How to Keep Your Fire When Your Church is Frozen
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I talk to people all the time who are seriously fed up with the state of their local church. They preach, teach, admonish, rebuke and inspire the members (or try) with zero results. It seems, no matter how hard they work, the church simply will not change, evolve or revive. And if they manage to take a few steps forward, its only a matter of time before the church slides back into its old habits. Transforming our church culture feels like dragging a giant boulder up a soggy, muddy cliff.

Cynicism sets in. They keep attending church but have lost faith in the people. From time to time they run into someone who feels like them but for the most part they feel alone.

Over time, these people lose the capacity to say anything positive about the church. Everything is bad. Everything sucks. There is nothing redemptive. Their fire isn’t necessarily going out but its burning for the wrong reasons. What was once a flame ignited for mission and love, is now a raging inferno that burns with anger and disenchantment. If they have anything positive to say, its minimal compared to the long list of church-fails they have compiled.

I know these people because I meet them all the time. I also know them because from time to time, I am one of them.

I’m human. And despite my faith in God I must admit, sometimes I lose hope in the vision of a vibrant, meaningful and world-transforming local church within Adventism. I hear stories of toxic church after toxic church, pastors uninterested in making a difference, church members vehemently opposed to anything remotely different and fear-mongering ministries derailing missional churches into pointless debates over nonsense that I wonder - are we simply too far gone to turn around? Its not simply our structure that needs to change after all - its our culture! Structure is easy. Culture is a whole other monster. Changing our culture from fundamentalist argumentation to relational servanthood could take another two generations at the least! What are we to do in the meantime?

Some people I talk to just give up. The SDA institution is simply incapable of generating missional churches designed for interacting with and reaching post-modern societies, they say. So they walk away from the church altogether. Others stick around, but they are not happy - sowing seeds of discontent wherever they go. And fewer still keep pushing against the grain, pacing themselves so they don’t get exhausted, but patiently waiting on Gods timing to do what they know can only be done by his Spirit.

Its a tough scenario, I know. But in the midst of this I have found that they key to keeping your fire when your local church is frozen is to recognise that the current state of the church is no surprise in the narrative of redemption. In fact, God revealed that our day would be marked by churches that think they are all that - but are “miserable, poor, blind and naked.”

 

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:14-18)

So what do these verses say that can help us keep our fire despite the Laodecian state of the church? Here are five key points that I have found.

  1. They show us that the current state of many local churches as a program-centred, relationally lacking, culturally disconnected, tradition obsessed, mission-less clubs was foreseen by God over two millennia ago. In other words, our current experience is meant to be this way. It’s been prophesied. So before you get all bent out of shape and walk out, keep in mind - this is the way its currently prophesied to be. God is not in heaven surprised by our coldness so we shouldn’t act surprised either.

  2. They show us that our current disgust with the state of the church is shared by God. He goes so far as to say that the Laodecian vibe makes him want to puke. So if church ever makes you want to puke (or like, leave, run, hide, hit the snooze button) then you are not alone. In fact, its the people who are comfortable with the church’s condition that should be worried. But if you are uncomfortable with it you’re probably feeling a tiny bit of how God feels. So you’re in good company.

  3. They show us that we are not the solution, but part of the problem. God’s solution to the Laodecian church is not, “I counsel you to listen to pastor Marcos, subscribe to his podcast and download his eBook.” And his counsel is not, “pay attention to all those people sick of the way you do things and let them redesign your church.” And for good reason! You and I are not the solution. This means despite all our good intentions, we remain part of the problem. So before you run off thinking you are better off without this messed up church, stop and remember - you’re pretty messed up too. Let that humble you and balance you in your journey.

    This is a big one for me because my main focus is speaking truth to Adventist tradition with the goal of a redesigned Adventist local church. But I have to remember that the solution remains Jesus - not church strategies, methodologies or structures. Realising I am part of the problem also helps me to avoid cynicism and enables me to look at our broken church with enthusiasm, noticing the good things that are happening and not just the bad. Among those good things is a generation of passionate young people rising up as well as a generation of older leaders empowering and inspiring those young ones. I want to recognise and celebrate this as often as I can.

  4. They show us that Jesus is the only answer. He is the only one who can give us that gold, white garment, and eye salve that we need to be reborn in his image. And the result is spiritual wealth, health and vision. Now imagine a church filled with spiritually wealthy, healthy and visioning Christians! That would be awesome. But the answer is not the next trendy church growth book. It’s Jesus.

  5. They show us that Laodecia is not the end. After the church of Laodecia, the very next thing we find in terms of a church is the remnant of Revelation 12. That remnant are a group of people passionate about Jesus and living for him alone. In a world locked in an apocalyptic struggle over empire, there emerges a community of simple people who are all about Jesus and they stand alone against the darkness. Laodecia is not the end. Its just a chapter in the story. We are in that chapter today. But don’t be discouraged by it. Instead, look to Jesus and remember, he has a final remnant of people who are so in love with him they don’t have time for anything other than lifting him up for the world to see. And this is what our focus should be “in the meantime”.

If you are frustrated with church I want you to know, I get it. I sometimes get super jaded as well. But the solution is Jesus and I take comfort in knowing that he has a remnant in the end. So long as I lift him up in Laodecia, he will use those efforts to gather his true lovers into a final community that will walk through the injustice of beasts and liars reflecting the beauty of God’s heart of love in the midst of a generation that has lost the capacity to love. So focus on Jesus. Lift up Jesus. Be comforted in Jesus. And keep the vision of an “Adventism. Redesigned.” alive in him.


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Pastor Marcos Comment
Why I Do What I Do
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This past week was rough. One of my brothers was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work. He was 46 years old and had three kids. The police said it happened so fast, he probably didn’t even have time to blink. In a split second his existence was over.

As I meditated on the fragility of life - how everything could be over so quickly and unexpectedly - I was once again reminded of why The Story Church Project exists and why I say what I say, preach what I preach and do what I do.

If you live until you are 80, how many weeks of life do you have left?

About a year ago, I was asked a crazy question. If you live until you are 80, how many weeks of life do you have left? Is it 80,000? How about 40,000? Or maybe its less - say, 14,000? I can’t recall my exact answer, but it was somewhere around 40,000.

How about you? How many weeks of life do you have left if you made it to 80? If you don’t know, then I want to invite you to consider the words of the Psalmist David who once wrote, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) So if you don’t know the answer, take a few moments right now to throw up a reasonable guess.

After I made my guess I then calculated how many years I have until I reach 80 (46 because I’m 32) and then multiplied 46 by how many weeks are in a year (52). The number that I saw freaked me out. None of my guesses were even close. At 32 years of age, if I live to the age of 80 I have a mere 2,496 weeks left.

2,496.

That’s all.

But my brothers sudden passing also helped me realize that life can end at any moment. So the truth is, I have anywhere from 1 minute to 2496 weeks left of life. In other words, that measly 2496 isn’t even guaranteed. It can end at any moment.

I do it because I literally don’t have the time to do anything else.

I was reminded at that moment why I do what I do. I do it because I literally don’t have the time to do anything else. Jesus said it best, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4) Since I started writing blogs 6 years ago, I have been criticized, misunderstood and made fun of. Some people have called me arrogant, negative and I’ve even been labeled a Jesuit. But honestly, I don’t really mind. I don’t have time to pay attention to nonsense. Like literally, I don’t have the time. Instead, I choose to live my life as Paul instructed: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

The truth is, our world is desperately in need of Jesus. People are dying without him. Suicide and addiction are strangling our society. And if there is one thing we all know, its that the church is struggling to make an impact. The traditions, customs and structures that perpetuate that struggle are things that need to be discussed, challenged and discarded. Its a serious conversation that is bound to ruffle some feathers. But I have to do it. I have to because I simply don’t have the time to not do it.

I don’t know how much time you have left, but I want to invite you to not waste it. You don’t get much. And in the end, you can either use your days to make a meaningful difference or you can waste them.

I’ve made my choice.


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Is Adventism Falling Behind? (with DMing Truth&Tech)
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Have you ever heard the phrase, "Adventists are always [x number] of years behind?"

If so you are not alone!

This weeks latest podcast ep. is an interview I was invited to by the guys over at the DMing Truth&Tech podcast where we talk about this very topic!

You don't want to miss it. Listen below! (Also on iTunes and Spotify)

To read the original article this episode is all about, Click Here.

Check out the DMing Truth&Tech Podcast!

On Anchor.Fm

On iTunes

On Twitter


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Pastor MarcosComment
The 3 Bottom Line Reasons Why Local Adventist Churches are Dead
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Last week I had the privilege of talking with a pastor from the US. We chatted about secular outreach, missional culture and the challenges faced by Western Adventism. At one point in our conversation, the pastor dropped a massive bomb. “There are close to 60 SDA churches in the region I work,” he said. “Only two of them are healthy.”

I was bummed out by the news, but not surprised. In my experience, most local SDA churches are dying churches. The membership is ageing, the mission is nonexistent and the youth are fading. Adventist Record editor Jarrod Stackelroth described tackling this crisis as dealing with “the very survival of the Adventist Church.”[1]

In the midst of these dying churches there are a few that tend to stay afloat. They do so by putting as much energy as possible into survival. They work hard to retain their youth. They put on lots of programs to keep them connected. And they change a few things here and there to meet the needs of emerging generations. However, after all is said and done, these churches are not living, they are merely staying alive. And we all know that staying alive is not the same as living. The tragedy of this is best captured in the words of Bill Henard who wrote, “When a church decides to become a survivor, it unfortunately sets the stage for death.”[2]

And of course, within this decaying church environment, there are still the odd churches that are thriving. But these are about as mythological as a unicorn. Okay, not really but you get the point. They are rare and super hard to to find.

But why?

Why are stagnation and death our norm?

I believe there are many answers to that question and if you step into a room full of pastors and mission minded folk, you would probably get 100 different answers to this question. But in this article I want to offer the 3 bottom line reasons are churches are dead. These are based on my personal observations so I don’t claim infallibility here, but I think you will find that they make a lot of sense. I’ll also end with some practical steps on what we can do to turn things around.

So here we go! The 3 Bottom Line Reasons Why Local Adventist Churches are Dead:

We have convinced too many people.

Suppose you write a book. The purpose of the book is to convince everyone that New York Pizza is the best pizza in the world. You do this in a very simple format. You state your case in the introduction and then, for the next 12 chapters, you argue one point after another. Chapter 1, the cheese is richer. Chapter 2, the base is thinner. Chapter 3, the sauce is more authentic. And so on and so forth.

By the time you get to the end of the book, you have argued 12 reasons why New York Pizza is the best pizza in the world. Along the way, you have demonstrated how Boston and Chicago just don’t compare and, of course, how Atlanta and Los Angeles never stood a chance. Your book is published and becomes a huge hit. After a year, a massive convention gathers in Manhattan to celebrate your best seller. Thousands of people who agree with you attend to celebrate with you. You now have a “NYP-Only” cult following that sweeps across the globe. Congratulations.

Okay, back to reality. The point I am getting at is this: the above scenario is pretty much how Adventist evangelism has historically worked. Adventists have historically approached the great commission as a great debate in which we argue for our theological brand. “Here is why Adventism is the best denomination in the world!” we cry. Chapter 1 - We go to church on the right day. Chapter 2 - We alone can explain what really happens when you die. Chapter 3 - We have got end time events figured out way better than everyone else. Then, sprinkled in each of our presentations are passive and active arguments about how the Pentecostals and Methodists are so wrong. And those non-denominational Christians? Stay away from them. But of course, nothing gets our blood boiling more than that Roman Catholic Church! Now that’s just straight up Satan!

If you are a conservative Adventist (like me btw) you might be appalled right now. Am I making fun of our message? Not at all. What I am doing is pointing out how so much of our SDA churches are like conventions filled with people who are convinced by our arguments. And they join our movement because they think we are right and everyone else is wrong. They are not necessarily converted (will come back to this) but boy, are they convinced we’ve got the truth! And what do you get when you have reached people by arguing them into the church? You get a church culture more interested in arguing than in serving.

I’m not impressed by gigantic post-evangelistic baptism numbers. What I’m interested in is, how many of them where won with love and to love? Because so long as we keep winning people with arguments we will win them to arguing. And this, I believe, is one of the main reasons why so many of our local churches are dead. Everyone just wants to keep arguing. No one wants to serve.

We have freaked out too many people.

Let’s use our imagination again. Suppose you decide to start a business selling insurance but no one sees the need. Eventually, you discover a marketing trick that works like a charm and with it you are able to scale your business and put food on your table. The trick? Sell to peoples fears. If you market how good your product is, no one cares. But if you market how urgent it is “or else”… well now you have the phone ringing off the hook!

In his article “Why Fear Sells: The Business of Panic & Paranoia,” Martin Lindstrom stated clearly that “fear is a powerful persuader…. [w]hich is why the marketing world uses scare tactics to sell us everything from antidepressants to condoms, dental floss to laundry detergent, burglar alarms to cell phones, bottled water to pizza dough, as well as countless other brands and products.”[3] Using this handy information you switch up your marketing campaigns and sell to your prospects fear of death, disease and financial ruin. And caching! You are rich.

But what does this have to do with why so many local Adventist churches are dead? Because this method of selling to fear is precisely what many ministries use in order to get you to buy their products. Add to this the difficulty of a small Adventist market and a ton of competing ministries, and you end up with new start ups having to develop unique selling points. One ministry exists to warn you about the dangers of x, the other to warn you about the dangers of y, and if that’s not enough a new guy is on the scene raising the midnight cry on how if you don’t understand z you and your children’s souls will be imperilled.

Adrian Zahid captured this issue well in his article, “Beyond the One project: The War Over the Local Church (5b)” He writes:

Because they are often competing with other independent ministries for the same number of churches who are open to such speakers, they have to differentiate and establish their “unique selling point” against that of another independent minister. It is a zero-sum game. Either they are invited to churches and they quickly establish urgency in the minds of the members regarding their topic and sell materials at the end of the weekend series or they and their family will starve. Enormous pressure, is therefore put on the independent minister, to present information in such a way as to create a thirst in the mind of the member that can only be quenched by buying the materials on sale after the series is ended. The member then adds the materials to their ‘threat-matrix’ system so that they can see this latest ‘spiritual danger’ coming at them a mile away. Often the member does not have the time to really study the materials in any organised fashion or depth because the next weekend another speaker is ready to present yet another ‘testing Truth’ or ‘threat’ that they have to be vigilant about. And the cycle repeats itself.[4]

This process, Zahid argues, has a “tremendous effect on the local church” in which (among other issues) “every person views the other as a potential spiritual threat to their salvation”. Such a culture quickly degenerates into toxicity. Add to this the already existing foundation of argumentation and you end up with a nucleus of people too freaked out about existing to have any meaningful impact in the world. The church quickly becomes a fortress rather than a hospital.

We have short-sold too many people.

I want to go back to point one here. When we win people by convincing them with arguments we can publish sexy reports about how many baptisms we got, but in the long run it bites us in the butt. The truth is, belonging to the church is a passage that takes place on the heels of conversion. When a person receives Christ and is born again, the Bible says they pass from death unto life, from the headship of the first Adam to the second Adam, from humanity 1.0 to humanity 2.0, from the kingdom of men to the kingdom of heaven. This conversion experience transcends a shift in worldview. It involves being born a new from above and this is a miraculous, divinely initiated metamorphosis.

But this rebirth doesn’t happen like a physical birth. In a physical birth a person is conceived and then born into the world. But for a rebirth to take place it must be preceded, not by conception, but by death.

In other words, we must die first, before we can be born anew. And this death experience is imperative in the Christian life. It is death to self. Death to the old man. And a rebirth into an entirely new experience as a child of God. And you cannot accomplish this by convincing people that we are right. And while this is certainly the least popular thing I will ever say, I maintain that the reason most of our churches are dead is because they are filled with people convinced by the truth but not converted by it. To put it differently, most of our churches are not filled with men and women who have died and been reborn into newness of life. Instead, they are filled with men and women who have re-branded their worldview via Adventists theology. Mixed with the argumentative spirit of our historic evangelistic style and a constant bombardment of fear based sales pitches and you end up with a culture that is constantly trending toward death because it is, in essence, composed of individual souls who are already spiritually dead and have yet to experience the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit - a power that sets us free from self, from argumentative and judgmental spirits and fills with a love so perfect it casts away all our fear.

Okay, so I said some heavy stuff there. I’m anticipating some angry comments maybe? Or maybe I should be less cynical. Either way, the question that is now before us is simple: What can we do about this? I mean, its one thing to identify the issues. Its another to solve them. Here are some points I hope can be of help:

  1. Adventist preachers, leaders, influencers etc. need to focus on conversion more. We need to preach Jesus not as a nice idea, but as a living person who is calling us to death. So many gospel presentations these days gloss over death or skip it altogether and the result, I’m afraid, is that we are simply convincing people to give Jesus a go and see how his philosophy of life improves ours. But this is not the gospel! We must come by way of his death. And that death experience is imperative not only for our individual spiritual life but for our collective mission as well. Imagine, what would Adventism be like if it was filled with less people who were staunchly convinced that the Sabbath is on Saturday, but who had died to their self-centred, argumentative and narcissistic selves and been born again a new creation in the likeness of Jesus - compassionate, kind and other-centred? You get my point. Preach conversion!

  2. I’m not against independent ministries, but for those who are reading who perhaps lead one - please think about two things. First, think about how you market your material. The last thing our churches need is more people exploiting their fears to sell them the next DVD with the urgent warning. And please, for the love of all that is beautiful, stop calling every new thing you don’t like the “Omega Apostasy”. Seriously, if I have one more person tell me their DVD or book exposes what it really is, I’m going to puke.

    Okay, let me get back to serious for a moment. If you run an independent ministry its because God has gifted you with innovation, charisma and the spirit of entrepreneurship. And that’s awesome! Use it! But chill out with the fear stuff. And I’m not just talking about marketing here. I’m talking about content as well. When it comes to marketing, I’m not even 100% against using pain points and urgency to get someones attention. What I am really frustrated with is the emotional manipulation that then leads people, not toward something redemptive, but toward more fear based content that engrosses the mind with the work of evil until the love of God becomes relegated to the pile of “cheesy milk doctrine”. Not cool. Everything you say must point to Jesus. If it doesn’t you are not doing God’s work no matter how you spin it.

    For church leaders, a word of advice: don’t try and convince your members to stay away from this stuff. It turns the leaders of these ministries into martyrs and makes life harder. Instead, keep calling your flock back to the scriptures and deal with the principles of having the mind of Christ. Not everyone will get it, but it will inoculate new members and slowly lead the ones hooked on this stuff to turn their eyes to Jesus.

  3. Focus on the good. In my second podcast episode I interviewed pastor Robert Stankovic about restoring churches high-jacked by fanaticism. He said something so wise I never forgot it. “Focus on the good and eventually the bad will discover it doesn’t fit in anymore.” I think that’s an awesome bit of practical advice and a sweet spot to end.

Do you have any thoughts to add? Feel free to comment below!

___

[1] https://record.adventistchurch.com/2018/06/08/growing-young-how-to-save-our-church/

[2] https://factsandtrends.net/2018/05/30/surviving-church-is-dying-church/

[3] https://brainworldmagazine.com/fear-sells-business-panic-paranoia/2/

[4] https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/beyond-the-one-project-the-war-over-the-local-church-5b

Should Adventist Churches be Involved in Social Justice? with Nathan Brown
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Should Adventist churches be involved in social justice?

If we do get involved, how do we avoid getting sucked into politics?

Isn’t social justice an ideology driven by the political left? How can I serve the needs around me without getting swept into supporting ideas the Bible doesn’t gel with?

These and many more questions are answered in the long awaited podcast interview on social justice and the local Adventist church. I am joined by Signs book editor Nathan Brown to discuss one of the most important topics of our day.

Check it out below and don’t forget to subscribe and share! (Also on iTunes and Spotify)

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Connect with Nathan:

  • Get his latest book at: falafelsandfollowingjesus.com/

  • Facebook: bit.ly/2ueQDlq 

  • Email: nathanbrown@signspublishing.com.au


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Top 5 Annoying Things Adventist Preachers Should Stop Doing
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Today I would like to get 5 Adventist preacher annoyances off my chest. My bias of course, is that my passion in ministry is secular people. And these are 5 major turn off’s that I see Adventist preachers do more often than I wish I did.

1) Speaking in Adventese. Annoyance number one is Adventist preachers who use conservative SDA jargon as though everyone knows what they are talking about. "Spirit of Prophecy, Remnant, Reformation, Pen of Inspiration etc." These words and terms have zero meaning to anyone who is not already an Adventist and some are even theologically suspect. Not going to get into all the specifics here, but my advice is watch your language. If you must use an insider term, explain it before hand. I recommend you do this even if you are 100% sure that everyone in the room is already Adventist. That way, not only do you develop the habit of talking like a normal person but you also destroy the habit of assuming everyone knows what you are talking about. The last thing you want is for your entire sermon to speak only to the people who already agree with you. That’s not a God-thing, ever.

2) My dear brethren… Annoyance number two is connected to number one, but slightly different. It’s preachers whose sentence structure, phraseology, prose and speech rhythms are identical to people from the 1800's. Its as if they have read so much Ellen White that they have lost their own contemporary speech patterns. Some basic examples are preachers who say things like, “My dear brethren” or, “Let us now turn to the Holy Scriptures.” These are mild examples, of course, because what I am really talking about is not just how a sermon or text is introduced but how an entire sermon is spoken (something that I can’t really reproduce here). But the basic rule of thumb is, pay attention to your sentence structures. If you sound like you could add a top hat and a monocle to your outfit then you need to seriously snap out of it. Other conservative Adventists won’t have a problem, but outside of that most people will find you disingenuous and potentially laughable.

3) Thou wouldn’t, wouldest thee? Point number three is also connected to 1 & 2 and its this: lay off the KJV will ya?

Disclaimer time: I'm have zero interest in a debate over which translation is best. So please, save yourself the effort of pasting that YouTube doco in the comments below. I won’t watch it. What I'm interested in is which language is best. And the best language, hands down, is the one that the people are using. So the moment I hear a preacher whip out the old KJV my immediate thought is, Who in the world is he preaching to?

I recently had a lady stop attending a Sabbath School class because she was from a foreign country, struggled with English to begin with, and had to put up with the class wanting to use the KJV. When I visited her she asked me, “Isn’t the point of learning the Bible to be able to share it with others?” She then read me a verse from the NKJV (a more modern version) and asked me, “What in the world does that even mean? How is this supposed to provide any meaning to my friends?”

I’d say this non-Adventist was spot on. And please, leave the "the KJV is grade school reading level" argument in the bin where it belongs. Grade school reading level for who? I can read philosophical PhD's with greater ease than the KJV (also, here’s an article that debunks that claim). The bottom line is the KJV is not easy to follow and as Christians we should aim to make the gospel as accessible as possible. It's Christ we are called to proclaim, not a bygone linguistic European era.

4) Stop touching my feels! Ladies and gentlemen, the 90’s are over and with them, the one preaching practice that we must - for the love of all that is good - retire, is the cheesy emotional ballad at the end of the sermon. Yes, it get’s people all “feelsy” and responsive, but that has more to do with how the pretty hymn on the piano manipulates emotion than with an authentic spiritual experience.

David Neff aptly referred to this emotional manipulation as “comin’-to-Jesus music” which, in his experience with an evangelist, consisted of “gradually increas[ing] the volume as he turned up the emotional pitch of his invitation.”[1] The downside of course, is what happens when the emotional high collapses and you find yourself in need of another one to feel “spiritual” again. This method was used all throughout my childhood with an addictive effect that had zero impact on our faith. In fact, I remember kids in my youth group leaving the sermon because they were bored, only to return just as the music kicked in (and then go to the front!). It’s not God they were responding to. It was the emotional experience that they craved.

Finally, the culture today is the most advertised to generation that has ever lived. Companies are constantly pulling their emotional strings to get a sale from them. As a result, this generation can spot a sales pitch a mile away. The cheesy song at the end of the sermon? Yeah, totally “salesy”. Don’t do it.

5) Stop “wowing” people. Finally, to all my fellow Adventist preachers, please for the sake of the church’s soul - stop preaching “wow” sermons. Young Adventist preachers are especially prone to this. They hear their favourite celebrity preacher making applications and biblical connections they have never seen before, and then they go to the Bible and try to do that same. In the end, they come up with all kinds of super interesting ideas that make the audience say “wow” but that have zero impact on a persons spiritual health. Don’t be that gal (or guy).

Instead, I leave you with the words of my biblical exegesis professor (which as a preacher you should totally study by the way) Martin Klingbeil. “Dont preach sermons that make people say ‘wow’. Preach sermons that change peoples lives.”

Wise words, Dr. Klingbeil.

So there you have it! My top 5 list of annoying things Adventist preachers should stop doing. I have others, but I’ll leave it at that. Share your own below!

_____

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2018/february-web-exclusives/billy-grahams-altar-calls-were-more-than-moments-of-decisio.html

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How to Do Evangelism in a Post-Christian, Secular Society with Shelley Poole
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I am so incredibly excited I can’t contain myself!

This week, I am releasing an interview with artist and missional enthusiast Shelley Poole where we talk about evangelism in a post-Christian, secular society. This is one of the most fun interviews I have ever done! Not only is Shelley super engaging and knowledgeable but she also brings her experience as an artist in touch with the culture and its contemporary conversations.

Here are some of the things we talk about:

  • How far behind is the SDA church in the cultural conversation? And how can we catch up?

  • What are some things we commonly do as a church that turns the culture off? Let’s name them so we can learn from them!

  • What are some things we can do to adapt our evangelism to the current cultural milieu? Plus a whole lot more :D

If you are an Adventist member, pastor, administrator, president, evangelist, youth leader, or just about anyone remotely interested in reaching post-Christian society, you don’t want to miss this interview. Listen and subscribe below! (Also on iTunes and Spotify)

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Connect with Shelley

design@shelleypoole.com

twitter @shelley_poole


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5 Things I Love About Adventism
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One thing I do often (and by often I mean very often) is challenge the Seventh-day Adventist church - particularly in the West - to… well, to do better.

Whether I am calling our local church structures to be redesigned for mission, provoking our cultural quirks and questioning their utility, or disputing unhealthy theological frameworks that exist among us the message is fundamentally the same: we have to be better.

But this week, I decided I would pause the revolutionary broadcast to share 5 things I love about Adventism. So here goes:

  1. I love our theological trajectory. I could go on and on about this, but in short Adventism is a theological narrative that is not about Adventism and I love that. Instead, Adventism is a story about God, his heart and his love, centred and strung together in Jesus. But the best part about it is that our theological narrative is not set in stone but constantly unfolding and developing. Yes, there are those among us who would prefer a more stringent, creedal kind of Adventism but its just not in our DNA. As a result, we remain committed to scripture rather than a statement of beliefs. And that commitment, I believe, has enabled us to develop an understanding of the love of God no other theological system around can match. No, that’s not a very politically correct thing to say. But hey, I wouldn’t be an Adventist if I didn’t believe there was something eccentric about what we have to say.

  2. I love that we are Historicists. Historicism has been challenged for forever by people outside and inside of our church. Today, there is a whole new gang of voices repeating the century old attacks (with some new developments I must concur). And that’s fine, I mean, everyone is entitled to their own thing right? But for Adventism, Historicism is an apocalyptic interpretive method that has transcendent efficacy. Now, I don’t pretend that it’s a perfect method, that we have it all figured out, or that it can’t be misused (because it can and is). But Historicism provides us with a kind of sociological significance unmatched by alternative methods. For example, Historicism gives us a narrative that manifests the injustice of religio-political empire in a way that is not immediately self evident. This gives us a foundation to diverge from the collective pursuit of utopianism and the ever trending move toward social reform via church-state legislation. Instead, Historicism calls us to a kind of theological and ideological remonstrance on the one hand, and social preparation (as opposed to reformation) on the other. This approach is rooted in our view of human empire, which even when united with God’s kingdom ultimately self destructs as Daniel and Revelation so aptly reveal. It is also rooted in the denial of a coming golden age for humanity. Instead, Adventists see a coming catastrophe that cannot be averted by political manoeuvres. Our mission is therefore, to prepare the world for this climactic zero-hour in which the only righteous Kingdom will abdicate the throne of humanities global res publica. Sadly, other common interpretive methods of Daniel and Revelation point in the opposite direction by envisioning a coming era of righteous human dominion which in turn leads to political power grabbing in the name of righteousness. This, Adventists believe, is the precursor to a manifestation of religious intolerance and injustice of apocalyptic proportions.

    In addition, Historicism is the only prophetic interpretive method that unveils God in action throughout the entirety of human time. Even during the Dark Ages where it appears God took a vacation (as Morgan Freeman put it in the movie “Bruce Almighty”), Adventisms apocalyptic consciousness helps us understand his presence and movement even in the darkest pages of the church’s sordid story, including the chapters yet to unfold. It’s also cool that we are the only Historicist denomination left. Some people see that as a sign that we are the only idiots left in Christendom. I see it as a sign that we are the only anti-conformists left. Of course, at the end of the day my love for Historicism is rooted in the text and not in whether I think its neat or not, but explaining that will take more space than I allotted for this short post, so I’ll move on.

  3. I love our global structure. Despite all the challenges created by having an intercontinental and cross-cultural institution I honestly can’t think of anything better. Now some of my more post-modern, anti-institutionalist friends find this appalling. They wonder how someone as forward thinking as me can be so fond of our global structure. After all, all those super cool non-denom churches are as neat as they are because they keep all the tithe in house. Why can’t we do the same? My answer revolves around the pragmatic idea that while cynical anti-institutionalism has some value it falls flat when it comes to the practical needs of a global mission. The fact is, Adventism has a message that must go to the entire world. If you believe that, then you need an institution to facilitate that mission. Those who reject the institution are often only interested in reaching their immediate, local region. But Adventism doesn’t have a regional message, it has a global one - for every person on earth. So the bottom line is, we need a global structure. Now of course, I applaud the voices that say the institution needs reform. It definitely does! But that doesn’t mean we should abandon it. The fact remains that if we have a global message, we need a global presence and the level of organisation needed for that sort of thing demands an institution. And because I accept the premise that we have a global message, then I embrace our global structure as a needed tool to that end.

  4. I love our health message. Yeah, there’s always the annoying people who are like super gung-ho and fanatical and no one likes them. I get that. Even non-Christian vegan hippies have their weirdos who will chop your head off for daring to eat your sweet potato quinoa salad in a plastic container (HOW DARE YOU??). But despite this wacko-reality, the health message is one of the coolest things about Adventism. It’s rooted in the idea that human beings are holistic creatures whose spiritual, emotional and physical nature is intertwined like the rhythm, melody and harmony of a musical composition. When they flow well together, something beautiful happens both at the individual and collective level. Even other denominations have started to pick up on the value of a holistic approach to the human as opposed to the dualist approach that has governed classical theology and given birth not only to generations of Christians with little care for physical well being, but also to doctrines like eternal torment that have driven scepticism to the heights of influence it enjoys today.

  5. I love our potentiality. Because of Adventisms theological trajectory, its apocalyptic consciousness, global structure and holistic view of man I believe its future potential is beyond anything we have yet imagined. While our beliefs exist outside our church, they do so sporadically - here, there and everywhere. But in Adventism, each of these elements coalesce to form a movement and a story unheard of in the world. And the moment that we lock into that, get excited about it and refuse to allow tradition, fundamentalism and narcissism to get in the way of it that is the moment that we will sweep the world with something grand. Our potential is overwhelmingly exciting and I pray and hope for the day it is unveiled for the world to see.

What are some things you love about Adventism? Share your thoughts below!

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How to Connect Your Local Church To It's Surrounding Culture
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How do you Connect your local church to the surrounding culture?

It’s no lie this is something our churches struggle with.

But what if there were some practical, down-to-earth ways that you could begin bridging the gap between the two?

This week, I sit down with Daniel J. Blyden, co-host of The Pulpit Jam podcast, to talk about his experience as both a lover of the culture and the church. We discuss:

  • How art can be used to connect with people otherwise closed to the gospel.

  • What to do about church members living far from the location of the local church.

  • How to connect your local church to its surrounding culture by releasing Spiritual gifts

  • And more!

Click, listen and subscribe below!

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Connect with Daniel

The Pulpit Jam Podcast

Instagram: @restorethelove

Facebook: /restorethelove

church.restoreproject.co.uk/


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3 Bottom Line Things You Must Know Before Studying the Bible with Secular People (#2 is Huge!)
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I love studying the Bible with secular people.

In fact, if ministry meant I could spend 40 hours a week doing nothing but life and faith with secular folk, I would be the happiest dude in the world. Not saying I don’t enjoy ministering to the saints, I totally do! But there’s something about exploring faith with secular people that is on a whole other level.

I have zero idea what it means to be secular.

But that’s not to say I always get it right. One of the realities I have to embrace when it comes to studying the Bible with secular culture is that I have zero idea what it means to be secular. I might read a book about secular culture, philosophy and experience. I might even sit down with secular people and listen to their stories, ideas and perspectives. But one fact remains: I have never been a secular person. I have never shared in their experience. I have no idea what its like to live any part of my life without a theistic metanarrative that makes sense of my existence and the brokenness of the human story. I have always had a worldview that placed my identity and perspectives within an enthusiastic and hopeful framework. So I simply don’t know what its like to live, even for one day, without that framework. Even on the days that I doubted it, it was still there in my subconscious stringing my existential quest together.

Secular people, on the other hand, have lived with different frameworks or no frameworks at all. Whats it like to navigate life like that? I don’t know. The best I can do is listen and try and understand. In doing so, I can frame the message of scripture in a way that connects with their experience instead of assuming that framing it according to my religious experience is the only right way. This is the first lesson I have learned from studying the Bible with secular culture. Listen, listen, listen!

The second lesson is also embedded in there: Re-frame. The biggest mistake I have made when studying the Bible with secular people is framing the story of Jesus in language and archetypes that make sense to my religious psyche. But what I have found is that the angles that I find meaningful on the spiritual search many of my secular contacts find pointless.

Let me share a quick story. Last year I was studying the Bible with a group composed of 3 Adventists, 1 Catholic and 1 secular guy. During one of the studies, the topic of assurance of salvation emerged. The Adventists went on to dominate the conversation for the rest of the study. Because of a shared background in legalism, both the Adventists and the Catholic found meaning in the discussion. About 40 minutes in, I turned to our secular mate who had been awfully quiet the whole time and caught him desperately struggling to keep his eyes open. The poor guy was so bored! He later told me that he felt really disconnected not only at that study, but also the following studies in which the Adventists controlled the framework of the discussion due to the questions they were asking. He personally found the questions pointless and irrelevant, so he checked out and stopped attending.

Don’t assume that just because its seems important to you then it must be important to everyone.

Framing the biblical adventure in a way that connects with the present experience, value structures and concerns of the secular person is super important in keeping them engaged. Don’t assume that just because its seems important to you then it must be important to everyone. In the same note, don’t assume because X worked for that guy then X will also work for the other guy. Even when gifting books and resources, be careful to not give them something that you find insightful that they will find repulsive (I have seen this many times with secular people being scared away from further exploration because someone gave them a book or DVD loaded with bizarre apocalyptic imagery). People must be met where they are and led gently toward Christ in a diversity of ways.

Jesus himself exemplified this. To one person, Jesus preached the gospel of “you must be born again”. To another, he preached the gospel of “I am the living water.” And to another still, “Sell all that you have and you will have treasure in heaven.” These diverse frameworks were intended to meet people where they were and lead them toward his heart. He never used the same framework twice. And yet, we do it all the time!

The key to studying the Bible with secular people is 1) Listen, listen, listen! and 2) Re-frame. (PS. You will find re-framing much easier if you first take the time to listen.)

But there is one more lesson I want to share.

When studying the Bible with secular people, it is important to make a meaningful connection. It’s not good enough to just disseminate doctrinal information.

When studying the Bible with secular people, it is important to make a meaningful connection. It’s not good enough to just disseminate doctrinal information. Instead, you have to invest in connecting deeply with them on a personal level. As the studies progress, if the person feels connected to you they will be upfront about the areas they are struggling to understand and embrace. However, its not enough to simply connect with them yourself. Instead, aim to establish 2-3 good connections with church members. There have been two instances in which a secular person completely pulled out of studies simply because I went away for a number of weeks and they had no one else to keep them connected and engaged. During that time, Satan sows seeds of doubt and discouragement that can be overcome when a person has connections they can reach out to. But because these students of mine only had me as their primary connection, they didn’t have anyone checking up on them during my absence. In both cases, by the time I got back, they weren’t interested anymore despite the fact that when I left, they couldn’t wait to keep going.

So three simple lessons: Listen, Re-frame, Connect.

Of course, there is more to studying the Bible with secular people. I’d love for you to share your experiences and lessons below! Is there anything else you have learned from studying with the secular world?

Also, don’t miss this Free eBook I wrote that goes deeper into this topic: “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns”. Free download below!

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Pastor MarcosComment
Dear Adventism, It's Time We Repented Of Our Dry & Cheesy Theology
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Note: The following article is an edited sermon manuscript. You can hear the audio sermon here.

Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

This verse once spoke to me and also confused me. It spoke to me because I needed freedom. Freedom from my addictions. Freedom from the seemingly endless cycle of sin, feel bad, repent, feel fine, hit rewind and replay. And it confused me because, as far as I was concerned I knew the truth. But I still wasn’t free!

I had grown up an Adventist. I had been through Sabbath School, Pathfinders, and baptismal classes. I only listened to Christian music and went to church religiously every weekend. I would even go to the local Christian book store and get some extra stuff to read. Truth was something I had in abundance.

But I wasn’t free.

Turns out, I didn’t understand Jesus’ words in John 8:32 at all. Because when Jesus spoke about truth he was talking about something quite different from what I was thinking of. But before I tell you what that is, I want to back up a bit and introduce the rest of this blog with the following statement:

All of scripture is a revelation of God’s heart.

What does this have to do with John 8:32 and truth setting us free?

Let’s find out.

THE ESSENCE OF SCRIPTURE

The foundation and essence of the Biblical narrative is to unveil, step by step, a deeper and richer picture of who God is and what he is like. And this reality is expressed through all of scripture. Not just John or Galatians or the Psalms - all of scripture is an unfolding and uncovering of the mystery that is the love of God.

Another way to put it is like this: The entire Bible is gospel.

The foundation and essence of the Biblical narrative is to unveil, step by step, a deeper and richer picture of who God is and what he is like.

Not just Matthew, Romans or Colossians. All of scripture is good news. Its there in Genesis, in Leviticus, in Isaiah and Ezra. The gospel doesn’t begin in the New Testament, and its not confined to the epistles. To the contrary, the gospel begins in Genesis and unravels itself through poetry, history and prophecy all the way through to Revelation.

What this means is that the entire narrative of scripture, from beginning to end, is about the love of God. His love is the essence, the theme, and the fullness of what the Bible is. And every doctrine that exists, does not exist independently of this love, but rather as a magnifier of it.

Picture it like this. Imagine the shape of a heart on a table surrounded by diverse magnifying glasses. As you approach the table, each magnifying glass enables you to zoom in on the heart in different ways. The main point of the whole experience is that heart. It is the hero of the story. But the magnifying glasses are there, not to take the attention, but to help you get a deeper look at the heart.

 
 

This is how the Bible is meant to be experienced. It’s not the love of God here and the doctrines there. Instead, the love of God is the centre of the entire experience and the doctrines are there to magnify that love in ways unimaginable to the human heart. If you think you have God’s love figured out, place it under the magnifying glass of the doctrine of baptism and you will walk away a totally new person, or the Sabbath, the Judgement, the Sanctuary etc. Each of these doctrines take us deep into God’s love and transform us.

DRY THEOLOGY

My biggest mistake when it came to this whole, “truth will set you free thing” is that I missed the essence of what truth was. Truth, in my mind, was a series of loosely connected doctrinal ideas. I understood the Sabbath and could defend it. I understood the judgement as well. And the sanctuary. But what I missed was how each of these doctrines came together to tell one perfectly tethered story that both discloses the heart of God and immerses the reader in it’s intensity.

In short, I had a bunch of magnifying glasses with nothing to look at. As a result, none of my doctrinal knowledge really led me anywhere. They were facts, but they were not truth in the fullest sense of the word. Although I understood them, they did not lead me to the place of freedom.

You ask, how so Marcos? Let’s look at Jesus’ words again. In John 8:32 he says, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. But go down a few verses to verse 36. What does he say there? “Whom the son sets free will be free indeed.”

Jesus equates the truth that sets us free with himself. The truth that delivers us is not merely right theology or right doctrine. All that does it make you smarter. But if you want to be set free from your fears, insecurities and weaknesses then your doctrine has to lead you to Jesus. It has to lead you to God’s heart. Because true freedom only takes place in the presence of God.

Unfortunately, what happens is some people focus on the doctrines as though they are the main point of everything. This is what I did. It’s not that God’s love was ignored but rather, I treated it as a separate doctrine. God’s love and gospel are here and his law and church and end time events are over there. In this view, what I ended up with was a table full of magnifying glasses with nothing to look at. So I became obsessed with the magnifying glasses themselves and then wondered, “Why am I not experiencing freedom if I know the truth? Why isn’t Jesus’ promise working for me?”

In time, God showed me that the magnifying glasses are not designed to be looked at, they are designed to be looked through. And that’s how doctrine functions in the Bible. Doctrine is not something we look at, its something we look through. But when you remove the love of God, there is nothing to look at through the doctrines, so the doctrines, not God’s love, become ends to themselves that lead you nowhere. This results in dry theology.

 
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CHEESY THEOLOGY

On the flip side, there are those who say, “Forget doctrine! Its not important. The only thing that matters is the love of God!” Usually, they are reacting to Dry Theology which is understandable. I too went through this experience where, in my desire to taste the love of God I abandoned doctrine and treated it as the unwanted step-child of the Bible. But the downside is I ended up with a Cheesy Theology that was just as powerless to set me free.

In fact, lots of churches do this. And its sad. Its sad because while you feel a sense of self-righteousness in not being like those “dry people over there obsessed with doctrine,” you unavoidably nurture a shallow, irrelevant theology. In this model, doctrine is proudly ignored and we harp on about the love of God week after week. But the problem is we never dig into that love deep enough to discover what it has to say to the gut wrenching existential inquiries of humanity. This theology may be comfortable and marketable, but it is powerless before the atheist, the political ideologue and the sibylline like wanderer who wants to believe in God but can’t find a single Christian capable of answering his questions in any remotely compelling way.

 
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The only way to avoid dry theology on one end, and cheesy theology on the other is to embrace the tension between doctrine and love. That tension doesn’t really exist, but I find it necessary to codify it and speak of it in these terms because most of us treat them as antithetical to one another. And yet, read properly, the Bible is a progressive unveiling of the heart of God that transforms the reader. And that unveiling takes place in the harmonious dance between the overarching theme of God’s love, and the intentional presence of doctrinal magnifying glasses that give us greater, more colourful and more relevant glimpses into the bottomless ocean of his grace.

And it’s when those two are in harmony - God’s love as the central theme and doctrine as its continual magnifier - that we discover the life changing and freedom spawning nature of the Bible. In this dance we can encounter and communicate a truly relevant theology.

Why Does this Matter?

Once I discovered this, I realised once and for all why I wasn’t experiencing the freedom Jesus spoke of. It’s because I wasn’t experiencing truth. Truth and Jesus are one and the same. The Bible offers eternal life only because it offers him (John 5:39). You can understand all the doctrine you want, but if doctrine is merely something you are looking at and not something you are looking through - a portal into the presence of God - then you will never experience freedom, plain and simple. But once doctrine claims its rightful place as a microscope into the depths of God’s heart and you spend each day exploring those depths, your heart will begin to change.

But why does any of this matter? There are three answers to that question. The first is that the battle between good and evil is fundamentally rooted in the the person-hood of God. Satan spreads lies about him while God reveals truth about himself. Thus, at the end of the day, this lie-versus-truth conflict is a conflict over who God is and what he is like. And the only way to get an accurate picture that breaks the spell of Satan’s anti-God propaganda is to discover the love of God through the Biblical narrative, complete with the doctrinal magnifying glasses it provides.

In short, read your Bible! But more. If Satan cannot keep you from the Bible he will warp the way you read it. The cheesy model is one way he warps our ability to grasp the beauty of God’s character. The dry model is the other (which Adventists, I’m so sorry, tend to be most fond of.) Therefore, read your Bible but do it with a simple twofold approach. The first, to discover the heart of God in everything you read. The second, to read everything!

Read your Bible but do it with a simple twofold approach. The first, to discover the heart of God in everything you read. The second, to read everything!

The second reason why it matters is because we become like what or whom we worship. If the God we worship is strict, stoic and controlling we will become that kind of people. So Satan doesn’t really care if you go to church and read your Bible, so long as he can keep you chained to his lies about God’s character. And as you worship this god - this false god of approval, this false god who sits in heaven looking desperately for an excuse to keep you out, this false god who demands perfection of you on the threat of eternal damnation - then you progressively become like that god. Your character begins to reflect the insecurity, judgmentalism, criticism and stoicism that the god you worship exemplifies. In this sense, Satan’s lies about God have a double effect. First, they damage Gods character. And second, they damage ours. As we behold this false deity, our characters are shaped into its false image.

For those who doubt this, let me ask. Were the medieval crusaders just a bunch of blood thirsty sociopaths? Or did they worship a god whom, to a large degree, influenced their behaviour? What about the church in the Southern States - the one filled with members in good and regular standing who read their Bibles every morning and sung hymns every evening while wielding a whip on the bare backs of the slaves they purchased at the local human trafficking market? What of the faithful Christians who surrounded the steaks where men where burned alive for holding a difference of opinion? Were they stupid? Cruel? Yes, undoubtedly. But more, their actions were approved and sanctioned by the imperial god they worshipped. By beholding they became changed.

The third reason why it matters is the most shocking yet. Some of us may be thinking right about now, “Pastor, I would never participate in something like that.” Who knows? Maybe you are right. Maybe you are too squeamish. But regardless of whether you would ever do anything like the above, consider this. Jesus predicts a time in the end in which neighbours and families will betray one another. Daniel and Revelation reveal a time in which the economic cushion that keeps society sane will be removed and the survival instinct—violent and cruel as it is—will take over.

How are we to prepare for this?

The answer is simple. “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36)

How are we to prepare for this?

The book of Revelation reveals that there was a war in heaven (Revelation 12:7) followed by the displacement of Satan and his angels (Revelation 12:12, Luke 10:18). After the fall of man (Genesis 3), God formed a nation (Israel) to be his special people, set apart for him to reveal his beauty to the surrounding nations. But Satan’s war against God was not over. He “rose up against Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1) and led it astray. By the time Jesus came, his own people didn’t recognise him. But from those who did, he gave birth to a new people, the church. And yet, the church too was corrupted. Shortly after the apostles died, the church became a religio-political Roman power. It manipulated, coerced and murdered dissenters. It suppressed the truth of God’s heart for over a thousand years until a protest erupted which gave birth to a new movement seeking to return to the narrative of scripture (the protestants). But it was only a matter of time before the protestants themselves began reflecting a false picture of God. They persecuted, coerced and killed emerging protestants for diversity of thought just as the medieval church had done. (ex: The Anabaptist’s whom early protestants and Catholics tortured and drowned for daring to suggest baptism was by full immersion and not by sprinkling[1]).

And in case you are an Adventist and find yourself tempted with the thought, “not us!” Think again. Everywhere I go I meet wonderful Seventh-day Adventists who are stuck in the mire of legalism, unsure about their own salvation. The difficult God they worship, reflected in their own difficult characters. Our churches are dying - our monotonous worship merely a reflection of our mechanical God. Our youth are leaving. Our leaders are ageing. Our church is hardly known by anyone outside our walls. I have seen broken people driven out of our churches, gossip and slander our primary weapons of choice as we dig our trenches in never-ending battle between liberals and conservatives. In our history, we have promulgated lies about God just as much as the very religious institutions we were raised to protest. We are just as prone to being used by him as was Israel of old and the church of history. Satan’s war against truth is alive and active amongst us.

What this means is that our safety cannot rest in some label like, “Adventist”. Our only safety is in Jesus. The Bible must become to us a telescope into the character of God.

So there are three reasons why a true understanding of God’s character is so important. First, because it is the foundation of the war between good and evil. Second, because we become like the god we worship. And third, because the Bible predicts a crisis at the end of time in which your picture of God will be one of the primary determiners in how you treat others.

But there is a fourth.

In the book Christ Object Lessons, Ellen White tells us something else about the end of time. She writes:

The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.
— EG White, Christ’s Object Lessons

Not only is the war between good and evil a war over God’s heart. Not only do we become like the god we worship. Not only does Revelation envision a final conflict in which professing Christians will act out the very cruelty they believe God himself demands of them, but in the midst of all this drama we are told that God, in his final act of mercy - a mercy tried and worn through thousands of years of sin, apostasy and rebellion, a mercy strained by injustice and exhausted by the murder of the innocents, a mercy strangled by human selfishness, the oppression of the weak and the exploitation of the fragile - that very mercy God will extend as he showers the earth with the truth about his character of love for the last time.

He will call out to wandering humanity, to the heart of a moribund race once more and ask, “What fault did your fathers find in me that they strayed so far from me?” “My people, what have I done to you? Testify against Me how I have wearied you!” (Jeremiah 2:5, Micah 6:3). “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

God’s heart is the final message to the world.

He has called us to be a part of that revelation.

So dear Adventism. Its time we repented of our dry and cheesy theology and recognise that all of scripture is a revelation of God’s heart. In every prophecy and poem, in every letter and biography and in every record and parable. God’s heart is the central theme.

And somehow, as we find ourselves immersed in the beauty of who he is, not only will we find freedom from our fears, insecurities, addictions and wounds but the world will begin to see him in us.

The old British preacher Alan Redpath said it best.

He will transform you into His likeness. You do the beholding–He does the transforming.
— Alan Redpath

_____

[1] Woods, Mark. “Burned at the stake, racked and drowned: Why did everyone hate the Anabaptists?”, [Web: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/burned-at-the-stake-racked-and-drowned-why-did-everyone-hate-the-anabaptists/81608.htm]

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How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns
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Note: The following article is an excerpt from the new eBook, “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns”. To get access to the whole eBook, subscribe below or click here.

I want to begin this book with a twist. Rather than introduce myself as a church growth guru, boasting about how much of a postmodern outreach expert I am—complete with my list of accomplishments including a growing church that meets in a cafe on Friday nights in the city’s main party strip (none of which is true)—I want to unfurl the theatrical curtains to show you a completely different and unanticipated scenario: My failures.

No, you are not overdue for your next visit to the optometrist. You read that right. I want to begin this eBook by taking you on a journey through every botched and dramatically fumbled attempt at outreach I can remember. Because the truth is, I have stuffed it up more times than I have gotten it right.

I was born and raised in a premodern[1] Latino church, situated in Newark, New Jersey on a small hill overlooking the Hudson River into Manhattan. I have fond memories of that church. It’s where I learned how to play spin-the-bottle and truth-or-dare, where my first three girlfriends came from and where I slapped a nice lady (or so I’m told) right across the face, echoes and all, as she attempted to hold me in the middle of the worship service (I was one, so cut me some slack). It’s also where I was introduced to my Christian faith and taught how to share, express and experience it. But there was a problem: the premodern ethos of my home church did not exist in the world outside.

Modernism was winding down and postmodernism was gaining greater influence.[2] But we had no idea. To us, the world was simply in rebellion against God. There was no attempt to understand the culture, to get to know their value structures or to befriend them. Our premodernism insisted that we were right and they were wrong because we had the infallible Bible as “the” only source of truth. Those who rejected it were simply sinful, rebellious people who were denying what they knew to be true.

There were strong cases to be made for atheism and relativism.

Except they didn’t know it to be true. Their rejection of scripture was grounded in modern and postmodern sentiments. The questions were profound. The objections were intellectually compelling. There were strong cases to be made for atheism and relativism. But never mind all that. That’s too much work. Just stick to your bubble. The ideology that keeps you comfortably in the ivory tower of “rightness” and everyone else in the valley of “wrongness”. Because it’s comfortable there, and the world makes sense from up there. Step down into the valley to have meaningful discussions, to come close to the culture instead of attack it, to befriend the sceptic instead of debunking her and you might get soiled by their obstreperous heathenism. So I stayed. Far away from the culture despite the fact that I attended public school all my life. Far away from truly knowing and understanding. What was the point? I had this caricature in my head—a straw man if you please—that I found quite snugly. This cartoon of culture, how it thought and what it really needed, that informed how I felt about it. And because I had this, I didn’t need to get to know people because I already knew that so long as I told them the truth and showed them they were wrong then the little voice of conscience they spent every waking moment inebriating would eventually get to them and they would fall on their knees in contrition.

This shallow and one-dimensional picture I had of people, addiction, existential anxiety, brokenness, and doubt was fuelled by the assumption that everyone knew exactly what I did: the Bible was true, God was real, and Jesus was the only way to heaven. Those who denied it were really only denying what they knew to be true because they were looking for an excuse to party, get smashed and have sex with whoever, whenever. And all I had to do—good little Christian me—was tell them they were wrong and I was right. I could talk about how their lifestyle was sinful; and offer them Jesus. I could tell them their hearts were unsatisfied; and offer them religion. I could point out their nefariousness with undeniable conviction; and offer them salvation. It was easy!

Until it wasn’t.

One of my earliest memories “witnessing” was with a secular friend in High School. Aramir was his name. We hung out all the time. One day—for reasons I can’t remember—we got onto the topic of faith and somehow I ended up turning it into a discussion on why I didn’t listen to secular music. Here was my chance! I could tell him how bad it was, how it warped your soul and twisted your mind by awakening carnal desires and leading you to embrace mendacious ideological constructs. So I dove right in with all my arguments prepared. Nothing about Jesus. No relational expression of faith, God or scripture. Just a good old lecture on the evils of secular music that would have made my conservative community weep with pride and joy. My friend listened carefully. He never appeared upset. In fact, I thought I had somehow gotten through to him. But I was wrong. Dead wrong.

He never asked me about God or faith again. A year or so later we graduated school, went our separate ways and I never saw him again.

Opportunity blown.

But I can’t stop there. I am compelled, for some strange, uncharted reason, to tell you more. Allow me to fast forward a few years to my early twenties. I had just joined the US Army and was stationed in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. A young soldier there whose name was Baner (we went by last names in the Army), found out I was a Christian. One day he came to my room and engaged me in a conversation on faith. He asked what would happen to all those people who had never heard of Christ. Could they go to heaven?

My conservative, premodern glasses wouldn’t allow it. After all, there was only one source of truth. And the Muslims and Buddhists didn’t have it. So I looked him in the eye and boldly proclaimed the unadulterated truth: “No”. That was my answer. And I was proud. In the face of the sceptic, I had stood firm for what was right and true. Baner was shocked. Is that the kind of God you worship? His peering eyes, a soft azure that cut through your soul, asked. He shook his head and stood up, “Nah. Forget it.”

Conversation over.

Shortly after, my roommate challenged me to a friendly discussion. I had no idea how to have those, but I enjoyed it about as much as anyone can enjoy getting mopped on the floor by an intelligent agnostic who defied all of my caricatures. Then came Wilson, a drug addict who kept asking me where God had been during his dark nights of agony. Baner, also an addict, had the same questions. I had no answers. My premodernism had taught me that no matter what, you can always trust in God. But these guys had really good reasons not to. And I had lacklustre arguments that, while satisfying for me, left everyone else in the room wanting.

One day, Wilson came by my room and declared, “Someday, Torres. Someday, I will be free!” A perfect opportunity to invite him on a truth-seeking journey, wasn’t it? Except, I froze. I said nothing. He disappeared shortly after. For two years no one knew where he was. He turned up again, was consequently arrested and sent to military jail where he stayed until he was dishonourably discharged. I knew where he was. I knew how to get there. How to make an appointment. How to get in.

I never visited him.

Is that the worst of it? I’m honestly not sure. There was also the time that the Command Sergeant Major of my battalion had a once-in-a-lifetime conversation with me. It was remarkable. Command Sergeant Majors are among the highest ranking enlisted soldiers in the Army. I was separated from her by six ranks which meant the chances of her and I talking about the notability of Jesus’ claims were about as high as the average citizen going out for a pizza with their State Governor. Having even a basic, mundane interaction with people up there is rare, let alone an unveiling-of-the-soul kind of chat. And that’s exactly what happened. Mourning the recent death of her husband, the Command Sergeant Major looked at me, the file and rank of military structure faded, the wall disappeared, grace was up to something. “I don’t know what I am going to do with my life now,” she murmured.

There weren’t any tears or broken words. After all, she was a high ranking enlisted soldier in charge of an entire battalion. You don’t get there without freakishly high levels of tenacity and self-control. But her eyes, lost, as she gazed over the horizon of my cheap office table, unveiled an agony that few had ever seen and one which human eyes, I would venture to assume, would never see again.

My reply? “Sergeant Major,” I leaned forward with the paperwork she needed, “You have to sign right here.”

She snapped out of it. Signed the paperwork. And off she went.

We all stuff it up, don’t we? We do. But I can’t help but look back and wonder, Why was I so willing to stand so strong for the right though the heavens fall (referring to traditional Christian values I thought were important) and yet not be able to engage someone in a mutual truth-seeking journey?

Powers was next. She was going through a divorce. She asked me about divorce, adultery, and sex outside of marriage (she had hooked up with another guy in the unit). I answered. No journey. No mutual seeking. Just cold, hard facts. The premodern gurus would have bowed to me.

I was their poster boy.

Powers said I was brainwashed and never asked me about God or faith again.

People were not rejecting truth, they were rejecting me.

You might look at this and say, “That’s just the way it is. People are always going to reject truth!” And I don’t blame you. I believed the same thing. It was a convenient belief, really. I could avoid the responsibility of coming to know people, mutual searching, admitting I didn’t have all the answers. I could excuse my poor judgement, lack of interpersonal skills and black-and-white view of reality. I could stay in my self-aggrandising bubble—cosy and content—never bothering to consider, even just for a moment, that people were not rejecting truth, they were rejecting me. Oh, how commodious it is to live in a state of such self-delusion that you can emerge an instrument of the dark intelligence by becoming the very kind of presence that drives people away from the truth, and yet believe—I mean truly believe—you are right because you said what the Bible verse says (in the King James Version no less!).

How commodious indeed.

How many of us exist in this prison of misapprehension? This fantasy world where we have written a script of ourselves and those around us. Our script is always heroic. Theirs is either the damsel to be rescued or the Wormtongue for whom there is no recourse—only sharp and unapologetic words to expose him. All the while we think we are doing God a favour, without recognising that—in all our zeal—we have become instruments of the rebellion! Satan laughs. He laughs because we think ourselves so faithful and yet it is through our unsanctified defence of the truth that he most effectively catapults his anti-God propaganda into the cultural consciousness.

But there were moments of success. Moments where I did get it right. They happened without me realising what was happening. Moments where I would take a fellow soldier’s Bible question, bathe it in relational intimacy and offer them—not a religion with rules and regulations, but a personal, intimate experience with the divine. They listened. I remember the nods. The eyes widening with possibility. I saw secularism and hedonism stop dead in their tracks. I saw in my friends’ eyes, a battle raging deep within. Somehow, their ideological structures were collapsing in the presence of this relational God. This God of withness who was inviting them to friendship. They had never encountered this before. Sensuality and the mindless pursuit of trivial pleasure bowed in the presence of something infinitely more invigorating, compelling and satisfying.

That’s when I began to realise the mind of the modern man is not reached like the mind of the premodern. The premodern assumes the authority of God, scripture and religious teachers. The modern man holds each of these in contempt for science, he believes, has made a mockery of them all. Thus, my premodern arguments continued to be met with an echo of rebuttals: “God can’t be love in light of our pain.” “Where is he?” “Oh, you are religious?” “What’s up with the crusades man?” “Religion has caused more wars and more horror than anything else. No, thank you, I’ll just stay over here with my beer and TV remote. That’ll do.”

And yet, when approached with authentic relationship something happened. The walls came down. Their eyes betrayed a desire to explore. Somehow, the invitation to forget all the religious noise and just taste the goodness of God, to know him and be known by him, was a welcome proposition.

I left the Army and wound up in Australia. How? I met a pretty girl, that’s how. But that’s a story for another time.

In Australia, I was introduced to a truly secular, postmodern society. It was there in New Jersey, but my premodern bubble had shielded me from it. It was there in the Army, but my debates with modern sceptics took up all my time. Australia is a different monster. The secularism here is not anti-church. I wish it were! Anti-church crusaders acknowledge the church’s existence. They are angry with it! But this postmodern, secular Australian culture isn’t angry with the church. They don’t even know it exists.

Okay, they know it exists in a geographical, “Yeah, that’s St. Mary’s Cathedral over there,” kind of way. But church is not on their radar. The typical Australian, I was told, lived and died without ever setting foot in a church or even thinking about it. It just wasn’t important to them.

I was interested. So I began studying postmodernism, cultural outreach, and the art of truth-seeking relationships. The more I learned, the more I recognised signs of its presence throughout my life. It was a stimulating experience, reading those books and listening to those lectures. I even went on iTunes University and downloaded entire university lectures on philosophy, starting all the way back with Socrates and working my way forward through Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, Kant, Hume, and others. And I learned a lot. But nothing prepared me for the real experience of setting the books aside and meeting with a living, breathing postmodern.

And then it happened. A woman in her 30s contacted me through a friend. She had never been to church before. She had never read a Bible. But one day she woke up with existential anxiety and was thirsty for answers. “How can someone as alive and conscious and full of life as me, just die and that’s it? It’s over?” We met. We studied. We talked. And I discovered she wasn’t some scary, unreachable millennial with a 30-foot thick philosophical barrier around her heart. Instead, I found her to be, well… human.

And then it happened again and again and again. A drug addict, a counsellor, a physics major. But perhaps one of the most memorable of them all was this one millennial who invited me to a cafe to talk God. She was the poster girl for postmodernism. From the very beginning, she lambasted me with questions about gay and transgender rights, the impossibility of knowing absolute truth and the value of feminism over against the supposed patriarchal biblical ethic (which she found repulsive). Her questions were tough. Tougher than anything my modern Army buddies ever threw at me. But by this point in my life, I had learned a few lessons. I wasn’t a postmodern guru and I’m still not. But I had learned, through failure and regret, that people don’t need gurus. They need partners. Someone to journey with them, wrestle with them, acknowledge the validity of their questions, doubts, and struggles. Someone who stops preaching and assuming long enough to hear—truly hear—what their hearts are searching for.

Relationship is the most potent conduit of truth.

As I sat there with this humanistic, relativistic, left-wing university student I listened long enough to hear that despite all the philosophical finesse, what she was really struggling with was a sense of abandonment. Abandonment from within her own family and a perceived abandonment from God himself when, as a teenager, she had traversed the treacherous minefield of love, chemical explosions, and romantic adventure only to be broken-hearted—or more like shattered—despite her faith-driven appeals to God’s help. Where was he? He’s just like so and so. They let me down. He let me down. I’ll harp on about the injustice of empire long enough to forget just how unjust those closest to me have been—especially God.

We studied together for over a year. There was no baptism after. There was no metric by which I can measure my success with her—not by institutional standards anyways. But there was that last meeting we had where we put the philosophy aside and just spoke about pain, fatherhood, and insecurity. Before we parted ways, she looked me in the eye and said, “Thanks. This is exactly what I needed.”

We are still in touch and plan to study more in the future.

How did this happen? Not by accident. It happened because I failed. Over and over again. And with every failure, I learned. With every failure, I grew. They humbled me and drove me back to the Bible for answers. They also schooled me. They were the practical lessons I needed to discover how to reach the secular, postmodern mind. The young lady above is one of others—secular, relativistic and altogether different kinds of people with worldviews miles apart from my own. I have talked, answered questions and asked many more. In the end, I have discovered that people don’t need data, facts or propositions. People need incarnation. People need people. Relationship is the most potent conduit of truth.

I am still not a guru. I have much to learn. But in this short eBook, I want to share with you what I have learned through pain and disappointment. In five concise chapters I want to take you through my bruises and regrets, so you can discover something that will inspire and equip you to more effectively reach this wandering and broken generation.

Welcome to my school of hard knocks.

Endnotes

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[1] The term premodernism has been used in reference to the historical period following the middle ages or as a blanket term alluding to the worldview that all truth has one absolute source which, in the Western sense, would be the Bible and its derived authorities such as the church or the priest. Throughout this eBook, it is the later use that I employ.

[2] Those well-schooled in postmodern history will find this statement difficult to reconcile since postmodernism was already in full swing by the 1950s and I, after all, was born in 1985. However, keep in mind that I was raised in a region that was primarily immigrant. The vast majority of the migrant cultures brought with them the premodern sentiments of their homelands where the cultural milieu was still governed by superstition, mythology, witchcraft, and Catholicism. As a result, the youth I grew up with tended to be the first generation of our migrant community to be raised in the US. This made us the first ones to be exposed to postmodern indoctrination.

 
 
Pastor MarcosComment
Why You Should Stop Going to Church with Maritza Brunt
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You should stop going to church.

No seriously I mean it. It’s time you closed that chapter of your life and put it behind you for good.

Because it turns out going to church is not just dumb, its also unbiblical.

Is pastor Marcos going all heretical these days? Maybe the 102 degree Australian summer days have finally gotten to him?

Only one way to find out! Check out this weeks new podcast interview with Adventist Record assistant editor, Maritza Brunt! We talk about why she stopped going to church and you should to.

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Connect with Maritza:

Twitter - @maritzaemunoz

Instagram - @maritza_brunt

Article we Discussed: record.adventistchurch.com/2018/02/16/why-i-dont-go-to-church/


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3 Steps Toward a New Adventism
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I love Adventism.

I love our theological narrative complete with our passion for Daniel and Revelation. I love the health message. I love the writings of Ellen White. I love the history of our church and its legacy. I love our sanctuary hermeneutic, our global structure and haystacks. And most of all, I love the way authentic Adventism lifts Jesus up. There’s just nothing like it.

Because I love Adventism I have a passion to see it thrive, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the one who raised it up out of the ashes of disappointment and into the global movement it is today. Jesus is the reason for Adventism. Our church exists to communicate the heart of God to the whole world. I consider it an honour to have been raised in this church and to be one of its leaders today. I want to see it blossom, flourish and grow.

It is because of this passion for the Adventist movement, that I am overwhelmed with emotion when I attend an Adventist church that is youth-less, lifeless, stuck in a bygone era and filled with people who either don’t seem to care or obstinately believe they are doing God a favour. But the thing that hurts the most is that this kind of church represents the majority of SDA churches I have been to in the various areas I have lived throughout my life (including two different countries, the US and Australia).

Research shows us that “our churches are growing older,” and “[m]any young people are leaving the Church once they reach independence.”[1] The primary reasons why people leave our church continue to be “hypocrisy, conflict and lack of friends (especially while going through life trauma such as marital problems")”[2] A 2013 retention summit “revealed the denomination has lost one in three members over the last 50 years. Additionally, for every 100 people the Adventist church gains, it loses 43 previous members…”[3] with one of the main contributions from the church being, “not helping people through their tough life experiences.”[4]

As a pastor who dialogues with other pastors and mission minded members, the conversations always revolve around three main points. First, why are Adventists so dead? Second, why do 80% of the members do nothing while the same 20% do everything? And third, "how can we keep our youth and reach the culture, when our churches are in such a bad state?”

No one really has the answers to these questions, but we must continue to agitate the conversation because the truth is, there is nothing like Adventism. The story that we tell is both unique to us and needed by the culture. We cannot rest while our churches continue the same unhealthy behaviours year after year. We must raise our voices and inspire the birth of a new Adventism. Here are three steps I believe can lead us there.

  1. Rediscover the relevance and uniqueness of our story. Part of the reason why our church members are so dead is because few of them realise how relevant and scarce our message is. There is a story we have been called to tell that no one else is telling. Do you know what that story is? If you and your church don’t have the answer to that question, nothing else will make any difference. I actually wrote a whole book about that very thing. You can read it with your church. Click here for more info.

  2. Reorient the focus of the church. Many churches are maintenance minded instead of mission minded. This means that most of their energy goes toward keeping the machine oiled instead of innovating new ideas and adventures. In order to change our trend and bring about a new Adventism, the focus of the church has to change from “keep the engine running” to “hit the race track!”

  3. Redesign relationships. When it comes to surveys, the one thing Adventists consistently score lowest in is “loving relationships”.[5] This is reflected in the data I quoted above. We don’t lose members because we don’t have cool churches with state-of-the-art resources and a hipster pastor. We lose members because we lack relationships. The way to foster relationships in your church is to create spaces where people can build memories together. A church mission trip. A church camp. A church service project in the community. Church picnics, fundraisers and holistic small groups - all of these activities are out of the ordinary and help foster memories that in turn raise the level of intimacy among your members.

Perhaps few have captured our current state and future potential as well as Danny Bell in his article, “North American Adventist Church Growth: The Untold Story”, when he wrote:

The reality is that the Church in western society has become insular, self-centred, and unconcerned about a suffering, dying world. We prefer to stand at church doors and call out to the public rather than go out and get involved in the dirty business of befriending the scum of the earth. The fortress mentality is alive and well in our churches and until we realise that it’s not all about “going home to heaven” and “wishing Jesus would come,” the sooner we can properly engage in the Master’s business.[6]

The challenges we face as a global church are big, especially in the western context. But the solutions are not as complex as many imagine. Passion for our story, mission-mindedness in our church structure and relational intentionality in our church life are simple things, but with them we can usher in a new Adventism capable of connecting with and ministering effectively to the culture.


[1] https://record.adventistchurch.com/2018/06/08/growing-young-how-to-save-our-church/

[2] https://www.adventistarchives.org/why-did-they-leave.pdf

[3] https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2013/december/seventh-day-adventists-assess-why-1-in-3-members-leave-sda.html

[4] https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-11-19/at-first-retention-summit-leaders-look-at-reality-of-church-exodus/

[5] This statement is in reference to the Natural Church Development Survey

[6] http://atoday.org/north-american-adventist-church-growth-the-untold-story/

Pastor Marcos Comments
LGBT, Pop-Culture & Other Questions with Pastor Marcos
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2019 is here!

And I want to launch off with a brand new podcast episode where I answer your questions!

Just before 2018 ended, I posted a request for questions on social media and got overwhelmed with the amount that came through. It was awesome!

So for our first ep. this year, I will be answering those very questions. Here are just a few:

  1. How do Christians rid themselves of the mentality that they are better than others?

  2. How do we reach LGBT youth?

  3. How can millennials reach other millennials in or through evangelism without getting involved in pop culture?

Click below to listen in! (And don’t forget to subscribe).


The 1 Type of Adventist Church that Gives me Hope
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In Matthew 2 we read one of the accounts of Jesus birth. Its the story where the Magi show up in Jerusalem and ask Herod about the new king. Then Herod calls in the scholars for their input. Then he pretends to want to worship Jesus but really wants to kill him. So the Magi find Jesus, worship him and scoot it back to Persia (or somewhere in that direction).

If you haven't read it, take the time to do so.

But here's the main point. In this story there are 3 characters: Herod, the religious teachers and the Magi.

And each of these characters have a different reaction to Jesus' birth.

Herod: Is deeply disturbed and plots to kill Jesus.

The Religious teachers: They have no reaction. They show up, give their scholarly answer about the birth of the messiah, and then disappear. It's like they don't even care.

Magi: The pagans. They are filled with excitement and joy. They find Jesus, worship him and give him gifts.

Now, what does this have to do with our local Adventist churches? The answer is simple: Your church fits into one of the above reactions.

Some churches are like Herod. It's weird, yes, but its true. The story of Jesus disturbs them. I'm not necessarily talking about the Christmas season here (which some people don't gel with for ideological reasons). I'm referring strictly to the person of Jesus. There are Adventist churches where the person of Jesus is a threat. His grace is too wonderful. His supremacy is too powerful. So, like Herod, they pretend to worship him. But when it comes down to it, its their own kingdom they want to protect. Whether it be traditions, some ultra-strict theology, ideology, culture or political identity there are, oddly enough, churches that like Herod say "we too will worship him" but in reality they are only interested in preserving their little empire. If Jesus were here in person, such churches would be among the ones who sought to get rid of him.

Other churches are like the religious teachers of the law. This is perhaps the most common one among Adventist churches. They have all the answers. They have all the doctrine. They have all the knowledge and they are big on the prophesies. They can quote texts with ease and are very particular about their theological brand and identity. But their hearts are cold. Their worship is dead. There is no enthusiasm, no joy and no excitement. It's as if they have gotten so caught up in theology they have forgotten to be human. If you challenge their theology, they will come with answers and propositions. But if you ask them about Jesus, you wont get much reaction. They will fight about all kinds of things: worship/ music styles, dress standards, health reform etc. etc. But turn their attention to Jesus and its as if, they don't really care. They will drop a few "theological" answers on the table and then disappear from the conversation.

And then there are the churches that are like the Magi. I love these churches. They are the ones that give me hope for what Adventism can become the world around. They don't have it all together. The members are broken people who come from the "foreign" lands of sin and confusion. And while they know what they believe, they are on a journey of growth toward Jesus. They have read the Bible and in there they have seen a light and they are following that light. They ask questions, travel any distance to find answers and are filled with excitement and joy. When they worship Jesus, they do so with enthusiasm and joy. They have no ego to protect. No image to project. And no person to impress. They are lost in Jesus, bow to Jesus and bring gifts to Jesus. And when God speaks to them, they are willing to return to their foreign land to tell others what they have experienced in Jesus.

Which of these best reflects your church? Or perhaps your church finds itself somewhere in between some of these reactions? I don't know. But my hope and prayer is that every Adventist church in the world would react to the story of Jesus just as the Magi did, not only during this Christmas season, but all year long. Because if we do, I believe we can make a difference we never would have imagined.

Merry Christmas everyone!

What Adventists Get Wrong About Truth
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There is something Adventists get totally wrong about truth.

But before I tell you what it is, I want to lay the foundation.

The word appears 99 times in the New Testament. A few times here and a few times there. But there is one author that is obsessed with the word truth. Matthew mentions the word once, Mark twice, Luke four times and John? Yeah… he mentions it 22 times.

22! That’s a lot by comparison.

So what does this have to do with what Adventists get wrong about truth? Keep reading. It will all come together soon.

The first time John uses the word truth in his book. It reads:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:14

John says “we saw his glory”. Now John is making a play on words here. He is going back to Moses where God tells him “I will show you my glory, but only a glimpse of my backside because no one can see my face and live.” Well here is God now, John declares, dwelling among us in tangible human flesh and guess what? We saw him. We saw his glory.

But John goes further than that. In 1 John 1:1 he adds, “What was from the beginning (Jesus), what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands...”

We didn’t just see him. We touched him.

Now this is strange. It’s strange because John is obsessed with truth and yet his picture of truth is quite different from what many of us imagine. According to John, truth is not a list of ideas, ideological constructs or abstract philosophies. Truth, John says, is something you can see and something you can touch.

Correction. Truth, John says, is someone you can see and someone you can touch.

So I ask again, what is truth? And what do Adventists get wrong about it?

We live in a culture today that no longer values truth. But before I explore that, allow me to briefly describe the three main ways human beings have historically related to the concept of truth.

Pre-Modernism

The first is what some refer to as the pre-modern conception of truth. I visited a lady one time in New Jersey. She was an alcoholic. A lot of problems in her life. She was not a church goer. She was not a Bible reader. She was not a Christian at all. And as soon as I told her I was a pastor she gave me this look and said, “I just got chills running through my body”. And what she meant was, “Oh my goodness I can’t believe I am in the presence of a man of God.”

We talked about God and the Bible and she was super receptive even though she was not a believer. This lady falls into the category that we call pre-modern. Even though she is not a believer, she assumes that truth is real and that the main source of truth is God and his word. This used to be the dominant way in the west. The priest, the pastor, the preacher - they have truth.

Modernism

But with the influence of the enlightenment and the scientific revolution the world began to change. It moved from the pre-modern era into the modern era. People now believed that truth is real but it’s not the Bible or the preacher that has it. Its the laboratory and scientist. And the advancement of science promised to bring about a new Utopian era. But then science gave us the atomic bomb and the bloodiest century in history. And so the culture lost its faith in science.

Post-Modernism

There then emerged what is known as the post-modern era. The era we currently live in. And the post-modern era can be summarised like this: the church promised us truth and brought us war and horror. Science promised us truth and brought us more war and horror. Therefore, the conclusion is that there is no such thing as truth. Truth does not exist.

Truth does not exist.

Now this is the cultural milieu that we find ourselves in. People no longer assume the Bible is trust-worthy, or the church, or even the scientist. There is no such thing as truth. The best we can do is live as honestly as possible and create our own individual reality. And if you tell me that your reality is more true than my reality then that is offensive because there is no such thing as an absolutely true reality that applies to everyone.

Now this is a problem for us Adventists because we love truth. So how can we communicate the truth that we love to a culture that denies the very existence of truth?

I believe it’s not some fanciful or new theory that we need. Rather, I believe that the answer is ancient. It’s found in John’s conception of what truth actually is. So let’s go back to John.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John describes Jesus as full of truth. But notice the pattern here. Jesus was not a philosopher. He was not an academic. And he was not a lecturer. Jesus was full of truth, John says, but instead of predicating this declaration on Jesus’ supposed ideological constructs, John predicates it on Jesus’ presence. In other words, the evidence for Jesus being full of truth is not his PhD, it’s his dwelling with us. And if that isn’t enough, John quotes Jesus in John 14:6 saying, “I am the way, the truth…”

We saw him. We touched him. He was full of truth. But more, he is the truth.

Now this is challenging on so many levels. It challenges the post-modern by declaring that there is such a thing as absolute truth. But it does it in a very interesting way that challenges the church as well. I tried really hard to find the right way to express what truth is according to John and here is the best I could do:

Truth is not merely academic, Truth is personal. Truth is not merely ideological, Truth is dynamic. Truth is not merely information, Truth is friendship. Truth is not mere facts, Truth is acts of kindness. Truth is not an it, Truth is a him. A baby boy is born in a stable because truth is not in ivory towers. Truth is flesh and bone.

And that baby boy grows up. He is full of truth and he is truth. And the truth befriends drunkards. And the truth eats meals with thieves and prostitutes. And the truth blesses little children. And the truth washes feet like a servant. And the truth comforts widows and orphans, social outcasts and failures. Because the truth is not an it. The truth is a He.

Today, the culture doesn't trust the church because the church claims that it has the truth, but does not live the truth. It preaches of God’s love but does not love its neighbourhood. It proclaims Gods justice but does not defend the weak and the poor. It sings about the bread of life, but it doesn't feed the hungry. It celebrates the living water, but it does not alleviate humanities thirst.

Sometimes people will tell me, “Marcos all this meeting people’s needs and nurturing friendship and community is not important. The truth is all that matters.” And I feel my heart break just a little. It breaks because these are sincere people who say this. People who love the truth. But people who, in all their love for truth still don’t know what truth truly is. If truth was merely information then yes, forget the greeters, forget community and friendship, forget social events. Let’s just make a plan to ambush our neighbours with as much information as possible. But if truth is more than information. If truth is a verb not just a noun, if truth is a person, not just a thing, if truth is relationship not just a textbook then we need to do more than just communicate information. And when we love one another, when we care for one another, when we serve one another we are proclaiming truth.

St. Francis of Assisi once said,

Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.
— St. Francis of Assisi

This is what Adventists get wrong about truth. We treat truth like data when in reality, it is a person. We communicate truth in doctrinal statements when in reality, it is most powerfully communicated in acts of love. All of a sudden we have to rethink evangelism. It’s not just Adventists shoving information into people’s skulls. Its Adventists serving, and caring and incarnating with others. Because when you love someone, when you smile at someone, when you care for someone you proclaim truth. Because truth is relational. Which is why God didn’t just send a lecturer from heaven. He sent a friend of sinners. A person. Not a thing. A relationship. Not a manuscript.

In that manger that we celebrate on Christmas lays a baby boy, and he is truth. And that baby boy grew to be a man who declared I am the truth. And because of that declaration his enemies conspired for his death. Hours before his crucifixion, this Jesus stands before the most powerful man in his region. Pontius Pilate.  And Pilate wants to know, what kind of King is this Jesus? So he asks him, you are a king? And Jesus replies,

You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.
— John 18:38

In other words Pilate, I am a king. Not a political king. Not a military king. A truth king. I am a king who has come into the world to proclaim truth. But then he adds, “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Why? Because you cannot separate truth and Jesus. They are one and the same - intertwined so tightly that to claim truth and reject Jesus is to believe a lie.

If you preach the Sabbath without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach Daniel and Revelation without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach any of the doctrinal statements of scripture without Jesus call it anything you want, just don’t call it truth. Truth is found in the person of Jesus. And when he said, “whoever is of the truth hears my voice” he was reaffirming that truth is more than multiple choice answers in an exam. Truth is Jesus.

Pilate missed the point.

Verse 38: Pilate answered him, “What is truth?”

And then he left.

Pilate missed it. He missed the point. The religious people missed it too. Will we?

Ellen White once wrote these words,

If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tender-hearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.
— Ellen White, 9T p. 189

Why? Why would there be 100 conversions to the truth where there is now only one? Are we not now proclaiming the doctrines? Are we not teaching the true theology? Yes. But it’s not enough. Truth is more than right belief, it is right action. And when we live out the truth in kindness and courtesy it draws the world to Christ. Because truth is not just what you preach, truth is a helping hand, a gentle touch, a needed hug. Ellen goes on,

Why do we not live in constant communion with Him, so that in our connection with one another we can speak and act kindly and courteously? Why do we not honour the Lord by manifesting tenderness and love for one another? If we speak and act in harmony with the principles of heaven, unbelievers will be drawn to Christ by their association with us.
— Ellen White, 9T p. 190

What is truth?

It is more than a list of ideas. Truth is a person. And today he declares, “by this will all men know that you are my disciples. If you love one another.” Not “if you preach the Sabbath” - although the Sabbath is true. Not “if you publish studies on the sanctuary” although that is also true. But by this will all men know - if you love one another.

As you look forward to a Christmas season and a new year, I want to invite you to proclaim truth. Not just information but kindness, acts of love and a warm spirit. Because it is that act of incarnation - that doing of life with others - that truth is most effectively proclaimed to a post-modern world.

It's Time to Burn Adventism with Josh & Jesse (Burn the Haystack)
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Have you ever looked at the message of Adventism and thought - man this is beautiful - only to be turned off by the culture and tradition that surrounds the message?

Me too.

So I have concluded that its time to put Adventism to the flame… and burn it.

Fire, in scripture, has a disinfecting role to it. It destroys yes, but it also cleans. And I believe that as a church we are in need of a disinfecting fire. An experience that can kill the parts of us that damage our missional capacity and leave us with a simple, uncluttered faith capable of fulfilling the call God has placed on us.

And it is in that sense that I say, its time to burn Adventism.

Burn the negative attitudes.

Burn the legalism.

Burn the often idolatrous commitment to traditions.

And may all that remains be a story of God’s heart that invades the culture.

That is what this weeks podcast interview is all about! I sat down with the hosts of Adventist podcast “Burn the Haystack” and we discussed:

What is it in Adventism that needs to burn?

What is it that needs to stay?

And what does the end result look like?

Join us for this weeks featured podcast as we discuss these hot questions on our journey toward an Adventism that is less about us and more about Jesus.


StoryPastor MarcosComment
Here's Why You Can't Motivate Your Church (& How to Do It)
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I hear these complaints from church leaders all the time:

“No one want’s to do anything!”

“The people don’t support the events.”

“We tried, but no one showed up…”

At times, the frustration can get so overwhelming that we are tempted to actually judge the spirituality of the church.

“If they were serious about their faith…”

“People aren’t committed anymore.”

“Back in my day we didn’t have this problem!”

Now grant it, these statements are not entirely false. Our church is dead. And a dead church is simply the outflow of dead individual church members. However, as leaders we don’t have the luxury of pointing fingers or passing blame. We have to find solutions. Real and lasting solutions. That is why we are leaders.

The first step toward solving any problem is to properly identify its epicentre. Where is it coming from? What is the source? If your church members don’t support events, if they don’t participate in evangelism and if they don’t buy into your attempts at creating a strategy to reach your community then you have to find out why. Those are mere symptoms of a deeper problem. And it is through conversation and one on one, face to face dialogue that the real issues can emerge. You can’t simply guess as a leader. You can’t go on “gut” or “feeling”. Opinion has to be dropped. Facts alone will help you push ahead.

Because every church is different there is no way to write a blog that accurately diagnoses the source of the problem in every single one of them. The source is going to differ. Sometimes the source is a historical wound. Sometimes is a theological warp. And sometimes the problem may be you. If it is, listen pray for guidance and grow. The people will respect you for it.

However, there is one theme that is recurrent in many churches I have been to and I want to bring it up here. If you keep this in mind, along with having those needed conversations, I believe you will unearth the core issues and resolve them.

So here is the recurring theme I have witnessed in countless churches. Imagine you have a car sitting in your garage. You never drive it but it’s a classic so you don’t want it to break-down from inactivity. However, you just don’t have the time to take care of it. Naturally, you hire someone to come to your house once a week and make sure the engine is oiled, the coolant topped off, the transmission fluid clean and the battery healthy. You have this person take the car for a small spin around the block - nothing eventful - and then they go home. Job done.

This person has done nothing spectacular. They did not take the car to a car show. They did not sign up to a charity drive. They did not hire it out for romantic dates. They simply maintained it. That’s what you hired them for. Nothing more.

The person described above is exactly how the vast majority of church members see the nominated church leadership team. They don’t have time. They don’t have energy. But they don’t want to let go of the church. So year after year they nominate people to maintain the church’s engine and take it for a small, uneventful spins. Nothing more.

In short, most churches don’t perceive of their nominated leaders as real leaders. They perceive them as a maintenance crew.

So when the leaders get together and plan to take the car to a show (follow the metaphor here), or sign up to a charity drive or hire it out to weddings the members who nominated them just sit back and watch. They don’t dive into the process because that’s not what they had in mind when they nominated you. They don’t get pumped about the new possibilities because when they voted you into office, they were not thinking about new possibilities. They were simply going through the motions of putting people into positions that would keep the machine oiled. Nothing more.

So here is why you can’t motivate your church as a leader - because few people even see you as a leader to begin with. In their mind, you are there to oil the machine and that’s it. They weren’t expecting a revolution when they voted you in. In fact, they weren’t even asking for one. So if you decide to start one, they are not following you because its not what they had in mind when they approved your name for the office. You are an engine-oiler. And so long as you do that well they will vote you back in year after year.

So how can you change this? The solution is simple but it requires some high level commitment. You can’t change this mindset over-night. It will take time and repetition. The process can last up to 3 years before the culture begins to change. But it is worth it. Here is the process I use in my churches.

  1. Create a mission plan for your church with your leaders.

  2. Have every leader write a one page document on how their particular ministry is going to fulfil that mission. Then, have each leader meet with their respective team and communicate the contents of that document to them.

  3. Ask the team members to then discuss the mission with their families and friends in the church. Give them a time-frame to do this in.

  4. Celebrate your leaders and the difference they are making in front of the church. Use their example to inspire the rest of the members.

  5. When Nominating Committee returns, invite the members and committee to think in terms of kingdom building and not in terms of maintenance. If new leaders are nominated have them agree to the document from step 2 as a condition of accepting the roll. Then repeat steps 3 and 4.

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So what exactly is this process accomplishing? Two things. First, it is enabling the mission of the church to go from the leaders to the people. Think of water trickling from the top of the mountain down to the valley. That’s what you are doing here. The mission and vision should not remain at the top of the mountain with the elected leaders. It needs to trickle down into the valley of the people.

Second, this process is rewiring the minds of church members to expect results from their leaders and to view them as leaders, not machine-oilers. Over time, as the process repeats the new expectation and process settles in and the people begin electing leaders with the desire for forward movement. And once that culture is in place, you will no longer have to motivate your church as a leader, because the very fact that you are in your position is the result of motivated people who are ready for you to lead them to the next level.

ChurchPastor MarcosComment
How to Attract Millennials to Your Church (with Luke Farrugia)
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Millennial’s have been on the forefront of church chatter for nearly a decade now.

Articles, books and research projects have been dedicated to this particular generation in a way that hasn’t really been seen before.

Why are they leaving church? How do we get them to stay or attract them to our churches in the first place?

A few weeks ago I sat down with Luke Farrugia, host of the Aus Table Talk podcast, to discuss “How to Attract Millennials to your Church”. If you are interested in youth and outreach to post-Christian generations you don’t want to miss this interview!

We bust some of the biggest myths about millennial outreach and share just how simple it is to nurture a church culture that attracts this elusive generation.

Listen below and don’t forget to like, subscribe and share!

Make sure to also head over to www.austabletalk.com.au for some fresh and relevant Adventist podcast material!

ChurchPastor MarcosComment