The Gospel According to Pulse

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My heart is heavy as I reflect on what is considered the worst terrorist mass shooting of U.S history.

The shooting at Pulse hit many pressure points eliciting various responses. Gun control, the 2nd amendment, Islamophobia, homophobia, and terrorism were some of the various issues which were re-sensitized and brought to the fore.

And caught right in the middle of this cacophony is the state of individuals. The victimized, the affected, and the sympathizers.

As I reflected on this event and the shootings of the recent past, I felt the need to explore better ways to respond to these heinous crimes, particularly to the individuals under consideration.

The question that I strove to answer can be framed like this:

Within the framework of my worldview, what’s the best possible way to respond to the affected individuals?

Here’s a 5-worded summary of what I have so far:

In love and in truth.

The more I explored this dual concept, the more I was amazed at how a seemingly obscure portion of the Bible gave me more than I was looking for.

Bear with me as I unpack this.

2 John is a small letter written by the apostle John to a dysfunctional church. Most of the struggles, as evidenced by this document, can be boiled down to two major issues:

  • The church was struggling with identifying truth.
  • The church was struggling with loving its members.

John, therefore, targets these issues head-on and offers one of the most beautiful and comprehensive juxtapositions of love and truth found in Scripture.

In this letter, John defines love as “walking according to God’s commandments” and truth as a personal experience with the teachings of Jesus that pervades and influences all areas of one’s life.

This is radical. For in a pluralistic society where worldviews jousted each other for supremacy and subjugation, John pins down two misunderstood and misused concepts and redefines them within the framework of his Judaeo-Christian worldview.

But he goes a step further.

John also shows that love and truth are inextricably connected to each other.

John reveals that one cannot genuinely love apart from knowing the truth, and one does not truly know truth until one loves.

 John is consistent with how Scripture fits in these two concepts throughout its pages. As notable evangelist John Piper puts it, according to Scripture, “Love shapes how to speak truth and truth shapes how to show love.”

So we step out of Scripture into our time. In a society that predominantly looks with its eyes and thinks with its feelings, the concepts of ‘love’ and ‘truth’ are in dire need of re-investigation and reflection.*

The zeitgeist of our time frames love and truth as mutually exclusive concepts. “Love” is usually described within the purview and vocabulary of emotions, oftentimes relegated to feelings accompanied by a visceral sense of acceptance. “Truth”, on the other hand, is usually explained within the framework of empirically verifiable data. American Philosopher, Richard Rorty captures this notion best when he says that “truth is made, not found.”

Considering all this, an unsurprising outcome of our precarious moral landscape is the inconspicuous, yet lethal, severing of love and truth.

What does this look like?

Here’s what happens when love and truth are severed.

1) Love without Truth is Blind

A physician’s primary responsibility is not to calm the patient as much as it is to find an effective treatment based on truthful analysis. When the physician, then, prioritizes receptivity of opinion over the longevity of the patient, a great deal of damage is done to both the patient and to those around him.

In the same way, when our love for others is not motivated by truth, we intentionally become “blind” to their faults and mistakes even if they can cause damage to others in their circles of influence.  The inevitable end for a “truthless love” is at best, a self-preserving bestowal of acceptance, or at worst, a blinded infatuation.

But something else happens when they are severed:

2) Truth without Love is Lame

John describes love as “walking.”

Logically, then, when all I have is truth and I don’t have love, I am simply lame.

And when I am disabled and handicapped while I have truth, all I can do is stay fixed on one location, point my proverbial fingers at everyone around me, and with calculated logic and coherent theology prove why they are wrong.

As someone mentioned, “right + rude = wrong.”

In other words, the truths we subscribe to within our worldview are unblushingly invalidated when they are not accompanied with love.

So what does all this have to do with the shootings?

I have heard two extremes. On the one end, honest discussions regarding the truths about human life, sexuality, moral rights, and governance have been jettisoned for the sake of love and acceptance. Moralists who want to have a serious conversation about these truths based on their respective worldviews have often been dismissed as primitive, insensitive, or divisive. Love without truth.

On the other end, truths have been used as weapons of mass destruction to inconsiderately obliterate all those who oppose them. Judgments have been mercilessly cast on the affected individuals and dehumanized them.  Dogma valued over dignity. Orthodoxy over empathy. Truth without love.

My worldview teaches that Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of both love and truth. Through his life, death, and resurrection, He has not only provided the logical and moral grounding for truth, but has also provided the manual for love.
As a follower of Christ, the best way I can respond to the affected individuals, their families, and the country that is mourning is in love and in truth.

I realize that when I don’t confront the truth about human life, the truth about human nature, the truth about how we regulate our laws, I cannot love as deeply as I want to. The extent to which I can recognize these truths is the extent to which I can actualize my love.

And consequently, when I don’t approach these individuals with a love that is not restricted by differences, preferences, or worldviews, I would know that I am not truly practicing the truths that I claim to be true. All my truths are irrelevant if they don’t make me a better lover of the affected.

My heart goes out to the affected. Cannot wait for that day when the sufferings of this life are no more and we truly see Love face-to-face.

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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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What Concerns Me the Most About #CarsonEndorsesTrump

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“Hypocrite”

“I have lost all respect for him”

“I am never going to invite him to a potluck”

And many other sentiments were used to express the frustration people felt when Ben Carson, an early favorite of the Republican Party, unreservedly and unapologetically endorsed Donald Trump.

Let me say this at the very beginning – I would not endorse a demagogue who has repeatedly discriminated and demonized groups of people for the sake of a misguided ideal for this country. At the same time, I also would not side with another whose political naïveté is unmistakably clear.

I could not agree with both of ’em.

The endorsement from Carson is troubling for many reasons. My social-media feeds have run amok listing all of them, and I resonate with most of them.

But the endorsement is not what is concerning me the most.

What’s concerning me the most is the response to Carson from a specific demographic: My Seventh-Day Adventist church family.

Yes, we have every reason to feel like he’s let us down. The endorsement seems almost anomalous considering his diatribes against Trump’s ideals. Some, if not most of us, have looked up to him as a man worthy of adoration and emulation – a real life illustration of a rags-to-riches story. So the collective angst we feel is valid.

However, I wonder if that’s enough reason to write him off as someone who has “sold his soul”

I wonder if that’s enough reason to openly vilify the man in social media through memes and the like which border on cyber-bullying.

If we are so quick to write off Carson because he’s endorsing someone who seems diametrically opposed to his personal beliefs, then we should also consider writing off Daniel who worked for Nebuchadnezzar.
Sure, Daniel was coerced into his position and never explicitly endorsed the king, but he worked close enough with the political affairs of the king to merit a special sense of favor from him which eventually led to his conversion.

If it took an endorsement of a potential threat for us to ostracize Carson, would we include him back if we found out that President Trump (Heaven forbid) is now attending a local SDA church because of Carson’s influence?

If God can use individuals who were written off as “pagan”, or “unclean” (Rahab the prostitute, The Syro-Phoenician woman, Wise men from the East, Cornelius etc) to make an impact for His kingdom, why is it so hard to imagine that God can’t use the likes of Carson to do the same?

Do we really believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transcend political and theological barriers?

“Oh but Kevin, Carson is not in it for theological reasons, but for political ones.”

Yes. So was Daniel. But that didn’t turn out to be so bad after all.

What if “Carson’s with HIM???” is turned to “Carson’s with him!”

Also, Ostracizing one of our own for a theological difference is one thing (that’s another topic for another day). Ostracizing one of our own for an ideological difference is another. While ideology and theology may well overlap, and one may shed light on the other, I’m curious as to what would happen if we can learn to distinguish between ones ideological (or theological) views and ones person.

Am I able to distinguish between Carson’s ideological or political leanings from the rest of who he is? Does a single act from an individual many looked up to discredit the many commendable things he has done, and may well continue to do, for broader society? And can I not still accept, and even enjoy, fellowship with a brother or sister in my own church who does not necessarily see things in the same way?

I am convinced, more than ever, that it is this mode of thinking that has exacerbated an ethic of acceptance determined by expected beliefs and behaviors in many religious institutions. That is, if you believe what and how I believe, you are now expected to behave in certain ways, and then you get to belong.

But we forget that Jesus turned this upside down! He asked a motley crew of disagreeing individuals to follow him (belong), makes them “fishers of men” (behave), and all of whom, like Peter, will eventually confess through their martyrdom that Jesus is the Christ (believe).

At the end of the day, while Dr. Carson and I may not see eye-to-eye in issues of politics, I will do well not to overlook three fundamental theological similarities between us:

A) both of us are made in the image of God,
B) both of us continue to fall short of the glory of God, and
C) both of us have access to the redeeming, transcending, wall-breaking, grace of God through Jesus Christ.

So this is what I’ll tell Dr. Carson at my place over potluck if he cares enough to come.

“I don’t agree with what you did. Not one bit. And I wasn’t planning on voting for you either. But if you need a place to worship, my church is open. And if you’d fancy some rice and curry, our home is open. Our theological similarities trumps our ideological differences…”

…and no pun intended.”

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In order to understand why Donald Trump is winning, you have to understand my Grandma

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I am writing this anonymously only because I don’t want my family to feel like their dirty laundry is being spread all over the internet.

I am of mostly European descent. My grandma is racist. She may or may not support that statement by literally saying, “I’m racist”. I have heard her express views about Blacks and Hispanics that make me cringe. But her racism isn’t prejudice. It reaches out to every type of Asian, probably strongest against Indians (here is where my dad would say: “dot, not feather.” I am fairly certain that she has some Cherokee in her blood, but I believe she would probably disown that group too.

According to google, racism is: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

I don’t know what attribute she thinks that “white” people have that makes them superior to another race, but it must be something real good. It clearly isn’t poise or reason, lol. I can tell you that because if I compare her diplomatic demeanor with President Obama, she is inferior. She was furious when Obama became president. I found it amusing to watch her rant to the whole family including my stepmom’s family for most of pre-lunch and lunchtime when I was home for a visit a few years ago. (for those of you getting all social justice on me because I wasn’t more angry, please don’t, I do the best I can with my situation). She said that it was because black people got off their lazy butts and voted, in so many words. I explained to her,and everyone egging her on, that black people only make up like 12% of the US population, and that whites are like 65ish. She then started cussing the whites who were “stupid” enough to vote for him. The rest of the family started to join in. I felt like the time had come. I dropped the bomb. “Grandma, I voted for him… he seems to be the most honest fellow I’ve seen in a while.” My grandma started the expletives, “Why you son…” My grandpa began unfolding how Obama was a communist/socialist. I told them that I felt differently, and it was my choice. There was arguing. This all culminated when my grandpa said that Obama was going to take away our choices. He put his fingers in the shape of a gun, and put it against my temple. He yelled BANG!

There was a gasp and everyone went silent.

My aunt said, “Oh dad.”

Now, I have a little problem. It is a personality flaw. Trust me, it is a flaw. I’m working on it. After this all unfolded, I was chuckling. I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of my family, with my mouthy grandma probably the worst, was so racist that they could so easily loose control of their emotions. And so quickly? What the heck. I really love my family, but I really push their boundaries and beliefs to its limits. And when I can, I enjoy demonstrating to them the flaws in their thinking. (I know. Its a problem.). Either way, I can’t tell you the amazingly long list of things my Grandma has said behind closed doors. It would make you cringe. It makes me cringe. I am constantly re-evaluating my own level of racism. It is actually why I love the Kingdom of God so much. It is the only place in this world where there is absolutely no separation based on race. There is total equality. But I digress.

On the flip side, if you put my grandma in public, she becomes quite a saintly picture. That might be a little stretch, but there are no comments about Mexicans when she is with Mexicans. I have seen her laugh, joke, and be overly friendly to “Mexicans” of all latino origin. I have seen her act kind and cordial to blacks. I have seen her play the politician with Asians too. She doesn’t call them chinks to their face.

I have determined that there are 4 types of racists (probably there is a thesis on the millions of variations somewhere, but this is my list). There are the Blatant Racists who own it completely in public and private. There are the Backdoor Racists who don’t act it in public, but do in private. There the False Front Racists who may have actually convinced themselves that they aren’t racist, but totally act racist, a lot. Then there are the Invisible Racists who just have no interest in engaging with any other races, though you never see any active racism exhibited from them. (I personally believe that there are people who aren’t racist as well, but that doesn’t suit this essay)

But this isn’t actually all about Racism. I think this is true about Americanism too. You have Blatant Americans who own what they are completely in public and private. You have Backdoor Americans who fear being known for who they are, False Front Americans who say way too much but act like they aren’t defined by it, and even Invisible Americans who just don’t care to have genuine conversations about anything and just want to believe what they believe.

I think that the largest group of people fall into my Backdoor Americans category. I know that is what my grandma is. I think that much of my family is that way as well. They are comfortable talking in private, but when it comes to public, they are afraid in our politically correct society.

Donald Trump is of the first category, and he is offering to all of the other categories something that they can’t have themselves. He is offering them his blatant disregard for being PC. “You can support me for president because I… will say the things that you say behind closed doors.” The idea of building a wall isn’t new. My family has been referring to it as long as I can remember. This guy will actually build it. Which is another thing that Trump offers to these Americans: He will actually do what he says that he will do. I believe that he will do what he says whether it is through our political system or without. Politicians in Congress and the Supreme Court will not stand in the way of Donald Trump following through on what he has said if he becomes president.

Imagine if all the things you wish you could say were being said by one guy. Imagine if all the things you wanted to happen, you actually believed that one guy could do. Imagine if that man were so rich that you didn’t have to worry about him getting bought out by anyone. Why wouldn’t you vote for him? I know that my grandma probably will.

This isn’t just a thought at the end of this essay. This is really the point of what I hope you consider. In the midst of all the crazy politics right now, I am more concerned that my grandma can overcome her struggles and experiences with the disease of racism. I hope that she can find victory in Christ. Her vote for or against Trump is really the least of my worries. My grandma’s relationship with Christ is what I pray for. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t more concerned about Trump becoming president or Hillary, or Bernie, or Cruz, or Rubio or anyone for that matter than we are about spiritual realities. Are we too caught up in the moment? Is our activity in this political race building or breaking relationships in the kingdom? Ask yourself this question: What can I do today to further Christ’s Eternal Kingdom? (Luke 18:18-29)

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I Was So Angry at Bernie Sanders Until I Read This…

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I have been completely entertained during this past season of campaigning. Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina aren’t part of the regular “establishment”. It is crazy to think that this business man, Trump, might actually become president. It isn’t the first time that something like this has happened though. Ronald Reagan became the president of the United States and he also had an acting career. Jesse Ventura became the governor of Minnesota. Of course, there was always Mr. Terminator himself who became the governor in California (or should I say governator?!). Between Arnold, Reagan, and Trump I’m beginning to wonder if there is something to the way Republicans vote. The establishment is definitely fighting tooth and nail to stay relevant and in control while America sits back and enjoys the reality TV that is being inspired by our highest office… the oval one.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read posts on Facebook by Republicans about Reaganomics and how those were the glory days. Follow those with videos like this one, and a series of comments where democrats speak about the 98% (99%?…95%?….I have seen different numbers on this). I am sure you have seen so many debates about racism, religion, or economics.

What has really struck me recently though, is wondering how economics work in the kingdom and country that I belong to – The Kingdom of Heaven – and if they could be applied to this country.

Bernie Sanders is a big proponent of a progressive tax that has the most dramatic numbers raising with the “upper class” (this is a term I find hard to identify the line with, because we are all pretty rich in this country). Here is our current progressive tax system, Here is Bernie Sanders suggested progressive tax system. It should be noted that Bernie isn’t really reinventing the wheel, but rather just enforcing a stricter and more intense wheel.

People have called the progressive tax system which Bernie is pushing either evil or great. In my perspective, most republicans say that people that work hard and become rich shouldn’t have to pay for people who don’t work at all. Democrats seek to use the money of the rich to support the poor regardless of the reason they are poor (whether circumstantial, laziness, or birth).

So, bottom line question that I’m asking for people to engage with in an honest and objective way is: If we were to actually try to create the best economic approach in based on God’s economics, what would that look like? I would love to actually hear what you think (comment on the blog, Facebook, or e-mail me).

Here is what I think:
In God’s kingdom Socialism reigns (I probably don’t have a clear enough grasp of socialism, but read on to see what I mean). God owns everything, and people share with each other liberally. They are always careful not to take too much or to leave anyone in a tough situation, but if you are walking through a field and see some strawberries that you want to take home and make a pie out of, well… you pick em. The richest people are the ones who give the most, because in God’s kingdom you aren’t really rich, you are just a steward of God’s stuff. God gives you stuff so that you can take care of each other and bless those who have nothing. Rich people are constantly giving away their wealth to the poor.

Many times I hear people quote Christ’s text “The poor you will always have with you…” in order to excuse the constant helping of the poor. If you balance that with the actual life of Christ, you find that Christ spent His life reaching out to poor and helpless. He would go into villages and tirelessly heal all of their sick and diseased. He never owned His own home, and we only know of Him owning 1 pair of clothes, yet He lived a life of constant giving and teaching about how the Kingdom of God is based on loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Christ had some very sharp words for rich people, but you don’t see many words (if any) about poor people. I don’t remember Him calling them lazy at all, and I’m pretty sure that He said they would inherit the Kingdom of God. He told a rich dude to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor and followed that up with saying that it is hard for rich people to even make it to heaven. That is pretty hard core. He made a lesson out of people working hard and people barely working getting the same wage (salvation). He even told us that the way He will judge between goats and sheep is by how they took care of each other.

Something I have yet to see is: A rich person paying for a poor person to enjoy a week at an all paid for resort in the Caribbean because they are treating them as they would treat themselves… but hey, maybe that will be the next viral video.

Either way, in my estimation Bernie’s tax plan and attitude toward the rich and poor seems like it is possibly a step closer to Jesus’ than Trumps. IDK! What do you think?

p.s. I honestly don’t care about politics if it causes us to debate and get angry at each other, so if you think that might happen, please don’t comment.

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How Many Likes Will This Get? The Social Media Infection

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We live in the age of social media. According to the digital marketing company Zephoria, as of two months ago, over 1.05 billion people access their Facebook (FB) accounts daily, and since May of 2014, over 4.5 billion “likes” have been generated every day. In September of 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that 40% of all people who own a mobile phone had one or more social networking applications in active use. By September of 2015, Facebook alone boasted over 1.39 billion users actively accessing the website via a mobile device at least once within a month’s timespan! According to Emarketer, approximately 30% of Facebook users are aged 25-34 (the largest reported age group), and according to the Pew Research Center 89% of persons between the ages of 18 and 29 (the millennial generation) regularly use social media websites. We are the workhorses that run social media; we are the fuel that feeds its fire.

          At this point you may be wondering why it seems like I vomited a bunch of statistics and facts onto your screen, but stay with me! There’s a point to I all, I promise. News headlines are dictated by what’s trending on Twitter (the Pew Research Center reported that ~50% of social media site users draw their news information from social networking sites – that means 1 in every 2 adults in America let Facebook tell them what’s going on in the world around them). Government agencies’ statements and policies are swayed by how viral videos and topics affect public opinion (e.g, the current nationwide social movement on racial equality was started from the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter”). YouTube “stars” boast salaries grossing in the millions (Forbes Magazine reported that 23 year old Felix Kjellberg made upwards of 12 million in pre-taxed dollars on his YouTube channel in 2015 – because apparently 40 million subscribers are entertained by him throwing expletives around while they watch him play video games). All these numbers add up to one simple idea (and the point I promised earlier): we live in an age of governed social media. Which causes me to wonder, if social media shapes tides of government and current events and so on, and if almost 9/10 people in the millennial generation regularly ascribe to social media, does that mean social media governs the millennial generation? Maybe we don’t actually run social media, maybe (just maybe) it runs us.

          I have a friend who adds roughly twenty hash tags to every picture he posts to Instagram (IG), or maybe he adds fifty. I lose track. Every possible related idea or concept or word is thought of and hash-tagged away. I asked him why once, and he said he was on an IG come up and that I needed to step my ‘like game’ up. (I shrugged ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.) I have another friend whose entire life is chronicled on twitter. I never need to ask them what they’re doing, because 15 seconds after I wonder, they send out a tweet letting the world know. I have a friend who pops up on TV shows now and again, and when they do, they spend ridiculous amounts of time and energy making sure their appearances go viral. I have a friend who updates their Snapchat so often, that at the end of every day they have at least 400 seconds of snaps to get through. I almost got carpet tunnel from trying to fast-forward through them all her snaps once. Okay, I’m clearly exaggerating about that, but the point remains: we are a generation governed by social media, living in the age of social media.

          You already knew this though. Something in the back of your mind gave it away when your FB profile pic’ got over 100 likes (or some arbitrary number that you’ve given yourself based on your own “average number of likes”). It gave a very small sense of accomplishment, or a very small sense of pride. It’s like you could hear Sally Field’s 1984 Oscar acceptance speech running in the back of your head saying, “You like me! …You [really] like me!” Or maybe a tweet you sent got a ridiculous amount of re-tweets, or an IG pic’ you posted got dozens and dozens (or hundreds) of “likes”. You saw that, and sat back satisfied because someone somewhere affirmed your thought (or picture or video). Someone somewhere cared about what you had to say. Someone thought you were funny, someone thought you were cute and for a very brief second, that made all the difference. You mattered. Your words, your insight, your imaged mattered. How do you know? Where’s the proof? You got a lot of “likes” – social media’s stamp of approval. So the wheels started turning on how to keep it up. What funny caption to ad, what filter to use, how much skin to show, what series of hashtags was the best combination to draw attention to your new haircut? You have a reputation to keep! A popular opinion to appeal to, and you want, or maybe you need, social media’s affirmation – more “likes”. You want someone somewhere to value what you say, what you think, what you look like and the “likes” to prove that they do.

          So, you see, we live in the age of social media. We, the millennial generation, are the workhorses that run its campaigns. We are the fuel that feeds its fire, and we are the embers that burn those who don’t meet its standards. We have created a culture built around proving our worth based on Internet popularity, and we, the millennial generation, need to help it stop. Why? Because we need to remind others (and ourselves) that importance or value does not come from a random series of “likes” given by friends or family or anonymous strangers. The value of an object comes from the price someone is willing to pay for it, and you, kind stranger, were bought at an infinite price (1 Peter 1:18, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Acts 20:28). Your self worth is immeasurable because the price Jesus paid for you is incomprehensible. So the import of the things that make you *you* (what you say, how you appear, what you think, what you feel) can never be measured by “likes” because your value is rooted in eternity. Someone thinks you’re hilarious. Someone is captivated by how you look. Someone hangs on your every word. Someone always wants to know how you feel. Someone knows that you matter, and at the end of it all, the only opinion that really matters is His.

Now I challenge you to measure your social media success not in how many likes you get, but in the positive impact of the life you live.

Verses Referened Above:

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Corinthians 6:20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. NIV

1 Peter 1:18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom He paid was not mere gold or silver. NLT
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City Living VS Country Dwelling: A Brief Analysis of Ellen White’s Views

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Some years ago I was sitting in my last Personal Evangelism class at Southern Adventist University. The professor, a traditional Hispanic evangelism-guru, surprised the entire class with a paradigm shift on city evangelism. “People must live in the cities in order to evangelize them” he proposed. No sooner had the proposition hit the air than one of the students pulled out his phone, loaded the Ellen White app, and read the following quote:

He [Enoch] did not make his abode with the wicked. … He placed himself and his family where the atmosphere would be as pure as possible. Then at times he went forth to the inhabitants of the world with his God- given message. … After proclaiming his message, he always took back with him to his place of retirement some who had received the warning. —Manuscript 42, 1900

When the student was done he looked up and added, “that’s how we should do it.” The professor did not skip a beat. “Every time?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer he added, “It doesn’t work!” He then proceeded to explain that with the size of cities today working from a country outpost can, at times, mean one would have to drive for hours and hours in heavy traffic just to get to the area where one wants to do ministry. And when the day is done one would have to endure the same torture in order to get back to the “outpost.” Such a strategy is extremely unpractical he argued. And I would have to agree. But the question is, why is the outpost method seen as the only method to do city evangelism? The easiest answer is “because Ellen White said so.” However, our professor argued that she did not. Was he right?

Before I dig into that question allow me say right off the bat that there is absolutely no doubt that Ellen White favored the outpost method. Having grown up in the city I can see why. I would never want to raise my kids in the environment I was raised in. The crime, gangs, drugs, violence, and corruption were intense. I know kids I went to school with who turned out to be drug dealers, drug addicts, and gangsters. I hated living in an environment where I always had to be paranoid about getting mugged (I was mugged twice and nearly mugged two other times) or assaulted (I was nearly assaulted by a gang of 20+ one night). My high school was harder to get into than an airport. Metal detectors, pat downs, wands, and book-bag inspections were all part of my morning routine. Drugs were sold right outside the front entrance, shoot outs and stabbings were common, and God forbid if you wore the wrong colors to school. Since certain gangs laid claim to certain colors I would always be anxious when getting my clothes ready in the morning. Am I wearing too much blue and grey?[1] I would wonder. Is there too much red in this outfit?[2] This was my life year after year.

In contrast, my country friends tell me of how they spent their teenage years – mud hoping, horse riding, camping, and taking care of the farm. They enjoyed the benefits of an outdoors life while I and my non-criminal friends hid in our apartments from all the garbage outside. I envy them.

Ellen White recognized that this was city life and as such, the consistent pattern of her counsel was anti-city living. She recommended the outpost method, a method in which city workers set up camp outside the city and then enter the city for ministry and exit when done. The idea was to minister to the people living in the city without becoming “city dwellers.”

So was my professor wrong in saying that the outpost method doesn’t always work? Just to be fair, he did not say it never works or that it should be abandoned. His contention was that it is not always the best method and it should not be viewed as the only method to do city evangelism. But again I ask, was he wrong? Rather than answer the barrage of questions being hurled at him he directed us to a newly published book called Ministry to the Cities – a compilation of Ellen Whites views on how to do this whole “city thing.” Just last week I finally got my hands on the book and devoured it within a few days. When I was done it was clear to me that Ellen White was a lot more sensible and rational than many of us make her out to be. She was, as Leroy Moore says, “a paradoxical thinker.” And while there is no mistaking her preference for the outpost method she in no way advocated that it was the only way.

For example, in page 17 of Ministry to the Cities we read, “The example of the followers of Christ at Antioch should be an inspiration to every believer living in the great cities of the world today. While it is in the order of God that chosen workers of consecration and talent should be stationed in important centers of population to lead out in public efforts, it is also His purpose that the church members living in these cities shall use their God-given talents in working for souls.” Here Ellen White clearly states that it is God’s will that chosen workers be stationed in the cities (important centers of population) and that the lay-men living in those same cities work for souls as well. In page 95 we read, “The Lord has presented before me the work that must be done in our cities. The believers in these cities can work for God in the neighborhood of their homes.” In page 95 she speaks directly to Adventist “city dwellers” when she writes, “I address Christians who live in our large cities: God has made you depositaries of truth, not that you may retain it, but that you may impart it to others. You should visit from house to house as faithful stewards of the grace of Christ.” Interestingly enough, in none of these statements does she tell the “city dwellers” that they are wrong for living in the city and neither does she instruct them to leave but to remain and reach their neighbors for Christ.

In page 112 we read that “Some must remain in the cities to give the last note of warning…” and while this statement is followed by the admonition that this will become more dangerous, it nevertheless captures her paradoxical thinking on the matter. The fact that “some must remain” is clear evidence that she did not view the outpost method as the only viable method and in fact, viewed it as limited. If “some must remain” in the cities to give the final warning, it is clear that the final warning cannot be adequately given via the outpost method. Instead, it must be given by “city dwellers.” The most shocking statement comes in page 113 where she actually encourages Adventists to move to the city. She writes, “Close around us are cities and towns in which no efforts are made to save souls. Why should not families who know the present truth settle in these cities and villages, to set up there the standard of Christ, working in humility, not in their own way, but in God’s way, to bring the light before those who have no knowledge of it? … There will be laymen who will move into towns and cities, and into apparently out-of-the-way places, that they may let the light which God has given them shine forth to others.”

Her paradoxical thinking is also seen in her counsel for building schools in relation to the cities. In page 117 she says, “Especially should our schools… be located outside of the cities…” and yet in page 115 she writes, “Church schools are to be established for the children in the cities…” This she says even though she maintained that “‘Out of the cities’ is my message for the education of our children.” Thus the paradox seems clear. When it came to boarding schools Ellen White maintained that they should not be established in the cities but that did not mean that standard schools such as the church school could not. This demonstrates her practical thinking on the matter. Not everyone living in the city can afford to send their kids to a boarding school in the country. In order to minister to the city kids then, church schools should be established in the city. We see this balanced approach most clearly in Testimonies Vol. 9 page 221 which says,

So far as possible these schools should be established outside the cities. But in the cities there are many children who could not attend schools away from the cities; and for the benefit of these, schools should be opened in the cities as well as in the country.

Ellen White was also clear that churches should be established in the city. In page 114 we read that “In every city there should be a city mission that should be a training school for workers.” And in the same page she clearly states that “in every city where the truth is proclaimed, churches are to be raised up. In some large cities there must be churches in various parts of the city.” If there are churches in the city, clearly there is a demand for people to live in the city as well – especially if the church fits into her vision of a vibrant training center as opposed to just a Sabbath morning club. In addition, locating churches in the city means that the city will not be reached exclusively by outposts but by established churches within the cities themselves.

Ellen White was also consistently clear that sanitariums should never be established in the cities. This makes perfect sense since Sanitariums are intended to be a type of health retreat. However, in page 120 she also said “God would have restaurants established in the cities. If properly managed, these will become missionary centers.” Again she emphasized that “Our restaurants must be in the cities; for otherwise the workers in these restaurants could not reach the people and teach them the principles of right living.” In page 121 she adds, “I have been instructed that one of the principal reasons why hygienic restaurants and treatment rooms should be established in the centers of large cities is that by this means the attention of leading men will be called to the third angel’s message.” She continues this chain of thought in regards to assisting the addicts when she says, “In every city a place should be provided where the slaves of evil habit may receive help to break the chains that bind them” (134).

So what are we to make of all this? Is Ellen White contradicting herself? How can she say that we should leave the cities and then say “Some must remain in the cities…”? How can she praise the outpost method and then encourage “families who know the present truth [to] settle in these cities”? With the size of modern cities, was she not aware that establishing churches, vegetarian restaurants, and church schools would demand that many people live in the city in order to practically operate these entities? Sure she was, and this is why she never maintained that the outpost method was the only method that God would bless. Ellen White was a paradoxical thinker. She was balanced. She was sensible. She recognized the ideal was to work from outposts and to avoid living in the cities altogether, but she also recognized the real – that it was not always practical to use the outpost method.

So if Ellen White had such a balanced approach to city evangelism, why then have Adventist’s traditionally frowned upon “city dwelling”? The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia provides a helpful answer:

…we find in Ellen White’s writings two sets of parallel counsel—one related to institutions, advocating outpost ministry; and a second dealing with local church work, advocating missionary work from within the city. Unfortunately, only one set of counsel has received much publicity. The reason for that imbalance is that statements from the one perspective have been collected and repeatedly published in compilations, while the other even though equally valid and important, has been neglected. Thus Adventist’s have traditionally highlighted only one half of Ellen White’s perspective on city mission (716).

With all of this said there is one other thing I would like to highlight and that is that while Ellen White was not against city dwelling we need to be aware of our motivation when we do in fact decide to live in the city. As I mentioned before, I hated living in the city. However, I must also admit that I absolutely love the city. I am a city boy at heart and there’s nothing I enjoy more than cruising through the city at night with my wife while listening to Michael Buble. I love the café’s, the liveliness, and the vibe of Manhattan, Boston, downtown Chattanooga, Honolulu, Pearl City, and Waikiki, and currently – Perth, Western Australia where I live. And in some ways I think this type of city living is why I haven’t always liked Ellen Whites outpost method. I don’t want to be told to leave the cities because I love the city. But that’s not entirely true. I don’t actually love the city. I just love the nice parts of it – the skyscrapers glimmering against the night sky, the elegant restaurants and shopping centers, and the hustle and bustle of a busy street. If this is what a city was then I don’t think Ellen White would have ever recommended an outpost method, but that’s not all a city is. The city is also the part I hate – the gangs, the prostitution, the drugs and violence. City is the slums and the ghettos, the rough neighborhoods and the hoodlums. Anyone who lives in the city – enjoying its cafes and skyscraper while never noticing the decadence and brokenness around them – is living in a self-deluded bubble. The city is not simply the beautiful; it is also the ugly reality of poverty and crime. And for those who want to live in the city and do ministry there – don’t think you’re just there to have interesting Bible studies at Star Bucks with university students. That’s part of it yes, but you are also there for the addicts, the convicts, and the perverted who linger on its streets night after night searching for satisfaction. City ministry is dangerous, scandalous, and wild. Not everyone is designed for it. It is missionary work in every form and demands that those who engage in it not become comfortable with the pretty side of city life, but that they confront the dreadfulness of the degenerate side as well.

So is the outpost method the only viable method for city evangelism? Not according to Ellen White. In her paradoxical view God’s people should leave the cities, and God’s people should move to the cities. The church should not launch establishments within the city and the church should launch establishments within the city. Both are true at the same time and it is the context of the situation, be it corporate or personal, that determines what the best course of action is. However, Ellen White also warned that the time will come when we will have to leave the cities and while I am certain that there will always be a few who God calls to remain we should always be prepared to leave when he calls us to. But no need to worry city lovers! The Lord has promised us a city as our eternal home.

To read the book Ministry to the Cities online click here.

Note: This article was originally published at www.pomopastor.com

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[1] Blue and Grey are the colors used by the Crips, “one of the largest and most violent associations of street gangs in the United States” (Wiki).
[2] Red is one of the main colors worn by the Bloods, a gang “widely known for its rivalry with the Crips” (Wiki).

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Why am I A Seventh-day Adventist?

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A friend of mine recently told me that a preacher came to his church and asked the youth why they were Adventists. One of the youth replied, “Because I love Jesus,” to which the preacher replied “Yeah, well the Pentecostals love Jesus too. Next!”

Some where undoubtedly impressed by the preachers candid approach. Frankly, I was disappointed. However, this experience was certainly good for one thing: It encouraged me to ask myself the question, “Why am I an Adventist?”

I know why I am a Christian. It is because I love Jesus. And I “love him because he fist loved [me]” (1 John 4:19). But all sincere Christians, regardless of denomination, love Jesus – so is this a good enough reason to also be an Adventist? Or am I supposed to have a more profound and eloquent response? Is the cross not good enough grounds to be an Adventist?

So why am I an Adventist? First, allow me to share the reasons that do not influence my decision to be an Adventist. These reasons may be offensive to some and exhilarating to others. But as I share these, it is not my intention to be harsh or absolute. I am simply sharing what my journey has been like. So here I go. Why am I an Adventist? Totally not because of the people. From time to time I find myself having to get away from Adventists because more often than not they get on my nerves. Not all Adventists of course. There are amazingly loving people in our church. But in my personal experience this hasn’t always been the case. Is it the church structure? Not at all. I have never been much for politics. And while I don’t despise our structure ( it has really good elements) at the same time there are parts of it that frustrate me. Is it our culture? If there’s one thing that erks my nerves more than anything its Adventist bubble-culture. What about our history as a denomination? Its interesting for sure, but full of chapters I wish weren’t there (1888 anyone?). And speaking of 1888 I find the Adventist church’s adulterous affair with mistress legalisma to be one of the most appalling chapters in our historical narrative. While all of this is gradually changing for the better its no secret that we have a long ways to go and the journey there is not always a pleasant experience.

So why am I an Adventist? One reason and one reason only: Our God-story. This conclusion will be likewise offensive to some and exhilarating to others. Once again, I can’t help it. I began by stating that I am a Christian because I love Jesus. But is that a good enough reason to be an Adventist? Yes. It is. I am an Adventist because I love Jesus as well. I love Jesus for one reason only: He loved me first. It is that love for me that prompts me to tell others about Jesus. I want the whole world to know how loving God is and have not found a God-story that shows me the love of God quite like the Adventist church understands it. Not only that but I have not found a God-story that is more emotional than this one. Though the theological lens of Adventists theology I have come to see God in such a loving way that it never ceases to amaze me. Time and time again I have found myself moved at the revelation of his love and mesmerized at deeper revelations of his grace. To this day I continue to experience newer and richer insights into the love of God I never thought were there. I have tried to look at God through the lens of other theological glasses but all of them fall short of lifting up Jesus in the same way that true Adventism does.

So why am I an Adventist? I’m an Adventist because I am a Christian. I am a Christian because I love Jesus and I am an Adventist because I love Jesus. His love has so captured my heart that I want to tell others about it, and the God-story of Adventism captures that love closer than any other theological system I have found. Is our God-story perfect? Do we have a flawless theology with no room for improvement? Not at all. We have much to discover. But I do believe, in the most politically incorrect way, that Adventism approximates the biblical story of Gods love, grace, and work for mankind in a much finer way than any other theological system around.

Note: This article was originally published at www.pomopastor.com

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Christ’s Metric Alone

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Ever heard the expression “Numbers don’t lie”?

I put that line in the same file as “…but names will never hurt me”.

The truth is that numbers can tell more than one story. Take Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Both are “followed” by tens of thousands on Twitter, but only 60% of their Twitter followers are believed to represent real people. On the social media surface, it may seem they are winning the popularity battles because they enjoy the highest number of followers.

But if we judge the success of a movement or a cause only by the numbers, we may not discover the whole story.

Speaking of numbers, Seventh-day Adventists are a people founded on numbers. We were founded on the belief that Daniel’s prophecy of 2300 days/years would end about this time of year – October 22, 1844.

If you have belonged to this movement for even a year, you know many important numbers—7, 12, 70, 490, 1260, 1290, 1335, 2300.

Seventh-day Adventists are known for other numbers as well. One of us is running for president – Ben Carson. We live longer than the rest of North Americans—an average of 10 years. We are the largest not-for-profit Protestant healthcare provider in the U.S. We are the most diverse religious group in America.  Last but not least, we have been known in recent years as the fastest growing denomination in the United States. Two people join the Adventist Church every minute.  Each day, Pentecost-worthy numbers—3000+–join God’s last-day remnant.

It would be convenient to end here, with a “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but honesty prevents it.

From October 8-13, the Seventh-day Adventist Church held its Annual Council.  Leaders from around the world met to discuss plans and share ideas for the next year. During this event, newly-gathered research data and statistics were shared by Dr. David Trim, director of Archives, Statistics, and Research (ASTR).

It’s hard to see these numbers as other than grim.

Remember that actual number of “real” followers of Trump and Clinton – 60%?  It appears as that the retention rate of the church for the last 50 years is almost exactly the same.

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Based on the chart below, supplied by the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, in 2014, the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church added 1.28 million new members during the calendar year through baptism and profession of faith.  At the same time those “lost” by being dropped from membership or registered as “missing” through standard church processes or division-wide memberships audits (a process that is still on-going in most divisions) totaled 950,000. That equates to a net gain of only 330,000 members in 2014, a 1.7% net growth rate.

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Numbers like these should lead us to say, “Houston, we have a problem.”

If baptized members are the metric of “success” on which we focus, we will almost inevitably lower the standard of what constitutes readiness for baptism—and thus count those inadequately prepared persons as new members. This is natural enough:  If your boss is pressuring you to meet the “quota” at work, you do what it takes to meet the quota. If incentives and opportunities for professional advancement in ministry and larger responsibilities are based—even informally–on numbers of baptisms, then why wouldn’t a gifted ministry professional reach for celebrities, musicians, and media coverage that could help achieve those results?

It isn’t cynicism that notes the reality of these pressures and the systems that develop because of them. Speaking honestly about the potential for misuse of a system should never be interpreted as faithlessness. Leadership expert Max de Pree has reminded us, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

Why would a minister or layperson work diligently to ensure that a baptismal candidate agrees with nearly 30 unique beliefs—knowing that at least a few of these will step on their toes and infringe on their lifestyle—if the metric is not discipleship, but baptismal count?

This circumstance isn’t far-fetched. Here’s a testimony:

JT took $10,000 to the mission field to build a church. He preached for three weeks, laboring to convince individuals who believed in thousands of other gods that the One god JT was there to tell them about was worthy of all their trust and devotion.

But JT told them more about “truth” than the one who called Himself the Truth. Both are vitally important, but the order in which they are presented is even more important. Accurately representing Jesus—the Truth—often requires acting as He did—loving as He did—and not only echoing His teaching.

The reality came home as I (JT) met with 70 sincere individuals baptized as Seventh-day Adventists after patiently listening to my preaching for three weeks. When some of the newly baptized revealed that they still were holding on to their symbolic representations of their many gods, and would adhere to old practices to appease Vishnu, I was confused—and shaken.  (Insert jaw drop)

What went wrong? It may be that I didn’t adequately introduce them to the One from whom all truth comes. I introduced 28 compelling beliefs and lifestyle changes, and I naively expected them to be ready to make a complete spiritual U-turn after three short weeks.  Years later, I was told that the church structure I had put my hard-earned money into building was now a barn. I had sought success, measured by persons responding through baptism to my preaching.  Perhaps I should have built them a barn or a business, helping them by demonstrating love applied to their life circumstances.   When they experienced success in meeting basic life needs, they would have been more ready to hear what I was preaching.   They would have had their own reasons to build their own church building, and almost certainly valued it more.

I didn’t know Christ’s metric.

I think the metrics of success are key to determining if we are doing the will of Jesus, or as Picasso observed, on the road to sterility.

I believe with all my heart—and my wallet–in the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I still believe that the Church’s best days are just ahead of us. But it’s time to reconsider what lasting success as defined by Jesus will look like.

Does public evangelism have a part to play in the proclamation of the everlasting gospel?  Both Scripture and experience resoundingly say “Yes!”  Millions of men and women are won—lastingly—to Jesus Christ through a process that includes public preaching and public responding. The apostle Paul preached powerfully in the cities of Asia to large crowds of interested hearers with Spirit-blessed results. Scripture teaches us to believe that the Holy Spirit is present and working with people before we ever mingle with them, befriend them, or act kindly toward them. God may prepare people for our witness in a variety of ways. The Spirit is not limited to any one method of witness. But is numerical success through public evangelism the metric we should be emphasizing at this moment in the progress of God’s remnant church?

The answer—respectfully, but clearly—is “No.”

We can do this simply and effectively by applying a new metric to measure mission success.

What if, instead of stressing out pastors and conference workers with numbers of baptisms, we changed the metric?  What if we asked, not “How many did you baptize?” but “How engaged are your members in outreach, community service, health seminars, Bible studies, practicing pure religion to orphans, the hungry, the discouraged, and the imprisoned?

It’s called user engagement.

As an entrepreneur, marketer and Adventist “brand evangelist”, I’ve been digging into what makes for a successful social media strategy. The answer from the data is unmistakable: It’s not the number of likes or followers, but user engagement! How engaged are your followers with your organization? Do they actively share the information you are sharing with them? Do they engage when you share new information with them? Do they bring new followers to you?

Counting total “followers” is a hollow metric, for it cannot measure the depth of engagement that is crucial for any successful business, cause or movement. When a “follower” is engaged enough to invite someone they care about to share the experience with them, you have the first and most obvious metric of loyalty and true mission success.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has some truly valuable assets. We have an understanding of Bible prophecy more comprehensive and biblically-reasoned than any other faith. We understand more about the great controversy between Christ and Satan and all of the angels than many do. We have a message of health and wholeness that is poised to bless the world in both community health and improved personal lifestyle practices.  We are increasingly good at marketing our message through attractive and well designed media—handbills, billboards, TV, radio, websites, podcasts, and apps.

How well are we succeeding at the mission Jesus has given us?  The numbers recently shared with church leaders illustrate a stark reality that has been trending for decades.

WWJM:  What Would Jesus Measure?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess at which metric Christ would use—and does use.  In fact, He tells us in both Matthew 25 and Isaiah 58—and in many other passages of Scripture—the exact metric He will use in the judgment.

 “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’” (Matt 25:34-36).

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,

and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Why would we be measuring anything different?

“Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God” (Desire of Ages p. 638).

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.” (The Ministry of Healing p. 143)

Both “Christ’s method” and “Christ’s metric” must somehow connect people with people. If we really thought our product and mission was to share information with the world to usher in the endtime, we would likely sell all assets and buy global airtime to give one sermon, believing we had fulfilled our calling. Sharing high-quality information about Jesus and His teachings can never be a substitute for introducing men and women around the globe to a Saviour who seeks a personal relationship with them over time.   While warning the world of the soon coming of Jesus will always be a part of the mission, we have not achieved success or responded to Christ’s metric by merely warning seven billion human beings. Will people know us for our warmth or our warning?

Do we think the gospel is a 70-minute sermon rather than a 70-year life?

If sharing information was the mission and simply hearing the metric, Jesus could have preached the Sermon on the Mount, leaving a high-water mark on ethical content, and an implicit call to decide about His claims. But the reality brought to life in the Gospels is that He spent time—amazing amounts of time—mingling with men as one who desired their good.

Apple and the Evangelist

Mark Kawano, formerly Apple’s User Experience Evangelist, recently shared some common Myths about Apple. One of those was particularly profound.

Myth #1 – Apple has the best ___________!

Business leaders commonly believe that to achieve success, you must employ the best people. There’s pragmatic wisdom here, but Mark Kawano’s interview revealed that this wasn’t the “secret sauce” of Apple. The secret, he said, was in the corporate culture and organizational structure, specifically the embedded focus on design in every division of the company. Every employee had a common goal in mind as each thought about their particular piece of the project. This common goal?  The end design and user experience with the product are supreme.

What can we learn from Apple in relation to sharing the gospel?

While the church will always seek to employ more talented and consecrated preachers, evangelists and witnesses on every level, human talent won’t be the secret of mission success. Shouldn’t we better measure the manner in which the gospel is received—the user experience? If the goal is to find, develop and mature men and women as faithful disciples of Jesus who become engaged in the same mission that reached them, shouldn’t we ask better questions about both Christ’s methods and His metrics?

Did the world need an iPhone?

No.

Did the world want an iPhone?

No.

When asked why he didn’t put more resources into market research, Steve Jobs would say that “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

People didn’t need a smartphone until they saw how much better their life could be if they had Apple’s product in their lives.

Today do people need the gospel?

Yes.

Do they think they need it?

Not really.

In fact, some think they have seen the product of the everlasting gospel and they don’t want it.

So how do we take our product to the world in light of this? Though we aren’t accustomed to taking gospel pointers from Steve Jobs, one of his is pertinent: Show it to them.”

Consider these statements from a century-old volume, The Ministry of Healing:

The world needs today what it needed nineteen hundred years ago—a revelation of Christ… it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished. (The Ministry of Healing p. 143)

So how do we share Christ—and specifically the grace of Christ that leads to a total transformation—with the world? There is—there can be—only one successful method.  It was demonstrated in the life of Christ, and in the succinct phrasing of Ellen White’s The Ministry of Healing, it is known as “Christ’s Method Alone.”

We begin to assess mission success in a new way.  We adopt a different standard to determine whether disciples—as individuals or as the Body of Christ—are, in fact, following the One they have pledged to follow.  We ask new questions of a church that needs new energy and focus: “How much is this church?—How much is this pastor?—How much are these members engaged with the method announced by Jesus?”.

This is the new metric. This is #ChristsMetricAlone.

This is the secret sauce of faithful Adventism and biblical Christianity.

“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

#1 – This is the only way to have long term, enduring effects on a person’s life. This was His method to reach people with the good news of the kingdom of God, and it will be the method of all who claim His name.

“The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good.”

#2 – Jesus mingled with broken men and women as a friend, companion, brother, teacher, mentor, and healer.  Mingling can’t be done by proxy, by email, or via an app, television, radio or satellite. Jesus was making it clear to all who shared His presence that He cared for them at that moment, not contingent on a behavior change—that He desired the best “good” for them.

“He showed His sympathy for them.”

#3 – When Jesus shared His time and attention with a new friend, His heart of sympathy for them was obvious . You can’t show sympathy for someone unless you listen to their situation and discover areas in which they are seeking help  or support. Once you listen, Christ-like compassion causes you to sympathize with their needs—even if those needs differ from the purposes you initially have to share a message of truth with them.

“He ministered to their needs.”

#4 – When we have both heard and listened—when we have allowed the needs of the other to become central to our interaction with them—we bend our efforts to actually bring the support, encouragement, or assistance that they need.  We may initially understand their need as the thing we have in our hand—the book, the Bible study, the sermon—but Christ-like other-centeredness causes us to take their prompts and enter by the door that they have opened. This is where as followers of Jesus we learn to lay down our lives and take up the crosses others bear.. This is where we learn to bear the burdens of the weak, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

“He won their confidence.”

#5 – If the relationship has been growing through the method Christ employed, you will have won the confidence and laid the foundation for a relationship. You will have truly helped them with something they consider important, and thus actually ministered to them.  The other now believes that you have their best interests at heart, that you have put them and their interests before your own. This is profound—the stuff that moves the world! They will need to know what motivates you to do this.

…Then He bade them, “Follow Me.” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143)

#6 – If you have discovered joy in following Jesus, it will be natural to tell another broken sinner where you have found healing and salvation.  You aren’t winning them to you, or adding to the trophies in some Witnessing Hall of Fame.  You are sharing the unmistakable delight that always moves you to both praise and gratitude.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

It is this love, this grace from Christ that allows you to invite a new disciple to share the journey with you.  “Come, follow Him,” you say to them.  “Come, walk with me, as I follow Him.”  Your commitment to walk and talk and pray with one just starting on the journey is the tangible relationship they can see as they build a friendship with the Lord they cannot see.

“There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit” (The Ministry of Healing, 143).

“When we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts” (Desire of Ages, 641)

Jesus offers us both a method and metric for assessing our discipleship.  If we insist on being disciples according to our own preferences and markers, we will miss the footprints that we claim to be following.  Tens of thousands—millions—who could be following Jesus will end up wandering on desolate paths that lead to sadness and destruction.

If we choose other ways to go about what we insist is His mission, we are on a path of our own choosing, not on the path He trod—and we will continue to lament the losses that the Spirit never intended.

If we measure other things—even good things—more than we measure obedience to “Christ’s method alone,” we are simply inventing games at which we think we can win.

It’s time we aligned our discipleship with #ChristsMetricAlone.

I would love to continue the discussion – @thurmon or jared@adventistreview.org

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Music Wars: The Fringe Strikes Back

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This week, church leaders met for Annual Council at the Seventh-day Adventist World Headquarters in Silver Springs, MD. These are yearly meetings of all the high level officers of our world church and serves as the highest decision-making body between the General Conference Sessions every five years.

Because I’m weird like that, I enjoy keeping up to date with what’s going on by being an unofficial delegate through social media. I followed many of the proceedings live, or read the reports later on. There were many great field stories shared about the progress the church is making in many areas of the world. These are encouraging signs that there is much good being done.

Continue reading Music Wars: The Fringe Strikes Back