3 Things the Church Can Do For Immigrants

I was born and raised in a church predominantly made up foreign-born individuals, specifically coming from Hispanic America. Although my family originally comes from the island of Puerto Rico, a Spanish-speaking U.S. territory, I identify myself with the rest of Hispanic America. My proximity to so many individuals and families who came to this country illegally allowed me to see their struggles and hear their stories in a very intimate way. Doing so has enabled me to come to the conclusion that their cause is a valid one. However, the concern that many in the public arena have regarding this issue is valid as well. I don’t suppose to have the solution to our nation’s dilemma with immigration, nor do I think that one will be made that will satisfy everyone. However, I do think that there are some positive things that the church can do in the meantime.
1. Embrace them.Welcome foreigners as you would anyone else; with love and acceptance. They are people who need Jesus too. Ruth found herself working on a field in a land that was not her own, looking to take home what was left over from the harvest. When Boaz heard of the things she had done for her mother-in-law, he extended to her protection and the assurance that she would be provided for. Shocked, she replied “What have I done to deserve such kindness? I am only a foreigner” (Ruth. 2:10). God had long desired that Israel would be a place where all kinds of people would feel welcomed and greeted as fellow sojourners. He commanded that “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34).
2. Listen to them.These are people with stories of suffering, pain, perseverance, and survival. Some have overcome the greatest of odds in their pursuit of the American Dream, while others are still wrestling with crippling circumstances. I believe that if we took the opportunity to listen to the stories of the many foreigners amongst us, we would be enabled to see beyond politics and national policies and be moved to act compassionately, no matter how we align ourselves politically. Consider what God said to Moses at the burning bush about the Israelites: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them…” (Ex. 3:7, 8). It is said that true compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of others that is fused with a desire to relieve it. God made Himself aware of the plight of Israel and therefore acted to their benefit. I believe that if we were to be exposed to the struggle that many immigrants in this country go through, we would be inspired to do the same. One of my favorite Bible passages in Scripture says “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear” (Is. 59:1). I like to see it in this way; God saves because He listens.
3. Defend and help them.In order to defend we have to recognize that the current political rhetoric towards foreigners is unhealthy and not demonstrative of Christian values. Understanding this puts us in a better position to provide defense and help. Esther leveraged her influence for the sake of the disadvantaged. But the question is why should SDA’s feel morally obligated to do the same? Seventh-day Adventism, more than any other denomination, has a special relationship with regards to immigrants. One of our foundational beliefs as a church is the Sabbath. The Sabbath commandment to rest is not a privilege that is solely enjoyed by citizens but it is divinely extended to the "foreigner within your gates” (Ex. 20:10). Are we truly honoring the Sabbath when we exclude immigrants? God envisioned that they would need rest too. Rest from underpaid work. Rest from discrimination. Rest from politicians that desire to make them a scapegoat for our society’s woes. Rest from the many obstacles placed on their path towards citizenship. Rest from their journey to a better life.
What can our local churches do to ensure this rest is available to everyone, especially to those living on the margins? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

Top 3 Reasons Why I Don’t Drink

I don’t drink. Like, at all. Zero. Zip. Nada.In fact, I have never drunk a drop of alcohol in my life. Before you feel sorry for me, do know that yes, I am doing OK.
It wasn’t much of a big deal growing up because I grew up in a religious context where no one really drank. It was a bit weirder when I joined the Army because, well, everyone drank. A lot. For many years, my main reason for not drinking was simply the result of my conservative religious upbringing. But in recent years I have sought to define my life and choices on relationships and personalized faith as opposed to what others taught me. One of the questions to emerge was, Why don’t I drink? And after some time contemplating this oh-so-weird reality of mine I have arrived at some pretty exciting answers (for me that is. Hopefully, you’ll like them too). Oddly enough, none of them are all that religious.1. Centeredness.The first is centeredness. Now what do I mean by this? Rather than define it myself I’ll just quote from the article "Sober is the new drunk: why millennials are ditching bar crawls for juice crawls" (mostly because Angelina Chapin [the author person], captured it way better than me).
Most attendees [of this booze-free event called Shine] are millennials with new-agey reasons for socializing sober. Ask and they’ll say they “love real, authentic relationships”, and want to “open up to others on the same journey” and be “centered and calm to appreciate the day”. In plain-speak, they think booze makes interactions less meaningful and that hangovers get in the way of their goals.[1]
Now, I am not a new-agey person but I have to say, I resonate with them there. For me, centeredness is not some religious thing. Instead, its about being in each moment, appreciating the narrative unfolding all around me and remaining alert to capture whatever it wants to give me be it relationships, memories or the chance to speak life into another messed up person like me. Alcohol robs people of that. Maybe not 100% of the time. But often enough. So no thanks.2. Humanity.According to professor Matthew Rushworth (of Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology) there is "an area of the brain that appears to be uniquely human"[2]. Pretty cool huh? We’re so unique.The area of the brain that makes us so "unique" (and useful I might add) is known as the frontal lobe. Suffice to say, this area of our brain is what makes it possible for us to reason. Now why is reasoning so cool? Because reasoning is what enables us to ask questions. And not even Kanzi (the worlds smartest ape) can ask questions. And I love asking questions. It’s what makes me human.Unfortunately, alcohol affects the brain by causing a "[l]oss of reason", in addition to a loss of: "caution, inhibitions, sociability, talkativeness and intelligence."[3] In other words, alcohol turns off the very thing that makes us human. And I don’t know about you, but I quite like being human. It’s definitely a thing. And I want to celebrate it always. Not turn it off.3. Social Justice.Now I have to be really careful here because people start to feel all guilty when you start to talk social justice. I am NOT saying that if you drink you are an evil person. Everyone is entitled to make their own decisions, so please don’t take this the wrong way. I am just sharing why I, personally, don’t drink. And this one is one of my biggies.The top two reasons are the reasons why I don’t drink alcohol at all. The final reason is why I don’t support alcohol one bit, not even with a sip. Truth is, the alcohol industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on broken families, societies and individual lives (there, I said it). If I were to buy alcohol ever (and I won’t because see above) it would be from a local guy with a vineyard, not from the big companies.Now some people simply respond to this by saying something like, "its not the alcohol industry’s fault. People are responsible for their own actions." And that’s true! But what most people don’t realize is that marketers know, understand and exploit one simple truth about the human condition: the vast majority of people can’t actually control themselves.So the industry doesn’t get to pass the buck here. They don’t escape judgment by saying "they should drink responsibly". The industry knows that "[m]any consumer choices and decisions involve the need to exert self-control, and often consumers fail to exert such control"[4]. In other words, people should have self control but people don’t. The alcohol industry exploits that reality for profit and then tries to justify itself with the "drink responsibly" commercial. Sorry dudes. Absolution denied.So for me, not drinking and passing that value onto my kids is one way that I stick it to the man, the alcohol-industry man that is.So that’s it guys! Top 3 reasons why I don’t drink. And no, none of them are religious. But I do thank my faith-tradition for at least giving me the foundation that has enabled me to be counter-cultural in this and other areas of my life. At the end of the day, my abstinence from alcohol is really a story about my love for "real, authentic relationships”, my desire to "open up to others on the same journey” and be “centered and calm to appreciate the day”. It’s also a celebration of what makes me uniquely human which alcohol damages. And ultimately its a rebellion and a protest against an industry that destroys more than can be measured. Do I judge others who drink? Never. If you want to come to my house to watch a footy game and enjoy a few beers I won’t tell you to leave the bottles outside. I also recognize that many awesomely cool people will disagree with all 3 of my point’s above and offer some counter-views of their own. That’s cool too. This is simply what works for me. Hopefully, it can work for you too.Now if you’ll excuse me. I think I’ll go make a smoothie.
Note: This article was originally published atwww.pomopastor.com
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[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/21/millennials-booze-free-events-juice-crawl-new-york[2] http://www.science20.com/news_articles/what_makes_us_human_lateral_frontal_pole_prefrontal_cortex-128592[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-are-the-effects-of-a/[4] Consumer Emotion-Regulation and Self-Control: A Strategic View. Duke University [click here for access]

What To Do With Privilege

“Privilege.” It’s definitely become a hot topic in our society today.  Racially, some remind us of the unfairness of white privilege, for instance, and speak for how it needs to be recognized and corrected.  At the same time, others are offended, feeling like the implication is that if they are white they are inherently racist for allowing or not recognizing that privilege.
One summary of white privilege is that it is “both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely.”[1]
I will admit, I do know there are serious racial issues today, and I wish I had all the answers…. But I do know this: real change is going to have to happen at a much deeper heart level than just a movement for social change.  I believe the issues are actually much broader than just “white privilege” or racial issues.  We are an unfair, discriminatory society on many levels.  Even just staying with the iceberg-tip external level:
Did you know that if you have straighter, whiter teeth you are more likely to get a job?  In fact, one study showed that respondents saw those with straight teeth as 45 percent more likely to get a job than those with crooked teeth when compared with someone with a similar skill set and experience.[2]Actually, it’s not just your teeth, but Business Insider cites studies showing that “attractive people are usually hired sooner, get promotions more quickly, and are paid more than their less-attractive coworkers.”[3]And even if you’re not that great looking, did you know that just being tall can give you an advantage?  Apparently a person who is 6 feet tall is predicted to earn almost $166,000 more over the course of a 30-year career than someone 5 feet 5 inches tall.[4]
Maybe you have none of the above advantages.  Maybe you now feel even more underprivileged than before!  But if you look hard enough, I’d bet that you can find some way that you have an advantage over others that you did not ask for and cannot control. Is it fair?  Not really!  You may do a much better job than the person with straighter teeth. She may be a much better leader than the tall guy who got the promotion.  A white man shouldn’t be given more of the benefit of the doubt than a person of color. BUT, it happens. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak against injustices.  We should. But I’d also dare to say this: we will never fully eliminate unfair privilege from society.  In one form or another, it will rise up.
The question is then, what do we do about our “privilege?”  Run from it? Be ashamed of it?  Well, I’d actually propose the following:
Run with it.
Utilize that privilege to the fullest.
Milk it for all it’s worth.
Now before you stone me, hear me out!  None of this is to be in a self-advantaging context.  In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about servants who were given varying numbers of “talents.”  Was it fair?  It may not seem so.  But what WAS fair, is that the Master expected a return based on what they’d been given: The one with five talents got five more, the one with three talents got three more, and the guy who only got one talent was chastised for not at least doing something with that one.
The point is this: Privilege = accountability.
I do realize that unfair social privilege is not the same as God-given talent endowment.   But think of it this way: If you have certain “privileges” for being white, could you be using them to help others?  Or if you experience certain privileges because you’re black (yes, I do believe a few of those exist too), what are you doing with them?  If you’re in a higher social class, guess what? You’ll have have opportunities others will not. How have you used them?  If you’re tall and that happens to make people more likely to follow you, then you better develop yourself and lead for all your worth.  If you’re beautiful and it makes people listen to you more readily, make sure you’re saying something worthwhile!
Whether that privilege is fair or not, whether you had any control over it or not, or whether you like it or not, you’re accountable for what you do with it – or what you neglect to do.  And guess what, if you know Jesus,you have the biggest privilege of all.
Again, this may sound like I’m trying to minimize the racial issues our society faces.  That’s not my intent.  It may seem like I deem unfair privilege as acceptable.  I’m not saying that.  But what I am saying is this: If you’ve got it, use it. In fact, I think you MUST use it.  Small or large.  Whether you see yourself as somewhat privileged or somewhat underprivileged.  You have something.
Run with it – to help those around you.
Utilize it – for the glory of God.
Milk it – to extend a hand to those without the privileges you enjoy.
All real societal change has to start with individual heart change.  So take what you have, and use it for others.  For your world.  For the Lord. And if we truly do this, I wonder what might happen.
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[1] “White privilege.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 9, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_privilege
[2] “People with straight teeth considered happier, healthier and smarter.” Dental Tribune International. April 23, 2012. http://www.dental-tribune.com/articles/news/usa/8133_people_with_straight_teeth_considered_happier_healthier_and_smarter_.html
[3] Stanger, Melissa. “Attractive People Are Simply More Successful.” Business Insider. Oct. 9, 2012. http://www.businessinsider.com/attractive-people-are-more-successful-2012-9
[4] Lebowitz, Shana. “Science says being tall could make you richer and more successful — here’s why. ”Business Insider. Sept. 9, 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/tall-people-are-richer-and-successful-2015-9

#stopit: Don’t be that guy/gal on social media

This blog post is not for you. This is for your friends, you know, the ones who break all rules regarding proper etiquette on social media. You probably should share this widely, so that one guy you want to read it won’t get all offended and unfriend you. Or just @ him/her. They need to be put in their place.
These items should be common sense. They aren’t. Here are my top grievances, pet peeves and annoyances that make me borderline insane.
My top five:
1. Arguing about stuff other people put on THEIR wall/timeline.  It’s THEIRS. I know its _____________ (insert dumb, stupid, insensitive, not funny, racist, semi-racist, low key racist, or just plain nonsensical.) When tempted, just repeat after me: Not. My. Wall.
2. Adding people to groups. There is a special place in purgatory for these people. Why do you do this? This is like signing me up for a 26.2k because I posted that I ran 3 miles this morning. One I never asked you to. Two, I don’t run marathons. Three, NOPE!
3. Send pictures of flowers, encouraging messages, encouraging messages with flowers in it, memes from the internet meme factory, or whatever other stuff you can come up with through messenger. Why do you do that? I don’t know who started it, but please end it.
4. Send a Facebook messenger message that involves 25 people. (see #3)  I want Facebook to have a button that says: Roger left your friendship.  This is like a group text, only worse, because you can see the face of the person who added you and that you are hating right about now. Ask!
5. Jesus is mad at you for reducing his life transforming work to likes on Facebook. Pressure is never good. Spiritual pressure is a non-starter.
There are others, but I’ll stop here today. What annoys you? Click and share or the boogie man will get you.

Mission Field: Dying Churches

We know it’s happening. Christian churches all over the US are aging, and it feels as though there aren’t enough people to step up and keep them going. Maybe it’s not your church. Maybe you belong to a congregation that’s growing. Awesome. But there are plenty of Adventist churches that aren’t experiencing that right now. Two years ago mine was one of them.
This Sabbath I opened up my bulletin and pulled out a little offering brochure. It said something like, "Imagine a time when young people are bored with religion" and "Imagine a time where entertainment comes in a box or gadget instead of in nature." I would guess that these ideas resonated with a lot of members concerned about Adventist youth. I would also guess that those same people would not realize the harm that can be caused by these kinds of attitudes. No, we aren’t "bored with religion." We aren’t dropping out of our churches in droves because it isn’t fun enough. We’re leaving when the church doesn’t reflect Christ.
Let’s go back to my little church in Orangeburg, South Carolina. When my family first moved into town a couple of years ago we found a few scattered members sitting in the sanctuary watching a Doug Batchelor sermon. They were sharing a pastor with another church about an hour away, and often did not have anyone else to speak when he was gone. They had no website or social media presence at the time. VHS movies and a dated desktop sat in the church office from some time in the past. In that respect, they were not alone. At the time my wife and I were really struggling with coming to the service. While we were Adventists in belief, our previous church experience had really dragged us down. Honestly, we weren’t thrilled with Orangeburg at first either.
Soon after we moved into town, however, things started to change. My family (my parents, grandparents, and extended family all moved into town over the same couple of years) joined the pastor and other members in studying the Natural Church Development program. They started to tackle some of the less tangible issues Orangeburg was dealing with at the time. They took deliberate steps to foster an atmosphere of welcoming and fellowship. We started talking about intergenerational relationships. They asked questions and didn’t try to force my wife or I into positions we couldn’t handle. One Sabbath I stood in front of the congregation and explained to them the impact we could have if we started utilizing social media. After the service two members waited for me and said "Whatever you need to get Orangeburg online, we’ll help." Within a month they had bought the church a new laptop.
It was that same attitude that kept me coming back. No, we didn’t always agree on music preferences or decoration choices. But we shared a common goal of trying to educate ourselves and continue communicating with each other. Walking into church today you would never know that we had gotten so close to closing our doors. We’re still ironing out details and laying the groundwork for bigger things, but the Orangeburg Seventh-Day Adventist church is now a vibrant place with higher attendance than it’s had in years. It’s a place I love coming to every week. It makes me wonder how many of our churches could be turned around.
Here’s where we come in. The young Adventists who care deeply for the fate of our faith. What if we were able to partner with burnt-out pastors and bewildered congregations, what if we could help reverse the trends we’re seeing? I think it’s possible. It worked here. I went from hardly attending to giving sermons, taking up the offering, and managing my church’s social media presence. Imagine the impact Millennial knowledge could have if we were allowed to apply it.
I want to end with some questions. What are some of the roadblocks keeping us from being active in our churches? What kinds of ministry/service could we render to our congregations with our skill sets? How could we connect dying churches, who often have no internet presence or youth with willing mission-minded young people?

Where is God When I am Suffering?

Recently, I received word that a man I greatly respected and someone I considered a good friend died of a sudden heart attack. He is survived by a beautiful family of 5 wonderfully strong women. My heart has been filled with sorrow at his loss but with joy at the outpouring of love that has been expressed for his family. When things like this happen, it’s no surprise when people ask, “Where is God in all of this?” It’s a question, even as a Pastor, that often plagues my own mind. In these moments of intense loss, confusion, doubt, and fear are all natural responses.
Every time I return home to visit, I always call my friends and family to make plans. Whenever you visit your old stomping grounds, it makes sense to call those that you are the closest to. When you have big news, maybe you call your mother, your father, or your best friend or spouse. When big things happen, or when you are visiting a place for a short time, it’s customary to notify those closest to you first. Jesus, though, doesn’t always follow this pattern.
Luke 24 contains one of the most perplexing stories in Scripture to me. The Road to Emmaus is one of the oddest moments in the New Testament not because of what happens, but because of when it happens. Jesus has just been brutally tortured and crucified and has been in the grave for three days. On the third day when the women go to the tomb to tend to his body, they find it empty, and instead of Jesus appearing to them, instead two angels appear before them and explain that Jesus is still alive. The first question that this raises in my mind: why didn’t Jesus appear to them Himself? For the same reason I call those closest to me first whenever something new happens in my life, it’s not unreasonable to expect that when Jesus is raised from the dead He would want to tell His closest disciples and followers. Instead, they get a messenger.
So who are the first people Jesus appears to? Cleopas and an unnamed disciple. In other words, two followers of Jesus who we have no record of prior to this story and no record of after this story. Yet, they are the ones privileged to see the risen Christ first. Here is the kicker: they don’t even recognize Him. Jesus proceeds to walk seven miles with them to Emmaus, and He finds they are depressed because, well, Jesus is dead. They thought He would be the Messiah and free them from Rome and establish His kingdom, but instead, they watched Him die, and with Jesus, their hopes for the future also died. So Jesus walks with them in their sorrow and grief for seven miles and begins to explain to them all the things concerning His life and death and the Old Testament. In this explanation, Jesus makes an interesting remark: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Eventually, Jesus would reveal Himself to them, and they would be able to rejoice that He is alive and live in that joy.
After reading this story, I came to a few conclusions that I believe are necessary for us to understand how Jesus works with those who are suffering. The first thing I noticed is that Jesus, even in his resurrection, does not show favoritism. He appears to a couple of disciples that are not who we would expect Him to appear to. When people are hurting and are also far from God, it’s not uncommon to hear them say, “I’m so far from God, what will He do for me?” This story shows us that Jesus is willing to draw close to anyone, regardless of how far they are from Him. The second thing I noticed is that Jesus regarded His death as necessary. In seeing His death as necessary, it also means that He saw the pain and suffering of His disciples at his death as necessary. While I don’t mean to imply that Jesus is personally responsible for the pain and suffering you and I have experienced, what I do mean is that Jesus knows there is no other way for history to have played out then by letting humans experience the consequences of choosing sin. In doing so, instead of resigning us to that fate, He entered our experience and felt that pain personally. He didn’t let us suffer it alone, He suffered it with us. The third thing I noticed: not only does Jesus know our experience is necessary, He walks with us through our own journeys.
I love serving a God who looks at my life and says, “I know the path you will walk is hard, so I am going to walk it right alongside you and be with you every step of the way. You will not be alone, and I will not abandon you." Just like Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, God draws close to those who are suffering and knows firsthand the excruciating pain of losing someone you love. You are not alone.
I can’t understand all the reasons that some of the intense suffering we experience is a necessary part of our lives on Earth, but I can trust that God, in His infinite wisdom, has never abandoned me to suffer alone. So, where is God when you are suffering? Chances are He is walking right next to you and you may not even have realized it yet.

How to Beat Discouragement

While we were in Switzerland I had many letters from a sister whom I dearly love and highly esteem. In every one of these letters were the most gloomy pictures. She seemed to be dwelling on everything objectionable. Soon after I received these letters I prayed the Lord that He would give her help to turn her mind from the channel that it was running in. That night I had a dream presented to me three times. I was walking in a beautiful garden, and Sister Martha —– was by my side. As soon as she came into the garden I said, “Martha, do you not see this beautiful garden? See, here are the lilies, the roses, and the pinks.” “Yes,” she said, as she looked up and smiled. Soon I looked to see where she was. I was looking at the lilies, the roses, and the pinks, and did not see her. She was in another part of the garden, and was grasping a thistle. Then she was pricking her hands on the bramblebushes. She said they hurt her hands, and she asked, “Why do they keep all these thistles and these briers in the garden? Why do they let them stay here?”
Then there appeared before us a tall, dignified man who said, “Gather the roses, the lilies, and the pinks; discard the brambles and touch them not.” Then I awoke, and when I went to sleep I dreamed the very same thing again. Three times I had the same dream, and I arose—because I could not sleep—and wrote to Sister Martha the dream I had had.
Now, said I, God does not want you to gather up everything objectionable; He wants you to look at His wonderful works and at His purity. He wants you to take a view of His matchless love and His power, to look up through the beauties of nature to nature’s God. Said I, This [dream] represents your case exactly. You are dwelling on the dark side. You are talking of those things that give no light and bring no joy into your life. But you must turn your mind from these things to God. There are enough roses, pinks, and lilies in the garden of God’s love so that you need not look at the briers, the thistles, and the brambles. Now, I did not see these things, because I was delighting myself with the flowers and all the beauties of the garden.
Now, that is what we want to do, brethren. We want to have our minds on the encouraging things. We want to have our minds on the new country to which we are to be introduced. Our citizenship is not of this world, but it is above, and we want to consider what characters we should possess in order to become inhabitants of that better world and associates of the saints of God in heaven.
Sister Martha took it, and her soul was lifted above discouragement. Now, I do not want Satan to succeed in throwing his dark shadow across your pathway. I want you to get away from that shadow. The Man of Calvary will throw the light of His love across your pathway and dispel the darkness. He is able to do it and will do it, for He is Lord of all.
Ellen White, "The Ellen G White 1888 Materials", Sabbath Afternoon Talk, p. 77.

How the 28 Fundamental Beliefs Relate to The Cross

EW writes,
"The Sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary….*
So this Easter, I attempted to do this myself. How, in fact, does our system of truth – if it does – coincide with the aforementioned statement?
Here goes nothing:
The Holy Scriptures : The Bible is the grand story book, inspired by God, which reveals the story of redemption through human agency. Every story enclosed within ultimately points to the resolution of our story found at thecross.
The Trinity : The Trinity is God in three Persons: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thecrosswas the historical juncture where, for the first time in eternity, the Son was ripped away from the Godhead.
The Father: God, the Father, revealed his infinite love for humanity when He permitted his only begotten Son to die for you on thecross.
The Son: God, the Son; the one who was nailed on thecrossfor you; the One who took your shame but then “shamed the shame” (Hebrews 12).
The Holy Spirit : God, the Spirit, who was present with the Son before and during His incarnation, is now active in the world drawing all to the foot of thecrossto find healing and restoration.
Creation : God created the world in 6-literal days, imbuing it with meaning, value, and purpose. The brokenness that crept upon it was ultimately absorbed by God on thecross, ensuring the promise of its restoration.
The Nature of Humanity : Man was made in the image of God which was then marred by sin. God, in Christ, reconciled broken humanity with perfect divinity at thecrossby becoming the very thing that destroyed us.
The Great Controversy : The very weapon Satan devised against God was the very weapon that God used to defeat him. Thecrossrang the death knell to Satan’s dominion on this earth. Even though the war is over, we still decide whom to crown.
The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ : As one of my friends mentioned, Christ was the only being who chose to be born, but only did that after He chose to die. Thecrosswas, simultaneously, the ugliest and the most beautiful aspect of his incarnate existence.
The Experience of Salvation : What thecrossmore than achieves for us.
Growing in Christ : The process by which I am crucified with Jesus on thecrossdaily, through faith, so that His life becomes increasingly actualized in mine.
The church : The community of believers which finds its mission, efficacy, and celebration at the foot of thecross.
The Remnant and Its Mission: The community of God which keeps the commandments of God and holds on to the testimony of Jesus Christ; both of which find their impetus at thecross.
Unity in the Body of Christ – The community of Christ is culturally, racially, ethnically, nationally, vocationally, and demographically diverse. Thecrosspreserves the distinctive beauty of this community while calling it to a higher standard.
Baptism : The symbol of your confession by faith to what thecrossmeans to you. It’s an acknowledgment of the pre-eminence of Christinyour life and the permission of God to workthroughyour life.
The Lord’s Supper : The symbolic service of the body of Jesus that was broken and the blood that was spilt on thecross. It’s also a reminder that we are to be cross-bearing people in our daily existence.
Spiritual Gifts and Ministries : God has gifted every member of the body of Christ with talents and abilities which are to be used for the sole purpose of illuminating the efficacy of thecrossto those in and outside of it.
The Gift of Prophecy : God’s gift to the remnant community to both help illuminate the beauty of thecrosswithin Scripture and to educate it to live the life of thecrossin the world.
The Law of God : The transcript of God’s character which reveals how to love God and love others. This was perfectly lived out by Jesus, who through a perfect sacrifice on thecross, assures us that we will be made perfect by His grace through faith.
The Sabbath : The 24-hour gift of time where God rested from his work of creation and the work of redemption. Christ honored the Sabbath not only during his life, but also subsequently after his death on thecrossas He rested in the grave on Saturday.
Stewardship : Thecrossis the penultimate model for stewardship given to humanity, where God leverages his highest capacities to serve the least of these.
Christian Behavior: Christ paid the infinite cost at thecrossto restore our bodies and characters to His likeness. An aspect of Christianity, then, is about dedicating the members of our being to serve others and serve God.
Marriage and the Family : The Biblical ideal of marriage is fully realized when each one strives to manifest, through the power of God, the self-sacrificing love of Christ modeled for us on thecross.
Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary : Christ is coronated as king in the heavens, initiated as priest for his children on earth today, but these are only made possible because he was crucified as a criminal on thecrossfor you and me.
The Second Coming of Christ : Christ won the victory as our substitute on thecross, paving way for Him to parade through our atmosphere as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to take us to our eternal home.
Death and Resurrection : At thecross, Christ laid death in its grave. So that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
The Millennium and the End of Sin : The time period between the first and second resurrection where the righteous and the unrighteous will be sensitized to the magnitude of thecross.
The New Earth : The ultimate existential paradigm where the science of salvation will be taught through the text-book of thecross,the song of salvation sung in the key of thecross,the substance of salvation lived out through the way of thecross,among the community of thecross, forever, and ever more.​

….I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,–the Son of God uplifted on thecross.This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.”​*
May it be so this weekend, and every moment hereafter.
*Gospel Workers, 315.
What are your thoughts? What other relations do you see between SDA Theology and the Cross? Leave a Comment below.

How to Avoid Worthless Christianity

I saw an article this week on the 10 most popular books of the Bible and James wasn’t on there. So I got worried because I am currently going through a sermon series on James at my local church. My church members, I thought, are not going to love me and they are going to email the boss-man, and then I’m going to get fired and then my family wont have any food (grin). So to calm my anxiety I googled the 10 least popular books of the Bible. I figured, so long as James isn’t on that list then I am safe. And thankfully James wasn’t there either! So I think its safe to say James is neither loved nor hated.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case. Martin Luther, the champion of the reformation, thought very little of the book of James. He referred to it as the "straw epistle". Luther’s concern is that James seemed to focus on works too much and not enough on grace. And listen I get it. James isn’t always an easy book to chew on. Some of the stuff he says seems pretty harsh.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that James is almost impossible to appreciate without a proper understanding of grace. Now I’m not going to get into that today. That’s a future post. But suffice to say, for now at least, that James is not talking about salvation by works. He’s talking about authenticity. He’s talking about sincerity.
You see James had this crazy belief that we are saved, not by faith and works but by a faith that works. James was one of these weirdos who honestly believed that faith changes lives. It’s not just some idea you believe in because it sounds intellectually appealing. It’s a living thing that reaches down into your heart and changes you entirely.
Has your faith changed you? Better yet, allow me to frame the question in an illustration. Suppose I was late to an appointment with you and told you that the reason I was late was because on my way to see you my cars licence plate fell off so I had to pull over and run through traffic into the middle of the road and by the time I got there a semi truck travelling at 80 km hit me and I got dragged under the truck for a few hundred yards until I finally got free, jumped in my car, and made it to you. What would you say to that story? Chances are you would think either I was crazy or I was a liar. Because there is no way I could come into contact with a semi truck going 80 km and not be changed from a 3 dimensional being into a 2 dimensional pancake. But here’s the thing guys: God is bigger than a semi-truck. If its not possible to get hit by a semi without being "changed" it is even less possible to encounter the living God and stay the same. And for James, the servant of Jesus, faith either changed you or it wasn’t really faith. Call it philosophy, ethics, creed or worldview. In fact, go ahead and call it theology. But if it hasn’t changed you then don’t call it faith.
That brings us to our first verse:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (Jam. 1:26)
In other words, if your religion isn’t reaching deep and changing you as a person – not overnight but at least over time – then you need a new religion because, James declares, the one you have is worthless. Now I have to be really, really careful here because James is not trying to add extra pressure to someone who is new in the faith or going through a dark valley. Instead, James is pointing out something relevant – that there is a kind of Christianity that believes in the 10 commandments, the gospel, justification and sanctification, the Sabbath,  the sanctuary, and Jesus and in his return and yet it is worthless.
Ouch.
But it gets worse.
The word that we translate as "worthless" is an interesting one. Its the Greek wordmataios. It means "1) devoid of force, truth, success, result 2) useless, of no purpose." So James is saying that there is a kind of Christianity that is devoid of force, proclaims empty truth, has no success and consequently nothing results from it. It’s useless. It serves no purpose.
Ouch.
But it gets worse.
This Greek wordmataiosis also used in the New Testament in reference to idolatry and idol worship (Acts 14:15). So James is saying – don’t miss this -that there is a kind of Christianity that is as worthless as idolatry.

You see, for James it’s not about what you believe in your head. It’s about how you allow that belief to redefine who you are. So what does that look like? James explains it:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (27)
In the latter part of the verse James insinuates the importance of doctrine when he warns us to not be polluted by the world. In scripture the world often alludes to thought. So James calls us to not be polluted by the worlds thought patterns. But that’s not all James points out. Doctrine is certainly important, but James is emphasizing something bigger here. He is saying that if your doctrine doesn’t translate to mercy, and empathy, and acts of kindness for those less fortunate than you then your religion with all of its knowledge, ideology and philosophy is worthless. James doesn’t care how pure you think your doctrine is. If it doesn’t translate to active and practical love then it simply isn’t pure. But if your religion leads to a life that is characterized by holiness revealed in visible hands-on love for others then that religion God accepts.
See, James isn’t talking about gaining God’s grace or love by working. He’s not talking about going to heaven by trying. And hes not trying to put pressure on people who are struggling. He’s talking about being genuine. Are you genuine? Is your religion genuine? Or is it worthless? Notice what God said to the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows. (Isa. 1:13-17)
Notice the descriptive words God uses: meaningless, sinful, false, pious. And notice the emotive words he uses: disgust, hate, burden. He even calls the Sabbath sinful and false and says he wants no more! These descriptive and emotive words are synonymous with James’ use of the word worthless. God isn’t interested in worthless religion. In fact, he’s not as into Sabbath keeping and church going as we like to think he is. So stop wasting your time! God doesn’t want our religious pretense. He wants genuine faith which is revealed in lives that are forsaking sin to pursue goodness, justice, helping, defending, and fighting for those who are weak.
But here is the magical question. What exactly is it that separates worthless religion from genuine faith? We saw that both of them have the same belief system. So its not data that separates them. Then what does? How does a person go down one path or the other? Is there a practical instruction that can lead us, if obeyed, in the direction of genuine faith? And is there a decision which, if made, can lead us in the direction of worthless faith? How do we avoid the one and embrace the other?
James answers that question a few verses before,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (22)
Do what it says. That’s it. Nothing else. You see, when James refers to worthless religion he describes its practitioners as self-deceived people. And here in verse 22 he tells us how to avoid being self-deceived people with a worthless religion. Its very simple. "Do what [God] says."
I don’t know why we complicate the Christian life so much. Francis Chan once said it like this: Imagine I asked my daughter to clean her room and she comes back an hour later. I ask her, "have you done what I asked?" and she replies, "No dad. But guess what? I memorized what you said. I can even say it in Greek!" Would that work? Of course not. The Christian life is very simple. Do what God says.
I have concluded that sometimes we just need to stop talking and get out there and do something. We are here Sabbath after Sabbath listening and soaking in sermon after sermon and we love it. Our libraries are loaded with books and DVD’s and we got our satellite dish so we can get some extra 3ABN or Hope or whatever. But when it comes time to do something for the community, to reach out, to bless and to serve all of a sudden most of us are tired. All of a sudden we have no time. All of a sudden we back off. Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal?
When I was in New Jersey I attended a Jamaican church with Candice. One Sabbath I accidentally locked the keys in the car. So after the service a group of the guys came to help me break into the car and get my keys out. There was about six of them standing around and they all began coming up with a plan on how they would get inside. One guy said this, the other guy said that. The debate continued for a few minutes until one of the elders arrived. He looked at the group and literally said, "You know what your problem is? Ya’ll got too many theories!" And with that he popped a crowbar into the door latch, used a wire clothes hanger to reach in, and in less than one minute he had opened the car.
"Too many theories." That was his critique. But what he was really saying is that all their talk was worthless. And without any talk he got to work. So I ask again. Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal? A religion that revolves around too many theories and too much lip movement but has little to no effect in the world around us? We show up every Sabbath and we listen to sermon after sermon and then what? We do Bible study after Bible study and then what? Is it possible that our greatest sin is we talk too much and we do too little. And the ones who do stick their necks out to do something barely ever get any support.
Guys, the difference between a Christianity that is as worthless as idolatry and a Christianity that is genuine is that one merely listens to the word and the other listens and does what it says. That’s it. That is the separating factor.
Narayanan Krishnan, born in 1981, is an Indian chef turned social worker. He quit his career as a leading chef and began supplying meals to the homeless in India, beginning in 2002. Krishnan was an award-winning chef and was short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland. During a visit to his family, before heading to Europe, he said, "I saw a very old man, literally eating his own human waste out of hunger. I went to the nearby hotel and asked them what was available then I bought and gave to the old man. Believe me, I had never seen a person eating so fast, ever. As he ate the food, his eyes were filled with tears. Those were the tears of happiness."
Krishnan founded his nonprofit Akshaya Trust in 2003. Every day, he wakes up at 4 a.m., cooks a simple hot meal and then, along with his team, loads it in a van and travels about 125 miles (201 km) feeding the homeless and mentally-disabled in his region. He serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to 400 indigent and elderly people in Madurai. He carries a comb, scissors and razor and is trained in eight haircut styles that, along with a fresh shave, provide extra dignity to those he serves.*
But do you know what the weird part is? Krishnan is a Brahmin and he says that "Brahmans are not supposed to touch these people". And yet he does. In other words, Krishnan is doing something that goes contrary to his own religious tradition. In order for him to be true to his heart he has to contradict his own faith. And despite this, he is still doing it. Somehow, this man whose faith is miles apart from ours has discovered the heart of God in a way many of us have not. As Christians its not our faith we have to contradict. Its our selfishness. Its our worthless religion. But if we look intently into the heart of God we will see this love that changes lives there. We must accept that love, and then do what it commands.
There have been men in every generation who have claimed to be the sons of God… and yet who led a godless life, for they neglected the weightier matters of the law—mercy, justice, and the love of God. There are today many who are in a similar deception; for while bearing an appearance of great sanctity, they are not doers of the Word of God…. If Christ is in the heart, He will appear in the home, in the workshop, in the marketplace, in the church….  He who is transformed by the truth will shed a light upon the world (Ellen White, FW p.116)
Now some of you might be thinking I don’t have the time to start a nonprofit, or to go feed the poor etc. But please understand, that’s not the point. God isn’t after dramatic things. Hes after the small things. He wants us to do something. Whether its helping out a ministry at church or donating some time (not just money – that’s too easy) to the local charity God is calling you and me to be, not just hearers of the word, but doers.
_____
* ThunderCallOfficial (YouTube), "CNN Heroes Tribute Narayanan Krishnan" [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJZoOGXIXQU&t=179s]

5 Reasons Why You Absolutely Positively Need a Digital Detox (and a Real Vacation)

My wife and I just came back from our first real vacation ever. This year, instead of using vacation time to travel and visit family, for our five year anniversary we decided to fulfill a long-desired wish and visit the greater London area for two weeks of a well-deserved break.
Before we left, we agreed to a digital detox (meaning a full disconnect form all forms of digital communication: text, phone, emails and of course, social media) for those two weeks. Full disclosure, I was more consistent with this in our second week, but I’m convinced that this one decision had a profound impact on me and will be a part of all future vacations. You should seriously consider doing this too, and here are five reasons why:
1. You’re a workaholic.
You may not think you are, but you are. Americans have a global reputation of not taking vacations. When we were on one of our day trips, we told our tour guide we were American and she said, “That’s incredible that you’re taking a holiday because Americans never take a vacation!” It wasn’t a joke; she was serious and she’s right.
In 2014, a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association found that the amount of unused vacation time by Americans hit a 40-year high. U.S. workers were using only 77% of their paid time off, totaling 169 million days forfeited, and $52.4 billion in lost paid time off or PTO. That’s time that your company literally pays to take a vacation that gets unused.
You need a vacation. No, an extended weekend doesn’t count. Accepting a speaking invite to Hawaii doesn’t count either. You need a time when you travel and break away from your daily routine and familiarity. Do you think that Jesus never took time off?
I’m going to discuss this point a little more because there is a real effect that accumulated stress has on the body. Case-in-point: in the days leading up to our trip, I had terrible pain in my arm that became progressively worse. It was a burning and tingling sensation that ran from my shoulder to my fingers on my left arm every night. It got so bad that I couldn’t even sleep through the night. I thought it was some sort of nerve issue due to blood work I had drawn prior to leaving.
In the UK, I spoke with a friend who checked it out and said, “This isn’t a nerve issue. Have you been under some stress lately?”  I immediately knew she was right. She sat me down and used what can only be described as some sort of secret Colombian jujitsu massage and saved my trip by working out some knots and making me do some daily stretching exercises (If you read this, thanks Eli)!
For some people, stress manifests itself as sloppy work; others get frustrated or angry. Stress affects me physically. A vacation (with a massage included) can certainly help ease that away.
The fact that we in the United States place such a high value on people who don’t take vacations and call them “committed” or “hard working” doesn’t help. All it does is create an unhealthy dependence on the individual and makes the culture buy into a false idea that overworking is a virtue. That’s a ridiculous cultural standard that we’ve made into an idol. The rest of the world looks at us and wonders what is wrong with us. We as Adventists should be the first ones preaching and modeling the message to “get out and rest!”
2. You will realize that you are not the center of the universe.
Being on social media a lot has an effect on you. Being constantly aware of what’s going on makes us junkies for updates (and just as hard to break free, even for a few days). A digital detox away from the constant updates of social media and away from your job will help you realize that not everything is about you. You don’t have to pick up every call, you don’t have to return that email or Facebook comment, you don’t have to approve that decision. You’re on vacation, and you’ll find that it can wait and life will go on.
This really isn’t just helpful for you; this will also help others. The sign of good leaders is their ability to raise up other good leaders. You can’t raise up other leaders if people are always looking to you for answers and you are always there and available even when your company is paying you to not be. When you disconnect, you leave success in God’s hands. You’ll find that He has a way of raising others and can use anyone so that you can take time off. If you’ve caught up with work and left a list of emergency contacts in place, trust Him enough to take care of your affairs while you’re gone.
3. Traveling gives you a better perspective of the rest of the world.
It’s so easy to get caught up the everyday issues that we face day in and day out that you don’t realize that you are just a drop in a vast world out there. There is more to life than the endless debates on social media. There is more beauty to life than what you see in a regular workweek.  There are new ideas and new sights out there to be seen if you will only look for them.
When you visit churches that are over a thousand years old, when you visit Roman baths that are two thousand years old, when you visit Stonehenge that is about four thousand years old, you get a sense that you are part of a larger flow of world history. When you read and see the news that concerns other parts of the world, you will find that the problems that concern you are nowhere near other people’s radar.
London in particular was a melting pot of cultures. I loved being in the Underground rail system, a.k.a. “the Tube,” and listening to the vast amount of languages I’d hear. That only happens when you stop using Google maps street view as a cheap knock off to travelling.  These are all details that you notice this when you are not staring at a computer or a phone screen all the time, leaving you to be aware of your surroundings and what’s around you.
4. You will find that people appreciate a personal visit more than a Facebook message.
We had a great time visiting friends who we hadn’t seen in years and I think they’ll agree that an in-person visit is way better than anything else. Especially if you’re visiting somewhere that you can’t usually go to, it’s great to spend time engaging with people face to face. It will mean a lot to both of you.
There’s a flip side to this though. If you’re on vacation, be careful that you don’t spend all of your time visiting other people. In some cases, people don’t really get to enjoy vacation because they spend so much time visiting other people out of obligation. They think, “If I don’t visit so-and-so, they will get upset because they knew I was here and didn’t visit them.”
As I mentioned at the beginning, in past years Sarah and I spent our vacations visiting family in Boston and Miami, one week each.  While it’s always great to see our family, all of the travel was leaving us more worn out than rested.  So we decided to focus this year’s vacation on each other.  It wasn’t restful like a beach vacation since we did a LOT of walking and sightseeing, but it was a special time for us to spend together, with and for each other.
Remember, this is your vacation. Don’t let guilt dictate your plans. You can’t visit everybody and guess what? That’s okay too. Make an agenda, set your plans, and visit who you can.
5. You will be more productive.
This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true. A digital detox and a vacation will help you return well-rested and more productive, if you’re intentional. By allowing yourself some time to breathe, be lazy, and be still, your body is resting and preparing itself to work more efficiently when you return.
One study done by EY auditing service (formerly Ernst & Young) found that employees who use more vacation days end up with better performance reviews. Other research has linked vacation time to increased worker productivity.  Here are some statistics to consider:
On-the-job stress is the top reason for employee dissatisfaction in the American workforce; 35% report that “the source of this stress is their job interfering with their family or personal time” according to a recent Gallop survey.
A CCH Human Resources Management study demonstrated that more than 50% of employees feel more “rested, rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal life” and that nearly 40% of workers “feel more productive and better about their job” when returning from vacation.
The same study reported that nearly 20% of workers have canceled or postponed a vacation because of their job.
So what are you waiting for? Decide on your next vacation, block out those dates with your employer, and disconnect from all forms of media. You will return well-rested, ready to face the challenges ahead, and count days till your next digital detox!