Posts tagged Christianity
What Is It That Makes Christianity Different From Every Other Religion?

This past week I had the privilege of hanging out with Lachland Harders from The Worship Collective to film this simple video exploring the difference between the Christian faith and every other worldview and religion on the planet. Check it out below and make sure to follow The Worship Collective on Facebook! (More info below)

For those who have never heard of The Worship Collective, head over to their Facebook page and give them a like! The Worship Collective exists to create, share and inspire others to make Christian Content. Their goal is to stimulate growth in the Christian creative community and firmly believe in following in the footsteps of our creator-God across all artistic mediums.

We need more young leaders like this doing awesome stuff in our church! Show them your support!

My Take on Why Teens Leave Church

Young people are leaving the church in droves and despite our many attempts to keep them, they continue to fall away. Growing up, my church had more than a hundred kids and teens running through its corridors, but today few of them remain in the church. For some time, many concerned Christians have sought to understand the reasons why young people leave the church. I believe that the answer is simple. They leave because they find no relevance in Christianity and most importantly, they have not fallen in love with God.

Christianity lacks relevance for many young people.To them, being a Christian involves nothing more than following senseless rules and participating in church services that are disconnected from their reality. Ask any teen in church about how they perceive Christianity and nine out of ten will most likely describe to you three things: the church service, good behavior, and telling others about Jesus. While none of these things are wrong, in and of themselves they have no relevance. Teens today are faced with multiple obstacles such as drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, self-mutilation, rising divorce rates, promiscuity, homosexuality and abortion among many other things. So the question is, How does the church service empower them to deal with this? What exactly is good behavior? Is it what the Pastor says? Or is it what society accepts? And why tell others about Jesus when our post-modern culture embraces the philosophy that there is no such thing as truth? When Christianity fails to answer these questions and fails to provide direction and practicality to everyday life, teens begin to see it as unessential to life. This sets the stage for disregarding God altogether and embracing the godless culture of the day. “What’s wrong with godless?” They might subconsciously ask, “God was never that important anyways.”

A friend of mine recently told me a story that I believe illustrates this point very well. He had just returned from a mission trip to Malaysia. During the trip he and several other students had preached to the local people. Among the sermons where many interesting topics, but for one student, as interesting as they were, something was missing. In her attempt to express how she felt she asked the question, “What does this have to do with the price of rice?” This question, silly as it may be, underscores the foundational flaw in our Christianity – irrelevance. In order to keep our teens in church we must demonstrate to them that Christianity is applicable to everyday life and that is has the solution to the problems of our lives.

While many teens leave church because they think it is not important, the greatest reason for falling away is that many have simply never fallen in love with God. In the Bible, the apostle John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” The idea is simple, Gods love for us awakens in us a love for Him. That love motivates us to have a relationship with Him. However, in the church we often seem more concerned in teaching our young people how to be good church members instead of helping them fall in love with God. For many, upholding the standards of the church is more important than leading young people to experience the love of God. The end result of this model is catastrophic because it fosters a spirit of division between the old and young generations. The old generation assumes the role of “good behavior police” while the young are left to feel incapable of ever living up to the standards imposed on them.

I once knew a pastor who would never speak to the youth. He had no relationship with them whatsoever and the only time he would speak to them was when he was correcting them for dressing inappropriately in church, and in my experience, having hair that was too long. This is a perfect example of trying to force teens in church to look and act like good church members while avoiding relationships with them that help them to experience the love of God.

Without the two foundational principles of relevance and love, young people are set up to fail in the Christian life. As Christians, leading the youth into a love experience with God and demonstrating to them the relevance of Christianity in our world must be our top priorities.

     ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
The Power of Being Broken




When I was in university I developed a pet peeve for phony people. In particular, there were certain students there who would never say hello and would walk by me like they didn't even know me. I had been in class with them. We had done assignments together. But all of a sudden it was like they never saw me. And I would walk past them in school all the time. Even look at them with the intention of saying hello. Only to be met with a cold and indifferent gaze. That is, until I ran into them at the mall on the weekend. All of a sudden, its like we were best friends! "Hey Marcos, whats up man? Good to see you! How you been?" I would, of course, reply politely. But in my head I would be thinking, "What the heck bro?" And then, the following week back at school walking down the hall I would run into them again. And boom, all of a sudden they didn't know me again.

I don't know if that has ever happened to you. It is irritating. And few things are as irritating as a phony and hypocritical person who acts one way in one setting and differently in another. Which leads me to a verse I'd like to explore today:
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? - James 2:1
One of my professors shared an experience from his days of pastoring. He was preaching in a church somewhere in the US. The church was predominantly Anglo. And one day, in the middle of his sermon, an African-American family walked into the church and sat down. No sooner had they sat down than a large group of the Anglos sitting in that same section got up and moved to the other side of the church. Our poor professor was stunned. How can you? He asked. How can you claim to be Christians, to have faith in Jesus, if you favor one race or people group above another?

And that is what James is asking here. Evidently, the church he was writing to favored rich people over poor people. They treated the rich well and the poor not so much. And James writes to them and here in this verse he points out a contradiction. How can you say A and do B?

In order to understand James though, we have to take a step back in time. We need to leave his letter and travel all the way back to his home in Galilee. We know that James was one of Jesus' half brothers meaning he grew up with Jesus. Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up with Jesus as your brother? Jesus who never does anything wrong. Jesus who never gets in trouble. Jesus who never goes to time out or gets grounded in his room. It's annoying enough having a little brother who always gets away with everything. Its a whole other thing to have a brother who literally never does anything wrong.

I can picture James complaining to Mary, "How come Jesus disappears for 3 days in a temple and doesn't get in trouble and we get grounded for other stuff!" And while we don't know the details two things are clear in the gospels. Jesus' brothers did not like him and they did not believe that he was the messiah. In fact, no one in their town believed it. Matthew tells us that they "took offence at him" and they did not honor him or believe in him (Matthew 15:53-58). Perhaps, James would get into conversations with his neighbors. "James, what do you think of Jesus?" And they would talk about him behind his back and laugh at him. In fact, John tells us that they would mock and question him. "Why don't you go do your miracles somewhere else Jesus? Somewhere were there's lots of people instead of here?" And while this might seem like good advice on the surface, John reminds us that the brothers did not believe him (John 7:3-5). So they were either 1) sarcastically asking him to leave their town and stop embarrassing them or 2) suggesting that his miracles were fake and would not actually work if he was in a bigger crowd. Either way, the brothers of Jesus - James included - did not like him and did not think highly of him. They may even have held reservations against him for leaving Mary at home. I can almost hear them saying, "The rest of us stayed to help mom after father died, but Jesus didn't. He's only interested in himself and his self-aggrandizing ideas."

Their feelings for him didn't change when he became popular in Israel. It seemed that the more people followed and believed him the more irritated his brothers became. Mark tells us that during a gathering at one of his disciples homes someone complained to his family and they showed up "to take charge of him for they said, 'he is out of his mind.'"(Mark 3:21). In other words, they showed up to scold him and "slap some sense into him". They thought he was going crazy. As they journeyed to him the religious leaders accused Jesus of being demon possessed which is another way of saying "out of his mind". His own family, James himself, believed this. He probably even came to the point of disowning Jesus so that he could stay in the 'good books' of the religious leaders since they were known to ban Jesus-followers from the synagogues (John 9).

Jesus, Mark tells us, found their lack of faith astonishing (Mark 6:6). He was troubled by the way they felt about him. Mary would have defended him as best she could for she believed who he was. But the brothers did not. They probably argued with her. "If Jesus really is the messiah why are we so poor? If he can do miracles why didn't he prevent Joseph from dying or raise him from the dead? He's an impostor and he's only interested in himself."

In fact, it seems that Jesus' brothers disliked him so much that none of them were there at his crucifixion. Mary, his mother, was his only family member there. And instead of entrusting her to his brothers, Jesus entrusted her to John his disciple. Where were his brothers? We don't know. But we can assume that they felt justified. "He wasn't the messiah after all", they would have said after his death. "All he ever did was bring grief to our mother and dishonor to our family."

The story of James is thus a story of relational instability with Jesus. A story of rejection and insults against his half-brother. James spent his entire life rejecting Jesus. He thought Jesus was nuts. He showed Jesus no honor. And while we have no idea what words of offense he truly spoke and what ill feelings he harbored toward Jesus we can put ourselves in his shoes and figure it out pretty quickly. James did not like Jesus. And he sure did not believe that Jesus was messiah.

But then something strange happens. When the book of Acts begins it begins with the believers gathered to pray for the Holy Spirit and among them is James, the brother of Jesus (Acts 1:12-14). But it wasn't only James who was there. Mary was there with all the other brothers too! What happened? What caused this change? The Bible only offers us a hint in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 where Paul says,
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time... Then he was seen by James...
Sometime after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to James. James the half brother. The one who had, along with all his other brothers, given him such a hard time. James saw him. And when he laid eyes on Jesus he realized for the first time that Jesus was no ordinary man. Jesus was the messiah. He had been telling the truth all along. And James was never the same again. The resurrection of Jesus rocked him to the core. Jesus was alive. And a living Jesus changes everyone who encounters him. James placed his faith in Jesus, and he was never the same again. And thirty years after his conversion, James writes this letter we have been reading the last few months. And he begins like this,

James the servant of Jesus...

Not brother, no. I was a lousy brother to him. I denied him. I rejected him. I insulted him. I doubted him. I blasphemed him. And like the prodigal son who did not want to be called a son but a servant when he returned home, I do not want to be called a brother. I am content to be known simply as his servant.

And this brings us back to where we began in chapter two.
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
James is pointing out a contradiction. He is asking, How can you say A and do B? And in his question you can hear the pain of his own story - of a man who lives with the realization of his own failures and of his own sin. How can I favor some above others? I who denied and rejected and insulted Jesus? I who spent my life blaspheming him? I never defended him. I never offered him the love and support of a brother. And nevertheless, he died for me and because he lives I have a hope that I don't deserve. The hope of having my sins forgiven and an eternal inheritance with him.

And what James is saying is that you are no different to him. All we like sheep have gone astray. There is none that does good, no not one! There is none who seeks after God. And yet in his love and mercy God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us that we might be reconciled to him. And in order for me to play favorites, in order for me to discriminate it requires me to first assume that there is something about me that puts me above that other person. But how can I? How can I think I'm better than anyone? After all I have done to God.

You see, James' point is this: We are all broken. All of us.


No matter how you dress, you are broken. No matter what car you drive, you are broken. No matter what suburb you live in, or how big your house, or what degree/ title you have, you are broken. No matter what your race is, or your culture, or your political party, or your family tree - you are broken. At the foot of the cross all of our external pretenses are stripped away and we are all equal. So how can we show favoritism? If you have faith in Jesus then this means you believe that he is your savior because you need one. And if you need a savior and I need a savior then we both need a savior because we are both broken. How can you turn around, in light of that reality, and show favoritism as if you were somehow less broken or less sinful than the other person? James is confused. He's pointing out a contradiction. Favoritism in the Christian life is an oxymoron. It simply makes no sense.

Favoritism shows up in class warfare, it shows up in racism, it shows up in sexism, it shows up in mysoginy and misandry, it shows up in cultural exclusiveness, it shows up in generational elitism, it shows up in theological division and it shows up in lifestyle discrimination. And the end result of this discrimination is a perpetual cycle of division, disunity, and discord. And James is weirded out. How can you claim to have faith in Jesus and show favoritism? How can you claim to have faith in Jesus and fester a culture of segregation and estrangement?

I have discovered that the answer is simple. There are those who claim to be followers of Jesus and yet have never come to the place where they realize how broken they are. But I have also discovered that the solution to this problem is just as simple: to come to the place where you realize how broken you really are. Because when you realize how broken you are favoritism, racism, sexism and all the rest of it no longer makes any sense. Instead humility, love and friendship takes their place. That's the power of being broken.

I'm too broken to think I or anyone else is better than you. Whether you are rich or poor, from a first world country or a third world country, male or female, gay or straight, we are all broken. I deserve nothing. You deserve nothing. And yet God, in his grace, provides eternal life. And he offers it to us. And in his offering of salvation and restoration there lies an inherent truth: that we are equal regardless of what society might say. For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female - all are one in Christ Jesus. All are broken. All are loved. So my invitation to the church today is this: Come to grips with how broken you are, how loved you are despite that brokenness, and never forget either.
How the Church Failed Mo


Mo is a pretty cool dude. I don't say super cool because, after all, he is my brother and so pretty cool will have to do. (I'm sure such a "theorem" would be reciprocated by a hearty "my sentiments exactly" on his part.) Anyhow, the point is he's pretty cool.

Now Candice, my special lady, is awesome. This awesome lady of mine was clever enough to plot a secret reunion between my pretty cool brother and my pretty cool self. She said it was a surprise to celebrate my recent liberation from the tyranny of biblical languages (I just recently finished my last ancient Greek class), but I'm sure having my mother in town for a visit had more to do with it. 

Now onto my main point. Mo and I were raised Seventh-day Adventists all of our life. At the age of 17 I decided to follow Jesus. Mo went a different direction and has stuck to it ever since. For many years I have wondered why he walked away from the faith of his youth. Being highly intelligent, scientific, and analytical would have been a challenge for him especially when my father rejected his scientific explanation of where the wind came from and instead insisted, very dogmatically of course, that God had a room in heaven with wind trapped inside. Whenever he wanted the wind to blow he would open the door. Whenever he wanted it to not blow he would shut it. Though I have no proof of this, I wonder if Mo's brilliant mind wrestled with such an irrational concept thus planting the seed for a growing discontent with Christianity. 

Regardless of what reason (or perhaps reasons) led Mo out of the church one thing is certain: his experience was, to be quite generous, bitter. You see, Mo and I share a craving for authenticity that we acquired from our culture. We want answers, not cliches. We want truth, not opinion. We want a faith that is logical and rational - free from fanaticism, phobias, and unreasonable superstitions. We want Bible not dogma and traditions. We want relationship not religion. And most of all, we want honest and open dialogue not absurd, irrelevant, and simpleminded solutions. Authenticity. That is what we crave. And that is what the church failed to give.

You see, Mo grew up in a church culture that told him it was bad to go to the movie theater even though we could go to the elders house and watch mindless killing and gore. It was OK, was the message, so long as it is in a house. But don't go to the theater! Your angel wont follow you in there and if you die there you will go to hell. Irrational anyone? Mo grew up in a church that told his lady friends it was bad to wear pants to church, or anything too revealing for that matter, even though every Saturday night half of the members were glued to the infamous Sabado Gigante game-show with half naked women parading their curves on the TV screen for all the choir singers, elders, and deacons to enjoy. Hypocritical anyone? Mo grew up in a church where the leaders were only concerned with whether or not you were a good church member. Do you cry yourself to sleep at night because you are lonely and depressed? We don't care. Just make sure you don't let your hair grow too long and you have a tie on when you show up on Sabbath. Absurd anyone? Yes, Mo grew up in a church where the leaders spoke to you when you were in trouble and ignored you the rest of the time. A church that wanted to erase him from membership because he joined the Army even though not a single one of those involved in this proposition had ever sent him a letter of encouragement or called him to offer a prayer. A church where lack of biblical knowledge prompted an "Ellen White said" that was supposed to settle the issue once and for all. A church steeped in simple-mindedness, irrationality, and flat out extremism at times. For a mind craving authenticity, I conclude that the phonyness was simply too much to bear and the highways and by ways of the world, complete with their own set of phonyness, somehow seemed more fulfilling than the dictatorial corridors of his childhood faith.

This, I believe, is how the church failed Mo. This, I believe, is how it fails so many of its youth. It is not because it lacks entertainment. It is because it lacks authenticity. It is not because it lacks programs. It is because it lacks relationships. It is not because it lacks answers. It is because it lacks questions and somehow marginalizes those who seem to have many of them. Yet over the years I have come to shed many of the absurd and nonsensical standards of my upbringing and have come to discover a simpler yet infinitely more complex relationship with God. With all of the cultural baggage that my traditional Hispanic culture brought to Christianity gone I can now see Jesus and his love much clearer than ever before. I no longer believe that a true Christian is only the one who fits into my brand of Christianity. I have met wonderful Christians who are covered in tattoos, who enjoy the bouncy feel of dread locks, and who go to church without a tie on. I have experienced Hawaiians who worship God in Hula shirts and flip-flops. I have experienced theologians who enjoy sporting a fro-hawk. I have experienced Jesus among the real, the genuine, and the broken. I have experienced doubts and wrestled with them. I have come to realize that God, the multiplex deity of the cosmos, is paradoxically simple. He invites me to have a relationship with him and to let my life be an outflow of that relationship. As Jesus once said,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22: 37-39.
And as my friend Amir Davis once said, "Do the Ten. Love God. Love Men. Take care of your body. And live your life. That's all God requires of you." It really is that simple.

I wonder where Mo would be today if the church had focused on Jesus' words more than they focused on their own traditional discomforts? What if they had loved the culture instead of demonized it? What if they had shown us a God who cannot be caged, the wild lion of the heavens who cannot be controlled, and taught us to live on the edge with him? What if they had embraced questions? What if they had let go of the pretensions and gone on the journey of doubt, struggle, and pain? What if they stopped misusing Ellen White? What if they had forgotten the opinions of men and taught us to live by the Bible only? What if they had looked past the long haired guys, the braids, the jeans, and the baggy t-shirts and shown us the love of Jesus? And I don't mean shown it to us in a Bible study. I mean shown it to us with a life. I pray I wont have to keep wondering. I pray the era of the Mo's will come to an end. I pray we learn our lesson.

But that is not the only point of this article. I also want to take the opportunity to appeal to the Mo's of today. While the church has failed you, it is still within your reach to recognize that Christianity is extraterrestrial and as such it cannot be defined, contained, or limited by human culture. We may have messed it up, but you can look past our faults in the same way we should have looked past yours. While we may look at the church and find much to criticize we can find neither spot nor wrinkle in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I leave you with a challenge from Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias and it is this: "Look at Jesus and ask yourself the question, Can I find anything wrong with him?" The answer may just revolutionize your life.
Why Assurance of Salvation Isn't "The Thing" Anymore




I don't know if anyone reading this will relate, but I have come to a shocking conclusion. Assurance of salvation just isn't "the thing" anymore. Now I know that sounds crazy. From the late baby-boomers down to the millennial generation no topic was more important as a Christian than assurance. It was our war cry. Legalism was the top antagonist and everyone's theology was hyper dissected to make sure none of it was creeping around in there. We wrote, published and read armies of books on assurance. We preached endless sermons on it and no conversation on faith and spirituality was complete without a discussion on assurance. We even branded people as heretics if we felt they didn't fit the assurance bill quite like we thought they should. When I first started this blog (originally known as "Jesus Adventism and I"), my main topic was assurance of salvation in the context of Adventist theology and almost every single post was in some way related to it.

But now I am a pastor ministering not only to baby-boomers, but to millennials and post-millennials in a secular post-modern context. And I have discovered they just aren't into the grace-wars quite like I was. Part of it is because many of them have never experienced the legalism I experienced (be thankful for that, by the way). But there is another reason that I believe is even more fundamental.

In the article "Study Finds Millennials Are Ready to Change the World" the author points out that, "Millennials are a driven crowd.... [with] a passion to change the world and they are ready to take on the challenging aspects of making a positive difference in the lives of people locally and globally." This sentiment is present in even stronger terms for the post-millennials at our heels who "[possess] a belief in the possible and a commitment to the ideals of leaving our community and the planet better places than we found them." This desire however, has been met with a challenge within the church. While we have been running around talking about "grace not works" as if works was some terrible thing, younger generations have been craving less theological formulas intended to make us feel comfy and assured and more action found only in the oh-so-horrible "works thing". Perhaps few have said it as well as Marc in his blog "Why Millennials Want to Change the World" when he wrote,
Wanting to change the world is a fundamentally religious sentiment. My generation’s idealism is not suffering a lack of practical goals, but a lack of practical Christianity.
This lack of practical Christianity, I dare suggest, comes partly as a result of an unhealthy obsession with assurance of salvation that left us frowning upon anything related to "works". For us, works only comes up when we are criticizing them or explaining how useless, meaningless and unprofitable they are in the spiritual journey. But what I have discovered from giving Bible studies to this generation its that justification doesn't excite them near as much as sanctification. For them justification sets the foundation and its all good. But they don't want to linger there. They are ready to change the world and they want to know, did Jesus death do anything to make the possible? Sanctification is, to this wild generation, the key to true social justice, humanitarian service and community transformation. They see sanctification, not as a solo experience wherewith you attain some level of intrapersonal holiness but as a communal experience by which you learn to love and be loved. It is this love, revealed in relationships, sacrifice and standing up for the marginalized that they see as true practical Christianity. And that is what they want.

Assurance of salvation? Got it. Can we move on now?

That seems to be the new mantra for a new generation ready to change the world. Let's nurture that. It may just be the thing that takes the gospel to the whole world.

_____

[1] http://nonprofithub.org/volunteer-management/study-finds-millennials-are-ready-to-change-the-world/
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/grace-masback-/5-ways-that-gen-z-is-changing-the-world_b_9547374.html
[3] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2017/01/millennials-want-change-world.html

6 Things Christians Often Confuse with Holiness


Throughout my years as a Christian I have had to wrestle with the Biblical call to holiness. The battle hasn't been over the call itself but how those around me have interpreted and communicated that call. As part of my faith journey, I have had to deconstruct what I understood holiness to be and allow the Bible to define it for me. In scripture, I discovered, holiness is a matter of the heart, not the external things like whether you wear a suit to church. When the heart is holy the life expresses that holiness through love. Love, as defined in 1 Corinthians 13, is an other-centered, trans-cultural phenomenon that leads the believer to exhibit patience, kindness, humility etc. in every day life regardless of their culture, education, social status or personality traits. As I discovered this I found the following six elements - which were constantly confused with holiness - to be missing from scriptures definition.

Intellectualism: I value intelligence big time. Few things are as heart breaking as human beings, made in the image of God, who have not cultivated the intelligence he gave them. We were born to use our minds, to lead our hearts with intelligence and to invest in that intelligence from cradle to grave. However, many Christians seem to have made the mistake of confusing intellectualism with intelligence and then associating it with holiness. So lets set the record straight. Intelligence is nothing more than "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills." Intellectualism on the other hand is "the exercise of the intellect at the expense of the emotions". In the world of philosophy, intellectualism is "the theory that knowledge is wholly or mainly derived from pure reason...". In this theory, emotions play little to no role and are often viewed as problematic. For some reason, Christians have taken this rationalistic approach to knowledge and conflated it with Biblical knowledge. The more intellectual a person is (rational + non-emotional) the more holy we perceive them to be. But nothing could be further from the truth. God created the emotions and a person who shuts them off is not holier for doing so - rather they can be properly described as emotionally unstable, numb, or are perhaps suffering from a dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating known as alexthymia. The ancient stoics, ascetics and deists exhibited this kind of anti-emotional intellectualism for philosophical reasons not rooted in Biblical thought. Sadly, this concept has managed to infiltrate Christianity and given birth to an often icy, out of touch, and apathetic religion.

Emotionalism: While some Christians take the anti-intellectual approach others take this opposite view. Emotionalists tend to be very anti-intellect and think true religion must be 100% emotive and experiential. The moment you try and talk logic, reason, or theology with them they shut off. In conversation, this kind of Christian can often come across just as narcissistic as the intellectual but for the opposite reason. They view education and high intelligence as "worldly wisdom" and celebrate those who are "unlearned" - often seeing in them an automatic advantage in matters of spiritual truth over those who have been to university and made the study of theology their expertise (whom they view with suspicion). For some reason, being an emotionalist is, to some Christians, a sign of true holiness. But the truth is emotionalism at the expense of deep thought and rational faith is an imbalanced approach that devalues the intellect God has given us to develop. Sadly, this approach has often nurtured bizarre, emotionally unhealthy and fanatical expressions of the Christian faith.

Dogmatism: Dogmatism is defined as "the tendency to lay down principles as undeniably true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others" and for some weird reason, Christians often view dogmatic people in a holy light. Their "no compromise, light has nothing to do with darkness" rhetoric gets some people rallying together with enthusiasm. But this approach has less to do with truth and more to do with type-a personalities and pride. Those who have type-a personalities are described as being "more competitive, outgoing, ambitious, impatient and/or aggressive."* Such people join the church and rather than surrendering their domineering and apathetic tendencies to Christ they baptize them with doctrine and get to work on anyone that doesn't agree with their "pure" brand of theology. Far from being holy, this dogmatic approach to faith reveals a deep imbalance in the heart were pride, arrogance and superiority complex reign supreme. Sadly, this attitude leads to judgmentalism, finger pointing and division wherever it is allowed to thrive.

Moralism: Similar to the dogmatist, the moralist tends to be a type-a personality with little to no regard for the experiences, backgrounds and struggles of others. They may come across as fully committed Christians but they exhibit an unbending posture on moral issues that they then impose on others. Those who agree with them speak of the need to be holy and without blemish and accuse those who do not take such a hard-line approach as being "compromisers" or "wishy-washy" in their faith. The result is this class tend to scare people away from Christ rather than drawing them. Often time, the moralizer has deep emotional issues and imbalances in their personal life. Becoming the moral police for their church appeals to them because it is often the only place in their life where they can exercise control.

High Culture: There is no doubt that high-culture is a beautiful thing. "High culture most commonly refers to the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture. It is the culture of an elite such as the aristocracy or intelligentsia."** Some elements that come to us from high-culture are things like high-fashion, class in speech and etiquette, social expectations for gender relations and inter-generational/ personal communication, and classical music. High culture differs from popular-culture or folk-culture in all of these areas and purports to exhibit the finest and most dignified approach to cultural expression. However, high-culture - for all its beauty - is simply a man-made system of cultural expectations and dogmas. Sadly, many Christians confuse high-culture with holiness and demand that others fit into their cultural narrative. Anyone who doesn't is not considered holy. This approach breeds narcissism, elitism and cultural insensitivity which often marginalizes (whether actively or passively) those who have "common" cultural backgrounds and moldings.

Hyper Modesty: This form of thinking is the reverse of high culture. According to this mindset, true holiness always expresses itself in a kind of modesty that lacks class, taste and fashionable quality. When I was a kid I would often hear the "hyper modest" camp judging of criticizing someone who came to church simply for having an outfit that looked tailored, of high quality and at times simply well kept. Some would even go as far as to suggest that if you had an old and worn out outfit and someone gifted you a new and classy one the holy thing to do would be to wear the old one for it was the "humbler" option. For this class, anyone who comes from a high-culture must, if they want to be holy, reject their high-culture in exchange for one that looks more poor. This class is also very judgmental of anyone who has material wealth, social status and high education. Like the high culture approach, this one also breeds narcissism, elitism and cultural insensitivity which often marginalizes those who come from a more aristocratic cultural background.

So there you have it, what other things would you say Christians often confuse with holiness? Comment below!

Note: All definitions provided via Google dictionary unless otherwise specified.

_____

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_A_and_Type_B_personality_theory
**https://www.boundless.com/sociology/concepts/high-and-low-culture-0-5619/
How to Avoid Worthless Christianity


Before reading the article, give this short video a watch and hang on to what you see. It gets revisited toward the end. Enjoy!


I saw an article this week on the 10 most popular books of the Bible and James wasn't on there. So I got worried because I am currently going through a sermon series on James at my local church. My church members, I thought, are not going to love me and they are going to email the boss-man, and then I'm going to get fired and then my family wont have any food (grin). So to calm my anxiety I googled the 10 least popular books of the Bible. I figured, so long as James isn't on that list then I am safe. And thankfully James wasn't there either! So I think its safe to say James is neither loved nor hated.

James isn't always an easy book to chew on.

Unfortunately, that wasn't always the case. Martin Luther, the champion of the reformation, thought very little of the book of James. He referred to it as the "straw epistle". Luther's concern is that James seemed to focus on works too much and not enough on grace. And listen I get it. James isn't always an easy book to chew on. Some of the stuff he says seems pretty harsh.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that James is almost impossible to appreciate without a proper understanding of grace. Now I'm not going to get into that today. That's a future post. But suffice to say, for now at least, that James is not talking about salvation by works. He's talking about authenticity. He's talking about sincerity.

You see James had this crazy belief that we are saved, not by faith and works but by a faith that works. James was one of these weirdos who honestly believed that faith changes lives. It's not just some idea you believe in because it sounds intellectually appealing. It's a living thing that reaches down into your heart and changes you entirely.

Has your faith changed you? Better yet, allow me to frame the question in an illustration. Suppose I was late to an appointment with you and told you that the reason I was late was because on my way to see you my cars licence plate fell off so I had to pull over and run through traffic into the middle of the road and by the time I got there a semi truck travelling at 80 km hit me and I got dragged under the truck for a few hundred yards until I finally got free, jumped in my car, and made it to you. What would you say to that story? Chances are you would think either I was crazy or I was a liar. Because there is no way I could come into contact with a semi truck going 80 km and not be changed from a 3 dimensional being into a 2 dimensional pancake. But here's the thing guys: God is bigger than a semi-truck. If its not possible to get hit by a semi without being "changed" it is even less possible to encounter the living God and stay the same. And for James, the servant of Jesus, faith either changed you or it wasn't really faith. Call it philosophy, ethics, creed or worldview. In fact, go ahead and call it theology. But if it hasn't changed you then don't call it faith.

For James... faith either changed you or it wasn't really faith.

That brings us to our first verse:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (Jam. 1:26)
In other words, if your religion isn’t reaching deep and changing you as a person - not overnight but at least over time - then you need a new religion because, James declares, the one you have is worthless. Now I have to be really, really careful here because James is not trying to add extra pressure to someone who is new in the faith or going through a dark valley. Instead, James is pointing out something relevant - that there is a kind of Christianity that believes in the 10 commandments, the gospel, justification and sanctification, the Sabbath,  the sanctuary, and Jesus and in his return and yet it is worthless.

Ouch.

But it gets worse.

The word that we translate as "worthless" is an interesting one. Its the Greek word mataios. It means "1) devoid of force, truth, success, result 2) useless, of no purpose." So James is saying that there is a kind of Christianity that is devoid of force, proclaims empty truth, has no success and consequently nothing results from it. It's useless. It serves no purpose.

Ouch.

But it gets worse.

This Greek word mataios is also used in the New Testament in reference to idolatry and idol worship (Acts 14:15). So James is saying - don't miss this - that there is a kind of Christianity that is as worthless as idolatry.

Image result for oh snap meme

You see, for James it's not about what you believe in your head. It's about how you allow that belief to redefine who you are. So what does that look like? James explains it:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (27)
In the latter part of the verse James insinuates the importance of doctrine when he warns us to not be polluted by the world. In scripture the world often alludes to thought. So James calls us to not be polluted by the worlds thought patterns. But that's not all James points out. Doctrine is certainly important, but James is emphasizing something bigger here. He is saying that if your doctrine doesn’t translate to mercy, and empathy, and acts of kindness for those less fortunate than you then your religion with all of its knowledge, ideology and philosophy is worthless. James doesn't care how pure you think your doctrine is. If it doesn't translate to active and practical love then it simply isn't pure. But if your religion leads to a life that is characterized by holiness revealed in visible hands-on love for others then that religion God accepts.

See, James isn't talking about gaining God's grace or love by working. He's not talking about going to heaven by trying. And hes not trying to put pressure on people who are struggling. He's talking about being genuine. Are you genuine? Is your religion genuine? Or is it worthless? Notice what God said to the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.
(Isa. 1:13-17)
Notice the descriptive words God uses: meaningless, sinful, false, pious. And notice the emotive words he uses: disgust, hate, burden. He even calls the Sabbath sinful and false and says he wants no more! These descriptive and emotive words are synonymous with James' use of the word worthless. God isn't interested in worthless religion. In fact, he's not as into Sabbath keeping and church going as we like to think he is. So stop wasting your time! God doesn't want our religious pretense. He wants genuine faith which is revealed in lives that are forsaking sin to pursue goodness, justice, helping, defending, and fighting for those who are weak.

But here is the magical question. What exactly is it that separates worthless religion from genuine faith? We saw that both of them have the same belief system. So its not data that separates them. Then what does? How does a person go down one path or the other? Is there a practical instruction that can lead us, if obeyed, in the direction of genuine faith? And is there a decision which, if made, can lead us in the direction of worthless faith? How do we avoid the one and embrace the other?

James answers that question a few verses before,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (22)
Do what it says. That's it. Nothing else. You see, when James refers to worthless religion he describes its practitioners as self-deceived people. And here in verse 22 he tells us how to avoid being self-deceived people with a worthless religion. Its very simple. "Do what [God] says."

I don't know why we complicate the Christian life so much. Francis Chan once said it like this: Imagine I asked my daughter to clean her room and she comes back an hour later. I ask her, "have you done what I asked?" and she replies, "No dad. But guess what? I memorized what you said. I can even say it in Greek!" Would that work? Of course not. The Christian life is very simple. Do what God says.

I have concluded that sometimes we just need to stop talking and get out there and do something. We are here Sabbath after Sabbath listening and soaking in sermon after sermon and we love it. Our libraries are loaded with books and DVD's and we got our satellite dish so we can get some extra 3ABN or Hope or whatever. But when it comes time to do something for the community, to reach out, to bless and to serve all of a sudden most of us are tired. All of a sudden we have no time. All of a sudden we back off. Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal?

When I was in New Jersey I attended a Jamaican church with Candice. One Sabbath I accidentally locked the keys in the car. So after the service a group of the guys came to help me break into the car and get my keys out. There was about six of them standing around and they all began coming up with a plan on how they would get inside. One guy said this, the other guy said that. The debate continued for a few minutes until one of the elders arrived. He looked at the group and literally said, "You know what your problem is? Ya'll got too many theories!" And with that he popped a crowbar into the door latch, used a wire clothes hanger to reach in, and in less than one minute he had opened the car.

Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal?

"Too many theories." That was his critique. But what he was really saying is that all their talk was worthless. And without any talk he got to work. So I ask again. Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal? A religion that revolves around too many theories and too much lip movement but has little to no effect in the world around us? We show up every Sabbath and we listen to sermon after sermon and then what? We do Bible study after Bible study and then what? Is it possible that our greatest sin is we talk too much and we do too little. And the ones who do stick their necks out to do something barely ever get any support.

Guys, the difference between a Christianity that is as worthless as idolatry and a Christianity that is genuine is that one merely listens to the word and the other listens and does what it says. That’s it. That is the separating factor.

Narayanan Krishnan, born in 1981, is an Indian chef turned social worker. He quit his career as a leading chef and began supplying meals to the homeless in India, beginning in 2002. Krishnan was an award-winning chef and was short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland. During a visit to his family, before heading to Europe, he said, "I saw a very old man, literally eating his own human waste out of hunger. I went to the nearby hotel and asked them what was available then I bought and gave to the old man. Believe me, I had never seen a person eating so fast, ever. As he ate the food, his eyes were filled with tears. Those were the tears of happiness." 
Krishnan founded his nonprofit Akshaya Trust in 2003. Every day, he wakes up at 4 a.m., cooks a simple hot meal and then, along with his team, loads it in a van and travels about 125 miles (201 km) feeding the homeless and mentally-disabled in his region. He serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to 400 indigent and elderly people in Madurai. He carries a comb, scissors and razor and is trained in eight haircut styles that, along with a fresh shave, provide extra dignity to those he serves.*

But do you know what the weird part is? Krishnan is a Brahmin and he says that "Brahmans are not supposed to touch these people". And yet he does. In other words, Krishnan is doing something that goes contrary to his own religious tradition. In order for him to be true to his heart he has to contradict his own faith. And despite this, he is still doing it. Somehow, this man whose faith is miles apart from ours has discovered the heart of God in a way many of us have not. As Christians its not our faith we have to contradict. Its our selfishness. Its our worthless religion. But if we look intently into the heart of God we will see this love that changes lives there. We must accept that love, and then do what it commands.
There have been men in every generation who have claimed to be the sons of God... and yet who led a godless life, for they neglected the weightier matters of the law—mercy, justice, and the love of God. There are today many who are in a similar deception; for while bearing an appearance of great sanctity, they are not doers of the Word of God.... If Christ is in the heart, He will appear in the home, in the workshop, in the marketplace, in the church....  He who is transformed by the truth will shed a light upon the world (Ellen White, FW p.116)
Now some of you might be thinking I don't have the time to start a nonprofit, or to go feed the poor etc. But please understand, that's not the point. God isn't after dramatic things. Hes after the small things. He wants us to do something. Whether its helping out a ministry at church or donating some time (not just money - that's too easy) to the local charity God is calling you and me to be, not just hearers of the word, but doers.

_____

* ThunderCallOfficial (YouTube), "CNN Heroes Tribute Narayanan Krishnan" [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJZoOGXIXQU&t=179s]
Adventism Oozes Social Justice - Do You?


The recent events taking place across the US have been both heart breaking and mind boggling. As a millennial Adventist I can remember a time when I quite comfortably praised the decline of racial tension and looked happily into a future in which such things would be relegated to the basement of civilization. Progress was good, or so it seemed. However, recent years (and days) have destroyed my false picture of reality. Racial tension lives on, not simply in trivial rally's packed with social rejects and inconsequential subcultures but in the very fabric of our society.

But the events of Dallas and Baton Rouge have done more than remind me how messed up the world is. They have also reminded me of the immense opportunity we Adventists have. As a people, we have a responsibility - not just an option - to fight for justice and equity in this world as we await the soon return of Jesus. I say responsibility because Adventism, at its very core, is inseparably linked to social justice. Don't believe me? Here are a few examples:

Creation: The belief that we were created by a loving God, in his image, for the purpose of relationship shows that all of human life is valuable and precious. As a result Adventists should stand for human rights and equality among all of humanity including equality of women and children. We should also be active in the fight against slavery (surprisingly prevalent in the world today especially in the context of sexual slavery), child labor, abortion, human trafficking, domestic and workplace abuse, bullying, racism etc.

We should be deeply involved in supporting ministries for the homeless, the abused, the battered women shelters, and should sound a loud cry against genocides, war crimes (such as what we see in Syria right now), and the mistreatment of any human being whether they be an illegal immigrant, an atheist, a Muslim, a criminal, a homosexual, or anything else.*

According to the creation model, all humanity is Gods creation and regardless of our choices we all deserve basic human rights.

Sabbath: The Sabbath is a memorial of Creation. As a result, everything said above applies. However, the Sabbath commandment also highlights the value of foreigners and animals. As a result, Adventists who honor the Sabbath should do so by not simply resting but fighting for the rights of those who never get to rest such as slaves and victims of human trafficking. Likewise, the Sabbath is an equalizing commandment that places all people regardless of race or social status on the same level. As Adventists, we should allow our Sabbath-narrative to move us toward the fair treatment of immigrants, women, and animals. While we may be polarized as to how we deal with the whole "immigration problem" we should not be polarized as to how we deal with immigrants. They, as much as anyone else, are human beings and deserve to be treated with hospitality and compassion.

Growing up Adventist the only thing I ever noticed Adventists involved in was the fight for Religious Liberty due to our belief in Sabbath. And that's awesome! We totally need that and have done pretty well at it. But religious liberty only benefits the religious. We need to take a stand that will provide justice for all people and the Sabbath calls us to much more than just religious liberty.

Christs Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary and the Second Coming: The teaching that Christ began his final work for humanity in 1844 and whose second coming is now at hand has serious implications for our culture. Firstly, it is a huge call to missions and gospel centered humanitarian work of which Adventists do very well at internationally. However, looking at the churches around me here in America I would never even come close to guessing that we have such an urgent message for the world as 1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming.

As a matter of fact, it would seem that the rest of the evangelical world is the one that has that package simply by the way many of them do church. Many of our churches are dead. Many of them are not preparing anyone for the judgment or the second coming. On the flip side, many other churches are community centers that reach out and heal the broken through divorce ministries, addiction recovery, teen outreach, friendship evangelism, health evangelism, etc. while many SDA churches are simply Sabbath morning clubs. The saddest part is we wont baptize a person who still smokes or drinks, but if they want help in quitting they are, by and large, on their own.

1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming call us to step out of our spiritual myopia and become actively involved in helping the addicted, the broken, the lonely. It is a call to reach out to this lost world with more urgency than ever before that they may come to know Christ and his cleansing blood. However, we don't just do that by going into a city and hosting an evangelistic series at a church no one wants to go to. We do this by making our churches centers of healing and hope and by going out into the community and meeting their needs, supporting their children's education and schools, teaming up with agencies like the food bank and providing food for the hungry and help for the poor. In doing so we will be more effective in preaching the 3 angels messages than we are by simply preaching sermons.

Christian Behavior: This doctrine calls Christians to live lives that honor God. This includes choosing amusement, entertainment, dress, and foods that honor God. Herein is so much we can stand for. While the rest of the Christian world is making leaps and bounds in creating high-quality Christian entertainment including movies and music Adventists seem to be lagging way behind. Adventists also appear to have little to no voice in the fight against the pornography industry which breeds objectification and is linked to crimes such as rape and sexual slavery.

And what about food? Adventists have been preaching the health message for decades now, but we have dropped the ball on it. For many of us the health message consists of "don't eat unclean meats, drink, or smoke and you are healthy" while nothing could be further from the truth. Many vegetarian and vegan Adventists are just as obese and unhealthy as meat eaters. In addition, many who are healthy are not really healthy. This is because health is not only physical but social, mental, spiritual, and sexual - an holistic emphasis I never heard as a young Adventist.

Adventists should have been leading the way in health evangelism, however, a recent article in Christianity Today shows that it is the rest of the evangelical world that is doing so.** They are publishing best sellers and some churches are even building fitness facilities. One such church built a fitness facility for the community and went from 200 members to 8,000 in six years. Now, I am not suggesting that this is a competition and that everyone else is beating us at it so we need to run faster. I am simply suggesting that we have had this message all along and have not done what we could with it. And its not just our brothers and sisters from other denominations doing this, its the secular world as well. Our culture is enamored with preventative medicine right now. Awesome documentaries about health, longevity, the food industry, and the benefits of vegetarianism are all being made by agencies who have no burden for Christ and his salvation. We need to take a more active stand against obesity and sugar, the unethical practices of the food industry, and better nutrition and fitness programs for public schools. 

So the question now is, how can we take a stand on all of these issues and at the same time not become those hate spewing activists? The answer is found in the following Adventist doctrine:

Great Controversy: The belief that humanity is deeply involved in a war between Christ and Satan should influence the way we interact with our culture. Every ounce of wickedness in this world is a symptom of this horrendous war. And at the center of this war is a distortion of the character of God. It is this distortion that keeps so many people away from God and causes the culture to despise God. As a result, while Adventists should be activists and take a stand on many relevant issues we must always do it with the Great Controversy in mind - remembering that our enemy is not sinners but sin, not humans but demons.

Our responsibility in being activists is not simply to show the world what we are against but to show them what we are for. To show them the love of God in a way that has never been seen before. This is what Jesus did. While he hated sin his modus operandi was showing love to the sinner. The character of God has been so maligned over the centuries that being an activist with a hateful "me vs. you" attitude will only hurt more than it will heal. God is calling us to reveal his character of love to the world. This must be our main priority. No matter what cause we choose to engage in and support the people on the "other side" must never get the impression that we hate them.

In addition, the Great Controversy helps us to remember what is really important. Many people involved in activism become obsessed with their cause. Christians cannot afford to do this. Jesus and his saving grace should be the our theme and song. It is not healthy to approach any of these causes with an obsessive legalistic attitude that breeds elitism, bigotry, and conspiracy theorizing which leads to the demonization of everything and everyone in our culture. Jesus. His love. His grace. His power. This is to be the heart-beat of our activism. If it is, I believe we can engage in these causes in a way that will promote healing, kindness, and love.

So there you have it. Just a brief overview of some of Adventisms core beliefs. Adventism isn't simply compatible with social justice, it oozes it! The question is, do you? And if you don't, is it possible that you have missed the heart-beat of the story Adventism tells? And if you have, then take the opportunity right now, in prayer and repentance, to be reborn into a Christian experience that embraces the responsibility to stand for justice and equity for all.

Note: This blog was originally published under the title "Adventism and Activism". It has been rewritten and republished at thehaystack.org and at this location.
__________

* For the sake of clarity, let it be known that I am in no way shape or form equating any of the practices and lifestyles mentioned in this statement with one another.

** http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/june/fitness-driven-church.html
Ellen G. White and Conspiracy Narratives

I recently shared an article titled The End Times and Conspiracy Narratives. In it I shared some thoughts regarding the relationship between Christians in general and the ever increasing popularity of conspiracy narratives. In this post, I would like to focus more on Seventh-day Adventists and their relationship to conspiracy narratives/theories by sharing some thoughts from the life of church co-founder and prophetess Ellen G. White.

The first thing to point out is that Ellen White didn’t really deal with the issue of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories, while growing in her day, where not as widespread as they are today. However, she certainly lived in a time when indulgence in conspiracy theories was growing. The Illuminati and Free Masons were already on the scene, and strange narratives regarding their agenda, power, and political control were spreading. In an article in Publiceye.org titled “The Illuminati Freemason Conspiracy” the author states that “[t]he idea of a widespread freemason conspiracy originated in the late 1700's and flourished in the US in the 1800's.”[i] Nevertheless, Ellen White herself never engaged in such activity. 

For example, the Illuminati was founded in 1776, just fifty-one years before Ellen White was born. If knowledge of the Illuminati and their inner workings were necessary then apparently God didn’t see fit to tell Ellen White about it. In all of her writings there is not one syllable devoted to the Illuminati. The Free Masons were also born late in the 16th or early 17th century. During Ellen Whites day, Free Mason conspiracy theories abounded. Yet once again, Ellen Whites writings are void of such conspiracy theories.

Ellen White did talk about the Free Masons. Nevertheless, when dealing with the Free Masons it’s important to note what she said and what she didn’t say. Ellen White counseled, under Gods direction, that Christians stay away from the Free Mason society for practical and obvious reasons. She even worked personally with an Adventist who was involved in the fraternity and God gave her special knowledge of their inner workings in order to impress upon the mind of this man that he was indeed speaking through her. However, not only did Ellen White never go on to share the inside knowledge God gave her in any of her work, but even the reasons she gave in opposition to joining the fraternity were simply practical and void of any promulgation of conspiracy narratives.

So far we have seen that Ellen White, though certainly having had opportunities, never engaged in conspiracy theory talk. This should in and of itself cause those of us who value her prophetic example and are nevertheless fascinated with such things to wonder if perhaps we are wasting our time with pointless investigations. However, I would also like to point out some quotations from Ellen White (with personal comments in brackets) that give us principles to keep in mind when dealing with this issue.

“We need far less controversy [a characteristic of conspiracy theories], and far more presentation of Christ. Our Redeemer is the center of all our faith and hope” (EV, 172).

“Our work is not to make a raid on the Government but to prepare a people to stand in the great day of the Lord. The fewer attacks we make on authorities and powers, the more work will we do for God....[Conspiracy theories do exactly what we are told not to do in this quote] Do all in your power to reflect the light, but do not speak words that will irritate or provoke” (EV, 173).

“You should have a clear apprehension of the gospel. The religious life is not one of gloom and of sadness but of peace and joy coupled with Christlike dignity and holy solemnity [Those fascinated with conspiracy theories often exemplify a doom and gloom version of Christianity and not the peace and joy that should be had]. We are not encouraged by our Saviour to cherish doubts and fears and distressing forebodings; these bring no relief to the soul and should be rebuked rather than praised [Conspiracy theories nourish doubts, fears, and distressing forebodings. Rather than praise these things by our focus on them we should rebuke them by ignoring them]. We may have joy unspeakable and full of glory. Let us put away our indolence and study God’s Word more constantly” (EV, 180).

“I have been shown that it is the device of the enemy to divert men’s minds to some obscure or unimportant point, something that is not fully revealed or is not essential to salvation [a classic description of conspiracy theories]. This is made the absorbing theme, the “present truth,” when all the investigations and suppositions only serve to make matters more obscure and to confuse the minds of some who ought to be seeking for oneness through sanctification of the truth” (EV, 182).

“A noble, devoted, spiritual worker will see in the great testing truths that constitute the solemn message to be given to the world, sufficient reason for keeping all minor differences concealed, rather than to bring them forth to become subjects of contention. Let the mind dwell upon the great work of redemption, the soon coming of Christ, and the commandments of God; and it will be found that there is enough food for thought in these subjects to take up the entire attention [If we spent more time getting to know Jesus we wouldn’t have time for speculations. Conspiracy theorists often have much knowledge of many things but they are lacking in the preciousness of Jesus. Rather than allure they repel those around them]” (EV, 183).

“Satan is pleased when we magnify his power [This is the nature of conspiracy theories]. Why not talk of Jesus? Why not magnify His power and His love” (MHH, 43)?

While these statements may not be directly dealing with the issue of conspiracy theories I don’t see how one can engage in entertaining such things without violating the principles they advocate. With this in mind, it is clear that Ellen White did not see conspiracy theorizing as a necessary element of preparing for last day deceptions.

However, Ellen White is not our example – Jesus Christ is. In Jesus we find our pattern, one that focused on showing mercy, love, and empathy to the suffering and whom wasted no time engaging in such fruitless things as conspiracy narratives. Ellen White wrote,

Millions upon millions of human beings, in sickness and ignorance and sin, have never so much as heard of Christ’s love for them. If our condition and theirs were to be reversed, what would we want them to do for us? All this, so far as lies in our power, we are to do for them. Christ’s rule of life by which every one of us must stand or fall in the judgment is, “‘Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.’” Matthew 7:12[ii]

In conclusion I ask, what would you want a Christian to do for you if you were lost? Would you want him/her to share with you how the shirt you are wearing has masonic symbols, a DVD on how the Bush administration plotted 911, or how the music you like has satanic lyrics recorded backwards? Or would you like her to tell you of Jesus love for you? What would you want him to say? When your heart is bleeding, when your debt is overwhelming, when your marriage is ending, when your guilt is so strong its crushing you, sitting there in your living room with your world falling to pieces around you – what would you want to hear? I don’t know about you, but I would want to hear that there is a Savior who “regards with infinite tenderness the souls whom He has purchased with His own blood. They are the claim of His love. He looks upon them with unutterable longing.”[iii] I would want to know that there is one whose name is Jesus who can save the worst of the worst. When my heart is broken, speak to me of His love! When sin has me bound in iron chains, tell me of His power! When I am lost, nowhere left to go, talk to me of the “One who can calm the raging seas, give sight to the blind, pull the lame up to their feet”.[iv] Tell me “God loves you Marcos," "[w]ith a love so strong he'll never let you go... you [are] not alone”.[v]

Seventh-day Adventist, I appeal to you – speak of Jesus. Tell of His love. Tell of His grace. Tell of His power. Tell of His soon return! Talk of how He longs for us to be with Him. Talk of how He can save the worst of sinners. Let Him be your theme and song. Let Him be your every breath. If you and I would do this, if we would choose daily to lift Him up we would never go wrong. Never.

______________

[i] http://www.publiceye.org/tooclose/masons.html
[ii] White, Ellen G. The Ministry of Health and Healing, p 48.
[iii] ibid, p 20.
[iv] Wickham, Phil. Safe. http://www.elyricsworld.com/safe_lyrics_phil_wickham.html
[v] ibid.
Doubting Thomas (Part 5: Falling Up)

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish” (John 21:4-5)?
Jesus was alive. The disciples were back together. Life seemed good. Although they still had lots of questions they knew that everything would be alright. After all, Jesus had conquered death, so why worry about anything else?
It was evening time. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John, and others were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, "'We’ll go with you.' So they went out and got into the boat..." (3).
I can only imagine what that night would have been like. They must have talked about all kinds of things, but one thing must have kept popping up - Jesus. He was alive. How crazy is that? How do you stop talking about that? I don't think you can. Perhaps they were a bit too caught up in conversation because according to the story, "that night they caught nothing" (3).
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” 
“No,” they answered. 
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish (4-6).
Jesus then did something that I totally love. Jesus, who is creator God, said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” The picture that paints of God is to me absolutely stunning. He's relatable. Down to earth. Humble. He likes broiled fish. And he likes to eat breakfast with sinners. How amazing Thomas must have felt. He had doubted Jesus, but Jesus didn't hold it against him. He came near to him and together they ate breakfast. But the joy of his immediate presence would not last forever. "He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Then, on the final day he said to them, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (8).

As Jesus spoke these final words, the story says he rose up into the air and "was taken up before their very eyes" (9). What was Thomas thinking at this time? I don't know. But I can imagine him longing for Jesus to stay. Thomas had come so close to Jesus that to see him go would have been almost unbearable. The skeptical, sarcastic, self-interested doubter had fallen in love with Jesus. But Jesus had to go and soon "a cloud hid him from their sight" (9) and they didn't see him again.

But Jesus didn't leave them with nothing to do. He gave them a mission. "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." In other words, their lives were to be poured out into one simple purpose: To tell the story of Jesus to the entire world. There was nowhere they wouldn't go, no land they wouldn't travel to, no tribe they wouldn't seek out. They had experienced the wonder and the beauty that is Jesus. They had discovered the way to heaven. Not a hopeless and futile list of duties but a friend who loved them and wanted them despite all of their flaws. This Jesus had given his life to cleanse humanity from sin and all that was left was to tell the story and let the earth be filled with the story of the sin-bearing God. However, there was more to the story than what Jesus had done.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (10-11).
The story the disciples were to tell was bigger than what Jesus had done. It was also about what Jesus was soon to do! He was gone yes, but he would return someday to establish his kingdom and the disciples knew their mission in life was to prepare the world for his soon return. 
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (12-14).
This is the very last time Thomas is mentioned in the Bible. He never shows up again. So whatever happened to Thomas? 
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-4).
Thomas was there with the other disciples when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. From that day forward they were filled with power to do what Jesus had told them to do: Tell the world! And that's exactly what the disciples did. They told the world, and they told the story so loud and with so much passion that the story of Jesus spread everywhere. And everywhere it spread the people there would join the disciples in spreading the story as well. Jesus saves and he's coming back again! And they were so good at it that their enemies dragged them before city officials and said, "These [are the] men who have turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).

They weren't exaggerating. The disciples really did turn the world upside down. And what of Thomas?
Traditionally, he is said to have travelled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, travelling as far as Tamilakam in present-day India. According to tradition, the Apostle reached... India in AD 52 and baptized several people, founding what today are known as Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis. He is believed by the St Thomas Christian tradition to have established... Seven and Half Churches...[1].
An ancient Assyrian and song writer who lived during the time of AD 300 wrote a song about Thomas which captures it all perfectly:
It was to a land of dark people he was sent, to clothe them by Baptism in white robes. His grateful dawn dispelled India's painful darkness. It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten. The merchant is blessed for having so great a treasure. Edessa thus became the blessed city by possessing the greatest pearl India could yield. Thomas works miracles in India, and at Edessa Thomas is destined to baptize peoples perverse and steeped in darkness, and that in the land of India.[2]
Today doubting Thomas is remembered by a moment of failure. But his life gives evidence to something more than just a doubter. He is known as the Apostle to India, is said to have worked miracles there, and established seven churches. According to tradition, Thomas was eventually killed in India by a man with a spear. Today the site of his death is known as St. Thomas Mount where the "ancient Syrian Christian community of India trace the origin of their church to St. Thomas the Apostle"[3].

How do we experience God? I think if we asked Thomas he would tell us: Don't doubt him. He can do amazing things with your life you would never have imagined. Even when you don't see him trust him anyways. He wants you, he calls you, he accepts you, he guides you, he reveals himself to you, and he leads you along life's way. And you can be guaranteed one thing that so long as you follow him you will make it safely to the fathers house.

So what do you say? The choice is yours alone.

__________

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Apostle#cite_note-Erwin_Fahlbusch-2  
[2] Hymns of St. Ephrem, edited by Lamy (Ephr. Hymni et Sermones, IV), as quoted in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Apostle#Mission_in_India
[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Thomas_Mount 
Doubting Thomas (Part 4: I Won't Believe)

Then everyone deserted him and fled (Mark 14:50).
Episode four begins. The sun has set. A cool breeze adorns the night. As we look we spot Jesus kneeling. He is sweating drops of blood. His body is shaking. His fingers clutch the ground beneath him. He is praying. Talking to God about what is about to happen and visibly terrified. It seems as though whatever he is going through it is literally killing him. "Take this cup from me" (36) he prays, while simultaneously embracing his fathers will. 

In moments he is on his feet and approaches his disciples. They are all fast asleep on the ground. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour" (37)?


Jesus goes back to the place where he was praying. The struggle begins again. His body shudders under the weight of mans sin. Jesus is about to go to the cross. He is about to give his life for all of mankind. And at this moment, the weight and the guilt of our sin begins to create a gulf between he and God. The experience is so overwhelming it crushes him. Once again, he gets up to see if his disciples are awake and praying for him but again they are all asleep. Peter is snoring. Andrew is slobbering. And Thomas is talking in his sleep. Jesus goes back to pray for a third time. The battle ensues. When he is done he returns again to find Thomas still zonking along with everyone else. "Rise! Let us go" (42)! Jesus says.
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders (43).
What happens from here on out is nothing short of mayhem. An angel knocks all the soldiers to the ground but Jesus stands him down. Then Peter decides to take off where the angel left off and cuts off a soldiers ear. Jesus tells him to stand down as well. The mob rushes at Jesus. Thomas and the rest of the disciples flash back to the Feast of Dedication in the temple and fear grips them. For a moment they freeze not knowing what to do, then their instinct takes over - "everyone deserted him and fled" (50).

A day later Jesus had been condemned to death. He was given a cross to carry after he had been beaten with whips and insulted by the Roman soldiers who pulled his beard, spit on him, and mocked him (Mark 15: 16-20). The beating was so severe that Jesus had no strength left. He collapsed carrying the cross and barely made it to the site of execution. He was dehydrated, exhausted, and crushed by the weight of sin now resting fully upon him. Six hours later, much to everyone's surprise, Jesus hung dead on the cross and the hopes of thousands were shattered. "We thought he was the hero" some said. But now they were sure that Jesus had been just another of the many phony hero's who had met his end at the hands of the Roman state.

With the exception of John, the disciples were nowhere to be seen. They each fled and were now hiding - afraid that the Romans would come looking for them next. Thomas was not with the rest of them, but he was hiding as well. A thousand thoughts sored through his mind. To think that I was ready to die for him? I was really convinced he was the hero, but now? I guess I got tricked along with lots of other people. He was a fake just like the other ones.

The sun set just like every other night. During the hours of darkness the enemies of Jesus celebrated their victory and the friends of Jesus wept. Their lives were over. How could they ever go back into society? They would be ridiculed to no end. Their hopes, dreams, and desires had been crushed. Jesus was gone, and with him went the last three years of their lives. What a waste.

Night two came and went. Thomas got no sleep that night either. He spent his time thinking, imagining, trying to put the pieces back together. But with every passing moment he only got more confused, more angry, and more disillusioned.

It was a Sunday afternoon and Thomas was walking through a field. His mind still racing. A knot in his stomach. And a million questions without end. As he walked he heard voices shouting, but he didn't respond. Then suddenly, a hand grasped his shoulder. He turned to Peter, James, Andrew, and the rest of the disciples standing there. "We have seen Jesus!" They exclaimed. "He is alive. He appeared to Mary first and then to us. You have to come Thomas. He rose from the dead just like Lazarus!"

But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).
I. Will. Not. Believe.

Those four words are the most painful words a loving God can ever hear. After all God has done to save us and bring us back to himself there are still people in life who respond to his love by saying "I will not believe." How heart breaking this must be for God! Others respond to God by saying "I will not believe right now" and still others respond by saying "I will not believe unless." Which of those responses best describes you? Are you rejecting God today? Are you putting him off to some distant future? If you are, then I challenge you to pause. Stop the rush of life and just pause. What in the world are you rejecting him for? Is there seriously anything in this world better than God? And if you are not rejecting, then what are you waiting for? What could seriously be holding you back right now? Just go for it. He has given everything for you and hes asking for nothing in return except your love. And if you are putting the ball in Gods court and saying
"Ill do it if" or "I wont do it unless" then my question to you is, what more can God do? He gave his only son to die for our sins, what else do you expect from him before you can embrace his love? Get rid of the "not". Get rid of the "not right now", and get rid of the "unless." Just say yes.

Thomas refused to believe. Instead, he wanted proof that Jesus was alive. He had been hurt too deep and he would not be taken for a fool. If he was going to follow Jesus he wanted evidence. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe" (26-28).
Wow. Isn't Jesus amazing? He met Thomas right where he was. He met Thomas in his doubt. He met Thomas in his unbelief. He met Thomas in his weakness. And he will do the same for you. And his invitation to Thomas remains to this day, "Stop doubting and believe."
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (29).
Why did Jesus say that? He happily gave evidence to both Thomas and the disciples as well. Why did he say, "blessed are those who have not seen yet believe"? Could it be that when it comes to experiencing God physical sight isn't as important as we think it is? Could it be that experiencing God is something deeper and stronger than a sense experience?

I believe so. And the truth is some of the most important things in life are things we can't actually see. Oxygen is something we cant see with the naked eye, and yet without we would die. Gravity is also something we can't see and yet if you ignore it by jumping out of a window, you can end up dead. And of course, we can't see love. Its not something that is visible to the eye. But without love life is meaningless. Now true, we can see and feel the results of oxygen, gravity and love but we can't actually see them - only their results. But what is also true is seeing each of those things will do nothing to increase our belief or appreciation of them. If I could actually see the particles that make up oxygen and gravity or the essence that makes up love it would do nothing to impact my experience with each of them. My experience with them is stronger than sight, and because of this sight would add nothing.

In the same way, experiencing God is not necessarily about seeing him. Its about experiencing him in such a way that we know he is there, we can see and feel the results of his presence even though we can't see it. And this is super important to experiencing God. Because if we embrace false expectations of what experiencing God is we will miss him even though he is there. So what are those false expectations? They differ but more often than not people are expecting some sort of transcendent or ethereal encounter, a vision or a vivid dream, an emotional high, or some dramatic miraculous event. But those are not the ways by which we experience God. Rather God is experienced by the conviction that we are loved and desired by him, by the sense that he is calling you, by the experience of seeing him active in the world and changing peoples lives, by our life-long walk with him, and by observing in ourselves and others how trustworthy walking according to his way is.

We don't have to see God with the naked eye to know he is real. We can know he is real, we can believe that he lives, and we can have a personal encounter with him without ever actually seeing him. But how? And here is the main point that I want to bring out today. Without this you can rest assured that you will never experience God. But with it, we can be confident that God can be known, experienced, and encountered.

When Jesus rose from the dead, no one was looking for him. The only people who came to the tomb were Mary and Martha who were only there to anoint his dead body, not to see him. Truth is, no one was looking for him. The disciples were all hiding like cowards in a room and Thomas was off somewhere else hiding as well. But they all experienced Jesus because even though they weren't looking for Jesus, Jesus was looking for them. It was Jesus who revealed himself to the disciples and it is because of this that we know that Jesus is a self-disclosing God. He is not interested in hiding or in lurking in the shadows. He wants to be known. He wants to be met. He wants to be encountered. 

So here is the main point for today, you are not the only one wanting to experience God. God wants to reveal himself to you and even when you are far away, hiding, and confused he is approximating himself to you in order to give you an encounter with himself. You don't have to carry the burden of discovering or experiencing God. It is God who is revealing himself to you. All you have to do is "stop doubting and believe."
Doubting Thomas (Part 3: Show us the Way)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).
I had a love hate relationship with the Army. There were things about it I couldn't stand one bit. And there were things about it I loved to no end. Among them was that being a soldier to me felt like a privilege. I could defend something that I believed in. All of the training and preparation was geared at one simple task - defending freedom. Sounds cheesy yes, but I loved it. However, it didn't take long for me to realize something that tore me up inside. No matter how much I fought and sacrificed everything I stood for would eventually be gone. Nothing in this world lasts forever. Nations come and go. Political philosophies rise and fall. And soldiers live and die. In my heart I felt I needed to dedicate my life to something that would last beyond a Hollywood flick or a history book. I needed to fight for something that would last forever.

John chapter 14 begins with a promise. Jesus calls it "My Father's house". He speaks of mansions, rooms, preparation, a place. He talks about coming back and he talks about relationship - "I will come back and take you to be with me". It doesn't take a scholar to recognize that Jesus is using heaven language here. He is talking about that eternal home we call the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, and eternity. And it is in response to this amazing promise of Jesus that we once again bump into the elusive Thomas.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (5)?

In our last post we saw that the resurrection of Lazarus was a cataclysmic event in Thomas' spiritual journey. And here, just a few chapters later, we start to see a change in Thomas. We no longer see the sarcastic disciple. Now we see someone who is really interested in what Jesus has to say. And he asks one of the most profound questions known to man - "how can we know the way?" And today, if we pause and ask this question we will find a whole slew of answers none of which seem to be satisfying.

The atheist would respond by saying that there is no heaven. The pagan would agree but would go on to argue that we must create our own heaven here on earth by striving to make the world a better place. The religions of the east would also deny the existence of heaven opting instead of a "oneness" or non-relational "reunification" with the divine. In other parts they may refer to their final destination as an escape from desire, nirvana, or "the end" - all of which are achieved through the excersize of the will in the performance of strict religious duties. If Thomas had asked his religious leaders that question he would have gotten two different responses as well. Some would have said that heaven was not real, and others would have said that in order to reach heaven you have to work really hard at keeping the law of God. But no matter which way you turn, it seems like the answer is terrible. Either heaven is not real, or it is real but way out of reach to the average Joe.

But suppose you took the second option. Suppose you decided to try and work your way into heaven. Would you succeed? Not a chance. Even if you managed to do everything perfectly, you can never undo or outweigh the sins you have committed. If you are going to get into heaven, a different way must be made available or else you simply have no hope.

But what is that way? That's what Thomas wanted to know. Jesus, how can we know the way? Is it going to church every week? Is it reading my Bible every day? Is it praying three times a day? Is it doing everything really good? What is the way?

And here comes Jesus response:
Jesus answered, "I am the way... No one comes to the Father except through me" (6).
How weird is that? The way to heaven is not a series of behaviors. Its not a set of beliefs. Its not a way of life. Its not even a religion. The way to heaven is a person and his name is Jesus. He is the door to heaven. He is the path to heaven. He is the entrance to heaven. A person. Not a concept. Not a philosophy. Not an exam. Not a church program. A person.

Entering the kingdom of heaven is not about what you do, its about who you know. Do you know Jesus? Or do you only know about him? Do you talk to Jesus? Or do you only talk about him? Do you walk with Jesus? Or do you only talk about walking with him? Do you know him?

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that you earn heaven by achieving level bff with Jesus. This isn't about measuring whether we know him a lot or a little. This is simply about asking if our faith in Jesus is based on a real relationship or if its nothing more than information in your head. Because the way to heaven is not information. Its Jesus himself. He wants you and he is calling you to go from being a Christian by default, to entering into a real relationship with him.

In this series we have been asking, How can I experience God? We have looked at some answers from the life of doubting Thomas. The first step toward experiencing God for real in your life to is realize that he wants you despite your flaws. The second step is to answer his call over your life. The third is to follow him even if you don't know why. When you do, God places you in circumstances that lead you to experience him more and more. But now comes the fourth step and perhaps the most important one - to actively seek to build a relationship with him by realizing that following Jesus is not about religion, its about relationship.
Doubting Thomas (Part 2: No Idea Why I'm Here)

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”- John 10:31
It was winter. Jesus and his disciples had gone up to Jerusalem for an annual festival that every able Jew attended. The festival was known as the Feast of Dedication and celebrated a time when the Jews, led by a family known as the Maccabees, had revolted against the Greek invaders and succeeded in fighting them off. The Maccabees had become a sort of legend among the Israelites. They represented the last time Israel had been free from oppression. However, it wasn't long until the Jews were under foreign domination again and by the time Jesus arrived they were well and truly under Romes control. In a sense, the Feast of Dedication was the celebration of short-lived freedom. 

About 200 years after the Maccabean revolt, Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate their short lived victory. As he walks through the temple courts with his disciples people begin to notice him. "There he is" some of them whisper as they point at him, "Hes the one who claims to be the hero of Israel."

"Not exactly" others retort. "He hasn't been very clear about who he is". 

The crowds begin to debate and then they grow. And with every floating rumor the tension in the air grows thicker. Who is this Jesus? Is he the one who will finally end our oppression? Will he pick up where the Maccabees left off?

The disciples begin to feel the tension. Thomas looks around and everywhere he looks there's someone staring at them. Suddenly, Jesus stops. Thomas looks up and sees a group of men standing in the way - some look angry, others annoyed. In seconds the entire group is surrounded. Things don't look so good.

“How long will you keep us in suspense?" Asks the leader of the pack, "If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe" (25). 

Thomas gulps. Jesus answer was like a slap in the face. But Jesus didn't seem scared. He continues to talk but Thomas doesn't even hear what hes saying anymore. The men surrounding them are growing angrier with every word Jesus speaks. Then suddenly, they recoil in horror and begin yelling at Jesus. The leader of the pack reaches to the ground and grabs a loose stone on the path. The crowd follows, each of them picking up stones to throw at Jesus.  Thomas and the other disciples freeze, not knowing what to do. Jesus keeps talking but as he does the crowds gather around him even tighter to the point that the disciples are completely blocked off from Jesus. "What in the world is happening?" Peter yells. "I cant see Jesus anymore!" In moments the angry mob grows even larger. They come from every corner of the temple - men with stones dashing madly toward Jesus. The disciples find themselves in this wild mosh-pit and desperately struggle to get out. "Stone him!" The crowd yells. "Hes a fake!" others cry out. Then, suddenly, the crowds begin to yell all at once. Thomas can't understand a single word. But something even stranger happens. The crowds begin to turn and look in every direction. "Where did he go?" He hears the cries. "He's gone! He disappeared!" 

Shortly after the crowds disperse. The disciples gather themselves together again and are found by Jesus. Together they leave Jerusalem and cross the river Jordan to the place where Jesus was baptized. Thomas takes a deep breath. That was close.

Days go by. The disciples are still recovering from their frightening experience. Questions are going through Thomas' mind. Am I really cut out for this? I mean we almost got killed. Am I really ready to die for Jesus? I'm not even sure if he's the one...

But their moment of peace was short lived. A messenger arrived from Judea where the disciples had just barely escaped with their lives. "Lazarus, the one that you love, is sick" said the messenger. "You have to come with me and heal him" (John 11:3). 

Thomas eyes shot wide open. No way, he thought, we just barely made it out of Judea, please don't tell me you are going to do this. Jesus spoke to the messenger and assured him all would be well, then sent him back. However, much to Thomas' surprise, Jesus did not go with him. One day passed. Nothing. Two days went by. Nothing.

The disciples started to feel a little better. Thomas was definitely feeling better. But then came day three and Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go back to Judea" (7).

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back”(8)?

We can only imagine the fear and anxiety in the disciples hearts at that moment. One by one they desperately tried to reason with Jesus - to persuade him to stay away from Judea. To perhaps use his power to heal Lazarus from afar like he had done with the Centurions servant only a few months before. But Jesus reply was simple, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up" (11).

The disciples didn't give up. “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better” (12). they said. In other words, "Whats the point of risking our lives again if Lazarus is just sleeping? It's not that big a deal. Just let him be."

And Jesus replies, "[Guys], Lazarus is dead" (14).

Oh. 

The disciples aren't through arguing yet. But Thomas had had it. He knows there's no way to dissuade Jesus. So in a moment of cathartic sarcasm Thomas blurts out, "“Let us also go, that we may die with him” (16).

For some, Thomas' words are words of bravery. I am more inclined to think they were said in scorn. "Forget it guys. Whats the use? He's not going to change his mind so fine, lets all go so we can die too."

In other words, Thomas was willing to follow Jesus, to walk with Jesus and even to die with Jesus but the truth is he had no idea why. He was just like, Hey why not? I've got nothing else going on. Let's just do it. Thomas was following Jesus yes, but he didn't seem to really know why.

Why are you following Jesus? Some of you reading this may be just as gung-ho for Jesus as Thomas was and yet not really know why. Some of you may be leaders in your churches, you may be at church every weekend, you may even give time and money to the church but at the end of the day if I asked you why you do it, would you really know why? Apart from the cliche answers we usually give would we really know why we are living for Jesus?

Throughout the years I have met people who are willing to die for Jesus and kill for him too but they don't actually know why. They are patriotic Christians. They are used to the idea of Jesus. Mom and dad took them to church. It's all they have ever known. So why not? Why not follow him? Every one else seems to be doing it. But when you squeeze them hard to find out why they are so hardcore for Jesus they don't really seem to know why. What about you? Are you reading this because it seems interesting? Are you at church each weekend because you enjoy doing church stuff and organizing church events? If I pushed you to the max, could you really tell me why you are here?

Thomas was all out for Jesus but at this point in his life he didn't seem to know why. But let me pause now and say, that I actually think that's OK. I know I just drilled you on the why question, but the truth is, I think its OK to not know why. It's part of the journey. It's part of how we experience God. We have to go through different stages. In yesterdays post I mentioned that the first step toward experiencing God is to recognize that he wants you and is calling you. The second step is to then respond to his call over your life. And here is the third step: To follow him even though you may not have it all figured out.

There are people who miss out on experiencing God because they are waiting to have all their ducks in a row - to have it all figured out. Forget that. You don't need all the answers. You don't need everything sorted. Just give it a shot. You have nothing to lose. Walk with Jesus. Serve with Jesus. Get involved in your church. Get active in ministering to others. Live with Jesus. And if need be, be willing to die for him. It's OK to not know why you are here. God is just happy that you are.

But the story doesn't end there. God doesn't want your faith-journey to be void of meaning. He's happy that you are here but ultimately he also wants you to know why you are here. And Jesus wanted his disciples to know too. He wanted Thomas to know. Notice what Jesus said to them:

"Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe..." (14-15).

The mob in Jerusalem weren't the only ones wondering if Jesus was really the hero. The disciples were wondering as well. Jesus was glad they were there. But now he wanted to give them a reason why. He wanted them to go from knowing about him to truly knowing him. To knowing his heart, his power, and his purpose for them. So he said to them, "Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go..." (John 11:14-15, The Message).

Days later, the disciples stood by as Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus. The stone had been rolled away, and then Jesus said a prayer:
Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me (41-42).
Jesus' prayer is awesome. He's asking God to give the people around him who don't believe a reason to believe. He wants them to have a moment with him where their faith goes from being a head thing to a heart thing. Thomas was included in this prayer. And so are you. Jesus was giving Thomas and all those doubters a new ground to believe, a new experience with him. And then it happens. 
"Lazarus, come forth! The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (43-44).
The story doesn't say, but something tells me Thomas was one of the ones Jesus was talking to when he said, "Unbind him...". In those days, the dead were wrapped up in cloths. Lazarus had come out of the tomb yes, but he was still wrapped up in cloths. Jesus calls those around him to go unbind Lazarus. But why? Why not do it himself? I think the answer is clear. As Thomas reached out to Lazarus and began taking the cloths off of him, loosening and untying, the whole thing became awfully real to him. With ever bit of cloth that he removed, Thomas came face to face with the wonder that is Jesus. There before him stood a man 3 days dead. He didn't stink. His skin was bright and healthy. His smile was real. I wonder, what was Thomas thinking at that moment? Was he still doubting who Jesus was? Or was he beginning to rethink his doubts? Did the act of unbinding Lazarus rock his world to the core? Did Thomas finally have a reason to follow Jesus? Did his faith go from knowing about Jesus to knowing him? I think so.

Why are you here? Some of you believe. Some of you don't. God's just glad you're here. But he's also excited to give you a whole new reason to believe. So if you want to experience him, don't wait until you have it all figured out. Realize that God want's you. Respond to his call. And start following Jesus even if you don't understand it all. And as you follow him, walk with him, and listen to him he will take you to the place where he will rock your world to the core. He will do amazing things and call on you to be a part of them. He will transform the life of a drug addict and call you to pray for him, he will deliver a child from abuse and call you to be there to comfort them, he will rescue a friend from alcohol, from suicide, from brokenness and he will call you to be there to unbind him from that left over mess that lingers on. And as you do that your faith will come alive. Because experiencing God is not about seeing a vision of angels, its about walking with him and working with him. 

When I was 17 I started following Jesus. I had no idea why. I just knew he was calling me. I started preaching and I understood very little of the Bible. I knew nothing about theology or any of that other stuff. I hadn't even graduated High School yet. But I knew Jesus was calling me and that was enough. And God brought me from one crazy journey to another. I have never seen a man walk out of a tomb that needed to be untied, but I have met all kinds of people from convicts and addicts to broken and empty people and in each case I have had the joy of working with Jesus in unbinding their mess and through that, experiencing how real Jesus is and how good he is at changing lives. So I ask you today, don't wait to have it all figured out. Just walk with him and work with him and he will rock your world.
What Adventists Get Wrong about the U.S. in Prophecy

What Adventists Get Wrong about the U.S. in Prophecy
by Jeff Boyd 

In church this past Sabbath, I listened to a sermon about the United States in biblical prophecy. The sermon was part of a prophecy series (Unlock/Unlocking Revelation) that is being preached across the Lake Union Conference, not just in our single congregation (Media: WNEM5, MLive). I was told there are over 170 locations running the series simultaneously.

I like our local pastor. I respect him. My frustration with the sermon is not about him (I don’t believe he wrote the sermon). My frustration is about a very white-centric view of U.S. history. For context, the pastor is white, I’m white, and the majority of the small congregation is white (more so now than when we began attending three years ago).

After writing an initial draft of this blog post, I shared it with him so he could comment before I posted it. I’ve made a few revisions based on that hour-long conversation.

The basic theme of the sermon—and this is an overly simplified summary—was that the U.S. started as a good Christian nation, but now our laws are becoming bad, which is clear since we are losing our Christian freedoms. The breakdown of the family and laws that allow this were the key example of the current problems. Presumably this related to same-sex marriage, but this wasn’t stated outright. This degradation was paralleled with the second beast of Revelation 13, the one that has horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon.

So what the sermon was really saying by describing a fall from good to bad was that slavery did not discredit the early great Christian version of America. The U.S. was still godly. But today U.S. laws don’t support a certain version of Christian ideals relating to the family, so now we’re falling. However, this disregards the generations of families in slavery who were ripped apart as they were bought and sold (more than 10 million ^arrived^ in the New World, plus those born here; besides all those who died or were killed while crossing the Atlantic). How’s that for “Christian family values”? The abuse of those families didn’t invalidate the great Christian start to this country, but gay marriage does?

If our biblical interpretation demands that we disregard the violent injustice experienced by millions of people, then based on the centrality of justice to God’s Word, I propose that we reconsider our interpretation, or at least add a bit of nuance.

If one accepts the overall Adventist understanding of Revelation 13, then I propose a simple alteration of the sermon’s message: understand both features (lamb-like horns and dragon-like speech) throughout its history instead of saying one was earlier and the other was later. That is, at its start the U.S. had an appearance of godliness (lamb-like appearance), but it spoke like a dragon (slaves not treated as humans, at best counted only as three-fifths human). Injustice in word and action despite a religious appearance have continued in different forms ever since, and these require a persistent critique. To this end, I shared a small book with the pastor—Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

This approach is in line with early Adventist views (not that early is necessarily right or best, but merely demonstrates that my proposed interpretation is hardly novel). Adventist historian Doug Morgan writes about those Adventists:


Challenging the prevalent postmillennialist conception of the United States as an instrument of progress toward the millennium, they asserted that apocalyptic Scripture cast the Republic as a persecuting beast. They pointed to slavery and the Protestant establishment’s intolerant treatment of dissenters as evidence of the fulfillment of prophecy. (Adventism and the American Republic, 2001, p. 11).

After our conversation, the pastor decided his interpretation could have been kept in place while being supplemented with the admission that the ideals expressed in the nation’s founding documents are the key point while also admitting we have not done a good job of living up to those ideals.

This racial issue was my main disagreement with the way U.S history and God’s values were portrayed, but there were three other points that were less central to the sermon’s main arguments. First, and I don’t remember the exact wording, the violent entrance of Columbus and the conquistadors was greatly minimized (something like: they joined the people already here).

Second, yes the Bible says there will be persecution, but I’m frustrated when American Adventists accept the view that American Christians are being greatly persecuted today. Allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry is not persecuting Christians; Christians are still free to worship however we like. There is a difference between being persecuted and simply not being able to force one’s values or morals on others. We want our civil and religious freedoms, so let’s extend that concern to all others as well.

Third, the quick rise of U.S. power was described as a blessing from God. I cringe a bit when I hear this argument because I believe slavery was a key factor in our economic development. Later military dominance became another unjust tool for economic expansion. For starters, consider Smedley Butler,* John Perkins, or the case of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala (Wiki, GWU). To say that growth of the U.S. economy and our subsequent place of power in the world is simply because of God’s blessing is to sweep too much history under the rug.

In conclusion, if the Adventist interpretation of prophecy is correct, then surely it can be presented in balanced and meaningful ways that don’t (a) ignore gross injustices such as slavery and imperialism and (b) accept popular definitions of Christian victimization in the U.S. that ring hollow compared with true persecution seen in other times and also in other places today.

– – –

*My favorite Smedley quote: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

Note: This article was originally posted on Adventist Peace Fellowship blog under the title "Unlocking Revelation & U.S. History". It has been republished with permission.
How Can I Know God?
I often get the question "How can I truly know God?" The answer is found all over scripture, but this morning I ran into a verse that really spoke to this question beautifully. The verse is Hosea 6:3 which says:
"Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring."
Three basic points stand out in this passage:

1) We are called to know God and God would never call us to do something impossible. The call itself is evidence that he can be known. 2) We need to press on to know him. Elsewhere God says, "You will find me when you seek me and search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). Knowing God doesn't just happen. We need to press on and pursue it the same way we pursue our earthly desires. If you are not willing to press on to know God and to continue the search no matter how hard, you will never know him. Will it take 1 day? 30? 60?A lifetime? Who knows? Press on. 3) And lastly the verse says that "He will respond". When we seek to know God we must do so with the expectation and faith that he will respond. If you have already convinced yourself that he wont respond then you will miss his response when it happens. This is why Paul said, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Heb 11:6). So when you seek God, seek him with expectation because He will respond "as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring". And if that isn't enough evidence that he will respond, in verse 6 of this same chapter in Hosea God says, "I want to show you love.... I want you to know me." Could it be any clearer? He wants to know you and be known by you. He doesn't hide. He doesn't play mind games with us or tease us with an unreachable ideal. David Asscherick got it right when he said, "People are at different levels of finding [God] because people are at different levels of seeking [him]" (see video below). So today I invite you, regardless of what stage of seeking you are in, to press on to know him, and press on with expectation.


Further Reading:

Jesus Wants "Yada"

How You Can Know God Personally

How Can I Get to Know God More?


Jesus Wants "Yada" (pt 3)


In the previous post in this series I explored the concept of knowing God through the experience of the rich young ruler. In the end, this young man traded a true experience with God for the temporary pleasures of this world. And we may look at him and think this guy is dumb. But as we point the finger at him, 3 fingers point back to us. Because this is what we do. This is humanity. We spend our lives trading the eternal presence of God for temporary nonsense. 

A romantic escapade. 
A bottle of alcohol. 
A mind altering chemical. 
A job. 
A career. 
Money without worth. 
Fragile power. 
Lonely fame. 

These are the things that we trade Jesus for. And the madness continues as we run back and forth desperately seeking satisfaction and purpose and all the while, there he is. Jesus, is what you desire most. 

In Philippians 3:8, Paul - a once respected and powerful man who had given up everything to follow Jesus - said this:


Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.

The rich rung ruler had so much, but he wouldn't give it up. Paul also had a lot and yet he traded all of it just to know Jesus. What is your excuse?

In the Greek the word to know is ginosko. It means knowledge, understanding. But in Hebrew the word means something more. In Hebrew the word to know is yada. And it is used when referring to sexual intimacy. Because in the marriage bed you come to know your loved one in a way that transcends mere head knowledge. Yada means experience. Pleasure. Joy. Intensity. It is used to define the most sacred act between two human beings. And thats how God wants to know you. And thats how he wants you to know him. Yada. Not just ginosko. But yada

Experience. 
Pleasure.
Joy.
Intensity.
Intimacy. 

A faith that transcends mere information and enters the sphere of experience. Here it is in plain Hebrew guys: Jesus wants Yada.

Last year I met up with a friend at a Thai restaurant in Vic Park. We sat down to eat and talk and when it was time to order I went straight for the greatest meal a human being could ever ask for: curry. And what I experienced over the next 20 minutes - as this Thai curry came into contact with my gustatory system, which then used a form of chemoreception that allowed my body to interpret the curry substance as the most delicious thing I had ever eaten - was amazing.* According to Boundless.com "[t]here are five main types of taste sensation: bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and savory."** And on this day, it was the savory sensation, also known as umami, that was going crazy. So when this curry substance came into contact with my taste buds they began to dance with each other. And I was like, woah. This is good.

The next day I was back in the area with Candice and suggested we visit this same restaurant so that she could try this Thai curry. And I went on and on about how good it was and we were like all excited to go back. But then I checked my budget and was like, "dude, were broke. Not going to happen." And the sadness of the situation hit me.

My wife will never know what this Thai curry is like even if she has all the knowledge of it. I could talk about it until she can parrot me. She may even recommend the Thai curry to others. But it isn't until she fills her spoon with this curry, and places it in her mouth, it isn't until her gustatory system is activated and begins the process of chemoreception, it isn’t until the liquid and spices enter into yada with her taste buds and they begin to dance together and in a poetic experience of pleasure and joy and intensity that she can truly say "This curry is good."

And that’s what our relationship with God should be like. David, in a burst of passion and desire cries out "Oh taste and see that the Lord, he is good" (Psalm 34:8). God is calling us to more than just knowing all about him. He wants us to be honest with ourselves. Admit our brokenness. Trade it for Jesus. And allow him to have our entire being. Then and only then, can we yada the eternal one.


___________

*https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/sensation-and-perception-5/sensory-processes-38/gustation-taste-buds-and-taste-163-12698
**ibid.
Jesus Wants "Yada" (pt 2)


In the previous post I asked a heart searching question: Do I know so much about God that I have convinced myself that I actually know him even though I don't?

This question is super relevant. I mean, Jesus says that when he returns there will be all kinds of people who thought they knew him but didn't really. The parable of the 10 virgins and the parable of the sheep and the goats are two of the primary examples. In both cases there are people who think they know Jesus, and yet Jesus says to them "I never knew you". So this question, far from being a useless exploration, is relevant to everyone who claims to be a God-follower.

In today's post, I would like to explore this question more by hanging out in Mark 10:17-22.

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him.

Every story has a back story. In other words, every story begins way before it begins. When you lose your temper, that's not the start of the story. That's just the continuation. When you jump for joy because you got a new job, that's not the beginning of the story. Its a new chapter yes - but there is a back story to it. And while the Bible doesn't tell us anything about this man we can safely guess what his back story could have been. Whoever he was, to the human eye he was eager to discover Jesus. He wanted to meet him. He wanted to meet him so bad that he was running. There was something on his mind and he was really itching to get to Jesus.

[So he] knelt down, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Notice what this guy says. "Good teacher." "Eternal life". "What must I do?" He wanted to "inherit" eternity. That's pretty impressive. I mean, he's using all the right words. To the naked eye this guy is nothing more than a sincere God seeker who is thirsting after truth. 

But there's more. Matthew calls him a young man, Luke calls him a ruler, and later on we discover that he was both religious and wealthy. It seems as though this guy had it all made. Youth. Wealth. Morals. Power. Religious and national identity. What more could you ask for? But he wasn't satisfied. He was still seeking. Somehow none of what he had gave him peace. He felt somehow that despite his excellent life something was missing. So he came to Jesus seeking an answer to his anxiety. He wanted assurance of eternal life. To a pastor, the baptismal sign would cha-ching on our eyeballs. But Jesus sees something no one else sees.

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked.

Jesus spots the phonyness. He calls the guy out. He knows the difference between living faith, an parrot faith. And this guy is parroting. He's saying the right words in the right way. But what he's not doing is being honest.

"Only God is truly good." [Jesus adds]

It's as if Jesus is drawing the guy to himself. Trying to help him see his own pretension. Because the worst kind of hypocrite is the sincere hypocrite. And while it sounds like an oxy-moron its true. There are hypocritical people who recognize their hypocrisy. But then there are those who sincerely think they are on the right path. Everyone else sees their phoniness, but they can't see it. Jesus continues:

"[T]o answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother."

I have to admit. This is weird. Jesus' answer to his question is actually kind of annoying. I mean, it was just common sense for the day. Everyone believed that in order to gain eternal life you just had to live a good life. And this guy would have known that so he came seeking a deeper answer. But Jesus didn't give him one. Instead he gave him the same thing everyone else would. Why?

"Teacher," the man replied, "I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young."

I can sense the frustration in his voice. He is looking for something deeper! But he isn't getting it. So he challenges Jesus to give him something deeper. But Jesus doesn't.

Why? Because the young man was not the only one looking for something deeper. Jesus was looking for something deeper as well. He was looking for the young mans honesty. He was craving authenticity. He was longing for true connection. But the young man could not give it. While he knew something was missing in his walk with God he was unwilling to admit that the missing piece was himself. And until he admitted that he was insufficient, until he admitted that he had not kept the law and in fact never could keep the law, until he admitted that his problem was not out there but in his own heart Jesus could never help him.

In a sense, those of us raised in church are in a bit of danger. In order to make us immune to the flu virus doctors and pharmacists will inject us with a small portion of the virus that strengthens our immune system and make us - ideally - immune to that strand of flu. In other words, they give us just enough of the flu to make us immune to the real thing. And most of us have just enough God to make us immune to truly knowing him. And that was the problem with this man. He had just enough God to make him immune to truly experiencing God. By quoting the commandments Jesus' wasn't telling the young man that he could go to heaven by being really good. He was trying to help him realize that he could never be good enough. If the ruler was honest he would have cried out to Jesus "I can't do what you ask! I'm too sinful and selfish." But instead of being honest, he decided to play holier-than-thou and said "I've done all this since I was a kid".

The first step to a true relationship with Jesus is transparency. Come to God thinking you are all that and a bag of chips and you will never experience him. You may learn and learn and learn about him and become the greatest Christian philosopher of the 21st century. But you will miss out on knowing him. Because in order to know God you have to let go of your pretensions, your masks, and your self-adulation and come before him naked, with your heart bleeding and broken, with your life falling to pieces, with your doubts and fears, with your frustrations and failures, and with your sin and shame.

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. "There is still one thing you haven’t done," he told him. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Jesus is trying here. He's trying to help the young man realize that he hasn't kept the law. Because God's law is a law of love and this young man is selfish! So while he may keep the law externally, his heart is still out of harmony with God. His real god is money, success, wealth. And he used his religious knowledge and his pretentious philosophical questions as a way to cover the fact that he did not love God. He loved himself. And Jesus saw right though it. Because Jesus always sees right through us. You think you are all that? You think you are holy and without sin? You think you are sinless and godly? We'll let me put you to the test to find out if its really true. Take your god of money, and wealth, and success and give it away. Take all your worldly possessions and sell them, then give the money to those who are suffering, hungry, and destitute - give it to them. 


Then come and follow me.At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Now the truth emerges. he said the right words, performed the right motions, and could even boast that he had done the right things but he was a fake. in his heart, he didn't truly want God. Was Jesus suggesting you can go to heaven by being good enough? No. Jesus was trying to help the guy see he could never be good enough. He was trying to get this guy to admit his insufficiency, because until he admitted it he would never be able to truly experience God. But he didn't get it. Instead, he walked away from Jesus choosing to trade a real relationship with God for a fake, wanna-be religion that left him selfish, indifferent, and empty.

Some of us have not truly surrendered to Jesus. we just say the right things, and do the right things, and act the right ways, and post the right Facebook statuses, and sing the right songs, and quote the right verses, and pray the right prayer and all the while Jesus is standing by saying, I want something deeper! But you can never give him something deeper unless you give him all that you are and allow him to take it all. 

I don't know who or where you are, but whatever the case I invite you today. Come to the cross. Come broken. Come weak. Come humiliated. Come phony. Come selfish. Come lustful. Come ashamed. Come confused. Come tired. Come weary. Come lonely. Take off your mask. Remove the robe of pretension. Throw off the shackles of phoniness. And come to Jesus. And when you do that I promise you, you will not walk away with information. You will walk away with an experience. You will taste the heart of God full of forgiveness, and grace, and power, and cleansing, and joy, and freedom, and rebirth. You will never be the same again.

In Isaiah 29:13 it is written:

And so the Lord says, "These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote."

Sounds like the rich young ruler. But lets not stop there. Ask yourself, does this describe you as well. Jesus is longing for a deeper relationship with you. And you can have it today. Stop playing church. Stop acting the religious part. Just be real. Give him your heart as it is. Do it today. Do it again tomorrow. Do it the day after. Do it every day for the rest of your life and you will see that your faith will no longer be a theoretical concoction of philosophically plausible suppositions. Instead it will be a living, breathing, active, life-altering experience.
Jesus Wants "Yada" (pt 1)



A few years ago I was sitting in a church history class at SAU listening to the professor when he said something crazy cool. At the moment, I didn't realize how cool it was. In fact, it wasn't until a few weeks ago that it finally hit me. As the lecture progressed the professor shared a personal experience with us. During his years as a historian he had performed a detailed study of an Adventist pioneer by the name of EJ Waggoner. But this was no ordinary study. Our professor had literally poured through the life of Waggoner. He read everything and anything that had to do with him from personal letters to sermon manuscripts, articles, and books. He read what others had to say about him and about the experiences that his contemporaries had with him. In short, my professor skipped nothing that was even remotely related to Waggoner. He poured through his life with as much precision as humanly possible. Waggoner was his study.

And then came the crazy cool line. "I have spent so much time studying Waggoner that I feel as though I know him personally." 

Boom.

Only, at the moment I didn't think anything of it. It wasn't until a few weeks ago as I pondered my relationship with God that it finally hit me. My professor may have known everything there was to know about Waggoner - his beliefs, his activities, his hobbies, his imperfections, his family, friends, and legacy but there was one thing that was undeniable: Although my professor felt as though he personally knew Waggoner the fact remained that he did not. He had never sat down with him. He had never heard his voice. He had never laughed with him while sharing a dinner or travelling on a buggy. He had never experienced life with the living and breathing Waggoner. At best, all my professor could say was that he knew more about Waggoner than anyone else. But he didn't actually know Waggoner. Waggoner lived and died long before my professor and with his body resting in the grave the best my professor could do was know about him and try, as best as possible, to identify himself with the legacy and memory of this man. But try as he may, he could never actually know him.

What this means is that a person cannot simply be known based on details, data, and facts. A person can only be known when life is shared. That is truly the only way.

But here comes the hard part. How many of us, like my professor, know so much about God that we "feel" as though we know him but we really don't? How many of us have honestly fooled ourselves into thinking we truly know him when in reality all we have are details, data, and facts. We have never done life with him.

So, do you truly know God? Or do you know so much about him that you have convinced yourself that you know him? Are you settling for the shallow waters of information while avoiding the ocean of God's presence?

Let me put this in a different way. I often hear Christians talk about how they want something deeper but what if Jesus is the one looking for something deeper? Could we be demanding the very thing we refuse to give?

What if our Christianity is fake? What if our Christianity is the product of information without experience? Is it possible that we have constructed a graven image of God using ideas instead of stones? A God who we can keep happy so long as we say the right things at the right times and pray the right prayers and sing the right songs and shout the right words and quote the right verses?

I don't know about you, but that sounds kind of lame to me. Something tells me Jesus is longing for something deeper not just us. In the next post I'll begin to explore what that looks like though the life of a man Jesus spoke with. Stay tuned.
Jesus' First Words & Why They Matter (A Christmas Devotional)




Christmas is here! Aren't you excited? I hope so, because this is seriously "the most wonderful time of the year". And as we all enter our celebration modes, I would like to take a moment to share a devotional article to help keep your gaze on Jesus during this festive season.

Sadly, the Bible doesn't tell us what Jesus first words as a baby were. I would love to know, but something tells me none of the biographers thought it was that important. However, the first recorded words of Jesus give us a lot to think about as we celebrate his birth.


“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49

The Passover
Chronologically speaking, these are the first words Jesus ever spoke recorded in scripture. At this time, Jesus was only twelve years old. His parents Mary and Joseph had taken a trip from their home town in Galilee up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Now what was the Passover? It was one of the many festivals that the Jews celebrated throughout the year. The Passover began when they were slaves in Egypt. The story goes that the nation of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for about 300 years. Then one day, the Egyptian Pharaoh decided to kill of the male Hebrew newborns because he wanted to control the Israelite population. However, one mother hid her son in a basket and placed the basket in the Nile River. That sons name was Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter ended up finding Moses and he became her son. God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery. Moses became Gods ambassador to Pharaoh and requested that Pharaoh set the people free but Pharaoh refused. Every time Pharaoh refused God sent a plague on Egypt. First, all of the water in Egypt turned to blood. Then swarms of frogs invaded the country. After that the dust in Egypt became gnats and tormented the people. This was followed by swarms of flies, diseases on the livestock, boils, thunder and hail, locusts and darkness. After all of this Pharaoh still refused to let Israel go so God had to resort to something He never wanted to do: Death. God instructed the people that He would come and all of the first born in Egypt would die irrespective of persons. The only way to avoid this was to take the blood of a lamb and paint the door posts of the house with it. When the Lord came through and saw the blood on the door posts He would pass over that house and nobody would die. If He didn’t see the blood the first born would die. Moses then told Israel, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.” Shortly after this final plague Pharaoh let Israel go.

The Lamb
Over a thousand years had passed and the Israelites still celebrated the Passover. It was a reminder of Gods power to save. However, it was also a reminder of something more profound. God didn’t show up to kill the firstborns of the Egyptians. No. Anyone who had the blood on the doorposts of their house was passed over. If an Egyptian believed this and put blood on the door posts of their house God would pass over them. If an Israelite didn’t believe this and refused to put blood on the door posts of their house their first born would die. In other words, God didn’t choose who to bless and who to curse based on their race or nationality. No. God chose who to bless and who to curse based on who had the blood. In reality, it’s more accurate to say that God didn’t do the choosing. The people did. Those who chose to accept the blood chose life. Those who chose to reject the blood chose death. God simply carried out the result of the choice. However, the message remains the same: the only hope was the blood. But not any old blood. It had to be the blood of a lamb.

According to the Bible, that lamb in Egypt represented Jesus. And in the same way, as God judges this world He doesn’t do so based on race or ethnicity. He does so based on the blood. If you have accepted Jesus as your savior the blood He spilled on the cross covers you like the blood covered the door posts. When God judges you, you don’t have to be afraid because of the blood. However, there was one more thing. It wasn’t just about putting the blood on the door posts. It was about eating the flesh of the lamb as well. While the angel of death was searching in Egypt, those who had put the blood on their door posts were also instructed to cook the lamb and eat it. So what does this mean for you and me? We can’t use the blood of Jesus as “magic” to escape judgment. When we claim the blood of Jesus we automatically claim his flesh as well.

Now what in the world does that mean? I’m going to use an old word to explain it. The word is “partake.” To partake means “to be active in. [To] have, give, or receive a share of.”[1] When we accept the blood of Jesus over our life we automatically chose to partake of him as well. He is the lamb that was slain so that others could live. He is the God who gave his life so that I could have it and have it forever. When I choose Jesus, I don’t just choose a ticket to heaven. I chose an experience. I partake of him. I walk with him, talk with him, share with him, grow in my relationship with him, and become the kind of person he created me to be. A lot of people want the blood to cover them but they don't want to eat the lamb. In other words, they want Jesus to forgive their sins but they don't want Jesus to live inside of them. But it doesn't work that way. You cant have the blood without the flesh. You can't have the forgiveness without the experience of Jesus within, This is salvation. It’s God covering me with his own blood and then coming inside of me and changing my life for his glory.

Back to the Story
The time for the Passover had come. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate as they did every year. However, something was different this year: Jesus was now twelve years old. For a Jew, this is a really big deal because at the end of the twelfth year they pass from childhood to youth and are given more responsibility.[2] So Jesus is now on the verge of a new experience. With that in mind, the family goes to Jerusalem and celebrates the Passover with countless other Jews. When the festival is over they head back home. On the way home however, Mary and Joseph are shocked to discover that Jesus is not with them. Now allow me to clarify. It’s not that Mary and Joseph were blind. When they went to Jerusalem for the Passover they didn’t just go in the family minivan. No. They walked there with their families which probably numbered high in the double digits. Joseph most likely walked with the men and Mary with the women. All the uncles, aunts, and cousins were there along with many other relatives like Joseph’s other sons. Under such circumstances it would have been easy to leave Jesus behind. Mary could have assumed he was with Joseph, and Joseph could have assumed he was with Mary. Or perhaps they both figured he was with his cousins or half-siblings. Whatever the case, when they had gone a day’s journey they found out he wasn’t with them at all. Immediately mom and dad did a 180 and high-tailed it back to Jerusalem. The story says that they looked for him for three days. I can’t imagine what those three days would have been like. The stress. The anxiety. The sleepless nights.

Then finally on the third day they found him in the temple sitting with some of the religious leaders listening to them and asking them questions. The Bible says that, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”[3] Can you imagine? A group of seasoned religious scholars and theologians who were amazed at what a twelve year old boy, who was the son of a carpenter and lived in a small town, had to say. This isn’t because Jesus was God though. When Jesus (who is God the son) came to this world and became a man he emptied himself of all the power and knowledge he had beforehand. He never stopped being God, but all the advantages available to him as God were put aside. Jesus mother Mary had to teach him the Bible and tell him who he was and what his mission was. Therefore, Jesus' astonishing answers in the temple that day were partly due to how Mary had raised him.

But now we come to the climax of this story. Here is Jesus at his first Passover. The Lamb represents Him. The blood represents his blood. The entire feast is a celebration of his future death for the sins of mankind. He is the son of God, the spotless lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Now I don’t know how. Maybe Mary told him. Maybe the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. Maybe he discovered it by studying the Bible for himself. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all three, but somehow at twelve years old Jesus got it. He figured it out. He was the lamb. All throughout the festival Jesus watched as the lamb was killed. He pondered as they ate the flesh of the lamb. He stayed up at night staring at the stars and talking to God. It all made sense now. People in town said he was an illegitimate child. They said Joseph wasn’t really his father. They made fun of Mary’s so called “angel” story. But Jesus knew her. He knew she wouldn’t lie. Joseph wasn’t really his dad. So who was? Now as he lay in Jerusalem during the Passover festival it finally made sense. His father was God – not in a literal sense because He was God too – but in a temporary sense. The Holy Spirit had miraculously implanted God the son into the womb of a human woman. How? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. Jesus probably didn’t know either. But he believed it by faith. Just as you and I have to accept that he is Gods son by faith, he also had to accept that he was Gods son by faith. Once Jesus had this epiphany he couldn’t wait to go and talk to the religious leaders. He probably wanted to know how much they knew about the prophecies and types concerning the savior. He also remembered that in the Bible it said that Gods presence was in the temple. In his twelve year old mind he probably figured, maybe I can find my father if I go to the temple. He was so enthused by this he didn’t even notice his family leave. God was his father. He wanted to be in his Father’s house. He wanted to meet him. Jesus was probably disappointed to find that Gods presence wasn’t in the temple as it had been in the old days. Wanting to know why he approached the religious leaders and asked. From there the conversation progressed. I don’t know where Jesus slept that night. Most likely he slept somewhere around the temple grounds, but he hung around the temple for at least five days. Why five? Well, he was there during Joseph and Mary’s journey back. They had gone for a whole day when they noticed he wasn’t with them. Then, they came back which would have been another whole day. Then it took them three days to find him which adds up to five. When they finally found him Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus turned. He smiled. Immediately after, his very first words recorded in the Bible are spoken. I bet he said them with confidence. With joy. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Why Should I Care?
These are the very first words of Jesus recorded in the New Testament and they say something powerful about Jesus: That he was the son of God. Deity. God made man. He was and is and will forever be God. How amazing that God would make himself a man, empty himself of all his power, and live with humankind in order to win them back to him. What other god is like that? What other god has ever gone so far to save mankind? What other god has ever gone so far to save me?

The words of Jesus also show us something else. When Mary asks him why he had gone missing, Jesus’ reply was, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” In other words: “It shouldn’t have been hard to find me. You know this is the only place I would be.” Why? Why was Jesus so fascinated with the temple? Because in Jewish times the temple wasn’t a place to go sing songs and hear a sermon. The Jewish temple was specifically designed to reveal to the world the entire plan of salvation. The Jewish temple announced the foundational reality of salvation and it’s this: “You can’t save yourself. I will do it. So I’ll come down. Become a man. Live a perfect life. Die a sinner’s death. And by doing so, I will make salvation available to everyone who believes."

This was the message of the Jewish temple. And Jesus was its fulfillment. The lamb came down and gave his life for mankind. Before sin even entered the world God had a plan to save humanity. Jesus was that plan. He was “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”[4]

So as you celebrate Christmas this year, keep in mind the little baby boy, born to live, to conquer, to suffer, to die, and to rise again - the perfect sacrifice that makes our eternal salvation secure.

Merry Christmas!

___________

[1] Rhymezone.com. http://rhymezone.com/r/d=partake_in
[2] SDA Bible Commentary
[3] Luke 2:47
[4] Rev. 13:8
The Raw Church Movement: Community VS Privacy

Community VS Privacy
About two years ago I had to do a University project for the church I was working at. Part of the project involved interviewing members regarding different topics related to the church, including community. One answer captured the problem so well I will never forget it: "Relationships at this church end when we walk out the front door."

I remember reading that answer and thinking, ouch! But harsh as it sounds, its true. The majority of the churches I have attended fail miserably when it comes to community. It seems as if people are content with a private religion. When they come to church they only come for God - which is not a bad thing, but its also not a good thing. While the worship experience is about God in an ultimate sense, there is no denying the element of community. Pious as the proposition may be, church is not only about God and no one else (if that were the case, just worship at home!). Instead, church is about God and others.

A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:


Millenials Share their "Ideal" Church
Image by: Kah-Wai Lin

As you can see, the very first item on the list relates to community. A whopping 78% of those who were surveyed said they preferred a church that has community over a church that is private. But what exactly is community? Why is it missing from our churches? Why do millennials crave it so much? And how can the church move in the direction of community?

Community is a very simple concept that can be defined as "a group of people doing life together". Profound relationships, intimate connections, raw conversations and an authentic experience of "withness" are all elements that make community what it is. Community gives a sense of security and identity. It provides a strong foundation for people to embark on the often scary journey of faith that Jesus calls us to. Community helps us to belong.

Why is this missing from our churches? It's hard to say. I suspect the answer is complex, but the concept of individualism is what I would consider to be the main culprit.[1] Individualism is a predominantly western concept that basically states that the individual is supreme in life. In other words, nothing is more important than me. Anything beyond that is not really my concern. This concept of individualism leads us to invest our lives primarily in the pursuit of self-gain. Relationships are thus sacrificed at the altar of success. While such a worldview is perfectly in line with secular mentality, the oddity is that it has made its way into the church. What do you get when your churches are filled with people who are individualistic? The answer is simple: individuals who prefer a private religious experience to a communal one.

But the culture is beginning to change. Individualism has been exposed as the dry and lonely way of life that it is. As a result, it appears that younger generations are increasingly resistant toward it. Today, more than in recent times, people are craving real relationships. Millennials want to be a part of something, they want to do life with others. Sadly, when they come to church in search of this communal experience what they encounter is the individualistic culture that they are longing to escape. But the problem is worse than this for not only is the church individualistic but it pretends to be communal! People speak to you as if they care - and they do - but not enough to walk through life with you. There is a facade of community present in many churches. It feels like a family when you walk in, so you keep going hoping to eventually become a part of this family. But the longer you attend the clearer it becomes: there is no family. At best its a Sabbath morning club that repeats itself each weekend for a period of 1-4 hours and then its "see you next week". Visitors and members alike exit this place called church where they have just collectively worshiped God only to face six entire days of lonely warfare. They then reconnect the following weekend with shallow conversations that pretend everything is fine. Then they re-exit the church and are immediately confronted with another six days alone. How overwhelmingly tragic.

This is not what millennials want. In fact, I don't think any human being honestly wants this. It's terrible! But for some reason, this is what we have and we can't seem to break free from it. So what can we do to change our culture? How can we create community in our churches? While I don't know all the answers, here are some suggestions:


1. Confess: All change begins with admitting where we are. The first step is to admit that we are individualistic. Any attempt at justifying this must be rejected. We need to own our mistakes - even the unintentional ones.  
2. Repent: The next step is choosing to turn away from where one is currently headed. But we must do more than turn away. What we need is for God to give us the gift of repentance which includes sorrow for sin. We cant change by simply saying "bad idea. Sorry God." What we need is to experience true sorrow for what we have done. We need to hate individualism, not just dislike it. But this can only come from God. 
3. Believe: God alone can change us. We can't change ourselves. Individualism is so ingrained in our psyche we do it without noticing. We need a miracle to change and this God can do for us. Any ideas of self-help or self-improvement must be put away. God doesn't want to improve our churches. He wants to uproot them and plant something new. This cant be accomplished through human effort. It is by faith that we can experience this. 
4. Cooperate: God wants to do amazing things in our churches. Let's move out of the way and let him do his thing. This includes abandoning our comfort zones and being intentional about creating strategies to help foster a community culture. 
5. Repeat: The above process is not something we do once and move on with life. It needs to be constantly repeated even if we feel as though we have "arrived". We will never truly arrive and the battle to become a community focused church is an uphill, counter-cultural, battle. We need to constantly seek God for more grace to accomplish it.
Over the next few months I will be blogging on this, and other issues raised in the survey above. Through it all, I hope to give more practical strategies and methods that can help us turn our churches around. I call this process the Raw Church Movement meaning the pursuit of recapturing a vision of church in its most natural state. I hope the series gives lots to think about and engage in. But never forget, culture takes a long time to change. So don't be discouraged by slow movement.

Jesus to the culture,
Marcos
___________

[1] Individualism: Dominant feature of the Western societies that encourages individual freedom at the cost of traditional family ties and social cohesion, and stresses individual initiative. It relies on the belief that individual freedom forms the basis of entrepreneurial (capitalistic) culture which is the best guarantee of an ever expanding economy. [Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/individualism.html#ixzz3dI47YOuV]