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 To Keep Your Faith and Sanity While Following the Elections

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The American political season is in full swing with the 2016 Presidential campaign underway.

This has been an especially unusual election cycle, given that one of our own was running this year in Dr. Ben Carson. His recent exit from the race left some Adventists breathing a sigh of relief, while others in dismay. As the field narrows, and November 8 moves closer with each passing day, what are Adventist Christians to do?

Here are three general principles to keep your faith and sanity while following this election:

1. Avoid unreservedly endorsing a particular candidate or party.

According to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center, 35% of Adventists identify or lean towards Republican party ideals, 45% lean towards the Democratic side, and 19% consider themselves independent.The political preferences of U.S. political groups

Something inside me cringes when I hear statements like “Republicans are destroying our nation” or “Liberals are taking our country to hell in a hand basket.” Adventists should not be unapologetically Democrat or Republican.

The danger with unreservedly endorsing a candidate or any party as a Christian is believing that the solutions to this world’s problems will be solved by the election of human beings of a particular party into political office. While Fox News and MSNBC might disagree with this idea, the Bible and Ellen White back it up quite well. King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (well-known to Adventists) tells us that what comes next in the timeline of Bible prophecy is the Kingdom of Christ, not a Republican or Democratic utopia.

Ellen White also spoke about the danger of partisanship when she said:

“There is fraud on both sides” she wrote in a “special testimony” sent from Australia to the General Conference session of 1897…Thus, she urged those for whom the Lord Jesus is “the Captain” to “file under his banner” and avoid “linking up with either party.” Adventists, she wrote two years later, have their “citizenship…in heaven…they are to stand as subjects of Christ’s kingdom, bearing the banner which is inscribed, ‘The commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’”  Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, pg. 1038

2. If you absolutely must, speak to issues of justice and injustice.

Because all political parties are made up of broken people, we need to remember that, as believers, Christ doesn’t pick sides with anyone. Interestingly enough, in her day, “Ellen White became a fervent advocate of ‘movement politics’ – discriminating involvement in the political process on behalf of benevolent reform in contrast to partisan politics centering on advancing the power of a political party.”  -EGW Encyclopedia pg. 1037

Are there moral issues that need addressing in our day? Of course. Yet, it is a sad reality that the political arena pits, for example, pro-life causes against each other. While they each have their flaws, Democrats are stereotypically seen as the party that “kills babies” and Republicans are seen as the party that “hates minorities and immigrant rights.”

One writer wondered, “Why this tension between two groups fighting for human dignity? I think much of it is owed to our increasingly tribal and fractured culture.” Still, there are moral issues of justice and injustice to be faced and the Bible speaks firmly against the suppression of human rights.

One interesting anecdotal detail is that the early Adventist church made matters of justice and injustice a top priority. In conversation with Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review, he mentioned that early in its history, writers in the Review and Herald on occasion called out politicians directly, even by name. The reason for this was that Adventism saw itself as a counter-cultural movement, not encumbered by political partisanship (or endangering its non-profit 501(c)(3) status, but that’s another matter altogether).

Speaking up on matters of social justice include voicing concerns when politicians disparage entire people groups like the handicapped, immigrants, religious groups, and women. So, although I could have easily made an equally lengthy article against any of the candidates, I spoke openly against Donald Trump because, like Ellen White, I believe that we must push for “a government that protects, restores, relieves, but never savers of oppression.” Jesus said that we can’t read anyone’s heart, but we can get a good idea of where it lies by noticing the pattern of someone’s words and actions.

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” -Luke 6:45

Still, there is a danger in both staying completely silent and being overbearing when it comes to politics. No one, especially pastors, should spend an inordinate amount of time studying, discussing, or posting about politics when there are other matters to attend. Ellen White went so far as to say:

“The tithe should not be sued to pay anyone for speechifying on political questions,” and any “teacher, minister, or leader in our ranks who is stirred with a desire to ventilate his opinions on political questions” must either “be converted” or give up working for the church, along with any credentials. -EGW Encyclopedia pg. 1039

3. Regardless of the outcome, follow and point people to Jesus.

In what is sure to descend into further madness leading to Election Day, Christ followers must stay above the fray. We must not believe the party narrative where the solution to the problems in this country is for “political correctness to go away” like Trump would advocate. The Bible explicitly counsels against this kind of unrestrained speech:

“He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:27

On the other side, we must also not believe that the church must exclusively work through the expansion of government social programs in order to impact the world. After all, the early church took more of a radical approach to personal possessions than even the Bernie Sanders campaign:

“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Acts 4:32

People may have different interpretations about whether the above lifestyle is doable in a secular society, but the fact remains that it at least was possible in the early Christian community. To speak practically on one issue here as a Millennial pastor, while Bernie Sanders has a strong following of support from this generation, I have to ask myself if Millennials are more enamored with the idea of a church engaging in social justice than actually joining one to do it? This is a term that’s been labeled “slacktivism.”  Regardless of who wins, Christians who voted for a particular party or candidate will still have issues to work through.

The issues that divide people today will still exist after the election. We must remember that, at the end of the day, we are going to have to work and interact with people who believe differently than we do, religiously, philosophically, existentially, and yes, politically.

So, in this election cycle, yes, make your vote count; don’t stay home on November 8, 2016. Yet, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket; you may be disappointed when you realize your vote doesn’t usher in the Millennium. Focus on issues, don’t vote based on emotion or popular opinion, and remember that regardless of who is sworn in next, the Rock is still barreling towards the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.

Until then, in matters of political and civil discourse, let’s remember the to follow the advice of Jesus’ own brother James:

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:9

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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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The Dawn of Political Ben Carson

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The first time I remember hearing of Dr. Ben Carson was in the fifth grade. My teacher read to us “Gifted Hands” for our devotionals in the morning at my Adventist elementary school. I sat in awe of his story and how it seemed he allowed God to use him. Wow! For me, the idea of a Seventh-day Adventist that was famous, like really famous…not even just “Adventist celebrity famous” was incredible. His rags-to-riches tale seemed super human. When I found what I took to be the sequel to “Gifted Hands,” “Think Big” in my grandmother’s bookcases a couple of months later, I fervently read it as well.

When the media was abuzz with the name “Ben Carson” after he spoke for the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, my ears perked up. It was one of only a handful of times I’d heard the name outside of Adventist circles. I remember being quite stunned that all of the discussion was surrounding “our” Dr. Ben Carson, the renowned Seventh-day Adventist pediatric neurosurgeon.

For Adventists, Dr. Ben Carson has long been heralded as a symbol of the heights to which we can attain for God if we humbly submit ourselves to Him. God can use us to do anything, mighty or small. Whether we like to openly admit it or not, he’s become somewhat of an archetype, a modern-day Old Testament figure.

Even with such an enthusiasm for Dr. Carson and his work, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of trepidation when I learned that he was running for president. Can this be for real? How far can he really last? I watched the grassroots of his campaign and poll numbers as somewhat of an odd curiosity, thinking there probably would not be much need to take it too seriously. After all, an Adventist in the White House? Highly doubtful.

And it could still be highly doubtful. However, as months pass and Dr. Carson continues to do well enough to stay in the discussions, I find myself having to question more about how I as a young Seventh-day Adventist feel about him running. Where do I stand on this question? What types of attention will this draw to my religion? Is this a good thing? Could I vote for him? Should I vote for him? Or, rather, am I more comfortable with him losing?

These are the questions Adventists across the country are asking right now. What does Ben Carson’s campaign mean for Seventh-day Adventism? The General Conference released a statement almost as soon as Carson announced his plans to run, stating the church’s official position on politics. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here. And even while Carson doesn’t emphasize his Adventism, he also can’t escape it.

I see people across the board. Many of my college friends simply laugh at the idea that Ben Carson is running for president. He’s become the end of every joke. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my newsfeed is filled with people who literally repost EVERYTHING Ben Carson in a show of solidarity. It’s as if Ben Carson has fulfilled some unspoken pinnacle of Adventist achievement.

And I’m over here like, I don’t know how I feel about this… I’m listening and watching, and I just don’t know what to think. And it’s raising all of these questions for me about religious liberty.

This is a first for the Seventh-day Adventist church. With every passing week, Carson’s run is bringing more and more attention to Adventism. After his statement on Muslim leadership and Sharia law, many questions have been raised about our denomination. Adventism has a long-held stance of not associating our denomination with any sort of party. The church certainly does not endorse any particular candidate. Reading numerous articles this week, I was reminded yet again that many aspects of religious liberty were legally defined in part because of Seventh-day Adventists.

Yet, at the same time, Adventism has this way of feeling like a cultural ethnicity. I can be anywhere in the world, and I feel at home when I’m with other Adventists. They get the way I talk, the way I eat, the things I believe in. So, it’s hard not to feel that way when you see Dr. Ben Carson up there on the debate stage and meanwhile know that he’s also (theoretically) having the same haystacks you are. There’s a sense of similitude and brotherhood innately within that connection.

Meanwhile, all of these “Adventist ideas” run through my head. Can you even be president and be Adventist? Like do those two things contradict each other? Then, I really let my mind run away with all sorts of ideas. Is Ben Carson even all that Adventist? Is he campaigning on Sabbath? Is that really allowed? You probably won’t have a lot of Sabbath rest as president. Then again, doctors, nurses, firefighters, etc. all work on Sabbath. It’s probably the same thing. King David would have had to run his kingdom on Sabbath. If I get super carried away, I’ll begin to wonder about the end of times. Would an Adventist president in any way usher in the end time sooner? And on and on…

So, does it matter that Ben Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist? Is that a reason to vote for him? Is that not a reason to vote for him?

While GC may tell us to ignore it, that feels somewhat impossible. I think we all have to ask ourselves these questions and how we feel about them. However, the true danger lies not in whether or not there’s a Catholic candidate running for president who may or may not enforce some sort of Sunday law or whether the presidential nominee is an Adventist who may or may not protect religious liberty. What matters most is our ability to think critically. While our beliefs should set the groundwork in place for our vote, there are numerous issues to also weigh.

The whole point of religious liberty is that there should be a separation of church and state. The Israelites had a theocracy. They did it differently, and they had God directly leading them. We, however, live in a vastly different world than the Israelites. We have to remember the important distinction between church and state, even if Adventists are the ones governing the state.

That doesn’t mean your religious convictions shouldn’t motivate you. You may feel like a candidate that shares your religion and beliefs has enough in line with your perspective to vote for. However, what it does mean is that we have to be more cautious than ever in working to maintain the lines between religion and government.

Non-Adventists and Non-Christians deserve their free will just as much as we do. As Adventists, we cannot suddenly lose sight of the importance of our denominational history of neutrality as a church. Religious liberty is what gives us the freedom of worship we so heartily value. It’s what gives us the opportunity to serve the God we believe in on the day we believe He set aside for that purpose. The cornerstone of God’s gift to us is free-will. How can we deny that for others?

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Would Jesus Be A Democrat Or A Republican?

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ONE doesn’t have to look far to see that the competition is well underway for a chance at the White House, even though the title “leader of the free world” won’t change hands for almost another year.  If it’s not a clip of Hilary doing the Nae-Nae streaming across your timeline, it’s a quote from a Donald Trump speech scrolling through a news headline. Anywhere you turn, candidates from all parties are rallying their troops and campaigning with infectious fervor in an attempt to garner the American voter’s support.

          American politics, to a large extent, can be boiled down into two cups: the Democrats and the Republicans. The country’s political party system is certainly more intricate than just “right winged vs. left winged”, but these two larger components of the political stratosphere seem to be what help keep our bald eagle in the sky. So as the presidential race itself begins to soar, most American citizens watch at the edge of their living room seats, aligning themselves with the donkey or the elephant.

          While the country at large works to keep the affairs of church and state separate, the intertwining’s of faith and politics seem largely unavoidable. What one believes naturally affects how one feels about sociopolitical issues, and how one feels naturally plays out into how someone addresses these issues. Unfortunately, everyone’s natural inclinations and feelings often fall short of God’s expectations. What we think is right, what we feel is right, and what we believe is right can be largely “hit or miss” if left unmeasured by Biblical standards. Therefore, as Christians, our political involvement should be reflective of our personal investments in the government of a King who reigns on the sole principle of love.

          Jesus, if alive today, would not have been Democratic or Republican. Not only does neither party completely reflect the principles He taught while on earth, but the Bible shows no evidence of Him aligning Himself with any political group vying for power during His time (Pharisees vs. Sadducees vs. Herod vs. the Roman Empire). It does not show Him condemning one group in an effort to promote another. It does not show Him allowing His feelings regarding political issues to temper how He relates to His family, His friends, or even His enemies. Does this mean that Jesus remained absent from the political spectrum of His time? Hardly. The Bible shows Jesus advancing His Father’s kingdom in the political realm. It tells of Him treating people who saw the world differently than He did with searing kindness. It only shows him using sociopolitical issues as an opportunity to demonstrate a full spectrum of love.

          As the nation prepares for the quadrennial clash of the colors, we’re reminded that regardless of whether we paint ourselves Red or Blue, we belong to a higher cause. As we raise our voices among the chorus of millions in favor of our favored candidates, we’re admonished to lift our voices in a way that reminds the world of the King of a nation that is coming soon. When our Facebook feeds become warzones and when our colleagues and comrades voice opinions we disagree with, we should remember that even still, the world “will know that we are Christians by our love.” Proud Americans, though we may be, it is important for us to always remember -and to always reflect- that we are first citizens of a better and brighter world.

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3 Lessons for Surviving the Fallout of the Ordination Vote

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

977- Yes votes
1381- No votes
5- Abstained

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

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

Here are a few early thoughts:

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

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

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

2. We need to pray for our leaders.

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

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

3) We need to still support women in ministry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only God knows.

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Same Sex Marriage is Legal: Here is what you CAN do

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The internet is ablaze with news on the court’s decision that allows same sex couples to wed. In the midst of the discussion about what happened and how it affects Christians and churches, there are some things you can’t control. There are some things you can. If you are a Christian, there are five things you can do:

1. You can have a great marriage.

It is certainly harder to make a case for the sanctity of marriage by a Christian church that has similar percentages of divorce than unbelievers. Love your spouse. Show the world that the biblical model works, it’s a blessing and can help you grow in faith. Pray with and for your family. Restore the family altar. Instead of interminably reposting articles, spend some of that time loving your spouse and praying for your kids. Not many people changed their minds because of an article they read. Many did because of a relationship they had and an example they admired.

2. You can trust God.

You can disagree with the court. That is your right. You can express your concern. That is your privilege. Just don’t forget God was not surprised nor is he rendered powerless by a court’s decision. You can still trust God to work out whatever He chooses, however He chooses.

3. You can be kind.

I perfectly understand the preoccupation that arises when what was, is no longer. I just pray we are kind. You can be principled and patient, courageous and kind, clear and loving. Remember that everyone is in need of grace, including yourself.

4. You can remain calm.

One of the unfortunate consequences that happen during highly controversial times is the jumping to conclusions based on fear and speculation instead of facts. No one is coming to padlock your church doors this weekend. No one is forcing our pastors to marry same sex couples. Argentina and Canada allow it and our churches there still share the word every Sabbath. That is not to say we should be silent or oblivious. We should practice what divers do when in a difficult situation: remain calm and work it out.

5. You can continue to share the gospel.

A thought for my Adventist friends. The power of the gospel is incredibly more effective than any political strategy. If we believe that the gospel is not just the verbal assent to a doctrine but that it results in changed lives, wouldn’t it make sense to getting as many people as we can exposed to it as fast as we can?

Let’s pray that our mission is not detoured by the fixation on a decision. Share the gospel. Love your family. Live for Jesus.
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Can We Find Healing From Racism’s Hurt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

he is one of us,

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

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

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

However, are statements enough?

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

However, are petitions enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the full apology here.

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

4. Recognize that forgiveness is a powerful thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nepal and Baltimore: When Prayer Isn’t Enough

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Luke 19:41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.

Since last week my twitter and Facebook have been inundated with two hashtags:

#prayfornepal

#prayforbaltimore

I believe prayer is important. I believe prayer is essential. I believe prayer is necessary. I also believe it’s not enough.

To sit idly, from miles away, without being moved to action, is not what God had in mind when he sent us as ambassadors of his kingdom to the cities.

So, what can we do?

  1. For starters, give.

Hashtags won’t feed a displaced family. Prayer can give hope, but it won’t rebuild a house. As we look at the cities ravaged by injustice, poverty or natural disasters we can do more than pray. We must. Consider for example giving to www.adra.org/ They already have a presence there. There are a myriad of opportunities to help in Baltimore. You can give, you can help with cleanup, and you can have meaningful conversations with minority communities.

  1. Ask yourself why, not just what.

When we see buildings burning in one city and in ruble in another, we must ask the deeper question. There are eschatological implications. There are sociological implications. There are even soteriological implications. Dig deeper. There is always something more. In order to effect change, it is not only important to look for answers, it is paramount we look for solutions.

  1. Remember the city.

In many cases, instead of loving the city, we have been leaving the city, not just physically but relationally.  Love is more than a feeling for the city, it’s action in the city.  Jesus cried for the city, and had compassion for the people living there. That was wonderful, but not enough. He took those feelings and put them in action, as he healed, preached, helped. Cities have not traditionally been known for being centers of discipleship, conversions or morality. Taking that into consideration, there are several attitudes that one can take towards the cities.  There are at least four in the bible:

  1. Leave the city. Acts 16:39
  2. Condemn the city. Luke 9:53-55
  3. Avoid going into the city. Mathew 16:21-23
  4. Love the city. Mathew 9:36

 

What will you? #dosomething

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“He Must be Butter Because He’s on a Roll”

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I remember that phrase OVER-used so much by each and every one of my friends on the basketball court. It was ever rolling off our lips when someone would do something, whether it was amazing or just mediocre. The man who coined that phrase was Stuart Scott. Many people may now be familiar with his name who previously weren’t. That is because on Sunday, January 4 he passed away.

Stuart Scott was a Christian. I didn’t know that before, because he isn’t like Tim Tebow with his faith. It’s not all up in your face. Also, I don’t really run in Stuart’s circles. For those of you that don’t know, those circles include a ton of musicians (https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/6429396/espn-anchor-stuart-scott-mourned-by-the-music-community), lots of actors (simply do a google search for Stuart Scott at the espy’s), and an endless number of professional athletes from all sports. The reason Scott had such a famous group of people he associated with was because he worked for ESPN, and he did it well. Maybe you are familiar with some of his famous catchphrases:

“Boo-Yah!”
“Hallah”
“As cool as the other side of the pillow”
“He must be the bus driver cuz he was takin’ him to school.”
“Just call him butter ’cause he’s on a roll”
“They Call Him the Windex Man ‘Cause He’s Always Cleaning the Glass”
“You Ain’t Gotta Go Home, But You Gotta Get The Heck Outta Here.”
“He Treats Him Like a Dog. Sit. Stay.”
“And the Lord said you got to rise Up!”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Scott)

Many of these phrases frequently spilled off my lips including, “He must be the bus driver cuz he was takin’ him to school!!!!” My stepfather even said “Boo-yah” when I was growing up. I remember being startled that he would know that phrase at all, because he is not a sports fan of any sort. Of the many pompous jocks across the numerous sports stations Stuart Scott was a breath of fresh air. Not only was he cool, but he didn’t have the air of superiority that chased out from him like many of the others.

What amazes me more than anything about the story of Stuart’s life is actually not as much Stuart as it is God himself. It seems to me that God is at work in places that we -or maybe I should say I- often label as Godless.

Believe it or not, I have actually wondered specifically about whether Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have ever been introduced to Christ by more than a street preacher. Sounds ridiculous, but its true. I recently watched the movie “Unbroken” after reading the book. The book is absolutely spectacular ****SPOILER ALERT**** because it is the power of Christ that gives immediate freedom and purpose to a man chained down by PTSD after some seriously incredible events. Angelina Jolie must have read the book numerous times in preparation for her directing role. Even better though, she decided that she absolutely must hear the details from the great Zamp himself. Louis Zamperini (the main character of the biography) had given his life into the service of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ after his conversion. He had preached at thousands of venues and touched the hearts of millions of people. Here he is now sitting across from some young hollywood person(Jolie) 50 years younger than him asking to hear his version of his story from the lips of this old war vet turned soul savin’ preacher. This tells me that God has everything under control, and he doesn’t need my help worrying about the people who aren’t for me to worry about. God is bigger than that. God is in control. Boo-Yah!

On Stuart’s ESPN chat room a question was asked him about why Tim Tebow had to always go around with a scripture reference under his eyes. The writer asks how it would be received if he wore “there is no God” under his eyes. Stuart responds:

“Stuart Scott: Dave, if that what you want to do, I don’t care. But Tim and I and billions of other believers in the world know you’d be wrong. I’ve seen the workings of God many times in my life, like when my two daughters were born. If you don’t believe in God, watch a child be born. Then if you still say you don’t believe in God, that’s okay. The thing is, I think He’ll watch over you anyway!”

Yes my friends… God has people who are witnesses to the very people we watch on TV. He has people who live lives for him in front of chaos and selfishness. He has people that stand on a stage and demonstrate what it means to truly live. He has people that uphold kingdom values. He has people in every walk of life. He has people preaching the gospel all the way to the stars. In fact, God must be butter, cause He’s on a roll!

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