology that divides us. It’s not dress reform that divides us. It isn’t any of that . . . while the fact that we vary on all of those points probably doesn’t help . . . that ISN’T what divides us. What divides our Church is our pride. It is our pride in each one of those areas. We say, “I’m better than you because I only sing out of the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.” We say, “I’m better than you because I wear dresses . . . I’m not causing my brother to stumble.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t exclude people who live alternative lifestyles.” We say, “I’m better than you because I don’t condemn people for praising God with drums and contemporary Christian music.” We say a lot of stuff that doesn’t mean anything!

But what we don’t say a lot of is this, “I love you even though I don’t agree. I love you even though I think you are wrong. I love you and I know that I don’t have everything completely correct either, but you know what, I am, and I believe you are too, still searching for how God would have us be. How can we work TOGETHER to find HIS ideal?

While writing this book I saw how the two sides (GYC verses the Church Youth Department) couldn’t get along–leadership on one side seemed overly condemning while leadership on the other side wasn’t willing to confront the condemnation head on, and so the young people were caught in the middle to clean up the political mess.

In every generation this happens. 1888 . . . remember the story of that GC session? Pride. And the young people were let down.

When I saw this happening to my generation, I cried. I was so angry and hurt. Why haven’t we grown past this? Why aren’t the youth the most important segment of our Church? Why are our Church leaders on both sides making us choose between the left and the right?

I love my Church. But as I’ve grown up in it I’ve come to see that this judging back and forth is not just something solely between GYC and the Youth Department but something that spans the entire spectrum of Adventism. From GYC to JCI, from the chaplains offices to the youth ministries office, from Women’s Ministries to Pastoral Ministries, from the General Conference to the North American Division and all the other Divisions, from the Michigan Conference to Southeastern California Conference. We are divided. We are separate. We love to point fingers and call each other out. I know . . . I’ve done it. I’ve been overwhelmed with anger and hatred for the side I thought was against me.

But what made me cry that day in my room was obviously not the good I saw on any of the sides. It was the fact that because of pride and personal differences, the good of both sides was not able to be measured together. I believe God ordained people on both sides for a special work. But I don’t believe He ordained one side above another. When I came to the end of the book, what I discovered made me angry because I felt like I had to choose one side over the other.

WE’RE ONE BODY, I wanted to shout . . . Please, get your act together or you won’t have young people to pass your offices to. And I’m talking to the left and the right! This IS NOT one sided. It takes two to tango, whether you dance or not.

In my frustration a question popped into my mind. If we are divided, will we not be attacked? But . . . you don’t often hear about countries in civil wars being attacked. Why not, they’re wide open . . . Why didn’t England attack the United States during the Civil War?

I did some research into this and discovered the reason . . . and that reason . . . made me even angrier.

England didn’t attack the United States for several reasons. 1. England was conflicted as to which side it really wanted to support publically. 2. It was thought that dealing with two separate republics would be easier than one. And then came the third reason . . . the worst reason. They were selling weapons to both sides. They were making money off us . . . while we were destroying ourselves! We weren’t a threat . . . so there was no need to fight us . . . so they decided to make money off us as we killed ourselves for them.

If they were to join a side they would have lost money by entering the war; supporting their soldiers while losing one side of “clients.”

Now, I love my English friends, but this just made me slightly upset . . . to say the least . . . they were making money . . . MONEY . . . off us, while we were killing ourselves.

And then I saw the analogy. We, the Seventh-day Adventist Church are in a Civil War. We are fighting each other for our own agendas while the Devil makes money off us in the form of souls we are neglecting.

Because, while I interviewed each side of the “war” I heard one resounding theme. “We want to be the last generation on earth; we want to reach the world for Christ.”

Really?

Because as long as we continue to fight ourselves we will NEVER be a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Until we can come together and become a united force, we will continue to lose valuable souls that Christ died on a cross for.

Obviously we’re really good at fighting, what if we took that passion and turned it toward the real enemy. Not each other, but to Satan. What if we could unite against the real traitor? How much could we accomplish?

How can we unify? Only through Christ and getting into His Word. Only through daily seeking God in our own lives can our hearts be humbled and changed. By beholding we become changed. And when we start to behold God above ourselves and our agendas and even our personal viewpoints can we become that united Church that can be a threat to the enemy.

In the end, I refuse to choose a side. I will continue to attend and support GYC as I will continue to attend and support my Church youth events. If there is something I don’t agree with at either, I will voice those concerns to the appropriate people and dialog with them about why that was chosen. While understanding there is a Divide in my Church, I refuse to acknowledge its power. Because to me, it has none. I am a Seventh-day Adventist. Not a right-wing Adventist or a left-wing Adventist. Not a Spectrum Adventist, not a GYC-Adventist, not a One Project Adventist, not a Michigan Conference Adventist . . . because I don’t believe God cares if I read Spectrum or if I attend GYC or any other event the church has to offer. What I believe He cares about is whether I have a personal relationship with Him . . . because that’s what guarantees He’ll be able to spend eternity with me . . . the whole reason He came to earth and died on a cross and in three days rose again . . . so I could live with Him forever.

So, until we can set aside our pride and come together with the single goal of getting addicted to the Word of God, we can forget about being the last generation on this earth.

Three Years Later

My journey with my church has morphed and grown since writing this in 2011. I’ve become involved heavily within my church. Through interning two summers at the North American Division headquarters in the General Conference building, through becoming an NAD senior youth volunteer coordinator, through joining the board of the Society of Adventist Communicators—all these things gave me greater insight into my church but also allowed me to see more of what I disdained about my church through allowing me an up-close vantage point.

I’ve found myself more than once being dishonest to the words I wrote in this piece. I’ve picked sides. I’ve neglected relationships based on what side I thought a person was on. And in the end, I’ve found that this is a lonely and broken way to live. This piece was written out of love and youthful idealism for my church. Part of which turned to cold cynicism when I saw more things wrong than ways to fix them—when I saw church leaders continue brushing things under the rug.

Then I looked in the mirror, and I saw my church staring back at me. Yes, church can be defined in many ways . . . the structure . . . the people . . . the building . . . but I choose to believe it is all three and maybe more . . . and I am part of that composition. I am the church. And what I do and say does play a role no matter how small that is. If I choose to bad mouth one organization and uplift another I am in fact tearing down my church. And when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone who was doing just that. Someone who hated a brother just because he identified himself with an organization I disagreed with. Someone who disdained a sister because she felt compelled to live a more restricted life. I was someone who was quick to judge others yet even faster to defend myself and my shortcomings.

I am my church and I am human and I am failing. I am killing it. And I am ready to now take responsibility for that. By God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness and direction . . . through putting down my man-made idols and walls built from bitterness and pride, hopefully I can become a healer and not a killer. Someone who binds up wounds instead of constantly pouring salt into them. Someone who is a unifier and not a divider. Someone who lets others grow at their own pace just as I want others to allow me to grow at my own pace. Someone who loves and doesn’t hate the people who also look into their mirrors and also call themselves the church. Someone who is like Jesus to the world. This is my prayer. This is my wish. This is my continuing story.

Note: This article was originally published by Suzanne Ocsai at sdaunder30.wordpress.com. It has been re-posted with permission.

photo credit: Funky64 (www.lucarossato.com) via photopin cc

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