The Adventist Church Needs You Now More Than Ever

I don’t know where to begin. I’m an Adventist. I went through a stage where I wasn’t willing to say that. I didn’t want to say that. Despite growing up an Adventist and being a preacher’s kid’s kid, I got to a point where I wasn’t so sure about my adventistness. Yet after trying to be something else and denying what I knew, I realized I’m more Adventist than ever. I don’t know how to be anything else. And the problem myself and many Adventists today have is that we no longer see a future in the Adventist Church as a denomination.

Today Adventists all over North America are confused, disappointed, and frustrated. They don’t understand the recent decisions of the General Conference regarding homosexuality. Why a group of theologians who claim to share the loving gospel of Jesus, would tell us that our brothers, daughters, cousins, and friends are not allowed to come to church. We don’t understand why the GC press release shutting down the most innovative, exciting, and creative work the church has ever done would say they look forward to innovative and creative ventures in the future.

I watched the Record Keeper with my family, with my 6 and 8 year old sons, who stopped talking about Star Wars and started asking questions about the battle between good and evil. They wanted to know the story of God and Satan and Salvation more than Darth Maul and Anakin Skywalker. I watched the series with my youth group, and after each episode our conversations went on for hours. They wanted to know what we believe about the judgment and why all of this is the way it is. I’ve never felt more alive or more empowered by the church to bring students into a deeper understanding of our faith and salvation like with this film.

And with one fell swoop it’s over. With no explanation showing what the issues really were, it’s over. And I ask with these decisions “Is the General Conference intentionally trying to kill the church? What’s the point?” I don’t think they understand the harm they’ve done with the recent decisions they’ve made. That people like me who have devoted their life to helping young people understand what they believe and to stay in the church is now that much harder. Every week I talk with a high school student who tells me their faith is strong, but they see no future for themselves in this church. And today I can’t argue with them because I see no future for my own children here.

I see friends asking the question “what do I do now”. I see disappointment and disillusionment all around me as Adventists from all parts of North America try to make sense of what to do. But I know what I will do. I will not be undone by individuals so out of touch with reality; individuals who offer no explanation to their decisions and expect blind adherence without discourse. The world is a much different place from when Ellen White helped found the church.

I’m writing today not to anyone employed by a church or conference office. I’m writing as a member of the Seventh – day Adventist church who is sad, disappointed, and angry. I have spent my life in this denomination. I believe in the fundamental truths of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. I have devoted my life, often to the detriment of my professional career, to the ministry of helping young people discover and own their beliefs within the Adventist church. For my own selfishness I will not allow that work to be thrown away.

My decision is not to give up and walk away with my head hung low. It is to fight back. It is to take my church back from the hands of those who are intentionally trying to tear it apart. Selfish, politically motivated individuals, who at the end of the day are simply sinful human beings in need of a savior just like me.

I have seen the future face of our church and there is a bright light buried in the lives of the next generation. A generation that isn’t afraid to ask questions and go after their faith in a manner no previous generation has. A generation who looks to love, acceptance, and tolerance as the cornerstone to their beliefs. A generation whose creativity and authenticity will bring a renaissance to not only Adventism, but Christianity as a whole.

It is time for those of us who don’t agree with the methods laid out before us to respond. To come together and show our leaders how much we care and why we care. And to take ministry into our hands, the way that it’s meant to be The great commission was given to all of us to share the power of Jesus with those around us as only individuals using our talents for filmmaking, music, writing, yoga, counseling, teaching, kindness, love, patience… can do.

These decisions should not cause you to be disillusioned or to turn your back on the church. If so, I would beg of you to please contact me. These decisions by the official church are the call to members to wake from the habits they have formed over their life and take notice. It’s a time for all of us to truly ask ourselves what we believe and stand up for it. This isn’t a show that the church doesn’t want you. It’s a show that the church needs you more now than ever.

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Salvation Without the Inconvenience

Is Christianity supposed to be easy?  I’ve had this question on my mind a lot recently.  Should that choice to live as a follower of Christ be free from inconvenience with the rest of your life?  Most people would say “no”, but is that the way it actually is?  Just look at our churches.  The ultra-modern churches feature all the amenities necessary to woo us out of our beds on the weekend.  They’ve adapted to the cultural changes to be whatever it is that an individual is looking for.  Christianity, seems to do this more readily than any other religion. Don’t believe me? Try to find a contemporary Muslim worship service. How about a Hindu temple with a Starbucks café in it. Even those Christians who say they’re holding onto “traditional Christianity” are really just grasping at a time period they liked best, as if Jesus had a pipe organ and sang Amazing Grace. So when today’s culture glorifies hook-ups and one night stands it shouldn’t surprise anyone when Christians approach their relationship with Jesus as just a friend with benefits.

I recently stumbled across an article for a new website called parttimelove.co.uk.  The site created by relationship author Helen Croydon targets people who want to be independent but also want to fall in love. Croydon says “We are not a no-strings website. We are for singles looking for regular partners with mutual attraction, genuine friendship, respect and a magical spark but whom have no expectations of moving in after three months and value their free time and independence”. Wait, what? So these are people who want the benefits of a committed, long-term relationship without making the personal sacrifices to maintain it on a daily basis?  Makes sense to me. It sounds a lot like most of todays Christians who want the feel good assurance of salvation without the burden of everyday Christ-like living.

It’s sad that our culture has come to a point where we don’t want a continuous 24/7 relationship. That’s smothering and burdensome. We want our freedom. We don’t want responsibility, but we want assurance. It’s like renting a pet for the weekend because you just don’t want to deal with it during the week.  Most of us do this already, ignoring families for work, gym, etc. all week long until the weekend when we try to buy each others love back with elaborate excursions.  How many Christians do the same thing, ignoring prayer, devotion, and community service during the week then show up at elaborate worship services and hand out bulletins in order to re-enroll in their fire insurance.  Deep down they really don’t want to change as much as they want to believe that they aren’t “bad people going hell”.  Christianity to them is a check box, and something you own up to on a limited basis while you focus on other more visible issues of daily life.  They want the relationship without the commitment and inconvenience.

Source:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/28/living/online-dating-part-time-relationship/index.html?hpt=hp_c3

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New Christian Documentary Film “Fight Church”

A new documentary to premier this month follows a group of fighting pastors and examines the relationship between MMA fighters and Christianity.  In the movie’s trailer (see below) one pastor asks “Can you love your neighbor as yourself and at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can”.

At first glance the entire premise seems repulsive.  Pastors teaching men of all ages of the church a proper armbar while quoting scripture seems a far cry from what the rest of Christianity shares about Jesus.  Then the more I thought about it the more sense it made.  In today’s ultramodern churches that feature Jazzercise, book clubs, and dodge ball teams why does this shock anyone?  Haven’t our churches and pastors changed drastically in the past decade in order to keep “the church” relevant for today’s culture?  Youth rooms look like Dave & Buster’s, church lobby’s resemble a Starbucks, and sanctuaries feel like movie theaters.  Church websites and bulletin boards offer an array of activities to join other church members in everything from cooking to Crossfit.  It really can’t be the violence, because there are plenty of Christian groups at the gun range and paintball fields every weekend.  I know both of those things have happened in my own church within the past month.

Christians are desperately trying to do whatever they can to get butts in the pews.  If you look hard enough I’m sure you can find a niche church for just about whatever your pastime. I recently had a conversation with one of our pastors and several elders about ditching the formal adult class model for an open plan for groups who wanted to meet before and after running, yoga, etc. to sit and chat rather than heading to a coffee shop.

But the problem I see is that Christian culture has created a barrier between itself and everyone else where they no longer know how to interact with the rest of the world.  We’ve drawn a hard line in the sand where Christians are supposed to be in the world and not of it, therefore we can no longer permit ourselves to actually interact in it.  Rather than Christians intermingling with non-Christians and sharing their faith in the real world, we have to create settings for the world to come to us.  We must add features like MMA training to our churches only in the hopes that we can trick some unwitting fool into salvation.  But in the end all it does is serve those who are already saved and in the church.  It’s not evangelistic.  Evangelism is going out from your comfort zone and meeting others where they are at.  Not expanding the fortress walls to accommodate your Jacuzzi.

I remember how dumbfounded I was when I first saw Benson Henderson of the UFC enter the arena to the music “Awesome God”.  However, at least he’s trying to take his faith outside the fortress of the church and into the countryside where he may actually meet someone.  I’ve always found the public gravitas of athletes for “giving God the glory” off-putting.  But it’s so much more than the countless Christian’s who by tickets every weekend to skip church, drink beer, and yell obscenities at people they’ll never meet.

But in the end, how can you truly evangelize Fight Church, while observing the first rule of Fight Church?

 

 

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Choosing Acceptable and Unacceptable Lifestyles

There’s a lifestyle choice that has grown in popularity over the years that I feel I must finally speak to directly. Hollywood glamorizes it, making TV shows and movies that prominently feature people living in this unbiblical, sinful way of life.  Some of the most popular actors and actresses live this way. As a Christian it’s always bothered me, but I ignored it until I became a father. Now the problem seems inescapable as I see the subtle messages of a lifestyle my children can choose later in life planted in their tiny brains against my will. A lifestyle I firmly don’t believe in. It feels like it’s creeping in and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I can’t send them to a private Christian school because they have friends in their classes whose families compose this lifestyle.

I can’t send them to church, because there are “couples” parading around throwing it in our face.

It seems like nowhere is safe. I don’t want my boys to grow up thinking this is an option for them. I don’t want them to believe that this desecration to the institution of marriage is acceptable for good Christian people who obey God’s laws. Nowhere in the Bible is it condoned. It’s a sin.

Marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. It’s a covenant entered into in God’s presence. That definition should not be undone.

Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify what I’m talking about so we’re all on the same page. I want to make sure we all know I’m talking about divorce.

You thought it was that other thing didn’t you?

I have quite a few friends who are on their second marriage. For whatever reason their first attempt at happiness didn’t work out. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision and I can’t imagine going through that. I don’t want to sound flippant or callous by not understanding all the agony they went through while I sit in judgment. So I don’t.  And I hope by writing this I don’t lose them. If I lose them, it will be as tragic to me as the friends and family I have lost because of their homosexuality.   Those whom I may never cross paths with again because they don’t feel I, or more appropriately my church, will accept them without condemnation.

It’s amazing to me how the same rhetoric that’s applied to homosexuality can be applied to another area that the Bible speaks about directly and no one bats an eye. I remember growing up in the church and how big the issue of divorce was. Good Christian people didn’t get divorced. If you did, you were frowned upon. Your social status plummeted. After all, the Bible was (is) very clear that divorce was wrong. Any pastor who got divorced immediately lost their position.  I have family members who 30 years ago were kicked out of the church because they got divorced.  Today however, is a different story.  We don’t see any difference in the divorce rate among Christians and non-Christians. That crazy number of “50% of marriages end in divorce” applies to everyone. Yet, our churches doors are wide open and full of beautifully divorced and remarried individuals.

But this is the last argument I have in making my point on acceptable “lifestyles” within the church.  I’m tired of the fight that has overwhelmed Christianity.  It seems to have reached a frenzy of late.  I felt I needed to use this context in response to the broader discussions that are occurring all around us.  And to me it seems the most appropriate. No one sits around and says “I hope when my kid grows up, finds a horrible spouse, settles down, and after 3 years gets divorced.”  But when it happens we have grown as church communities to no longer alienate and condemn.

And that’s the only point I’ve ever tried to make.  To reach a moment where church communities can just openly love and support all people.  For me it’s not about identifying sin; casting judgment and blame to alienate others from hearing the gospel. Again this week I had an individual comment to me that “individuals need to be held accountable for their sin.  They must repent and seek salvation”.  But who do they repent to?  And who offers salvation?  Is it you?  Is it me?  Is it Billy Graham or Joel Osteen or TD Jakes or whoever your “holy man” on earth is?  No, there is only one from whom judgment and salvation can come, and we are nothing in comparison to His infinite wisdom.

We look past many things in our churches that are still considered sins.  But we’ve become better for not kicking teen mothers out of church for having premarital sex.  We’ve become better for not disfellowshipping divorcees.  For thousands of “Christians” to withdraw their support to sponsor children in need because of their opinion on “lifestyle choices” shows just how far we still have to come.  To withhold love and justice from those who are desperately seeking Christian community to me is sinful.  Seeking it with more heartfelt honesty than millions of Christians who walk through the doors of churches every week out of habit.

 

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How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation

Ben Moushon:

A fantastic article re-affirming my own thoughts made last week regarding World Vision and Christianity. As a youth pastor who has had students repeatedly tell me they love and believe in God but can no longer follow such a close minded church, I hope that we can find a middle ground where love and acceptance comes first, and leaves the judgment to God.

Originally posted on CNN Belief Blog:

Opinion by  Rachel Held Evans , special to CNN

(CNN) — On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.

It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.

But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”

Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?

The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.

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Biblical Evidence God Likes Rich People Best

For a long time now I’ve struggled against the notion of a prosperity gospel.  The entire premise seems contrary to a savior who tells the rich young ruler “the foxes have dens and the birds have nests, but I have nowhere to lay my head” (Luke 9:58).  The sermon on the mount, the treatise for Jesus’ ministry on earth, was directed at the poor, meek, and suffering.  It angered me as I saw the popularity of prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen.  I finally had my fill when I stumbled across the program Preachers of LA and decided to start looking into this false gospel.  I spent minutes researching online to dispel this false gospel; but the more I searched, the more truth I found in it.  For all the verses in the Bible that talk about the meek and poor, when you break it down God really likes rich people better.  Just look at the greatest men of the Bible:

Abraham – So rich that he had to move away from his nephew Lot (Genesis 13:2)

Joseph – Had the keys to the entire country of Egypt (Genesis 39:2)

Solomon – Richest man in the world (1 Kings 10:23)

Job – So rich Satan was jealous (Job 1:3)

Not only were these men really really rich, these were God’s favorite people.  Abraham got to start a nation as God’s chosen people, Joseph kind of took over the greatest nation at the time, Solomon was allowed to build the first temple, and God even pointed out Job as the best guy on earth.  Even in the new testament we find God promoting the rich.  Jesus talks about the shrewd manager (Luke 16) and the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) as illustrations for being successful with money.  Rich people step up when God needs them.  He needed two rich guys to provide a tomb for Jesus because the poor fishermen ran away.  The rich aren’t bothering God with prayer requests.  Rich people are doers.  Paul writes to the Thessaloppians in chapter two verse thirteen “The lord’s favor continues on those who do for themselves”.

The more time I spent looking at it, the clearer it became.  God wants rich people.  God needs rich people.  Rich people prove God’s existence.  God creates nice things (Gen 1:31), rich people have nice things, ergo God exists.  Rich people live in mansions, God is building mansions for us in heaven (John 14:2), so heaven will be better taken care of with rich people in it.  Then finally the greatest realization hit me.  Without rich Christian people, we would all be doomed.  Without rich Christians building megachurches no one would believe Jesus even existed.  Without rich people paying pastors salaries no one would be sharing the gospel of Jesus and performing baptisms.  It all so simple.  Rich people are better Christians.  Next time you’re at church, thank a rich person for saving your soul.

 

And if you believe that, send me the wiki link to Thessaloppia.  Have a Happy April Fools.

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World Vision’s Homosexuality Problem

It’s been a very busy week for an organization I’ve been proud to be a part of for many years.  If you weren’t aware, World Vision (the premier Christian global aid organization) updated it’s staff policy this week to include legal same-sex marriage.  The policy which required employees to remain celibate while single and faithful in marriage, would now include those in non traditional relationships.  Without a doubt this was a landmark decision for those in the LGBTQ community.  In a letter to staff earlier in the week, president Richard Stearns explained:

“Since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally… As World Vision employees, we are first and foremost united in our response to Jesus’ call to follow Him and to serve the poor. This unity gives us space to acknowledge a range of views on issues among the Christian churches we attend and the denominations we represent.”

Then came the backlash.  Fast and furious as only Christians can do; and 48 hours later the policy was reversed.  A statement was released and a chorus of Christian voices raised up in triumph.  The same chorus of people who remarkably were silent for all the years that Fred Phelps spewed hate and bigotry.  This is the climax of Christian hypocrisy and I’m tired of it.  I’ve stood at dozens of World Vision events, poured hours of my personal time into promoting child sponsorship, simply to watch fat, lazy, rich Christians walk as far away from the sponsorship table as possible, avoiding eye contact on their way to get another super gulp soda and a band t-shirt.  I have argued with people at churches who feel that I’m not supporting the right agency as I ask  them to save the life of a child in poverty.  These people would rather let a child die than help.

Let me be clear, this isn’t just about homosexuality.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg in my opinion.  I’m standing here looking at the life I have devoted to spreading the gospel and changing lives, and wondering “what’s the point”.  No good deed goes unpunished.  I’ve been a Christian my entire life and I’m starting to understand why so many have left the church.  To put so much into something you love and believe in, simply wanting to share the life changing power of following Jesus, only to see it washed away in a sea of one sided judgment.  It breaks my heart.  There is no love, no acceptance, no “place for ALL sinners” to find rest.

I’ve been a youth minister for 10 years and have watched over and over as those youth grow to adults and leave the church because they don’t feel the love and acceptance of Jesus through the fellowship of believers that was promised to them.  I sit on the boards and committees that wring their hands over the future of our church, but are unwilling to make the changes necessary to fix it.  Just last week I had a student tell me “I believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible, but not religion or the church”.  I wept knowing that as soon as she’s too old for my youth group, she will leave the church.  It leaves me disillusioned and wanting nothing to do with it.  Over and over again I see Christians shutting out those around them from experiencing community.   We deny atheists the opportunity to help serve thanksgiving meals  and now we are denying those whose lifestyle is different to answer the call to serve in missions.  The hospital metaphor of the church died years ago.  It’s been replaced with the country club; only the right people get in.

I’ve lost friends and family because of the church.  And now I see it affecting lives I will never meet in this world. Children who suffer for no reason. We cannot be a part of the silent majority any longer. Let a greater, wiser power than ourselves sort out who’s saved and who’s not. If we believe that all things work together for good and that God is in control, why can’t we trust God in this matter as well?  Why can’t the church be a place to love and accept anyone who wishes to place their burden at the foot of the cross? Another one of my students a few weeks ago screamed at me “why does it matter?  Why can’t we just love Jesus and love other people like the Bible tells us to?”

Had Jesus followed the model of today’s Christians our gospel would look very different.  He wouldn’t have talked to a Samaritan woman by a well.  He wouldn’t have healed a Roman captain’s daughter.  He wouldn’t have stopped Pharisees from stoning a prostitute.  He wouldn’t have touched a leper.  And he most likely wouldn’t have died on a cross for all the worthless sinners that would ever walk on the face of the earth.

I believe World Vision made the right decision to change it’s policy both times.  I say this because Rich Stearns’ book “The Hole in Our Gospel” is one of the books that altered how I view my faith.  It opened my eyes take a less selfish view of my faith.  One where I can’t sit in a pew and consume worship.  I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison as much as I must love my enemy and take the gospel into all the world.  Yes, World Vision is a Christian organization focused on the biblical call to minister to the world around us.  But as Rich Stearns explained, the decision wasn’t a statement about homosexuality, but about the love and acceptance of Jesus to the individuals who wish to help change the lives of children around the world.  In the end, they put the lives of children first.  Choosing one group over another shouldn’t have happened, but it did.  This will have long term ramifications for a generation who is already struggling with religion.

I got involved with World Vision because I firmly believed in what they were doing.  The lives they changed and saved.  I saw the faces of my own two children in every packet on every World Vision table I’ve ever seen.  Age, race, sex, politics, economics, none of it should matter when it comes to saving the lives of children.  I minister to teens for the same reason.  I will continue to support my church and World Vision because I believe that my life has a higher purpose.  I believe God has called me to make a difference and help lead my church into change.  I believe God placed me here to be a servant; to share His love, grace, and mercy with all those who need it.  To listen when someone has problems, to put an arm around someone who’s heart is breaking, and to do what I can to help children all over the world experience Jesus’ kingdom on earth.  I would hope that you would share that vision and leave admission into eternity up to someone else.

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