Keeping “Happy” in the New Year

Keeping “Happy” in the New Year

keeping happy
 
In a few days, many will be saying the words “goodbye to the old” as they welcome a new year. This transition from old to new can signal a sort of completion and a chance to start over and learn from the past. Accordingly, I share the following with you as a challenge and encouragement.
 
It’s Over!
            The expression “it is over” signifies conclusion.  Often heard at the close of the year, its utterance is often tied to some sort of emotion.  For example, the unemployed may say these three words with heartfelt gratitude for making it through a challenging, financially-barren period; the grief-stricken may mournfully cry out at the memory of losing a loved one; and those who may have been at death’s door or may have experienced the loss of homes or belongings, may exclaim with joy at being alive. Then for the many who experienced their breakthroughs in 2017, whether it was a desired pregnancy, weight loss, accomplishment, or change in lifestyle resulting in a better quality of life, they may say this three-word sentence with a sense of satisfaction.  Nevertheless, the one sentiment that would be common to all would be that of thankfulness for making it through another year.  The fact that there is still life is reason enough to celebrate.  With the dawn of 2018, new opportunities and possibilities exist.  Situations can change for the better.
 
A New Beginning
            Therefore, with a new slate, a new year, a new 12-month period, or fresh start, one could approach 2018 with optimism especially in the light of a life committed to God. As we consider the many promises such as Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (ESV); Or 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (ESV), it is clear that God has a purpose for us and does not want us to be fearful or anxious about anything. Fear robs us of life and energy that could be used to achieve so much. It prevents us from reasoning and trusting God for a needed breakthrough.
Accordingly, I implore of you, trust God for whatever you need to accomplish in 2018. Of course, your goals must be in accordance to His will for your life. He is able to do more than you can imagine, and He takes great delight in blessing people. After all, does not the well-known biblical passage say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life?” This clearly speaks to God’s love for humanity. So, given this reality, I can be optimistic. However, it is necessary that one does his part. That is, in anticipation of a job, one must continue to apply and, while waiting, enhance skills and knowledge; or, if someone desires a spouse, pay attention to self and attend functions and events where one is likely to meet others. In other words, wishing is not enough. Being active in anticipation, while maintaining trust in God, is crucial for the desired outcome. Indeed, a new year offers opportunity for a fresh start or to try again.
 
Learning from the Past
            The change from the old to the new also offers opportunity to learn valuable lessons in moving forward. For instance, ask yourself, what did I do last year? Were my activities positive? How did they impact my life? What about friends? Were they positive? Were we helpful to each other? Did I grow as a result? What should I do differently? Essentially, we can benefit from the past by learning what not to do or how to do differently. Therefore, failures of the past can be the stepping stones to better things in a new year. Hence, I encourage positive thinking notwithstanding how difficult things have been or are, for there is always a way out with God.
UNC women's basketball coach, 
Sylvia Hatchell, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013 survived, and on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, made history by joining the elite few in her field with her 1,000th career win. Four years ago, life nor continuation of a successful career seemed possible for her. Likewise, you may not see a way out given your present condition of health or finances, but God can change anything; the key is to embrace Him and trust Him unreservedly.  While I cannot tell you exactly what He will do and when He will do it, I can assure you that He will act in your behalf. The year 2018 can be a time of fulfillment with God! And the true happiness you will experience with Him will remain throughout the year!

The Gift that Extends Beyond the Current Season

The Gift that Extends Beyond the Current Season
 
gift

It is that time again when many look forward to receiving gifts, bonuses and surprises. Additionally, it is that time when many are tasked with the question, “What do I purchase my child, spouse, parent or the special friend?” Finding the right gift is not always easy.  However, I share with you what I consider the best gift that one can give or receive which, incidentally, extends beyond the current season to every month, week, or day thereafter this; and it does not cost one anything. All one must do is receive it.  What could that gift be, and how can it be obtained? John 4:10 describes it simply as “the gift of God.” To clarify, a Samaritan woman who was asked by Jesus for water to drink shifted the conversation to the subject of nationality and therefore, Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (ESV John 4:10).
 
Why Such a Gift?
The “Gift of God” which is true, real, and most relevant is found in the person of Jesus Christ who essentially constitutes the total package for humanity.  Anything that one could ever need or desire is found in or could be supplied by Jesus. That may or may not be money, true and lasting happiness, purpose, friendship or other material needs. No wonder a familiar hymn carries the words, “Jesus is all the world to me.”  How true! Consider what he brought to persons many centuries ago.  He restored life to the son of a woman who was being carried to the grave (Luke 7:11-17).  He brought healing to a paralytic man (Mark 2). He offered sight to the blind man who for many years of his life never saw anything, but Jesus changed all of that (John 9).  Additionally, He placed importance upon children who were being run away by misunderstanding disciples, who thought Jesus was just too busy for little ones (Mark 10:13-16).  But how mistaken! Also, He fed 5,000 men besides women and children who otherwise could have starved without such an intervention (John 6). He offered hope and an alternative to a Jailer inclined to commit suicide (Acts 16). These all speak to the relevance of “the Gift of God” at work in behalf of men, women and children. Imagine, “If we knew the Gift of God” and would fully embrace Him, life will take on new meaning. 
 
The Relevance of This Gift
If God can do the above, then certainly He can do what is required for us today.  That involves not just supplying our needs but, above all, giving us a sense of hope and an assurance of a better tomorrow.  Essentially, Jesus is able to provide food where cupboards lay bare; He is able to give healing to those stricken with diseases of all kind.  He can defray the expense of a college student as well as provide a much-needed house or a car for that matter.  In fact, Jesus can do any and everything that we may encounter today or will ever encounter.  Personally, I cannot think of anything close to that. The Bible makes it clear that there is “nothing too hard for Him to do for us.”  If you can think of any issue that constitutes a challenge or difficulty, remember “with the Gift of God” it is not an issue for God. As some say locally, “It is a piece of cake,” meaning “no challenge.”
 
What Should Be Our Response to the Gift of God?
With a gift so complete, relevant, timely, and all encompassing, shouldn’t there be rejoicing and merry making?  And such could only be the case when one embraces Christ.  In the words of the popular Christmas hymn, we should all exclaim, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel has come to thee O’ Israel.”  In addition, one should be led to shout, “Joy to the world the Lord has come.” Then, the response should advance to one of worship. In fact, the following songs convey the message of worship: “O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us endure Him, Christ the Lord.”  And this is best coupled with the lyrics, “O come to my heart Lord Jesus there is room in my heart for thee.” Is there room in your heart or on your agenda for Jesus? A simple prayer inviting Jesus to come into your heart can make all the difference to a purpose-less and dull state. Don't you want that joy now and forever? It can be yours now! As Jesus declared to the woman at the well who eventually embraced Him, He says to us today, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (ESV John 4:10).
On behalf of my wife and the Adventist Community, I wish for you spirit-filled holidays and a blessed and purposeful New Year!

Utilizing the Gifts and Talents

Utilizing the Gifts and Talents


 
gift
Availing Myself of the Gift(s)
            As already noted, everyone is endowed with at least one gift, talent or ability. However, I believe that there are other gifts that lie dormant needing cultivation and honing. One with the gift of discernment can usually detect what may not be visible to the “naked eye.” Nevertheless, discernment is but one step, for equally important is the need of an individual to avail him or herself of the opportunities presented. And what better place than in your local church to get started? Have you considered that some of the greatest medical personnel, teachers, singers and speakers got their start in church in some youth meeting, Pathfinder Club, Sabbath or Sunday school, or at their elementary school? With Youth Day as well as the necessity to find teachers weekly for Sabbath School, many a talent has developed; and persons are benefitting financially and otherwise.
            As I move around, persons tell me about their past involvement in the Pathfinder Club as well as other areas that gave them a start, or instilled confidence in them.  Unfortunately, when persons are reluctant to avail themselves, choosing to turn down opportunity after opportunity, saying, “I cannot do it –people will laugh at me,” or “John is better at this, check him out,” they fail to cultivate potentials.  It is possible that some of you reading this understand what I am attempting to explain. I can think of a dozen persons right now who seldom got involved, but with the establishment of new congregations, such persons have amazed themselves and others.  They are doing what they never thought would happen –playing the piano, doing the weekly bulletin, serving as Sabbath school superintendents, or leading out in Youth meetings.
 
Availing Self Yields Dividends
            Now today, with such involvement and exposure, these persons are holding top and responsible positions in the church and in society locally and overseas. In fact, some own businesses and are applying skills and knowledge acquired from the Pathfinder and Master Guide clubs. Some have even acquired an added language through missionary service in a foreign land. Some have taken on a spouse because of the direction the gift, talent and /or ability took them.
.
What Is the Point?
            Referencing the Adult Sabbath School Lesson of Sunday, June 7, 2009, the author, in speaking on the parable of the Talents, makes four salient points that should be digested by each Christian parent and every individual:
Reality number one: We all have talents. No one is left without some talent. That is the first truth Jesus wanted to impress upon His disciples.
Reality number two: We do not all have the same number of talents. It is a fact of life that we will have to accept. Some people are gifted in many ways while others are not so multi-talented. Those who have several talents should never look down upon others who have fewer talents. Jesus' point is clear: The quantity of our talents is not the most important; what we do with whatever we have been given is what matters.
Reality number three: Some refuse to use their talents. Some never recognize the talents they have. Sadly, no one reminded them of their gifts. Or they did realize their gifts but, for a variety of reasons, refused to invest any energy in developing them.
Reality number four: Not using your talents is serious business. The "worthless servant" gets no second chance. He is thrown "into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 25:30, NIV)—the symbolic description of the utter nothingness of eternal death. Not using what God has entrusted to us not only impairs us in this life but jeopardizes our eternal life. This means that the issue of being faithful stewards is not something that belongs to the periphery of our Christian experience; it is the vital characteristic of discipleship.
 
Recessions May Bring out Hidden Talents
            Has it occurred to you that the present economic meltdown may be the catalyst that God uses to bring out of us that creativeness He placed there, but prior to now there was no need to cultivate and nurture that gift, as everything was going well? Now that the security of the job is gone and bills are piling up, we are forced to look within and explore what potentials God had already placed there. We may be pleasantly surprised to discover some unused talents

Are You Thankful?

Are You Thankful?

thanks

            Generally, folks regard November as a month of thanksgiving, especially the latter part of the month. However, one’s orientation will determine what thanksgiving means. Accordingly, I offer a few thoughts for consideration.
 
Gratitude - A State of Mind
The Apostle Paul enjoins us “to give thanks always.” What does that mean? Is one being called upon to give thanks under all circumstances? How can one be positive when he or she has been afflicted with pain as result of the murder of a promising son? How can a person be thankful when he or she has been made redundant and Christmas is nearing? How can one be thankful when sickness and attending costs prevail? Notwithstanding the aforementioned, we can be grateful and positive!
 
Gratitude Does Not Condone Wrong Doing
Being thankful is not akin to condoning wrongdoing when one displays gratitude under trying conditions. Gratitude does not mean that one will not experience pain, as it is only human to do so. However, a spirit of gratitude teaches one to look for the good even in every negative case. Consider Paul who advocated thankfulness always. In the book Ephesians, he is in prison, a place not known to be a pleasant and welcoming environment, nonetheless he describes it as being “in heavenly places.” It was not the place but the mindset, cognizant of Christ’s presence, adopted by the Apostle that made the difference. The same experience can be ours. Flip the coin and think: had Paul taken the negative approach, he would have risen no higher than his thoughts; and life would have been one of numerous complaints- and lacking in fulfillment and purpose as designed by God.
 
Life Is Not Always Predictable
Life does not offer a bed of roses, children without issues, spouse without fault, or perfect church members. Politicians and preachers; maids and mathematicians; athletes and astronauts -all have shortcomings, for they are all human. So the reality is that as long as we live with another person, we will have days of disappointments and frustration. It is possible that if you have not lost a relative, it is likely to happen, as death is real and part of our lot. So if I accept these realities of life –choosing not to dwell on the negatives- I am more likely to find the good all around and certainly in spouse, child, friend and colleagues. Whatever we look for we will find. It is said that gold miners in South Africa sift through tons of dirt to find precious diamonds, but some persons pass precious diamonds looking for dirt.
 
Potential to Change
Change to positive thinking and action is possible in every situation, otherwise the Bible is a myth and Christians are mistaken. I choose to think positively, for within each person, even the ones creating havoc and instilling fear in our land is potential for good. It may require you or me to elevate the thinking of such persons to see their God-given potential as something for good. Each person is designed for greatness, as each has been entrusted with talents and abilities possibly untapped and yet to be recognized and cultivated. Christian writer Ellen White explains, “If human beings would open the windows of the soul heavenward, in appreciation of the divine gifts, a flood of healing virtue would pour in” (MH 116.1). Additionally, White says that “Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise” (MH 251.1).
 
Application
This period of thanksgiving can translate into a daily and lasting experience when I begin to embrace a thankful disposition- choosing to look for the good in others and in me. Sometimes we can find it most difficult to forgive ourselves. Can you imagine if many of us would decide to be thankful and engage in thanks-living? Our nation would experience a positive turn-around. Too many persons are angry –angry with parent, sibling or friend, as one might have been betrayed or abused by a trusted one. True, there might be a reason to be angry, especially at the high rate of murders in our country, but being upset unnecessarily and remaining that way stands to ruin our lives. We need to release some things and move on. Medical Research indicates ‘That positive emotions lead to biochemical changes in the body.” St. Francis of Assissi says, “Help me to change the things that I can and to accept the things that I cannot change.” You can be thankful!

I Believe in My Church

I Believe in My Church

lovechurch
 
Almost daily the Seventh-day Adventist Church is accused of wrongdoing or objectionable practice. Admittedly, the church, which comprises of you and me, is not immune to missteps. In fact, it does err. However, I have learned from experience to apply the principle of “not rushing to judgment,” but instead “checking the credibility of the source of the accusation” and “researching the charge.” A case in point relates to a recent email widely circulated about the GC president writing to the pope, or one last year by Andrew Henriquez, via his Prophecy Again ministry, captioned: “First Open Transgender SDA Elder under Pastor Stoltz, Hollywood Church! Is this the First of Many?” Through the presentation on You Tube, it appears that Henriquez is indicting the Seventh-day Adventist Church generally with wrongdoing. There seems to be no attempt to isolate an issue associated with a local church. In fact, if one were to view some of Henriquez’ video clips on You Tube, one would see this trend of broad brushing. Accordingly, I thought to research this latest accusation. In doing so, I have applied the principles mentioned above.
 
Don’t Be Quick to Judge
            For starts, yes, there is a Seventh-day Adventist Church by the name Hollywood SDA Church, and the pastor is Branden Stoltz. In my attempt to verify the information, I tried reaching the union president for California where the church is located, but I was unsuccessful. A pastoral colleague, Barrington Brennen, unknown to me, was researching the same issue and tried to reach Pastor Stoltz by both telephone and email without success as well. Upon further inquiry, I checked with another pastor who resides in the United States and was acquainted with the church. He informed me that while he knew the church, he did not have any information about the matter in question. However, he was aware that the church has a specific ministry, which reaches out to gays and lesbians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Still not satisfied, I pursued a 21-page document purported by Henriquez to be the basis for the Hollywood’s decision to choose transgender/gay/lesbians as leaders, for he claims that the document reveals that the Seventh-day Adventist church accepts the LGBT lifestyle.
 
Do the Research
            Therefore, I researched and located the 21-page document and examined it. Titled "An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care," it is a Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Position Paper voted on October 9, 2015.  Consider the following excerpt, "Scripture condemns heterosexual immorality no less than homosexual practice and warns against any harboring of lustful thoughts and desires for such practices. While homosexuality is a distortion of the Edenic ideal, ‘there is no condemnation’ for homosexually oriented persons as long as they ‘are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1) and do not harbor or act upon their orientation and propensities. The same principle applies to those who struggle with heterosexual immorality (see Matt 5:27–28; Rom 6:1–23; 8:1–4; Col 3:1–10; James 1:14–15). Even as some individuals may experience a miraculous deliverance from sinful heterosexual and homosexual urges, others may have to wrestle with such tendencies all their lives (see Gal 5:16–25). One is not culpable for these involuntary tendencies, but for acting upon them either in imagination or actual practice."
            However, on page 16, the following section has been misquoted to sanction placing homosexuals in leadership of the church, but observe the statement for your-self. It says, “All persons, including practicing homosexuals, should be made to feel welcome to attend our churches while non-practicing gay persons should be welcomed into membership and church office. All should receive spiritual care from the Church (Gal 6:1).” The keyword is “non-practicing” but unfortunately Henriquez and others apparently ignore this and seek to profit their ministries by sensationalizing parts of the article, albeit irresponsibly, to their advantage, but we must be persons who search and enquire always believing in God’s church. The focus here is reaching to all; after all, did not Christ say, “I came to seek and save that which was lost?” How can the church of Christ do any less for those in any sin be it adultery, stealing, dishonesty and the like? Reaching out to such persons affected is not the same as condoning.
 
Check the Source – Examine the One Bringing the Charge
Quite frankly, I do not know Henriquez and could not find a biography of him on line. One pastor told me that he is considered to be an off-shoot-like Adventist member.  I could not confirm this, but I do view some of his teachings as extreme, irresponsible and sensational, which beg the question of his intention or objective. Nevertheless, I implore you to have confidence in the church and its leaders; and take the approach of not rushing to judgment, but research carefully the charge and the one bringing the accusation, as the truth stands on its own feet. Additionally, persons like Henriquez and their anti-church teaching should be avoided.

The Importance of a Spiritual Life

The Importance of a Spiritual Life


 

Naturally Spiritual!
It is a bit presumptuous to ask pastors and elders to give attention to spirituality.  After all, it is assumed that those involved in spiritual work will be spiritual. However, those of us who are pastors and elders know too well that spirituality is not automatic. It is a daily experience so much so that the Apostle Paul argues, “I die daily.”  As for Jesus, Ellen White said that “while He dwelt among men, He was often in prayer.” He did this so “that He might come forth braced for duty and trial. He is our example in everything.” Additionally, she remarked, “And if the Savior of men, the Son of God, felt the need of prayer, how much more should feeble, sinful mortals feel the necessity of fervent, constant prayer” (STC p. 93). Accordingly, it is crucial that each servant of God gives priority to time with God, as this is absolutely critical for ministry and more so for life. By this I speak of a structured devotional life.
 
Take Nothing for Granted!
            It is said that Songs of Solomon 1:6 is possibly the saddest verse in scripture as it says, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards. But my vineyard I have not kept.” Though the context speaks of a lady caring for her body, but in a spiritual sense I see a pastor caring for his spiritual life. Put another way, the Apostle Paul writes, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
As pastors and elders, we need to pay attention to our own souls as well. It is necessary to give and minister to the needs of others, but to do so without addressing one’s soul could be risky, irresponsible and deadly. Recall the Apostle Peter who explained to the lame man at the Temple gate in Acts 3, “Such as I have give I unto thee.”  Essentially one can deduce that a person can only impart what he or she has. Says Peter, “such as I have.” What is it that we have? It must be more than just ability; it must be a spirit-directed life, and that comes as a result of quality time spent with God each day in personal devotion.
 
The Minister’s Devotional Life
            It is fundamental that we study the Sabbath School Lesson as a part of our devotion. It does not look good for pastors and elders not to raise their hand to the question, “All who studied –please indicate by raising your hand.” Also, the study of the Quarterly shows that it is important, as members tend to look to us. Another benefit is that it allows for pastors and elders to study and review church doctrines, positions, themes and various books. In fact, the quarterlies should be kept, as they constitute commentaries. Prayer is a must! I speak of prayer that involves praise and thanksgiving, penitence or confession for sin (yes, we are sinners but saved by grace) and intercession for our family, church members, community and government.  Of course, the Bible will be used in the process. Also, personally, I find that reading some other book can be quite inspirational and supplying to the soul. 

Praying with Your Eyes Open During the Week of Prayer

Praying with Your Eyes Open During the Week of Prayer
 
eyesopen

As we commence our annual fall week of prayer, which involves a set of prepared spirit-filled readings and a greater focus on prayer, I share the following article written a few years ago. However, I believe that you will still find it a blessing.
Most of us grew up in homes where we were taught to close our eyes when praying. However, today’s topic is “Praying with Your Eyes Open.” Such a caption is bound to stimulate some reaction sparking some of you to ask, “Is it possible to pray with one’s eyes open?”  In many of the local religious settings, it is not something that is practiced.  However, I hasten to explain that I am not referring to one’s literal eyes but instead the opening of the mind to God as one communes with Him. This is praying with one’s eyes open.  The thought is one I came across some years ago when I purchased a book with the same caption written by Dr. Richard Pratt, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary.  Essentially, the book helps one to see what is involved in prayer, and hence this article as I focus on prayer.
 
What Is Prayer?
For starts, I note that prayer is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, as it is not listed among the spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. I feel that it is for a good reason that God arranged it this way.  It is no secret that there are some persons who believe that they cannot pray and should not pray, preferring to call upon others as such persons who are perceived to be gifted in the area. However, Ellen White, an inspired author, says, “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” ( --SC 93.)  So simply put, prayer is communicating with God as to a friend, denoting a sense of intimacy that God desires with us.  Is it any wonder that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father?” That speaks to a father-child relationship. An understanding of this lends to praying with one’s eyes open. So it is possible for anyone to come to God in prayer, for it is not our words that impress God but the contrite nature of our heart, and therefore any and everyone can get the attention of God.
 
Aspects of Prayer
In Psalm 54.2, we find three important points: the One to whom prayer ought to be directed, and that is God.  Also, we find the one who ought to pray, and that is each human being; and what is involved in our prayers namely our words.  Observe the passage, “Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.”  Praying with our eyes open involves knowing to whom we address our prayer.  It is not as the Pharisee who prayed thus within himself (Luke 18:11). Instead, it is like that of the Publican who prayed to God (Luke 18:13). Also, David explains that it is us, and not special Prayer Warriors praying to God; and this we do by our words (no negative thoughts intended regarding Prayer Warriors. They serve a useful purpose). We do not need to impress God, for He already knows our hearts.  Through this passage, David helps us to understand that we have a God who is eager to have us come to Him. John Scriven, the old Hymn Writer, captured this idea when he penned, “What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear; What a privilege to carry everything to God in pray!  O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
 
When Last Did You Pray with Your Eyes Open?
Praying with one’s eyes open is praying with the understanding, knowledge and confidence that God is not only our Creator, but that He is also our Friend.  He is One in whom we can trust with any and everything.  I know that this may not seem so, as some time there may be those who feel that their sins are so heinous that not even God can forgive.  So many are misled and mistaken regarding God’s nature! I need not tell you that this is the work of the devil in getting us to harbor such negative thoughts.  Truth is –we may come just as we are, for God will not reject or ignore one of a contrite heart as already noted.  We need God, because without Him we could not survive. And the good news is that He has made it possible through the means of prayer for all people to reach Him. So let us pray for our nation, as there seems no solution for crime and the fear of crime; let’s pray for those who lead our nation, for they need more than ordinary wisdom; let’s pray for our youth that they will make wise choices; let’s pray for abused spouses and children; let’s pray for the sick and afflicted; yes, let’s pray prayers of thanksgiving; for it is in praying that we begin to see God and understand His will and love for us.

“Faith in Christ”

Faith in Christ

FaithinChrist


Most Seventh-day Adventists are acquainted with the well-known text of Revelation 14:12 which speaks to “keeping the commandments of God and having the faith of Jesus” as two characteristics of Christians. However, what is less likely known are the different shades of meaning of the phrase “the faith of Jesus.” What exactly does that mean? Does it mean the faith in terms of a system of beliefs that Jesus embraced, or the faith that Jesus exercised, or faith in Jesus?
 
An Historical Look
I find the work of church historian George Knight in his work, A Search for Identity, most helpful in clarifying the evolution of Adventists’ understanding of this expression, “the faith of Jesus.” For some of the pioneers and early believers, they regarded the term “faith of Jesus” to mean “a body of beliefs” (The Search for Identity – Knight p. 107). One of the church leaders in 1850 indicated that Revelation 14:12 “had three major points of identification. It indicated (1) a people who were to be patient in waiting for the coming of Jesus; (2) a people who were keeping the commandments of God while waiting; and (3) a people who ‘kept the faith’ as a body of belief in such things as ‘baptism, Lord’s supper, washing the saints’ feet,” and so on (PT, April 1850, 67). Put another way, “the faith of Jesus” of Revelation 14:12 was obeying the commands of Jesus in addition to the commands of the Father” (knight, 107).  The first Seventh-day Adventist Missionary, J. N. Andrews, subscribed to the same view.
 
At the General Conference of 1888 - Clarifying Revelation 14:12
At the 1888 General Conference Session, two young preachers, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, challenged the traditional view of Revelation 14:12. They connected “the faith of Jesus” to the righteousness of Christ. Ellen White held a similar position. In commenting on Revelation 14:12, she asserted, “The message given in Minneapolis was ‘not alone the commandments of God---a part of the third angel’s message—but the faith of Jesus, which comprehends more than is generally supposed.’” She added, “The third angel’s message needed ‘to be proclaimed in all its parts. . .. If we proclaim the commandments of God and leave out the other half [the faith of Jesus] scarcely touched the message is marred in our hands” (MS 30, 1889). Later, she would discuss the meaning of the faith of Jesus, which “is talked of, but not understood.” She would come to see “the faith of Jesus” as “Jesus becoming our sin bearer that He might become our sin-pardoning Savior. . .. He came to our world and took our sins that we might take His righteousness. And faith in the ability of Christ to save us amply and fully and entirely is the faith of Jesus” (ibid., p. 108). George Knight pointed out that this was no new light to her, as she was preaching this from 1844. “Thus she, along with Jones and Waggoner, had come to see the faith of Jesus as faith in Jesus” (ibid., p. 109). And may I add that the Greek language supports both translations, “faith of Jesus” and “faith in Jesus.” “With that understanding in place,” as noted by George Knight, “Adventism for the first time had a clear understanding of Revelation 14:12 in its combining of the law and gospel.”
 
Implication of This Understanding
            Given the understanding provided of Revelation 14:12, Ellen White wrote that, “Of all professed Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world” (A Search for Identity, p. 106). Additionally, she contended, “Adventists should preach both the law and the gospel.” She pointed out, “Too many Adventists had not seen that ‘Jesus Christ is the glory of the law.’” She further explained, “. . .one of the great lacks of Adventism was that too many Adventists had ‘a correct theory [doctrinal understanding] of the truth,’ but had not brought the loving attributes of Christ’s character into their hearts and practical life” (MS 21, 1891). Could the same be said of some today, that we could explain doctrines but do not reflect the love of Jesus towards one another, family and non-member? Christ in the heart ought to manifest a loving and tolerant disposition toward others. Five hundred years later since the Protestant Reformation protestants should be uplifting Christ and His righteousness. For Adventists, 129 years after the pivotal 1888 General Conference, we should be major proponents of a balanced gospel –uplifting Christ but not at the expense of downplaying the law or the righteousness of Christ. As noted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:31: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

Should We Continue Ingathering?

Should We Continue Ingathering?

ingath1

 

Earlier this year, I visited one of the local fields in the union region and was most gratified to hear and witness the excitement with which the leadership talked about the ingathering program. They surpassed their goal by double digits as I recall. In fact, most of their churches not only reached their church goal but exceeded it. As a result, most of them, according to policy, would receive a percentage of the overflow for appropriate community programs.  Coming out of that field I asked myself, “Is Ingathering Still Relevant?”  The answer is “yes,” as the cries for assistance has grown, and we assist the marginalized and needy as mandated by Christ. Accordingly, I thought to share the following with the hope of inspiring a resurgence in ingathering. After all, the year is young and we have ample time to plan.
 
Consider the History and Philosophy
Since 1908 the Seventh-day Adventist Church has conducted an annual Ingathering crusade, endeavoring to reach nonmembers with a spiritual message. According to an official statement of the church, “They believe that Christ is the only hope for a world plagued with problems such as runaway crime, devastating wars, polluted environment, and other social ills. The Adventist objective of teaching all nations the everlasting gospel of our Lord and the commandments of God sums up their reason for a steady, consistent witness to the world.”
Furthermore, Seventh-day Adventists “believe in a wholistic concept of man and attempt to minister to his social, physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions.” Wherefore, they consider their duty as more than just “preaching the Word.” Instead, they regard “such activities as a healing ministry for the sick, the distribution of food and clothing, and the education of children and youth” as equally important as to reach the total person.
 
The Church’s Philosophy on Reaching the Total Person Is the Same
Given the fact that the philosophy of caring for humanity is the same, then one can rightly assume that the need for ingathering is still vital, necessary and relevant. So the million-dollar question is “How do we get our members motivated and excited about Ingathering?” Well, permit me to return to my opening story. The Cayman Islands Conference came up with a strategy to motivate its members so as to get involved as opposed to just giving the funds from their wallets or purses. Realistic goals were discussed and embraced. A time line was accepted and an effective and attractive brochure highlighting “labors of love” and ministries of care was published in color with clear photos and the right resolution. And as it is said, the rest is history, as the director and assistant director inspired the membership to get involved; and they did get involved!
Now, we, too, can get involved and realize a similar success. Again I note, “What a time to plan now with the year still young!” So later, when the time comes for the ingathering launch, we can reach and surpass our goal. Therefore, let’s get sharp photos of our good deeds and catalog them. Let us record some of our public and community activities. A brochure containing such information provides a good tool for members to go out and ingather. And with such preparation beginning now, the ingathering drive needs not linger on. The goal can be reached when more of our people are involved.  
 
The Objectives of the Ingathering Ministry
           
          According to the IAD Working Policy, the Ingathering Initiative carries the following objectives:
a. To bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.
b. To become acquainted with people who need spiritual and material assistance.
c. To bring to the attention of the public the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
d. To provide opportunity for people to enroll in free Bible and health courses.
e. To leave Christian literature with each person visited.
f. To give every individual an opportunity to contribute his time and monetary gifts to meet human needs, and in this way bring to the world the Biblical message of an unfailing hope in God. All are invited to join hands in this humanitarian and spiritual undertaking.
          So contact your Personal Ministries Leader at the local church, and offer to become an active participant in this vital, necessary and relevant ministry, ever mindful that “The longest journey begins with that initial step.” You can make that initial but significant step today. Get involved and make a difference in the lives of others.

Bringing Out the Best in Us

Bringing Out the Best in Us
 
While viewing a touching story on MSNBC News, on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, regarding the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, I was moved to write this piece.  The report told of a police officer or fire fighter (not recalling which) from New York who became restless after not hearing from his relatives living in a remote area in the hills in Puerto Rico.  Consequently, he and some of his colleagues traveled to Puerto Rico and made their trek up the hills in search of his relatives. On his journey, he encountered downed trees and electrical poles, and after much effort and danger, he eventually reached the location. With the camera rolling, it was a moving experience as he found his relatives apparently well. They embraced one another for the longest, no doubt grateful for life. He would later learn that they had sufficient food supplies for another week. Imagine if he had not risked the trip what could have eventually happened?
 

Bringing Out the Best
            As I recall the efforts of the government in evacuating people and networking with churches, the Red Cross, and the private sector, it is obvious that they touched and impacted so many people in a positive way. In such circumstances, people go beyond the call of duty by becoming their brother’s keepers without any thought of remuneration or praise. I vividly recall such selflessness in a visit to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands a few weeks ago. There were two church sisters assisted by other church members, mainly young people, helping their church in reaching the community with necessary tarps, clothing, and food.
            Then, while on an assessment tour to Inagua with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and his team, I again witnessed a caring disposition in the driver who transported several of us as we visited the Morton Salt Company and other areas of the island. He essentially epitomized many others on the island. The same was found in Mayaguana, another island of the Bahamas in the south. Also, there were numerous police and defense force officers who met us at the airports and without showing any signs of a “breakdown,” displayed courage and strength in describing to us what it felt like in the hurricane and how they were helping residents to return to a state of normalcy. Kudos to the pilots and operators who made their aircrafts available to assist the government.
 
Vulnerability of Our Country
            The sites of Barbuda; Key West, Florida; Puerto Rico; Dominica; and Ragged Island, the Bahamas really brought home the vulnerability of our country as it could be decimated at any moment. The stark reality that our houses, in mere minutes, could be reduced to rubble with everything dear to us lost has registered clearly in my mind. These recent catastrophes clearly underscore that we are that close to destruction or death. This in itself ought to prevent us from worshiping transitory things and motivate us to be forever grateful for each day for life and our relationship with God.
 
 
We Must be Willing to Help Others
Additionally, recent events should remind us to be caring and supportive of one another.  I do support the local Christian Council in standing by the side of the government to help the people of Dominica by allowing some of its students to relocate to the Bahamas to be accommodated in public and private schools for a period of time.  I am mindful that some may have opposed the gesture because of a lack of information. But, now that information has been provided by the Bahamian government, we as Bahamians should help our Caribbean brothers and sisters because it is the right thing to do. Let us remember that the hurricane season is still upon us and until it closes, we have to bear in mind that there may come a hurricane that wreaks such havoc on our dear Bahamaland that we, too, would be declared 50% uninhabitable or worse. How would we fare if others chose not to come to our aid? Yes, it will inconvenience us for a period, but inconvenience may also lead to some untold blessings. May God help us and our brothers and sisters on the other island nations around us!

Burden Bearing

Burden Bearing

burden

 
The following article was inspired by The Adult Sabbath school lesson for Tuesday, September 19, 2017. Therefore, I thought to share with you as it is worth reading again.
 

Defining the Term “Burden”
The author notes that, “The Greek word translated ‘burden’ in Galatians 6:2 is baros. It literally referred to a heavy weight or load that someone had to carry a long distance. Over time, however, it became a metaphor for any type of trouble or difficulty, such as the burden of a long day’s work on a hot day (Matt. 20:12).” Additionally, the author explained, “While the immediate context of Paul’s injunction to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ certainly includes the moral lapses of the fellow believers mentioned in the preceding verse, the concept of burden bearing he has in mind is much broader. Paul’s instructions reveal several spiritual insights about the Christian life that should not be overlooked.”
 
All Christians Carry Burdens
As noted by Timothy George who was quoted in the lesson, “All Christians have burdens. Our burdens may differ in size and shape and will vary in kind depending on the providential order of our lives. For some it is the burden of temptation and the consequences of a moral lapse, as in verse 1 here. For others it may be a physical ailment, or a mental disorder, or a family crisis, or lack of employment, or demonic oppression, or a host of other things; but no Christian is exempt from burdens.” — Galatians, p. 413.
Additionally, the lessons point out, “God does not intend for us to bear all our burdens alone. Unfortunately, we often are far more willing to help others to carry their burdens than we are in allowing others to help us shoulder our own. Paul condemns this attitude of self-sufficiency (Gal. 6:3) as human pride, when we refuse to admit that we also have needs and weaknesses. Such pride not only robs us of the comfort of others but also prevents others from fulfilling the ministry that God has called them to perform.” This aforementioned sentence really pricked me in knowing that I could prevent someone from fulfilling the ministry God has called him/her to perform.
 
Bearing One Another Burdens – God’s Purpose for His People
Interestingly, the author observes, “God calls us to bear the burdens of others because it is through our actions that God’s comfort is made manifest. This concept is built on the fact that the church is the body of Christ.  An illustration of this is in Paul’s words, ‘But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus’ (2 Cor. 7:6, ESV).” Additionally, he states, “God’s comfort was not given to Paul through his private prayer and waiting upon the Lord, but through the companionship of a friend and through the good news which he brought.” Quoting J. W. Stott, the author adds, “Human friendship, in which we bear one another’s burdens, is part of the purpose of God for His people.” — The Message of Galatians, p. 158.
Finally, the author concludes the lesson with the following thought provoking questions, “What keeps you from seeking help — pride, shame, lack of trust, a sense of self-sufficiency? If in need, why not seek out someone whom you trust and ask this person to share your burdens?”. This indeed a lesson worth sharing!

Spared from Hurricane Irma - Was It Prayer or Luck?

Spared from Hurricane Irma - Was It Prayer or Luck?

Irma

 
A recent editorial in one of the dailies, (The Nassau Guardian, Tuesday, September12, 2017) in the Bahamas, evoked a flurry of discussions regarding storms and the impact that prayers have on the outcome.  The editorial noted, “the weather has nothing to do with gods, prayer, religious icons or chants.  Rain falls. Earthquakes happen. Volcanoes erupt. Hurricanes pass over. Tornados ravage. If you are in the path of these natural phenomena you could be hurt or killed”. However, the editor added, “A prayer would not weaken a storm. Some are lucky not to be in the way of dangerous natural phenomena.  Others are not.  There is no divine hand deciding who lives or dies in hurricanes, for example, based on the diligence of prayer or religious devotion.”
 

Position of Some Christians

The above does raise questions especially to Christians as they believe just the opposite – that prayer, while not magical, may result in a changed course of a natural event or disaster.  It is their opinion that God controls nature and as such, can determine the what, where and the impact of a hurricane, earth quake or tornado.  In fact, Christians believe that one’s daily life comes under the divine control of God.
 

Can both be correct?

Given these the two views enunciated of luck and prayer, can the editorial and the Christians both be correct?  Usually, it is believed that it is one or the other; right or wrong; black or white; either or. But not the two.  However, when it comes to God and theology, there is what is referred to as “a tension” meaning that it can be both.  And in this instance, there is some value to both positions.  Thus, begs the question what is it?
            The view that nature has laws and regulations is not unfounded.  In fact, there are systems and there are laws governing nature and the weakening of those laws and a lack of adherence to can result in negative and disastrous happenings, such as global warming and land erosion.  Additionally, it is anticipated that the sun will rise at a given time and set at the appropriate time. Also, depending on where one lives in the world, he or she can expect disasters of varying natures.  But does that preclude the ability of God to intervene, alter or prevent the natural course of situations? The answer is absolutely “no”.  God is God and as creator and sustainer, He can determine the course of situations.
            Therefore, Christians are not wrong in advocating that prayer was a determining factor in saving lives in the Bahamas from the recent passage of Hurricane Irma.  To explain, the Bible is replete with examples of such happenings. For instance, the turning of the sun 10 degrees backward (Isa. 38:8); introducing rain when it had never rained before (Gen.7:4); allowing a huge fish to swallow a human being and that and being regurgitated alive (Jonah 1:17) ; being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unscathed or touched by the fire (Daniel 3:20-29); going into a den of ferocious lions and not being touched (Daniel 6:23-27); walking on water (Matt. 14:29) etc.  Without question, the aforementioned all go against the various laws of nature, clearly underscoring that God can do exactly what He chooses to do and when and where He determines.  It is this reality that Christians live with each day mindful that the God they serve is alive and very much in control. 
 

A Mystery Remains

However, there is a major question that has been implied in the editorial and it is this, “Why would God spare inhabitants of the Bahamas by diverting a storm from many of its major islands, but did not do the same for the people in St. Martin, Cuba, Anguilla, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Florida and Georgia?”  This is indeed a mystery and only God can ultimately answer.   However, what can be known is that,God does not always intervene in situations and sometimes He does.  At times, He may choose to save one person out of a crowd.  We can recall stories of a plane crashing and most the people surviving.  For someone not fully aware of how God works may interpret that as being luck for the survivor/s whereas a Christian would see that as a direct divine intervention.  Quite frankly, that is how I see it and thus both outlooks have some merit in their positions.  When one encounters God in a dramatic sense of a rescue or deliverance, the normal objective statement may transition to one of subjectivity.  By that I mean a position changes because of a personal experience and encounter with the Lord. And therefore, such person may say “I know that God is a prayer answering God, and I know that He can do anything He chooses to do.”  The Hymnologist Fanny Crosby fully understood that as implied in the lyrics of one of her favorite hymns, “This is my story, this is my song praising my Savior all the day long.” Therefore, again I wish to note that the diversion of Irma was not a matter of luck but an act of God.  And as for the unfortunate experience of persons elsewhere we will understand it better by and by.  But until then, the child of God will keep on trusting in Jesus. According to Romans 8:28, nothing happens by chance in the life of one who loves God even if he can explain it.

EIGHT OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT STRUGGLES PASTORS FACE

EIGHT OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT STRUGGLES PASTORS FACE

ord

The following article was written by Thom Rainer on March 1, 2014. Thom is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, which relate to pastoral concerns and issues. I believe that you will find the article relevant.
 
Says Thom, “Before me are handwritten notes that I took over a few weeks from various social media interactions, emails, and a few phone calls. The total is nearly 200 separate communications to me. I kept a record of them for one simple reason: I wanted to identify the greatest pain points of pastors today.”
 
He adds, “In many ways, there are no surprises. Indeed, I doubt most of you will be surprised at my findings. If nothing else, it is a good reminder of how we can help our pastors, and how we can pray for them. Of course, you will quickly see that they are not mutually exclusive. They are listed in the order of frequency I noted.”
 

  1. Criticism and conflict. “I do have a few observations about this number one issue. First, it seems to be growing, and pastors seem to be experiencing greater challenges. Second, most of the issues of conflict are not doctrinal issues. Indeed, most are trivial issues. Finally, very few pastors are equipped and trained to deal with the steady stream of critics and crises.”
  2. Family problems. “Many pastors struggle with expectations by church members of their spouses or children. Others struggle with finding time for their families. Many pastors’ families struggle with the ‘glass house’ syndrome.”
  3. Stress. “The pastor’s life is one of emotional highs and lows. It includes critics and adoring fans. Expectations from church members can be unreasonable. The very nature of a pastor’s call into ministry can lend itself to seemingly unending stress.”
  4. Depression. “Every time I write about this topic, I hear from countless pastors and staff. Depression is pervasive in pastoral ministry. And it is often the ‘secret’ problem.”
  5. Burnout. “Local church ministry can attract two broad types of persons: the lazy and the workaholic. Accountability is often low, and it can be easy to get away with little work, or to work 70 plus hours a week. I see more of the latter than the former.”
  6. Sexual problems. “These problems are most often in one of two categories: pornography or marital unfaithfulness.”
  7. Financial problems. “Most of the world hears about the few pastors who make huge salaries. The reality is that the majority of pastors struggle financially.”
  8. Time management. “Expectations of pastors can be unrealistic. Pastors are often expected to attend multiple meetings, to visit countless congregants, to prepare sermons with excellence, to provide ongoing strategic leadership, to conduct weddings and funerals, and to be involved in the community. Many pastors don’t know how or when to say ‘no.’ And many are not good at delegating, or they really don’t have anyone who can handle some of their responsibilities.”
Thom concludes by noting that “Most pastors love their callings. Most pastors enjoy most of what they do in ministry. And most pastors wouldn’t change their role if they could. Still, many pastors have ongoing challenges and struggles. And many would gladly receive help from church members, a word of encouragement from most anyone, and the knowledge that others are praying for them.” Accordingly, I join him in asking “What do you think of the eight struggles I noted? What would you add to this list?”

Proposed Resolution of 8th World Congress (draft)

Proposed Resolution of 8th World Congress (draft)
 

irlaFll


Having attended The International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) in its Eighth World Congress, August 24, 2017, in Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood, Florida, I thought to share with you the summary draft resolution as a result of the congress. Feel free to pass on to your members.
 

Official Statement:
 
"The proposal Congress participants recognized that concerns such as in the areas of safety, security, or other competing rights or interests are often invoked in a way that unduly limits freedom of religion and belief. Too often these interests can be used as a pretext to discriminate against disfavored religious groups or individuals.  It was agreed that greater focus needs to be paid to balancing these needs and avoiding stereotypes regarding any religion. 
 
"Concern was also expressed that religion has often been coopted for destructive purposes.  This instrumentalization of religion tends to undermine the legitimacy of and support for freedom of religion and belief.  Congress participants discussed methods by which to reduce incidents of such misuse of religion.
 
"Consequently, Through this Resolution, the Eighth IRLA World Congress:
 
"1.Calls upon the nations of the world to promote actively the principles of freedom of religion or belief as elaborated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the body of related international and regional human rights instruments through their constitutions, laws, and through practical implementation of these globally shared ideals.
 
"2.Calls upon the people of the world to reacquaint themselves with the foundational human rights documents and first principles in order to emphasize the importance of freedom of religion or belief in the broader constellation of rights.
 
"3.Encourages clergy, educators, and others--in addition to legal experts -- to emphasize and teach that freedom of religion or belief is, both an important legal right, and a crucial societal value that is to be protected in all aspects of civic life.   
 
"4.Requests the IRLA to continue to identify concrete ways for individuals and its local chapters to engage in religious freedom advocacy, ensuring that such advocacy is sensitive to both context and situation.
 
"5.Encourages national and international actors to avoid stereotyping of any groups or individuals based on prejudices, preconceptions, or assumptions.
 
"6.Recognizes that while violence is sometimes perpetrated in the name of religion, such violence should be countered by punishing those directly responsible, and should not be used as an excuse to oppress wider religious communities with which the perpetrators assert ties; blaming an entire community for the actions of a few strengthens and emboldens those who perpetuate violence in the name of religion. 
 
"7.Encourages religious and other leaders to recognize the danger of religion being hijacked and misused for non-religious goals, and encourages religious leaders and believers to take steps to prevent this happening within their own communities. 
 
"8.Authorizes the broad distribution of this resolution to international institutions, religious and civil society organizations, and to supporters of freedom of religion or belief worldwide.
 
"ADOPTED BY CONSENSUS OF THOSE ATTENDING THE EIGHTH WORLD CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ASSOCIATION IN HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA ON AUGUST 24, 2017."

Relating to Other Religious Groups

Relating to Other Religious Groups

Rel groups
 
            It is no secret that some members of our faith are uncomfortable when leaders, local and worldwide, engage in conversations with other religious groups. A suspicious spirit tends to manifest itself, but is there really a need to be overly concerned? Research and observations would seem to suggest that there could be some benefits to engaging others of various religious faiths.  Accordingly, I share some suggestions that may prove beneficial when meeting with such persons.
 
Be Prepared to Give a Reason for the Faith
            The Apostle Peter encouraged believers of his day to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV). If our doctrines and position statements are biblical, then shouldn’t they withstand scrutiny and examination? I would think so.
 
Shared Beliefs
            For the most part, we share many doctrines in common with evangelicals, according to William Johnson in his book Embracing the Impossible.  These are the Inspiration of the Scriptures, the Incarnation, Virgin Birth, Atoning Death, Resurrection of Jesus, the Second Coming, Evangelism, the New Birth, and the Life of Piety Manifested in Prayer, Bible study, and Christian Witness. So for starts, it would be good when conversing with other groups to start with commonality, or where we agree. It allows for exploring areas such as the Sabbath, Ellen White, the State of the Dead and the Sanctuary -- areas where there are noticeable differences.
 
Unafraid to Mix
            It is said of Ellen White that she addressed temperance movements often during her time. Certainly, we have valuable knowledge, especially on health and family life that need to be shared more widely and aggressively.   I confess to you that I was rebuked, though gently by a prominent Baptist preacher, for the local Seventh-day Adventist Church for being too silent on what he termed as valuable health information. Quite frankly, we can do more. Accordingly, let's get involved in community activities and be willing to share this knowledge in less judgmental and condemning manners.
 
More Convinced
            Having the opportunity to share my conviction on the Sabbath and diet, among other areas, has been informative to persons I have had to relate to on boards and in influential places. In the book Embracing the Impossible, William Johnson shares a full chapter on discussions with other religious faiths such as Lutherans, Evangelicals, and Church of God Seventh-day. In fact, you should know that because of such meetings, Walter Martin and Donald Barnhouse, editors of Eternity magazine, have changed their earlier position on Seventh-day Adventists, no longer regarding them as a cult but as genuine Christians. God wants us to be His ambassadors daily, always ready to give a reason for the faith that lies within. It is my prayer that you and I will prove faithful.

Praise In Worship

Praise In Worship

praise&worship
 
I had intended to discontinue my series on Praise and Worship; however, with a significant input from my ministerial colleague, Pastor Barrington Brennen, I found it necessary to continue- and therefore this additional input.
 
“Pastor Johnson and pastors, I am in the process of writing an article on ‘Praise AND Worship.’ I am nervous about the term.  I truly believe it is misleading and wrong and does not fit into Adventists’ view of worship. In fact, I am shocked how we are so open to ‘Praise AND Worship.’  
 
“Just a reminder, I claim to be the first pastor in the Conference in the 1980s to have started ‘Praise’ in our worship service. I was pastoring at Maranatha Church at the time. I would lead in singing and even had ‘controlled’ clapping (smile).
 
“Its root is not Adventism but is more Charismatic and deeply evangelical.   Look at the term: ‘Praise AND Worship.’ Over the past ten years, I have researched this development and found out the ‘Praise and Worship’ leaders think about that part of the service as more important than any other part. The kind of music and the theology of the words of the songs tend to lend only toward emotions. It is my view that we should not use the term ‘Praise AND Worship,’ because it does not reflect our philosophy of worship. Here it is, we COME to WORSHIP. Normally, the worship time (the entire service) is for 60 minutes to 120 minutes. Note that the entire service is WORSHIP not just that segment. Thus, we should say ‘Praise IN Worship’ or just PRAISE. What audacity a music team has to suggest that they alone are doing worship. We adopt these terms and sink them in our brain not knowing what they mean. (The same with the term ‘Prayer Warrior’)
 
“My view is that we should not use the term ‘Praise AND Worship.’ We can use PRAISE or Praise IN Worship. Remember, the entire service is worship and praise.   Literally, PRAISE can simply mean singing. Also, WORSHIP is the term for the service which includes singing, teaching, healing and more.  
 
“So when we say ‘Praise AND Worship,’ it suggests that we are having another service in the worship period that is usually controlled by a team of singers who are not really connected to the pastor's passion for the service that day. Thus, we end up having two services in one. It is time for our pastors to truly be ‘worship leaders.’
 
“Refer to the diagrams below that I created to demonstrate my point.”

Responses to Series on Praise and Worship

Responses to Series on Praise and Worship
 praiseWorship


As promised, I am including your responses to the past three articles on Praise and Worship. I consider these responses quite interesting and informative. As such, I thought to share them with you.
 

Responses
“Thanks again Dr. Johnson for your interesting and stimulating piece. An excellent choice of subject for these times. 
 
“Your article brought many important issues into focus, such as – (1) shifts towards non-traditional praise and worship songs, (2) perceptions of worship enthusiasm, (3) music and Adventist heritage, (4) music and theology, (5) instrumental accompaniment, etc. These are all excellent points for us to consider as we face accelerated changes in our church culture (caused by multiple factors that may be good subjects for future articles). 
 
“I have taken the time to share this reflection with you because I agree with the concern that we may be changing so fast that our distinctive purpose could be undermined by our growing neglect to reinforce our purpose with songs that speak to our heritage and faith. 
 
“The question that followed that admission was - Why is this contemporary ‘praise and worship’ still dominant even after we have raised the concerns in your article and have asked our music teams to choose both hymnal songs as well as contemporary songs? 
 
“This is not my area of expertise, but I will offer three opinions: 
 
“1. Our choice of subjects for sermons and Bible studies have followed the contemporary path also and, to a great degree, neglected ‘distinctive Adventist doctrines/subjects.’  It is not likely that our ‘praise and worship’ will be able to maintain focus on a heritage and purpose largely neglected by our preaching and Bible studies. Maybe we could challenge ourselves to get our distinctive ‘message’ on the front page again, and our distinctive ‘praise and worship’ will follow. 
 
“2. The pull to contemporary music is unavoidable since it is a subset of social change. Music preferences change over time (Fact). No getting around it. With many praise and worship leaders being youthful, it is inevitable that they will gravitate towards music characteristic of their era. In some churches, the call for distinctive Adventist songs is made in ways that seem to be prohibiting/rejecting contemporary songs, rather than blending both. Maybe, just maybe, it's time for us to take a few of our most distinctively Adventist and theologically meaningful songs and put those lyrics to contemporary music forms. The tide of change cannot be stopped, but the way it flows may be guided. 
 
“3. Music connects us to the things we are experiencing and interpreting, and those we aspire for. Contemporary music tends to evoke a sense of feeling (not just knowing) in touch with our current realities. They are the songs fed into our ears via radio, YouTube videos, etc. It's what's filling our attention daily and, therefore, what we have as ready vehicles of expressing our feelings. Maybe we could invest in making and circulating more Adventist heritage YouTube videos, play more of them on our radio and TV stations, stream them, etc. If these heritage songs fill our weekly ‘mental and emotional space,’ then perhaps they will become the vehicles of expressing our feelings, thoughts and experiences when we get to ‘Praise and Worship’ time at church services. 
 
“Sorry for that lengthy feedback. Just wrote as the thoughts poured in (unedited). Once again, an important subject. Thanks for stimulating some thoughts on the matter.” 

Regards,
Jeff Jefferson  
 
 
“Mr. President, thank you for reminding us of the authors of our hymns.
I had a book of all the Him writers, but I am unable to locate it.
I appreciate your reminding me of the situation under which some hymns were written.
God bless.” -Cecil Cartwright
 
“Hymn # 403: Let Us Break Bread Together 
When I pastored Englerston, I would change the words to avoid saying, ‘when I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun.’” -Pastor Lynden Williams.
 
Pastor Williams sought to point out that we do not worship the rising sun but the Son of God.  My research revealed the following: “As standardized as the text is, it has been subject to numerous alterations in several hymnals. These changes sometimes alter or eliminate the reference to the rising sun, perhaps because it is not literally accurate. Some include: ‘When I fall on my knees, with my face to the Lord of life. . ..’”
 
“Thank you, Pastor Johnson.  I share your sentiments in singing the old songs of Zion.  It seems we are fast departing from the old path once delivered to us by the saints.” Leona Morris
 
“Interesting article Sir
I've found that we use praise and worship songs and drums and guitars at crusades to bring them (new members) in, and (we) want to change to church hymnal songs once (they are) baptized!! Their church is used to praise and worship songs.
I also find that so many in the congregation don't know the hymns.
We have changed the focus by our fishing methods. 
Also, ‘praise and worship’ is about change of an era..... The songs are lovely and set a good mood for the service. And it's what everybody does.”  Keith Major
 
“Great hymns
(They are) only known by the minority of people.” - Keith Major
 
“Pastor,
Thanks very much for this information.”  -Hazel Fletcher
 
“I really enjoy listening to and singing all three of these songs (We Have This Hope, I Saw One Weary, How Far From Home). -Ruth McKinney
 
“Amen! Pastor Johnson, we need the return of the (Hymn Festival?) Joint meetings for singing/ learning hymns from our hymn book. Hymn #81 needs to be taught and used.
 
“Yes Sir. Some hymns have never been used. We should be more inclusive. Even at Song Services, when given the opportunity the same ‘favourites’ are requested. So far, I have only heard the music on the internet for #81. 
Many years ago, this comment was made, ‘I would not like to be the third stanza of a four stanza hymn when the first, second and last stanzas are sometimes announced.’” -Dorothea Ritchie
 
“Very timely article pastor 
Pastors should forward this to their members, especially the praise and worship teams.
Thank you. Please keep up the good work.” -Reinford L. Trail

A Look Behind the Hymns Part II

A Look Behind the Hymns Part II

Hymn2


Today, it is my privilege to share with you some additional hymn background information that I hope will serve to further inspire and encourage you to sing the hymns with new life and meaning.

 

Far From All Care
“Far from All Care,” #394 in the current Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, regarding the Sabbath, was composed by Douglas Albert Raoul Aufrance, a Seventh-day Adventist physician and dentist. It is said that Douglas, after a period of intense work and strain in the rush and bustle of the great city of London, spent a short holiday at Pevensey Bay, between Hastings and East Bourne on the Sussex coast in England. This quiet and peaceful place, especially on the Sabbath day, contrasted vividly with the noise of the city, and therefore the idea of the hymn had its roots there.

 

We’ll Build on the Rock
Based on the parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock that withstood the rain and the floods as well as the winds, this hymn was written by an Adventist hymn writer, Franklyn Edson Belden. Born at Battle Creek, Michigan on March 21, 1858, Franklyn Edson Belden was the eldest of five children born to Stephen Belden and Sarah Harmon, the elder sister of Ellen Harmon (Later White). Belden is noted for many of the hymns in the current hymnal such as #183, “I Will Sing of Jesus’ Love,” #253 “There’s No Other Name Like Jesus,” #308 “Wholly Thine,” #412 “Cover With His Life,” #416 “The Judgment Has Set,” #430 “Joy By and By,” #579 “’Tis Love That Makes Us Happy,” #595 “Let Every Lamp Be Burning,” #596 “Look For The Way Marks,” #600 “Hold Fast Till I Come,” #604 “We Know Not the Hour.” Isn’t it amazing that these songs depict comfort, faith, and hope; but at the same time, they speak to remarkable theology and teachings of love, righteousness, judgment, devotion, diligence, steadfastness, the second coming, etc. It might be a good thing for a chorister or song leader to focus one Sabbath on just hymns by Franklyn Belden.

 

It Is Well With My Soul
Listed as #530 in the current Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, this hymn was born out of great tragedy; nevertheless, it is a hymn that inspires so much hope and assurance. The author, Horatio Gates Spafford, had planned a trip to Europe for his wife and family, but at the last minute, he had to remain at home on business, so he sent them on ahead. Unfortunately, his wife, Anna, and their four daughters, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie and Bessie, ages 18 months to 12 years, were on a ship Ville de Havre that collided with an English sailing ship, the Loch Earn of Newfoundland, and sank within half an hour. Mrs. Spafford was rescued, but all four children drowned, the baby being washed from her mother’s grasp. This incident brought great sorrow, but Mr. Spafford shortly thereafter sailed across the Atlantic to meet his wife, and both met with Evangelist Dwight L. Moody in Liverpool who comforted them. Nonetheless, they said, “It is well and the will of God be done.” These words were framed and hung on Mr. Spafford’s wall. In 1876, on the occasion of Ira D. Sankey’s visit, Mr. Spafford again expressed his resignation to God’s will. It was then that he was inspired to put his thoughts into verse, and this hymn was written two years after the tragedy. However, there is one stanza that is omitted in the current Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, and I thought I would share these words, for we often sing them at funerals.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
             Let this blessed assurance control,
            That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,                                                         
            And had shared His own blood for my soul.

 

Given the aforementioned hymns, it is my hope that as we sing these hymns, especially the last, “It Is Well With My Soul,” that you would consider it as one that, though borne of tragedy, offers much encouragement and hope. I equate this to the lily that comes out of mucky water, or the gold after the dross has been removed; and likewise, our shattered, checkered, bruised, and sinful lives that have been turned into ones of righteousness because of the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Therefore, sing with meaning, sing with understanding, with joy, with enthusiasm; and sing with hope in honor and praise to almighty God.
Next week, I will share some of your responses to this series on praise and worship. 

A Look Behind the Hymns

A Look Behind the Hymns

 

hymn


As a follow-up to last week’s article, I share with you background information that gave rise to some of the hymns that are significant and rich in meaning. Also, after next week, I will share with you some of the feedback from last week and this week’s updates. Hopefully, you will find the information informative.

 

We Have This Hope
“We Have This Hope” (#214) was published in response to a request that Wayne Hooper write a theme song for the 1962 General Conference Session in San Francisco.  Hooper, a member of the King’s Herald Quartet for the Voice of Prophecy Radio Broadcast, started thinking about the motto that had been chosen, “We Have This Hope.”  Accordingly, he prayed to the Lord seeking to write something useful and that the Holy Spirit would impress his mind with the right combination of words and music that would be a blessing at the General Conference Session.  In just a matter of half an hour, Hooper “had all the words and most of the music.”  The transition section came about a week later.  Needless to say, this musical piece, with its rich music and theologically sound lyrics, blessed the 1962 General Conference Session, and has been used as a theme song for several sessions since that time.  Today, we continue to use this hymn, as it reawakens and reaffirms the blessed hope of our Lord’s return.

 

I Saw One Weary
Secondly, I proffer the hymn “How far From Home” (#441), written by another Adventist author, Annie Rebekah Smith, the only daughter of Samuel and Rebekah Spalding Smith, born at West Wilton, New Hampshire, on March 16, 1828.  Annie joined the Baptist church in 1838 and became a follower of William Miller, but after the disappointment of October 1844, she lost interest in the doctrine of the Second Advent of Christ.  She trained to be a teacher, later specialized in painting; and in 1851, at the request of her mother, she attended a meeting conducted by Joseph Bates.  It was during that meeting she decided to join the Sabbath keeping Adventists and devoted her poetic talent to writing for the church paper, The Review and Herald.  It was also during this time that she wrote numerous hymns that made a permanent impression on the early believers in the advent and brought encouragement to those who laid the foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Unfortunately, she died at the early age of 27 on July 26, 1855, after less than four years of service to the church.
It is of interest to note that the first three stanzas of this hymn written in 1852 refer to three outstanding personalities in the early history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  The first stanza refers to Joseph Bates whom God used to convert her.  The second stanza refers to James Springer White who faced poverty, incessant labor, fanaticism, and other hardships.   His courage remained steadfast because of his firm hope in the advent of Christ.  He and his wife, Ellen, whom we refer to as Sister White, pioneered the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church against much opposition.  The third stanza refers to John Nevins Andrews who became the first missionary to be sent by the church from North America.

 

How Far From Home
Listed as #439 in the current Hymnal, the hymn “How Far From Home” is based on Isaiah 21:11 & 12. Annie penned this hymn in the form of a question to inspire early believers with a sense of confidence in the nearness of the eternal home.

 

Given the aforementioned information, one can understand why I am so passionate about our using hymns and knowing their background; for if we are unaware of what motivated the writing of these hymns, we are likely to miss out on their rich meaning and history. For example, the three hymns employed for this Weekly are tied to the disappointment of 1844, the early pioneers who sacrificed greatly for the church, and above all, the glorious return of our Lord which sparks daily hope.  Of course, I repeat that I am not in any way advocating that we should not use contemporary praise and worship songs, but that we as pastors and elders ensure that hymns such as these are included, so that the younger ones will know their church, its history and its returning Lord.

(A few more hymns to follow next week)

Are the “Praise & Worship” Songs Replacing “Traditional” Hymns?

Are the “Praise & Worship” Songs Replacing “Traditional” Hymns?

praise


 
Here is a repeat and modification of an article written a few years ago on “Praise and Worship.” I thought to present it again based on observations and a request to do an article on the topic.
 

A Shift Toward Praise & Worship
Within recent years, I have witnessed at some church services and crusade meetings the use of non-traditional hymnal songs for song service and divine worship.  These are commonly referred to as “Praise and Worship” songs. You will recognize these, for example, “Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary,” “As the Deer Panteth,”  “Lord, I lift Your Name on High,” and the like. Today, there are some new ones that some of you know all too well. And as if there was a shortage, these would be sung each evening in a crusade, or weekly at church.  Additionally, the one leading out or directing may say to members and visitors who are invited to participate in the singing, “O come on –you must not have the Spirit,” or “Everybody Praise the Lord!”  If there is no favorable response, or if there is reluctance, then one may assume it is because persons do not have “the Spirit.” “What’s wrong?” you may ask.  To me, it is limiting the church to one type of songs. I feel that those desirous of what they term “Praise and Worship” could be inclusive by using both hymns from the Hymnal and contemporary gospel songs. 
 
Employing Hymns from the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal
I believe there are many hymns in the current Seventh-day Adventist Church Hymnal that could be used as Praise and Worship songs. These include #100, “Great is Thy Faithfulness;”  #109, “Marvelous Grace;” #8, “We Gather Together;”  #10, “Come, Christians, Join to Sing;” #15, “My Maker and My King;” #34, “Wake The Song;” #86, “How Great Thou Art;” #108, “Amazing Grace;” #371, “Lift Him Up;” #341, “To God Be the Glory;”  #338,  “Redeemed!;”  #294, “Power in the Blood;” #286, “Wonderful Words of Life;” #189, “All That Thrills My Soul.”  These are but a few that could be sung in different ways, using a stanza or two and just moving into another song, once preparation is made.  It may be of interest to know that there is a companion book to the hymnal.  The chorister, by looking up the history or story behind the hymn and sharing a little before the song, would enable worshipers to truly engage in praise and worship. Then the song is bound to take on meaning. For me, one is #530, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Employing the use of a large screen and projector may prove useful as well. The point is that we do not always have to throw away all that we have to embrace the new. Even songs from the Hymnal can appeal to the young. It all depends on what we put into them and the level of spiritual preparation on the part of the song leader/s. 
 
Purpose of Praise & Worship
The term, “praise and worship,” is “praise” and “worship.”  It is for the purpose of our coming together at church, and that is to praise and worship God. We can employ the use of traditional hymns for Praise and Worship. It is important that our members, especially our new members, know these things. Each hymn carries meaning and a theology; and some hymns speak to significant and unique theology that could be lost if church pastors and choristers choose to bypass them. Furthermore, if we are not careful, some members will view the Seventh-day Adventist Church as just another church as opposed to God’s remnant church with a specific mission. As we move forward, it is alright “every now and then to look in our rear-view mirror to appreciate where we are coming from.”
 
Instruments have their places, too, but it is important that they compliment and enhance instead of drowning out the lyrics creating unbearable noise and thus distorting. Equally important is that the musicians be sanctified and understand that they play to the honor and glory of God, whether at a church building or at a crusade. We need to find a way to avoid extremes seen at some of our meetings; for it is hard for visitors or newly baptized ones to transition into some of our churches. Also, it is important not to use music per se as a means to draw people, for there is the temptation to compromise “to get them.”  On the other hand, services can be exciting and dynamic with planning and much spiritual preparation. Let us not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit, for Jesus says, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me.” Let’s lift up Christ in our Praise and Worship.
 
For further guidance and counsel refer to “A Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Music – Guidelines” at www.adventist.org.

Mark the Manner of Your Bearing Part II

Mark the Manner of Your Bearing Part II

BahInd

(Article marking Bahamas 44th Anniversary of Independence)
 

Prior to the Bahamas national elections in May of this year, I wrote the first of a two-part article captioned “Mark the Manner of Your Bearing.” Today, I share with you the second part to that article, now that the elections are behind us.
Premised on the fact that citizens and residents can make a difference in strengthening democracy by holding leaders and themselves accountable, as opposed to feeling that they can do so only but once every five years, I seek to share the following points for consideration.
 
Holding Ourselves Accountable
Our deportment as citizens and residents of these wonderful islands is always under scrutiny. Gone are the days when we could say or do something and it would take the rest of the world a long time to hear or see. No longer is this the case with social media which can over inflate as well as misstate. Therefore, a call to high standard, national pride and a commitment to best practices must so mark a people seeking to build a commendable nation that the late Timothy Gibson, composer of the national anthem, envisaged.
The notion of excusing ourselves because of our small size in comparison to other nations is unacceptable. Notwithstanding our size, one only needs consider our location which has us perched between Cuba and one of the greatest nations on earth, The United States of America. In many ways our location, style of living and economy make us in some respect the envy of the region.  However, the late Carlton Francis warned years ago, “We are a small nation that can be easily permeated by any pernicious influence.” Furthermore, he observed, “I am saying that where we are aspiring to the disciplines of hard work and industry we are not yet off the ground.”  From 1973 to the present, we must ask ourselves: “Are we living up to or fulfilling what was anticipated by our forefathers?” A country is only as strong as its people and values. Likewise, it is my opinion that a government is only great to the extent that it is prepared to govern in accordance with such values and standards referenced above, and to the level people hold their leaders accountable.
 
Embrace the Best
The call to excel through love and unity denotes genuine care for one another as well as a commitment to work together. Of course, this is easier said than done given the make-up of our country which is comprised of whites and blacks, Bahamians, Haitians, Jamaicans, Chinese, and other nationals who now call the Bahamas home. How do we live together in love and unity harnessing the collective gifts, talents, and abilities that make for a great nation? While I am in no way advocating a violation of our Immigration laws, I am calling for a full acceptance of those who hold citizenship and legal status to reside here. On the other hand, I hope that the government can find a solution to address the many undocumented residents who were born in our country. It would seem disingenuous that when some of these children excel in academics and sports the nation is quick to claim them as its own.  However, an approach to harnessing the collective talents and abilities of our people and residents will truly make us a great little nation on this earth aspiring to “best practices” in all areas. As already noted, our size need not cause us to think small. To the contrary, we must be proud in a positive sense believing in our ability, believing in one another, and ever seeking to improve. Our government must assure that room is created for Bahamians who desire to make the Bahamas great.
 
God Is Watching
            Finally, I note that Timothy Gibson was a man of God given to godly principles, for he wrote, “'Til the road you've trod lead unto your God,” According to the fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy 4.7-9, a nation is great “who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for.”  Additionally, it explains that a nation is great when it has “statutes and judgments so righteous.”  Thirdly, a nation is great when it remembers God and passes on His teachings to successive generations as noted by Moses when he penned, “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.”  
Based on these three principles in the passage, the Bahamas must take seriously the importance of having God present. A desire for some lewd practices, as manifested in aspects of Junkanoo Carnival, does not bode well for godlikeness. Also, a great nation is one that does not only possess laws and statues but is not afraid to execute them. When slackness is tolerated, it is embraced and eventually become a part of us. However, when a nation remembers God, it demonstrates a spirit of gratitude as opposed to entitlement; an appreciation for opportunities as opposed to handouts, and a true desire to be the best --ever grateful.
Happy Independence as we mark the manner of our bearing!

The Heart of A Pastor Part III

The Heart of A Pastor Part III

Pastorheart
Final article in a three-part series
 
Best Practice for Pastoral Ministry
Essentially, Jesus’ example constitutes best practice for present pastoral ministry. It goes against the selfish grain of today’s thinking and looking out for “me.” Instead, it considers others with the view of helping them to know the Good Shepherd and committing to Him. As such, it is important that today’s pastors know Jesus personally. For how does one model or represent Him without knowing and spending time with the Him? Says the Apostle Peter when confronted by the lame man for assistance in Acts 3, “’Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up” (Acts 3:6, 7, NKJV). That which Peter possessed was faith because of knowing Jesus personally --especially given the manner Jesus related to Peter when he had denied Him several times. It was personal, and it was touching in the way that Jesus reached out to Peter and pardoned him as recorded by Mark: “But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7, NKJV). One can argue that there was no need to single out Peter as the term “disciples” was used, and it covered all disciples. But that Jesus did so shows His heart of compassion, forgiveness and acceptance toward Peter. Hence, Peter is manifesting a shepherd’s heart for the lame man. Apart from faith, Peter possessed a short but powerful message: “rise up and walk” and the record says Peter took him by the “right hand.” Ministering to others must be seasoned with faith, compassion, hope and genuine care. So it is important that the pastor knows Christ as evidenced by Peter on the occasion when confronted by Jesus as to whether he and the other disciples would also abandon Him as had others: “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6: 66). To the contrary, Peter professed, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also, we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68, 69, NKJV).
 
Beyond Best Practices –The Ideal Practice and Model
            Therefore, one can deduce that more than just a template, Jesus’ example ought to inform and influence the pastor’s actions and mode of operation. For example, one is led to note His concern for the wedding attendants at Cana of Galilee in John 2. It is obvious that He is interested in the physical and social needs of members and non-church members. In John 4, He pays personal attention to the woman at the well. Unfortunately, his disciples saw a Samaritan and a non-Jewish woman, but Jesus saw a person to be saved, and one with great evangelistic potential. Talk about a pastor’s heart of discernment! In commenting on this encounter, Ellen White explains, “It seemed a small matter, even to His disciples, for the Saviour to spend His time upon a woman of Samaria. . . She proved herself a more effective missionary than His own disciples (The Desire of Ages, Vol. 3, pp. 194–195). As noted already in John 6, with all of His efforts to reach the Jewish nation, many of the Jews rejected Him especially when He failed to comply with the desire to make Him king (John 6:14, 15). They got upset with Him, but as a caring pastor He goes to great lengths to reach them. Yet, they rejected Him, baffled as to how could He be from heaven when His parents were supposedly Mary and Joseph (John 6:42). Furthermore, Jesus is insulted and lambasted in John 8:41. However, He would not be deterred as He reaches out to a woman caught in adultery; He does not only heal the man born blind in John 9, but He is there to receive this grateful soul when rejected by his church leaders.
 
Embracing The Good Shepherd Model Leads to Long time Commitment
            The examples recorded in John’s gospel tell us that shepherding calls for commitment and a strong belief that God has gifted one for pastoral ministry; otherwise, he or she is not likely to survive (refer to John 15 regarding the vine and branch connection). The joy of ministry comes in knowing that one is fulfilling Christ’s mission. Cognizant of this purpose and design by God, gives one meaning and fulfillment in ministry. In fact, I would imagine that Jesus portrayed this in His actions of John 13. The first few verses of John 13 show that Jesus knew Himself. He knew from whence He came. He knew where He was headed, and He also knew His mission. Therefore, as noted in verse 4, He rose from the table and began to wash feet when nobody else volunteered to do so. Indeed, He was moved by love that drew Him to a service of humility. On the other hand, the disciples did not venture to stoop down and wash each other’s feet or their Master’s feet for fear of being excluded from leadership consideration. Again, I am challenged by Christ’s selfless example, as I cannot boast of being any better than the disciples. As I view Christ’s example my motive is exposed. But the Good Shepherd, knowing His flock, knew that they needed a heart cleansing; and He knew that they needed a visible lesson. Indeed, He possessed the heart of a pastor - one that could read motives and not respond in the manner that He was treated. Is it any wonder that He is considered the model pastor? He possesses a heart of compassion, understanding and love. Without question, He is the Good Shepherd and One to be embraced!
 
A Need to be Committed to The Good Shepherd
            Reading the book of John, it is seen time and time again where Jesus implores His audience to believe in Him. For example, John 3:16, 4:48, 5:24, 6:29, 14:1-3, etc. Grasping this concept, John themed his book on the concept of belief as recorded in chapter 20 and verse31: “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (NKJV). And thus, one may deduce that the Good Shepherd motif provides not just a model but contents for today’s pastors to teach and preach, and for the priesthood of believers to live out. When this is manifested, individual lives, families, societies, countries and ultimately the world would be impacted with hope and salvation. After all, did not the Good Shepherd enjoin His followers to preach the good news to the world for it is what mankind created by Him needs?  Manifested and proclaimed by His servants, such a message will have a positive and transforming impact on nations. People will get a sense of God and His love in sending Jesus and, hopefully, come to know Him. And to know Him is eternal life as proclaimed: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3 NKJV). What a Model! What a Good Shepherd! But do we believe? Hopefully, believing Jesus will lead us to demonstrate an altruistic heart of love, service, understanding and care.

The Heart of a Pastor Part II

The Heart of a Pastor Part II

Pastorheart

 

Continued from last week
 
Informing Our Understanding of Pastoral Care and Practice
            With such remarkable characteristics of the ideal pastor (Jesus), it is anticipated that there would be an impacting, an influencing, and an informing of how today’s pastors function. As we have already seen, the Good Shepherd is fully committed to the well-being of His flock, and the hireling has no interest except for himself. Accordingly, this remarkable example of Jesus should challenge today’s pastors to go the extra mile, serve with distinction and sacrificially. His example should spur on pastors to be fully committed. To do otherwise is unacceptable as seen in Ezekiel 34. Writes Ezekiel, “Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them’” (Ezekiel 34:2-4, NKJV). Certainly, these actions do not speak of a pastoral heart of love and concern, whereas “the Latin word ‘pastor’ means a shepherd and comes from ‘pasco,’ to feed, whence comes also our word pasture” (Ball, C. F., 1949, The Minister as Pastor, Bibliotheca Sacra, 106, 465).
 
Conversion Is Essential for Effective Pastoring
No wonder Ellen White says, “unless the ministers are converted, our churches will be sickly and ready to die. God’s power alone can change the human heart and imbue it with the love of Christ. God’s power alone can correct and subdue the passions and sanctify the affections. All who minister must humble their proud hearts, submit their will to the will of God, and hide their life with Christ in God (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 143). On the other hand, she adds, “Christ will be with every minister who, although he may not have attained to perfection of character, is seeking most earnestly to become Christ like” (Ibid). She contends, “Such a minister will pray. He will weep between the porch and the altar, crying in soul anguish for the Lord’s presence to be with him; else he cannot stand before the people, with all heaven looking upon him, and the angel’s pen taking note of his words, his deportment, and his spirit” (Ibid). Such a minister will possess a pastor’s heart based on his/her attention to spiritual growth and nurturing.
 
Embracing the Good Shepherd Model
            It would be fair to say that no pastor wants to model the “hireling,” but truth be told it is easy to look out for self. While some persons are more given to being sensitive and caring, not everyone is. Nevertheless, the example of Christ in John 10 and elsewhere in the gospels in relating to His disciples calls pastors to a higher standard of ministry. It calls pastors and by extension, the priesthood of all believers to love and have compassion for one another. However, unlike Jesus, one is not called to lay down his life in order to provide salvation. For Jesus did that once and for all as noted in Hebrews 9:11, 12. “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (NKJV). Therefore, as observed by Nathan H. Gunther, “Broad scholarly support exists for the assertion that Jesus fully intended that His description of the ‘Good Shepherd’ should be understood as a template for future leadership among God’s people” (The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, Volume 10, NO 1, Spring 2016 “For The Flock: Impetus For Shepherd Leadership In John 10,” Nathan H. Gunther).

The Heart of a Pastor

The Heart of a Pastor

heartofpastor
 
Expectations of A Pastor
Many of the places I have visited have certain expectations of pastors. Some are realistic while others are unrealistic. And without question, they include given to honesty, preaching certain doctrinal and prophetic sermons, being sincere about pastoral ministry and manifesting a sincere and caring disposition toward members. Of course, there is more, but these would seem to top the list. However, are these expectations fair, or are they going over board? Do they comport with Scripture and today’s best practices? A serious look at Scripture would seem to concur that pastors should be upright, for the Apostle Paul says, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach” (1Timothy 3:2). Also, Paul calls for pastors to preach constantly and relevantly. He says, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, 3). The Scripture also emphasize that pastors should be sincere and caring- among other things (Ezekiel 34, John 10, et al).
 
Attitude of Members Towards The Pastor
On the other hand, it would be good to consider what should be the attitude of members toward pastors, notwithstanding their expectations.  For starts, the Scripture calls for members to respect their spiritual leaders (2 Kings 2:23), and even when there are questions regarding them, at least respect the office or their calling. David asked Saul, “’Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Indeed David seeks your harm’? Look, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD delivered you today into my hand in the cave, and someone urged me to kill you. But my eye spared you, and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’s anointed’” (1 Samuel 24:9, 10). Now, the required respect toward pastors is not intended to excuse pastors from being accountable for their actions but to accord them and their office of service a level of respect. Nevertheless, I return to the main focus of pastors relating to their flock. The members’ response is likely to be considered in a future article. Accordingly, the following points are posited with the objective of helping pastors see and understand what should be their modus operandi by examining the life and example of Jesus especially in the context of John 10.
 
Consider the Example of the Model Pastor
For a balanced understanding of the pastor’s role in relating to his members, it is only fitting that one begins by looking at the ideal pastoral model. And for this writer, that is clearly outlined in John 10 which is referred to as the “Good Shepherd.” In fact, Jesus employed this term to aptly describe Himself by declaring, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, NKJV).  The term which is recorded just three times in the entire Bible in just 2 verses (John 10:11, 14) constitutes the supreme pastoral model. On the other hand, the term “shepherd” is recorded some 55 times in the New King James version of the Bible. However, the significance of this is that in each of the three instances employed, Jesus qualifies “shepherd” by attaching the adjective “good.” According to the Greek language, the idea of excellence, ideal, and better is conveyed, but that is not surprising since the term as already noted refers to Jesus as the perfect shepherd and pastor. So looking at the context of John 10, we see Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” standing in contradistinction to the “hireling,” who has no sense of ownership, commitment and service. For him, it is just a job. Whereas the Good Shepherd “gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11,NKJV), the hireling, “who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees” (John 10:12, NKJV). Furthermore, “The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep,” but the Good Shepherd knows His sheep and is known of them (John 10:14, NKJV). The Good Shepherd is also interested in the potential flock and goes after them. Jesus contends, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring” (John 10:16, NKJV), but no mention is recorded of the hireling’s attitude towards these ones. It would seem that the hireling reasons: “There is nothing to be gained ,” but the Good Shepherd willingly lays down His life for His flock (John 10:17, NKJV). Indeed, Jesus is the Good Shepherd! What more could He give? What more could He do? He is the model! He is the epitome of pastoral practice and ministry! He is the perfect example! There is no other that equals or comes near Him. So it does not make sense to consider another or settle for another example. His example is superior to all others and should be embraced and applied by today’s pastors. Admittedly, while serving as a full-time pastor, I visited my members regularly and endeavored to preach solid biblical sermons. However, if given the opportunity to do full- time pastoral ministry again, I would spend more time training my parishioners, according to Ephesians 4:12, to identify and use their gifts/talents for the work of ministry, in addition to visiting regularly and preaching sound biblical messages. Continues next week

How Do You Know if God Spoke?

How Do You Know if God Spoke?

speak
 
The expression “God spoke to me” is becoming more and more prevalent among many. Years ago, such an expression would have been associated with persons in the church; however, it has become the language of those who lay no claim to regular church attendance or being committed Christians. How can we know if God really spoke to a person?
 
Subjective Truth
By that (subjective truth or personal experience) I am advocating that a person’s claim to God speaking to him or her cannot be dismissed, as there are many occasions in the Bible where God spoke to individuals. And He did this in various ways, without regard for nationality, gender, education or religion.  It is God’s prerogative to choose whomsoever He wishes as He is God, and His wisdom is not to be questioned. Notwithstanding that –Is it not possible to scrutinize such a claim of God speaking to someone? After all, with so many saying so and with apparent conflicting messages, how may we know for a certainty?
 
God’s Speaking Will Not Conflict with His Word
Years ago, a church sister shared that a person needed a definite amount of cash, and he said that he was impressed by God to “play a certain number” (a form of local gambling). Reportedly, the number fell and the exact amount needed was realized. How do we reconcile that? One can reason that God would not in His word advocate hard work, integrity and honesty, and then turn around and encourage chance, or gambling through dream or direct encounter. Of course, one may challenge that answer by referencing the example of Abraham and Isaac.  Did not God say, “Thou shalt not kill?” Also, didn’t God say that a great nation would come through Isaac? And yet He (God) required Abraham to slay his son, Isaac, who had no children at that time.  Was God going against what He had established? Was He not contradicting Himself? The context of Genesis 22 explains and clarifies the apparent contradiction–for in verse 1 it states that God was testing Abraham.  So one can deduce that God will not tell one to divorce a spouse on grounds other than what scriptures contain.  God will not tell a person to steal when His Word says otherwise.
 
What About Dreams?
The same principle applies to dreams and visions.  They must line up with the Word, or we could have persons giving their dreams as a basis for belief or warning and claiming divine authority.  Notwithstanding the promise of the Old Testament prophet (Joel 2:28-32), that God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, and they shall dream dreams, etc., we should be careful not to dismiss and /or be gullible to accept without seeking to test or examine the dream or vision. In the New Testament, in 1 John 4:1-3, we are admonished to “test the spirits.”  While a dream may be God sent, it may be only for the individual or a group of persons. It requires that we examine everything.
Whatever the intent, we may note that a dream or the expression, “God told me so,” is not to replace or take precedence over the written word.  A classical example is found in 2 Peter 1:16-21. There you will discover that Peter referred to an eyewitness account experienced by James, John and himself. He writes, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2Pet. 1:16, NKJV). Now in our day and age, within the judicial system, an eyewitness’ account counts for something, as one can say, “I saw it with my own eyes.” Or “I heard it with my own ears.”  Against such Peter argues for that which is better and more authoritative; “and what is that?” you ask. As noted in verse 19, “We have a more sure word of prophecy” (KJV). The Bible is God’s word to us containing His will and instructions for mankind.  It is not subjective, for Peter says, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2Pet.1:20, NKJV). The Bible is God’s truth! Inspired writer Ellen White observes: “The Bible is the most ancient and the most comprehensive history that men possess. It came fresh from the fountain of eternal truth, and throughout the ages a divine hand has preserved its purity. It lights up the far-distant past, where human research in vain seeks to penetrate” (Ed 173.1). Essentially, the Bible is our sure and most reliable guide, as it is “a lamp to [our] feet, and a light unto [our] path” (Psalm 119:105).

Part II - The Pulpit

Part II - The Pulpit
platform

This is a follow up to last week’s Ministerial Weekly. Please note that this article by Merle L. Mills, was printed in a November, 1955 edition of the Ministry Magazine. Though many years old, I believe, like I did, you will find the article interesting and relevant in some respect. Part I relates to the Platform and part II to the Pulpit.
 
The pulpit is the most sacred and exalted place in the church. He who occupies this position stands as the representative of Christ. This is the minister's first line of offense. From this honored and dedicated place he boldly denounces sin and courageously challenges the devil. From the sacred desk are heard the truths of God, which cut as a two-edged sword, bringing both conviction and contrition to the worshiper. Words of life and death flow from this fount. To this vantage point the penitent looks for the heavenly balm of Gilead. Is it not important then that one's comportment in the desk give no cause for needless offense and bring no reproach against the name of Christ?
 
Here are a few suggestions that should be followed as we stand in the pulpit:
 
The occupant of the desk should have good posture. He must not stand in a slouched position, leaning over or on the desk. He should stand erect, with both feet on the floor. To stand first on one foot, then the other, and to lean on the desk does not impress the congregation that the speaker has any fire and enthusiasm or that his message is of any great import. Nor should we be guilty of pounding the desk or the Bible in order to be emphatic. There are other ways of expressing emphasis.
It is both repugnant and a violation of pulpit etiquette to introduce one who is to occupy the desk in a protracted and flattering manner The pulpit is not to be desecrated by indulging in superlatives and hyperboles. To introduce someone as the "world's greatest preacher," a "nationally" or "internationally known figure," et cetera, is to exaggerate as well as to flatter and ought not to be—of all places—in the pulpit. A true minister of God does not appreciate such remarks and becomes embarrassed. If a speaker of some repute is introduced, a few modest statements concerning his position and work are sufficient.
The pulpit is not a place to boast of or to praise the members of the speaker's family. There may be occasions when it would be fitting to refer to the family in the pulpit, but to exalt them and talk frequently of their merits meets with the disapprobation of the congregation. To say publicly that your wife is the best and most beautiful woman in the world is not the subject or language to be heard from the desk. Tell your wife in private as often as you wish how beautiful and wonderful she is.
Jesting, joking, and telling gruesome stories are out of order in the pulpit. It is not the place to display one's humor and make people laugh. There is a time and place for wit and genuine humor, but seldom should it be used in the pulpit. If done at all, it should be with moderation and restraint. To tell funny stories, paint word pictures, and describe repulsive scenes is to degrade the pulpit and weaken its influence.
Announcements that are made from the desk should be in keeping with the spirit of the service. Those who make the announcements should do so briefly and concisely. The worship service is robbed of its dignity when an announcement is made and someone speaks up from the congregation to make a correction, or when the pastor or local elder who makes the announcement speaks directly to someone in the congregation, requesting a clarification or additional information.
Prayer offered in the pulpit is formal in style. To use the personal pronoun—you, your, et cetera—in addressing God certainly sounds disrespectful. Our prayers need not be stereotyped or flowery, nor should they be informal or crude. They should be simple and uttered in true prayer form, addressing God in the solemn style as Thee, Thou, Thine, et cetera.
Public prayer need not be long. The invocation prayer should consist of but a few sentences. This is also true of the offertory prayer and the benediction. The main prayer is longer, but even that should not be protracted. There are few occasions when the main prayer should exceed two or three minutes in length. Long public prayers are an abomination unto the Lord, are unacceptable to the children, and do little good for the adults. "The prayers offered in public should be short and to the point. God does not require us to make the season of worship tedious by lengthy petitions. . .. A few minutes is long enough for any ordinary public petition."—Ibid., p. 175. "Long prayers are tiring to those who hear, and do not prepare the people to listen to the instruction that is to follow."—Ibid., p. 176. "Prosy, sermonizing prayers are uncalled for and out of place in public. A short prayer, offered in fervor and faith, will soften the hearts of the hearers; but during long prayers they wait impatiently, as if wishing that every word might end it."—Ibid., p. 179. Most of our ministers pray too long. This should be corrected.
Our church elders should also be cautioned in regard to this matter. Not only should prayers be brief, formal, and simple, but they should also be reverent, free of vain repetition and any profanation of the name of God. "Our Father," "Jesus Christ," "God," and "Lord" should not be repeated too frequently in prayer, and when used, should be spoken in reverent tones. "Some think it a mark of humility to pray to God in a common manner, as if talking with a human being. They profane His name by needlessly and irreverently mingling with their prayers the words 'God Almighty,'—awful, sacred words, which should never pass the lips except in subdued tones and with a feeling of awe."—Ibid., p. 176. Let us also eliminate the organ music during prayer.
An error of which some ministers as well as local elders are guilty is to begin the offertory prayer before the pianist or organist has been given the courtesy of completing the offertory number.
            The offertory is a part of the worship service, and should not be considered unnecessary or an unimportant part even though the deacons have received the offering before it has been completed. In all probability the musician has spent considerable time practicing and preparing for the number, and the pastor or local elder should not feel it his prerogative to stand up as soon as the offering has been received and cut off the music for the offertory prayer or begin praying as the offertory number is continued. This is a discourtesy to the musician and an insult to God.
            The offertory number should not be long, and the musician may be so instructed, but it should be played in its entirety before the offertory prayer is given, provided it is the practice to have this prayer after the offering, which would seem the most logical place for it. The call for the offering from the desk can be done with dignity. To resort to lightness and humor in calling for the offering is sacrilegious. We stand in dire need of solemnizing, beautifying, and embellishing this part of our church service. A few appropriate remarks are in order, stating clearly what the offering is for that day and quoting a brief statement from the Spirit of prophecy or the Bible that would encourage and inspire the people to participate in this phase of the service. The deacons are then asked to wait upon the congregation as they worship the Lord with their tithes and offerings. The call for and the receiving of the tithes and offerings are as sacred and essential a part of the service as the prayer, and should be done with as much thought and care.
Our denomination does not believe in or follow a liturgical form of church service. This is as it should be. God is to be worshiped in spirit and truth. We are not required to follow a punctilious ceremony in approaching God. The supreme Sovereign of the universe is quick and eager to respond to the faintest cry of the sinner. But we must not go to the other extreme and permit the church service to degenerate into an informal, ill-planned, and undignified service. When we come into God's holy temple and He speaks through His servants in the pulpit to the people, it is an awesome and solemn occasion. We should therefore beautify and exalt the service and conform to an accepted standard of ethics and procedure where His name is wont to be proclaimed and praised.
Our attitude, mood, and demeanor in His house, especially on the platform and in the pulpit, will have its influence on the degree of reverence and inspiration that will prevail in the service. Let us, as ministers and conference workers, be exemplary in our manners and behavior, both on the platform and in the pul­pit, ever remembering that whatever impression we make by our deportment will tend either to elevate or to offend the worshiper in the pew.
God holds His ministers responsible for the influence that the pulpit exerts over the pew. Let us then be conscious of that responsibility and make certain that the ethics, manners, and procedures we follow in our church services will exalt Christ and do credit to His name.

Part I - The Platform

For this week’s and next week’s ministerial I have chosen to repeat a two-part article by Merle L. Mills that was printed in a November 1955 edition of the Ministry Magazine. Though many years old, I believe, like I did, you will find the article interesting and relevant in some respect. Part I relates to the Platform and part II to the Pulpit.

Part I - The Platform
platform

“Decorum on the platform and in the pulpit can do much to set the tone and establish the mood for the church service. It is important that the ministry as well as others who participate in such services observe the ethical conduct that should prevail under such circumstances.
“Because those who are on the platform are under constant observance, their mannerisms should be such as not to offend the worshiper or to detract from the service. While an ostentatious display is to be deplored, one's conduct before the public should not be considered lightly.
“Let us consider some of the essential points of this subject and ascertain whether we are doing all that is expected of us to inspire a reverential atmosphere and to establish a setting that will contribute to the efficacy of the service of worship.
“Those who are to go on the platform should meet in a designated place, usually the pastor's study, in sufficient time to become acquainted with the order of service, the arrangement of seating, and the part each one is to have on the program. Such a practice will avoid confusion, embarrassment, and awkwardness. It should be made certain in advance that there are a sufficient number of platform chairs, that they are properly arranged, and that the right number of church hymnals is available.
“The pastor can plan with the organist or pianist to be given a signal when the prelude is about to be concluded, which, incidentally, should not infringe upon or delay the worship service. If there is no choral introit, the ministers at the close of the prelude should step onto the platform and bow in unison for silent prayer. This genuflection of the ministers on the rostrum should be done in order and with grace. The austere and clumsy way in which some kneel for this part of the service is to be deplored. Each should kneel on both knees and at the same time. It would be well if the one in charge of the service would say Amen just loud enough for the platform group to hear if there is no choral Amen. This is a signal for all to rise together with grace and dignity. If the ministers kneel toward the platform chairs, as in some places they still continue to do, it should have been agreed before that all turn in unison either to the right or to the left in facing the congregation.
“If the congregation has been seated during the silent prayer and it is the plan to rise to sing the doxology, either the choir director or the pastor may make a gesture for them to rise for the song. The one designated to offer the invocation prayer should be in the pulpit by the time the singing is completed and should either gesture with the uplifted hand or say, ‘Let us pray.’ Many times one begins to pray without informing the congregation. This encourages irreverence on the part of the stranger or those unfamiliar with the order of service, and they are not properly prepared to enter into the prayer.
“The platform chairs should be so arranged that the speaker's chair will be directly behind the pulpit. The platform chairman is seated next to the speaker. The one who is chosen to speak should occupy the center chair regardless of what responsibilities or positions are occupied by any who might be invited onto the platform for the service.
“Inconspicuous and conservative dress is essential to good platform etiquette. Bright-colored ties, socks, and suits, and sports apparel are definitely out of order. ‘Carefulness in dress is an important consideration. The minister should be clothed in a manner befitting the dignity of his position.’—Gospel Workers, p. 173. A mirror in the pastor's study aids one in making a check of his personal appearance before going onto the platform.
“Proper dress for local church officers who are called upon to participate in the services can be stressed by having a meeting with your elders and deacons at the beginning of the year in which is discussed with them the importance and necessity of dressing on the Sabbath day in an attire that would be in keeping with the dignity of the service. Even then there may be times when an officer will come to church without a coat or tie, or be attired in a suit and loud tie that make him conspicuous and out of order on the platform. In a few cases, I have refused to take a person dressed in this manner onto the platform, and have in a kind way explained to him the reason. Another suggestion that has been helpful in solving this problem, especially if there are a number of elders, is to give them advance notice of the time they are to go onto the platform and the part they are to perform. Not only does this alert them as to how they should be dressed, but it enables them to be prepared for what is required of them. This is especially important for the one who is to offer the public prayer. He should be notified beforehand.
“Posture is also an important factor to be considered with platform manners. One should sit erect with both feet on the floor. To sit in a slouched position with the legs crossed is a gross impropriety. To encourage interest in and attention to the speaker, the eyes of all those on the platform should be kept on the speaker. To allow the eyes to wander about the auditorium, sizing up the beams, scrutinizing the light fixtures, looking out of the windows, et cetera, during the preaching is a breach of good platform manners. The same can be said of closing the eyes and dozing. No matter how soporific the sermon might be, this is inexcusable. It is indecorous for anyone on the platform, including the pastor, to whisper. This can no more be condoned there than in the congregation. Whispering and talking on the platform are disrespectful and irreverent.
“The speaker and those who share the platform with him should sing with the congregation. Singing is as much a part of worship as praying and preaching. How strange that people go to church for the ostensible purpose of worshiping the Lord and yet refuse to do so while there, by not singing with the congregation!
“All those on the platform should participate in the offering. This too is a significant part of our worship to God. It may be true that the pastor or the visiting ministers have contributed earlier that day in another church they have visited. But this cannot be explained to the congregation. Even if it means that one must divide his offering, or sacrifice more, in order to give when he is required to be on the platform several times in one day, he should give willingly.
“Those seated behind the speaker can set a good example of supporting him. As the pastor makes a solid point or enunciates a solemn and pregnant truth, why not express approbation by a hearty Amen! It is to be lamented that in many of our churches this practice has become almost extinct, and the Amen corner of the church has become silent. It is recognized that this could be carried to excess, but a few Amens during the sermon will not give cause for offense and could do much to contribute to the inspiration and fervor of the speaker.
“Admittedly, one of the prevailing sins in our churches today is irreverence. What is seen and heard often times in the house of prayer is an insult to God and must cause the angels to hide their faces. We stand indicted, and, as conference workers and leaders, we ourselves have been guilty of contributing to this laxity by our personal example. Realizing our solemn obligation, could we not improve our platform manners and by example help to develop an atmosphere that will dignify our church services so that they will inspire awe and reverence in all who come to worship God in His sacred presence?”

When Pastors Fall, Who Helps Them Up?

When Pastors Fall, Who Helps Them Up?

pulpitadv-st
 
Today, I share the following with you taken from Adventist Today (AT), an independent journalism ministry serving the global Adventist community and readers interested in a reliable source of information about the Adventist faith and institutions. AT publishes in a number of formats: daily on the Web, via Facebook and Twitter; weekly via Email; monthly via PDF; and quarterly in a print journal.
 
I tore my achilles tendon yesterday.
I wish I were making this up. Nevertheless, it’s true. I was playing basketball. Trying to stay in shape towards my ultimate goal of completing a full ironman triathlon. I had the ball and tried to change direction really quick, and I heard a loud pop. I was startled by the sound and wondered what it was, but simultaneously fell to the ground. I felt the tear as it happened. And though I’ve never had a major injury, I knew immediately what had happened. I helped myself up and hopped off the court. I laid on the bench for a while to collect myself. I called my wife to assure her that I was fine, but that I’d certainly need to go to the hospital. I thought to myself, “Wow! So this is what an injury feels like huh?”
 
The more I reflect on this entire ordeal, it made me think about what happens when the pastor falls. What happens when a pastor falls sick and develops a major illness? The pastor visits the sick and shut-in, but what about when the pastor is the sick and shut-in? What about when the pastor falls asleep in death? After officiating countless funerals and standing at the graveside of many fallen saints, who is there to care for the pastor and the pastor’s family when they are bereaved? What about when a pastor has a moral fall? The pastor works tirelessly to restore those who have fallen into sin, but what happens when the pastor falls into sin? As a matter of fact, what are the steps that lead to a pastor having a moral fall? I’m sitting in the doctor’s office waiting to be seen, by an orthopedic specialist, and all of this is running through my mind.
 
Allow me to first state the obvious. Pastors are human. We are no less human, nor more divine than any other church members. Yet, we possess unique gifts that have special significance for the church. Whether those gifts and abilities are utilized in the local church or some other level of denominational service, pastors are still susceptible to every human frailty there is.
 
I know an older pastor who developed sarcoidosis. He was out for two months and could have possibly lost his life. He said that though he felt supported by his church, he felt little support from his ministerial director. I know another younger pastor who contracted Lyme disease. Even though his sickness spanned over multiple years, he was never visited by the conference administration and even trusted friends weren’t supportive. He said he had to go to counseling to deal with the bitterness he dealt with as a result. I know an elderly pastor who had a stroke. His wife takes great care of him. His children are very attentive. I went to visit him a few times, simply out of respect. As I reflected about his condition, I couldn’t help but wonder how many or if any of the members he pastored took time to visit with him. I wondered how the administrators of the conference where he served for so long were providing support for him.
 
This week we funeralized a pastor who means a lot to me personally. He has given me great encouragement and counsel on several occasions. I even leaned on him during a very difficult time personally. He recently retired and the last time we talked he shared with me some of his future plans. Among other things, he said that he intended to focus on playing the piano. He died before he could even begin to truly enjoy retirement. I heard a story about a pastor who died while his school-age children were still attending Adventist academy. Though he was a beloved worker, the tuition discount for employee’s children no longer applied for a family where the employee had died. A former conference treasurer recently shared with me information about a local conference program that offers an additional death benefit to their workers. While I’m not able to confirm all of the details of the benefit, I understand that the policy for each worker is considerably large. It begs the question about the ways we support pastors’ families when the pastor falls asleep in death.
 
And then, what about those who fall into sin, fall from grace or fall away from the church altogether. There seems to be a flurry of instances in the recent past where pastors have left the church, left the ministry or left/embarrassed their families. How do we support them? Did we support them? Did anybody see the signs and help them get help? Recently I wrote a piece encouraging pastors to make a covenant to demonstrate healthy practices to preserve their families and make sure family is their first ministry.
 
When a pastor is overwhelmed or under-supported everybody loses. The church ends up with a pastor who is stretched too thin to lead well. The conference ends up with a church that isn’t thriving in the ways that it should. And the community has a church with lackluster witness and service. I spoke to a pastor who testified to feeling unsupported. He said, “It’s easy to become bitter when you are going through, and people don’t do what you want/need them to do.”
 
I asked him what he thought pastors needed and he gave me these three things:
 
Leaders (administrative and ministerial) who are accessible and have a passion for caring for leaders. – Pastors have to know that if they show weakness that they won’t be dispensed with. They must be confident that their leaders truly care for their personal needs and concerns.
More mentoring and accountability; not for the sake of punitive treatment, but in terms of loving, familial, pastoral support. – What if every pastor had a “big brother/sister”, an “uncle/aunt” and a “father/mother” in ministry that could watch over them and ensure their consistent well-being and development?
 
Church members who are ministry-minded and love us as real people. – It’s been said a million times or more, if the members aren’t busy fighting the fight of faith, then their fighting each other. Often times the pastor gets caught in that crossfire. However, there’s a deeper side to this. My pastor friend went further and said that this really deals with a much deeper heart issue. Is it possible that we fail to serve those who serve us because we simply don’t value their needs and their well-being? Though I hadn’t considered it from that perspective, it made me stop and think. Then, tonight, I saw a documentary about war veterans who return home with countless ailments and conditions. A new war is being waged in our own country to fight for the rights of those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy. Why is it so hard to secure services and care for those who have risked their very lives? While pastors and soldiers serve two totally different roles, and pastoral ministry does not require a pastor to sacrifice her physical body on a foreign battlefield, the parallels exist nonetheless.
 
Right alongside the lack of consideration for the needs of ministers is the subtle idea that ministers shouldn’t have needs at all. While it isn’t overtly taught, it’s caught in so many ways. Pastors are expected to be impenetrable, impervious, incorruptible beings from the spirit realm. Pastors should not have weaknesses, deficiencies, inadequacies or idiosyncrasies. It’s the rationale behind refusing to give a pastor a gratuity or a pastor appreciation gift. It’s the reason why church members complain whenever the pastor misses a Sabbath worship service. It’s one of the primary reasons why church members don’t pray sincerely for their pastor. The pastor couldn’t possible need my prayers, after all, she’s the pastor.
 
It often seems that when pastors fail to meet the expectations of church members and administrators alike (no matter how unrealistic they may be), we check out. It’s like that saying, “They all love you until you tell them ‘no’.” It’s this sneaky little tendency to give up and walk-out on those who don’t give us what we want, when we want it, how we want it. When people stop being what we want them to be we determine that they won’t be anything at all. That’s not just an issue we have that deals with how we relate to pastors. It’s an issue that deals with how we relate to all the people in our lives.
 
When I fell and injured my achilles tendon, there just happened to be a woman nearby who had an ace bandage and a bottle of water. Several people gathered to make sure I was alright. They offered to call 9-1-1. I declined. One friend brought ice, another brought pain killers and offered to drive me to the hospital. I was scheduled to be at the church in the afternoon to receive a shipment of new furniture for the sanctuary. I was blessed to have several community members, friends and church members rally at the church to receive it. They made sure that the giant crates were removed from the truck, opened, furniture inspected and installed and then made sure that the sanctuary was cleaned afterward. I was chided for not sitting and refusing to rest my injured foot, while they handled the heavy-lifting.
 
Today, the doctor told me that I need surgery if I want to actually complete an Ironman triathlon one day. And so tonight, the prayer warriors laid hands on me and prayed for my healing and well-being. As I reflected on it all, it made me think of what the church is capable of when we support each other and extend loving commitment to the work of ministry and all of those involved.
 
I don’t want surgery, but I do trust my doctor. I am not invincible, but a united church is an unstoppable force for good. Pastors fall, but God never fails. Let’s work to make certain that when the pastor falls, we extend the arms of grace, love, compassion and support on God’s behalf to cushion his fall and strengthen the church.
 
Christopher C. Thompson is the pastor of the Hillcrest Church in Pittsburgh, PA. He and his wife Tracy have one son, Christopher II. The three of them live in Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District. He has been training for the 140-mile Ironman Triathlon.

Mark the Manner of Your Bearing

Mark the Manner of Your Bearing

vote4
 
In a matter of days, citizens of this great country will place their “x” against the names of the candidates of their choosing, thus selecting the persons that will form the next government for the ensuing five years. Accordingly, I make a few observations that I hope would be embraced as we move forward. While the ideas are not new, nonetheless, I hope they would seriously be considered.
 
The World Is Taking Note
Our deportment and conduct as citizens and residents of these wonderful islands during this period and beyond ought to reflect the sentiments of a line taken from our national anthem, "See how the world marks the manner of your bearing; Pledge to excel through love and unity."
It is my thinking that the late Timothy Gibson, under inspiration when he inked the national anthem, seemed to have understood the coveted position of our nation; the friendliness, uniqueness of its people, and the natural resources of the archipelago.  Consequently, he called for a decorum reflecting a people worthy of note and honor. And we, the occupants of this archipelago, must ever be mindful that the social media “microphone” is always on, and the “camera” is always rolling. Within seconds, our words and actions can make their way to millions around the globe, thus causing them to question our standing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to portray a nation given to an appreciation for democracy and respect, notwithstanding our differences and preferences. We are known as a people who vote without any major adverse happenings. However, we must improve on that.
 
Pledge to Excel Through Love and Unity
Alternatively, we are called to excel and that could be interpreted as putting “our best foot forward” in all that we do. That to me constitutes a sense of national pride which goes beyond the norm not just in comportment and conduct, but in governance, debates, politics, integrity, academics, sports, service, care for our residence, cemeteries, parks and public building etc. It calls for honest labour, earning our positions and creating opportunities for all as opposed to seeking handouts, or being accorded positions based on who one knows or voted for. We must be a people given to hard work, dignity and respect for all notwithstanding our religious and social standing. And to ensure that we excel in the aforementioned, we must subscribe to love and unity. Therefore, these words of Timothy Gibson convey a most necessary message now and, as such, we as a nation must revisit the message often and not just at independence. In fact, every time we sing it -it must grip us.
 
God Is Watching
            Not only is the world watching us Bahamas, but certainly God is observing how we handle ourselves and mark our bearing. As a nation that regards itself as religious, should not that fact cause all to manifest themselves in respect for difference of opinion and difference of choice as already noted? More so, it should lead politicians and we the people to express our desire and appreciation for a given political party and/or candidate in a manner that does not diminish the other we do not prefer. In other words, if we must denigrate another to advance our selection, then that is fundamentally wrong. Life is about choosing or making decisions, and while we do, we must hold one another in high esteem. After all, when the evening of May 10 comes and the outcome is made known, the party or candidates of our selecting, whether victorious or not, must move on. We have to live together, worship together, shop in the same super markets and occupy the same roads. Politicians must convey this message in speech and in practice. We must remember that we will all face God -not as a nation but as individuals. Therefore, I urge that we remember that there is life beyond May 10th. There is a nation that we must continue to build ever mindful of our pledge to excel in love and unity. We must forever mark the manner of our bearing.

How We Should Relate to LGBT Individuals

How We Should Relate to LGBT Individuals
Notes from Richard Hart, the President of Loma Linda University, February 2017

ques


 
 
 
Fasten your seat belt. This issue is a tough one — but one we need to get out on the table and discuss.
 
Even that list of letters —LGBT — is new, unknown to some, and still changing. The term represents a broad group of people with various sexual identities and expressions — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — covering all the way from same-sex attraction to gender dysphoria (previously called gender identity disorder). LGBT is the broad title used by many in today’s world, to which some now add Q, for queer or questioning, and I for intersex.
 
Few issues have divided religions, cultures, society, and especially families, more than this one.
As an academic health sciences center, Loma Linda University Health serves individuals representing all aspects of the LGBT spectrum, for we are called to meet the world where it is. It is critical that we understand, treat and support everyone whom we encounter, regardless of their hereditary, cultivated, assigned or self-assumed sexual identity. That is what we do as health professionals. It is what our code of conduct expects of us. I don’t think anyone can argue with that. And in this meeting, this dialogue, we come to know LGBT people as individuals facing their own struggles and pathways through life.
 
As with so much of our knowledge in medical science today, our understanding of sexual identity is rapidly changing. When I was in medical school, we were taught that homosexuality was caused by an overbearing father, or was it the mother? Now we know that besides the few clear cases caused by abnormal X or Y sex chromosomal expression, there are many more genetic variations that modify various hormonal pathways and result in a broad spectrum of psychological and physical changes.
 
What used to be a “binary” view of gender — you are either male or female — is now considered by many a “non-binary” model, where there is a whole spectrum of sexual identity and expression between the typically understood male and female ends of the spectrum. These variations make sexual identity and practices difficult to understand, accept and navigate for many. For example, we have biological boys at birth with the strong and persistent sense that they are really girls “trapped in a boy’s body,” and vice versa. This comes so early in life that it cannot be considered a choice they are making but rather an internal identity caused by their particular genetic code and its expression.
 
As I have tried to get my mind around such fundamental questions, one of the most helpful books I’ve read was recommended by a church committee on which I serve. The book is “Understanding Gender Dysphoria” by Mark Yarhouse, a Christian psychologist trained at Wheaton University. As one reads through the many case histories he shares, you have to be filled with both confusion and compassion for the huge dilemmas many people find themselves in as they seek to understand and deal with their sexuality/gender identity. The January 2017 issue of National Geographic, titled “Gender Revolution,” tells stories from around the world detailing how different cultures have treated these individuals. This is clearly not just a Western phenomenon, but part of the entire human experience.
 
This new reality and understanding now presents us with the need for a major paradigm shift in our relations with each other. How do I relate to someone who is different from me in such a fundamental way, yet deserves my care and friendship as much as anyone else? My own interactions suggest that most LGBT individuals are not trying to stand out, or fly a flag — they are longing to be accepted as a part of the human race and community they find themselves in, fellow travelers on this earth, just like the rest of us.
 
Yarhouse suggests that transgender individuals have three choices for understanding themselves and how to live their lives — as the traditional (to identify with one’s birth anatomy), as understanding one’s self to have a disability (a variation from normal) or to see oneself as representative of the great diversity in the world. What we know with certainty is that the emotional stress on LGBT individuals, particularly those dealing with transgender issues, leads to a very high suicide rate. Higher than normal rates of depression and social isolation are also widespread among others identifying under the LGBT umbrella.
 
Now, hang on, I know all about the Bible texts that talk about sexual variations, their sinfulness and results. But I also know that Christ Himself spent His time on this earth reaching out to individuals who were marginalized during His day — prostitutes, lepers, the lame, blind, demon possessed, tax collectors and the poorest of the poor. While the Bible doesn’t give us a specific story about Jesus relating to an LGBT person, individuals under this umbrella would certainly fit into His lexicon of those deserving His compassion and care. The question of causation asked of Him about the blind man — “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”— seems very pertinent here. Christ’s answer — “Neither, but to glorify God” — acknowledges His acceptance regardless of causation.
 
So what are we to do? What am I to do? What is Loma Linda University Health to do when LGBT individuals seek out our campus as a place of understanding and healing? They are certainly here, some we know about and I am sure many we don’t. Do we accept or reject? Do we brand and watch, or integrate and care? It seems to me the old acronym WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) comes to bear here as we acknowledge each individual as a child of God. It seems to me that this is not a time for judgment, but rather a time for acceptance, a time for offering emotional support during a difficult journey. What better role can you and I play than to relate to LGBT individuals as part of the family of struggling human beings to which we all belong?
 
Richard Hart, MD, DrPH
President
Loma Linda University Health

The Virgin Mary – What’s the Fuss? Who Is the Virgin Mary? Who Is the Virgin Mary?

The Virgin Mary – What’s the Fuss?
Who Is the Virgin Mary?
 
MaryS

Within the New Testament of the King James Version, the name “Mary” is recorded some 54 times in 46 verses of scripture. These occurrences represent seven persons bearing the name “Mary”. For the purpose of this article, I focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, highly regarded within Christendom. However, among Roman Catholics, Mary is viewed as one without sin and thus worthy to bear Jesus. On the other hand, while Protestants respect Mary as the vessel through whom God chose to send His son, Mary is not idolized. Accordingly, I share these differences and summarize with an Adventist position regarding the Virgin Mary.
 
Looking at Mary from a Catholic’s Perspective
Key to understanding Mary from a Catholic perspective is to look at the Immaculate Conception. “This dogma . . . states that Mary, like her divine Son, is exempt from original sin” (Is There Something About Mary by George Reid, Adventist Review, November 8, 2007).  In fact, Pope Pius IX, in 1854, in the bull “Ineffabilis,” attributed to Mary infallibility. Pope Pius contends, “The Most Holy Virgin Mary was in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 199). As such, Pope Pius believing that this information has been “revealed by God,” insists that it “must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful” (Ibid).
Additionally, Catholics reference three scriptural passages to support their position. The first is Genesis 3:15 in which they view  “the seed of the woman . . . as referring to the Redeemer . . . and thus the Mother of the Redeemer came to be seen in the woman” (Ibid. p. 200).
Luke 1:28 states, “Hail, favored one!” or “one full of grace.” Therefore, Ludwig Ott argues that “The expression ‘full of grace’ . . . in the angel’s salutation, represents the proper name, and must on this account express a characteristic quality of Mary.” Further, Ott saw this quality as extending “over her whole life, beginning with her entry into the world” (Ibid).
In the third passage, Luke 1:42, employing the words of Elizabeth, “Most blessed are you among women,” Ludwig Ott argues, the “blessing of God which rests upon Mary is made parallel to the blessing of God which rests upon Christ in His humanity. This parallelism suggests that Mary, just like Christ, was from the beginning of her existence, free from all sin” (Ibid., p.201). So without question, Mary is viewed as someone to be revered by Catholics. In fact, as of 1950 Catholics accepted that, “Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (Mary for Evangelicals, p. 244). This dogma is known as the Bodily Assumption.
 
Looking at Mary from a Protestant’s Perspective
          On the other hand, Protestants and Adventists, reject the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, for it contradicts the “universality of sin.” The Apostle Paul clearly states in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (KJV). As for the three texts alluded to, they all seem to fall short of substantiating the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. An examination of Genesis 3:15 would reveal that Mary was not in the picture. And as for Luke 1:28, it would be very difficult to prove a sinless conception of Mary as implied by Ludwig. Quite frankly, the Immaculate Conception is not supported by this passage. Again, it must be concluded that it would be farfetched to apply the same blessings and sinless state of Christ in His humanity to Mary. As noted already, Protestants regard Mary as one chosen of God for a special ministry.
 
Adventists’ View of Mary
            Adventists share the same views as expressed above by Protestants. Embracing the Catholic thinking would bring into question several teachings such as the doctrine of sin, the matter of human nature, spiritualism, the immortality of the soul and the interpretation and acceptance of scripture over tradition. Notwithstanding, these facts the focus ought to be on Christ or God, and not on the means that He has chosen to introduce His Son to the human race. To do so is to miss the purpose of the Savior’s birth. It was to bring salvation, and that fact still stands today. To ensure that there would be no misunderstanding, before Jesus was conceived, the angel informed Mary of His birth in Luke 1:35. Later, as seen in Luke 2, she and Joseph are reminded of the role of the child through the Magi, the words of Simeon and the naming of Jesus. Therefore, I conclude that it is Jesus and not Mary who must be uplifted, exalted and worshiped. Let’s maintain the biblical focus.

Evangelism: Fortress or Salt

Evangelism: Fortress or Salt

eva

            Last week I sought to establish that there is much to be achieved in evangelism should we make Christ the center of all that we do, or, as Pastor L. McMillan would say, “Begin and end with Christ.”   However, for today’s update, I attempt to zero in on two important approaches to evangelism namely: “salt” and “fortress” ministries in the context of beginning and ending with Christ.
 

Defining Salt and Fortress City Ministries
Fortress Model of Ministry
            According to Jon Paulien, in Matthew 5:14, the figure of a fortress city is employed to illustrate “a community that is visible, attractive, and yet carefully protected. In this model the city draws people into itself; its presence is an attracting factor. It doesn’t try to change the world around it; it calls people out of the world.”
Salt Ministry
            Based on Matthew 5: 13, Jesus likens His followers to the “salt of the earth.” Salt is used to illustrate “a community that goes out and mingles with others in a desire to do them good. Just as salt performs its task by blending into a dish of food, so the church, as salt, infiltrates the world and changes it.”  Put another way, the Apostle Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, that he became like others in order to win them.
 
Both Are Needed!
            For the gospel to be carried, it is important that both of these models be employed in reaching people, but we must not make the mistake of believing that our methods constitute an end in themselves. Methods must be punctuated with Christ for any drawing to take place.
Admittedly, secular thinking requires that the church employ a creative approach as the secular mind do not readily respond. Ways are needed to reach moderns and post moderns. As such, the salt model presents an avenue for reaching such persons. Again, I reference the statement by Ellen White to ensure that we make Christ foundational to reaching people, for people need Him and through His Holy Spirit all people can be reached. Says Mrs. White, “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’.” --The Ministry of Healing, p. 143. Put another way, the Apostle Paul says, “That I may know Christ” (Phil. 3:10). Everyone must encounter Him if salvation is to be experienced. However, this does not negate an approach as Mrs. White speaks to a “mingling”. To me that is relationship with others in order to reach them. How is this made possible?
 
Felt Needs
            People are reachable through ways and areas that are considered needs. It may not surprise you that there are numerous books on the best selling list related to self-help. People are seeking help for home repairs, marriage, parenting and handling of funds.  If we as Adventists were to look at what we are doing (refer to last week’s Ministerial), we will discover that we are engaged in or have programs catering to most concerns. The key is to be intentional and focus on achieving the goal of fulfilling these needs in thus being Christ’s centric.  Thereby, we would gain access to persons who otherwise would put up resistance. Church Growth experts tell us that notwithstanding our goal to evangelize, it is important that patience be exercised. People need to know that we who are reaching out can be trusted and that we are genuinely interested in them.  So kindness and an ongoing relationship are critical.
Unfortunately, there are risks in “Salt Ministry.” Studies show (for example “Everlasting Gospel,” by Jon Paulien) that it is possible to become too close that one may compromise.  Ed Dickerson, in his work Grounds for Belief, relates a story of a lady “who came on to him.”  Of course, he did not yield, but instead held to principle thus keeping the discussion on a high principled level. We need always to depend on the Holy Spirit. Clearly defined boundaries must be established, or we are likely to fall and bring reproach upon the church and ourselves. Again, everything we do must be about Christ less we lose our focus even with the best of intentions.
 
 
To: All Pastors and Elders
Our Believe His Prophets Online Seminar is this Sabbath – April 8th 2017, 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm Miami time.  
Connect to webcast.interamerica.org and choose your language.
We look forward to a very informative and inspirational session.

Is the Fervor of Evangelism Waning?

Is the Fervor of Evangelism Waning?

LJevan



            Depending on who is questioned, an answer to the above question is likely to result in a “yes” or “no” response.  Admittedly, there is more that can and ought to be done when it comes to evangelism.  Unfortunately, when evangelism is mentioned, the idea of a church or tent crusade is conjured up. However, I would want us to broaden our thinking in considering the numerous potentially-evangelistic opportunities within and outside the church weekly and, in some instances, daily. 
 

Intentional and Strategic Evangelism
            Unless we view these ministries as evangelistic in nature, we are not likely to go beyond providing just a service. In other words, our ministries ought to be strategic if we are to experience results, be they short-term or long.  The concern is simply, “Is there a definite purpose to what we do?” The intention must be clear and obvious to us as we engage in the services and initiatives of the church. In our initiatives, as leaders we must educate ourselves and members to see that what we do is more than just providing a service or program; it is ministry with a purpose, and that is “Uplifting Christ that persons may be drawn to Him” (John 12:32). Thereby, what we do will be purposeful!
 
Revisiting Some of our Ministries
            Has it occurred to you that every week Sabbath School is conducted with visitors in attendance?  Every Sabbath service held is attended by visitors and former members! Currently, there are Vacation Bible schools, Summer Camp and ongoing Pathfinder meetings. Marriage Clubs, soup kitchens, sporting activities, wellness programs, media ministries such as Hope TV, 3ABN, radio, newspaper inserts, Internet, Facebook, Instagram, choirs, etc. And these are not all the programs that are available.  Honestly, were you aware of all of these and the ones that are done by persons like yourself each day or week to assist others? Truth be told, some of us may not have considered the potential and opportunities these initiatives represent for drawing persons to Christ, as we sometimes fail to call for responses or decisions or even follow-up. Our ministries must be intentional –that is they must be about uplifting Christ, and He will draw persons by the Holy Spirit unto Himself.
 
Benefits of Ministry with a Purpose!
Cost Effective
            Consider our tent outreach. It is obvious that there is not the same appeal; and yet the expenses continue to mount up, and the results may not be what we want, but do we give up or explore ways to make them serve our objective? That we ought to do, but the focus must be always on uplifting Christ in every message and in all aspects of the campaign. Otherwise, we are likely to give in to pressure or create pressure of our own in order to achieve results. However, with a greater emphasis on prayer and deliberately seeking to share with others what Christ means to us, it is quite possible that we will witness a greater excitement. And that kind of result is not limited to tent evangelism.
 
Sustained Drive
            If I could sense the value of uplifting Christ in all that I do, I can have a sustained approach to evangelism as opposed to a seasonal approach. This requires time and commitment in training my members so that evangelism becomes a way of life as opposed to something we do every now and then.
Meet Felt-Needs
            Most of the ministries conducted by the church are meeting felt-needs, which is basic to reaching people with the good news, but if they do not go beyond the basic needs to the ultimate need for Christ, these ministries essentially will fall short and lose focus. Ellen White clearly noted: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’.” --The Ministry of Healing, p. 143. The latter part of bidding people to follow Jesus speaks to ministry with an objective.
Less Attrition
            The drop-out rate is likely to decrease when relationships are formed and there is interaction between the old and new members, for in nurturing new believers the aim is to get them to see the value of knowing Christ and leading others to know and experience Him. One of my university professors, Jon Paulien, observed, “Although public evangelism often succeeds in increasing baptisms, it does not always result in sustained church growth.”  Furthermore, Paulien noted that “They joined a church that met five nights a week, used lots of visual aids, and had exciting music performed by professionals. After baptism, people are expected to settle for once a week, few visual aids if any, and a piano or organ played with minimum of enthusiasm.  A little reflection indicates that the quality of Sabbath worship is crucial to sustaining church growth—and not just among secular people.” Everlasting Gospel, Ever Changing World, p.177.
            So one can deduce that we employ strategies to get people into the church, and when those strategies are not maintained following the crusade, there is a disconnect. Therefore, the question is relevant: “Is the focus on getting people to know Christ?” Evangelism is not dead and will not die as long as there is Christ.  However, evangelism will not realize its full potential until you and I are awakened to what is God’s purpose for our lives and we truly focus on knowing Him better.
 
To: All Pastors and Elders
Our Believe His Prophets Online Seminar is almost here – April 8th 2017, 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm Miami time.  
Connect to webcast.interamerica.org and choose your language.
We look forward to a very informative and inspirational session.

The Value of Time

The Value of Time

time

 
     I am sure you have heard the expression: “If only I had more time.” Truth be told, we all have the same amount of time –twenty-four (24) hours in a day.  However, the question is: “What do we do with 24 hours?” The answer to this question determines what we do or get done.  Ellen White whom we admire wrote: “If every moment were valued and rightly employed, we should have time for everything that we need to do for ourselves or for the world” (The Ministry of Healing, page 208). How do we rightly employ 24 hours?

Prioritize
     As it is for many of you, there is a demand upon my time.  Many e-mails and telephone calls come to me daily. Also, persons with and without appointments come to see me. It is impossible to respond to all- even though I try. I am grateful for the assistance of my past and current administrative assistants, who have helped persons with vital information thus reducing the amount of persons I have to see. I wish to clarify that I enjoy meeting persons personally, but if I saw everyone that came or called, I would have no time to do other important duties. As a rule, I seek to respond to e-mails once I read them; for to put this off requires a second reading, and that takes more time. The point that I make is that management of time necessitates prioritizing what is most important. Personal devotion or time spent with the Lord is absolutely necessary for me. In my line of ministry, I require wisdom and spiritual fortitude, because I do not know what I will encounter in the course of a day. Also important are spending time with my family and getting the work done for which I am employed.
     A near death experience confirmed what’s most important in my life (I was traveling on a 9-seater aircraft when it lost one engine).  Outside of my relationship to Christ, I considered strongly my wife, Denise, and children Larnelle and Darnell. However, I don’t think one needs to have a near death experience to realize what is most important in life. You just need to ask, “If I had only one hour left, what would I do with my time?”

Advance Planning
    You have heard it said, “He who fails to plan plans to fail.”  How true! It is a must that we plan ahead so as to avoid panic or unnecessary stress. To some this is referred to as strategic or deliberate planning.
     Advance planning allows for quality time.  In writing this weekly update, I find it necessary to settle in my mind what I will write well in advance of my Thursday evening or Friday deadline. To wait until Thursday or Friday morning results in anxiety and stress.  The same could be said for last minute sermon preparation or the like. All of us are required to prepare sermons, so we should schedule enough time for preparation.  Advance preparation gives us time to think carefully about what we want to say, thus avoiding our pet expressions and themes. Admittedly, most of us have experienced the Friday night jitters of knowing that we will speak in the morning, but we are not ready. We deny spouse, children and self needed time for bonding, worship and relaxation. It is hard even to hear the voice of God, for we are too anxious.  Unfortunately, we stand before the congregation at times tired, tense and irritable; and we struggle to present the message.  If only we had planned ahead, we could have enjoyed Friday evening and Sabbath morning.  After all, we, too, need rest if we are to serve effectively.  Leading and ministering could be stressful, but if we, like Christ, would pull away and retreat, we would have a more balanced ministry.

Delegate
    We must recognize that we cannot do it all. Even assignments and projects that we can do we must learn to delegate, otherwise we are likely to experience burn out. God expects that we train, equip and empower members for ministry.  Sometimes we attempt too much while there are those who can do what is necessary.  I know it is easy to adopt the notion: “If you want something done, do it yourself.”  While that may work, it is not healthy.
    In summary, I repeat that we all have access to the same amount of time -24 hours in a day. Maybe, if I were to start now, I can begin to realize some needed changes in my life. I suggest a simple but powerful approach.  Get a “3 by 5” card or a piece of paper,  or the note pad on your smart phone, and list what it is that you need to do today or tomorrow (depending when you read this update). Then get started with the most important. It may surprise you that you have time in your day for some things that you desire to do for yourself or another. Later, get a sheet of paper and list what you want to accomplish within the next year or even 10 years of your life.  Do so prayerfully, and then devise a plan of action to achieving them.  Again you may surprise yourself as to how focused you are. Make no mistake about it, if you do not have a plan for your day or life, then someone else, including the devil, is likely to have one for you. Simply put, there is much packaged in 24 hours: there is rest, there is worship, there is recreation, there is work, there is time for self, family and others –it is all up to you. Consider the following thought.
 
Thought to Ponder:
To Realize
To realize the value of one year, ask a student who has failed a final exam.
To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of one minute, ask the person who has missed the train, bus, or plane.
To realize the value of one second, ask a person who has survived an accident.
To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.
Time waits for no one.  Treasure every moment you have.

Living in Tension

Living in Tension
tension

 
In the insightful book by a former General Conference president, Jan Paulsen, entitled, “Where Are We Going?” he includes a chapter captioned, “Living in the Tension.” Essentially, he focuses on the tension of living between the first advent and the second coming of Christ, or put another way, living between the now and later, or between the ideal versus reality. It is hard to argue that living in tension offers its own challenges: “Where am I going?” “Am I living for Christ?”  “What do I do given current ills and acts of injustice and violence?”  “How do I make the message of the church relevant to today’s secular mind?” If that is not enough, how does one reconcile the fact that the church is not perfect? Added to the preceding, there are those who are calling for reform and a cleansing of the church.  How do we respond to all of the concerns? In response, I share some personal observations based on my understanding of the Bible, Spirit of prophecy and from my experience.
 
The Church of God
            Unfortunately, there are those who see the church as “them versus us.” The fact is the church is a body of believers who are imperfect with issues of one type or another. Some members are ill, and some others are severely ill. The church is a work of God in progress of refining and renewal. God is seeking to save His people. Against this not so good description, comes the encouraging statement of Ellen White who says, “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 12). Given this explanation, I need to be careful of what I say about God’s church or, for that matter, about myself. God is not finished with us, but He will finish the work started if we allow Him to do His job, which He is more than qualified to do.
 
Avoid Discouragement
            Living between the now and the yet to be offers its share of trials, persecution and discouragement, especially when the darts or insults are hurled from within the church. Though this hurts, it ought not to surprise us, for Paul wrote to young Timothy years ago, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).  That is not a perhaps or maybe so but a definite reality. Says Jesus in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.”
            Paulsen explains, “Discouragement is the constant enemy of leaders. We may face it in our own walks, and we’ll inevitably confront it within the community of faith, where it usually arrives in the company of criticism, negativity, and faultfinding.”  The onus is on us to not give in to discouragement or discourage another. Instead we can and ought to pray for one another, especially leaders.  When last did you pray for your pastor, conference or world leader?  Or when last did I pray for a fellow elder or colleague?
 
 
Keep Focused on the Yet to Be
            Living between tensions of the first and second advents, it is crucial that we learn to live in the power of the cross and the resurrection, as we keep focused on the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. We do this by spending time each day reading God’s word, praying and witnessing.  Even when we do not feel like it, we keep focused on the mission of making disciples, for did not Christ offer us the power and authority to accomplish this mission? When we lose sight of His mission, we lose focus and instead of growing in Christ, we grow away from Christ. Living in Christ must be a way of life, as it is essential as the very breath we breathe. Without oxygen we will die --it is that simple.  Likewise, when we become distracted with everything else to the neglect of our own soul’s need of Christ, we become spiritual dwarfs? Ours must be one of daily obedience. This will lead to daily renewal or what we refer to as revival, and there will be gradual reforms in our way of life, overcoming pride, jealousy, envy, criticism and negativity. This leads me to declare like the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Let’s live for Christ in the “now,” and we can rest assured that we will live with Him in the “future.” So never despair for “it’s trials that bring us close to heaven.”

Overcoming the Hurdles of Ministry

Overcoming the Hurdles of Ministry
hurdle
A Focus on the Family reports “a whopping 1,500 pastors will leave their churches . . . due to moral failure, burnout or contention within the congregation” (Pastors and Wives at the Breaking Point - Adventist Review online). Essentially, the above reference underscores problems and challenges within pastoral ministry. Given this reality, how does one handle the challenges and woes brought on by parishioners and colleagues? In this regard, I share the following points:
 
Remind Yourself of God’s Call
To remind oneself of God’s calling is to reassure oneself of his/her purpose and reason for being in ministry.  It is like asking the questions, “Who am I?” “What am I doing in ministry?” “Why should I continue?” It is human to be affected and experience hurt and even failures, but it is crucial to know why one is in ministry and why one should continue. The Apostle Paul referred to his calling to the Gospel Ministry about three times in the book of Acts, chapters 9, 22 and 26. Additionally, this allows for refocusing and a deeper sense of commitment. It also allows for a sense of fulfilment and meaning as one engages in ministry to the church. 
 
Expect Criticisms
Admittedly, no one enjoys being criticized, even at times if the criticisms are constructive. We would rather receive praises, accolades and even flattery.  However, that would not be right, especially flattery, as it fails to confront honesty. Hearing week after week, “That was a great sermon” may lead one to expect this always; and when it does not come, it may be disappointing.  Personally, I enjoy when members remark, “I have been touched,” or “I never thought that was in the text,” etc.  I feel good as the person/s is likely to look forward into the Bible.
By your anticipating criticism, it tends to cushion the blow. Also, if a pastor can accept the criticisms objectively, he or she may discover some good advice for free. And except for the discomfort of the criticism, he/she will be better off for it (depending on one’s personality, for some of us handle criticism well and some not so well).  I am tempted to share one experience, but to do so would be to give away the person and setting. Nonetheless, I note that on one occasion when I was criticized, I went to the member’s place of employment; and upon confronting the person, I discovered that the information given was true, but the manner in which it was presented was not pleasant. However, I learnt a valuable lesson that works for me even to this day.
 
Establish a Prayer Ministry
It is no secret that one of the most effective weapons that a pastor has is that of prayer.  Prayer enables one to elevate his or her thoughts on a power bigger and higher than self, as opposed to focusing on problems, issues and the mundane.  Develop the practice of praying for difficult persons by name. It is hard to pray for one and wish a person evil. More so, it is in praying that one depends on God to grant wisdom, solution and courage if required to confront albeit tactfully or in a Christ-like manner. In praying for those who criticize and give you a difficult time, you will find that you are in good company as Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Stephen, one of the seven deacons, prayed a similar prayer.
 
Plan Your Days
To leave your day open is to leave time to pity self and situation.  On the other hand, strategizing to have an effective ministry allows for freshness, innovation and a sense of structure. Ensuring that I make time for personal devotion, exercise, family, sermon preparation, visitation, person and personal development is important. There is some truth to the expression, “the devil finds work for idle hands.”
Finally, observe that when one does his/her best he/she must accept that and not allow others to place guilt trips on him. Do your best each day, and leave everything to God.

A Remarkable Hope

A Remarkable Hope
 
In recent times, I have encountered the passing of numerous friends and members. I need not tell you that the death of a friend can be painful and frustrating especially when there is some reluctance to come to grips with it, even as a pastor. Admittedly, I feel that way with the passing of my son-in-law’s mother. Althea was a friend who turned family, as she was the other mom to my daughter.  However, she did not get to do much as she was in and out of hospital battling with an illness. Nevertheless, she did what she could; and reflecting on her back in December at the wedding, she seemed to have revived but not for long. As I prepared to eulogize her, I was drawn to a most powerful treatise on death by the Apostle Paul, recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, comprising of three salient points that left me and no doubt countless others with a remarkable sense of hope. They are, (1) Jesus’ death guarantees the resurrection of the righteous dead, (2) The dead in Christ are not disadvantaged by dying before Christ’s return, and (3) The righteous living are not advantaged over the righteous dead at Christ’s return.
 
 Jesus’ Death Guarantees the Resurrection of the Righteous Dead  
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 4:14, NKJV). For the Apostle Paul, the resurrection of Jesus guaranteed the resurrection of the dead in Christ.  It is hard to overlook this fact that he preached in Acts 17:3, which gave rise to the establishment of Thessalonian church. Unfortunately, many of these saints believed that they would witness Christ’s coming in their day, but some passed away- prompting concern. Therefore, Paul appealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (NKJV).
            However, this initial part of Paul’s response would not have sufficed, for there seemed to have been other worries regarding the passing of loved ones. One may deduce that they simply needed more assurance regarding questions such as: “If a loved one died in Christ, will he be at a disadvantage in having the righteous living precede him?”
 
 The Dead in Christ Are not Disadvantaged by Dying Before Christ’s Return
            As already noted in 1Thess. 4:14, it says that God “will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus,” and in verse 16 it says when.  Paul argues that the righteous dead, who are described as “asleep,” will be raised first. That is to say, they will be raised before there is any movement on the part of the righteous living to get to see the Lord Jesus Christ in advance of the dead. Doesn’t this seem contradictory to popular thinking today that when one dies in the Lord, he or she goes directly to heaven to be with the Lord, or to hell, if he or she lived an ungodly life? Many of the funeral brochures captioned as “Home Going” reflect the unbiblical view. Nevertheless, Paul’s reasoning of “God bringing with Him” the dead is clearly understood as raising them.  So why would it be necessary to raise them if they are already in heaven? Jesus clarifies in John 5: 28, 29, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (NKJV).
 
 The Righteous Living Are not Advantaged over the Righteous Dead at Christ’s Return
To make clear his reasoning, Paul writes in 1 Thess. 4:15 “that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep” (NKJV). He is emphatic, as he says, “by no means.”  As a matter of fact, he says in verse 17 that those “who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (NKJV).  The “them” refers to the dead in Christ.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord (NKJV).
            So Paul contends that there is no advantage for the Christian if he or she lives to witness Christ’s return versus if she or he dies before that time, as both will be caught up together to see and be with the Lord, following the dead in Christ being raised first.  What counts is a daily readiness for Christ’s return. So it does not matter if Christ calls or comes; it will be glory to see Him and receive His welcome to eternal life.
It is this remarkable hope that keeps me going even with the passing of so many saints. No wonder Paul says, “Comfort one another with these words” (verse 18, NKJV). Keep comforting with the word of God. We will see loved ones again! However, if we would, we must remain faithful to Christ and not lose hope. I choose to believe in One who is resurrection and life.

“PRAY FOR ME”

“PRAY FOR ME”

pray2
 

The above is uttered time and time again when one is about to face some challenge or situation requesting a divine intervention.  However, it is mainly requested of pastors or a prayer warrior and not usually by a pastor of others.  But the expression, “pray for me,” or more specifically, “Pray for us,” speaks of the Apostle Paul’s request for his colleagues and himself to be strong in the face of “unreasonable” and “wicked men” so that “the word of the Lord may run swiftly” (II Thess. 3:1, 2).
Prayer is absolutely necessary for each follower of God, and as such, must be embraced, practiced and applied.  Accordingly, I seek to share a few principles of prayer and a request.

 

What Is Prayer?
According to one individual, “prayer is the language of dependence.”  It denotes a communication between man and God.  For instance, we observe in Luke 18 where we find two men going up to the temple to pray and one, a Pharisee, “prayed thus with himself,” but the other one, a tax collector, “would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven,” but cried out to God, “be merciful to me a sinner.”  So essentially, prayer is the pouring out of the heart, whether in gratitude or in petitioning the Divine One, as seen in Psalm 54:2 where the psalmist says, “Hear the words of my mouth oh God.”  Three points emerge from the text: 1. There is the person who is praying.  2. The prayer is directed to God the receiver of prayer.  3. It is through our words that we communicate with God.  However, even the most eloquent petitioning does not impress God, but the sincerity of the petitioner, for Romans 8:26, 27 states that “the Spirit makes intercession for us with groaning.”  Therefore, I find the words by Ellen G. White most assuring: “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend” (STC p. 94).

 

Prayer Is Not a Gift
I deliberately seek to convey this message when I travel different places fulfilling preaching appointments that prayer is not a gift.  According to I Cor. 12, Rom. 12 and Eph. 4, one will look hard and wide but will not find prayer listed among the gifts.  One can also argue that there are some other gifts not listed in any of the chapters.  However, I do not believe that prayer should be regarded as a gift.  Despite the fact that there are some people who pray well and consistently being considered as prayer warriors, it is my opinion that God did not include prayer as a gift, for it would imply that only certain people would possess this gift.  For example, not every person has the gift of teaching, healing, or speaking in tongues, but everyone may call on the name of the Lord in prayer.  And I think for good reasons, Jesus intended that it should be that way, for we find the saying “men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).  Therefore, notwithstanding our lack of eloquence or comfort in praying, we may simply learn to call on the name of the Lord and cry out to him for sustenance, protection, and salvation.  And the Bible assures us that God will hear the prayer of a penitent heart or a sincere seeker.  Therefore, is it any wonder that the hymn writer says, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer”?  So I encourage you today to pray, for we serve a God who takes note of our words and as noted already, the Holy Spirit transmits and presents our prayers to God.

 

A Prayer Request
For the next eight days, along with scores of individuals, I will be travelling to Moldova to participate in an extensive GC out-reach involving some 4,300 evangelistic endeavors in eastern Europe in eight countries: Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, as part of Total Member Involvement (for a full story visit: https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2017-02-02/enormous-evangelistic-endeavor-kicks-off-in-eastern-europe/he). I solicit your prayers that God will keep me in good health and that I would preach the word of God with power, conviction, and in clarity.  Additionally, I pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon me and all who will be proclaiming His Word.  Also, I ask that you keep our families in prayer and that God will protect them while we are separated during this period. 
Additionally, I wish to include the crusades that are being conducted by Pastor Shian O’Connor in the North Bahamas Conference, and by Pastor Leonardo Rahming in the South Bahamas Conference as well as the others to be commenced shortly.  Undoubtedly, the recent visit of Jerry and Janet Page from the General Conference during the past week has proven to be a blessing to members and workers, in preparing the ground for outreach.  Unfortunately, due to health reasons, Pastor Jerry and Janet could not continue their ministry to the Cayman Islands Conference.  But we praise God for the impact they had in the South Bahamas Conference, North Bahamas Conference, and the Turks and Caicos Islands Mission.  Personal reports coming to me speak to personal victories, forgiveness and assurance of salvation.  People who were cold toward each other are now communicating freely.  I need not say that prayer works, and I’m even more convinced that we need to pray more than ever before for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for wisdom in these trying times.  So in accordance with the prayer initiative of the Atlantic Caribbean Union, I encourage you to pray until something happens.  The focus this week has been on National Leaders.  Therefore, I employ you this Sabbath to spend some time during the pastoral prayer to lift up all of the national leaders in your respective country.  God still answers prayers!

The Importance of the Holy Spirit

The Importance of the Holy Spirit

HS2
 
       Daily in my devotional reading I come across various statements and thoughts. Sometimes I have to read them over and over to grasp the deeper meaning. However, there are those that strike me at first glance, speaking directly to my soul. Such could be said as I read Acts of the Apostles Chapter 5 entitled, The Gift of the Spirit. The author, Ellen White wrote, “Wherever the need of the Holy Spirit is a matter little thought of, there is seen spiritual drought, spiritual darkness, spiritual declension and death. Whenever minor matters occupy the attention, the divine power which is necessary for the growth and prosperity of the church, and which would bring all other blessings in its train, is lacking, though offered in infinite plenitude” (AA 50). Given the preceding statement, it is clear that we need to aggressively seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit daily.
 
The Importance of the Holy Spirit
     I must confess to you that I have learnt to pray for the Holy Spirit and His guidance especially when faced with meetings where I least know what to expect.  However, I have come to realize that even in meetings and situations where I feel most confident, I need to depend on the Holy Spirit. “Why?” you may ask. It is because I have discovered that when I have this sense of over confidence, I tend to pray little; and it is then that what was supposed to be an easy and predictable situation turns out to be just the opposite of what I expected. It could be that God is showing me that in every situation I need to be more dependent on Him - even in situations that I may consider of little challenge.
      Accordingly, I ask that you revisit the above statement by Mrs. White. I underscore, “Wherever the need of the Holy Spirit is a matter little thought of, there is seen spiritual drought, spiritual darkness, spiritual declension and death.”  Truth be told, you and I cannot afford that.
 
Seeking Sincerely the Holy Spirit
     Given the fact that “Wherever the need of the Holy Spirit is a matter little thought of, there is seen spiritual drought, spiritual darkness, spiritual declension and death,” shouldn’t we pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? In this vein, Ellen White contends, “Since this is the means by which we are to receive power, why do we not hunger and thirst for the gift of the Spirit? Why do we not talk of it, pray for it, and preach concerning it?”  In fact, she points out, “The Lord is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who serve Him than parents are to give good gifts to their children. For the daily baptism of the Spirit every worker should offer his petition to God.”  Furthermore, says Mrs. White, “Companies of Christian workers should gather to ask for special help, for heavenly wisdom, that they may know how to plan and execute wisely. Especially should they pray that God will baptize His chosen ambassadors in mission fields with a rich measure of His Spirit. The presence of the Spirit with God’s workers will give the proclamation of truth a power that not all the honor or glory of the world could give” (AA 50).
 
The Need for Intentionality
            Given the above statements, I need to be more intentional in my daily walk with God. Like you, I want to know that God is directing in every phase and aspect of my life. In short, I must have a greater dependence on Him- and yet the privilege is ours to get to know Him better and to know His will.  The secret is found in Acts 1-2, which speaks about the disciples being of one accord and seeking the fulfillment of that which Christ promised –the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  What about us? Isn’t there the promise of Joel 2 that apply to us? "I will pour My Spirit upon all flesh." Until we realize the need and importance of the Holy Spirit, it will be business as usual. Have you considered why the various initiatives (Revived by His Word, P.U.S.H, and 7-7-7) are all under the banner of Revival and Reformation?  All of these are designed to encourage us as church leaders and members to recognize what is our greatest need. Let us make the application today.

The Importance of a Spiritual Life

The Importance of a Spiritual Life

spiritualLife

 

Naturally Spiritual!
It is a bit presumptuous to ask pastors and elders to give attention to spirituality.  After all, it is assumed that those involved in spiritual work will be spiritual. However, those of us who are pastors and elders know too well that spirituality is not automatic. It is a daily experience so much so that the Apostle Paul argues that “I die daily.”  Also, Ellen White said, “Jesus Himself, while He dwelt among men, was often in prayer.” He did this so “that He might come forth braced for duty and trial. He is our example in everything.” Additionally, she remarked, “And if the Savior of men, the Son of God, felt the need of prayer, how much more should feeble, sinful mortals feel the necessity of fervent, constant prayer” (STC p. 93). Accordingly, it is crucial that each servant of God gives priority to time with God, as this is absolutely critical for ministry and more so for life. By this I speak of a structured devotional life.
 
Take Nothing for Granted!
            It is said that Songs of Solomon 1:6 is possibly the saddest verse in scripture as it says, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards. But my vineyard I have not kept.” Put another way, the Apostle Paul writes, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
As pastors and elders, we need to pay attention to our own souls as well. It is necessary to give and minister to the needs of others, but to do so without addressing one’s own soul could be risky, irresponsible and deadly. Recall the words of Apostle Peter who explained to the lame man at the Temple gate in Acts 3: “Such as I have give I unto thee.”  Essentially, one can deduce that a person can only impart what he or she has. Says Peter, “such as I have.” What is it that we have? It must be more than just ability; it must be a spirit-directed life, and that comes as a result of quality time spent with God each day in personal devotion.
 
The Elder’s/Minister’s Devotional Life
            It is fundamental that we study the Sabbath school Lesson as a part of our devotion. It does not look good for pastors and elders not to raise their hand to the question: “All who studied –please indicate by raising your hand.” Also, the study of the Quarterly shows that it is important, as members tend to look to us. Another benefit is that it allows for pastors and elders to study and review church doctrines, positions, themes and various books. In fact, the quarterlies should be kept, as they constitute commentaries. Prayer is a must, and by that I speak of prayer that involves praise and thanksgiving; penitence or confession for sin (yes, we are sinners, but saved by grace) and intercession for our family, members, community and government.  Of course, the Bible will be used in the process. Also, personally, I find that reading some other book can be quite inspirational and supplying to the soul.
Finally, I posit the following thought by Ellen White that points to the benefit of a life spent in daily communion with God. She says, “There is no limit to the usefulness of one who, by putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God” (Desire of Ages pp. 250, 251).

Ministry Begins at Home

Ministry Begins at Home
 
MinBeg
In the August 1991 edition of Ministry magazine, John W. Fowler wrote an article with the above caption. Essentially, he underscored the need to pay attention to the pastor’s family, namely the spouse and children. This article, coupled with the current focus in the Inter-American Division on pastors and their families, prompted me to write the following. It is hoped that it will benefit you in some positive way.
 
Looking Historically at he Pastor’s Family
            John W. Fowler, then secretary of the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, observed from his research that “The Christian church has historically shown a great deal of interest in the work of the pastor, but it has paid little attention to his relationship with his family.”
Additionally, he explains, “For centuries the Christian church viewed marriage and family life in a negative light.” Therefore, in referencing Robert O. Blood, Jr., in his book The Family, Fowler shares: "The Roman Catholic Church did not fully sanctify family life until the end of the sixteenth century. Before that, the church sanctified only what it labeled the 'religious life,' i.e., the life of priests and monastics who escaped the corruptions of the world, and especially the corruptions of family life with its sexual involvements, to live a pure life of celibacy." Accordingly, Blood explained that the "superiority of 'religious vocations' left family life ... a mere concession to the weakness of the flesh."
In looking at Adventists’ position, it is no secret that we identify with the Methodist Church regarding our view on the family life of ministers. However, Fowler points out that the Methodist’s view “was quite similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church.” Fowler adds, “John Wesley often identified the work of the pastors with that of the itinerant ministry of Christ and the apostles. As a result, Methodist ministers were urged not to marry. In fact, Wesley himself did not marry until he was 48 years old, and then only after much soul searching and rewriting of his views of ministerial leadership. Even then, he felt that family life must not interfere with his work for the church.”
 
Later Thinking
Once again, I was reminded of the need to focus on pastoral families at a special week of prayer event for pastoral families sponsored by the Union Family Life, Ministerial and Shepherdess ministries and Events Coordinator of the South Bahamas Conference, Patrice Gordon, on Tuesday, January 24, 2017. The occasion attracted 14 pastoral couples who viewed a prerecorded but powerful message for pastors, their spouses and children. Additionally, there were exchange of prayers for each other, affirming one another and a light fellowship meal. This coming together was most encouraging and refreshing. Several couples were heard saying, “We need to come together more often.”  
Nevertheless, “While few hard statistics are available, there is a growing awareness that serious problems are brewing that demand the attention of the entire church.”  In the absence of adequate research, we can look around and even at our context and would have to admit there are concerns within the pastoral family and they must be addressed. Charles Bradford, then the president of the North American Division, set up a Pastoral Motivation Committee in 1984 “that conducted an extensive study of pastoral ministry throughout North America to discover the major problems that negatively affect pastoral morale. The report touched on four major areas of concern, one of which was the conflicting demands of a pastor's family and his work.”
 
Some Practical Steps to Strengthen the Pastoral Family
            For starts the church could be a bit more sensitive to the pastor’s wife and children by not having unrealistic expectation of them. I recalled that my children when younger in playing with their friends would be treated differently from their peers. Grown-ups would remark, “That is Pastor Johnson’s son” and seldom referred to the other child/children with the same expectation of behaving orderly. Unfortunately, it sent the wrong message –other children could be mischievous, but not my child. Also, being identified by one’s father as opposed to one’s name also placed pressure on a pastor’s child.
            Even with a young child, it was expected by some that a pastor’s wife would still attend church regularly thus placing unnecessary expectations on her.
Ellen White, years ago, penned of the minister’s family, “The minister’s duties lie around him, nigh and afar off; but his first duty is to his children. He should not become so engrossed with his outside duties as to neglect the instruction which his children need. He may look upon his home duties as of lesser importance; but in reality they lie at the very foundation of the well-being of individuals and of society” (Gospel Workers, p. 204). It would seem that the Reformer Martin Luther understood this. Happily married to Katherina von Bora, “Luther admitted that family life was demanding, and he talked of marriage as ‘a school for character.’ However, he “worked to alleviate those burdens as best he could. On one occasion his neighbors saw him hanging out diapers. When they laughed, Martin exclaimed, ‘Let them laugh. God and the angels smile in heaven.’"
We, too, as pastors, elders, directors and administrators must do our part to alleviate some of the burdens of our families and make quality time for them and not neglect our work. For it goes without saying if the pastor/leader is happily married and enjoying a healthy family life it is likely to spill over to the church and the church’s influence into the home, society and by extension- the nation. Why not encourage your pastor and his family? Even if he is not meeting your expectation, call him aside and share your concerns and pray with him. Let’s save pastoral families.

Should We Continue Ingathering?

Should We Continue Ingathering?

ingathlj
Recently, I visited one of the local fields in the union region and was most gratified to hear and witness the excitement with which the leadership talked about the ingathering program. They surpassed their goal by double digits as I recall. In fact, most of their churches not only reached their church goal but exceeded it. As a result, most of them, according to policy, would receive a percentage of the overflow for appropriate community programs.  Coming out of that field I asked myself, “Is Ingathering Still Relevant?”  The answer is “yes,” as the cries for assistance has grown, and we assist the marginalized and needy as mandated by Christ. Accordingly, I thought to share the following with the hope of inspiring a resurgence in ingathering. After all, the year is young and we have ample time to plan.
 
Consider the History and Philosophy
Since 1908 the Seventh-day Adventist Church has conducted an annual Ingathering crusade, endeavoring to reach nonmembers with a spiritual message. According to an official statement of the church, “They believe that Christ is the only hope for a world plagued with problems such as runaway crime, devastating wars, polluted environment, and other social ills. The Adventist objective of teaching all nations the everlasting gospel of our Lord and the commandments of God sums up their reason for a steady, consistent witness to the world.”
Furthermore, Seventh-day Adventists “believe in a wholistic concept of man and attempt to minister to his social, physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions.” Wherefore, they consider their duty as more than just “preaching the Word.” Instead, they regard “such activities as a healing ministry for the sick, the distribution of food and clothing, and the education of children and youth” as equally important as to reach the total person.
 
The Church’s Philosophy on Reaching the Total Person Is the Same
Given the fact that the philosophy of caring for humanity is the same, then one can rightly assume that the need for ingathering is still vital, necessary and relevant. So the million-dollar question is “How do we get our members motivated and excited about Ingathering?” Well, permit me to return to my opening story. The Cayman Islands Conference came up with a strategy to motivate its members so as to get involved as opposed to just giving the funds from their wallets or purses. Realistic goals were discussed and embraced. A time line was accepted and an effective and attractive brochure highlighting “labors of love” and ministries of care was published in color with clear photos and the right resolution. And as it is said, the rest is history, as the director and assistant director inspired the membership to get involved; and they did get involved!
Now, we, too, can get involved and realize a similar success. Again I note, “What a time to plan now with the year still young!” So later, when the time comes for the ingathering launch, we can reach and surpass our goal. Therefore, let’s get sharp photos of our good deeds and catalog them. Let us record some of our public and community activities. A brochure containing such information provides a good tool for members to go out and ingather. And with such preparation beginning now, the ingathering drive needs not linger on. The goal can be reached when more of our people are involved.  
 
The Objectives of the Ingathering Ministry
           
          According to the IAD Working Policy, the Ingathering Initiative carries the following objectives:
a. To bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.
b. To become acquainted with people who need spiritual and material assistance.
c. To bring to the attention of the public the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
d. To provide opportunity for people to enroll in free Bible and health courses.
e. To leave Christian literature with each person visited.
f. To give every individual an opportunity to contribute his time and monetary gifts to meet human needs, and in this way bring to the world the Biblical message of an unfailing hope in God. All are invited to join hands in this humanitarian and spiritual undertaking.
          So contact your Personal Ministries Leader at the local church, and offer to become an active participant in this vital, necessary and relevant ministry, ever mindful that “The longest journey begins with that initial step.” You can make that initial but significant step today. Get involved and make a difference in the lives of others.

The Continuance of SDA Schools

The Continuance of SDA Schools
edu_Ch

I need not tell you that many of our schools lack adequate budget to operate.  Some are barely making it and were it not for the commitment of dedicated conferences and missions through their boards, some of these would be closed. In fact, I have been in places where I have heard the call to close some down on the basis that “they are a financial drain on the church.”   So what do we do? Do we continue to fund Adventist Education?

 

Adventist Education Need Our Support
No doubt funds are limited, and persons who we thought would patronize Adventists education opt out for numerous reasons inclusive of inadequate facilities, unimpressive and unattractive classes and what they term “some uncommitted teachers.”  In some cases, there might be some truth to their charge.  “But are those reasons enough to warrant removal of our children from our schools or not to send them at all?”
Therefore, it is necessary that school boards and administrations give attention to the aforementioned issues, real or perceived, and address them as best as possible.  Even with limited funds, ways need to be found in order to remedy some of the concerns. Additionally, the courage is needed to confront workers who fail to rightly represent the Christ’s method of teaching and relating to students and parents. At the same time, we must ensure that teachers are adequately compensated. Nevertheless, above and beyond the aforementioned is the need to focus on sustaining Adventist Education.
                             
Checking of the Philosophy
George Knight makes the point, “It is impossible to arrive at your destination unless you know where you are going.”  This is critical, as it points to the need for a philosophy for Adventist Education; reasons for making decisions that we make; What is our goal? What is the end game? These all demand and necessitate a philosophy. Ellen G. White cautions, “By a misconception of the true nature and object of education, many have been led into serious and even fatal errors. Such a mistake is made when the regulation of the heart or the establishment of principles is neglected in the effort to secure intellectual culture, or when eternal interests are overlooked in the eager desire for temporal advantage” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 49).
Therefore, the above clearly explains why we establish Adventist Christian Schools.  “The necessity of establishing Christian schools is urged upon me very strongly” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p.541).
Staying the Course
If we subscribe to the philosophy of Adventist Education, then board members and members in general must seek ways to sustain and enhance our schools.  Administration must do its part by not spending aimlessly but within the context of what matters and that which informs the true philosophy of Adventist Education.  Yes, it must not be expected that only our educators sacrifice while we cater to other workers. A belief in Adventist Education demands that our giving comports with our pronouncements and belief. We must consider our children now and those to come and what we desire for them. George Knight asks, “Why do Adventists and other Christians spend millions of dollars each year on private systems of education when free public systems are widely available? Because of their metaphysical  beliefs regarding the nature of ultimate reality, the existence of God, the role of God in human affairs, and the nature and role of human beings as God’s children” (Educating for Eternity, p. 10). Accordingly, in the sentiments of Shane Anderson, an Adventist pastor, let us find ways to give Adventist Education “a fighting chance” so that it does not die (How to Kill Adventist Education, p. 11).

The Danger of Rumors

The Danger of Rumors
It is likely that each of us has been the subject of rumors at some time or another. Undeniably, it hurts and causes pain. However, have we considered that at some time we may have hurt others by talking and spreading gossip or tales? I would imagine that some of us would plead guilty. Nevertheless, it is so easy to focus on the former when we are the victims or have been afflicted by unfounded sayings.  Accordingly, I thought to share a few points on how to relate to rumors.
 
Do not Become a Conduit of Rumors
It is reasonable to say that as long as there are humans on planet earth, rumors are likely to continue. Notwithstanding that probability, each of us could and needs to determine that it will not be communicated by me or us. By the grace of God, we ought to resist the temptation to talk or share that which is unfounded. However, that is not to say that we do not confront another when there is damaging information circulating. Ellen White counsels, “The door of the mind should be closed against ‘They say,’ or ‘I have heard.’ Why should we not, instead of allowing jealousy or evil surmising to come into our hearts, go to our brethren, and after frankly but kindly setting before them the things we have heard detrimental to their character and influence, pray with and for them?” (TM p. 504).
 
Do Not Entertain or Spread Rumors
Instead of spreading rumors or entertaining them, we are admonished by the Apostle Paul, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8, NKJV). It is enticing to believe that if I am not instigating the rumor, I could innocently listen or entertain others who have something to say of another. To simply listen without instructing the person to apply Matthew 18, or going to the individual to confront him/her, I would be lacking in my duty. The one bringing the news should be encouraged to go to the person in question, and if he or she desires that you or I do, then they must give us permission to call their name or be prepared to be identified. If not, leave it alone by not entertaining any further words or sharing it with another. Employing the above text (Philippians 4:8) Ellen White says, “Our minds will not dwell on scandal and flying reports. But ‘whatsoever things are true. . ..’” (TM p.505).
 
Confront Instead
While we may find it appealing to engage in listening and talking about situations, here is where we find it most challenging (That is, to confront) and for any number of reasons. But we must learn to do so “frankly but kindly setting before them the things we have heard detrimental to their character and influence, . . .” (TM p. 504). Additionally, we are to pray with and for them. We may not realize how encouraging it is to pray with and for another going through serious scandals. Now if one denies the scandals, we give him/her the benefit outside of evidence. Truth can stand on its own. It will surface in time. However, our role is not to be judge or accuser. Our role is to confront, pray and leave the matter to God. There is more as some situations are so complicated necessitating some actions but always in love and with compassion.
            Also, it is necessary that we not leave the door open for the enemy to make more damaging the situation. Here is where divine wisdom is required in communicating with some persons if in a church or organization. Consultation and much prayer are absolutely necessary.           
As we begin this n New Year, may God help us to shun rumors and instead be the bearers of good news. Also, I ask that you support the prayer initiative PUSH. If you have not received your prayer card, refer to the Union’s web page for a copy at www.atcunion.org.