Leonard A. Johnson

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.
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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
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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”

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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

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       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

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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
 
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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?

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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
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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.

A New Beginning

A New Beginning

In just a few days, God willing, we would witness the beginning of a brand new year, 2017, marking the opportunity for a fresh start. For this reason, there is much excitement in anticipation of welcoming the New Year. What a privilege! What an opportunity to be able to start anew! Nevertheless, I pose the questions: “What will you do this year?” “What will you do differently?” “How will you utilize this new beginning?” “What will you do?” Quite frankly, if we recognize that each minute, hour, day, week, month and, yes, each year is a gift from God, we would seriously consider how we utilize our time. Religious writer Ellen White observes, “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).
 
Making the Best of Each Day
To ensure that we make the best use of the 86,400 seconds that each of us is given every day, I share the following areas for our attention and concentration. Devotion. It is important that we begin our day with that which is likely to inspire and motivate us. For the Christian, that involves reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. It is said of Christ that “a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35, NKJV).
Family. An institution that appears to be crumbling is this one. With successive years of high murder rates, it must be clear to you that numerous parents, spouses, children, siblings and friends are hurting. A story is told of a youngster who asked his father how much he made in an hour. It is needless to say that the father was upset and thought his son was getting into his business. But after some insisting by the son and the father feeling guilty for his poor attitude toward his son, the father gave in to his son’s request and shared his hourly wage. The little boy got his piggy bank and counted his savings, which was less than his father’s hourly wage. He asked his father to loan him the difference to reach the amount his father made hourly. Not knowing why his son wanted the money, the father gave it to him. The boy then placed it with his savings; therefore, he now had enough money to pay his father for one full hour. You get the point! He valued his father’s time. The same may apply to mothers; spouse-to-spouse etc. When we neglect time with family, we leave the door open to television, the Internet and others to do the job. How risky? Start the year devoting quality time to persons and things of importance.
For Self. Hopefully, the New Year will be the time that you commence or resume studies formally or otherwise.
Exercise. What about exercise? We need to engage in some form of physical activity so as to strengthen our bodies and muscles. Health is a priceless commodity, but too many of us are afflicted by diseases that could be remedied by exercise and change in lifestyle.
For My Job. It is so unfortunate that there are persons who short-change and essentially rob companies of hours and still hope to be paid in full at pay date.
Time for Others. We ought not live unto self. It would be wise to devote some time assisting some organization that caters to the poor, abused and marginalized within our community. With a social consciousness regarding the various needs in the community, we can assist many.
 
Redeeming the Time
Apart from the above, it is important that we recognize that we have a responsibility to use our time wisely. As stewards we have different talents, different amounts of wealth, but the same amount of time. Unfortunately, when the day is gone, it is gone never to return; and therefore it is critical that we understand the importance of redeeming the time. The Apostle Paul explained in Ephesians 5:15, 16, "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise," vs.16 "redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (NKJV). Paul is talking about more than time, as we know it chronologically. Instead, his emphasis here is opportunity. Employing the Greek word “kairos,” he speaks to embracing the opportunities that knock at our doors. Too often we see joblessness, roadblocks, recession, and other ills; but through the eyes of Christ, we may see other possibilities and potential opening of doors for the unemployed or for greater use and effectiveness.
More so is the emphasis on preparation for a significant appointment with God. Redeeming the time requires that I recognize that I will stand before a righteous God and give an account of my actions, and then what? However, as a wise person, I can choose, through the leading and directing of the Holy Spirit, to allow God to change me for good.
 
A Weekly and Timely Reminder
Finally, I commend to you a timely reminder that God gives each weekend designed to build self, family, community, and provide rest, perspective and above all reconnect us with our “roots,” or what I choose to call our Maker. It is the Sabbath or, if you please, the Lord’s Day. Rightly understood it is not a burden, it is not Jewish per say; it is God’s doing in man’s behalf, but unfortunately too many are too busy to note it, and some would rather not see it. Stephen Covey makes an interesting analogy or application when he refers to the Sabbath principle as “sharpening the saw.” He penned, “Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ you ask. ‘Can’t you see?’ comes the impatient reply. ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’ ‘You look exhausted!’ you
exclaim. ‘How long have you been at it?’ ‘Over five hours,’ he returns, ‘and I’m beat! This is hard work.’ ‘Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?’ you inquire. ‘I’m sure it would go a lot faster’ ‘I don’t have time to sharpen the saw.’ The man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing!’” “Like the Sabbath,” says Darrell Pursiful, “sharpening the saw” is about taking time we need for self-renewal –physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
 
Have a Spirit-filled New Year!

We Can Rejoice! We Can Celebrate!

We Can Rejoice! We Can Celebrate!

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The spate of senseless killings, rapes, robberies and untimely deaths on our streets have resulted in much pain, hurt, disappointment and even anger. In some instances, there appears to be an absence of merry making and joy leading some to question: “Why should I be happy?” “Do I rejoice in the season that calls for joy?” In fact, some ask, “Where is the joy?” And yes, this time of the year ought to be one of joy, glee, laughter and happiness; but apart from crime, many other challenges plague our people: joblessness, reduced income and illness (terminal and otherwise) -- not to mention marital and family issues that are plaguing our land, and the erratic supply of electricity at this time only exacerbates the situation. And if that were not enough, the political season is undoubtedly upon us again. Given the aforementioned, “Should I celebrate?” Notwithstanding the reality of situations, we can rejoice and we can celebrate.
 

Joy Is Constant
            The Bible makes no fuss about it, as it simply and unapologetically declares that joy – remarkable joy, wonderful joy, unbelievable joy, real joy has come to this world with the birth of Jesus. Consider the saying of Luke 2:10: “Do not be afraid,” says the angel, “for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” The angel of the Lord adds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Joy is tied to Christ. His first coming brought joy; His death on Calvary manifested a matchless love; His resurrection assures us of a sound resurrection hope as penned by Bill Gaither, “Because He lives I can face tomorrow.” Additionally, the fact that He is in heaven interceding for us provides an ongoing reason for celebration and rejoicing. In fact, I am reminded of some of His final words to His disciples, “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the ages” (Matthew 28:20). Furthermore, I reference the well-known John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” These declarations constitute joy even in the midst of all the ills, disappointments and issues of our land. We sure do need it!
 
Are You for Real?
            Christians are accused of offering “a pie in the sky” or speaking of some future bliss, but truth be told people are hurting now as already noted, and they need answers today. How does this Christ message apply? The Christ message could not be more relevant. After all, the Bible says, “He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15). Do you know of anyone like that? For some in North America, they will probably point to Donald Trump; some in South Africa will point to the late Nelson Mandela and locally, to the leader of their liking whether the current, past or yet to be candidate. However, they all pale in comparison to Christ the epitome and embodiment of joy, real joy- and He is alive. Wiping away the tears of pain and disappointment, He offers healing, food, shelter, freedom, forgiveness, hope and companionship. These and more He provides through His church and through His people everywhere. Consider the acts of kindness you have experienced all year. Despite some of your setbacks as a result of Hurricane Matthew, consider what God did. You received the favor of someone paying a bill or part of it; someone repaired your car, or appliance, or roof free or at a discounted rate. You received a loan even though you were not qualified. Through some charitable foundation, you received medical assistance. You received the favor of lunch, or better still, groceries when you could not afford it. You have sat your exams owing tuition, and you even graduated this year and possibly you are still wondering, “How did I make it?” Your landlord gave you a reprieve on your rent. Maybe you went all year and did not have any health issues; no unnecessary marital pain; you paid all your bills on time. And even if the opposite applies, aren’t you glad that you are still standing with just a few days to the end of 2016?
 
Joy Today and Always
            Joy was never intended to be a once a year encounter, or even a now and then experience but a daily and hourly one; for Jesus Himself announced, “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  The reality of this remarkable gift of joy dispels despair, ingratitude, worry, sleeplessness, revenge and anger. The joy that Christ gives by His presence, His Church and His Word is unquestionably real, practical and enduring. If you have not experienced it, it could be for several reasons. Maybe you do not know Him. Maybe you are looking in the wrong place. Maybe you are expecting to receive when you can be giving time, encouragement and some other form of assistance. Maybe a paradigm shift is needed in your thoughts. The Apostle Paul would tell you that to know this Christ is to experience radical change. Indeed, joy has come and is here and will be here as long as Jesus is alive; and that my friend is forever, so let His joy become your joy today and always. We can rejoice! We can celebrate!

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

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Given our focus on youth worldwide, I share with you an article I read about reaching millennial youth (person born between 1977 and 1994) by Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN. (Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com). Though some of the views do not sync with Adventism, there are some points that we might find interesting and applicable though coming from a non-Adventist perspective. Ellen White says, “Preachers, or laymen advanced in years, cannot have one-half the influence upon the young that the youth, devoted to God, can have upon their associates” (MYP, p. 204). For easy reference, I have inserted the definitions for Millennials and Generation X.
 
“At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial. I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb. I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.
“I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity. Despite having one foot in Generation X (born: 1966-1976 - sometimes referred to as the “lost” generation, this), I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.
“Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness. I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.
“Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …” And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
“But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances. In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular. Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.”
 
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers. We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte (coffee with milk) and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.
Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is. But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community. Their answers might surprise you.

Paying Attention to a Most Needed Emphasis

Paying Attention to a Most Needed Emphasis

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As we are now nearing the holiday season when there is the temptation to overindulge, I thought to share on a most needed topic of health reform.  Unfortunately, there are those of us who shy away, and on the other hand, there are those who have a tendency to go overboard.   Accordingly, I attempt to share a balanced article regarding health reform and its obligation and implication for us as leaders.  


The Need to Focus on Health Reform
Ever since I read Counsels on Diet and Foods, I have been reminded to give attention to health especially as it relates to diet, exercise and rest.  Additionally, I was re-admonished that “The health reform is closely connected with the work of the third message” (CD, 74).  Also, Ellen White explained that, “The proclamation of the third angel’s message, the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus, is the burden of our work” (CD, 75).  However, she cautioned in the same context that the Health Message is not “the message;” instead, it is a part of the message; and preachers “should not make this the leading theme in the place of the message” (CD, 74). This statement in no way discredits health reform, but it seeks to give balance. As God’s servants, we must proclaim the total message of our church, which includes health reform. Equally important is that we practice and seek to model what we teach.

Health Reform Challenges Us
 Admittedly, many of us would say there are some counsels regarding health that tend to challenge us. Personally, I have felt uncomfortable when I came across certain statements. Nevertheless, I know that God would not send counsels that are not good for His children.  It is His will, as noted in 3 John 2, that His followers be in health physically, spiritually, mentally and socially.  Thus, when we experience a greater quality of life, essentially, we will have a more positive impact on family, neighbors and friends.  This impact no doubt will serve as an entering wedge in terms of reaching others with the good news of salvation. Mrs. White observed, “Much of the prejudice that prevents the truth of the third angel’s message from reaching the hearts of the people, might be removed if more attention were given to health reform. When people become interested in this subject, the way is often prepared for the entrance of other truths” (CD, 76).


The Need to Do More
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have been blessed with the health reform message for over 100 years.  Unfortunately, we have not always aggressively and responsibly promoted the health message as we ought to, and in some instances, when we have promoted it, as already noted, some of our presentations have been lacking in balance.  However, today’s diseases and poor examples of lifestyle call us to be more aggressive and accountable. To whom much is given much is expected. We must not be trite or flippant with health reform, and neither must we see health reform as just becoming non-meat eaters. Balance is the key as we practice and teach. Also, we must be extremely careful not to misrepresent or misquote Ellen White, who was very pragmatic and balanced.


Make a Start Today
I use this medium to encourage those of you who are advanced in your approach to health principles, to continue to demonstrate what Adventist Christians ought to be; and for those who are in need of added reform, that we will begin to make gradual and incremental steps in improving our eating, drinking and exercise.  Essentially, there is a call for temperance in all that we do.  For even that which is good can be abused.  The many diseases that are common among us and among the people outside the church are very much treatable and manageable, if we would simply subscribe to the diet prescribed for us.  
I urge that as we reform in Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and in our relationship with our family, that we must not exclude the area of health, if we are to experience a total and meaningful life.  Together, we can do much more to encourage healthful living at our church functions, homes, church schools and certainly our headquarters. Let’s make a start today!

The Member’s Role in Church Elections

The Member’s Role in Church Elections

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Once again we have embarked upon that time of the year when election of church officers takes place. Accordingly, I share the following based on my understanding of the Church Manual.  I would encourage each member to obtain one and read it.
 
How Members Are Elected
       Many of you already know that there is the option of appointing a nominating committee or using the existing church board along with a few other members appointed from the floor. Either way, the process of electing members should be carried out prayerfully and objectively. While persons may be nominated to serve for up to two years at a time, my experience has shown that many prefer to commit to one year.  Once the task of nominating appropriate persons is complete, and they having consented, it is now time to present the report to the church in a business meeting. The report with a complete officers’ list is presented.  Less than a complete report would amount to a partial report. When it is presented to the church, the report is presented as a whole and not entertaining a vote name by name.  Copies of the report should be provided for members.  If this is not done, then it should be posted so that all can see.  The Church Manual allows for a one to two weeks wait, unless members request to vote the report just after it is read.  It is good to allow members time to look carefully at the report, for it is possible for the nominating committee to overlook “something.” 
 
Members have Rights
     Should a member have an objection or question regarding the report, the whole report is referred back to the committee to prevent embarrassment regarding anyone in an open business session.  The objector is allowed to meet with the chairman and secretary/ or nominating committee.  If the point of objection is valid, the chairman ought to give consideration to the matter and have the committee make the adjustment or changes. The point of objecting ought not to be a trivial matter. On the other hand, a member or members should not knowingly sit back and say nothing if there is information that may guide the nominating committee.  To keep silence and then complain to someone else is not right.  Neither is it right to blame the pastor or committee when one had opportunity to do something about the matter. 
 
 
Accepting the Final Decision
     Once the church votes the Nominating Committee’s Report democratically, in business session, it is necessary that each member accept the outcome and support the pastor and various programs of the church.  It is only when members and pastors are united and committed to the mission statement of the church as noted in Revelation 14 that the church is most effective. Let’s make 2017 a great year for the local church!

Tolerance or Compassion

Tolerance or Compassion

Compassion
 
         The article which I share today is one that came after much prayer and soul searching. It is about reaching out to all members of society. For Adventists this should not be difficult, as we believe in God's mandate to go to all mankind and preach the gospel. Additionally, Christ affirmed, "come unto me all ye that labor and I will give you rest." Has it occurred to you that “all” includes drunkards, prostitutes, cheaters, and homosexuals, etc.?
 
Reaching Out Does Not Mean Condoning
         How do we separate the two? That is reaching out to people does not mean that we condone their ways and practices. That is a fact! But how will we fulfill Christ's mandate unless we meet and deliberately seek such persons? It occurred to me back in 2014, in a question and answer period a member asked, "Do we have any homosexuals in our church in the Bahamas?"  I responded that I did not know but would not be surprised if there were. Since then I attended a summit in South Africa entitled "In God's Image." There, I was confronted with what should be our response to all people afflicted and struggling with sin? Over the years it has been easier to relate to drunkards, persons involved in drugs, unfaithful marriage partners, and the like but certainly not homosexuals.
 
Position of the Church
         The position of our church is clear —we believe in sexual intimacy within marriage between a man and a woman. Accordingly, we should not knowingly baptize persons who are practicing homosexuality or place in office. On the other hand, that is not to say that as a church we ought not to work with such persons. By that I mean reaching out to such as we would to any person struggling with any deviant behaviour, ill or vice, as God loves all people while He strongly detests our sinful behaviour.  The church’s role is to help all find freedom, healing and deliverance in Christ. For this reason the church exists. I know this sounds a bit contradictory- based on what I said earlier. Nevertheless, I ask that you consider that reaching out to, or embracing one in love is not the same as condoning or ignoring a practice. Could not the church uphold its standards in love and with compassion, recognizing that all are prone to engage in sinful acts outside of Christ?
 
 What Can We Do?
            Admittedly, this is a new venture for some of us. Truth be told, many of us are afraid to work with homosexuals, based on the stigma of society, but we need to manifest a Christ-like spirit. Consider how Christ related to the woman caught in adultery according to John 8. The record shows that when all rejected her and would have nothing to do with her, He reached down and out to her with a non-condemnatory message. At the same time, He did not down play adultery; for He said, “go and sin no more?”  What a remarkable balance and example of love! As followers of Christ, we need to follow His example. This fact was underscored in the summit held in Africa. As opposed to being reactionary, we need to find ways to be proactive towards all people. For instance, in listening to the testimonies of three former homosexuals at the summit, I discovered a similar thread in each story. They all experienced neglect by a parent. In the case of the one female, she was sexually abused, but her mother concealed it; and she was adversely affected and found love and acceptance with fellow women. Thank God! She has experienced deliverance and is actively assisting gays to experience deliverance in Christ. Also, it should be noted that she is active in the church. Praise God! I believe that God timed the following passage in the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly during March 16 – 22, 2014, in an attempt to sensitize His church. The author wrote, “Through teaching and personal example, Jesus taught His disciples to associate with sinners, even notorious ones such as prostitutes and tax collectors. How else would they disciple the whole world? His teaching often focused on these sinners. His characterization of them as lost demonstrates how merciful Christ was. He might have characterized them as rebellious (they certainly were) or depraved. Instead, He chooses lost.”

Seeing the Other Side of a Hurricane

Seeing the Other Side of a Hurricane

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I have yet to meet anyone who loves storms or hurricanes. Persons who appear to have a liking for either seem to like the time off associated with them or the change of things. But as for any disaster, there is simply no fun. With winds packing in at 120 to 140 mph, that is enough to test the bravest and most courageous of humanity. And if that is not enough, it is definitely no fun to have tidal surges reaching up to fifteen feet resulting in flooded homes and having to discard furniture and repair homes. Sometimes houses are flattened or roofs destroyed ruining one’s life investments, and that too is no fun! So what can the other side of a storm be? Can there be anything positive?

 

Looking at the Bad and Good Before and During the Storm
            It would seem that the bad and good manifest themselves during disasters. Bad, in that some shop operators take advantage of the situation and price gouge. This is ungodly and unfair. It is hard to imagine how one can do that to a fellow being. And to add insult, one shows up at the door of the distressed pretending to help but only to rob the occupants. That, no doubt, stirs up our righteous indignation, and want to make an example of such a person on the nightly news, face book and every social avenue.
            However, the good news comes out in many ways. During the preparation for a storm, many a builder and carpenter volunteer to assist the elderly and fatherless secure their homes with their skills, material and time at no or little expense. I have heard, read and viewed some of these locally. I am certain that there are many similar stories not coming to the wider public, and neither do many of them care to make the spotlight as they rendered their assistance disinterestedly.
            Additionally, there are many service personnel who vacate the comfort of their homes and families, and camp out at great danger whether at radio stations, NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) headquarters, Police Stations and Hospitals just to be in a position to respond and assist. This, to me, is a remarkable community spirit or what some Christians refer to as brotherly love.

 

Looking at the Good Following the Storm
            Radio and television personnel resort to a community help mode by opening up the air wave to encourage a positive attitude; aid callers to locate loved ones and friends as well as confirm their whereabouts, etc. Some residents with high vehicles make them available for use to rescue individuals and clear roads of debris, enabling power, telephone and cable personnel workers to restore necessary services.
            Also, whereas it may be challenging to get all major religious leaders together, except for a special anniversary of the nation’s independence, come together albeit to the request of successive prime ministers to counsel, assess, pray and respond tangibly. Political leaders take on a similar disposition putting aside partisan politics for the good of country. Some businesses donate handsomely as well as churches and citizens.  I never cease to be moved by the pouring out of love and support following a disaster. Well-wishers, friends and concerned ones telephone, text and convey timely words of encouragement backed up by tangible acts. Of course, there is more but time and space would not allow.
            So given the aforementioned, storms are not all that bad, for as already noted the best emerges from people. Some individuals get the necessary repairs to their home, while other receive new homes, new furniture, new friends and a new appreciation for others who truly care. It would even seem that the atmosphere is cleansed. Above all I hope that many will get to see that God truly cares as opposed to blaming Him for the recent act of disaster. Consider that not one casualty was reported. This is noteworthy considering what Hurricane Matthew did to Lowe Sound, Andros and parts of Grand Bahama. To God be glory!

Relations Matter

Relations Matter

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Of late I tend to emphasize more the value of relationships. Relationships, whether one realizes it or not are important and matter.  They can be the source of great blessings or the means of much pain and stress when fractured and not nurtured. Accordingly, I pass on the following to you.
 
The Value of a Relationship
            Among the greatest relationships to me has been that of my family, which includes my wife, children, siblings, and in laws. Additionally, some wonderful friends, spiritual guardians and mentors have been and continue to be a source of much encouragement as well. I am grateful to God for placing such individuals in my path. Time with such is never lost, for so much is gained in the process on both sides. However, as important as these friendships are, I value my relationship mostly with God. Because of it I can have a sense of confidence, assurance, purpose, hope and forgiveness. As I recall, I could not have survived without those benefits in facing challenges, disappointment and frustration. Therefore, my daily devotion with Him is not an option but a necessity.
 
When Relations Are Fractured
            As a leader, I have observed that people are people with idiosyncrasies and issues (myself included). This fact makes the likelihood of misunderstanding and fracture a real possibility, even among professed followers of Christ. As such friends may no longer relate the way they once did; family members may become cold, colleagues may not be so trusting, and marriages may result in divorce, etc. In some instances, inflictions may result, and persons may not speak to each other for years. We can refer to the Biblical example of the Apostle Paul and John Mark.
            Being open and objective as opposed to acting without checking may help in such situations. It is necessary that in listening to a complaint or charge against one to try to get the other side of the story, otherwise it is possible to act in haste and on hearsay. Also, allowing the spirit of Christ to control one’s actions and words may save many a relationship. Is it any wonder that Christ commends the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”  And even when a divorce or a severing of such relationship may occur, persons are not bitter.
 
When Relationships Are Healed
            Relationships may be mended and healed only when there is an adjustment to our thinking, attitude, and when our positions are open to change. Friendships will be restored only when Christ is allowed to control our thoughts and actions as happened with the Apostle Paul towards John Mark. Whereas Paul had serious reservations with John Mark initially, it took a Barnabas who saw potential in Mark to help him and stick with him. Later Paul would come around and see the same as what Barnabas saw, and therefore he referred to Mark as “being profitable” (2Tim. 4:11).
Admittedly, personalities will continue to clash, and some people will struggle with this more than others; however, I believe that it is possible for relationships to improve. It is only the work of Satan to keep persons apart and distrust one another. On the other hand, Jesus has come to heal, restore and make what seem impossible possible. The question is, “Am I standing in His way?” The problem is never God. It is I. It is you. It is us. With God’s help, we must learn to live in harmony here if we would live with Him in the earth made new.

Paying Attention to a Most Needed Emphasis

Paying Attention to a Most Needed Emphasis

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Among the topics that receive less focus and balanced attention is that of health reform.  Unfortunately, there are those of us who shy away, and on the other hand, there are those who have a tendency to go overboard.   Accordingly, I attempt to share a balanced article regarding health reform and its obligation and implication for us as leaders. 

 

The Need to Focus on Health Reform
Ever since I have read Counsels on Diet and Foods, I have been reminded to give attention to health especially as it relates to diet, exercise and rest.  Additionally, I was re-admonished that “The health reform is closely connected with the work of the third message,” CD, 74.  Also, Ellen White explained that, “The proclamation of the third angel’s message, the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus, is the burden of our work.” CD, ibid.  However, she cautioned in the same context that the Health Message is not “the message;” instead, it is a part of the message; and preachers “should not make this the leading theme in the place of the message.” This statement in no way discredits health reform, but it seeks to give balance. As God’s servants, we must proclaim the total message of our church, which includes health reform. Equally important is that we practice and seek to model what we teach.
 
Health Reform Challenges Us
 Admittedly, many of us would say there are some counsels regarding health that tend to challenge us. Personally, I have felt uncomfortable when I came across certain statements. Nevertheless, I know that God would not send counsels that are not good for His children.  It is His will, as noted in 3 John 2, that His followers be in health physically, spiritually, mentally and socially.  Thus, when we experience a greater quality of life, essentially, we will have a more positive impact on family, neighbors and friends.  This impact no doubt will serve as an entering wedge in reaching others with the good news of salvation. Mrs. White observed, “Much of the prejudice that prevents the truth of the third angel’s message from reaching the hearts of the people, might be removed if more attention were given to health reform. When people become interested in this subject, the way is often prepared for the entrance of other truths.” CD, 76.
 
The Need to Do More
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have been blessed with the health reform message for over 100 years.  Unfortunately, we have not always aggressively and responsibly promoted it as we ought to, and in some instances, when we have promoted it, as already noted, some of our presentations have been lacking in balance.  However, today’s diseases and poor examples of lifestyle call us to be more aggressive and determined. To whom much is given much is expected. We must not be trite or flippant with health reform, and neither must we see health reform as just becoming non-meat eaters. Balance is the key as we practice and teach.
 
Make a Start Today
I encourage those of you who are advanced in your approach to health principles, to continue on the path; and for those who are in need of added reform, that we will begin to make gradual and incremental steps in improving our eating, drinking and exercise.  Essentially, there is a call for temperance in all that we do.  For even that which is good can be abused.  The many diseases that are common among us and among the people outside the church are very much treatable and manageable, if we would simply subscribe to the diet prescribed for us. Together, we can do much more to encourage healthful living at our church functions, homes, church schools and certainly our headquarters. Let’s make a start today!

We Are Blessed!

We Are Blessed!

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Every now and then I pause to consider what is happening around me and what am I experiencing. In doing so, I remark to myself that “We Seventh-day Adventists are blessed.” Quite naturally, the “Why?” question arises time and time again. “How are we blessed?” After all, like all others, we have our share of ups and downs, frustrations and disappointments. Like everybody else, we face the daily grind of survival coupled with a need to make things better. Nevertheless, we are blessed. However, we could be doubly blessed if we practice what we know.
 
What a Church to Belong to!
Admittedly, there are thousands of churches all around to fit each person’s likes and dislikes. But examining closely our church, I am awed by an apparent blessing that attends it. We are organized even if there is to some degree an absence or lack in your local church. We possess a network that connects one with another worldwide when it becomes known that you are Seventh-day Adventist. I have experienced this personally both as a recipient and a provider or initiator whether in Haiti, the United States, Guyana, Russia or Mexico. Then there is the academic emphasis. While I do not have the data to prove it-- it would seem as an Adventist that it is expected that one will pursue college or university studies more so than in another church denomination. This emphasis has provided the opportunity for many of us to achieve that which we would not ordinarily have accomplished. That, to me, is not a stroke of luck but a divine design, for did not God promise that He would bless Israel of old if they followed His ways and statues? (Refer to Duet. 28:3-6.)
 
Is There More?
            Resoundingly “Yes!” When I consider the health focus of the church, even though some members scorn it, the benefits are real and far reaching. For me, I consider the simplicity of nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables. That is not to say that I am full vegetarian, as I eat fish. But I extol the virtue of these foods created by our Maker for human consumption. In fact, a parent remarked that it is costly to be a vegetarian. Without much pause, I responded that it is not. Having to purchase vegetarian substitutes can be costly, but learning to make meatless loaves and patties, etc. can be more affordable than purchasing meats- in some instances. And we are so blessed, for the Seventh-day Adventist Church provides free lectures and training, but to my surprise, the attendance at these could be better. Could the poor attendance result from a lack of promotion or a lack of interest? Or do we become serious when our health is threatened? As a side note, in a recent meeting I had with the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, while speaking about the proposed National Health Plan, I encouraged him to consider lowering tariff on fruits and vegetables thus making these affordable for everyone, as they would augment the national health plan insurance. Additionally, I offered the services of the church to do inner city training employing the “I Want To Live Healthy” model at no cost, except for materials.
            Additionally, there is the prophetic message that the church has received. Whereas it may lack appeal to some of us internally, visitors are excited and awestruck by the way how we explain it. The relevance of Daniel 2, 7, 8 & 9 as well as the book of Revelation allows us to see from a perspective that gives assurance and hope, and prevents panic or reacting to every move of the pope, or who is elected president of the United States of America.
 
We Are Accountable
            Unfortunately, with all of the blessings referenced and unmentioned, comes the element of accountability. That is to say – “Am I sharing these truths?” “Am I leading folks to embrace basic and practical principles?” “Am I embracing what I know?” The current Sabbath school lessons challenge me to do more especially in my immediate neighborhood. (Even the lessons that we study weekly can make us educated and wise beyond others. It is like going to a university for life). We, as a church, are blessed. That in itself tells me that this church is ordained of God. Need I say more? Need I do more? Need I be more?

Church Manual Updated After Inadvertent Omission

Church Manual Updated After Inadvertent Omission

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As it is customary, I seek to share with you information related to pastoral ministry, performance and practice. However, for this weekly, I share with you that portion of the Church Manual that was inadvertently omitted. It is good to be aware of that as well as the history and purpose of the Church Manual. In the August 24, 2016 edition of Adventist Review, Andrew McChesney, news editor, wrote, “The Seventh-day Adventist Church has updated the Church Manual after finding that part of an amendment voted at General Conference Session last year was unintentionally excluded.”
 
That Which Was Omitted
Associate Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Hensley, M. Moorooven, shared with fellow General Conference employees by e-mail, “It has come to our attention that there was omission on p.127 of the current Church Manual. The correction has been made, and a statement has been issued in that regard.” The section which is small but important reads: “Who May Conduct the Communion Service —The communion service is to be conducted by an ordained/commissioned pastor or an ordained elder. Deacons or deaconesses are not permitted to conduct the service.” (Italicized words voted at GC Session 2015)
 
Initial Reactions
            Looking at the responses, comments and feedback in the Adventist Review under the article, it would seem that numerous persons felt that there was some cynical move by the church to advance the female ordination agenda. One person wrote, “Love that sneaky word commissioned. The devil is in the details.”  This is so unfortunate, as it is simply an omission without any hidden agenda. On the other hand, another individual commented that the term “commissioned is not a sneaky word,” noting that “Pastors are not ordained immediately, it usually takes over 5 years for pastors to be ordained.” He clarified that his pastor “is commissioned” and without this section, “my church wouldn’t have someone to lead the communion.” The reality is that the italicized words which are noted in the above paragraph, were voted by delegates of the General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, in July 2015 and would have to be included. To change or to omit would require another vote, for The Church Manual can only be revised during General Conference Session, which is held every five years. “Many of the modifications in the latest edition were minor edits.”
 
History of the Church Manual
The Church Manual, as noted in the Adventist Review, “was first published in 1932, traces its roots to a 1875 statement by church cofounder Ellen G. White, who wrote: ‘The church of Christ is in constant peril. Satan is seeking to destroy the people of God, and one man’s mind, one man’s judgment, is not sufficient to be trusted. Christ would have His followers brought together in church capacity, observing order, having rules and discipline, and all subject one to another, esteeming others better than themselves’” (Testimonies for the Church, Volume 3, page 445). The article further states in referencing the Church Manual on Adventist.org “that God is a God of order and says the Church Manual seeks to achieve order ‘through principles and regulations that guide the church in its internal operations and in the fulfillment of its mission to the world.’”
 
Both the updated version of the 2015 Church Manual and the statement are available at: https://www.adventist.org/en/information/church-manual/ as well as via the Ministerial Department of Atlantic Caribbean Union of Seventh-day Adventists website at http://www.atcunion.org/ministerial.html.

Accessing Resources

Accessing Resources

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There have been times that I have been asked regarding resources for elders and, in some instances, for pastors. In-arguably there are numerous books and tools for such persons electronically and otherwise.  However, for this weekly, I will attempt to recommend certain basics or essentials. You may wish to add to my list.
 
Considering a Particular Bible Version
The question of Bible Version generates much discussion from time to time. Some persons hold strongly to the view that it must be the King James Version or nothing else. As such the question arises, “Is it wrong to use other versions such as the New International Version, the Revised Version or the English Standard Version?  Really it depends on you and your liking. Given the research, one will find some of those versions quite useful especially the Interlinear Hebrew and Greek English Standard Version.  It is a gem and easy to read.  However, as a rule of thumb, it is wise to consider what the majority of members use in a given church to make an initial connection. Personally, I prefer the New King James Version for preaching, but would quote the King James Version to make the connection with my audience, and to show the distinction in some verses.  For example, in 1 Thess. 4:15 of the KJV, the word “prevent” is used in speaking of the righteous living at the time of Christ’s second coming, whereas in the New King James, it says that those that are alive shall not “precede” them that are asleep. In this instance, the NKJV provides a stronger and clearer meaning according to the original language.
I would also advise that one uses as many versions as possible in preparation, but in delivery of a sermon or Bible study, keep it simple. Also, I would encourage wise use of paraphrases such as the Good News and the Message Bibles. While these may appear appealing in modern language, they may not accurately reflect the original meaning.
 
Related Tools
Fortunately for today’s pastors and elders, there are countless resources. Nonetheless, I recommend the Logos Bible software as it is upgradable, expandable and interfaces thus allowing the inclusion of the Ellen White collection as well as the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentaries. It contains numerous Bible versions, commentaries, concordances, Bible dictionaries, devotionals and practical books. (The South Bahamas Conference will sponsor a Logos Bible Software Training following the Union’s yearend committee in Nassau, on November 16th and 17th. Interested persons may contact Pastor Lynden Williams at the Conference office.)
In addition, elders and pastors would want to have in their possession the Church Manual, the Minister’s Manual and the Elder’s Manual. These are essential tools for understanding the church and the roles and function of pastors and elders within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I need to re-emphasize the Ellen White collection or commonly referred to as the Spirit of Prophecy books. It would be irresponsible of a pastor or elder to neglect the inspiration, counsel and commentaries provided by one inspired by God. The evidence of proof is found in reading such books prayerfully and applying their principles and instructions. I would also caution against the temptation to use these in place of the Bible or as a means of chastising and lambasting. The author, were she alive, would strongly discourage such use, for she regarded her writings as the “lesser light” to lead to the Bible, “the greater light.”
            Also, the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a must.  This book provides a concise study of each doctrine.
 
Additional Tools
One would also wish to consider the local newspaper, news journal and periodicals such as the Ministry Magazine for pastors and the Elder’s Digest for elders (you can access online via the ministerial department at http://www.atcunion.org/page47/communication.html).  In short, these are all wonderful, but supreme to all of the above is the Bible. It is the book of books. Prayerfully sought and read, it will make one wise and rich in practical knowledge. There is simply no replacement for the Bible, and the beauty is found not in admiring it, or having as many as one can purchase but in reading it daily. A positive change is guaranteed. At the next Book Day throughout our Union, make plans to add to your library, and more so enrich the life of another in procuring a good book from the local Adventist Book and Nutrition Center.

Overcoming the Hurdles of Ministry

Overcoming the Hurdles of Ministry

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Back in 2011, I noted that Focus on the Family reported that “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. 
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 Focus
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.

Elder - Title or Function

Elder - Title or Function

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Some time ago, I received an inquiry regarding the function of a local elder within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Additionally, I was asked, “Should elders be addressed as elders or as brothers?” Accordingly, I seek to address the topic of identification, function and title pertaining to local elders.



 

Who Is a Local Elder?


Local elders are recognized as possessing strong spiritual leadership and good reputation both in the church and the community. In the absence of a pastor, they are the spiritual leaders. By precept and example, they seek to lead the church into a deeper and fuller Christian experience. It is expected that elders conduct the services of the church and minister in both word and doctrine when the assigned pastor is unavailable. However, the SDA Church Manual cautions against choosing elders “primarily because of social position or speaking ability.”  Instead, elders should be chosen “because of their consecrated lives and leadership abilities.” Local elders should be ordained in order to participate in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, etc. While ordination is for life, “all things being equal,” so to speak, elders are required to be re-elected in order to function at the local church.



 

Function of an Elder


Given the aforementioned, one can appreciate why the church uses the term local elder. The term “local elder” refers to function as opposed to title in that the elder functions within the context of the local church. However, they are not addressed as local elders. Instead, they are commonly addressed as elders; and therein resides the basis for some confusion. How does a member differentiate between a local elder from a senior church administrator? In the December 12, 2012 edition of the Spectrum Magazine, it is observed that “Adventism has one of the most layered and complex hierarchies in all of Christianity.” The article continues, “but at the same time there is not (officially) an office with more authority than the local elder. Thus, even our General Conference president’s ecclesial title of address remains ‘Elder Wilson.’ This middle-ground which Adventism tries to occupy leaves us with ‘presidents’ that function like ‘bishops’ but who are called ‘elders.’ No wonder debates regarding ordination are so volatile.”


So to refer to a local elder, as “Brother” or “Sister” in no way diminishes his or her roles. The focus is on function and not title. Personally, I refer to my Division and General Conference leaders as elders. I picked this up from hearing local conference leaders refer to the same and the then Union president as Elder. To me, this is not so much an issue as much as a matter of respect. Interestingly, when they write me, they sign their names without any title. They are Israel and Ted.  I am in no way suggesting that they be addressed by their first name, for in our culture that would be disrespectful. Again, I think it is safe to keep in mind function as opposed to title. “Brother” suggests respect and closeness in certain cultures. Nevertheless, there are times when occasions may require some official titles.



 

The Work of Elders Is Local


As the name suggests, the authority and work of elders are confined to the church in which their election has been made. It is not permissible for a conference committee by vote to confer on an elder the status that is granted to an ordained pastor to serve other churches as elder. If that need exists, the conference committee may recommend to the church needing an elder that it invite and elect the elder of a nearby church to serve. Thus by election one individual may, when necessary, serve more than one church. Such an arrangement should be made only in counsel with the conference committee. Authority to elect elders is inherent in the local church and not in the conference committee. The only way one may be qualified for serving the Church at large is by ordination to the gospel ministry (See Church Manual pp. 33, 72, 73.).


            On the other hand, the work of the pastor is international, as his ordination allows for service throughout the world.

When Last Did You Try Kindness?

When Last Did You Try Kindness?


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The last thing one is inclined to render is kindness, especially to one or to a system that has been just the opposite: harsh, exacting and unfair. Not to mention if one has been wounded and greatly inconvenienced willfully by another. Forgiveness in the aforementioned poses a challenge for even seasoned Christians, much less for a non-professing believer of God. Is it possible to show kindness or be nice to one who attempted rape, or murdered your brother? Admittedly, I would be the first to declare that this is a bit too much! However, isn’t this response something Christ requires of His followers?


                                                         


What Is Kindness? 


Kindness is a favorable disposition or treatment towards another or oneself in ways undeserving or unexpected. Quite frankly, society would seem to promote vengeance. Now, while this article is not intended to interfere with justice in the manner practiced by law enforcement agencies, Christ teaches an exceptional form of human forgiveness and kindness. Observe a scriptural passage set within the context of Christ’s sermon on the mountain: “You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43, 44). Truth be told, it is much easier to do just the opposite of “love,” “bless,” “do good,” and “pray for” one’s enemy. One might prefer to hate, bless as in curse, do harm instead of good, and pray for one’s demise as opposed for one’s benefit. I am sure you and I can identify with this, but Christ calls for a higher and nobler form of behavior surpassing the norms of society.



 

Christianity Is not for the Weak of Heart


It takes more than courage to be Christ-like! It takes Christ Himself, through the medium of the Holy Spirit living within individuals, to model and display the qualities of “love,” “blessing,” “doing good,” and “praying” for people who mean you no good.  Imagine if these teachings were fully embraced, we would see a significant reduction in conflicts that lead to violence and death. Imagine if we practiced more of Christ-living, we would be more caring and thoughtful.



 

Kindness Proclamation


From time to time, we read in the newspapers proclamations of one kind or another. How about proclaiming a kindness day, week, month, or better a kindness year? Can you imagine how that would change you and me? Can you imagine a lessening of road rage? Can you imagine no more verbal, physical or emotional abuse? Maybe I am dreaming too much or expecting too much. However, how will we put a dent into the day-to-day evils, hurts and injustices? Yes, we must uphold the law, but could we not do so in kindness and with respect for others? So, today look for someone whom you resent, and do something good for that person, even if you start by just praying for his/her wellbeing. Now, be certain to call him or her by name. I can assure you that this attitude stands to heal you, too; for it may also be necessary to be kind to oneself.  Christ also taught that we must love others as we love ourselves?  On the other hand, it is possible to love oneself to the exclusion of others. Frankly, that would not be true love. Should we apply kindness or more kindness in our relationships, our society would be a better place in which to live, do businesses and model Christ-like behavior. Let kindness begin today with you and me!

Remembering Pastor Silas Napoleon McKinney

Remembering Pastor Silas Napoleon McKinney

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The recent passing of Pastor Silas Napoleon McKinney, aged 89, has left an indelible void among Seventh-day Adventists, and Bahamians and Jamaicans in general.  Having served the church for over 40 years, Pastor McKinney has touched the lives of thousands of individuals at all levels of the church.  As I reflect on this outstanding preacher, evangelist and church leader, the following come to mind:
 
The Vibrant Church Leader
As a former member of the former West Indies Union Executive Committee, I had the privilege to witness Pastor Silas McKinney in action as an effective chairman.  There were few delays or unnecessary drawn-out discussions and debates.  He surely knew how to keep a committee going without giving the appearance of rushing the discussion or even denying wise contributions.  His sense of humour, coupled with a knowledgeable grasp of church policies and operations, allowed for smooth and lively meetings.  He was passionate about his church and equally so about the then West Indies College (now Northern Caribbean University).  He fearlessly but tactfully and respectfully led the charge in securing additional funding that would normally revert to the local fields from the Inter-American Division, to be given to the college, in order to expand and ready that institution for university status.  It is no wonder that Dr. Herbert Thompson, former president of Northern Caribbean University, remembers him for the magnanimous  support given to West Indies College, as well as the significant role he played in moving the college to university status. Additionally, while Pastor S. N. McKinney could be lively in articulating his positions, he did so with great respect for church leaders at all levels. He was a team player.
Without question, he was a caring and thoughtful administrator.   Who can forget the bold approach of effecting significant salary increases for all church workers in Jamaica at a time when the local economy was greatly challenged? Nevertheless, the increases were voted and field leaders took on the task of promoting faithfulness and most, if not all of them, realized percentage increase in their giving.  Indeed a visionary leader! 
 
The Passionate Evangelist
As an evangelist, Pastor McKinney, along with his companion Pastor L. V. McMillan, formed a duo known as Mac and Mac.  Together under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, highly influenced by the approach and style of the late Evangelist E. E Cleveland, they pioneered the work of public evangelism in the Bahamas, thus increasing the membership noticeably and establishing churches.   Many members can attribute their spiritual birth through one of these preachers. With the support of Pastor McKinney, conference president, Pastor L. V. McMillan conducted the New Providence Crusade, in 1976, which resulted in the largest reaping at that time and the formation of the New Providence Seventh-day Adventist Church. Three members of this new group became pastors.
Of course, Pastor McKinney’s evangelistic skills led him to other places namely Jamaica, the birth place of his dear wife Ruth of 60 years. After serving as secretary of the then West Indies Union for several years, he returned to the Bahamas and accepted a district in Freeport where he continued the work of an evangelist and mentoring young pastors. Later, while he served as union president in Jamaica, many churches were established and hundreds of individuals were added to the body of Christ.
 
The Consummate Socializer
Among the leaders that I have met in my life time, Pastor McKinney stands out as one who knew how to fellowship.   He enjoyed a tasty fish meal and mastered the art of separating the bones from the flesh in a way that made one chuckle and marvel.   During moments of fellowship and laughter, he could debate his favourite subjects of theology, politics and history.  I recall as a young pastor being invited to accompany the then conference president, Pastor Jeremiah Duncombe, to Miami over 20 years ago, with the understanding of going off to purchase a video projector for the then Bahamas Conference (the first video projector for the conference). However, upon my arrival in Miami, I was asked to chauffeur a team of union and field leaders from Miami to Orlando to visit Pastor Tim Walters, former union president, who was convalescing at a nursing home at the time.  The three hour drive was kept lively and exciting with Pastor McKinney leading in the discussion and debates for almost the full duration of the trip.   Indeed he was a man of laughter, fellowship and life.   It could be said in some ways, he lived for the moment.  When you met Pastor McKinney and encountered him, you never forgot him, for he was such an engaging individual. Therefore, my colleagues and I, as well as our families and the entire union staff, pay tribute to him and continue to offer our prayerful support to his wife and children. 

 
MEMORIAL SERVICE: Friday, July 29, 2016, 6 p.m. at the Hillview Seventh-day Adventist Church, 135 Tonique Williams-Darling Highway, Nassau. Homily: Pastor Leonard Johnson (president, Atlantic Caribbean Union)
FUNERAL SERVICE: Sunday, July 31, 2016, at 10 a.m. at the Hillview Seventh-day Adventist Church. Homily: Pastor Peter Joseph (Son-in-law)

Praying with Your Eyes Open

Praying with Your Eyes Open
 

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At the end of 2015, we launched the ATCU’s Prayer’s Initiative 2016.  As such, many of you have begun the process of praying for the various churches, institutions and fields within our union, etc. I am gladdened by this commitment especially when I consider how God directed in the selection of a given church or institution at the most appropriate week chosen before a given need or concern was known. We at the union could only remark that it was totally God’s doing.
Prayer is essential for growth and unity. Therefore, I urge that you keep praying and encourage others to do so as well. Accordingly, I thought to share with you an article of mine on prayer that was printed in the Message and Priority magazines entitled “Praying with Your Eyes Open.” 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 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 are perceived to be gifted. 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 necessarily special Prayer Warriors praying to God; and this we do by our words (no negative thoughts intended regarding Prayer Warriors). 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 and knowledge 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.

Characteristics That Make For A Great Country

Characteristics That Make For A Great Country

Bahindep
 
Without question, most Bahamians wish for the Bahamas to be the best little country in the region. Fortunately, there are certain features that already make our island nation an object of pride, such as proximity to the United States, favorable climate year round, pristine waters, seas with some of the best marine life, and friendly and gifted people who, for the most part, possess an awareness and appreciation of God.  Nevertheless, as we celebrate the 43rd year as an independent nation, there are a few qualities and characteristics that one would wish were more apparent in the moral fiber of this our Bahamaland.  Accordingly, I share the following from my perspective.
The quality of transparency speaks to the willingness to allow for scrutiny and examination. Facilitating openness builds confidence and trust, while minimizing suspicion and doubt. An issue that has generated much discussion for years is the matter of Campaign Finance Reform. It is about time that both government and opposition commit to this needed reform by enacting the necessary legislation to bring about unrestrained sharing of information with regard to political financial contributions.
Additionally, the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, which is closely related, is long over due.  In a 43-year-old country, citizens have a right to know how their funds are spent and a right to be given an account of how the affairs of their nation are being run. I am often challenged by the prime example of the Bible character, Daniel, as noted in Daniel 6:2. There, the Bible records that a heathen king, Darius, chose Daniel to ensure that “the king would suffer no loss.” Daniel had a reputation of not only being honest, but transparent in his dealings.
Because no powerful country ignores law and order, a commitment to accountability is vital. Accountability means agreeing to hold oneself answerable to others or to a system. No one is lord unto himself. Each of us is responsible to some authority or someone else. Disregarding such breathes chaos.
Respect for God and our leaders is another imperative to which a progressive country adheres. Says the Bible, “Believe in the Lord your God, and so shall you be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20, NKJV). A high regard must not be reserved for a particular government or political party, or color, or label. Respect is due to all elected personnel. In fact, citizens must learn to hold in high esteem the office of such persons even if there is a preference for an opposing political party. In addition, as a people, we ought to value and appreciate the environment in which we reside inclusive of our beaches, green spaces, cemeteries, public buildings, parks, and communities. Imagine if citizens were to take a personal interest in their surroundings. The Bahamas, then, would not only be clean, green, and pristine, but the envy of many.
Justice and fairness are equally important for a country of 43 years. Obtaining employment ought not to require an endorsement of a parliamentarian or a letter from the same. A great country should not require one’s unquestioned allegiance to a political party or leader to ensure job security. Needless to say, the aforementioned practices stifle creativity and interfere with the advancement of an enlightened country.  On April 4, 2016, one of the dailies observed in its editorial, “In 2014, the Inter-American Development Bank released a report ‘Is there a Caribbean Sclerosis?’ The report noted that The Bahamas loses 61% of tertiary degree holders representing nearly 4.4 percent of our GDP.” The editor continued by asking “Could it be that some Bahamians find political repression, economic stagnation and near criminal warfare as reasons to stay abroad? Absolutely, it is indeed a sad irony that our brightest Bahamians choose to stay away for many of the same reasons that others seek refuge here.”
The “red tape” must be eliminated, and persons ought to be judged on the basis of qualification as opposed to religious or political affiliation, family name, or whether he or she attended a certain school etc.
A great country values its citizens and their abilities. The Bible makes the point that all persons are gifted (1 Corinthians 12:7). In light of this biblical truth, leaders ought to search out indigenous talent and expertise needed in given areas and allow for such to be utilized to the benefit of all. This will certainly minimize the reliance on overseas consultants. While a flourishing country does not exclude input from the global community, it must be careful not to ignore the wealth of local talent.  More must be done to extoll the contributions of one another, be they in sports, education, health, finance, religion etc. So many of our people are being recognized internationally for their great achievements, while in their hometown, they receive little or no honour.
A successful country does not discriminate against its people, for they are all important and valuable. The Bible makes the point that God made male and female in His image and after His likeness (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, to discriminate is not in keeping with the example of God. Also, God made all beings with the power of choice, even to choose contrary to His will. The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes this fact and supports the right of all to choose. Of course, one’s choice may not always be in keeping with God’s ideal. Using the Bible as its guide, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, therefore, educates and informs of dangers inherent in certain choices that one may make.  Inasmuch as the Seventh-day Adventist Church supports one’s right to choose, this stance is not tantamount to the Adventist Church endorsing the choice that one may make. These are two different things.  Adventists advocate that supporting a person’s right to choose makes for a democratic society, whereas teaching responsibility and the value of choosing according to the Bible makes for a righteous nation. In a great country, the rights of all people must be respected.
Finally, no prosperous nation develops without a sense of gratitude and appreciation. Thanksgiving must become a way of life for a 43-year-old nation. That disposition will come only when we begin to value what we have. Regrettably, sometimes it requires one to travel outside of the country to have an appreciation for what exists in the Bahamas. Needless to say, we are more than sun, sand, and sea. Were that not the case, many people would not want to visit or live here. Our country offers much more, and we should cherish what we possess, especially the nobleness and strength inherent in our people. Hopefully, gratitude will engender a sense of national pride for who we are and the way we live. Timothy Gibson, composer of our national anthem, clearly understood this pride for he penned, “See how the world marks the manner of your bearing! Pledge to excel through love and unity. Pressing onward, march together to a common loftier goal; . . .'Til the road you've trod lead unto your God, March on Bahamaland.”
God bless the Bahamas! Happy 43rd anniversary Bahamas!

Seventh-day Adventists and the Environment

Seventh-day Adventists and the Environment
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Stewards of the Environment
In Genesis 2:15, it is observed that “God took man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (KJV). By implication, it would seem that God intended that mankind should treat nature with respect and not abuse it.  Additionally, the official statement of our church says, “Seventh-day Adventists believe that humankind was created in the image of God, thus representing God as His stewards, to rule the natural environment in a faithful and fruitful way” (Voted at the General Conference session in Utrecht, the Netherlands, June 29-July 8, 1995). The statement also notes, “Increasingly, men and women have been involved in a megalomaniacal destruction of the earth's resources, resulting in widespread suffering, environmental disarray, and the threat of climate change.” 
 
Human Selfishness: a Basis for Environmental Destruction
        Furthermore, “it is clear from the accumulated evidence that the increasing emission of destructive gasses, the depletion of the protective mantel of ozone, the massive destruction of . . . forests, and the so-called greenhouse effect, are all threatening the earth's eco-system.”  Unfortunately, these problems are “largely due to human selfishness and the egocentric pursuit of getting more and more through ever-increasing production, unlimited consumption and depletion of nonrenewable resources.”  These issues result from humans’ failure to be good and responsible stewards in “dressing and keeping” that which God has entrusted to us. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to do something to help reverse or minimize further negative effects to planet earth.  What can we do?  I suggest some ideas that were shared with me.
 
Practical Ways of Caring for the Environment
            For starts, let’s ensure that our surroundings are kept clean.  Failing to rightly deposit our waste can do damage to nature.  Throwing oil on the ground may seem harmless, but untold damage is being done to our water supply. Allowing old or derelict motor vehicles and appliances to remain in our yards or vacant property certainly do not help the environment; for they may give off oil and other harmful liquids that could seep into the ground. Also, uprooting all of our trees, unnecessarily, to build is unfortunate, especially if we fail to replant some trees.  Thank God for the celebration of Earth Day, for we are reminded to go green in our paint selection and also to use paper bags, or green bags, instead of plastic ones.
            When we go to the beach, we want to ensure that we collect our garbage. Leaving them on the shore does not only pose a problem to the ecosystem, but also the marine
life is put at great risk when plastic bags and empty cans get into the sea.
            Likewise, it is important that we service our cars regularly to minimize harmful emissions into the air that we breathe. Essentially, it may do us good to note that our lives are tied to protecting nature and the environment. So we can team up community leaders with the Pathfinders, other members and concerned citizens to clean up our neighborhoods, or sections of the islands as well as educate persons regarding the importance of protecting Mother Earth.  Also, we could share what we have studied about the environment in our Sabbath School Lesson with others so that the message goes far and wide, for we are stewards of God’s creation.
            Finally, I note again from our official statement, “Seventh-day Adventists advocate a simple, wholesome lifestyle, where people do not step on the treadmill of unbridled consumerism, goods-getting, and production of waste. We call for respect of creation, restraint in the use of the world's resources, reevaluation of one's needs, and reaffirmation of the dignity of created life.”

An Honor for the Seventh-day Adventist Church

An Honor for the Seventh-day Adventist Church

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Following the announcement that I was one of the twenty-six Bahamians on the annual Queen’s New Year’s Honours list, I received many calls and notes of congratulation. Named as one of two recipients for the honor, Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) for services to the church, I have been asked the meaning of CMG. What does the award mean? Like many of you, when first contacted, I had no clue, so I inquired and researched online.
 

The Meaning of CMG
CMG stands for “The Order of St Michael and St George,” and “is awarded to men and women of high office, or who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country.” It was “Instituted in 1818 by the Prince Regent (later George IV), the Order of St Michael and St George was intended to commemorate the placing of the Ionian Islands under British protection.” Originally it was intended for distinguished citizens of the islands, and also of Malta.
According to Wikipedia, “The Order has three classes. These are:
       Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross (GCMG)
       Knight Commander (KCMG) or Dame Commander (DCMG)
       Companion (CMG)”
It should be noted that it is the third one or lowest that is applicable in this instance. It does not involve any knighthood; though a friend wrote inquiring about the title “Sir,” it is not applicable. Quite frankly, I would be reluctant to accept that award at this stage in my life and ministry. Nevertheless, I humbly accepted the CMG honour at a ceremony on Wednesday, June 22, at Buckingham Palace in London.

cmg
 
Attributed to God
            When I pause and consider my humble beginning and upbringing from time to time, I can only say, “Thank You Lord.” Born on Polemus Street in the heart of the inner city of Grant’s Town in Nassau, I never imagined being a leader of a church, certainly not the Seventh-day Adventist Church, since I was a Baptist at the time. The most I knew about Adventists was mainly through a friend. We were both packing boys at a local food supermarket. As I recalled, he would leave work a certain time on Friday evenings and not show up on Saturdays. Later, I would come to realize why. Nevertheless, the announcement of this award reminds me of many persons God placed in my path to nurture me including my late parents, my dear wife of 32 years, and those in and outside the church. Therefore, this high and significant recognition without question must be attributed to God and by extension, His church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has afforded me numerous opportunities to travel the world ministering especially in the Bahamas, Cayman and Turks and Caicos islands, as well as serve on boards and committees at all levels of the church. As for my country, one of the most memorable opportunities I value was to preach at the Bahamas’ 39th Anniversary of Independence. To God be glory!
 
The Blessings of Others
            In my attempt to understand this recognition, my research has led me to realize that many Adventists around the globe have received similar awards. To explain, former president of West Indies Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Pastor Patrick Allen, now Sir Patrick Allen, was knighted on June 12, 2009, and Elder Jan Paulson, former GC president was awarded the Norwegian ‘Order Of Merit’ for ‘Service For The Good Of Humanity’ in 2012. Additionally, Queen Elizabeth II presented Joan Saddler, a member of the Hampstead Adventist Church, with the Order of the British Empire on December 6, 2007 for her volunteer work “with mentoring minorities and influencing social health policy.” These three examples coupled with others including two of the former leaders within the Bahamas, who also received high honours, have helped me to appreciate the position of the church toward such awards. As such, I was not surprised when I first learnt of the award and shared the news with Elder Leito, our Division president; he readily congratulated me and encouraged my acceptance of the same.

cmg2
 
The Greatest Award
            And so as I reflect on the rare privilege accorded my wife and me to visit Buckingham Palace a few days ago to receive my award, I determined to prepare for the day when I shall receive the greatest award issued by God Himself saying, “Well done good and faithful servant -enter into the joy of thy Lord.”  What a day that will be! Until then, you and I must keep on serving humanity and remain faithful to the mission of the church, which is to seek and save mankind through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastoring Made Easy

Pastoring Made Easy

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The above caption may prove to be misleading, especially when one considers the demands of pastoring today. Nevertheless, pastoring can be fun? I declare yes, it can be exciting and fulfilling. Here are a few basic but far reaching steps.
 

Staying in Touch with the Source
Unlike other professions, pastoring is a calling. However, that is not to say that one may not sense a spiritual pull or liking to a given profession. My point is to underscore the need for a deep spiritual conviction before getting into pastoral ministry. Otherwise, one is likely to be unhappy or non-committal in the midst of opposition and pressure. Ellen White notes that “The greatest work, the noblest effort, in which men can engage is to point sinners to the Lamb of God (Gospel Workers, p.18). And the Bible confirms, “No man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb. 5:4).
Given this fact, it is absolutely necessary that one who ministers to others engages in meaningful time with God daily, if he or she is to be effective in reaching others. That involves daily devotion and reading to feed one’s soul, praying consistently.
 
Love People and Love to Serve
            It is not easy to love in every instance, but to be a pastor is to model Christ. He demonstrated an unparalleled caring disposition for people of all ages. Recall in Mark 10 that children were brought to Jesus, but His disciples thought that Jesus was too busy to concern Himself with such little ones. But how mistaken were they, for He said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for such is the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14, NKJV).
            Not everyone posses an outgoing nature, nonetheless one can still foster a caring attitude for parishioners. Even when he or she is met with opposition and/or coldness, a pastor can determine that he/she will reach out and minister. That involves picking up the phone and calling to inquire how the member is doing. It involves sending e-mails and yes, answering emails, returning calls in a timely fashion. Additionally, it involves visiting members and their relatives at home and in the hospital. Members love it when they know that their pastor cares. You have heard that “people are not interested in how much you know until they know how much you care.”
            To visit requires a bit of discipline. Schedule regular visits on given days, and eventually it will become a pattern.
 
Teach and Preach the Bible
            Teaching and preaching demand study, and study demands discipline. Fortunately, there are numerous resources to aid a pastor in sermon preparation.  However, he or she must pull away and read and pray, and read and pray until God gives understanding. Now that takes time, and hence the need to set aside study time. He or she may not be dynamic or the best orator, but when people sense an anointing upon the pastor’s life, they will trust him/her and call upon him/her for prayer and counsel. Stay with God long enough and He will give you something to say. So you can be a great pastor by adhering to these simple steps.

Remembering Charles D. Brooks

Remembering Charles D. Brooks

cd brooks

Today, I thought to share with you this write-up about the late Dr. Charles D. Brooks from the Adventist News Network, by Andrew McChesney. I can only imagine that like me, so many of you have been impacted by his ministry especially, in the area of evangelism. Indeed, he was a great evangelist. In the Bahamas there is a church that is named after his broadcast –Breath of Life.
 
BROOKS SUCCUMBS TO PANCREATIC CANCER AT THE AGE OF 85
Charles D. Brooks, one of the foremost Seventh-day Adventist evangelists of the 20th century, succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Sunday. He was 85. Brooks, better known as C.D. Brooks, led a 60-year ministry that resulted in more than 15,000 baptisms on six continents and was known for its innovative methods of embracing new media to spread the gospel, including through the Breath of Life television ministry, where Brooks served as founding speaker for 23 years.
Brooks, who disclosed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, died at 4:30 a.m. June 5 in Laurel, Maryland, said his son, Charles D. Brooks Jr. “Please keep my mother and family in prayer,” he said in an e-mail.
Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, paid tribute to Brooks as “an eminent and much-loved senior statesman in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” “He was a highly dedicated and successful evangelist and biblical preacher,” Wilson said. “Elder Brooks loved the Lord, His prophetic church, and the Advent message.” Wilson said he counted Brooks and his wife, Walterene, as longtime family friends, noting that they had worked closely with his own parents. Wilson’s father, Neal C. Wilson, served as president of the Adventist world church from 1979 to 1990. “He and his wonderful wife, Walterene, have dynamically influenced literally thousands and thousands of people worldwide. Elder Brooks has been a great encouragement to me personally,” Wilson said. “The church is greatly saddened by this profound loss, and we wish Mrs. Brooks and the entire Brooks family our heartfelt sympathy and Christian love,” he said. “We look forward with great hope to Jesus' soon coming when we will see Elder Brooks again.”
Charles Decatur Brooks was born on July 24, 1930, outside Greensboro, North Carolina, as the 10th child of Marvin and Mattie Brooks. Six months later, his mother learned about the Seventh-day Sabbath while lying on what she thought was her deathbed after an unsuccessful surgery. A bright light filled her hospital room at night, and a voice said, “Mattie, I want you to keep My commandments,” C.D. Brooks told the Adventist Review in 2006. Mattie Brooks, a faithful Methodist and the daughter of a pastor, was confused. “Lord, which one am I not keeping?” she said. She heard no answer. But suddenly the fourth commandment sprang to mind: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Mattie Brooks made a miraculous recovery and began keeping the seventh-day Sabbath in her home from midnight Friday to midnight Saturday. She knew of no other Sabbath-keepers for the next 10 years.
“Never heard of Adventists,” C.D. Brooks said in the interview. “She had no tracts, no teacher, no Bible study, no anything.”
Her Methodist minister and others church members tried to dissuade her from keeping the Saturday Sabbath. But when the head deacon saw that she would not change her mind, he presented her with a wrapped copy of The Great Controversy by Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White. Young C.D. Brooks opened the package with a pair of scissors, and his mother read it with great interest. Then when C.D. Brooks was 10, a Seventh-day Adventist literature evangelist knocked on the family’s door with some books. The very next Sabbath the family was worshipping in an Adventist church for the first time. Brooks recalled that a large copy of the Ten Commandments had hung on the wall of the church, and that it had left a big impression on him. The family began to observe Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
 
How Brooks Became An Evangelist
C.D. Brooks’ own conversion experience came when as a 17-year-old recent high school graduate he attended meetings by Adventist evangelist Earl E. Cleveland in Greensboro. Brooks had been planning to study dentistry in the fall. “Two Sabbaths before Cleveland closed, I was sitting in his tent by myself on a beautiful sunny day, and an overmastering impression came from the Lord that said to me, ‘This is what I want you to do, and I will help you to make truth clear,’ Brooks said. Brooks shook off the impression to become an evangelist as a “stray thought,” but it came again as he walked the mile from the bus stop to his home in the dark that night. His first thought upon wakening on Sunday morning was to become an evangelist, and he had the impression again on Monday. Finally, on Tuesday he told his mother about what was happening. “I didn’t know the power of a mother’s prayers,” Brooks said. “Mother said these words to me: ‘Son, when you were born, I gave you to the Lord. Now He’s calling you.’ Wouldn’t you think she would have shouted, or shed tears, or something? She did none of that. She went on about her business, running a household and serving the Lord. And from that moment I have never looked back.”
Brooks certainly never looked back. With unexpected financial support from his father, who previously had not showed interest in the Adventist message, Brooks enrolled in Adventist-operated Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in Huntsville, Alabama, and completed four years of studies there. Upon graduation, the Adventist Church’s Allegheny Conference hired Brooks as a tentmaster for J. Dasent, a former conference president serving as an evangelist in Delaware. Dasent asked Brooks to preach his first sermon. “I think it was a test,” Brooks said in a 2009 interview with the Adventist Review. “But the Lord blessed, and when we concluded the campaign and were returning to headquarters, Dasent was kind enough to give me the highest recommendation.” Brooks was asked to run his first full evangelistic series the next summer, in 1952, in Chester, Pennsylvania. “I had a great, exciting summer,” he said. “We had a little church there, 22 members. I love telling young guys, ‘First campaign we doubled the membership.’ They look at me in awe, then I tell them, ‘We had only 22 members.’”
 
"Loving Yet Uncompromising"
Brooks led eight- to 10-week evangelistic meetings for the next dozen years in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio. He then accepted an administrative position as general field secretary of the Columbia Union Conference but continued to lead major evangelistic meetings in big cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. “If you have heard C.D. Brooks preach, it was most certainly an unforgettable experience,” authors Benjamin Baker and Harold L. Lee wrote in their 2013 biography C.D.: The Man Behind the Message. “His distinct voice trumpets truth with an authority rarely seen in today's pulpits. The stories he skillfully weaves thrill the imagination and bring conviction to the heart. Loving yet uncompromising, Brooks delivers the Adventist message without apology. His appeals to accept Jesus reverberate in the mind long after they are over.”
In 1971 Brooks become a general field secretary of the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church, but still led evangelistic meetings, eventually traveling to six continents. “I didn’t want to go to Antarctica because there was no one to preach to,” he said.
In 1974 Brooks was asked to be the founding speaker for Breath of Life, a television ministry being developed for African-American viewers. In that role Brooks led three or four evangelistic campaigns every year, establishing 15 congregations.
His work at Breath of Life and elsewhere put him on the cutting edge of technology, according to C.D.: The Man Behind the Message. “A media trailblazer, Brooks has spread the gospel through every type of media, including cassette, radio, television, and Internet,” the book says. He led at least 15,000 people to Christ, the authors estimated. “When we think of lighthouses, we often forget those who work to keep them shining,” Carlton Byrd, the current speaker of Breath of Life, said by e-mail on Sunday. “Pastor C.D. Brooks kept the light shining. He attended the flame of truth, compassion, and love, and that ministry forever changed the world. He epitomized the words of Jesus, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16).” Byrd said he would long remember many moments with Brooks but was most astounded at his faith as he struggled with cancer. “The magnitude of his faith in the face of adversity is what I consider most outstanding,” Byrd said. “The most memorable moment for me with this great man of God was when I recently visited him and discussed the health challenges he was experiencing. He assured me, ‘Carlton, if God wills to heal me, He will heal me. If not, I accept His will. “I know in whom I have believed”(2 Timothy 1:12).’”
 
Funeral Arrangements Are Pending
C.D. Brooks is survived by his wife of 63 years, Walterene; two children, Charles “Skip” Jr., and Diedre; and three grandchildren. Brooks retired from active ministry in 1996 because of health issues but kept office hours at the General Conference for years. In 2007, Oakwood University named its Bradford-Cleveland-Brooks Leadership Center in honor of him, Earl E. Cleveland, and Charles Bradford, former president of the North American Division.
Brooks was appointed chaplain of the North American Division in 2013.
Daniel R. Jackson, president of the North American Division, said he had watched Brooks with admiration as he walked the halls of the division, which shares its headquarters with the headquarters of the General Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland. “He was a great preacher and one of God’s true saints,” Jackson said. “I have watched him walk the halls of our office and used to repeat in my head, ‘He is a prince among men.’ I will miss him. But one day soon he will have eternal youth and live forever with his dear wife and family.” 

The Seventh-day Adventist Church Encourages Participation in Gender Equality Referendum

VOTE

Although the following statement was submitted to numerous media houses in the Bahamas, there have been folks inquiring as to the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church regarding the four bills for the gender equality referendum slated for June 7, 2016. In fact, some individuals have asked, “How should we vote?”
It is not the practice of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to tell members how to vote. Instead, the church leadership has sought to educate its members here in the Bahamas regarding the bills. Now, with the vote due on Tuesday, June 7, each member is encouraged to participate by voting his conscience. As citizens of Christ we are encouraged to respect the different opinions of others and in no way seek to “dis” anyone who may espouse a different view.  Additionally, as this week’s article relates directly to a Bahamian referendum, I crave the understanding of the readers of my weekly articles who do not reside in the Bahamas.
 

The Seventh-day Adventist Church
Encourages Participation in Gender Equality Referendum
 

SDA Church Believes in Gender Equality
The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes and advocates that all Bahamians have the right to exercise with equality their privileges and freedoms as citizens. As it relates to the issue of gender equality, the Seventh-day Adventist Church views both males and females as having been created in the image and likeness of God as noted in Genesis 1:27.
 
SDA Church Commends Bi-partisan Vote of Parliament
Given this fact, the Adventist Church commends the bi-partisan vote of parliament as it sought to address the obvious gender inequality in the constitution of the Bahamas.  Furthermore, the Adventist Church affirms its support for the fundamental principle of treating all citizens (male, female, young, old, religious, non-religious, of whichever socioeconomic or ethnic background) as equals under the law.
 
SDA Church Discourages Politicizing the Issue
Notwithstanding some concerns expressed by some of our church members regarding aspects of the Bills, the Adventist Church continues to believe in the objective of addressing the present inequalities relating to males and females. Additionally, the Seventh-day Adventist Church urges all involved to present, discuss, and educate our citizens without any hint of politicizing this critical national issue.
 
SDA Church Encourages Members to Vote Their Conscience
Accordingly, while encouraging support for participation and discussion in the upcoming referendum slated for June 7, 2016, the Seventh-day Adventist Church respects the rights of its members to exercise their God-given and constitutional freedom to choose based on the dictates of their conscience.

The Importance of the Holy Spirit

The Importance of the Holy Spirit

dove
 
       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 am learning to pray for the Holy Spirit and His guidance, especially when faced with meetings where I least know what to expect. “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, for we cannot afford to experience “spiritual declension and death.” 
 
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.

Part II - The Pulpit

Part II - The Pulpit


This is a follow up to my April 22nd 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.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church Encourages Participation in Gender Equality Referendum

The Seventh-day Adventist Church Encourages Participation in Gender Equality Referendum

VOTE
 
The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes and advocates that all Bahamians have the right to exercise with equality their privileges and freedoms as citizens. As it relates to the issue of gender equality, the Seventh-day Adventist Church views both males and females as having been created in the image and likeness of God as noted in Genesis 1:27.
Given this fact, the Adventist Church commends the bi-partisan vote of parliament as it sought to address the obvious gender inequality in the constitution of the Bahamas.  Furthermore, the Adventist Church affirms its support for the fundamental principle of treating all citizens (male, female, young, old, religious, non-religious, of whichever socio economic or ethnic background) as equals under the law.
Notwithstanding some concerns expressed by some of our church members regarding aspects of the Bills, the Adventist Church continues to believe in the objective of addressing the present inequalities relating to males and females. Additionally, the Seventh-day Adventist Church urges all involved to present, discuss, and educate our citizens without any hint of politicizing this critical national issue.
Accordingly, while encouraging support for participation and discussion in the upcoming referendum slated for June 7, 2016, the Seventh-day Adventist Church respects the rights of its members to exercise their God-given and constitutional freedom to choose based on the dictates of their conscience.

Part I - The Platform

Based on numerous responses that I received from last week’s Ministerial Weekly, I thought it necessary to clarify that I am not advocating or supporting a drive to allow pastors of other denominations to preach from our pulpits. I sought to question the discrimination regarding the use of the pulpit by those who are allowed to speak in particular, at funerals. From my position on the platform, it does appear discriminating the way that we relate to the various ones allowed to speak. I also drew reference to dress and decorum. Accordingly, I share 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?”

Who Should Be Allowed in the Pulpit?

Who Should Be Allowed in the Pulpit?

pulpit
 
How many times do we witness deacons denying persons of other church denominations access to the main pulpit or podium especially at a funeral service? Before you blame deacons, it may be appropriate to conclude that they do so under instructions. And aren’t they being obedient to the Church Manual which discourages the practice of having unauthorized persons ascend the pulpit? Having watched this on several occasions, I thought to do a research, and therefore I share with you the following regarding the use of the pulpit.
 
A Look at Podium in the Bible
In the Bible, reference is made to the term “pulpit” in Nehemiah 8:4: “And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose” (KJV). This is probably the only place where the English word “pulpit” is used in the Bible. However, in looking at the Origins of the “Pulpit,” I discovered that the English term “pulpit” is derived from the Latin pulpitum (Sacred Desk or Sacred Cow? Perspective on the Pulpit January 31, 2013), which seems to be in keeping with what is found in Nehemiah.  It “referred to a raised platform on which a speaker would stand.”
Additionally, research has revealed that “the next extant reference to a ‘pulpit’ doesn’t occur again until the third century A.D. when Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, uses the term pulpitum to refer to a physical structure within a church building” (“The Social Origins of Christian Architecture,” Harvard Theological Studies 42, 1990, 2:23).
 
Purpose of the Pulpit
As for the use of the pulpit, the Wikipedia records, “the pulpit is generally reserved for clergy. This is mandated in the regulations of the Roman Catholic Church, and several others (though not always strictly observed).” Additional, it is noted that “Many churches have a second, smaller stand called the lectern, which can be used by lay persons, and is often used for all the readings and ordinary announcements. The traditional Catholic location of the pulpit to the side of the chancel or nave has been generally retained by Episcopalian and some other Protestant denominations, while in Presbyterian and Evangelical churches the pulpit has often replaced the altar at the centre” (Francis, Keith A., Gibson, William, et al., The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901, 2012).
Could the above be the basis for the use of upper and lower pulpits in some of our churches? However, the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not have a hierarchy of bishops per se. All pastors, elders and other church officers use the same platform and pulpit. So is it necessary to discriminate between members and non-members when it comes to the use of the pulpit?
 
Counsel Regarding the Use of the Pulpit
While there is reference to deny unauthorized persons to conduct services, this applies to “strangers” and “individuals who have been removed from the ministry or who have been removed from membership in other places, or designing persons” (Church Manual 2015 p.120). As for those who are to speak, it is necessary that they produce “proper credentials” (Ibid).  However, “At times it is acceptable for government officials or civic leaders to address a congregation, but all others should be excluded from the pulpit unless permission is granted by the conference. Every pastor, elder, and conference president must enforce this rule” (Ibid pp. 120/1).
Given the counsels, should not greater attention be paid to pulpit dress and behavioral decorum? It is not a sin or sacrilegious to permit non-SDA religious leaders and government leaders to speak from the pulpit. While it is of concern as to what may be said and the time allotted, we could provide some guidelines as to address these. The purpose of the platform was and is for the proclamation of the word. To have others ascend the pulpit speaks to the fact that we respect their office. However, respect does not mean that we agree with their theology. Nevertheless, I am open to further input on this topic as it warrants more discussion.

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 that “I die daily.”  As for Jesus, Ellen White said that “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 Co 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 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 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, the wider organizations, 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.

Lord Transform Me Alert #3

Lord Transform Me Alert #3

LTM
 
Approximately 6 weeks ago, I shared two articles on “Lord Transform Me” (LTM) as an aim to acquaint pastors and elders as to the “What” and “Why” of “Lord Transform Me.” However, this coming Sabbath, April 2, is the date that has been set aside throughout the Division to officially sensitize members in each local church regarding LTM. Accordingly, it is anticipated that in each church throughout the Union, members will learn more about LTM and its five components as it is promoted. This initiative is essential as it will guide the Division in its evangelistic direction for the next five years. Therefore, I seek to share the following information.
 
What Is Expected on Sabbath, April 2, 2016?
Sabbath, April 2 - "Lord Transform Me" (promoted in local churches)
This has been a day chosen to promote the "Lord Transform Me" program throughout local churches. A video is available with a special message on behalf of the IAD to invite members from local fields to be part of this great movement. For this video and other resources, visit www.lordtransformme.com.
 
What Is Expected on Sabbath, April 16, 2016?
Sabbath, April 16 - "Lord Transform Me" will be launched officially by the Inter-  American Division in Caracas, Venezuela. To ensure that we all have access to this initiative, it will be televised throughout Inter-America. Church members are invited to connect to the transmission where Pastor Ted Wilson, our General Conference president, will be the guest speaker. Additionally, I am asking that each church or church district seek to have at least one baptism to mark the event. In this regard, the field LTM Coordinators for Cayman and TCI Mission are to contact Pastor Dannie Clarke at 242- 457-3648, and the coordinators for North and South Bahamas conferences are to contact Pastor Leonardo Rahming at 242- 376-7857 to report their baptisms. Please note the time for the televised transmission.
 
LTM SAT eng
Times and transmission channels:
 
SPANISH
Esperanza TV
11:30 AM - 2:30 PM (Miami Time)
 
ENGLISH
Hope Church Channel
11:30 AM - 2:30 PM (Miami Time)
 
FRENCH
Hope Church Channel
3:30-6:30 PM (Miami Time)
 
What Is Expected on Wednesday, May 25, 2016?
Wednesday, May 25 - "Lord Transform Me" will be launched officially in a joint symposium service at the Hillview SDA Church in Nassau, Bahamas. Notwithstanding the previous launch of IAD and the earlier promotion of LTM, ATCU will do its launch by having each field leader share their approach to how they will carry this initiative in their field. Also, we can expect to receive an update to their baptisms for the first 5 months of the year as well as projections for the rest of 2016 and the quinquennium. The service from Hillview will be carried live via the internet to all of the ATCU region. The administration of ATCU seeks the total involvement of each member.

Alive Today and Always!

Alive Today and Always!

alive 

The above caption is more than a catchy phrase or more than a nice caption, as it depicts an unmistakable reality, and that is Jesus died, rose again and is alive for evermore. And these facts, my friends, offer tremendous hope for all people in every nation and situation. As such, I use this space to remind you of these realities and their implications for today. This is so necessary given many let downs and disappointments we experience in this life. 
 

Jesus Died!
The Apostle Paul declares that Jesus,
Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond servant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6, NKJV). Additionally, Paul continues by stating that Jesus "humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8, NKJV). It is unthinkable that one would give his life for another, but Christ did, and did so willingly, as noted in the New Testament book Titus: Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed (Titus 2:14, NKJV). Consider that the human race should have been put to death for their sins, but instead Jesus took the death that was ours and gave us the life that was His. That is remarkable and unthinkable but was absolutely necessary. You and I can have hope, a positive outlook, a way out and a where with all to survive any situation because of this death, and that which makes His death bona fide, is that which follows --the resurrection. 
 
Jesus Rose!
It is unknown for one to lay down His life and pick it up. As we know, once you are dead, that is it; for no person possesses the power to raise himself from the grave. Not so with Jesus, for He declared,
I lay down my life that I may take it up again (John 10:17). So on the first day of the week, when Mary Magdalene and later Simon Peter went to the tomb where He was laid following His death, they found it empty, and rightly so, for Jesus predicted that resurrection would happen on the third day (Matt. 20:19). Now He lives and lives for evermore; but more so He lives that we may live and live eternally. Says Jesus in John 14:19: Because I live, you will live also. What does that mean? There is resurrection power and hope, which inspire us, notwithstanding our circumstance or besetment, causing us to rise up in pursuit of our goals and to fulfil Gods plans for our lives. No matter the situation; no matter how dark and dismal your present state may be inclusive of a divorce, joblessness, lack of finance, terminal illness, Christs resurrection denotes that there is an escape or solution clause. For if Christ could rise from death, there can be nothing that I face more hopeless than death, so He can help in any situation. 

Jesus Desires Permanent Residence
Because Jesus died and rose and is alive for evermore, He desires a real and meaningful relationship with us. Certainly not one in which He is called on when there is some issue, or need such as a grocery list. He is not desirous of
a sweet heart relationship but a permanent one where He is allowed to take up residence in the heart and in the home, becoming more than Saviour but Lord and Master. I believe that the analogy of The Vine and the Branches in John 15 clearly describes the closeness He desires with us, being present in good times and bad times. What a privilege! 
And for whatever strange and unknown reasons, we seem to doubt Him, His love and His desire to have that lasting and meaningful relationship. No wonder we suffer such unnecessary pain and forfeit much needed peace, because we do not take Jesus seriously. We simply fail to appropriate the present benefits of His death, burial and resurrection. Unfortunately, it will get no better until we realize what it means to have Him as Lord and Saviour. Succinctly put in the words of Will L. Thompson, 
Jesus is all the world to me, My life, my joy, my all; He is my strength from day to day, Without Him I would fall. And just by asking Him to come into your heart today it will happen and happen now as you pray. Why not pause and pray?

Not Because You Do Not See It

Not Because You Do Not See It
Last week I shared with you some daunting statistics such as the population of the world, which is approximately 7.4 billion people, and of that amount about 32.5% represents Christianity, and of that amount 50 % represents Roman Catholics.  The balance stands for Islam 21.5%, Hinduism 14%, Buddhism 6% and Non-Religious 16%. How do we reach these people with the gospel of Christ? Just thinking about these massive masses of people is enough to discourage us, but again I go to the word of God, in particular the Parable of the Leaven. It helps me to understand how the kingdom of God will mushroom. Accordingly, I make three points drawn from the parable.
 
You Don't See It
Through the parable of the leaven Jesus makes the point that just because one does not see the leaven does not mean that nothing is happening. Likewise the same could be said of His church or kingdom. Is it any wonder that the Apostle Paul says, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7, NKJV). Sight can be good, but it can be misleading or delusional. So let’s consider the genesis of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Going back to 1844 that was a time of great disappointment. Many individuals had sold land and disposed of material possessions in anticipation of the imminent return of Christ, but it did not happen. As a result, some gave up on Christ; and others returned to their former churches. Nonetheless, a core or small group decided to hang in there, as they felt that there was something sincere and genuine about their experience. Later they would find out that they had the right date but the wrong event. Therefore, from that small beginning, the Seventh-day Adventist Church got started.
So from 1844 I fast-forward to 1863, and according to the GC Statistics, the church had only 3,500 members. By 1899 there were 64,003 members, and by 1955 – 1,006,218 (our first million)!  Now today, some approximately 61 years later, we are nearing 19 million. Looking back then you could not see it, but like yeast when mixed with dough, it started its work.
 
You Will See It
Today, you can see a difference compared to when many of us became members. According to the leaven, which the woman took and hid in the dough, the Bible implies that the dough would eventually rise. One does not have to guess as to the growth and development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Bahamas, Cayman and The Turks and Caicos Islands.
Consider that in 1950 there was just one field in the Bahamas –The Bahamas Mission with 19 churches, 718 members and a total of 40 baptisms for that year. Cayman Mission had 4 churches with a membership of 182 and 4 baptisms for that year. The Turks and Caicos Mission was known as Salt Cay Mission. It had a small membership of 44 with 2 churches and had 11 baptisms that year. That was a significant growth in membership. Today, there are two fields in the Bahamas with a book membership of nearly 24,000 members and 60 churches. As for Cayman the membership has exceeded 5,000 and there are 16 churches; and in the Turks and Caicos the membership is approaching 3,000 with 9 churches. This ought not be surprising, for didn't Jesus say, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32 NKJV).
So like a baby that has been birthed, the church or God’s kingdom is advancing but certainly not to the extent that many of us had hoped. Ellen White contends, “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one” (9T 189.4).                                                                                                                                                         
You Will Experience It
The other aspect of growth is personal. This is what takes place within the individual. In commenting on this aspect of growth, Ellen White explains, “As the leaven, when mingled with the meal, works from within outward, so it is by the renewing of the heart that the grace of God works to transform the life” (COL 97.1).

This is heightened by the admonition to Nicodemus by Jesus seen in John 3:3: Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

With this kind of conversion taking place, there is bound to be an inward and outward change being manifested as a result. Ellen White got it right when she wrote, “The natural inclinations are softened and subdued. New thoughts, new feelings, new motives, are implanted. A new standard of character is set up—the life of Christ. The mind is changed; the faculties are roused to action in new lines. Man is not endowed with new faculties, but the faculties he has are sanctified. The conscience is awakened. We are endowed with traits of character that enable us to do service for God” (COL 98.3).
My dear brethren the world desires to see these changes. This to me is the most positive change of growth. Someone has said, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one.” Can you imagine a church with this kind of growth? If you would keep in tune to the “Lord Transform Me” initiative to be launched officially in ATCU May 25th, you will see what the Lord will do.

The World Will Be Reached With the Gospel

The World Will Be Reached With the Gospel

world

 

Stating the Challenge
Have you taken time to consider that the current population of the world stands at approximately 7.4 billion people, and of that amount about 32.5% represents Christianity, 21.5% Islam, Hinduism 14%, Buddhism 6% and Non-Religious 16%, and some small groups make up the difference? When you do the math in the light of Christ’s mandate to carry the gospel message to the entire world, it can be daunting to say the least. In fact, one can feel overwhelmed and intimidated given the statistics.
With a world membership of fewer than 20 million Seventh-day Adventists, how do we reach the world? Come closer home and you will note that the current population of the Atlantic Caribbean Union region is less than half a million (477,000 -Bahamas 377,000, Cayman 63,000, TCI 37,000). To compound the situation, our region is heavily influenced by the United States - fast becoming secularized and given to worldly pleasure, it would seem.  Therefore the question is begged, “How do we reach our section of the world with the gospel with a membership of approximately 32,000?” “How will the fulfillment of Christ’s commission be realized?”
 
Confronting the Challenge
Apart from the promise of Christ, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached and then shall the end come,” is the record of two parables recorded in Luke 13:18-21.  The first, which is the Parable of the Mustard Seed, refers to the significant growth of the kingdom from a small beginning to a major development. Additionally, the Parable of the Leaven relates to the internal or transforming growth of the church working from within. Given that these two parables originated with Christ lends to much credibility. Therefore, there is no need to doubt what Christ predicts in terms of His church/kingdom. Says Christ, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God to?”
 
Defining the Process
Employing the object of a mustard seed, Jesus teaches three important lessons: Don't despise small beginnings. Success is not the result of chance and Success results from total dependence upon God. So, given the principles of the parable, it is clear that the growth and expansion of the kingdom of God is guaranteed. So when I am confronted with the 7.4 billion figure with a high percentage of Islams, Hinduism, Buddhism and non-religious ones, I remind myself of what Christ promised. The successful spreading of the gospel is predicated on God and His promises. Therefore in keeping with this fact, the implementation of Total Member Involvement (TMI) and Lord Transform Me (LTM) are most relevant and timely. We can fully support these initiatives, knowing that our leaders’ decision to introduce them is in keeping with not only our Lord’s mandate to go, teach and make disciples, but also the assurance that the growth and expansion of God’s church is guaranteed by Him. Given this reality, we are guaranteed success. Let’s keep believing and acting upon our belief!

Leadership Training In Russia and Ukraine

Leadership Training In Russia and Ukraine

ukraine

 
A rare but rewarding opportunity was recently accorded my wife and me to visit the Euro Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists (ESD) to participate in leadership training for union and local field officers.
From February 17-28, I was privileged to present a total of seven seminars such as “Effective Team Relationship,” “Time Management and Planning,” “Managing a Church Organization,” and “Succession Planning,” etc. in the Ukraine and Russia of the Euro Asia Division with headquarters in Moscow, which comprises of 13 countries and 2000 churches.  Expressions such as “Your messages were good,” “Was what we needed,” “Great blessing!” “Thank you so much!” and “Hope you can come to my area” came from some of the more than 100 leaders representing the 9 unions, who managed to muster up enough English to express themselves. In fact, the president of the Division, Pastor Michael Kaminskiy, who assisted with translation commented, “The presentations were on point and addressed the needs of our leaders.” At the conclusion of the training, he expressed publicly his gratitude for not allowing the challenge of acquiring our visas to deter us from coming.
In looking back, I vividly recall the day in October 2015 while at the Annual Council of the General Conference in Washington, Artur Stele, a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who visited the Bahamas nearly two years ago, introduced me to the leader of the Euro Asian Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Pastor Michael Kaminskiy. It was then that I received one of the most intriguing invitations of my 34 years in pastoral ministry. Pastor Michael Kaminskiy asked, “Would you be willing to come to ESD to assist us with our leadership training for local field and union officers in The Ukraine and Moscow?” Initially, there was a feeling of excitement, however, as the time neared to travel and we encountered some challenge in obtaining visas for both places, coupled with not so pleasant news from Russia and Ukraine in the media, we wondered if it was God’s will to travel. In fact, out of concern, some of our friends questioned the timing of our visit.
However, believing that wherever the people of God are they are to be reached, I reasoned that, “If God protects my fellow colleagues there in Russia and the Ukraine, certainly He can protect my wife Denise and me.” So with the assistance of Mr. Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Bahamas, as well as the direct representation of Ambassador Alma Adams and Consul Deborah Saunders at the Bahamian Embassy in Cuba, the Russian visas were secured in Cuba.  The Ukrainian visas were eventually obtained in Washington.
Upon arrival in the former Soviet Union, we were warmly welcomed and hosted. Really, there was no time that we did not feel safe. We thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Red Square, Lenin Mausoleum, Orthodox churches and other places we had only seen on television.  More so, we enjoyed visiting our local churches and institutions. We spent a total of 10 days in the Euro Asia Division and are most grateful for the experience and privilege to serve and represent our union. We shall long remember the friendships made and especially the enthusiasm of our brethren in attending Sabbath school so early in large numbers.

Keep Mentoring Alive

Keep Mentoring Alive

KMA

 
As I prepare this article today here in Moscow, participating in a leadership training for leaders of various levels from local fields, union as well as directors of the Euro Asia Division, I have been led to contemplate that which led to my being here in Russia this week and, part of last week in Ukraine. I simply attribute this rare privilege to God and the people, whom He has positioned to impact, assist and mentor me, for no one is self-made. However, until I get to the story one day, I share a few points on mentoring.  One of the greatest blessings as an elder, intern, pastor, director or even a union administrator is having someone who listens, collaborates with you, helps you in problem solving and achieving certain objectives.  Essentially, it is someone that you can look up to as a guide. As noted, that can be a real benefit in many ways, for each one of us faces challenges and situations never imagined or anticipated, and having one to stand by your side can be most re-assuring. This is basically mentoring, and as one reads the Bible, he or she will see several examples of this in both Old and New testaments.
 

Examples of Mentoring
Biblical examples that come to mind include Eli and Samuel, Elijah ad Elisha, and Ruth and Naomi in the Old Testament. As for the New Testament, there were Jesus and Peter, James and John; Barnabas and Saul, Barnabas and John Mark, Paul and Silas, and Paul and Timothy.  In observing these one is led to see close relationships, information sharing and on the job experience designed to make the mentee better prepared for given assignments.
 
Mentoring Takes Time
Looking at the above examples, it is obvious that time was a necessary ingredient for both mentor and mentee. I recall in the example of Barnabas in relationship to Saul, who would become the Apostle Paul (in Acts 11:25, 26), Barnabas is pictured going to Tarsus for Saul, and upon finding him, he takes Saul with him to Antioch- and there spent one year preaching and teaching. During this period, Saul was being mentored.  Of interest, one would read in the book of Acts up to this point, when the two names are mentioned, it is Barnabas then Saul- in that order, but there after the order is Paul and then Barnabas, pointing to a great job done by Barnabas- even though much is heard about Paul in comparison to Barnabas.
 
Mentoring Is Vulnerable
In becoming a mentor,  it is possible that the mentee will become better than the mentor. That ought not to prevent one from giving his or her best in mentoring another.  What is most important is that both mentor and mentee understand their roles within the plan of God.  It would seem that John the Baptist though not a true mentor of Jesus, understood this principle, for he pointed out that Jesus must increase and he decrease. Unfortunately, some administrators, pastors and elders are not always willing to open up to another colleague for fear of having one’s weaknesses or sensitive matters exposed.  This is rather unfortunate, for it may be that very person that God intended to encourage or assist.
            In the case of Barnabas, senior to Saul, he put his reputation on the line by associating with Saul (as Saul was not trusted at this time, for he was perceived by some as pretending to be a Christian, but his intention was to arrest and kill those of “the way” as implied in Acts 9: 26, 27.  Nevertheless, Barnabas “took him, and brought him to the apostles,” and thereby legitimized him.
 
Mentoring Must Nevertheless Continue
            Don’t we all wish that we had mentors? Maybe some of you do. Be grateful for it is a blessing. Ellen White says, “Those who undertake this training of young workers are doing noble service. The Lord Himself co-operates with their efforts” (PK 222-3).  Furthermore she adds that,  “the young men to whom the word of consecration has been spoken, whose privilege it is to be brought into close association with earnest, godly workers, should make the most of their opportunity” Ibid.
            Quite frankly, I also value the God given opportunity to mentor others especially young pastors and elders. Keep the ministry of mentoring alive!

Lord Transform Me

Lord Transform Me

 LTM

Last week, I introduced the Lord Transform Me initiative so as to sensitize you as fellow leaders to become knowledgeable and involved in this dynamic, comprehensive evangelistic undertaking of our church in the Inter-American Division, but particularly in the Atlantic Caribbean Union. Accordingly, I implore you to re-read the article sent out last week, which explains the initiative. As for this weekly, I share important dates. Additionally, please note that Pastor Peter Kerr, the executive secretary, who is the assistant to the president for evangelism, is responsible for Lord Transform Me. You can expect to receive further updates and instructions from him via your local field LTM person. I am really excited about this initiative, as we seek to get each member involved in the mission of the church. You will also receive information from Pastor Dannie Clarke, our personal ministry director.
 
For starts, note that the month of February is the month for emphasizing Lord Transform Me in all of our local churches in the Union. By that we want to explain what is LTM.  Again, you will find last week’s article helpful.
 
April 2 is the day to officially launch the program in all churches across the Division.
 
April 16 is the day when the program will be launched at the Division level from Caracas, Venezuela. On this day, we would like all churches across the Division territory to connect through the internet, 3ABN or Hope Channel, to access the program from Venezuela. It will be from 8:00-11:00 a.m. Venezuela time.
On April 16, each church should be a Lord Transform Me Worship Center where, among other activities, the following three things will be expected:
a. Each church should have at least one soul for baptism
            b. Each member will sign a Lord Transform Me participation pledge sheet
            c. Each church should have a number of small groups organized, where members will study the Righteousness of Christ and how to make personal application.
 
Finally, I am happy to report that Pastor Kerr and Pastor Steve Cornwall will represent the Union during the LTM short outreach in Caracas, Venezuela from April 9-15, 2016. Let’s pray and become involved. In the meanwhile, note that there is a web site for LTM as well. It is www.lordtransformme.com

What Happened to Vision One Million?

What Happened to Vision One Million?

v1m
 
I would imagine that some of you have been asked, “What has become of ‘Vision One Million’?” After all - it was the catchy phrase and expression of our division for years. Now, there is talk of Total Member Involvement (TMI), Lord Transform Me (LTM) and P.U.S.H (Pray Until Something Happen). Yes, the name ‘Vision One Million’ has been replaced but certainly not its emphasis on soul winning. In fact, there is an even greater focus on evangelism geared at involving the full membership, all church departments, local field, institutions and unions through a comprehensive initiative known as Lord Transform Me.
 
What Is Lord Transform Me?
            Lord Transform Me is a comprehensive undertaking of the Inter-American Division, designed at getting all workers and members to embrace a total transformation of person as a means to fulfilling the mission of the church, which is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus’ salvation. Based on Romans 12: 2, “Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” it is anticipated that a renewed mind will result in a “reformation in the way that [we] live, interact and serve.”  Therefore, there will be a deliberate effort to influence others in accepting Jesus as their Savior and become His disciples.
 
What Is Involved in Lord Transform Me?
There are five principle components of Lord Transform Me. They are:
  • Transform and Live - aimed at engaging the total membership to read the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy writings, the 28 Fundamental Beliefs and materials related to Righteousness by Faith and Faithfulness to God. I guess you would have recognized a definite correlation with the daily reading plan of Believe in His Prophets and the United in Prayer focus inclusive of ATCU’s P.U.S.H.
  • Explore and Learn - trains and assists members to identify, use and develop their talents in fulfilling the mission of the church.
  • Connect and Share – helps members and non-members deal with their social, physical and emotional issues as a means to befriending others and leading them to Christ.
  • Proclaim and Reap – trains and equips pastors to enable and empower members to engage in ministries aimed at reaping souls for the Kingdom of God through various evangelistic campaigns and approaches.
  • Conserve and Disciple – devises appropriate methods and strategies to retain members and disciple them into productive and active members thus, strengthening and adding to the Kingdom of God.
 
Get Involved
            Given the aforementioned, it must be obvious that the principles of Vision One Million have not been discarded. Instead, Vision One Million has been expanded to include the total membership of the church in keeping with the General Conference TMI. Just as there was a given union where the division targeted for training and reaping each year, Lord Transform Me will do the same beginning this year with the East Venezuela Union focusing on the theme of the Righteousness of Christ. In 2017, the focus will be on Doctrinal Study Part 1 in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union in Mexico. Then in 2018, we will focus on Doctrinal Study Part 2 in the Haitian Union and concluding in 2019 in the Bahamas, our very own union, with a focus on Faithfulness to Christ. Essentially, Vision One Million has not gone anywhere. It has been subsumed in Lord Transform Me. Accordingly, you can expect to hear more about this in your field, local church and institution. LTM is more than a catchy phrase; it is a strategic focus for the entire division, and the leadership of ATCU is thrilled to be a part of this exciting and all encompassing plan involving the total church in the work of the Lord, as we look forward to Christ’s return. Let’s embrace LTM personally and corporately! 

I Believe In My Church

I Believe In My Church

kyc

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 last week 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, he 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, 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.

A Prayer Appeal to Leaders

A Prayer Appeal to Leaders

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Half way through the first month of 2016, I thought to remind you of the importance of our annual prayer initiative, “Pray Until Something Happens” (P.U.S.H.). Five years ago, our union family commenced this prayer initiative recognizing that as a fledgling organization we needed to stay connected to our Divine Leader, Christ Jesus, for His enabling power.  And, He did not fail us! Undeniably, through much prayer, we have experienced His stabilizing force as He helped us to confront and overcome challenges, obstacles, and limitations in the pursuit of our objectives. However, in going forward, we need to keep praying. Accordingly, I implore you field leaders, directors, pastors and elders to ensure that attention is given to this prayer initiative. If you need additional prayer cards, you may download from the Union’s web page.
 
Why a Union-wide Initiative
Prayer keeps us focused on God, as He alone can supply our needs and give solutions to the many issues we face. Also, through prayer we are accorded a special privilege of communing with God.
Additionally, prayer serves to unite us awakening a sense of concern and interest in one another. To explain, during the first two weeks of 2016 thus far, we spent the first seven days praying for a General Conference initiative, “Total Member Involvement” (TMI). And during the latter period, the concentration was on the IAD’s initiative, “Lord Transform Me.”  Next week, the focus will be on our local fields, beginning with the Cayman Island Conference. Our union in terms of its fields, institution, personnel and resources will only be known to the extent that you share and promote it.  I am requesting that as leaders you become more intentional in promoting this initiative beyond your newsletter and or bulletin. I call for you to take the lead in ensuring that prayers are offered for the various emphases in your fields, conventions, committees, boards, churches and workers’ meetings, etc.
 
We Must Be Growing
Some of the happenings at our recent union session underscored the need for added maturity. Even our Division president stressed that fact in remarks he made on the floor of the session during a question and answer period. It is so important that we respect one another and the structures of the church. Five years later we must demonstrate that we are not only grateful for our union, but we are capable of managing our affairs having come from our mother union, the former West Indies Union. Therefore, our deliberate attention to daily and sincere prayer will bring us closer thus creating a sense of family and belonging. Thereby, we will not only respect one another but the wider organizations such as the Division and General Conference. It is not “us and them” but one people, one church, and our members at the local church must have this understanding. Also, you as officers, directors, pastors and elders can assist by your example.
 
Keeping Focused
Above all, I remind you, my fellow colleagues in service that it is absolutely necessary that we remind ourselves why we exist as a church, field, union, division, or GC. It is clearly stated in Revelation 14:6-12. We must be about uplifting Christ, His high priestly role, His judgment, His law, His call to separate from salvation by works, His call to grace and His second return. What a privilege! and I add, the ATCU Prayer Card 2016 reminds us of this fact. Therefore, I encourage you to pray, pray, pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  P.U.S.H!

An Honor for The Seventh-day Adventist Church

An Honor for The Seventh-day Adventist Church

Independence


Following the announcement that I was one of the twenty-six Bahamians listed on the annual Queen’s New Year Honors, I received many calls and notes of congratulation. Named as one of two recipients for the honor, Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG), for services to the church, I have been asked the meaning of CMG. What does the award mean? Like many of you, when first contacted I had no clue, so I inquired and researched online.
 

The Meaning of CMG
CMG stands for “The Order of St Michael and St George” and “is awarded to men and women of high office, or who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country.” Also, “Instituted in 1818 by the Prince Regent (later George IV), the Order of St Michael and St George was intended to commemorate the placing of the Ionian Islands under British protection.” Originally it was intended for distinguished citizens of the islands, and also of Malta.
According to Wikipedia, “The Order has three classes. These are:
       Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross (GCMG)
       Knight Commander (KCMG) or Dame Commander (DCMG)
       Companion (CMG)
It should be noted that it is the third one or lowest that is applicable in this instance. It does not involve any knighthood; though a friend wrote inquiring about the title “Sir,” it is not applicable. Quite frankly, I would be reluctant to accept that award at this stage in my life and ministry. Nevertheless, I most humbly accept the CMG honor. The actual award ceremony will take place later this year.
 
Attributed to God
            When I pause and consider my humble beginning and upbringing from time to time, I can only say, “Thank You Lord.” Born through Polemus Street in the heart of the inner city of Grant’s Town in Nassau, I never imagined being a leader of a church, certainly not the Seventh-day Adventist Church, being a Baptist at the time. The most I knew about Adventists was mainly through a friend. We were both packing boys at a local food supermarket. As I recalled, he would leave work a certain time on Friday evenings and not show up on Saturdays. Later, I would come to realize why. Nevertheless, the announcement of this award reminds me of many persons God placed in my path to nurture me including my late parents, my dear wife of 32 years, and those in and outside the church. Therefore, this high and significant recognition without question must be attributed to God and by extension, His church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has afforded me numerous opportunities to travel the world, ministering especially in the Bahamas, Cayman and Turks and Caicos islands, as well as serve on boards and committees at all levels of the church. As for my country, one of the most memorable opportunities I value was to preach at the Bahamas’ 39th Anniversary of Independence. To God be the glory!
 
The Blessings of Others
            My research, in my attempt to understand this recognition, has led me to realize that many Adventists around the globe have received similar awards. To explain, Elder Jan Paulson, former GC president was awarded the Norwegian ‘Order Of Merit’ for ‘Service For The Good Of Humanity’ in 2012. Additionally, Queen Elizabeth II presented Joan Saddler, a member of the Hampstead Adventist Church, with the Order of the British Empire on December 6, 2007 for her volunteer work “with mentoring minorities and influencing social health policy.” These two examples coupled with others including two of the former leaders within the Bahamas who also received high honors, have helped me to appreciate the position of the church toward such awards. As such, I was not surprised when I first learnt of the award and shared with Elder Leito, Division president, he readily congratulated and encouraged my acceptance of the same.
 
The Greatest Award
            And so as I prepare to accept the actual insignia later this year, I do so humbly looking forward to the day when I shall receive the greatest award issued by God Himself saying, “Well done good and faithful servant -enter into the joy of thy Lord.”  What a day that will be! Until then, you and I must keep on serving humanity and being faithful to the mission of the church, which is to seek and save mankind through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Year 2016 - A Welcome Change

Year 2016 - A Welcome Change

2016

Each new day marks the end of the previous day and the beginning of a new one. Likewise does each week, month and New Year. Aren’t you glad to know that there are ends and new beginnings? I would imagine that not in each instance is there such a welcomed change especially when things are going well.  However, life is not the continuation of profit making, extended honeymoon, good health and just good news with no disappointment. Life is a mixture of good and bad. Nevertheless, the thought of a new day, week or month surely makes for good news after a challenging one. And more so the entrance of a brand new year represents a chance to fix some things of the old year, start all over again, make some changes and/or hopefully experience what some would prefer to say, “better luck.” Quite frankly I do not believe in luck, as I believe that God has a plan for our lives, which carries a sense of hope now and tomorrow. Therefore, notwithstanding whatever unfortunate circumstance of the past year, one can be assured that there can be a difference, not necessarily a year devoid of trouble and challenges but a positive outlook and hope of just knowing that I am in God’s protective care. He is watching over me, or in today’s vernacular, “He has my back.” So let the New Year roll in. Let the change take place. To ensure that we make the best of 2016, there must be a deliberate effort of ours.
 
Consecrate Yourself to God Each Day
For starts, I suggest that we begin each day in the New Year with God. If you are doing so then continue to make this a priority. Noted writer Ellen White counsels, “Consecrate yourself to God in the morning; make this your very first work” STC p. 70). A consecration of such recognizes one’s dependence on God and also one’s gratitude to God for life and opportunities. The Bible character Job understood the importance of time with God. He declared, “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food” (Job 23:12 ESV). Time spent in daily consecration to God is not time wasted or lost. In fact, the benefits outweigh whatever sacrifices one makes. Certainly, this time spent lends to a new outlook on life or situations such as disappointment, illness or whatever comes. Connected to God enables one to see a way out and even blessings while others see despair. That is perspective for me. That is not being aloof to what is happening around me or indifferent. Instead, it is sensing the presence of God, which gives a calming assurance and remarkable hope. I can better appreciate 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). 
 
How Do We Consecrate Ourselves?
In consecrating oneself to God, begin by reading the Bible- preferably the book of John. You may start with just a few verses and move to a chapter. Next, just pray. Prayer is talking to God as “you would to a friend.” Don't worry about the fancy words, as you need not impress God. In fact, He already knows your heart. However, prayer changes us by transporting us into the very presence of God. Thereby your thoughts are bound to change. Your outlook on life can no longer be the same notwithstanding all the issues of life. It is not that you become immune, but you see God and the fact that He is still in control. Additionally, becoming connected to a church is important for nurturing. Choose one that will help you to grow spiritually and strengthen your faith in God.
 
Give Attention to What Is Important
Although we are busy people, we must make time for self-development, family, others and the job within the 86,400 seconds given to us each day if the New Year is to be better. Says a favorite author of mine, “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).  Given the recent lay- offs at Bahamar and elsewhere, it is clear that persons need to be open to retooling and ongoing training to meet the needs of today’s employment. As for time for family, it is crucial as this is what many spouses and children need as opposed to the lavish gifts. I recall the following story of the little boy who asked his father, “Dad how much do you make in an hour?” Though reluctant, the father finally revealed the amount. The little boy got his piggy bank and counted his savings, which was less than his father’s hourly wage. He asked his father to loan him the difference. The boy then placed it with his savings and gave to his father the total amount for one hour of his time. I need not say more. Could it be that many of our young men wreaking havoc on society are lacking that emotional connection and feel devoid of love, appreciation and acceptance? Where did we as parents go wrong? Quality family time is a must!
Hopefully, in the New Year we will commit to regular exercise and a wholesome diet. A lot of the diseases prevalent among us could be avoided with basic lifestyle changes. I hope that with the proposed introduction of a National Health Insurance, a basic component would include educating citizens and residents of simple health steps. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not only committed to working with the government in this regard but launched in 2015 the initiative “I Want To Live Healthy.” Scores of persons have been trained to assist others in living healthy.
 It is equally important that we give an honest day’s work for an honest pay; and finally we need to get back to being communities. The more modern we become, we seem to lack a sense of community. We must remember that we are our brother’s keeper. I believe these simple but basic steps and principles, if embraced, will make for a great 2016.  Have a Spirit-filled New Year!

I Need Not Be Afraid!

I Need Not Be Afraid!

No Fear
 
Daily reports of crimes, terrorist threats, economic challenges, unrest and the like, locally and internationally, are enough to drive fear and consternation in the most courageous. One is led to ask, “How does one exist untouched or unfazed by all that the media reports and displays daily?” And to add, the prognostication for 2016 does not appear any brighter when we consider that we are entering the political season, which will carry its share of unrealistic promises and unnecessary political attacks. Yet, some persons are hopeful of employment and a better Bahamas with a significant reduction in crime. Given the aforementioned, how does one maintain his or her composure resisting the temptation to be overcome by fear and anxiety? I know of no other way than in and through Christ, and I add that is not a “light or trite matter” for me. Instead, it is a reality! Says Christ, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” That statement carries weigh and authority because Christ says it, and He is not man that He should waver. What assurance! So why should I be afraid? Why should I fear? Accordingly, I share these few points with you.
 
Basis for “Fear Not”
The expression “fear not”, recorded in Luke 2:10, borne by an angel of the Lord carries much authority and divine backing. Accordingly, it ought to give us some sense of assurance, certainty and hope when we consider the “who”, “what”, “when” and “where” of the text. The Angel is from the Lord, and his message is one of joy and hope for all mankind both hope now and later. That ought to arrest our attention like nothing else.
 
What Does “Fear Not” Mean?
This question is best explained by reading more of the passage as recorded in Luke 2. There the Angel of the Lord exclaimed, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” So the message is for all people, or put another way, it is universal. Usually we do not find a one-gift that fits all, but this remedy is one that addresses the needs of all mankind. Verse eleven identifies the gift by explaining, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christa the Lord.” To know this Christ is to love Him, and to love Him is to prove Him; and to prove Him is to remain loyal to Him and His Word.  However, lest I overlook what is the message of Christ, I go back to verse 10, which is “joy.” Joy is not a now and then feeling but a lasting reality in Christ that enables one to do the unthinkable, compared to human standards, and to survive tough times, or put another way, come through trying situations, while others are collapsing and unable to cope.
 
And Now the Bonus
Some of us get bonuses only at Christmas or periodically. However, this “good news of great joy” extends beyond the current season into January, February -going back to December. It is year-round as noted in the above paragraph. This is why I personally do not see the need to resort to chance, worry, scheming, resentment or jealousy for that matter. With an embracing of the “Fear not” message, one is led to explore those things that tend to dignity, value and self worth. It is of interest to observe the preamble to the constitution of the Bahamas: “AND WHEREAS the People of this Family of Islands recognizing that the preservation of their Freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to Self-discipline, Industry, Loyalty, Unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law.” It is my thinking that self-discipline, industry and hard work are better ingredients for the building of a nation. Again His message is more than a “fear not;” it is “good news of great joy.” And that is lasting even in the midst of sickness, apparent setbacks and trying circumstances, for it is in seeing Christ through the “cracks” of my life that I engender courage, faith, perspective and hope. Said the Lord years ago to His people through Jeremiah the prophet, “For I know the plans I have for you, . . . plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV).  That is still applicable and therefore I need not be afraid, for I know who holds my hand. Yes, I know who has my back and all of me. It is God!
 
Happy Christ-filled Holidays and a Blessed New Year!

Precious in the Sight of God – Part II

Precious in the Sight of God – Part II


 
Emulating God
            These remarkable indications, in words and action, of our immeasurable value to God, ought to serve as a pattern for the way that we treat each other and a guideline for the way we should expect to be treated. Essentially, the attitude should be one of respect, affirming and building up one another. God does not condone or countenance abuse of any kind (mental, physical, psychological, verbal, sexual, substance, or medical abuse).  These forms of cruelty go against His nature of love, compassion, and genuine care and concern. Current international research points to family violence as a global problem. Nevertheless, a believer of Christ is expected to emulate Him in loving his/her spouse and in being faithful. He or she is committed to family values and consistent in nurturing and providing for the family needs. The quest for material gain does not cause a true believer to neglect his/her family. No legislation is necessary for such persons to be loving, kind, patient, and thoughtful, for the Spirit of God governs them. In fact, it was Christ who said that by “love” all men should be able to identify His followers. Are you a follower? 
 
Of course, this Biblical tenet is unpopular, for societal norms and values have been relaxed and in some instances eliminated. Promiscuity and immoral living are touted, and those who shun such practices are made to feel as though they have done wrong. It is commonly opined, “Everybody is doing it.” This is, no doubt, a part of the reason for many failed marriages and, by extension, untold pain, abuse, and suffering by spouses and children. Is it any wonder that societies and nations seem to be fighting a losing battle?  “As goes the family, so go the nation and the world.”
 
Help for the Troubled
            It is good to know that God does not abandon anyone even when he or she is abusive. Though it is clear that God finds abuse repugnant, He welcomes the abuser, for He says, “Come now, and let us reason together”(Isaiah 1:18, NKJV).  Coupled with this is the message of restoration in the book of Malachi where God seeks to re-attract sons to fathers; fathers to sons; daughters to mothers; mothers to daughters; and spouses to each other. So, even with all the domestic issues, God is still with the family; and the family is still precious to Him.  He desires that none be lost but that everyone is restored to realize his/her potential and usefulness by His grace.
            When we appreciate the inestimable worth God places on each person, follow the example of God in caring for one another, and embrace the power found in the help that God offers, we will find, as Ellen White states, the home will become “a little heaven on earth.”(White, E. G., Sermons and Talks, Volume 2:200, 1994;2002). Consequently, the world, with its lowered values, will marvel at the courage and humble dispositions of God’s people. 

Precious in the Sight of God – Part I

Precious in the Sight of God – Part I

hh
 
Like two towering landmarks stand the institutions of the family and the Sabbath in the first two chapters of Genesis. Though they have been around for thousands of years, they are very much relevant and important for the proper functioning of societies in today’s world. Unfortunately, while the family is generally regarded as binding universally, there are many in Christendom who do not hold the same view about the institution of the Sabbath. Nonetheless, these two establishments are God’s gifts to humanity. However, for the purpose of this article, I refer to the family, its worth, and its need to be more greatly embraced for a more stable society; for the saying is so true: “As the family goes, so go the nation and the world.”
 
Of Inestimable Worth
The Bible is replete with statements declaring God’s precious and tender regard for marriage, the home, and family inclusive of each member whether young or old. The well-known song says, “All are precious in His sight.” More so, in the first book of the Bible, God states, “Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26, NKJV). This verse speaks to identity, time, value, and responsibility. Each person has a beginning and a significant value given by the Master Designer, God Himself. That fact ought to engender a sense of belonging and feelings of true specialness. You and I are not after-thought beings; instead, according to the Psalmist, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, NKJV).
If that were insufficient to ignite one’s sense of value, identity and worth, consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (NKJV). And I cannot bypass Jeremiah 31:3 which expresses God’s special love for us: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you” (NKJV).
 In addition to the aforementioned, the Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that a husband ought to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and a woman ought to submit to her husband “as unto the Lord.”  
To Be Continued next week with part II

Thankful Always!

Thankful Always!

thank
 
            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.”

Self-denial

Self-denial

self denial

 
The above caption is commonly used especially in reference to another, but it is very difficult when it comes to one self. However, it is possible that we all go through phases of self-denial where we indirectly and, at times, directly refuse to acknowledge a situation. More recently this was revealed to me in a sermon I was preparing some time ago on the Apostle Peter.  Within days, it would be repeated through a book that I purchased recently titled Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima.
 

What Is a Denial?
Denial is realization of a potential problem or problems which one fails to admit or own up to. Recall the encounter of Jesus with Peter in Luke 22:31-34. Jesus revealed to Peter that he would deny Him not just once but three times, but Peter in response to Jesus said, “I am ready to go both to prison and to death” (verse 33).  While Peter failed to see himself and his vulnerability, it was not hard for Jesus to see; for Peter operated from a sense of false assumptions, believing that he knew himself and his ability. The same could be said of you and me. So essentially, it is necessary that we understand what Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima refer to as our dark side:  A side of us that we do not recognize or seem unwilling to accept.
 
Understanding My Dark Side
According to McIntosh and Rima, “the dark side refers to our inner urges, compulsions, motivations, and dysfunctions that drive us toward success or undermine our accomplishments.”  They continue, “Over a lifetime of experiences,” our dark side “is often revealed in moments of frustration or anger.”  Yet they contend, “The dark side is a normal development of life and can be an agent for both good and bad in our lives.” Truth be told parents, teachers, leaders in and outside the church inclusive of elders, preachers, directors, officers and presidents are affected by it.
As such it is necessary to recognize when something is driving us and driving us beyond reason, beyond the advice of those who mean us well (i.e. spouse, colleagues and friends), to the extent that we are willing to compromise or put personal interest in front of the church. A failure to confront my dark side may lead to my crossing “the line and experience a down hill,” as in the case of Gordon McDonald, Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart.
 
Getting Help for My Dark Side
However, a desire to achieve should not be considered bad. Don’t we all aspire to be the best? We should! What is crucial is that we be open to evaluation and constructive criticisms by others. It is said that Evangelist Billy Graham has been successful, for he has subjected himself to the scrutiny of others. The same is reported of successful church leader Bill Hybel.
Systems within the Adventist Church may appear “to slow us down,” but they are there to protect us and prevent pitfalls.  Systems at the local church include the Church Board and Business Meetings, etc. At the Mission/Conference and Union as well as General Conference levels, are the Executive Committee, evaluations and consultations. It is unreasonable to expect any board or committee membership to agree with the chairman on everything. Equally so, it is unfair to have a committee that opposes everything from a leader.  Challenge to a position may lead us to see other sides that were not considered, or it may lead to seeing the value of the leader’s position. Be open to ways that God may lead, and if your position is shown to be faulty, adopt the attitude of Peter recorded in Luke 22:61, 62: “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how that he said . . .Before the cock crow . . . thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out and wept bitterly” (ASV). That is owning up!

Overlooking God’s Remedy for Crime and Lawlessness

Overlooking God’s Remedy for Crime and Lawlessness

crime
 
Each day as we tune into the news, there is report of violent acts, unrest and dishonesty engendering a sense of fear. Added to these is the apparent lack of solution to resolving crime, especially murder. With two months to the end of the year, there is report of nearly 130 murders for the Bahamas. From all appearances, the figures are trending toward a record-breaking year in homicides. What is going on in Bahamas?  Is there no solution?
 
Is There no Solution?
New cars and motorcycles have been purchased for the police and yet violent crime is unabated. Additionally, radio-talk shows are bombarded with suggestions, or what some perceive as the solution to the nation’s vexing problems, and yet crime continues to escalate. Is there no solution or way out? Genesis 18:14 asserts, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  Then Proverbs 14:34 reminds us, “Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” So could it be that there is a shift from godliness?
 
God’s Remedy
Have you considered the Ten Commandments lately?  Yes, I am aware that we know of them and may be able to recite them, but look at them carefully. Jesus says, in His famous sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17, NKJV). In other words, Jesus came to magnify or give the law its freedom to operate. Consider the following commandments:  The eighth commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal.”  This protects one’s possessions. God expects that we respect the rights of others to own and possess things.
The seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” shows God’s value for marriage and the family.  Mark Finley writes, “The seventh command is a call to moral purity.”
The ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” protects the reputation of a person.  It discourages gossiping, slandering and the misrepresentation of facts.  If these things were allowed, can you imagine what our nation would be like? Then there is the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”  If only this was adhered to; for it speaks to having respect for the life of all mankind. Has it been considered that life is precious and is a gift from God? This law safeguards against killing by various means inclusive of abortion on demand.  When there is little regard for life, then it would seem that there is little regard for the Life Giver –God.
This same God enjoins mankind each week to keep holy His Sabbath.  He says, “Remember that Sabbath day.” Do folks remember it? Or are there persons fighting against it?  Could it be that many do not recognize what they are doing by disregarding it and teaching men to do so? 
 
Still Relevant
Though in existence for centuries, God’s law is still relevant for the twenty-first century; and therefore the words of Christ, “Think not that I came to destroy but to fulfill,” are appropriate. When God’s law gets its rightful place, then God will have first place in our lives.
            We cannot have a moral society when we shun the truth and glorify gossip.  We cannot have a crime free community when, according to Dr. Frazier in his book, Psycho Trends, we “celebrate mayhem while simultaneously condemning it.”
            Essentially, we cannot take God’s law for granted and expect a peaceful society or nation.  Each week God is calling, through His Sabbath, for His created beings to remember Him.  This is so that men and women may connect with their Creator and thereby know their roots and identity through true worship of the true and living God.  People who do not know themselves are likely to do the unthinkable. If we are serious about eradicating crime, then we must get serious about God and upholding His Ten Commandments, for they are not ten suggestions!

A Privilege to Serve

A Privilege to Serve

serve

 
            The text Matthew 20:28, which speaks to servant leadership, serves often to remind me that it is an honor to serve.  Says Christ of Himself, "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (NKJV). This statement underscores the true picture of servant leadership. However, a closer look at the passage reveals at least three points: Christ is the model servant leader; leadership is about service, and service is inclusive.
 

Christ the Model Servant Leader
            Following the reelection of my administrative colleagues and me to a second five-year term, to the leadership of the Atlantic Caribbean Union Sunday past, I reminded myself that our reelection was a privilege and in no way an entitlement. To put it bluntly, the church does not owe us anything. It is simply an opportunity to serve the Lord. And the above text presents a perfect example in Christ the model leader. He is the sum total of leadership. No wonder the Apostle Paul explains that Christ, "who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men" (Phil. 1:6, 7, NKJV). What a privilege!
 
Leadership Is a Service
            Unfortunately, the world considers leadership anything but sacrifice or service. Instead, leadership is catered to, served and, in some instances, blindly followed. To clarify, I feel that leadership should be respected but not worshiped. I would imagine that some of you have had to resist the temptation of accepting any unreasonable praise or accolades. In contrast the example of Christ takes precedence. What do we see of Him? In the midst of a cadre of men seeking fame and position, Christ defined leadership by simply serving. John 13 pictures Him filling a basin with water and washing the feet of His disciples. This goes against the grain of what the world regards as leadership. Nevertheless, it is the hallmark of church leaders.  
 
Servant Leadership Is Inclusive
The example of Christ’s leadership is undeniably inclusive. Notwithstanding the misguidedness of His disciples, He stuck with them seeking to help them realize their potentials. Likewise, we are called to assist our members and colleagues and help them realize their capacity for service and usefulness. And this is not baseless, as the Apostle Paul explains that each person is gifted (1 Cor. 12:7). That fact speaks to purpose; and to the extent that we help one another identify the gifts within, while providing opportunities for their use and development, is the extent that we equip the church to fulfill the mission of God. Such leadership does not focus on self or self-preservation but on building others. Accordingly, I express appreciation to those whom Christ has placed in my path to develop me.  I want to enable others to see what God has deposited in them, and at the end of their service, may the words of a Steve Green song be fulfilled: “May all who come behind us find us faithful.”

IAD Leader Responds to Recent GC Vote on Allowing Division to Approve Ordination Without Regard to Gender

IAD Leader Responds to Recent GC Vote on
Allowing Division to Approve Ordination Without Regard to Gender

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Today, with permission, I share with you a letter from Elder Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American Division, sent to administrators and directors. It restates the position of the church toward female pastors, elders and deaconess following a recent vote at the 2015 General Conference session related to allowing division to ordain pastors without regard to gender. Given the vote, what does it mean for the church? I have provided a caption and sub-topics for easy reference. I believe you will find the information helpful.
 
Greetings and Results of IAD Polling
Dear Colleagues in the Ministry:
 
During the height of the discussions on the matter if Divisions should be allowed to approve ordination without regards to gender, the administration of your Division has chosen to remain silent.  We did not want to be involved in this so divisive issue, and therefore lose sight of the mission given us by the Lord.
 
Furthermore, when preliminary polling of the unions’ leadership in the IAD indicated the church was split right down the middle, with 51% in favour and 49% against.  This has guided us to stay out of the debate regardless of personal opinions, for we lead a united church and should not be the reasons of divisions.
 
It has always been and always will be the opinion that whatever the world body says, that is what we will do.  The vote in San Antonio was clear, that the world church is not yet ready to grant the thirteen world divisions the privilege to move in a different way from each other.  Therefore, the church in Inter-America accepts and will abide by the action of the world church, indicating that Divisions are not allowed to move on their own on the matter of ordination.
 
Clarifying the GC Vote
Our World president has made it very clear, however, that this vote does not change anything, and all previous actions limiting or approving anything on this matter remain intact.  This means that:
 

  1. Women can prepare and serve as pastors or any position of leadership in the church not requiring ordination.

  2. That leadership position as president, is the only position specifically requiring ordination to the ministry, and therefore, should remain only for those who have been ordained to the gospel ministry.

  3. That qualified, and prepared female leaders can hold any other position in the church.

  4. That all previous General Conference decisions on the matter of ordination of female elders, deaconesses, etc. is, and will remain in effect, therefore, any congregation that wants to elect a female leader as church elder, is totally free to do so and have such leader be ordained as a church elder, deaconess, etc.

  5. That female pastors have the full backing of the world church to serve as church pastors, departmental leaders, institutional leaders, etc., and they can be commissioned as ministers.

  6. That as commissioned ministers, if also ordained as a church elder, they can perform in all matters of ministry, leaving only two issues that require an ordained minister to perform. These are: organizing of new churches and officiate as presiding minister in a wedding.

 
The rich history of unbiased approach of women in ministry in the Inter-American Division indicates that, we believe and practice the Spirit of Prophecy indication that “There is no limit to the usefulness of the one who, putting self aside, makes room for the working of the Holy Spirit upon his heart, and lives a life wholly consecrated to God.” –Southern Watchman, Aug. 1, 1905. Christian Service, p. 254.
 
This clear Spirit of Prophecy teaching is also extended to all female members of God’s family, who, having received the call from the Lord, dedicate their all to service.
 
There are so many congregations in our Division, where women are elected and are ordained as church elders, they are holding positions of senior leadership in institutions, and also church organizations, and the IAD is one of the very few Divisions, following the good example of the General Conference, that has elected a female vice president, who is serving the church with great distinction, and effectiveness.
 
Refocusing on the Mission of the Church
On behalf of the world church, and on behalf of our beloved world leaders, we ask all sides of this discussion to remember that the debate is over, and to refocus energies on the mission of the church.
 
Jesus is coming soon, and by God’s grace, we will not allow the enemy to cause distractions from the great work we have to do.  Let us not push where the church has clearly indicated we should not go.  But also, let us not hinder, and be a stumbling block, where the church has clearly indicated it is part of acceptable ministry practices, like the ordination of female elder, etc.
 
Sadly, agitating against this clear indication of the church that, it is OK to ordain female elders is as serious as moving to the ordination of female pastors without world church approval.  The church is clear, we should not ordain female pastors, but neither should we agitate against the clear decision of the world church for ordination of female elders and deaconesses.
 
May the Lord bless you, my dear colleagues, and that your ministry result in what it should always be, a great blessing to the congregations you serve.
 
Maranatha

Is Jesus the End of the Law?

Is Jesus the End of the Law?
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A casual look at Romans 10:4 would suggest that the phrase,” Christ is the end of the law,” means that He is no longer requiring and obligating Christians to adhere to the ten commandments. However, upon serious reflection, without a contextual knowledge of the passage, the following questions quite naturally pop up: “How can that be?” “Is it possible?” It would now mean that Christians are free to live as they desire. For a certainty, we would no longer be required to keep the Sabbath or any law for that matter.
 
Laws of Life
Truth be told, that would not make sense, as law keeping is necessary for the proper function of matters and life.  For example, if I do not eat right or on time, I am likely to be adversely affected over time.  Avoiding sleep or sufficient rest is sure to lead to negative consequences.  The same could be said for ignoring the Traffic Light, as one would endanger self and others. Dressing without consideration to the weather, one will eventually pay a costly price. Airline pilots are no less obligated, for ignoring the laws of aviation will put them and others in great danger.  Accordingly, it must be concluded that laws and regulations are critical to the smooth and effective operations of life and systems. To do otherwise is to invite chaos, imbalance, danger and possibly death.  The same applies to the spiritual life; and hence the following clarification.
 
Goal of the Law
            The Greek word for “end” in Romans 10:4 is “telos.”  It conveys the idea of end in the case of demise or the end of something.  John C. Brunt in his book, Redemption in Romans, explains, “When I take a dish out of a dishwasher and it slips out of my hand and breaks into hundreds of pieces on the floor, I can say, ‘That’s the end of that dish!’ In this case, end means ‘demise.’” According to Brunt that dish exists no more, having come to an end.
            On the other hand, “telos” denotes goal or purpose. Blunt adds, “We’re raising money at church with the end in mind of a new youth chapel.”  In this example demise is not being spoken of but a goal. Given this explanation, one is able to see and understand what the Apostle Paul is saying in Romans 10:4.  For all intents and purposes, he is advocating that the goal of the law is to point to Christ.  After all, man is incapable of saving himself.  Certainly the law cannot save him.  Instead, it points out sin and man’s deficiency, but it cannot do anything about man’s condition. It (law) functions like a mirror pointing what needs to be done but unable to do it.
            If we were to determine that the law has come to an end, we would need to explain what Paul said earlier as noted in Romans 7:12: “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” Additionally, there would need to be an explanation for Romans 3:31 which states, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”  Also, when we consider the words of Christ in Matthew 5:17 we would have a challenge for He says, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Therefore, we can conclude that Romans 10:4 teaches that “Christ is the goal toward which the law points.  He fulfills the law,” or “Christ brings an end to a misunderstanding of the law” (Redemption in Romans, p. 97).
 
Summing It Up
            Pulling all the aforementioned together, it must be clear that Christ is the only means by which one is saved - both Jews and Gentiles. Says Paul, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Thus, to say or imply that with Christ or because of Him there is no need or place for the law, we are greatly mistaken. Sinclair Ferguson sums it up best by saying, “Our attitude to the law of God is an index of our attitude to God Himself.” Therefore, I conclude, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The question that begs an answer is, “Do you believe?”

Did You Study?

Did You Study?
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I am certain that the above question is quite familiar to you.  In fact, it is asked each Sabbath in every Sabbath school class to each present member. Essentially, the question seeks to ascertain those who studied the lesson for the week. However, there is more to the question as it indicates whether members are giving attention to that which matters - daily worship and by extension whether the church is growing spiritually. For that reason, I proffer some benefits of daily worship.
 
Benefits of Daily Devotion
            First among the benefits of a daily devotion is that it allows for growth in one’s relationship with God. In Mark 3:14, Jesus is represented as appointing 12 disciples that “they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.”  So often the phrase, “they might be with Him,” is overlooked, as there is a tendency “to do,” and “to go” as opposed “to being”. Daily devotion provides time for and with God; and that is a definite need of mankind whether he recognizes it or not.
            Additionally, time with God allows for one to gain a sense of his or her sinfulness and seek sincerely forgiveness from God.  We are sinners saved by grace and struggling daily with shortcomings and issues of various types. As I read my Bible, follow the Lesson Study plan, and pray, I am inclined to confess and seek God for forgiveness and His enabling power.
            Also, my days are more manageable. Now that is not to say that one will not have challenges or the unexpected. They are inevitable, but time with God provides the disposition and perspective that might not have otherwise been experienced.
            It does something for my spouse when she hears my intercession in her behalf as I call her by name.  Likewise, our children are encouraged by our prayers, and later, if not now, will have reasons to recall and play back in their minds those morning and evening worships.  Then there is the opportunity to grow in knowledge. As a minister with nearly 35 years of experience, I never cease to be amazed about what I learn just from studying the Sabbath School lessons. What a blessing to study about Jeremiah this quarter, but more so the God who called Jeremiah from the womb! That ought to tell you and me there is a purpose to our lives.
 
When We Do Not Study
            On the other hand, when we fail to make time for God and for His Word, we miss out on opportunities to grow spiritually, resulting in our days seeming to be out of control.  Maybe this explains why we are so busy and cannot point to what we have accomplished.  Or maybe we are accomplishing this and that but feel so empty and so unfulfilled. Are we happy or are we grumpy? Shouldn’t we be exuding the love of Christ?  If we are finding fault with everyone but ourselves, then maybe we might not be spending enough time with God reading His Word and praying.  I cannot speak for you, but I have been there; and it is only when I retreat or pull away from everything and everybody that I regain focus, assurance and confidence. Consider the following description of Christ: “Jesus Himself, while He dwelt among men, was often in prayer. Our Saviour identified Himself with our needs and weakness, in that He became a suppliant, a petitioner, seeking from His Father fresh supplies of strength, that He might come forth braced for duty and trial. He is our example in all things” (SC 93.4).  Consider that “if the Saviour 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” (Ibid).
So as I sum up my update, there is more to that question, “Did you study?” That is necessary for my soul and your soul’s salvation.  For each day the church has arranged a portion of Scripture for you and me to read and study that we may grow in God’s grace and knowledge; and one day, hopefully soon, Jesus will come to take us to be with Him.  And we shall be in the very presence of God. Therefore, I urge that we make time for the “Believe His Prophets” reading and the Sabbath School Lesson. The Lesson Study can make you a learned and spiritual student of the Word of God. Is it any wonder Job exclaimed, “I esteemed Thy word more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). To worship is to live and to live is to spend eternity with God!

Week of Prayer in Advance

Week of Prayer in Advance
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It is the practice of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to observe the fall week of prayer throughout the world church in November. Of course, there are reasons for this annual observance. It accords members the opportunity to renew and and recommit to those vows taken years ago or recently. Additionally, it provides members the chance to refocus on the prophetic nature of our church inclusive of the second coming which is embedded in our name Seventh-day Adventist. As such, I share this summary of the Sabbath reading with the hope of sparking a greater interest and participation in the week of prayer.
 
Power to Finish the Work
The Sabbath reading entitled “Power to Finish the Work,” by World Church leader, Ted Wilson, employs the Three Angels’ messages of Revelation 14 as a base. Elder Wilson calls for the church to receive, believe and be revived. It is a most inspirational article about the mission of the church. Referencing Testimonies for the Church, Pastor Wilson notes, “in a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers.  To them has been entrusted the last warning for the perishing world.  On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God.  They have been given a work of the most solemn import – the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages.  There is no other work of so great importance.  They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention.”
 
Early Adventists Preached the Three Angels’ Messages
Additionally, Elder Wilson writes, “Early Advent believers preached the message of Jesus’ return in 1844 and faced the Great Disappointment as prophesied in Revelation 10.  Their work, however, was not yet complete.  There was an additional message that God wanted them to give to the whole world.  This message is divided into three parts and is outlined in Revelation 14:6 – 12.”
 
Consider the Contents of the Messages
            Pastors and Elders, considering the contents and significance of the Three Angels’ messages, this would make good material for new belivers and members in general to understand. Consider the messages:

First Message:  The first angel’s message (vv. 6 - 7) “announces that the time of judgment has come and calls people back to the true worship of God and to recognize Him as Creator.” Therefore, “The call to worship God as Creator automatically places upon people the responsibility to observe the day that honors His creative act.  Created beings cannot honor their Creator while defying the command to keep holy the Sabbath – the seventh day of the week – which God Himself set aside as a memorial of His creation.”
Second Message:  The second angel’s message, found in verse 8, announcing the fall of Babylon, was first presented in the summer of 1844.  Because this announcement follows chronologically in the prophecy with the preaching of the judgment, and because the churches to which this message applies were once pure, Babylon here refers to churches that rejected the warning of the judgment. Repeated in Revelation 18:1-4, the second angel’s message, calls   God’s people who are still in Babylon to come out so “that they will not be guilty of participating in her sins and will not receive the plagues that are to be poured out upon her.  Therefore, Babylon is constituted by churches that teach many of the theological errors passed down through the church of the Middle Ages.”
Third Message: The third angels’ message, found in verses 9 – 11, contains a clear warning: don’t worship the beast and its image, or receive its mark.  To do so will result in annihilation.  The content of the third message is based on the prophecy of the preceding chapter, Revelation 13. 

Given the above, I encourage us as pastors and elders to ensure that there be a great week of prayer observance as we receive, belive and are revived.

Seventh-day Adventists: A People of Hope

Seventh-day Adventists: A People of Hope

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I vividly recall that in 2010, the world church leadership encouraged the entire membership to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our church’s name, Seventh-day Adventist. Today, some five years later I feel that it is still necessary that we celebrate the name Seventh-day Adventist. In fact, I feel that it is something that should be done each day. As such, it begs certain questions and discussions, for example: “Who are Seventh-day Adventists?”  “What is meant by the name?” or “Why was it chosen?”
 
Looking Back
One hundred and fifty-five years ago, when the name Seventh-day Adventist was chosen, it was done to address certain legal and organizational concerns as the movement was growing. Once it was agreed to choose a name, it was important that the name reflect “the true features of our faith in front” and hence “Seventh-day Adventist” was selected (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p.224). Right away one sees two distinct doctrines coming out namely, the seventh-day Sabbath and the second coming. However, upon closer reflection, one is likely to see more such as the creation of a 7-day weekly cycle, and above all creation’s God.  Essentially, there is a beginning point to man, thus refuting the theory of evolution. For that reason the question of “Who am I?” is addressed. 
 
Looking Ahead
There is also a future application to the name. Implied and underscored in the term “Adventist” is a pointing to the Lord’s return. Therefore, we have not only a beginning but also a future and thus Seventh-day Adventists ought to be people of hope, for we know the answer to “Where am I headed?” There is a sense of expectation and assurance. Equally, there is a sense of responsibility and accountability; for to be a Seventh-day Adventist is to live what is implied in the name.
 
Living the Name
Back in 1860, after the name Seventh-day Adventist was chosen, Ellen White explained to the members that the name would “convict the inquiring mind” (ibid.). I pray for the same result now.
Today, there are many who make inquiry about Seventh-day Adventists. They ask, “Who are they?”  “Why do they worship on Saturday?”  “Why do they not eat pork?” “How is it that they live longer?” “How is it that they keep out of prison to a large degree?” Shouldn’t these be opportunities to proclaim our reasons for all of the above? Could they not be summarized by a true focus on God and the way He has established and led this movement?  Essentially, people are seeking hope and meaning in a world where there are so many people who apparently give little value to life. There is no need to be apologetic or timid, as God will do His work if we would but cooperate with Him.
The numerous health and family seminars, revivals and crusades provide us opportunities daily to explain who we are and whose we are thus pointing to God.  Then there are the daily opportunities in our homes and work places.  Do folks know that we are Seventh-day Adventists? To be a Seventh-day Adventist is to be what is implied in the name.  I think this is a good time to ask the question, “Am I truly a Seventh-day Adventist?”  “Do I support the church with my presence, my finances, and otherwise?” “Do I support Adventist Education?” “Do I value the ‘Spirit of Prophecy’ as manifested in the life and writings of Ellen White?” “Do I believe in healthful and wholesome living?” “Do I manifest a spirit of gratitude, considering God’s grace toward me?” “Do I truly look forward to the second coming of Christ?”
If my answers to these questions are not in the affirmative, it means that I need to address the issues that they highlight; otherwise it is possible that I could be a hindrance to the spread of the gospel. Ellen White observes, "Had the Sabbath always been sacredly observed, there could never have been an atheist or an idolater” (PP 336.1). My prayer is that God convicts our hearts to be Seventh-day Adventists in name and more so in practice. Says Christ “by this (love) shall all men know that you are my disciples.” 

Reactions to Busyness and a Lack of Prayer

Reactions to Busyness and a Lack of Prayer

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            It is not usual that I print the weekly reactions to a given Ministerial Weekly. However, in reading the responses to last week’s weekly on Busyness and a Lack of Prayer, I felt compelled to share the responses as you may find them pointed, applicable, challenging and or encouraging. To avoid any misunderstanding or prejudice, I have withheld the identity of those who have responded.
 

Response 1
There have been a number of times in my life as the wife of a minister when I identified with Martha more than with Mary! There were so many expectations!   I was always busy.  A pastor’s wife should never say, “no” to a request.  I did not want to let anyone down.  Yet, a person can only be stretched so far.  My children said I was a workaholic.  Even the doctor told me I was a workaholic. I did not go to him for any stress-related issues.  I was fine – not on any medication or anything.  It was just a regular checkup.  What he said made me stop and think.  It took quite a long time for me to realize that “I can’t be all things to all people.”  Sometimes it is all right to decline some requests – just get your priorities straight.
 
Response 2
Dear Pastor Johnson,
 
I have been reading your weekly messages for some time now, and this is the first time I have chosen to comment on any of these messages.
 
I sincerely believe God has inspired you to write this message at this time, because I personally have been asking the question as to what is the ultimate objective of the church in recent times. I believe the church might have to do a serious inventory of the new concept of church, and reestablish a clear understanding of its mission soon, or we might be surprised by our own zeal blinding us to the spiritual need of the members in the church.
 
“Busyness and a Lack of Prayer” is timely, and I could amplify my reason for exposing myself to trouble for raising my concerns on the subtle activity frenzy at the possible expense of spiritual growth in the individual members of the church. However, I will restrain myself from commenting any further and just thank God for leading you to raise the point in such a timely manner.
 
Best regards,
 
Response 3
Good morning and thank you, Pastor, for solidifying your suggestions with a quotation from the Spirit of Prophecy. The inclusion of a solid Bible text would have made it perfect.

Busyness and a Lack of Prayer

Busyness and a Lack of Prayer

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Back in 2008, I came across a series of articles on leadership, which I considered then valuable to leaders. Needless to say, that in 2015, I still value the emphases of those articles from 2008 taken from the Adventist Review.  Here are two points for consideration.
 

The Epidemic of Busyness
The first I share comes from one of the article titled “The Epidemic of Busyness Among Christian Leaders,” by Michael Zigarelli. Michael likens uncontrolled busyness to an epidemic, which inhibits a “relationship with God among those who are in the best positions to be ambassadors of the faith.”  He explains, “tragically, as we Christian leaders sink further into that sand (of busyness), those who advance competing worldviews are marching ahead.” Being too busy also affects us in other ways; for it “hinders one’s ability to be a God-honoring spouse, parent, son, daughter, grandparent, friend, neighbor, church member, volunteer, and so on.” Furthermore, it is observed that “an over-extended life leads to less God in one’s life, culminating in a less consistent witness—less love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and other virtues—as a leader and simply as a Christian.”
          As such, I ask, “Are you and I too busy to attend to those persons and things that require our time and attention?” The answer is likely to be “yes,” but the question of all questions is, “Are we too busy doing the Lord’s work and not making time or adequate time for the Lord of the work?” It is possible that some of us have experienced that fact –I know that I have. However, I am learning to prioritize my days and balance my schedule to ensure that I spend quality time with God and family, and not neglect my work-related responsibilities.
 
What Happens When We Don't Pray?
            The other article is closely connected, as it speaks about prayer. Titled “What Happens When Leaders Don't Pray,” by Gavin Anthony, it stresses the importance of prayer. Gavin asks, “When people look at us and those we lead, is the presence of God the thing that they can't help noticing? Indeed, could there be anything more irresistible to the watching world than the visible presence of God?” That to me is fundamental –to reflect Jesus; for as noted by a colleague of mine, “God has not called us to success but to faithfulness.” Prayer assumes our dependence upon God for guidance in everything. So often we talk about our skills and ability, but these, as we know, will fail us or become meaningless without a relationship with the Lord. However, a life wholly consecrated to God through prayer and the reading of His word will result in a sense of calm assurance and wisdom from without. Ellen White summarizes the importance of reliance upon God as in the case of Moses: "the assurance that God would hear his prayer and that the divine presence would attend him, was of more value to Moses as a leader than the learning of Egypt or all his attainments in military science. No earthly power or skill or learning can supply the place of God's immediate presence. In the history of Moses we may see what intimate communion with God it is man's privilege to enjoy" (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 533).

The Member’s Role in Church Elections

The Member’s Role in Church Elections

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Know Your Role
Once again we have embarked upon that time of the year when election of church officers takes place. It is also that time of year that tends to generate questions regarding the process and fitness of persons for office. Accordingly, as Ministerial Director, I thought to share a few points with pastors and elders with the hope of assisting. Additionally, I suggest that you consult the Church Manual which would prove most beneficial.
 
How Members Are Elected
            Many of you already know that there is the option of appointing a nominating committee or using the existing church board along with a few other members appointed from the floor. Either way the process of electing members should be carried out prayerfully and objectively. While persons may be nominated to serve for up to two years at a time, my experience has shown that many prefer to commit to one year.  Once the task of nominating appropriate persons is complete, and they having consented, it is now time to present the report to the church in a business meeting. The report with a complete officers’ list is presented.  Less than a complete report would constitute a partial report. In presenting the report to the church, the pastor presents it as a whole and not entertaining a vote name by name.  Copies of the report should be provided for members.  If this is not done, then it should be posted so that all can see.  The Church Manual allows for a one to two weeks wait, unless members request to vote the report just after it is read.  It is good to allow members time to look carefully at the report, for it is possible for the nominating committee to overlook “something.” 
 
Members Have Rights
            Should a member have an objection or question regarding the report, the whole report is referred back to the committee to prevent embarrassment regarding anyone in an open business session.  The objector is allowed to meet with the chairman and or nominating committee.  If the point of objection is valid, the chairman ought to give consideration to the matter and have the committee make the adjustment or changes. The point of objecting ought not to be a trivial matter. On the other hand, a member or members should not knowingly sit back and say nothing if there is information that may guide the nominating committee.  To keep silence and then report or complain to someone else is not right.  Neither is it right to blame the pastor or committee when one had opportunity to do something about the matter. 
 
Prepare! Prepare!
            It is also important that preparation be taken seriously, even if the pastor or elder is well acquainted with the Church Manual, for preparation may lend to a smoother and shorter meeting.  A prior meeting with elders before major meetings is a good thing, as it allows for the local church leadership to discuss and clarify matters and thus at the Board or Business Meeting present a united front.  Of course some members may feel that this is a manipulation of the process.  There is no need to think or feel that way; for many of our elders are capable and professional in church matters and procedures.  

Paying Attention to a Most Needed Emphasis

Paying Attention to a Most Needed Emphasis

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Among the topics that receive less focus and balance attention is that of health reform.  Unfortunately, there are those of us who shy away, and on the other hand, there are those who have a tendency to go overboard.   Accordingly, I attempt to share a balanced article regarding health reform and its obligation and implication for us as leaders. 

 
The Need to Focus on Health Reform
Ever since I read Counsels on Diet and Foods, I have been reminded to give attention to health especially as it relates to diet, exercise and rest.  Additionally, I was re-admonished that “The health reform is closely connected with the work of the third angel’s message” (CD, 74).  Also, Ellen White explained that, “The proclamation of the third angel’s message, the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus, is the burden of our work” (CD, 75).  However, she cautioned in the same context that the Health Message is not “the message;” instead, it is a part of the message; and preachers “should not make this the leading theme in the place of the message” (CD, 74). This statement in no way discredits health reform, but it seeks to give balance. As God’s servants, we must proclaim the total message of our church, which includes health reform. Equally important is that we practice and seek to model what we teach.
 
Health Reform Challenges Us
 Admittedly, many of us would say there are some counsels regarding health that tend to challenge us. Personally, I have felt uncomfortable when I came across certain statements. Nevertheless, I know that God would not send counsels that are not good for His children.  It is His will, as noted in 3 John 2, that His followers are in health physically, spiritually, mentally and socially.  Thus, when we experience a greater quality of life, essentially, we will have a more positive impact on family, neighbors and friends.  This impact no doubt will serve as an entering wedge in terms of reaching others with the good news of salvation. Mrs. White observed, “Much of the prejudice that prevents the truth of the third angel’s message from reaching the hearts of the people, might be removed if more attention were given to health reform. When people become interested in this subject, the way is often prepared for the entrance of other truths” (CD, 76).
 
The Need to Do More
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have been blessed with the health reform message for over 100 years.  Unfortunately, we have not always aggressively and responsibly promoted the health message as we ought to, and in some instances, when we have promoted it, as already noted, some of our presentations have been lacking in balance.  However, today’s diseases and poor examples of lifestyle call us to be more aggressive and accountable. To whom much is given much is expected. We must not be trite or flippant with health reform, and neither must we see health reform as just becoming non-meat eaters. Balance is the key as we practice and teach. Also, we must be extremely careful not to misrepresent or misquote Ellen White, who was very pragmatic and balanced.
 
Make a Start Today
I use this medium to encourage those of you who are advanced in your approach to health principles, to continue to demonstrate what Adventist Christians ought to be; and for those who are in need of added reform, that we will begin to make gradual and incremental steps in improving our eating, drinking and exercise.  Essentially, there is a call for temperance in all that we do.  For even that which is good can be abused.  The many diseases that are common among us and among the people outside the church are very much treatable and manageable, if we would simply subscribe to the diet prescribed for us. 
I urge that as we reform in Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and in our relationship with our family, that we must not exclude the area of health, if we are to experience a total and meaningful life.  Together, we can do much more to encourage healthful living at our church functions, homes, church schools and certainly our headquarters. Let’s make a start today!

Sharpening the Saw

Sharpening the Saw

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Stephen Covey makes an interesting analogy or application when he refers to the Sabbath principle as “sharpening the saw.”  He penned the following: Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.  “What are you doing?” you ask. “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.” “You look exhausted!” you exclaim.  “How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.” “Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire.  “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.” “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw.” The man says emphatically.  “I’m too busy sawing!” So often we fail to pause or stop to sharpen the saw for that which is necessary. Accordingly, I share just three suggestions with you.
 

Sharpening the Saw of Daily Devotion
 According to Mark 1:35, Jesus rose early in the morning, “a great while before day” to commune with His Father. And Ellen White adds, “if the Saviour 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” (SC 93.4). Prayer meant much to Jesus, as He valued His time with God. Therefore He would not miss out on the opportunity to spend such quality time with His father.  So what about us?  How often do we pray? Time spent in prayer will prove beneficial in many ways.  To put it bluntly, I cannot get along without it; so each day, therefore, I pause to talk with God so as to sharpen my saw.
 
Sharpening the Saw of Time for Family and Others
            The Bible says that a man who fails to provide for his family is worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8, NKJV). Many of our societal ills unfortunately stem from a poorly managed family, or a family where mom or dad is too busy for children or each other.  The demand of earning is real, as there are bills to pay and a standard of living to maintain.  However, if we fail to learn how to manage time or create balance, we will make the funds; pay the bills but risk losing our children or marriage.    I am reminded of a story I heard of a youngster who asked, “Daddy how much do you make an hour?”  The father thinking that it was not his son’s business quipped, “Why do you want to know? Go to your bed.”  A few minutes later the father’s heart was touched, so he decided to tell him, “I make $10 an hour.” In response the boy asked his father to lend him $5, and he got his piggy bank and took out $5 to make up the difference to pay for one hour.  The point has been made; children and spouses need quality time.
 
Sharpening the Saw of Church Attendance
The writer to the Hebrews says that it is important that we make time for church attendance. He states, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25, NKJV). Many are the benefits to be derived from church attendance. Among them are spiritual growth, nurturing and having the opportunity to engage in a useful ministry of serving others and the community. This can be very fulfilling.
So “sharpening the saw” is essential for life.  It is like oxygen to the soul.  The follower of Christ cannot survive without it. Furthermore, consider that each weekend humanity is presented with a day comprising of 24 hours known as the Sabbath. To some, it is called the Lord’s Day. Unfortunately, there are many who feel that to take time off for worship on God’s Sabbath will disadvantage them. Such persons have yet to understand the way and manner God works.  Instead of time lost, one will see time gained in taking the time off “to sharpen the saw.” It is when we pull away from the mundane that we grow in grace and in favor with God. Are you pausing to sharpen the saw, or are you too busy to stop?

Leadership…Church…The One Thing a Leader Must Have

Leadership…Church…The One Thing a Leader Must Have

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Today, I share with you an article sent to me earlier this week by an elder. It is an excellent article for pastors and elders, written by Jamaal Williams (Focus on the Family).
 
Navigating through the call to preach as a young man was incredibly difficult. Questions like “What makes an effective minister?” and “How do you lead and inspire others?,” along with growing into your own leadership and preaching style, can be humbling. One question that I continued to return to was, “How do I influence the people that I’m called to minister to in an effective way?” In their book Spiritual Leadership, Henry and Richard Blackaby argue that leaders seek to influence people too often through three illegitimate ways: “Position, Power, and Personality.”
It can be easy for us to think these ways are not illegitimate because they’re the most common ways that we see people lead. Unfortunately, this is true in the church as well as in secular society. Too often, the church celebrates men with outgoing personalities and prominent positions in such a way that younger ministers seek to imitate them and believe that’s the best way to lead. As the Blackabys point out in their work, ministers need the presence of God more than anything else.
My prayer for my own soul is that I would get to, and remain at, a place like Moses in Exodus 33. In that passage, Moses determines that he and Israel could not move and go forth to inhabit the land God promised them without the Lord being present. In Exodus 33:15, Moses said to him,” If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Herein lies the one thing that we need as pastors: the presence of God. What we build by our own intellect, giftings, and personality can be taken down in a day. Here are three ways to cultivate and protect the presence of the Lord in our ministries:
 

First, spend undistracted alone time with God.
Moses had an intimate relationship with God. So much so that God called Moses his friend and delighted in speaking to him personally. It is in the early moments of morning or late at night when the kids are in bed that we can especially get away to hear from God. His presence will not manifest itself with us if we’re leading on spiritual emptiness and aren’t making time to spend with Him. In fact, throughout the ministry of Jesus we see him going into isolation so that He can rest and hear from God. We must pray like Solomon did in 2 Chronicles 1:10, “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people.” As we pray and go before the Lord, we want to fight against our time with Him becoming routine and mundane.
 
Second, remind yourself that living for the approval of others will lead you to despair.
Sometimes, we forfeit God’s presence by being overly concerned with what other people think about us. As a result, this fear causes us to close our ears to God’s will. Suddenly we’re making decisions to be accepted by others. When things turn sour and don’t go the way we think they should, we often forget about or minimize the fact that we didn’t follow the Lord’s voice. Read and mediate on these verses:
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Luke 6:26
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
 
Finally, Don’t move without confidence that God is with you.
Moses got stubborn in Exodus 33 and refused to move into the promise land without the presence of the Lord. In reading the passage, the reader can sense that Moses was not going to be moved. As leaders, we must see having the Lord’s manifest presence with us as a non-negotiable. When we don’t hear from God, we’re to wait on Him until we do. Many times the presence of God is forfeited through presumption and impatience; both are evidences of pride. Just like King Saul forfeited his throne through impatience, we too will forfeit seeing God’s power at work through us if we’re not careful. David prayed in Psalm 19, “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” If we move before God calls us to or before we receive direction from him, we move without his presence. Instead of being presumptuous we must pray and wait knowing that God’s thoughts and plans are different than ours.

Praying with Your Eyes Open

Praying with Your Eyes Open
 
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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.

HOMOSEXUALITY

HOMOSEXUALITY

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For the past 2 weeks, I have sought to share the official statements of the church regarding Same-Sex Marriage, and the issues that are likely to confront the church today as a result. However, I conclude the series by sharing the official church’s position on homosexuality. Though voted back in 1999 and revised in 2012, the statement is still relevant for today. The sub topics have been inserted for easy reading and do not take away from the intent of the official statement.
 
Every human being is valuable in the sight of God
The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes that every human being is valuable in the sight of God, and we seek to minister to all men and women in the spirit of Jesus. We also believe that by God's grace and through the encouragement of the community of faith, an individual may live in harmony with the principles of God's Word.
 
Sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman
Seventh-‑day Adventists believe that sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman. This was the design established by God at creation. The Scriptures declare: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen 2:24, NIV). Throughout Scripture this heterosexual pattern is affirmed. The Bible makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or relationships.  Sexual acts outside the circle of a heterosexual marriage are forbidden (Lev 18:5-23, 26; Lev 20:7‑21; Rom 1:24‑27; 1 Cor 6:9‑11). Jesus Christ reaffirmed the divine creation intent: "'Haven't you read,' he replied, 'that at the beginning the Creator "made them male and female," and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?" So they are no longer two, but one'" (Matt 19:4‑6, NIV). For these reasons Seventh-day Adventists are opposed to homosexual practices and relationships.
 
To reach out compassionately to persons and families suffering the consequences of sin
Jesus affirmed the dignity of all human beings and reached out compassionately to persons and families suffering the consequences of sin. He offered caring ministry and words of solace to struggling people, while differentiating His love for sinners from His clear teaching about sinful practices. As His disciples, Seventh-day Adventists endeavor to follow the Lord's instruction and example, living a life of Christ-like compassion and faithfulness.
 
This statement was voted during the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee on Sunday, October 3, 1999 in Silver Spring, Maryland. Revised by the General Conference Executive Committee, October 17, 2012.

ISSUES RE: SAME SEX UNIONS AND HOMOSEXUALITY

ISSUES RE: SAME SEX UNIONS AND HOMOSEXUALITY

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In response to last week’s article on same sex unions, some of you posed questions regarding the topic and how it is likely to impact the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Accordingly, I share this additional statement, which hopefully should address the questions raised.
 
THE CHALLENGES OF STATE LEGISLATION
In a growing number of nations, governments enact special legislative or judicial protection to prevent what they consider discriminatory behavior. Those protections sometimes appear to impair the religious-freedom rights of Seventh-day Adventist pastors, leaders, and Church organizations to employ persons, perform weddings, offer employment benefits, publish missional material, make public statements, and provide education or educational housing on the basis of the Seventh-day Adventist teaching about the sinfulness of sexual behaviors prohibited by Scripture. Conversely, in a number of nations, homosexual or alternative sexual practices result in harsh penalties imposed by law. While Seventh-day Adventist institutions and members may appropriately advocate for preserving the unique and God-given institution of heterosexual marriage in their societies and legal codes, it is the position of the Church to treat those practicing homosexual or alternative sexual behaviors with the redemptive love taught and lived by Jesus.
 
THE MORAL AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS OF THE CHURCH
The Seventh-day Adventist Church will encourage all its congregations, employees, ministry leaders, organizations, and entities to uphold church teachings and faith-based practices in Church membership, employment, education, and marriage ceremonies, including officiating at weddings. These teachings and faith-based practices, built upon the Bible's instructions about human sexuality, are equally applicable to heterosexual and homosexual relationships. It is inconsistent with the Church's understanding of scriptural teaching to admit into or maintain in membership persons practicing sexual behaviors incompatible with biblical teachings. Neither is it acceptable for Adventist pastors or churches to provide wedding services or facilities for same- sex couples.
In upholding these Scriptural standards, the Church relies upon the faith-based exemptions usually and customarily extended by civil government to religious organizations and their affiliated ministries to organize themselves according to their understanding of moral truth. The Church will also attempt to provide legal counsel and resources to Church leaders, organizations, and entities so that they operate in harmony with its biblical understanding of human sexuality.
Congregational leaders, Church employees, ministry leaders, and institutions are advised to review carefully the Church's existing policies with regard to membership, employment, and education to ensure that local practices are in harmony with the Church's expressed teachings about sexual behavior. Consistent expression and application of organizational policies and teachings regarding such behavior will be a key feature of maintaining the faith-based exemptions customarily allowed by civil governments.
 
FAITH-BASED DECISION MAKING IN EMPLOYMENT AND ENROLLMENT
The Seventh-day Adventist Church asserts and reserves the right for its entities to employ individuals according to Church teaching about sexual behaviors compatible with the teaching of Scripture as understood by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. While each institution and ministry operates in its own society and legal climate, each also expresses the worldwide belief system and teachings of the global Church. The Church maintains the right of these ministries and institutions to make decisions based on the teaching of Scripture and will provide legal review of relevant law and ordinances. Wherever possible and feasible, the Church will continue to advocate, both legislatively and in courts of law, for faith-based preferential hiring and enrollment practices for itself and its ministries.
 
THE CHURCH AND PUBLIC SPEECH
The Church asserts the right to express its commitment to biblical truth through the communication it makes available to its members and to various publics, as well as to defend the free-speech rights of its employees to express the Church's teaching about sexual behavior in public environments, including worship services, evangelistic meetings, educational classrooms, and public forums. Church leaders accept the responsibility to keep themselves and Church employees informed about government regulations regarding acceptable speech, and to invite periodic legal review of how those regulations should affect the Church's mission. Those responsible for the Church's official communication and those who preach and teach should emphasize the importance of surrendering all behavior, including sexual behavior, to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. The standard for both published material and public statements about sexual behaviors must be that they are widely understood as both "clear and respectful," expressing biblical truth with the kindness of Jesus Himself.
 
THE CHURCH'S COMMITMENT TO TRAINING AND LEGAL REVIEW
To achieve a consistent application of a "clear and respectful" standard in its ministries, the Church urges all its ministries, including pastoral and evangelistic ministries, educational ministries, publishing and media ministries, and health and medical ministries, among others, periodically to provide training and counsel to employees who interface with the public through media and public presentations. This training should include a review of current national or community law pertaining to public speech about sexual behaviors, and examples of appropriate ways to communicate the Church's beliefs and teachings.
[1] See the Seventh-day Adventist Church's Official Statements about "Same-Sex Unions" and "Homosexuality."
[2] Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists, "Marriage and Family," No. 23.

SAME-SEX UNIONS

SAME-SEX UNIONS

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Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States of America, ruled in favor of granting permission for same sex marriages. As a result, questions have been put to me regarding the church’s position on the same. Consequently, I thought to share two basic positions of our church regarding Same–Sex Unions, and Homosexuality. Therefore, I share with you the following: Same-Sex Unions today and Homosexuality next week. This document was approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee, October 17, 2012.
 
Over the past several decades the Seventh-day Adventist Church has felt it necessary to clearly state in various ways its position in regards to marriage, the family, and human sexuality. These subjects are at the heart of many pressing issues facing society. That which for centuries has been considered to be basic Christian morality in the marriage setting is now increasingly called into question, not only in secular society but within Christian churches themselves.
 
The institutions of marriage and family are under attack and facing growing centrifugal forces that are tearing them apart.  An increasing number of nations are not only debating the topic of "same-sex unions," but some have already passed various pieces of legislation, thus making it a world issue. The public discussion has engendered strong emotions. In light of these developments, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is clearly restating its position.
 
We reaffirm, without hesitation, our long-standing position as expressed in the Church's Fundamental Beliefs: "Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship."1 Though "sin has perverted God's ideals for marriage and family," "the family tie is the closest, the most tender and sacred of any human relationship," and thus "families need to experience renewal and reformation in their relationships" (An Affirmation of Family, 1990).2   God instituted "marriage, a covenant-based union of two genders [male and female] physically, emotionally, and spiritually, spoken of in Scripture as 'one flesh.'" "The monogamous union in marriage of a man and a woman is . . . the only morally appropriate locus of genital or related intimate sexual expression." "Any lowering of this high view is to that extent a lowering of the heavenly ideal" (An Affirmation of Marriage, 1996).3 
 
Homosexuality is a manifestation of the disturbance and brokenness in human inclinations and relations caused by the entrance of sin into the world. While everyone is subject to fallen human nature, "we also believe that by God's grace and through the encouragement of the community of faith, an individual may live in harmony with the principles of God's Word" (Seventh-day Adventist Position Statement on Homosexuality, 2012). 4
 
We hold that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are loved by God. We do not condone singling out any group for scorn and derision, let alone abuse. Still, God's Word that transcends time and culture does not permit a homosexual lifestyle. The Bible's opposition to same-sex unions/marriage is anchored in God's plan at creation for marriage (Gen 1:26-28; 2:20-24), in divine legislation (Lev 18:22; 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9‑-11), and in Jesus' explicit confirmation of a permanent, monogamous, and heterosexual marriage relationship (Matt 19:4‑-6).
1. Seventh-day Adventists Believe: An exposition of the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Doctrine 23 on 'Marriage and the Family."
2. Public Statement, An Affirmation of Family, released July 5, 1990, at the General Conference Session, Indianapolis, Indiana.
3. Statement voted by the General Conference Administrative Committee on April 23, 1996.

4. Statement voted by the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive

Reflections on 60th General Conference Session

Reflections on 60th General Conference Session
 
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GC - A Proud Moment for ATCU
            It was gratifying to hear mentioned or to read about the Atlantic Caribbean Union (just nearly five years old), on several occasions during the past 60th session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in San Antonio, Texas. Seventh-day Adventists will long remember the morning devotion of Monday, July 6th, by Pastor Shiann O'Connor, president of the Cayman Islands Conference, the second largest field of ATCU. In fact, a sense of satisfaction was felt among the entire Inter-American Division delegation in the Alamodome. Pastor Israel Leito, who was returned as Division president, commented: "Shiann did us all proud."  Additionally, I was privileged to present the devotion on July 5th, for the nearly 250 members nominating committee on which I served as one of the 40 delegates from the Inter-American Division. Also, ATCU was honored to have as a delegate Waylon Johnson from the North Bahamas Conference. Having emerged as the overall winner of the IAD Bible Boom, Waylon was rewarded with an all expense paid trip as a youth delegate to the GC session. He was featured on television as well in the Adventist Review magazine. However, a most significant moment was the election of Pastor Al Powell as youth director for the Inter-American Division. Though serving in the St. Andres Island Mission, Columbia, Al is from ATCU specifically, Cayman where he was born. He, together with his Associate Director Louise Nocandy, will have oversight for millions of youth throughout Inter America.
 
Position of Church Regarding Female Pastors
            Since the recent vote at the General Conference session to deny divisions from ordaining female pastors, the question has arisen: "What will happen to current female pastors?" The official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the same- meaning that female pastors will continue to serve, and female students will continue to study theology and religion, but the church does not ordain them as pastors. Following the vote on Wednesday, July 8, Pastor Ted Wilson, GC president, told delegates at the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, that "Wednesday’s vote simply barred the church’s world divisions from making decisions on the ordination of women."  Wilson added, “So let us be clear on what was voted on Wednesday . . . . We are now back to our original understanding, and I would strongly urge all to adhere to what has been voted. But do not place into the vote other things which were not listed in the vote. We need to be fair, we need to be open, and we all need to accept what is voted at a General Conference session." As the Atlantic Caribbean Union is part of the world church, the same applies to the union. We have one female pastor in our union, and she is doing a wonderful job. She as well as any of our female students pursuing theology will continue to be accorded the respect and opportunity to serve where needed by the church.
                                                                                                
Position of Church Regarding Female Elders
            The recent vote did not affect the ordination of female elders and deaconesses. The action of the church to ordain female elders adopted over 20 years ago and a recent decision to ordain deaconesses remain intact. In responding to the GC vote, Pastor Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division, explains, “It is vital to understand that the NAD will continue to follow the directions found in the General Conference Working Policy allowing conferences and unions to license women as commissioned ministers in pastoral ministry. We will also continue to encourage utilizing the services of women as ordained local elders and deaconesses.”
 
 
Appealing Through the Various Levels of the Church
             Regarding amendments to the Church Manual on referring an appeal, Elder Wilson, sought to squash concerns from some church members that a revision to the Church Manual that delegates approved earlier Friday might limit the authority or activities of the General Conference. “The reason for the wording is to limit any … frivolous appeals from coming up through the system,” Wilson said. Essentially, "the amendment gives divisions the right to stop a dispute from reaching the level of the General Conference. The levels where an appeal can be considered in a division include the local church, conference, and union."
 
Where Do We Go?
            Now that the GC session has ended, the Atlantic Caribbean Union forges ahead with its mission agenda in the light of Revelation 14:6-12. In this vein, I note the upcoming mission to the city in South Bahamas Conference beginning in September.  Also, there will be various efforts in North Bahamas, Cayman and the Turks and Caicos Islands during the final quarters of 2015. Your support in terms of your prayers, participation and presence will go a long way in fulfilling the mission. Furthermore, I ask that you take note of the upcoming sessions in our union. Union Session - December 6-7 at the Centreville Church, and the Cayman Islands Conference Session December 9-10 in George Town, and ATCU year-end committee December 11-12. Finally, I urge you to subscribe to the newly launched “Revived By His Word’ initiative under the caption “Believe In His Prophets.”

Forty-two Years Later – What Does that Mean?

Forty-two Years Later – What Does that Mean?

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As the Bahamas prepares to celebrate its 42nd Anniversary of Independence, it comes at a most unsettling  time in the country given the unabated crime dilemma, unemployment, declaration of bankruptcy of a major investment affecting the employment of thousands. Additionally, the news of the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in favor of same sex marriages reverberate in this nation.  Given the aforementioned, how does one celebrate this 42nd independence? In fact, what should independence signify? In light of the questions a few observations are proffered.
 

Independence Calls for a Backward Look

Each year the country is accorded the opportunity to reflect on its past and those factors and happenings that led to the birth of an independent Bahamas back in 1973. Hopefully, this year a deliberate and an intentional look would recapture some of the core valuse that helped to guide the framers of the nation’s constitution. In fact, some 42 years ago the late Carlton Francis noted, “We are a small nation that can be easily permeated by any pernicious influence.” Furthermore he said, “I am saying that [while] we are aspiring to the disciplines of hard work and industry, we are not yet off the ground.”  Though speaking to the casino gambling, the essence of his words is most fitting calling for an evaluation of where the country is today in values and morals. And, of course, that means us, the people, as the country is not a country without people. Are we still courteous and friendly? Do we take pride in our surroundings such as our cemeteries, parks, public centers, as well as public buildings? A current look at the situation would seem to infer that independence means freedom to do as one pleases. That cannot be right!
 

Independence Is not Adverse to Responsibility and Accountability

A nation of 42 years suggests more than growth but, hopefully, maturity marked by responsibility and accountability. There is too much “finger pointing” and blaming especially in government- successive governments. When will the youth of this nation hear leaders admit to wrong doing or missteps? When will they see responsible politics –putting aside party colours and party line for the sake of country? The time of blaming must cease, for maturity teaches accountability and nobility. Equally important is the need for respect for all persons, religious groupings and voted actions. Disregard for law, authority and established mores threatens the stability of a nation, and certainly ours is not excluded. Pastors, teachers, legislators, parents, all must be answerable to authority. Conditions in the country will only get worse if the people and leaders refuse to look at the person in the mirror and address what needs to be corrected.
 

Independence Calls for a Look at the True Framer

While it is true that the Bahamas is built on Christian values, we must not use that to discriminate against Muslims or others who may not subscribe to Christianity. The true nature of Christianity is to demonstrate love for mankind as Christ did. Nevertheless, it is hoped that one’s Christianity will manifest itself in more responsible actions and behavior. The level of committing millions of precious dollars to chance and luck daily makes one wonder where is God in the picture? The drawing of large crowds to a carnival, and staying up all night and day to frolic and party, and the apparent endorsement by a religious leader make one wonder about our claim of Christian values. And now the ruling in the United States regarding same sex marriage confronts us. What influence will the Christian underpinnings have upon the nation? Will our nation yield to the bigger nation? Or will there be a goodly number of persons who will cast a Christlike influence upon the land that legislators will not feel so comfortable in encouraging that which is contrary to God’s plan? On the other hand, Christians must be responsible even in that which is good and acceptable to God. Otherwise, people will lose respect for the church. We must not preach against some sins and condone others.
 

What Do We Do Now?

For starts, let’s engender a sense of community and concern. Development and so called modernization seem to be distancing and disconnecting us in some useful ways. Marble playing and ball playing led to action and movements, but ipads, cell phones and computers could confine us to a spot, albeit contacting one another but not moving around. Technology is wonderful with its inventions, but without deliberate actions, our gadgets can interfere with quality time with one another. Look at a couple at a dinner; look at persons at an airport; look at parents and children. What do you see? In many instances, some device is sharing that space and time. Mind you, the devices are also serving to conect grandpa with grandson though miles apart. The point is --don't let them replace the touch, the look in the eyes as we converse. Beware of the disruption when listening to the word of God. We say we must answer a call or respond to an email. Yes, there will be those necessary times, but don't let them become the norm.
Happy Independence Bahamas! May God bless the Bahamas!

As GC Session Nears - God is in Control

As GC Session Nears - God is in Control

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The above expression has almost become a cliché for Christians. However, the expression is more. It is a statement of confidence, hope and assurance of knowing that God is alive, and genuinely has the interest of all His people and His church under His control.
 
The 60th General Conference Session
As the Seventh-day Adventist Church embarks upon its 60th General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, it will be confronted with several major decisions relating to the Fundamental Beliefs of the church, resolution on the Holy Bible, confidence in the writings of Ellen White and amendments to the Church Manual. However, it would seem that the main item would be the following question: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.
 
Cause for Much Debate
Without question, the latter item has generated much discussion and debate. Some members foresee a division should there be a “yes” vote and “a break away” if there is a “no” vote. This perception has led to individuals becoming proactive in contacting delegates by emails and other means, ensuring their position is advanced. Employing scriptures and the writings of Ellen White, they seek to prove why their position is correct and should be embraced. The feeling is that the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) should have arrived at their position conclusively. However, the group came to 3 conclusions: one saying “no” to women ordination, another saying “yes” to women ordination and a 3rd position, while reaffirming male headship, is not opposed to the ordination of women if it is to promote unity and advance the mission of the church. Nevertheless, how does the church relate to a post decision reaction once the vote is taken?
 
Towards Unity
In this regard, one may find a presentation by Pastor Mark Finley to the 2014 Autumn Council of the General Conference to be most fitting. Under the caption “Toward Unity in the Body of Christ,” Mark referenced three examples in the book of Acts regarding the manner and response of the early church to settling issues. They are replacing Judas in Acts 1, relating to an apparent neglect of the Jewish Greek widows in Acts 6 and the matter of Gentile conversion in Acts 15. As a result, he observed five essentials that held the church together.
1. Total commitment to Christ. 2. Dependence on the continual guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. Faithful obedience to the Word of God. 4. Passionate proclamation of a prophetic message. 5. Recognition of the authority of church organization. 
 
Concluding the Matter
Given the attitude of the early church members, current members and delegates may wish to reapply the same principles as the 60th session of the GC kicks off, remembering that God never ceases to be in control. It is crucial that personal position be open to the way that God may choose to lead His church. It behooves the body of Christ to continue to pray sincerely for the will of God to be done; and that the church continues to fulfill its mission in light of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. 

A Look at Weddings

A Look at Weddings

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Among the most delightful and joyful celebrations performed by a pastor is that of a wedding, as it affords him the opportunity “to minister in a joyful and spiritual celebration for couples and their families and friends.”  However, it can also turn out to be most embarrassing and disappointing for the same should certain and key guidelines be ignored and not adhered to.  Accordingly, I attempt to share the following suggestions. 
 

Purpose of a Wedding
The purpose of a Christian wedding is to unite in a legal and spiritual manner a man and a woman in holy matrimony as noted in Genesis 2:24. The legal requirement recognizes the laws of the land or a given jurisdiction which are not to be ignored, as God never advocated a disregard for the laws of the land, except for where they conflict with His laws. Spiritually, marriage is ordained of God, and a couple in “tying the knot’ recognizes God and His gift of love and marriage.  Therefore, a couple requests the presence of a pastor. Additionally, careful attention should be given to simplicity and affordability.
 
Prior to Marriage Ceremony
To call upon a pastor to perform a marriage without sufficient notice for counseling is unfair to both the pastor and the couple. The pastor is charged by God to perform diligently and honestly before God and man, and how can he/she when he/she would not have sat with the couple to counsel? The couple does an injustice to themselves and the pastor when he/she is not contacted in a timely manner.  Essentially, they deny themselves the opportunity to intelligently and prayerfully examine each other’s ways and motives.  A couple through counseling may determine that marriage with each other is not for them, and maybe there may be reasons to delay the process.  So omitting counseling can have serious consequences, which are likely to result in a separation and/ or divorce.
Pre-marital counseling addresses subjects such as temperament, finance, family background, religious background, communication, intimacy and -- where deemed necessary -- recommendation of a blood test, etc.
 
Legal Requirement
As marriage is not just a spiritual matter, it is necessary that all relevant forms are completed and required documents supplied to the appropriate government agency, to ensure that all requirements are met prior to the actual ceremony.  Of course, during the counseling, the pastor will see to it that the marriage form is signed and a receipt of the same with an issued license is provided, which is used in preparing the marriage documents to be signed at the end of the ceremony.
 
Church Requirement
Equally important is attention to church procedures involving use of church, permission to move furniture, use of appropriate music and counsel regarding attire as well as availability of the sanctuary. Paying little or no attention to any of these could result in embarrassment and disappointment.
 
Plan in Advance
Essentially, it is necessary that a couple planning to unite in marriage sit with their pastor some time in advance to allow for all of the above mentioned to be attended to. Unfortunately, there would seem to be greater emphasis today on what one wears, guest attendance list and where the reception may be hosted. It should be noted that simplicity and sound judgment regarding affordability are critical; for it is after the crowd would have dispersed that life for the couple begins, and unfortunately for many, it begins with significant bills that tend to stress a couple when they should be enjoying themselves and the extended honey moon. Instead, bills consume their thoughts, time and discussion. This provides a formula for frustration and, at times, for one partner to resort to various means seeking to repress the stress.  The key is to plan and plan in advance seeking the guidance of God.

Funeral Etiquette

Funeral Etiquette

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The passing of a loved one results in grief and in some ways much stress having to relate to insurance companies, place of employment, funeral home, cemetery, family members, and in no way least, a pastor, priest, or elder, etc. And yet, these interactions do not constitute the end of the ordeal for family members, as the funeral service itself can take on the unexpected, turning into a long and drawn-out sitting.  Accordingly, I share a few observations and suggestions.
 
Condolences, Remarks, and Tributes
Pastors and elders should assist the family of the deceased in preparing the program. Thereby, counsel could be given with regard to the number of persons to bring condolences, remarks, and or tributes. My observation is that after two or three persons would have spoken, there is repetition and there seems to be a challenge to stick to the time of 2-3 minutes allotted. It appears that there is an aura about funeral services that influences even the shiest of persons to speak longer than required, especially if encouraged on by hearty “Amens!” from the congregants.  Even pastors and elders could extend the time with each speaking. It is not necessary for all pastors and elders to offer condolences. The conference president, ministerial secretary and /or a church pastor could represent the other pastors and or elders. There is a need to assist the family of the deceased in avoiding the pressure to yield to some last minute requests to speak or sing.
 
Special Music or Musical Selection
Musical selection implies just singing or an instrumental rendition. However, if you have attended a few funerals, you may have witnessed persons giving remarks or a “sermonette” prior to singing or playing, oblivious to the fact that time is moving and that others are to follow, including the pastor with the sermon or homily. In some churches, just before the musical item, an usher escorts the musician/singer to the front and reminds him/her of what he/she is expected to do. Then, as soon as the person before him/her leaves the podium, he/she (the musician/singer) is in place to sing or perform without unnecessarily extending the song or the service. As a footnote, we need to be careful of the message that we are sending when we allow some persons to speak from the main lectern or pulpit and others from below. It may be better to have all persons, except for the platform participants, operate from the lectern below (inclusive of remarks, tributes and musical).  
 
Reading the Obituary
Most persons read the obituary during the funeral proceedings or as soon as they sit down to await the commencement of the service, especially if they are on time and fortunate to obtain a copy of the funeral brochure. So when someone reads the obituary aloud from the podium during the service or requests that everyone reads it silently together, time is being utilized that could be used for another item.
 
Sermon/Homily
It is unnecessary to preach a long sermon, especially after the family and others have been sitting for a long time; neither is it fair to the pastor or priest to have to cut short his or her sermon because persons speaking or performing before the sermon consumed the time, and as a result, a good number of persons leave before hearing the message.  This raises a question: “What is the purpose of a funeral service?”
 
Follow-up
            Following the burial of a loved one is the time when it really counts to stay in touch with the family. Visits, telephone calls and assisting with meals and chores could be very helpful. Of course, while there is no spotlight on them, these acts may be necessary. Pastors and elders, let us do our part to make funeral services shorter and on point. And above all, pay attention to post funeral care and support.

Baptism in Grand Style

Baptism in Grand Style

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In 2011 when I attended UNDECA, the Adventist University of Central America in Costa Rica, to pursue a short Spanish intensive, I witnessed a baptismal service that continues to echo in my mind. As I recall, it was at the end of a Week of Prayer, conducted by two pastors in the University chapel, one speaking in the morning and the other in the evening. As a church pastor and administrator, acquainted with baptismal services, I observed with keen interest, and to my liking I note the following points that caught my attention:
 
Baptism Was not ad Hoc
It was clear to the worshipers, at least to me, early in the service that a baptismal service was to take place. At the point of baptism, it did not seem an intrusion but very much a part of the divine service. It was also encouraging to see the support for the three candidates as they walked toward the front of the chapel. It appeared to me that these dear ones were fully aware of the service and were ready for the occasion. Equally impressive and touching was the taking of the vows.
The two pastors, who conducted the Week of Prayer services, presented the vows. Sitting and watching, I got a chance to objectively observe what I would have done over the years, and to objectively consider similarities and possible dissimilarities. Listening to the vows allowed me to place myself in the position of a candidate and not the usual role of pastor. This is good, as one is presented with the opportunity to listen and internalize. Do we really think about what it means to live for Christ and to help others be ready for His return? Internalizing the vows forces us to consider what we are doing.  For those of us as elders and pastors, it may be a good thing to take out the baptismal certificate and look over what we pledged.  Hopefully, reviewing the pledge will lead to a renewal of that initial commitment. As a footnote, I noticed that those who stood with the candidates in support did not raise their hands in response to the vows. I am noticing in some instances that more and more persons are raising their hands in response to the vows. While some may argue that it is for support, I ask, “Should anyone other than the candidate raise his/her hand, or just the candidate?”
 
In the Pool
In the baptistery, which could be seen by all worshipers, the pool is elevated with a transparent glass allowing the audience to see the baptism. And guess what was in the pool? - -rose petals, at least that is what they appeared to me, floated on top of the water. But also impressive was the manner in which the pastors were dressed. Yes, adorned neatly in white robes and buttoned shirts with neckties, two pastors conducted the baptismal service. What a sight!  They were smartly dressed for this service. Here is an example for us as pastors and elders. We should ensure that we are always well dressed for the occasion. Observers should be able to tell the difference between the pastor and the candidate.
 
The Lord's Supper
Now if that was not enough, a communion service followed. A short sermon followed the baptism, and the audience was separated for foot washing. That was extra special for the new believers who participated in the foot washing. I was happy to be a part of a group that washed the feet of one of the newly baptized.
So what is the point? It is simple! Let us ensure that we make each baptismal service special and not something to get done or get out of the way. It should be a blessing to the candidate/s, their family, and the wider church body. It should be a service that one never forgets. Above all, it should signal a marriage to Christ. Therefore, let us begin planning because it may be for a son or daughter, relative or friend.  Make it Christo-centric and Christo-friendly.

The Anointing Service

The Anointing Service

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Among one of the special services of the church is that of anointing the sick. In fact a reading of the Book of James would seem to encourage it. However, in recent times there seems to be a move in some places to anoint for every ailment, more frequently and even in mass.  Therefore the following questions are asked: Are these practices in harmony with the Book of James and or even other scriptural references? What is the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church pertaining to anointing for the sick?  As such I reference two articles taken from the Biblical Research website by Herbert Kiesler and Angel Rodriquez.
 

Looking at James 5:13-18
Herbert Kiesler observes, “Until recently pastors and elders have performed an anointing service in response to a sick member's request. Only in rare cases have they suggested that the ill member consider an anointing service for divine intervention in his behalf. With the new approach it is no longer the sick person who calls upon the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil. Pastors or elders take the initiative and appeal to large audiences, inviting people to avail themselves of this rite in order to experience healing.”
       Keisler contends that from a critical look of James 5:13-18, “The passage begins and ends with prayer. Furthermore, the admonition to pray runs like a golden thread throughout. From this one gets the impression that the author, James, a brother of our Lord, was a man of prayer. “  However, James' prescription for the sick in the congregation states, "If anyone suffers ill [kakopathei] among you, let him pray. Is anyone cheerful, let him sing a psalm" (vs. 13). "Is anyone ill [or delicate]?[1]  Let him call to himself the elders of the church and let them pray over him anointing him with oil" (vs. 14). Accordingly, Keisler concludes that there are two prescriptions: “First the ill person is to take the initiative to call on the elders of the church.[2]  In some cases the elder(s) may suggest to the ill person to consider the option of anointing, but then leave it up to the sick member actually to call on the elders of the church.”
 
Scriptural Implications
The anointing service is to be conducted for believers, more specifically those who have accepted the third angel's message.  
      While the sick person ought not to hesitate to call upon the elders to intercede for him, his desire to be anointed should be motivated by the Holy Spirit. Since such an experience touches on the most intimate relationship of an individual with God, we hold that this service ought to be conducted in an atmosphere of privacy free from the group dynamics at work in large gatherings.
      Since we are deeply concerned that this current trend of group anointings may draw its inspiration from charismatic circles, and since there is always the danger that such a practice may end up as routine exercise, we hold that ministers and elders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church should abide by the guidelines given to us in the Scriptures and in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. As we have seen, in one case of severe illness, Mrs. White deferred making a request for the anointing service for an extended time. This indicates her respect for the sacredness of this rite. She turned to the anointing service only as a last resort.
      Therefore, we discourage the practice of making general appeals in large gatherings for people to participate in an anointing service. It does not fit the scriptural and Spirit of Prophecy pattern.
      We suggest that pastors, evangelists, and elders consider the following procedure instead:
      1. Elders meet at the home of the ill person or at his bedside in the hospital.
      2. After a word of greeting one of the elders should read the passage James 5:13-18.
      3. It is in order for one of the elders to briefly yet very gently ask the sick person whether he understands the meaning of the passage, the nature of his illness and whether he has made things right with God and his fellow men, including confession and reconciliation. He should be asked if he senses that the Holy Spirit is directing in this service and that ultimately God's will is to be done.
      4. The sick person is then anointed with oil and the elders lay hands on the ill while one prays.
 
Anointing the Masses
Ángel Manuel Rodríguez also discourages the practice of anointing in masses.  He argues, “There is no biblical support for the practice of anointing the sick in large or small numbers during public religious meetings. James made clear that this was a private religious ceremony. A misinformed practice of anointing could easily lead into an overemphasis on the miraculous and the emotional. When that occurs, the reliability of a religious experience is usually determined by a supposed encounter with the Spirit of the Lord, independent of the witness of Scripture. We are people of the Word, and we should continue to give it its central role in the life of the church. Faith and practice must be judged by the clear instruction of the Holy Scripture.“

Accessing Resources

Accessing Resources


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(In light of the Year of the Pastor, I thought to share a few articles on ministry. Today, I present the second in a series.)
There have been times that I have been asked regarding resources for elders and pastors. Without question, there are numerous books and tools for such persons electronically and otherwise.  However, for this weekly I will attempt to recommend certain basics or essentials. You may wish to add to my list.
 

Considering a Particular Bible Version
The question of Bible Version generates much discussion from time to time. Some persons hold strongly to the view that it must be the King James Version or nothing else. As such the question arises: “Is it wrong to use other versions such as the New International Version, the Revised Version or the English Standard Version?  Really, it depends on you and your liking. Given the research one will find some of those versions quite useful, especially the Interlinear Hebrew and Greek English Standard Version.  It is a gem and easy to read.  However as a rule of thumb, it is wise to consider what the majority of members use in a given church as to make an initial connection. Personally, I prefer the New King James Version for preaching but would quote the King James Version as to make the connection with my audience and to show the distinction in some verses.  For example, in 1 Thess. 4:15 of the KJV the word “prevent” is used in speaking of the righteous living at the time of Christ’s second coming, whereas in the New King James it says that those that are alive shall not “precede” them that are asleep. In this instance, the NKJV provides a stronger and clearer meaning according to the original language.
I would also advise that one use as many versions as possible in preparation, but in delivery of a sermon or Bible study, keep it simple. Also, I would encourage wise use of paraphrases such as the Good News and the Message Bibles. While these may appear appealing in modern language, they may not accurately reflect the original meaning.
 
Related Tools
For today’s pastors and elders, there are countless Bible softwares. Nonetheless, I recommend the Logos Bible software as it is upgradable, expandable and interfaces thus allowing the inclusion of the Ellen White collection as well as the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentaries. In fact, there is an Adventist version consisting of many of the works of leading SDA scholars and writers. Additionally, it contains numerous Bible versions, commentaries, concordances, Bible dictionaries, devotionals, practical books and more. Fortunately, we no longer need to import teachers for logos as we are able to teach this software thus making training accessible for the entire union.
In addition, elders and pastors would want to have in their possession The Church Manual, The Minister’s Manual and the Elder’s Manual. These are essential tools for understanding the church and the roles and function of pastors and elders within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I need to reemphasize the Ellen White collection or commonly referred to as the Spirit of Prophecy books. It would be irresponsible of a pastor or elder to neglect the inspiration, counsel and commentaries provided by one inspired by God. The evidence of proof is found in reading such books prayerfully and applying their principles and instructions. I would also caution against the temptation to use these in place of the Bible or as a means of chastising and lambasting anyone or group. The author, were she alive, would strongly discourage such use, for she regarded her writings as the “lesser light” to lead to the Bible, “the greater light.”
            Also, the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a must.  This book provides a concise study of each doctrine.
 
Additional Tools
One would also wish to consider the local newspaper, news journal and periodicals such as the Ministry Magazine for pastors and the Elder’s Digest for elders. In short, these are all wonderful, but supreme to all of the above is the Bible. It is the book of books. Prayerfully sought and read, it will make one wise and rich in practical knowledge. There is simply no replacement for the Bible; and the beauty that is found is not in admiring it or having as many as one can purchase, but in reading it daily. A positive change is guaranteed. At the upcoming Book Day throughout our Union, make plans to add to your library and more so enrich the life of another in procuring a good book from the local Adventist Book and Nutrition Center.

Overcoming the Hurdles of Ministry

Overcoming the Hurdles of Ministry

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In light of the Year of the Pastor, I thought to share a few articles on ministry. Today, I present the first in a series.
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. 
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, 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/her. Do your best each day, and leave everything to God.

Seventh-day Adventists and the Environment

Seventh-day Adventists and the Environment
 
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Stewards of the Environment
In Genesis 2:15, it is observed, “God took man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (KJV). By implication, it would seem that God intended that mankind should treat nature with respect and not abuse it.  In accordance with this, “Seventh-day Adventists believe that humankind was created in the image of God, thus representing God as His stewards, to rule the natural environment in a faithful and fruitful way” (Voted at the General Conference session in Utrecht, the Netherlands, June 29-July 8, 1995). The statement also notes, “Increasingly, men and women have been involved in a megalomaniacal destruction of the earth's resources, resulting in widespread suffering, environmental disarray, and the threat of climate change.” 
 
Human Selfishness –a Basis for Environmental Destruction
        Besides, “it is clear from the accumulated evidence that the increasing emission of destructive gasses, the depletion of the protective mantel of ozone, the massive destruction of . . . forests, and the so-called greenhouse effect, are all threatening the earth's eco-system.”  Unfortunately, these problems are “largely due to human selfishness and the egocentric pursuit of getting more and more through ever-increasing production, unlimited consumption and depletion of nonrenewable resources.”  These issues result from human’s failure to be good and responsible stewards in “dressing and keeping” that which God has entrusted to us. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to do something to help reverse or minimize further negative effects to planet earth.  What can we do?  I suggest some ideas that were shared with me.
 
Practical Ways of Caring for the Environment
            For starts, let’s ensure that our surroundings are kept clean.  Failing to rightly deposit our waste can do damage to nature.  Allowing oil to be thrown on the ground may seem harmless, but untold damage is being done to our water supply. Having old or derelict motor vehicles and appliances certainly do not help the environment; for they may give off oil and other harmful liquids that could seep into the ground. Uprooting all of our trees, unnecessarily, to build also is unfortunate, especially if we fail to replant some trees.  Thank God for the celebration of Earth Day, for we are reminded to go green in our paint selection and also to use paper bags or green bags as opposed to plastic ones.
            When we go to the beach, we want to ensure that we collect our garbage. Leaving them on the shore does not only pose a problem to the ecosystem, but also the marine
life is put at great risk when plastic bags and empty cans get into the sea.
            Likewise, it is important that we service our cars regularly to minimize harmful emissions into the air that we breathe. Essentially, it may do us good to note that our lives are tied to protecting nature and the environment. So we can team up leaders with the Pathfinders, other members and concerned citizens to clean up our neighborhoods, or sections of the islands as well as educate persons to the importance of protecting Mother Earth. Finally, I note again from our official statement, “Seventh-day Adventists advocate a simple, wholesome lifestyle, where people do not step on the treadmill of unbridled consumerism, goods-getting, and production of waste. We call for respect of creation, restraint in the use of the world's resources, reevaluation of one's needs, and reaffirmation of the dignity of created life.”

Is Adventist Education Worth It?

Is Adventist Education Worth It?

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Today, I share with you an article by former General Conference Education Director, Dr. C. Garland Dulan. It is taken from The Journal of Adventist Education. The captions have been supplied from the sections for easy reading.
 
Aim of Adventist Education
According to the General Conference Working Policy (FE 05 10), the distinctive characteristics of Adventist education, derived from the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White, point to the redemptive aim of true education – to restore human beings into the image of their Maker – mentally, socially, spiritually, and physically.  Our church exists to prepare individuals for God’s kingdom, and education is a crucial process through which this preparation occurs.  Should this vision of mission be lost, there would be no reason for our schools to exist.
 
Embracing Biblical Principles
Since God is the author of all truth, and the aim of each educational discipline is to discover truth, the Bible provides the basis for the best possible education.  When biblical principles underlie the essential ingredients of the curriculum, the result is a unified rather than fragmented understanding of our world. When biblical principles shape the context and instructional attributes of schools, this provides a solid basis for promoting students’ growth in critical thinking, social interaction, spiritual insight, and knowledge about a healthy lifestyle, as well as the principles of psychological and physical well-being.  In other words, scriptural principles become the lens through which other knowledge is interpreted and evaluated.
The promise we make to Adventist parents and students is that we seek to provide the best education possible.  This biblically based education helps students understand what matters most in life, enables them to distinguish between truth and error, and provides them with an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This wholistic context for learning prepares them for life here on Earth and for eternity.  This is higher-order knowledge, interpreted in the light of God’s Word.
 
Redemption-Oriented Schools of Excellence
Adventist institutions, developed within this framework, serve as “Redemption-Oriented Schools of Excellence (ROSE).”  I refer to it as a ROSE because the students graduating from this type of school should come out smelling like one!
There are other characteristics of Redemption-Oriented Schools of Excellence:
1.     They are very clear and unapologetic about their mission.
2.     Their goals and objectives stimulate attitudes and processes of operation that convey academic and behavioural expectations which are consistent with their mission.
3.     Their personnel (faculty and staff) exemplify institutional ideals and are selected with this in mind.
4.     They provide their students with opportunities for service and outreach, and inspire them to make a contribution to society and to the church.
5.     Their programs are strong in quality and content.
6.     Parents, constituents, and church leaders perceive the education as excellent and well worth the cost, and provide solid financial support.
7.     The school, the local community, and the church constituency collaborate for success.
8.     The facilities reflect what is expected of a school with high standards.
 
Commitment and Willingness to sacrifice
When church members discuss the cost of Adventist education, I believe they are really asking: “Is an Adventist education worth the cost?”  Homes and automobiles are also expensive, but this does not necessarily deter people from purchasing them.  What makes the difference?  I believe that part of the answer lies in one’s level of commitment and willingness to sacrifice.  However, the greater part of the answer may lie in the perception that our schools do not provide a quality of education that warrants commitment and sacrifice.
The ROSE concept may be lost to parents and students if greater value has been placed on prestige, acclaim, and social placement, rather than on opportunities for gaining wisdom that is of eternal value.  I believe that to the extent that our schools exemplify the mission, ethos, and educational practices of the Seventh-day Adventist philosophy of education, God will supply their needs “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19,KJV).  Our biggest problem will be how to handle the waiting lists for admission because the education provided will be seen as of eternal value, and parents, students, church members, and leaders alike will commit themselves to pay for it.

Adventist Education –Is It Optional?

Adventist Education –Is It Optional?

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A Must Read!
            In 2009 I was introduced to a book titled How to Kill Adventist Education.  The caption really got my attention; and thus I obtained the book, and read it. The author, Shane Anderson, an Adventist pastor, shows from studies and surveys how to kill Adventist Education, but more importantly, he explains how to give it a fighting chance.
 
A Growing Membership but a Waning School Enrollment
            Pastor Shane explains at the time of his writing that while the North American Division (NAD) membership has grown by 79% (from 606,430 members to approximately 1,082,900) over a 28 year period, from 1980 to 2008, unfortunately, during the same period K-12 enrollment in the NAD decreased by 33% (18, 157 students).  I imagine that this reflects a similar trend for other divisions of the world church. Locally, within the region of the Atlantic Caribbean, I suspect some similarities. Like you, I asked, “Why?”  It was in examining this work that I noted some similarities between Shane’s findings and my assumptions. More so is this seen in the chapter of the book where Shane lists what he refers to as secondary and primary causes based on the NAD studies.
 
Looking at the Causes
            The secondary causes arrived at in talking with parents point to tuition costs and poor marketing. However, Pastor Shane prefers to consider the primary causes, which I believe are essentially the main reasons for a decline in enrollment. He lists six of them:
1.    A lack of passion among churchgoing members for being what he termed “conservative”
Seventh-day Adventists
2.    A misunderstanding of what constitutes biblical discipleship
3.    Poor pastoral support of Adventist education
4.    Poor parenting
5.    The inroads of postmodernism, secularism, and “liberalism” in Adventism
6.    Poor quality schools
            Looking at these reasons objectively, one would recognize some or at least one, two, three or all of these as possible reasons where he/she is. However, some would rather say that the jury is still out. Some of you will recall that there was a time when Adventist education got full attention and promotion by both pastors and elders. Truth told that is not the case today. Years ago, at least in the West Indies, it was rare for elders and pastors (and church officers in general) to send their children outside the church education system. Not the same anymore.  Could it be that the postmodern thinking has impacted our church? Could it be that there is a lack of passion among churchgoing members for “conservative” Seventh-day Adventism? Could it be that parents are listening to their children as opposed to the Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy counsels? Then could it be that our current education facility is inadequate?  Is our academic offering meeting the needs of the students? As noted, it could be all or any of these; and we need to address them. I think we ought to start by refocusing on the purpose of Adventist education.
 
 
Purpose of Adventist Education
            The primary objective of Adventist Christian education is to lead our young people “into a saving relationship with Jesus” (Anderson).  Ellen White puts it another way by saying, “the primary purpose of education is to lead students to God for redemption” (Education, pp.15, 16). No wonder she penned that, “the work of Education and the work of redemption are one” (ibid p. 30). The goal is to bring every person “back to at-one-ment with God, his fellowman, his own self, and the natural world” (Anderson).  Essentially, Adventist Education is not geared just to make scholars; however, when God’s blue print is followed, students will excel and achieve their potentials. Nevertheless, its main aim is to save our young people.  But this can never take place without the aid of the Holy Spirit. So it is important that all stakeholders (the School Board, administration, pastors, elders, the entire school staff and church members) understand and accept this concept.
 
Not an Option but a Must!
            When the true aim is comprehended, I would imagine that one would conclude that Adventist education is not an option but a must. Readers, when we take the position that it does not matter, or we pursue prestige and bypass God’s plan, how can we expect God’s favor? George Knight in one of his many works (Myths in Adventism) explains the church’s reason for spending millions of dollars to support Adventist education. “The answer . . . has of necessity a link to the purpose of Adventist education. If Adventist schools serve a sufficiently distinctive and important purpose, the achievement of that purpose is worth their cost. Establishing and clearly understanding the true object of Christian education is therefore crucial to the continued support and operation of Adventist schools. In fact, the most important educational understanding a Christian can arrive at is related to the purposes, aims, and goals of education . . ..”
            For Adventist education to gain its rightful place, it is going to take a response to the six points noted by Shane Anderson. Yes, it will take school administrators, staff, union, conference and church leaders (pastors and elders) to buy into and provide adequate funding. We cannot afford to lose our future (meaning our children).  It will require members to see more than just the present world but the world to come. Yes, it will require patience, or should I say conversion to God and Adventism and staying on course with what is outlined in God’s word and the Spirit of Prophecy writings?

Embracing the Total Package

Embracing the Total Package

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Is it Possible?
            Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept the Sabbath? Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept the Second Coming doctrine?  It would seem preposterous to ask such questions of a Seventh-day Adventist, as both the Sabbath and Second Coming doctrines are embedded and entrenched in the name Seventh-day Adventist.
            Okay, is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept the State of the Dead or the Sanctuary doctrines? Unequivocally no! These are core doctrines.  Well, what about Righteousness by Faith or the Spirit of Prophecy writings? Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not embrace these?  Again the answer should be “No”. However, it may surprise you that there are persons who consider themselves Seventh-day Adventists in good standing but do not embrace all of the above, especially the inspired writings bequeathed to the church. Now, I can only imagine that you are tired of the questions and are wondering, “Where is he going with these?” Nevertheless, I crave your patience as I ask just one more.
 
What about Adventist Education?
            Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept Adventist Education, especially when one considers the true purpose of Adventist Education? I would have to admit that, when one understands the reason for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is difficult and, in some ways, inconceivable to belong to the Adventist Church and not believe in and support Adventist Education. Succinctly put, the church’s main business is salvation; for Jesus says, “I am come to seek and save that which was lost.” So all our programs and initiatives must be informed by that purpose -be they Education, Health, Youth or Family Life. It must be clear to you that I carry a burden for Adventist Education, as I see an attempt by the enemy to cloud and mislead us into thinking that it does not matter. Ellen White reminds us that, “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one” (Education, p.30). Additionally, she says that “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness--godlikeness--is the goal to be reached” (ibid, p.18).
 
What does it mean to be a Seventh-day Adventist?

            So, as a Seventh-day Adventist, do I accept all that my church stands for? Postmodernism teaches me that I can be a good follower and still not accept everything.  Of course to be a good Seventh-day Adventist does not mean that I am perfect or that I understand everything.  What it does mean is that I have accepted Jesus Christ, and I am willing to be led by Him totally and unreservedly as he chooses to lead. And since He will be my Guide, the issue would not be on what I accept or not accept.  The Bible says in Proverbs 4:18: "But the path of the just is like the shining sun, That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day" (NKJV). Yes, it means that I am willing to be led “all the way my Savior leads me.” Shouldn’t that be the goal of all?

He’s Alive and Alive Forevermore!

He’s Alive and Alive Forevermore!

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Bill and Gloria Gaither are known for writing and producing such songs as “He Touched Me,” “Something Beautiful,” “Let’s Just Praise the Lord,” and “The King is Coming” among others.   Another of the over 400 songs written by this musical duo that strikes a responsive chord in many is “Because He Lives.”  Since 1970, its lyrics have engendered hope and assurance, and at this special time in Christendom, such emotions are even more potent, as the song speaks to the certainty of Christ’s resurrection.
            The timing and occasion of the writing of “Because He Lives” was characterized by “great turmoil” due to the prevailing drug culture. And if that were not enough, the Vietnam War was being waged. Also, it was at this time that Benjy, their first son, was born. With two girls already and now a son, the Gaithers wondered about the turbulent times.  Uncertain and somewhat discouraged about what was happening during the period of the late 60s and the beginning of the 70s, they were inspired to pen the words: “How sweet to hold our newborn baby and feel the pride and joy he gives, but better still the calm assurance this child can face uncertain days because He lives.”  So heartened and reassured, they reasoned that because Christ lives, they and their children could embrace the future unafraid. 
Given the difficulties and uncertainties of the present, we, too, may be fearful about what lies ahead.  But, just like Bill and Gloria did, we need to find solace in the fact that we “can face uncertain days [with some assurance] because Christ Jesus lives.” Not only is He alive, He is here and everywhere, supplying grace, forgiveness, eternal life, and strength to overcome our daily struggles. And there is more: He is capable of supplying our every need just because He lives! Let me explain.
 

Facing the Uncertainties of the Present and Future
            We all love the feeling of confidence derived from knowing that there is someone who knows the way or understands a situation we are about to face.  Realizing that we are not alone and that we have some indication as to how the matter is likely to turn out reassures and gives a sense of calmness. We have that assurance in Christ.  The writer of the book of Hebrews noted, "We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin" (Hebrews 4:15, The Message). Is it any wonder that in the next verse we are given the invitation, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV)?
            Few would deny that these are the days that require the help of one who knows the times and what to do. That person is definitely Christ.  As God, He knows everything! He is all-powerful and, as noted already, possesses everything we need or could ever need! Essentially, He is in control, for nothing takes Him by surprise. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians contends, "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17, NKJV). Christ is alive and now intercedes on our behalf before His Father, and, therefore, like Bill and Gloria Gaither, we can face the present and the future with certainty “Because He lives.”
 
 
 
Christ’s Resurrection Gives Meaning
             It is a known fact that if one can find meaning or a reason to live, he or she is likely to shun despair and suicide.  It is when a person perceives that there is no reason to live that he feels inclined to let go and quit; but with Christ infusing hope, one now has a different outlook. What once seemed dismal and gloomy now appears to be optimistic and promising. Although the situation is still likely to be the same, looking unto Christ changes a person’s viewpoint or attitude toward his or her seemingly hopeless condition.  As one who has had many challenges and who continues to face daily hurdles, I have discovered that the secret to rising above them is keeping my focus on Christ and trusting in His promises. Indeed, the advice found in these words of the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” is worth heeding: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
            Maybe this explains why some persons who know not Christ view Christians as being weird people; for they question, how can they be so cheerful or positive in such tough economic times with these imposed new taxes? How can they still praise the Lord when they have been laid off or diagnosed with cancer?  Truth be told, it is not the Christian, it is Christ and His resurrection.  Like Bill and Gloria Gaither declared, “Because He Lives, we, too, can live.” 
Inspired writer Ellen White encourages all Christians to “spend a thoughtful hour in prayer each day on the life of Christ especially the closing scenes which take in the resurrection.” In the face of the increasingly tumultuous times, this hour of prayerful reflection will certainly give one inner peace and quiet joy. Therefore, I ask that you read about and meditate on the life of Christ and rejoice in His resurrection, recognizing that “Because He Lives, you can face [today and] tomorrow.”

No Need to Bypass the Book of Daniel

No Need to Bypass the Book of Daniel

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When last did you read the Book of Daniel? It was possibly a long time ago, recently or never. Some persons may ask, “Where is that book found?” Persons tend to shun the books of Daniel and Revelation, as they appear hard to understand. “There are simply too many images lacking relevance for us today,” admit some individuals. Even some Christians bypass these two books preferring to read the gospels, psalms and proverbs, for they make for easier reading. However, if we are to gain an understanding of the past, the present and the future, then Daniel and Revelation are a must. We will certainly understand some of the current issues and ills. Therefore, I encourage a study of the Old Testament book of Daniel.
 
Looking at Daniel 1-6 (Narratives)
            For starts, let's consider the author. Who wrote this Old Testament book? It was Daniel, a young Hebrew captive taken to the city of Babylon in 605 B. C. When Babylon overpowered his nation of Judah, he and some of his Jewish friends were removed from their home and taken as captives to Babylon, then the strongest nation of the world under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar. Christ recognized Daniel as author as noted in Matthew 24:15. There He says,  “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, (whoever reads, let him understand:)...." These words of Christ not only confirm the authorship of Daniel, but they again underscore the need to read and understand the book of Daniel. It is to be known for more than just some of its familiar stories. It is also known for its relevance for the present.
 
Breaking Down the Book of Daniel
            The Book of Daniel is divided into two sections: Daniel 1-6 and Daniel 7-12. Daniel 1-6 is regarded as the narrative section. It comprises of those familiar stories such as the capture of Daniel and his Hebrew friends in Daniel 1; and also their faithfulness and loyalty to God in not compromising their principles even in a foreign place. Daniel 2 speaks of a dream by Nebuchadnezzar, which he could not remember. However, God would expose the so-called magicians and elevate Daniel and his companions by making known the dream and its interpretation to Daniel. Chapter 3 is even more familiar. It records the well-known story of the golden image erected by Nebuchadnezzar and the refusal of Daniel’s Hebrew companions to worship it or (by extension) Nebuchadnezzar. In Chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar is humbled; and in chapter 5, there is a new ruler namely, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, who holds a feast ignoring the true God; and finally, Daniel 6 which comprises possibly the best known story of the Bible --Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Therefore, it can be argued that the Book of Daniel is not that difficult thus far.
 
Looking at Daniel 7-12 (Visions)
            In order to comprehend this section (chapters 7-12), it is important to refer back to the themes of Daniel chapters 1-6. You will discover that they are paralleled in chapters 7-12. For instance, the destruction of the temple, the persecution of God’s people, the longest time prophecy, judgment, and finally God standing up for His people and delivering them. However, you will discover that there is a repeating of the prophecy of Daniel 2. Instead of one image as noted in Daniel 2, in Daniel 7 there are 4 great beasts referring to the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Likewise in Daniel 8, there is the vision of the Ram and the Goat. The Ram with the two horns, one being higher than the other refer to Medo-Persia. Additionally, the male goat with a notable horn between his eyes refers to Greece, but the large horn was broken into 4 pieces pointing to the dividing of the kingdom of Greece into 4 kingdoms. Then finally, there is reference to the little horn growing “exceedingly great”. Persecution is associated with this little horn. This was troubling to Daniel, and rightly so, as this system persecutes the saints of God and attempts to change God's law. Whereas Daniel 2 speaks about pagan Rome or imperial Rome, there is clear reference to Papal Rome in Daniel 7, 8 and 9.
 
What Is the Point?
           God wants us to know what is happening, what will happen in our world, and the importance of being ready for His return. More importantly, the book of Daniel offers the present generation a sense that God is in control; and while it may appear that our world is spiraling out of control, the events of these last days will usher in the eternal kingdom of God - one that will stand forever. It gives the church a perspective that otherwise would lead men and women to despair for example the feet of the image of Daniel 2, refer to the divided kingdoms of Europe. This period precedes the kingdom of God. Daniel therefore provides a knowledge of the future today, and based on what has been fulfilled, the prophecies of Daniel can be trusted. Is it any wonder that the enemy would seek to prevent persons from reading and understanding Daniel and Revelation? People fear and despair for a lack of knowledge, but this needs not be the case for us. Our loving God is not willing that any be lost; therefore, He has prepared a plan whereby we might know and be aware of the situation in the world. No matter how dismal current affairs may appear, God's word teaches that there will be an end to it, and we will have a new experience in Christ. Shouldn't this motivate followers of God to be eager in sharing this knowledge?

The Joy of the Judgment

The Joy of the Judgment

gav

 
Have you heard “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10), and “And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27)? Admittedly, judgment tends to evoke a sense of fear and consternation with many - and for obvious reasons. The very name judgment conjures up trial, investigation, sentence, and of course the attending questions, “How will I look?” “Will I pass the scrutiny?” Nevertheless, my topic is “The Joy of Judgment.”  Is that possible?
 

Looking at the Judgment
            The Bible refers to different phases of the judgment such as the pre-Advent phase (Daniel 7:9, 10), the judgment by the Saints referred to as the millennial judgment (1 Corinthians 6:1-3), and the executive or final phase (Revelation 20;5, 6). And some add another judgment, which takes place during a partial resurrection of those who pierced Jesus. According to Revelation 1:7, they are being raised up to see Him.
 
Bring It On
            Doesn't this sub topic, “Bring it on,” sound a bit presumptuous? Who asks for judgment? I would imagine that few persons would think to do so. However, as I read Psalm 7:8 and Psalm 26, the Psalmist, with much boldness, is asking God to judge him. Essentially, he is saying, “Bring it on.” To some this would seem ludicrous, but not when one knows the purpose of judgment, who is in charge, and who will represent him in the judgment. Without a doubt, David knew the answers to all these questions.  The judgment allows for the truth to be known as it vindicates God’s people. Secondly, while God the father is Judge, according to John 5:22, He has committed all judgment to Jesus the Son, who is our advocate or defense attorney. That undoubtedly is good news!
 
Good News
            It is highly unusual for the same person who represents you to sit as judge. It is unthinkable in our court system. It would not work.  Of course, there are those who pull strings and pay under the table, but with God none of that is possible, for David refers to Him as the “Righteous Judge.” I have come to realize that the key is to know Him; and that we do through a daily relationship with Him. Prayer, Bible study, church attendance and Christian witnessing allow for growth in understanding and appreciating Jesus. Thereby we are able to approach the judgment with much confidence, for we know in whom we believe; and we know that He is able to deliver us. And just in case a further point of assurance is needed, consider these poignant words: “He who dwells in the heavenly sanctuary judges righteously. His pleasure is more in His people, struggling with temptation in a world of sin, than in the host of angels that surround His throne” (Christ Object Lessons, p. 176). Given the aforementioned, I say, “Bring it on!”

Responses to the Articles on Visitation

Responses to the Articles on Visitation

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It is not that often that I generally share feedbacks and reactions received weekly, in response to my articles. Nevertheless, I posit some of the responses related to my two most recent articles on visitation.

Response 1
Great article sir! But two points.
First of all the drive for new members is fueled by the organizations baptismal objectives which in some cases pastors are rewarded for baptisms.... Leads to baptism at all costs...
Often bible workers are used to assist in this attainment of baptismal goals... The only relationship the newcomer has with anyone is the bible worker.... So the members have no established relationship from a babe...
To then ask members to befriend them????
Second point:
We live in a time when people aren't neighborly and friendly.... People no longer invite people home. I think the best solution is for each church to have fellowship dinners every Sabbath and have people cater to them..
These are my views sir.

Good Morning Sir,
Great article as always, One of the points that are left out could be the reduced level of worship and soul winning activities.....let's face it, during an evangelistic campaign if you have a Mark Finley or CD Brooks, there is a huge letdown of quality of preaching and also effort to produce quality service.....everyone is happy and excited over you becoming baptized.... This wanes immediately after baptism.
Secondly, many new converts aren't given welcome packages that should include hymnal, bible, quarterly, and steps to Christ along with named ministries that they should enjoy.
Thirdly, I attend the formation of members at the last crusade by pastor Peter Joseph.
On that evening, a Wednesday, which meant limited turnout, the pastors were paraded in front of the members and told of their churches.....was a long process that made no sense.....
It is my belief that in the day of the big baptism, they should be allowed to go home and change and come back for a big feast.... Each church should have a grouping of the pastor, elders, Sabbath school leaders, auxiliary leaders and they move through the new believers selling them in the benefits of their church.
Fourthly, our recent focus in the last ten years in children's ministries is very good seeing the best age of between 4- 14 is focused on for conversion..... Many of our youth who grow up in the church just like new believers, leave silently for thirty years..... Almost every family has one or more or all of their children no longer attending church....

Response 2
Bull's eye Pastor Johnson. As you are fully aware, while some remain at the newborn and toddler stage others hit the ground running by participating, witnessing and even bearing immediate fruit by "winning" a family member or friend.

Response 3
Mark Finley has some interesting points that each Pastor and Church Leader/Member should give heed and consideration to.

But I would like to add to the list proper indoctrination of people before baptism.
We have moved into fast baptism age, like fast food, place your order at this five to ten day series and you are kingdom bound, because The Truth has been preached. Some who are baptized have not attended more than three meetings.

But the minister is given a quota for the year. Falling that he have not earned his keeps.
So he is not a good minister.
So in they come through the front door, and the back door is wide open because the very things Mark wrote are not in place.


Response 4
Thank you Pastor Johnson for your continued effort to address this very important matter of conservation. Permit me, if you don't mind sir, to quickly add, THAT WE ALSO NEED TO FOLLOW CHRIST'S UNFAILING DIRECTIONS: Mat. 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Please note, dear Pastor Johnson, HOW MANY TIMES AFTER BAPTISM DO YOU SEE THE WORD "T E A C H"??????
Technically TWICE. "BAPTISING" is only mentioned ONCE. The pronoun "YOU" or "YE", referring to the EVANGELIST or PASTOR is mentioned THREE TIMES. "I", referring to CHRIST or GOD, along with FATHER, SON and HOLY GHOST are mentioned FIVE TIMES!!!

PLEASE! Sir. DO THE MATH: BAPTISING ONCE; TEACH/TEACHING, TWICE: YOU/YE, TWICE; GOD, FIVE TIMES.

Conclusion: if the NEW BELIEVERS are properly TAUGHT and the TEACHING CONTINUES (from the PULPIT) as well as WEEKLY BIBLE CLASSES, by the "YOU" meaning Pastor/Evangelist or "LEADERS" who KNOW DOCTRINE, GOD, CHRIST AND THE HOLY SPIRIT will KEEP THEM IN THE CHURCH!!!!

While Mark Finley's pointers are good, they run miles behind the CONTINUAL TEACHING OF TRUTH/DOCTRINE!!!

May Almighty God continue to bless you, your wife and children, the Union team and His Great Remnant People!


Response 5
Important truths in this article, Pastor Johnson, but critical points are missing.

It is my view that an over emphasis on doctrine to the expense of loving relationships is a problem. Legalism is a pain in the neck in our church. Judgmental attitudes, failure to understand, failure to express unconditional love are some of our key problems. This is why my philosophy of evangelism is wrapped up in these words: "those we keep will win others." This is different from "let keep on winning soul and they will win others.” Note this: those who are encouraging have been encouraged. Those whose are loving have been loved. Those who are understanding have been understood.

I have serious concerns about the direction of our church in Nassau. The extremes in styles of prayer and the use of the charismatic term "prayer warrior". The influx of charismatic style of preaching by our pastors, the pressure from the charismatic style of singing. I also have concerns about the essence of pastoral ministry. Including no church office hours. No church secretary. Many people wonder how we do ministry.

There is very little "loving modeling" in our church. So how can we keep the soul? Ministry is a dull picture.

Well, that enough for now.

Thanks Pastor Leonard

Four Major Crises New Believers Face

Four Major Crises New Believers Face
 

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In a previous article, I underscored the importance of preventing dropouts by pointing to some practical steps to avert dropouts. However, in this article, I elaborate more on the topic by referencing some four (4) points explained by Evangelist Mark Finley, an experienced soul winner, in his book, Fulfilling God’s End-Time Mission. Says Mark, “After carefully evaluating the experience of new converts to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we have discovered that there are often four major crises in the lives of new believers. Just as the early stages of a baby’s life are critical, so are the first two years of a convert’s life. These years set a pattern of spiritual growth and development for the rest of his or her life.”
 

The Crisis of Discouragement
            It is observed that, “this crisis occurs when individuals fail to live up to the high standards that they have espoused immediately previous to their baptism.” The baptism signals “a public commitment to accept certain biblical truths and live by certain biblical standards.”  But following baptism, they are challenged, discovering “tendencies from their old life still present.” Accordingly, impatience, unkindness and a lack of Sabbath commitment may result thus leading to discouragement. The natural reaction is to isolate themselves from the church, for the church stands for commitment to standards and a lifestyle they feel incapable of maintaining.  Therefore, guilt takes over resulting in absenteeism at church, and loss of excitement in the Christian life.  To prevent this, it is important keep in touch with new believers by regular phone calls, reassuring words of encouragement, prayers and pastoral visits.
 
 
The Crisis of Integration
            Finley notes, “This crisis takes place when a new convert fails to replace the old friends in their life with new ones.”  It is not always easy to make new friends and assimilate into a new church, Sabbath school and /or young people’s meeting without the support of friends and others.  Symptoms of this crisis may be seen with late arrivals at church, leaving immediately after the closing hymn and rarely attending the social activities of the church. 
To address this, Mark suggests that “active attempts” need to be made to develop “new friendship within a church,” “to invite them to church, social functions,” and “to Sabbath dinner.” Without deliberate efforts to reach and maintain contact with new believers within the first six months after baptism, it is likely that they may leave the church because of the crises of discouragement and integration, argues Mark. 
 
The Crisis of Lifestyle
             “This crisis,” explains Mark, “generally takes place from a year to a year and a half after baptism. It occurs when an individual fails to integrate the value system of Scripture and the Seventh-day Adventist Church into their lifestyle.” Symptoms of this crisis may include absence from Sabbath school, prayer meeting; and persons tend to speak in generalities regarding the church, and there is little involvement.  To counteract, there is the need to encourage a daily devotional life, provide adequate Adventist literature and encourage small group Bible studies.
 
The Crisis of Leadership
            In this crisis, Mark notes that it “occurs after an individual has demonstrated faithfulness to Christ and His church.”  Unfortunately, in this crisis, he points out that, if the church is small, it is likely that new believers would be chosen to serve on the nominating committee and, even placed into leadership roles.  Thereby, they are exposed to the inner workings of the church, and soon discover that the members are not really saints when there is “frank evaluation of church members elected to office.”  This can be shocking and perplexing for a new believer. 
The obvious counteraction is not to place new believers in offices and in situations where they will likely to be affected negatively without being assimilated first.  Additionally, it is good to counsel new members concerning the weakness and inadequacy of human leadership as well as the frailty of human beings in general.

Preventing Drop Outs

Preventing Drop Outs

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So often pastors and church administrators are questioned and criticized about the retention of new believers. There are those who feel that the same energy and enthusiasm that go into bringing persons to baptism need to follow post baptism. Some observe that there would seem to be a cut off period. In some instances, the observation and criticism are true. As pastors, leaders and elders we can do more and need to do more even with the training of members to assume their role in helping to nurture and anchor new converts. Therefore, in this article, I will seek to make some observations that may prove beneficial in this regard.
 

Looking at New Believers
As the caption denotes, new believers are new believers just like new babes needing love, food, changing and attention again and again and again. Noted Evangelist Mark Finley states, “Baptism is not a panacea to solve all spiritual problems.” In fact, from my personal experience and observation, the act of baptism may result in problems and difficulties for new converts.  From unwarranted criticism to isolation of family; to transitioning to a new church and making new friends, pose challenges and difficulties, to say the least. Then, adjusting and living up to the high standards of the new faith are not easy! Compounding the situation is the lack of acceptance or tolerance of “old members” – Old, not so much as in age, but as persons who have been in the church for some time. With a slip here and there, or a failure to maintain a certain “walk” may draw uncalled-for remarks such as “I told you he was not ready,” or “They are not serious.”
 
Time and Attention Are Needed
It takes time to assimilate and adjust to new ways, practices and make new friends. Have you ever visited a new church, or attended a new school or university? That calls for serious adjustment for some of us. Becoming a member of the Adventist church can be radical. For example, up to three weeks ago, you went out on Friday evenings and did house chores on Saturdays. Now three weeks later, you are attending church, and with the crusade having ended, there is no Friday night meeting, and you are at home with a non-Adventist spouse and possibly children. The television channel is turned on to basketball or some weekly sitcom that you watched. If only the world could come to a stop and all observe the Sabbath, but that does not happen. And if you are without family and friends to assist, it gets really unsettling. Of course, your appetite has not necessarily changed. It may be changing, so if the conch or pork is being cooked, or your spouse desires that you continue preparing his favorite dish of “pig feet,” you have real issues. How does one transition? These are not imaginary questions; they are real.
 
What Can the Church Do?
Ellen White makes the point: “Those who have newly come to the faith should be patiently and tenderly dealt with, and it is the duty of the older members of the church to devise ways and means to provide help and sympathy and instruction for those who have conscientiously withdrawn from other churches for the truth’s sake, and thus cut themselves off from pastoral labor to which they have been accustomed” (Evangelism, p. 351).
As pastors and elders, we must teach our members to share the load and responsibility of caring for one another. There by not every eye or person will be focused on the pastor to do evangelism and conserve new believers following crusades.  Also, we need to teach them how to be practical and patient; so with certain dress styles worn by some recently baptized ones, the older members need not hit the roof and say the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, place a loving arm around the young brother or sister in the faith and offer to assist. Take the person home regularly, or if this is not possible, ensure there is a meal at church in order to assimilate and establish the new member. Also, invite him or her over to your house on Friday evening to welcome the Sabbath, or if situation allows, go to their house for the same. Call regularly and visit. Just as it takes time to nurture an infant, it takes time to nurture babes in Christ. We can do better, and we need to.

The Value of Personal Visitation

The Value of Personal Visitation
 

Biblical and Spirit of Prophecy Basis for Visitation
The word “visit” is recorded 36 times in the King James Version and 26 in the New King James Version of the Bible. This amount of times underscores to me the importance of visitation. In fact, Christ states in Matthew 25:43, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” Additionally, the Lord’s brother James explains in James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Given the aforementioned, one can appreciate the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 15:36 when he said to Barnabas, “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” Furthermore, in the book Evangelism Ellen White stressed, “Not only is the truth to be presented in public assemblies; house-to-house work is to be done” (Evang. 431). Therefore, in keeping with the biblical and Spirit of Prophecy mandate to visit, the Ministerial Department of the Atlantic Caribbean Union, in light of the “Year of the Pastor,” has launched Operation Contact.
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What Is Operation Contact?
Operation Contact is an initiative of the Ministerial Department of the Atlantic Caribbean Union, aimed at aiding and encouraging pastors to make contact with each other, each other’s family and each member as well as non-members within the Atlantic Caribbean Union territory.  Also, it carries the objectives of nurturing and solidifying the pastor’s call to ministry; encouraging personal time with the Lord through daily prayer and Bible study; strengthening the pastoral family; fostering strong biblical preaching; embracing opportunities for ongoing professional growth and development and empowering members for effective service.
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Visitation Is a Must!!
Undeniably and unarguably, pastors and elders cannot be effective in ministry without personal contact. Neither can churches be vibrant and mission driven without inward and outreach visitation. In considering Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, it can be said that it had a positive impact on them and others in Bethany. Even throughout the following years down to the current period has this positive impact continued. Personally, I have been blessed through the ministry of visitation. Therefore as an administrator, I am deliberate in carving out time for visits in the home and hospital with my wife, reaching out to members and non-members. However, with the launch of Operation Contact, my administrative colleagues and I have linked up with field leaders and pastors, in visiting members in the Turks and Caicos Mission, the Cayman Islands Conference and in the Bahamas. Accordingly, visitation gives a sense of satisfaction when we pastors and elders are able to minister to others especially, the seniors, retirees, sick and also members in general. Within the context of Operation Contact, I am able to encourage and affirm fellow pastors and, in some instances, mentor young pastors and interns. We actually learn from each other. However, members express “wow” and gratification that they are remembered and thought of. And that is what we want, among other blessings, for members to feel valued and appreciated. Without them there is no church. But more, we get to fulfill and address some of their needs whether for encouragement, understanding of doctrines and clarification of issues. It helps us to be sensitive and considerate of their needs. After all, Jesus was master at this and still is through us today. Therefore, let’s prove faithful in doing His biddings. Our church, mission, conference and union will be stronger.

The Importance of a Spiritual Life

The Importance of a Spiritual Life


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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, 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 Co 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 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.

Putting Church Above Personal Position

Putting Church Above Personal Position

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From time to time we are faced with the challenge of adhering to a position or subjecting our thinking to certain positions and policies of our church. Admittedly, our thinking or conclusions may differ and therefore the question arises, How do we reconcile issues or matters? It would seem to me --for resolution there must of necessity be an agreed reference point. That is, what do we subscribe to in order to guide us and steer us in ensuring that we operate in accordance with acceptable and best practices? Accordingly, I proffer a few points that may be beneficial.
 

Relating to Personal Views
It is possible to have personal views and positions that may at times not comport or line up with established positions of the church’s practice. That in itself is not necessarily wrong. However, what I do is equally or more important. The steps I take may lead to compromise, chaos or reform. So it is crucial for one to weigh carefully all that he or she does.  I can recall that, some years ago,  I strongly resented the idea of dedicating infants born out of wedlock in a pastor’s study or away from the main sanctuary, unless requested. This was the practice of the local Adventist church in the Bahamas  -and for acceptable reasons to many over the years. However, I decided to research the practice and discovered in the 90’s that the Church Manual did not support this practice. Therefore, I researched further and came to understand a principle as to why many of the then church leaders held to it. Nevertheless, I met with my then conference leader and shared my position and was given the opportunity to present a position paper at a Ministerial Retreat in Cuba. This position was accepted generally, but it took some persons years to change the practice of what appeared to be discrimination. It is possible that some pastors still struggle with praying for babies born out of wedlock in the sanctuary. Nevertheless, I am happy that I sought advice from my leader.
 
Not Going Ahead of My Church
            Had the then leader disagreed with me, I could have decided to do the extreme: resign, or, research the subject a bit more. But I did not take it upon myself to disregard authority, as this would have been irresponsible and possibly viewed by some as un-Christ-like.
The current debate regarding female ordination and what decision should be made at the upcoming General Conference session has been of great interest to some. The decision is likely to have mixed reactions, regardless to whichever position is taken. Nevertheless, I should not lose faith or confidence in my church if my personal position is not embraced. Neither should I feel victorious or superior if the position I held is accepted. It would be good to remember that persons have strong convictions regarding the different positions. Therefore, it would be wise for me to accept the position of my church even if it is not my conclusion, remembering that the church is still God’s. As pastors, elders and church officers, we ought to remind ourselves that we are a part of a worldwide church, notwithstanding that we belong to our local church/field and union. Quoting Lowell Cooper, one of the vice presidents of the GC, “each [entity/church/conference/union] is seen to be a part of a sisterhood which cannot act without reference to the whole.”  These are “separate but not independent organizations,” says Cooper.  Additionally, in reference to the Working Policy, Cooper says that it “is the recording of our agreements as to how we will work together to do the Lord’s work and mission, serves as one of the practical unifying agents that the Holy Spirit uses to bind the church together. Policy is not inflexible. It can be changed but it reflects the understanding of the collective group, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
 
What We Can Do in the Interim
In the meanwhile, as we await this year’s GC session, we as pastors and elders could visit www.adventistarchives.org and read all of the study papers produced by the Commission on the Theology of Ordination. I can assure you that these will be quite enlightening and informative. Following this, or while doing so, we could engage one another in dialogue and in writing respectfully notwithstanding differences of opinion. Additionally, we could sincerely pray for our church to come to a position reflective of the Spirit’s leading. Until such time, let us continue the dialogue but never preempting the session. I hold to the view that we all believe in our church. Then let’s trust the process in place. To take it upon oneself to go contrary to policy and the church’s position is to say I will not wait; I will go it my way. That is to open the gate to our personal feelings and individuals doing as they feel.

What a Privilege to Belong to the Church of God!

What a Privilege to Belong to the Church of God!

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From time to time, the church is evaluated on how well it is fulfilling its mission, function and purpose. To some members, it is viewed as having gone way of course while others think that it has yet to take off. Then, there are those who feel quite comfortable with the church. Notwithstanding your opinion, it would be good to take another look at the church --“Who is the church?” “What are its role and purpose?” Answering these questions would give rise to an objective assessment.
 
The Church – Who Is the Church?
It must be noted that the church is not the building located on a given street per se, but a group of believers. The Greek word for church refers to the "called out ones.”  So, essentially, the church is a group of individuals whom God has redeemed from the world to be part of His kingdom to represent Him. The Apostle Peter grasped this, for he declared, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, NKJV).
 
The Purpose of the Church
According to Ellen White, “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.”  In fact, she adds, “From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory. The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God” (Ephesians 3:10; Acts of the Apostles p. 9).
Therefore, when the state of the church is questioned and examined, it is an evaluation of the people who make up the church. The questions, then, should be “How are we living?” “Do our lives comport with God’s ideals and standards?” “Have we lost sight of our mission and role?”
 
Fulfilling Its Purpose
Of the church, Jesus says that we are to let our light shine. That is a call to stand out in morals and principles and more so in love. And the darker it is, the brighter the light shines. Light was made to illuminate, and likewise, the child of God was made to reflect God’s character.
The Christian lifestyle will make some persons uncomfortable, but Christians ought never to apologize for that. At the same time, the church is never to force its lifestyle and/or principles upon others. Doing so is contrary to God’s thinking. Instead, the church is to aggressively, but lovingly, invite individuals to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, we must remember that folk have a right to say “no” to Christ’s invitation.
What a privilege to belong to God’s church! In response to this honour, our prayer should be, “God help me to rightly represent Your church, for by so doing we are representing You. If my witness is negative, then the church will be perceived likewise; but, if positive, then a right picture is presented.”
            Ellen White says of the church, “It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts . . . 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).

The Church in Perspective

The Church in Perspective

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The more I travel from place to place (being involved in church activities) and the more I participate in various church meetings at all levels, I keep arriving at one conclusion; and that is, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whether in Cayman, Washington, Haiti, or Italy, is the same –the Church of God. A sense of mission drives us to be about the business of preaching, teaching and living the word of God. Though strangers in some ways when in a new area, the fact that we are Seventh-day Adventists peels through what would be obvious barriers and blockage. It must be our love for Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that propels us to welcome and receive strangers almost immediately into our homes. I can only imagine what heaven will be like.

The Danger of Pride
As I reflect upon this disposition, I am heartened. Furthermore, as I behold our various structures and facilities at the General Conference Headquarters in Washington, the IAD Office in Miami, Florida, or the new Union Offices in Honduras, Chiapas, Mexico, Nassau and other territories, I have to resist seriously the temptation to take extreme pride in these- overlooking that these are but means to an end. The mean thing is to have the wherewithal to proclaim the gospel, inclusive of Daniel and Revelation, with a clear ring. The end is the salvation of people- culminating in the return of Christ. We look forward to that day as noted in our name. As long as we keep these facts and realities before us, we are safe. For this reason, I advance to my next point.

Not to Miss the Point
Jesus is very clear in Matthew 28:19-20, as He enjoins His people to go into the entire world and make disciples of all His people; for according to John 3:16, He is interested in the world. Additionally, Ellen White explains, “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.” In fact, she adds, “From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency.”
As members of God’s church, having been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, we “are to show forth His glory. The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God” (Ephesians 3:10; Acts of the Apostles, p. 9).


Evaluating the Church
Therefore, when we look at God’s church, we must never forget to go back to that mandate of Matthew 28:19, 20. As for a church board, should not the first business be to a revisiting of that mandate? This also applies at the local field and Union levels. If we are not strategic in this regard, we are likely to take pride in the means and forget the end. At the end of the age, God’s question will be one of faithfulness. How faithful have we been in fulfilling His will and purpose for all people? In this vein, it is crucial that we evaluate ourselves daily to ensure we are faithful to our call to mission. We must be about employing our talents to fulfill the church’s agenda. In the lyrics of a song sung by Steve Greene, I say, “May all who come behind us find us faithful.”

Reflecting Christ in Speech, Writing, and Attitude

Reflecting Christ in Speech, Writing, and Attitude
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From time to time there are those who write and speak in such a way to correct and “set straight” others. These (the ones being “set straight”) include fellow members, church leaders at various levels of the church and, of course, non-members. Unfortunately, at times such criticisms tend to be conveyed in a derogatory manner. Additionally, it appears that such persons seeking to “set straight” come across as having “a holier than thou attitude,” possessing privileged information and understanding of new light. The impression is further conveyed that they are being called by God to purify the church and “straighten” others. In the process, the writings of Ellen White are often misquoted and taken out of context to support cherished positions. Against this backdrop, I seek to establish a few principles from the writings of Ellen White that may prove beneficial.  (Before sharing those points, I admit that pastors and members, I’m included, are not exempted from criticism; however, let them be constructive. If one refuses to accept, God will judge him or her accordingly).
 
No Sharp Thrusts
          Ellen White states, “Let not those who write for our papers make unkind thrusts and allusions that will certainly do harm and that will hedge up the way and hinder us from doing the work that we should do in order to reach all classes, the Catholics included” (LDE 90.2). While she speaks to persons who write for our papers, the principles may apply otherwise. Furthermore, she explains: “It is our work to speak the truth in love and not to mix in with the truth the unsanctified elements of the natural heart and speak things that savor of the same spirit possessed by our enemies. . . .” Ibid. Additionally, she points out, “We are not to use harsh and cutting words. Keep them out of every article written, drop them out of every address given. Let the Word of God do the cutting, the rebuking; let finite men hide and abide in Jesus Christ” (9T 240, 241, 244, 1909).  [LDE 90.3].
 
Beware of Side Issues
            A point to be noted is, “God has not passed His people by and chosen one solitary man here and another there as the only ones worthy to be entrusted with His truth. He does not give one man new light contrary to the established faith of the body.” She adds, “In every reform men have arisen making this claim. . . . Let none be self-confident, as though God had given them special light above their brethren. . . .”  (Italicized for emphasis) [LDE 90.6]. There is the tendency for one to accept “some new and original idea which does not seem to conflict with the truth.”  Dwelling upon it, “it seems to him to be clothed with beauty and importance, for Satan has power to give this false appearance. At last, it becomes the all-absorbing theme, the one great point around which everything centers, and the truth is uprooted from the heart. . . ” [LDE 91.1].
 
Emphasize Unity, Not Differences
Mrs. White clarifies that “There are a thousand temptations in disguise prepared for those who have the light of truth, and the only safety for any of us is in receiving no new doctrine, no new interpretation of the Scriptures, without first submitting it to brethren of experience.” This is an excellent point, and she counsels, “Lay it before them in a humble, teachable spirit, with earnest prayer, and if they see no light in it, yield to their judgment, for ‘in the multitude of counselors there is safety.’ . . .” [LDE 91.3].
            As followers of Christ, clergy and laity, we must be willing to subject ourselves to legitimate authority, the word of God and the policies of the church. In addition to being submissive, we should seek to model Christ in our pronouncements, writings and attitude. Thereby, our lives would be reflective of Christ’s life in all that we say and do.

I Can Be Kind – I Can Forgive

I Can Be Kind – I Can Forgive
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The January 6th, 2015 edition of the Nassau Guardian records a moving story on forgiveness. Family members of a police sergeant, “who was believed to have been shot and killed last year in what police believe was an armed robbery said that they cannot understand or make sense of his death, but have already forgiven those responsible.” Said the family, “We want the persons who are responsible . . . to know that we have forgiven them and pray that God would touch their hearts and minds.” Admittedly, this is not a normal reaction following the brutal slaying of a loved one. It must be a manifestation of Christ’s spirit and attitude. And, it is this very disposition that is needed to heal and reduce deaths in our communities, towns, islands and country. It would seem that resolving conflicts is bypassed by the playing out of anger. As such, I appeal for forgiveness and kindness instead of retaliation.
 
What Is Forgiveness? 
Forgiveness is releasing the debt, anger or hurt as opposed to retaliating in an attempt to inflict wound, hurt, get even, or cause death for that matter. Says Martin Luther King Jr., “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” Similarly, kindness is a favorable disposition or treatment towards another or oneself in ways undeserving or unexpected. Quite frankly, society would seem to promote vengeance. Now, while this article is not intended to interfere with justice in the manner practiced by law enforcement agencies, Christ teaches an exceptional form of human forgiveness and kindness. Observe a scriptural passage set within the context of Christ’s sermon on the mountain: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43, 44). Truth be told, it is much easier to do just the opposite of “love,” “bless,” “do good,” and “pray for” one’s enemy. One might prefer to hate, “bless” as in curse, do harm instead of good, and pray for one’s demise as opposed for one’s benefit. I am sure you and I can identify with this, but Christ calls for a higher and nobler form of behavior surpassing the norms of society.
 
Kindness Is not for the Weak of Heart
Mahatma Gandhi observes, “The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Furthermore, Corrie ten Boom explains, “You never so touch the ocean of God's love as when you forgive and love your enemies.” It takes more than courage to be kind! It takes Christ Himself through the medium of the Holy Spirit living within individuals to model and display the qualities of “love,” “blessing,” “doing good,” and “praying” for people who mean you no good. 
Imagine if these teachings were fully embraced, we would see a significant reduction in conflicts that lead to violence and death. Imagine, if we practiced more of Christ-living, we would be more caring and thoughtful. As the world focuses on love or romance, in the month of February, it is also a good time to show Christian love. Beyond the roses, chocolate, and candle light diners will be a demonstration of genuine care and consideration for spouse, friend and children.
 
Kindness Proclamation
From time to time we read in the newspapers proclamations of one kind or another. However, it would be so refreshing to proclaim a kindness day, week, month, or better a kindness year? Can you imagine how that would change you and me if embraced? Can you imagine a lessening of road rage? Can you imagine no more verbal, physical or emotional abuse? Utopia! Maybe I am dreaming too much or expecting too much. However, how will we put a dent into the day-to-day evils, hurts and injustices? Yes, we must uphold the law, but could we not do so in kindness and with respect for others? So, today look for someone whom you resent and do something good for that person, even if you start by just praying for his/her wellbeing. Now be certain to call him or her by name. Should we apply kindness or more kindness in our relationships, our country would be a better place in which to live, do businesses and model Christ-like behavior. John Bunyan argues, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who cannot pay you back.” Let kindness begin today with you and me!

A New Beginning

A New Beginning
 
In just a few days, God willing, we would witness the beginning of a brand new year, 2015, marking the opportunity for a fresh start. For this reason, there is much excitement in anticipation of welcoming the New Year. After all, the memories of 2014 are mixed with sadness, grief, and disappointment but also the blessings of God, even if we are not mindful of them. If you are reading this article, then you are still the recipient of life. That is a blessing! Nevertheless, what a privilege to start anew! As such, I pose the questions: “What will you do this year?” “What will you do differently?” “How will you utilize this new beginning?” “What will you do?” Religious writer Ellen White observes, “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).
 
Making the Best of Each Day
To ensure that we make the best use of the 86,400 seconds that each of us is given every day, I share the following areas for our attention and concentration. Devotion. It is important that we begin our day with that which is likely to inspire and motivate us. For the Christian, that involves reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. It is said of Christ that “a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35, NKJV). Time with God is never wasted, for it provides for a positive outlook on life and above all inspires hope.
Family. An institution that appears to be crumbling is this one. With successive years of high murder rates, it must be clear to you that numerous parents, spouses, children, siblings and friends are hurting. Family allows for a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, this sense of security seems to be lacking. Could it be the basis for a wave of lawlessness among some of the youth? Compounding the need for bonding is the lack of quality attention and time for children, spouse and others. Smart phones, tablets and computers have found their way in every nook and cranny of our lives -- the bedroom, at dinner dates and during worship time. I would admit that these gadgets have their place and usefulness, but it would seem that they are controlling our lives. It does make us wonder how we managed without them. Let’s pledge to control their use. Put them down at intervals and you will discover that life goes on. A story is told of a youngster who asked his father how much he made in an hour. It is needless to say that the father was upset and thought his son was getting into his business. But after some insisting by the son, the father gave in to his son’s request and shared his hourly wage. The little boy got his piggy bank and counted his savings, which was less than his father’s hourly wage. He asked his father to loan him the difference to reach the amount his father made hourly. Not knowing why his son wanted the money, the father gave it to him. The boy then placed it with his savings; therefore he now had enough money to pay his father for one full hour. You get the point! He valued his father’s time. People, family matter!
 
Exercise. What about exercise? We need to engage in some form of physical activity so as to strengthen our bodies and muscles. Health is a priceless commodity, but too many of us are afflicted by diseases that could be remedied by exercise and change in lifestyle. The Adventist Church is seeking to launch in 2015 the “I Want to Live Healthy” initiative designed to have an impact upon each family member.
 
Redeeming the Time
Based on the above, it must be clear that we have a responsibility to use our time wisely. As stewards we have different talents, different amounts of wealth, but the same amount of time. Unfortunately, when the day is gone, it is gone never to return; and therefore it is important that we understand the importance of redeeming the time as noted by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:15, 16. By redeeming the time he advocates that we embrace the opportunities that knock at our doors. Too often we see joblessness, roadblocks, recession, and other ills; but through the eyes of Christ, we may see other possibilities and potential opening of doors for the unemployed or greater use and effectiveness.
 
A Weekly and Timely Reminder
Finally, I commend to you a timely reminder that God gives each weekend designed to build self, family, community, nation, and provide rest, perspective and above all reconnect us with our “roots,”or, what I choose to call, our Maker. It is the Sabbath or, if you please, the Lord’s Day. Rightly understood, it is not a burden or Jewish per say. Stephen Covey likens Sabbath obs   ervance to “sharpening the saw.” He explains, “Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. ‘What are you doing?’ you ask. ‘Can’t you see?’ comes the impatient reply. ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’ ‘You look exhausted!’ you exclaim, ‘How long have you been at it?’ ‘Over five hours,’ he returns, ‘and I’m beat! This is hard work.’ ‘Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?’ you inquire. ‘I’m sure it would go a lot faster.’ ‘I don’t have time to sharpen the saw.’ The man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing!’” “Like the Sabbath,” says Darrell Pursiful, “sharpening the saw” is about taking time we need for self-renewal –physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
 
Have a Spirit-filled New Year!

Silent Night - My Holiday Wish!

Silent Night - My Holiday Wish!
 
Lyrics from a familiar Christmas piece, “Silent Night, Holy Night,” best describe the wish of many Bahamians and residents, especially of Nassau.  In fact, the second line of the first stanza seems elusive: “All is calm, all is bright.” Instead, one hears the firing of gunshots, police car and ambulance sirens accompanied by loud screams and howls: “Oh God not my son,” “Not my child's dad;” “Not again!” Fear is gripping us at our core. Many are simply afraid! The silence is gone out of nights and peace seems intermittent. The killing is too much- even in broad daylight and almost anywhere.
And if that were not enough, the country is still reeling from the tragic deaths of Dr. Myles Munroe, his wife and others. Electricity bill is high, and that which drops is our cell phone calls. Undoubtedly, 2014 has been a rough year, and 2015 is about to greet us with VAT (Value Added Tax). We desire a change! We need change! We need some silent nights, peace and calm but especially the gift of the Lord's favor.
 
The Gift of the Christ Child
            The gift of the Christ child two thousand years ago was intended to offer peace, joy, hope and more. God, in His omniscience, foresaw our needs and offered mankind a most necessary and all encompassing gift in His only Son. John 3:16 records, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Years before this declaration, Isaiah, the Old Testament Prophet, penned: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  Capturing this prophetic piece, Luke, another New Testament Writer, added, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11).
 
Why Peace Appears to Be Lacking?
Repeatedly, the Bible makes it clear that the coming of Jesus was intended to offer peace and joy. What has happened? I suggest that the problem does not lie with the Gift or the Giver but the acceptance and use of the Gift.  It is like receiving a most sizable check but not cashing it. Though valuable and useful, it will serve no purpose unless used. Could it be that the Gift of the Christ Child has not captured our minds and hearts to the extent of controlling and influencing us to live at peace with and loving one another as we should? Could it be that the Gift has not been born in our hearts to the extent that we are led to forgive and move on? Could it be that the Gift of Christ has not been received fully, so we fail to accord the respect that we should to one another on the streets, in the parking lot, and even in the church? We must do more than simply talk about Christ. Instead, we must allow Him to be Lord of our lives fully controlling and running “things.” When Christ is in control, the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy and peace, etc.) will be manifested.
 
Looking Ahead
            Looking ahead, we must not be daunted by VAT or anything for that matter. It is imperative that we keep linked up with Christ. We can weather situations and effect change with His grace impacting us. We can sing again; we can rejoice and laugh. After all, Christ lives and He inspires a remarkable hope. However, I caution that a life devoid of Him will not change the New Year. It would be attempting to effect changes without resorting to the right resolution, and that is Christ. How could the Apostle Paul, a misguided one and persecutor of the church, experience a turn around? Was it not through Christ? How could Mary, a prostitute, experience a sense of belonging, appreciation and honor? Was it not through Christ who accepted her as a person and showed true love and respect for her? What the world needs is what Christians through Christ are capable of giving. It is love; it is understanding! It is respect and even tolerance for our differences. Emily Elliott explains, “My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, When Thou comest and callest for me.” Essentially, this constitutes my wish for all: that Christ is embraced, and with the Gift mankind will experience what it means to live and to have meaning and lasting value.  It is the Gift that lives on and enables one to have a sense of Christmas daily, monthly and throughout the year.
 
Have a Christ-centered Christmas and a joyous New Year.

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church
 
Given our focus on youth worldwide, I share with you an article I read about reaching millennial youth (person born between 1977 and 1994) by Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN. (Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com). Though some of the views do not sync with Adventism there are some points that we might find interesting and applicable though coming from a non-Adventist perspective. Ellen White says, “Preachers, or laymen advanced in years, cannot have one-half the influence upon the young that the youth, devoted to God, can have upon their associates” MYP p.204) For easy reference I have inserted the definitions for Millennials and Generation X.
 
At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial. I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb. I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.
I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity. Despite having one foot in Generation X (born: 1966-1976 - sometimes referred to as the “lost” generation, this), I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.        
Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness. I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.
Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …” And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances. In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular. Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

 
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers. We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte (coffee with milk) and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.
Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is. But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.
Their answers might surprise you.

Don’t Panic

Don’t Panic

                                                                                 
It is unlikely that I will ever forget the Sabbath School lesson of Wednesday, June 9, 2010. To explain, it highlighted an individual who experienced healing by laughter and a positive attitude. However, the author did not say that laughter heals in every instance, but it does help to be positive.  A positive attitude results from a life of devotion and trust in God. Isn’t that amazing! By looking to and trusting in God, one will experience peace and an assurance of salvation. And yet if one is not deliberate, he will likely become so occupied with little, if any, time for God and thereby become anxious and restless. Therefore, I share the following with you.
 
When We Panic
            I am reminded of the experience of Moses, Aaron and the children of Israel recorded in Exodus 32. Moses was invited by God to come upon the mountain.  In his absence, Aaron was left in charge of the people. According to some of the folks, Moses was taking too long; and they urged Aaron to do the unthinkable as noted in this verse: “Come make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses . . . we do not know what has become of him.”  How sad! For the flash of lightning was evidence of the presence of God (SDAC vol. 1, p. 664). Yet, instead of keeping their focus on God, they panicked and took a path that led to sin.
            The happenings of today are enough to challenge us, especially the high rate of murders and a growing sense of lawlessness; recent loss of lives owing to plane crashes, and additional taxes. The worst thing that we can do is to panic. Instead, we must call to mind the leading of God in the past up to the present. A careful look will point to the fact that He has not failed us.
                                                                                          
Lesson of Discipline
            The reality of additional taxes or the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) thus affecting the tight budget of some demand that we be frugal and adjust where necessary. An economist remarked to me some years ago that we have had seven good years (2000 – 2008) before we began to witness a downturn in the world economy. Looking back, how did we manage that time?  Did we save?  Did we invest wisely?  The principle of the story of Joseph and his counsel to Pharaoh in Genesis is noteworthy. Life does not always dish out what we want, as there are the lean years and there are the fat years. As we are in the lean years, it means that we must learn to adjust.  In fact, we learn that there are things that we do not need. A careful look will help us see what they are.  However, as I noted in a previous article, the one constant in life is God. In good and bad times, He is still the same God! His faithfulness to man is unchanging as observed in Lamentations 3. Put another way in a great hymn: “Great is Thy faithfulness.”
 
Looking to God
            Going back to Exodus 32, we see that the children of Israel looked away from the mountain and away from God, and they worshiped the image made by Aaron and rose up to play. According to the Hebrew language, it suggests that they engaged in sexual orgies.  That ought to say something to us. When we panic, we do strange and deadly things.  Unfortunately, it was Aaron who gave in under pressure to the wish of the people.  Fellow leaders, we must be men and women of prayer, courage, the word and complete trust in God. Our victory and perspective must come from a daily walk with God, ever mindful of His promises to us.  Not once must we trust the arms of flesh; but instead, lean on the everlasting arms of God, as He is able.

Pray Until Something Happens

Pray Until Something Happens
 push2015

What A Privilege!
Again, it is a privilege for us as a union family to unite in another exciting prayer journey throughout 2015.  Our prayer focus for this year will revolve around those steps to knowing Christ better found in the book Steps to Christ written by Ellen G. White.    Each month, a key aspect from the book will be the center of our petitions to God.  Accordingly, this invitation to prayer is also a call to read or reread this important book as we seek to draw closer to Christ. Therefore, each field is requested to launch this initiative before January 1, 2015. Prayer cards have been supplied. However, you may also download a copy from the Union’s web page - www.atcunion.org.
 
Prayer Keeps Us Focused on God
With this prayer walk to personal spiritual growth, it is anticipated that our four-year old union, and much older conferences and mission, will continue to grow, mature, and fully embrace God’s mandate to proclaim the Three Angels’ messages of Revelation 14. We must be about our Father’s business, recognizing that Jesus will soon return to this earth. Therefore, prayer is designed to keep us on board and focused.
Furthermore, we hope that this prayer guide (P.U.S.H 2015) will motivate each of us to pray more with the full assurance of knowing that our prayers will be answered, and that it will also serve as a catalyst for increased spiritual maturity.
 
Prayer is Not a Gift
As noted in November’s segment, we ought to recognize that prayer is something that we all must embrace. It is not a gift, but a privilege for all persons. Looking at the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 15, Eph. 4 and Rom. 12 you will not find prayer included among the gifts as God intended that everyone should pray. Ellen White counsels, “We must pray always if we would grow in faith and experience” (SC p. 97). Additionally, she explains, “Satan cannot overcome him whose heart is thus stayed upon God” (SC p. 98). Therefore, “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” (SC p. 93).
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s continue to P.U.S.H. (Pray Until Something Happens), and remember to send us some reports of how you have been blessed by prayer.

A Nation Shaken

A Nation Shaken
Recent events have left our country reeling with despair, frustration and questions. Like some of you, I viewed the bodies of Dr. Myles Munroe, his wife and colleague, Pastor Richard Pinder, Captain Stanley Thurston and co-pilot Frahkan Cooper on national news and in Tuesday’s newspaper. To say that I was not moved emotionally would be inaccurate! I was! In fact, the daily rehearsing of this tragic event by the media has not lessened the pain. I can only imagine how it must be for the families of all the victims of that deadly crash. It cannot be easy for them. The designation of ZNS, the national broadcasting station, may be most apropos- “A Nation Shaken.”
However, the news consisted of more than the tragedy of the nine lives that succumbed to the fatal crash of November 9th. Let me explain: another religious leader was eulogized and buried; several persons were murdered, and a fatal car accident took place in Grand Bahama. Our country has been jolted by deaths of various types and in various ways. Indeed, it is twirling with pain and grief. Added to these concerns is the unfortunate perception and interpretation of the country’s immigration policy by Amnesty International owing to the recent apprehension of illegal immigrants.
Amidst the grief and many unanswered questions, the Bahamas needs to turn to the Word of God for answers. What answers can be found given all the ills and concerns? Well, let’s explore the Word and allow it to speak for itself.
 
Looking at Death Through the Lens of the Bible
We may deduce from the Bible that God does not always intervene in the happenings of nature. The example of the death of John the Baptist sheds some light. While Jesus could have intervened in the case of John by sparing him the cruel death of Herod, He did not. Similarly, God could have prevented the “unfair death” of Jonathan, son of King Saul as well as save the Apostle Paul from many trials and suffering, but He did not. In 2 Timothy 3:12 we read, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Additionally, the Bible teaches that “the devil walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV). So apart from faults and mistakes on our part, we may rest assured that there is a force seeking to destroy. In fact, the Apostle Paul pointed out to the believers at Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age . . ..” (Ephes. 6: 12, NKJV). Nevertheless, even if death should come or be permitted to take us, the same Apostle Paul clarifies that nothing shall “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
 
Not Absent from the Body and Present with the Lord
Also, he explains, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14). Furthermore in verse 15 Paul adds,“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord.”  How then do we hear so many persons saying today, in particular, preachers that the dead – our friends and loved ones are already in heaven? One pastor wrote that they are having conversations with God and the angels. Such sayings sound good, but the word of God does not teach that. I was pleased to hear one of the local -popular talk show hosts correct his callers, “the dead are not in heaven yet.” He had it right. Folks use 1 Cor.5 to support their theory of being “absent from the body and present with the Lord.”  How unfortunate when a clearer reading of the same coupled with 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess. 4 will show that Paul speaks of the assurance of the resurrection. Just go back to 1 Cor. 4:14 and it will become even clearer, “Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.”
As for all of the others, the word of God speaks to those as well! Sin has brought about an imbalance, and life is unfair at times. It is riddled with concern but the worse it gets the word of God is our only and surest hope. Like Priscilla J. Owens, I declare: “Give me the Bible, star of gladness gleaming . . .Thy light shall guide me in the narrow way.”

Adventist Community Pays Tribute

Adventist Community Pays Tribute to Dr. Myles Munroe
 myles-munroe

The tragic and unexpected passing of Dr. Myles Munroe, one of the nation’s finest and most intellectually astute religious leaders, has dealt a serious blow to our religious community, country and world. Compounding this stunning shock is also the loss of his wife, pastoral colleagues, friends and pilots at the same time. As a church administrator, I can imagine the unsettling impact on the Bahamas Faith Ministries, as most of the nine who perished were associated with that religious body. It is painful to lose one individual, but to lose one’s senior pastor and his spouse, the senior assistant pastor, the youth pastor and family, as well as other members at one time is excruciating. Such a reality tempts us to want to question God. In fact, some have actually done so as we would have read on face-book, in newspapers and heard on television.
 
Where Was God?
It is not unusual to question: “Where was God?” “Why did He allow such an instrumental and influential leader like Myles to pass in such a tragic manner?” Most would agree that Dr. Myles had so much more to offer and contribute to our nation and the world, and therefore the added questions: “Why now?” “Why his wife?” “Why Pastor Pinder?” “Why Pastor Parks and family?” “Why Captain Thurston and others?” “Why?” “Why?” The truth is that we do not always understand the happenings and the timing of them- especially these losses at one time. However, we may know from the very word of God that Dr. Myles employed to teach and encourage so many and that blessed his ministry, that “God is love!” In fact, Jesus declares, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11, NKJV).
 
There Is an Enemy
It is necessary that we be mindful of forces that are at work all around the people of God seeking to thwart and destroy as observed in Ephesians 6:12, “Wrestling against principalities of the world and rulers of darkness.” There are also the laws of nature as well as causes and effects. At times God intervenes in situations, sparing us tragedy, and at times He does not. And this is confusing to some. In spite of it all, we need to maintain our faith in Him and in His word. The example of Job is most fitting: “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him”(Job 13:15). We can rest assured that He cares and loves without measure. That is something that we will understand better by and by.
 
Truths That We Can Claim
However, here are some truths that we can comprehend. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, the Apostle Paul counsels that we do not grieve as others who have no hope. Observe that the counsel is not that we do not sorrow, but that we do not do so without hope. This sense of hope is predicated on the fact that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, and He will come again, according to John 14:1-3. At that time, the Apostle Paul notes that “the dead in Christ will rise first,” and “we that are alive in Christ will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thessalonians 4:15, 17). Is it any wonder that we are admonished to “Comfort one another with these words?” (1Thessalonians 4:18). So we may know that the dead have not gone on to heaven. They are asleep awaiting the return of Christ. Therefore, the Apostle Paul explains, “if Christ is not risen then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14, NKJV).  The resurrection of Christ is our surest and most guaranteed hope. As penned by Bill Gaitor, “Because He lives I can face tomorrow. Because He lives all fear is gone and life is worth the living just because He lives.” Take courage Bahamas, for one day death will be defeated; and we will no longer have to weep nor will loved ones have to weep for us.
Pastors Paul Scavella and Errol Tinker, leaders of South and North Bahamas conferences, respectively, join me in conveying condolences to the BFM family. May the God of peace and love comfort you during this difficult period in your Christian experience.

Adventists Pay Tribute to Bishop John Humes
Bishop_John_Humes_t280

 
Daily, we come across people who impact our lives; some do so negatively, others positively. Some of these encounters we forget, while others are etched in our memories forever.  The warm and cordial relationship shared with Bishop John Humes is one such interaction that will long linger in my mind. His tall stature, infectious smile, and engaging voice ensured that you took note of him and will be fondly remembered. He was a genuine, compassionate leader and a family man.
 
The Seventh-day Adventist Church family appreciates his attendance at many of their annual conventions and applauds his deliberate attempts to facilitate inclusiveness, ensuring that the Seventh-day Adventist Church leadership had participating roles to play in services of national importance when he served as president of the Bahamas Christian Council. Additionally, as head of the Church of God community, his willingness in making available the Church of God auditorium for our church conventions, Bahamas Academy graduations, and church concerts serves as an admirable testimony to his kindness and generosity to our church family.
 
As a great leader, God used him to advance the goals of the Church of God denomination in The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Of significance were the construction of the Church of God administrative complex and the renovation of the Church of God auditorium. He was undoubtedly a people’s person and a visionary leader.
 
My last visit to him was on the sad day that his twin brother died. He was so positive and actually ministered to me and my colleague, Pastor Andrew Burrows.  Also lifting our spirits on that final visit with him were the remarkable love and care displayed by his wife, Minister Jennie.
 
As such, I wish to assure Sister Jennie, their children, and the entire Church of God membership of the prayers of the Seventh-day Adventist community in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. In a personal way, Pastor Paul Scavella and Pastor Errol Tinker, local leaders, join me in conveying sincere condolences.
May God continue to bless and comfort you, always being mindful that the great resurrection day is still future when the dead in Christ will rise first.
 
Leonard Johnson
Atlantic Caribbean Union of Seventh-day Adventists
(Bahamas, Cayman, Turks and Caicos Islands)
 
 
Leonard Johnson
Atlantic Caribbean Union of Seventh-day Adventists
(Bahamas, Cayman, Turks and Caicos Islands)

Embracing the Total Package

Embracing the Total Package
 total

Is it Possible?
            Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept the Sabbath? Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept the Second Coming doctrine?  It would seem preposterous to ask such questions of a Seventh-day Adventist, as both the Sabbath and Second Coming doctrines are embedded and entrenched in the name Seventh-day Adventist.
            Okay, is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept the State of the Dead or the Sanctuary doctrines? Unequivocally no! These are core doctrines.  Well, what about Righteousness by Faith or the Spirit of Prophecy writings? Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not embrace these?  Again the answer should be “No”. However, it may surprise you that there are persons who consider themselves Seventh-day Adventists in good standing but do not embrace all of the above, especially the inspired writings bequeathed to the church. Now, I can only imagine that you are tired of the questions and are wondering, “Where is he going with these?” Nevertheless, I crave your patience as I ask just one more.
 
What about Adventist Education?
            Is it possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and not accept Adventist Education, especially when one considers the true purpose of Adventist Education? I would have to admit that, when one understands the reason for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is difficult and, in some ways, inconceivable to belong to the Adventist Church and not believe in and support Adventist Education. Succinctly put, the church’s main business is salvation; for Jesus says, “I am come to seek and save that which was lost.” So all our programs and initiatives must be informed by that purpose -be they Education, Health, Youth or Family Life. It must be clear to you that I carry a burden for Adventist Education, as I see an attempt by the enemy to cloud and mislead us into thinking that it does not matter. Ellen White reminds us that, “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one” (Education, p.30). Additionally, she says that “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness--godlikeness--is the goal to be reached” (ibid, p.18).
 
What does it mean to be a Seventh-day Adventist?
            So, as a Seventh-day Adventist, do I accept all that my church stands for? Postmodernism teaches me that I can be a good follower and still not accept everything.  Of course to be a good Seventh-day Adventist does not mean that I am perfect or that I understand everything.  What it does mean is that I have accepted Jesus Christ, and I am willing to be led by Him totally and unreservedly as he chooses to lead. And since He will be my Guide, the issue would not be on what I accept or not accept.  The Bible says in Proverbs 4:18: "But the path of the just is like the shining sun, That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day" (NKJV). Yes, it means that I am willing to be led “all the way my Savior leads me.” Shouldn’t that be the goal of all?

Is Adventist Education Worth It?

Is Adventist Education Worth It?

 
Today, I share with you an article by former General Conference Education Director, Dr. C. Garland Dulan. It is taken from The Journal of Adventist Education. The captions have been extracted from the sections for easy reading.
 
Aim of Adventist Education
“According to the General Conference Working Policy (FE 05 10), the distinctive characteristics of Adventist education, derived from the Bible and the writings of Ellen G. White, point to the redemptive aim of true education – to restore human beings into the image of their Maker – mentally, socially, spiritually, and physically.  Our church exists to prepare individuals for God’s kingdom, and education is a crucial process through which this preparation occurs.  Should this vision of mission be lost, there would be no reason for our schools to exist.
 
Embracing Biblical Principles
“Since God is the author of all truth, and the aim of each educational discipline is to discover truth, the Bible provides the basis for the best possible education.  When biblical principles underlie the essential ingredients of the curriculum, the result is a unified rather than fragmented understanding of our world. When biblical principles shape the context and instructional attributes of schools, this provides a solid basis for promoting students’ growth in critical thinking, social interaction, spiritual insight, and knowledge about a healthy lifestyle, as well as the principles of psychological and physical well-being.  In other words, scriptural principles become the lens through which other knowledge is interpreted and evaluated.
“The promise we make to Adventist parents and students is that we seek to provide the best education possible.  This biblically based education helps students understand what matters most in life, enables them to distinguish between truth and error, and provides them with an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This wholistic context for learning prepares them for life here on Earth and for eternity.  This is higher-order knowledge, interpreted in the light of God’s Word.
 
Redemption-Oriented Schools of Excellence
“Adventist institutions, developed within this framework, serve as ‘Redemption-Oriented Schools of Excellence (ROSE).’  I refer to it as a ROSE because the students graduating from this type of school should come out smelling like one!
“There are other characteristics of Redemption-Oriented Schools of Excellence:

  • They are very clear and unapologetic about their mission.

  • Their goals and objectives stimulate attitudes and processes of operation that convey academic and behavioural expectations which are consistent with their mission.

  • Their personnel (faculty and staff) exemplify institutional ideals and are selected with this in mind.

  • They provide their students with opportunities for service and outreach, and inspire them to make a contribution to society and to the church.

  • Their programs are strong in quality and content.

  • Parents, constituents, and church leaders perceive the education as excellent and well worth the cost, and provide solid financial support.

  • The school, the local community, and the church constituency collaborate for success.

  • The facilities reflect what is expected of a school with high standards.

 
Commitment and Willingness to Sacrifice
“When church members discuss the cost of Adventist education, I believe they are really asking: ‘Is an Adventist education worth the cost?’  Homes and automobiles are also expensive, but this does not necessarily deter people from purchasing them.  What makes the difference?  I believe that part of the answer lies in one’s level of commitment and willingness to sacrifice.  However, the greater part of the answer may lie in the perception that our schools do not provide a quality of education that warrants commitment and sacrifice.
“The ROSE concept may be lost to parents and students if greater value has been placed on prestige, acclaim, and social placement, rather than on opportunities for gaining wisdom that is of eternal value.  I believe that to the extent that our schools exemplify the mission, ethos, and educational practices of the Seventh-day Adventist philosophy of education, God will supply their needs ‘according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19,KJV).  Our biggest problem will be how to handle the waiting lists for admission because the education provided will be seen as of eternal value, and parents, students, church members, and leaders alike will commit themselves to pay for it.”   

“Who Are We and Why Are We Here”?  Part 2

“Who Are We and Why Are We Here”?  Part 2

 
Continued from last week . . .
 
I am firmly convinced that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s last-day church, the Remnant Church of Revelation 12:17. This does not mean that only Seventh-day Adventists will be saved. God has his people in all churches. In Revelation 18:2 the fourth angel proclaims, “Babylon is fallen” and in verse 4 he says, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. (Rev 18:4 NKJ). Yes, many of God’s people are still in Babylon. I have always told my students, “There will be many Catholics in heaven, many Protestants, and some Adventists.”
 
Nevertheless, God called this church into existence and has given us a special message, the three angel’s messages of Revelation 14, to proclaim to the world, to prepare it for the Second Advent. In order to do this, we need to understand these messages. And in order to proclaim them we need to be grounded in the Word of God. We need to study it and accept what it says as it reads, and not explain away its plain meaning. According to the Spirit of Prophecy, “If men would but take the Bible as it reads, . . . a work would be accomplished that would make angels glad and that would bring into the fold of Christ thousands upon thousands who are now wandering in error” (GC 598).
 
In other words, when Scripture says, “in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (Exod 20:11) it means he created the world in six days and not in six million years. And when God says, “`You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination” (Lev 18:22), It means just that! It means that homosexual practice is a sin, whether it is a loving relationship or not. Friends, take the Bible as it reads, unless there are good reasons to understand it symbolically or metaphorically.
 
From time to time we need to be reminded that we serve a living God. We know from Scripture that Satan is angry with the Remnant Church. He has seen to it that worldliness and pluralism have entered the Seventh-day Adventist Church as never before. Theological pluralism presents a tremendous challenge to the unity of the church today.
 
The theological controversies in the church in recent decades have produced different brands of Adventism.
 
Today we have:         Evangelical Adventists
Progressive Adventists
Historic Adventist
Main stream Adventists
 
All of them claim to represent the true Adventism. When I began my ministry in 1971, the theological discussions at that time centered on the sanctuary, the Spirit of Prophecy, perfection, the nature of Christ – specific teachings of interest to Adventists. Today, the theological controversies in our church are much more basic, dealing with fundamental Christian teachings:
1. The Trinity – Is Christ really God from eternity? Is the Holy Spirit a person?
2.  Creation – Did God create the world in 7 days or 7 eons
3.  Atonement – Did Jesus die as our substitute or only as our example?
4.  The Bible – How much of the Bible is inspired? Is all of the Bible reliable or is it reliable only when it talks about salvation?
 
Some of our people are no longer convinced that the SDA Church is the Remnant Church of prophecy, that Ellen White is a true prophet, and that our sanctuary teaching is biblical. They are in danger of forgetting who we are and why God has called this church into existence. And Satan would love nothing more than for this to happen.
 
So, please, brethren and sisters, never forget who we are and why God has called this church into existence. He is wonderfully blessing His church. We praise the Lord for the progress the Seventh-day Adventist Church is making worldwide.
 
According to the office of Archives and Statistics at the General Conference, on any given day, more than 3,000 people join the church – a Pentecost every day! Every hour over 120 people are baptized; every minute, at least two individuals are baptized, Praise the Lord!
 
Yet, as you all know, we also face significant challenges. There are still about 4 billion people who have never heard the Adventist message. Most of them live in what is called the 10/40 window. At times one could almost despair of ever finishing the task, but God has ways and means we cannot imagine.
 
God will finish his work, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts” (Zech 4:6 NKJ). So let us rejoice and be glad, and let us “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2 NIV).
 
Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D.
Associate Director (part-time)
Biblical Research Institute

“Who Are We and Why Are We Here”?  Part 1

“Who Are We and Why Are We Here”?  Part 1

 
Today, I share with you an article by Gerhard Pfandl, Associate Director (part-time) of the Biblical Research Institute, focusing on our identity and mission, as a church. Because of its length, I have divided it into two parts. Next week, you will receive part 2. I implore you to use the information to help nurture and ground our new believers.
 
Twenty Years ago, on March 29, 1994, thirty-nine leading evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics - men like Pat Robertson and John Cardinal O’Connor - signed a document entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.”
 
Headlines across America proclaimed: “Christians Herald New Era” and “Catholics Embrace Evangelicals - Conservatives of Both Faiths Agreed to Accept Each Other As Christians.” The world was surprised; Seventh-day Adventists were confirmed in their understanding of prophecy. They remembered Revelation 13:3 which says, “his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” They also remembered the statement in The Great Controversy:
The Protestants of the United States will be foremost in stretching their hands across the gulf to grasp the hand of spiritualism; they will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power; and under the influence of this three-fold union, this country will follow in the steps of Rome in trampling of the rights of conscience (GC 588).
 
Earlier this year, Pope Francis I spoke by video to a conference of charismatic and Pentecostal ministers, hosted by television evangelist Kenneth Copeland. The pope told these ministers he longed for the separation between the churches to come to an end. “The miracle of unity,” he said, “has begun. And God will finish this miracle.” The response of Copeland and the Pentecostal and charismatic ministers was a resounding Amen. They prayed for the pope and blessed him. Many Christians around the world were happy about this development. Seventh-day Adventists were again confirmed in their faith, because for more than 100 years they have been expecting this move towards Christian unity.
 
As Seventh-day Adventists we are privileged to see the fulfillment of prophecy taking place before our very eyes. Why are Seventh-day Adventists privileged to see these fulfillments? Because God Himself has called this church into existence and has given it special insights into end-time events.
           
Brethren and sisters, please remember, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not an accident of history. Our church did not come about by happenstance. We are not just one church among many Christian churches. This church has been prophetically foreseen in Revelation 12:17. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev 12:17 NKJ)
           
This description fits only the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We keep God’s commandments, including the Sabbath commandment; and we have the “testimony of Jesus” which according to Revelation 19:10 is the Spirit of Prophecy or the prophetic gift. And this gift was manifested in the life and ministry of Ellen G. White. Don’t ever forget this brethren and sisters.
 To be continued . . .
 
Gerhard Pfandl, Ph.D.
Associate Director (part-time)
Biblical Research Institute

A Call to Steadfastness

A Call to Steadfastness
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Following several crusades throughout the union, inclusive of two mega campaigns, hundreds of persons were baptized, and many renewed their relationship to the Lord. Commendations are extended to all field leaders. Also, special commendation to Evangelists Peter Joseph, Claudius Morgan and Osias Joseph! In light of the hundreds of new believers, I thought to repeat an article I did some years ago. I hope that the article will be useful in assisting to nurture our new brothers and sisters.
In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 10, is found a three-fold appeal to believers.  The writer, who I believe was the Apostle Paul, implores his readers to “draw near” (vs.22), “hold fast” (vs. 23), and “to provoke unto love and good works” (vs. 24). Of course, there is a basis for such admonitions, which is noted in the verses preceding verse 22. There the Apostle Paul explains the accomplishment of Christ of having broken down the barriers that prevented mankind from entering into the presence of God.  Employing the language and illustration of the Old Testament sanctuary, he writes: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,” let us move closer to God, cling to the faith and spur one another to love and good deeds.  Therefore, consider the following points:
 
Come Closer

            The words of Hebrews 10:22 represent an invitation to believers, in view of what Christ has accomplished, as already noted, calling His followers to “draw near.”  Owing to the effects of sin, human beings (like Eve and Adam) tend to shun God’s presence; and even when men and women are inclined to come near to Him, they are timid. However, Paul entreats believers to come close to God with “boldness,” which denotes confidence.  Isn’t that wonderful?  It shows God’s concern for mankind- wanting relationship and closeness or simply intimacy. To spurn God’s offer through the Apostle Paul would be tantamount to showing a disregard for His offer.  Coming close or closer to Him involves a study of God’s Word, prayer, witnessing, church attendance and other factors.

 
Hold On to the Faith
            There would seem to be progression here; whereas before, believers were entreated to come closer, now they are admonished to “hold fast the profession of [their] faith.”  What does that mean?  Hope is implied by Paul calling believers to be steadfast, as later explained in verse 35: “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.” And the reason for that is predicated on the fact that Christ is “faithful.” So essentially we can accept His word or promises, as God does not lie, He is reliable. Additionally, Paul describes Him as “a great High Priest” (Heb. 4:14, NKJV). He is unlike any other high priest.  Other priests offered sacrifices daily and annually, but Christ offered not a lamb but Himself, and He did so just once and for all (Heb. 10:11-12, NKJV). Is it any wonder the Hymn Writer Elisha A. Hoffman, penned, “Christ has for sin atonement made, what a wonderful Savior” (SDAH 335)? For these reasons, all believers need to remain faithful to Him.  This is not the time to part company with Christ or exit His church. Instead, this is the time to hold tenaciously to Christ, as life itself depends on accepting the merits of His sacrifice.
 
Spur One Another to Good Works
            In verse 24, The Apostle Paul advocates, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (NKJV). According to the original language, “to stir up” conveys the idea of “to provoke” as noted in the King James Version. Also, “In a good sense, a sharpening; used figuratively meaning an encouragement to some action or feeling” (Zodhiates, S. [2000]. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, electronic ed., Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers).  Normally this term of “provoking” is associated with inciting or spurring one to do wrong. However, Paul employs it in a positive way.  In doing so, he says that one is to consider ways to “provoke” another to “love and good works.” This comes through “holding fast,” or as stated by Paul in verse 25, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see ‘the Day approaching” (NKJV).
            The basis for all of this is made urgent by the fulfillment of our hope in the second coming of Christ.  Says the writer to the Hebrews, “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (10:36, 37, NKJV).

How Do You Know if God Spoke?

How Do You Know if God Spoke?

 
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).

Under Grace and not Law – What Does It Mean?

Under Grace and not Law – What Does It Mean?
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            I am always amused when I hear the remark, “We are no longer under law but under grace,” implying that the law does not serve any function or very little.  Conveniently, the expression is used to support the argument that the Seventh-day Sabbath is no longer binding upon Christians.  Additionally, it is argued that the Old Testament is irrelevant and that we should follow and adhere to the New Testament.  However, I ask, “Is that really so?”  “Is the law still relevant?” “To be a Christian, does it mean that we shun the Old Testament?” “Is there any connection to the spirit of lawlessness pervading our society?”
 
Taking a Look at the Sermon on the Mount
            In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (NKJV). Consistent with the Greek translation, the context refers to the first five books of Moses and not just God’s law, which is referenced by Jesus in verse 19.  Jesus taught by referring to the writings of Moses and the prophets that essentially the Old Testament is relevant and no less inspired, and that it was not His agenda to destroy it.  Instead, He came “to fulfill,” which means to make full; to explain, or to magnify as will be seen from verse 21.  In other words, Jesus came to liberate His law, giving it its full meaning and application.
 
Fulfilling the Law
            Giving six examples between verses 21 and 48, Jesus clarified the relevance of the law and its application. For the purpose of this article, I refer to three of them.
The first one, recorded in Matthew 5:21–26, speaks to murder. Referring to the prevailing thought of the day, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’”  However, Jesus explained, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council” (Matthew 5:21-22, NKJV).
            Jesus fulfilled this law by giving its full meaning, explaining that murder begins in the heart. The word “anger,” which comes from the Greek word “orge,” refers to anger that is long-lived and that which a person “nurses, cherishes and refuses to let die,” resulting in or seeking revenge.  Isn’t it interesting that the other Greek word for anger, “thumos,” implying “a momentary anger that flares up and dies,” is not used? Yet, the Pharisees and Scribes felt that it was fine to harbor hatred as long as no murder was committed externally.
            Do we not see a connection with violent crime and a spirit of hatred, anger and revenge today?  It would seem that persons would rather vent their anger in pushing a knife into someone’s chest, or pulling the trigger. Conflict resolution seems foreign to many in our society.
            Secondly, Jesus addresses adultery in Matthew 5:27-30 stating, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28, NKJV).  Again, Jesus in regard to His law taught that adultery begins in the heart. For the Pharisees and Scribes, adultery was committed when the actual act was carried out, but not so with Jesus. It starts in the heart. The Old Testament writer, Job, understood this as seen in Job 31:1: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?"
            Thirdly, Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-48, gave attention to love for one’s enemy. Pharisees and Scribes misquoted Leviticus 19:18 to say that it was alright to love one’s neighbors and hate one’s enemies.  However, Jesus fulfilled the law on love by pointing out,"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44, NKJV).  In Christ’s day, this teaching was foreign, and today it is certainly not popular.
            Reasoning from the above three examples, the meaning of “fulfilled” is clear. Jesus, instead of abolishing His law, gave it the prominence it deserved. So shouldn’t we, His followers, do likewise?  To do so does not make us legalistic, as we ought to know that “By grace we are saved.”  However, as noted in Romans 3:31, grace does mean that we disregard God’s law; instead, we “uphold the law.”
 
Summing It Up
     Given the aforementioned, I submit that if we took the teaching of Jesus seriously, it could serve to reduce hatred, anger, murder, dishonesty and marital infidelity, etc.  I would think that those who loosely use the expression, “We are no longer under law but under grace,” may wish to reconsider the expression.  It can suggest irresponsibility. While Christians are under grace, they show a healthy relationship to God’s will, always remembering the purpose of the law, which is to point out sin and hopefully lead to Christ. No wonder Christ said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."  More than anyone Christ gave the law its rightful place.

Four Essentials for Church Growth

Four Essentials for Church Growth

 
Some time, a friend gave me two copies of the book, The Big Four, written by S. Joseph Kidder. Why two you ask?  Well, he felt certain that I would enjoy the book and would desire to give a copy to someone.  
The book, which is the companion to an adult Sabbath School lesson, is a must for elders, pastors and administrators who desire to see their church and field grow; and therefore I share just four basic points, which make up the book. Do check with your local ABC to purchase a copy.  
 
Empowering Servant Leadership
The author, Kidder, who is a former pastor, lectures in the area of spiritual growth, evangelism and leadership at the Theological Seminary, Andrews University. Based on research, primarily in selected Seventh-day Adventist congregations in the North American Division, Kidder underscores that a major component of a vibrant church is leadership. He explains, “Growing churches have leaders –pastors, lay pastors, elders, or ministry directors –who genuinely want their congregation to grow and are willing to pay the cost.”  He observed that such leaders love evangelism and posses “a strong passion for the lost and an eagerness to do anything to connect them with the heavenly Father.” Essentially, he argues that such leaders are optimistic and pray much.
 
Passionate and Authentic Spirituality
Kidder negates the belief that “growing churches tend to de-emphasize spirituality.”  Instead, he contends that “flourishing Adventist congregations . . . emphasize spirituality often, strongly, and passionately.”
 
Committed and Active Laity
Notwithstanding the effectiveness of pastors within a local church, Kidder explained that it is crucial to have active lay involvement if a church is to be successful and effective. His survey of NAD churches revealed that a vast majority of members “have not won one person to Jesus Christ during their lifetime.”  Quite frankly, that cannot work if a church is to grow and be vibrant. Also, his research showed that the membership in some instances “is aging and . . . congregations are struggling to attract new members and hold on to young ones.”
 
God-exalting Worship
Worship experience is crucial to growing congregations. To Kidder, based on his research, the style of worship is not essential. Based on his findings, what is important is  “the quality of the worship experience, (and) not its placement on the traditional-contemporary continuum.”  Furthermore, he states, “If the heart of the believer touches the heart of God, worship will take place. Though style is not mandatory for growth, excellence, and purpose, prayer, hope, and professionalism are vital.”
Essentially, these factors are fundamental in church growth and, as already noted, form the basis of Kidder’s book; and thus the name, The Big Four.  I highly recommend it for all leaders and passionate disciples.

FORMER GENERAL CONFERENCE PRESIDENT SPEAKS ABOUT INDEPENDENT MINISTRIES

FORMER GENERAL CONFERENCE PRESIDENT SPEAKS
ABOUT INDEPENDENT MINISTRIES

 
Today, I thought to share this additional article on independent ministries in the form of a letter written by Robert S. Folkenberg in the 1990’s, notwithstanding my apparent conclusion on independent ministries last week. Thanks to a pastoral colleague who shared it with me last week and therefore, I pass it on to you. Additionally, I wish to make a correction regarding my classification of Hope International and Hartland Institute in last week's weekly. Reliable information coming to my attention, has led me to re- classify them as supportive ministries. 
 
Letter Re: Independent Ministries
“Dear fellow believers: I want to share a concern with you that lies close to my heart. Many of you have written or called me asking about independent ministries, and I want you to know where I stand. Is it true that the General Conference is out to destroy independent ministries? The answer is no!
“I have been told there are several hundred entities not integrally connected with the church. Almost all of these make a significant, positive contribution to the mission of the church. Many of these are affiliated with Adventist-Laymen's Services and Industries (ASI) and provide a wide variety of services to fellow Adventists and the public, including vegetarian restaurants, educational institutions, health care, publishing, religious radio and TV broadcasts and orphanages. These prefer to be known as supporting ministries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“One ministry supports a cadre of evangelists who are made available to church organizations around the world. Another, Maranatha Volunteers International, having overseen the construction of hundreds if not thousands of buildings for the church around the world, recently completed its largest single project ever--in the Dominican Republic, where more than 1200 volunteers built 25 churches in 70 days!”
 
By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know;
“Organizations demonstrating by their fruit a commitment to the mission of the church merit both the descriptive supporting and ministry as well as the appreciation and backing of church members and leaders. For these, ‘organizational independence’ is only a matter of function and legal status, not mission. Their loyalty to the church and zeal for proclaiming present truth are indistinguishable from that of the church itself.
“I recently read two compilations of Ellen White's writings dealing with ‘self-supporting’ work and noted two characteristics: 1. ‘Self-supporting’ is normally linked to the concept of ‘missionary.’ lndependence from the church was born of the financial necessity to send families to un-entered areas as missionaries, not by a mission different from that of the church. 2. ‘Self-support’ is presented in the context of unity with the church. 'The work of God in the earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers’ (Testimonies, Vol 9, page 117).
“The concept of an active laity and supporting ministry of the church is not only encouraged by Ellen White, but found in the example of the apostle Paul, who, by his own labour, supported himself and others as they spread the good news.
“While the vast majority of these ministries truly are supportive and declare their loyalty to the church, a few private organizations, calling themselves ‘independent ministries,’ do not meet this standard. These [private organizations] point out what they see as deficiencies in the church, its members, and its leaders. Tragically, while subtly attributing these failings of a few to the church in general, they set themselves up as the guardians of historic truth and as the only trustworthy expositors of God's Word.
“On this foundation of distrust they build an organization that is not accountable to any wide constituency; foments doubts, distrust and disunity (impediments to the latter rain); diverts millions of dollars that might better have been used for gospel proclamation among the vast populations of the world that have never heard the name of Jesus; and at times even drive members from the church! (See ‘Poison in the Mail,’ Adventist Review, March 12, 1992.)
“Are there problems in the church? If so, do these failures justify the attacks by private organizations against the church?
“To the first question the servant of the Lord answers, 'There are evils existing in the church, and will be until the end of the world’ (Review and Herald, September 5, 1893). It's sad but true, for I am reminded every day that the evil one is hard at work within God's remnant church.”
 
Continued Study Needed
“To achieve personal spiritual growth and a deeper understanding of God's message to us, we must continually study the Word and the Spirit of Prophecy. But the exaggerated individualism that characterizes today's culture must not fragment the unity needed in God's final movement. The vast majority of our teachers, pastors, editors, elders and other leaders are firmly committed to the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14 and the fundamental beliefs that we hold dear.
“Sadly, there are a few who, following modern trends, doubt the accuracy and/or authority of Scripture, reject one or more of these fundamental beliefs (the sanctuary and related truths are among the most frequent casualties), yet insist they have ‘right’ to remain in positions of responsibility. To these I appeal, fall on your knees and, with Scriptures in hand, search and pray until you have peace with God. If you find you are in harmony with the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we will rejoice with you. If not, simple honesty and ethics require that you resign any appointed, elected or employed position until you can embrace that which our church upholds as truth.
“A more common weakness in the church, however, is not rejection of the truth, but rather neglect of prayer and study of the Word. In harmony with the Perth Declaration (see Adventist Review, November 7, 1991), I plead with teachers, pastors, editors and other leaders to preach the Word and feed the flock. Enough of salvation by psychology! We need a deeper understanding of the sinfulness of the human heart leading to repentance. Let us uplift Jesus and the cross, thus providing the sinner peace of mind, assurance of salvation in Christ, and connection to Him who is able to ‘keep you from falling and to present you faultless’ (Jude 24).
“Let me assure you I am not calling for uniformity. There is ample room for diversity in searching the Scriptures for truth, even while demonstrating a firm faith in the fundamentals.”
 
Attacks on the Church
“Do the failures of the church justify the attacks by private organizations against the church?
“No! While there are problems in the church that must be resolved, these must be settled by those loyal to the church who are entrusted with responsibility at every level of church administration, beginning at the local congregation. Self-appointed critics, whose fiscal survival depends on their ability to shift members' loyalties from the church to themselves, have conflicting interests and therefore are untrustworthy counselors to the church. Their very survival appears to depend on the mix their leaders choose between piety and doctrine on the one hand and criticism of the church on the other.
“The approaches of destructive critics vary widely. One group features the sensational, shrill, tabloid approach whose attacks simulate a shark like feeding frenzy against the church, albeit among a narrow audience. One of these, for example, recently reported falsely that I visited the pope twice this past year! The author never even called to check the ‘facts.’ One cannot help wondering why such an erroneous report was printed. The truth is that I have never seen, met, or talked with the pope and have no reason or plan to do so. Neither has he asked for an appointment to see me!”
 
A False Test of Orthodoxy
“The mix of piety and criticism among others is more subtle. Their publications include a far higher proportion of that which is spiritual or doctrinal in nature, including reprinting of major segments of the Spirit of Prophecy. By proclaiming their convictions on a narrow list of topics, not accepted by the body as a whole as vital to our message, they, in effect, turn acceptance of their position on these issues into a litmus test of orthodoxy. Thus they draw a pious line in the sand by leading their readers/listeners to choose whom they will trust, the church or their private organization.
“Some ministries in the name of piety and preaching the straight testimony present quotations of Ellen White that encourage independent, self-supporting missionaries. At the same time they ignore the quotations calling for unity and the yielding of individual wisdom to the body of believers (Historical Sketches, pages 122-125). Such behaviour misrepresents spiritual counsel and gives the appearance of intellectual dishonesty. Tragically, the gullible are their lawful prey.
“About these private organizations the servant of the Lord wrote: "Those who start up to proclaim a message on their own individual responsibility, who, while claiming to be taught and led of God, still make it their special work to tear down that which God has been for years building up, are not doing the will of God. Be it known that these men are on the side of the great deceiver. Believe them not. They are allying themselves with the enemies of God and the truth. They will deride the order of the ministry as a system of priestcraft. From such turn away, have no fellowship with their message, however much they may quote the Testimonies and seek to entrench themselves behind them. Receive them not, for God has not given them this work to do. The result of such work will be unbelief in the Testimonies, and, as far as possible, they will make of none effect the work that I have for years been doing...
“Those who thus bring the work of God into disrepute will have to answer before God for the work they are doing" (Testimonies to Ministers, pages 51, 51 [sic]).
The church is being attacked from within by people on two extremes. One extreme undermines the authority of Scripture, our fundamental beliefs and our distinctive end-time message. The other extreme, under the subtle guise of piety attacks the structure, authority and therefore the mission of the church. The church has, all too often, failed to address both attacks adequately.
“Both extremes are destructive to God's expectations of His church. Both bring about disunity, an obstacle to the latter rain, and divert resources from our Lord's mission to His church. ‘There is a great work to be done in the world, a great work to be done in foreign lands... With all the responsibility upon us to go and preach the gospel to every creature there is a great need of men and means, and Satan is at work in every conceivable way to tie up means…. The money that should be used in doing the good work of building houses of worship, of establishing schools... is diverted from a channel of usefulness and blessing into a channel of evil and cursing’ (ibid, page 43).
Jesus knew that the evil one would try to bring about disunity. Our Lord described the consequences of disunity when He said, ‘every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand’ (Matthew 12:25, NKJV). The apostolic record confirms the early church’s struggle for unity.”
 
Jesus' Plan for Unity
“Jesus' divine plan to resolve differences as described in Matthew 18:15-I7, is too often ignored or forgotten. As your president, I ask your forgiveness for times when I may have skipped over any of the steps outlined in God's plan. Please pray that God will grant wisdom to those who must deal with those organizations whose activities tend to undermine either truth or mission. All church initiatives must be compassionate yet sustain the integrity of the church body.
“I appeal to each pastor, Bible teacher, administrator, church board member and leader to uphold God's word and the teachings of God's remnant church and, following these biblical steps, under the guidance of the Spirit, work together to keep our church unified. To all, laity and employees alike, let us cease the derogatory remarks about others and follow Jesus' plan in dealing with wrong.
“If the plan described in Matthew 18 doesn't seem to fit the problem you see, consider that it may not be a problem God has given you to resolve. Trust that God, who is in charge of all things, will use those He has delegated to ‘right the ship.’ On the other hand, if a problem is within your area of responsibility, pray that God will give you the wisdom and courage to carry out your responsibility.”
 
Collective Selfishness, or Sacrifice?
“I wish each could share the burden of opportunities waiting for action. For example, the doors into one of the largest Muslim countries in the world have been flung open. Also, today we can send a large number of workers to China and the countries of the former USSR, yet sufficient resources are not available to respond to these opportunities.
“There are many reasons for this, such as collective selfishness instead of collective sacrifice. Many of us expect the church to meet so many of our felt needs, without the balancing Macedonian call from the un-entered areas of the world, that we do good things to an excess! Too often resources needed to reach others with the gospel are consumed by those who already have received the good news.
“Another reason is diverted resources. The dollars diverted to the few private organizations whose activities lead to disunity and shifted loyalties are resources Mrs. White said would be better used for gospel proclamation.
“It is indispensable that each of us, prayerfully guided by the Holy Spirit, evaluate each private organization. Those whose loyalty to the message and mission of the church are above reproach, whose fruit gives evidence of new souls for the kingdom, deserve our prayers and support. On the other hand, those who cause the reader or viewer, whether subtly or directly, to choose between them and the church demonstrate that they are not inspired of God.
“I admit to increasing frustration in dealing with this situation. Last summer, just before standing to preach a Sabbath sermon at a Canadian camp meeting, I was handed a sheaf of bulletins from another shrilly critical editor. I shared with the congregation my frustration with these destructive critics of the church. In retrospect, I wish I had shared my convictions with more tears in my voice and the pain in my heart rather than just the frustration. This is just evidence that God is not finished with me yet.
“I love this church. I believe our fundamental beliefs with all my heart. I believe the Lord's gospel commission was not a suggestion but a mandate. I believe Jesus is coming, and soon, sooner than most of us expect!
“Are independent ministries of value? An organization’s independence does not make it bad or good, holy or unholy! All, members, leaders and organizations (church operated or independent) that contribute to hastening our Lord's return should be reinforced and supported, while those weakening the church and distracting from heaven's mission must be properly dealt with according to God's plan.
“I appeal to all to ‘press together, press together, press together.’ I ask you to join hands with me in seeking the Lord and finishing the work.”

A Concluding Look at Self-Supporting and Independent Ministries

A Concluding Look at Self-Supporting and Independent Ministries



It is my hope that we see the difference between self-supporting and independent ministries. As noted, there are some independent ministries that give cause for concern for the church. On the other hand, self-supporting ministries work very closely with the church, assisting in various ways to advance the mission of the church. It would be a blessing if we could find ways to have all independent ministries work in harmony with the church instead of opposing it. However, I wish to note again three international independent ministries that are of concern to the church are Hope International, Remnant Ministries (based in Australia) and Hartland Institute.



Efforts to Reach Independent Ministries

In 1998, based on concerns raised by then General Conference president, Robert S. Folkenberg, a committee was formed to meet with these groups and engage in dialogue with the view of settling differences and working together. Note the appeal as recorded in Ministry Magazine, August 2000: “We appeal, in all sincerity and Christian love, to Hope International and associates to hear the counsel of the Church they claim to love. It is time for the spirit of condemnation and rebellion to be set aside, allowing the reconciling blood of Christ to bring unity among His people.”

We recognize that within our union territory there exit various ministries -radio, school, health and the like. Without pretense, we know that there are some that work closely with the church, whereas others continue to condemn the church and its leaders. However, this latter approach is not Christ-like. It is not likely to achieve much. As noted in 2000, we observe today that, “there is serious need for revival and reformation in God's Remnant Church... The Church is not perfect, but there is wisdom in listening to its advice.”



An Appeal to Work Together

I join our local field leaders in calling upon those ministries that are working independently of the church’s guidelines to accept the authority of the church. Also, I appeal to leaders to do all that is possible to dialogue, listen and encourage unity where possible. To ensure that we are aware of some of the various self-supporting ministries that exist, I share the following:



Self-supporting Ministries

Outpost Centers International

Amazing Facts

Association of Adventist Women

Association of Seventh-day Adventist

Association of Seventh-day Adventist Librarians (ASDAL)

Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC), formerly known as the General Youth Conference

Weimar Institute

Adventist Youth Ministry Movement (AYMM)

Ouachita Hills Ministries (website)

Quiet Hour Ministries (formerly The Quiet Hour)

Quiet Moments

Amazing Discoveries

White Horse Media

Morning Song Music Group

Loma Linda Broadcasting Network

Maranatha Volunteers International

Project Patch

Adventist Frontier Missions

Your Story Hour

CHIP Health

More Abundant Life Phipps

Hope on Fire

Church Pond TV

Lifestyle Magazine

Voice of Prophecy

It Is Written

3ABN



Problem ones

Hope International

Remnant Ministries (based in Australia)

Hartland Institute (based in USA)

The Forerunner Chronicles

Of course there are hundreds of these. Finally, I encourage support for the various evangelistic thrusts in your area. Union Communication Director, Pastor Andrew Burrows, shared the following a few weeks ago:



Cayman Islands Conference

The Message of Hope Campaign begins on Sunday evening, November 9, 2014, at the George Town Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grand Cayman.

According to Dr. Erika Puni, stewardship ministries director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and speaker for the series, the focus is twofold: firstly, to invite persons who are being studied with to make a decision to follow Jesus through baptism and become disciples of Christ; and secondly, to provide an opportunity for church members to nurture and build their faith in Christ.



North Bahamas Conference

Evangelist Claudius Morgan of the Caribbean Union Conference will proclaim the gospel to the residents in Freeport, Grand Bahama, at the Good News Gospel Explosion beginning this weekend, September 6th.



South Bahamas Conference

The major evangelistic initiative for the South Bahamas Conference (SBC) for September is themed "Mission to the City: The Nassau Experience.”

According to the coordinators, NP-14, as it is referred to, “is an effort to share Jesus' love and the hope of His soon return through a holistic approach using various events including an evangelistic campaign. The campaign will be held in the city of Nassau, which is the largest city in the union territory.

International evangelist, Pastor Peter Joseph, who also serves as the executive secretary for SBC, and the dynamic team members along with a 200-voice choir will deliver powerful services to impact the lives of everyone in attendance. The meetings will commence on this Saturday evening, September 6, 2014, and will be held at the "big tent" located at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Center.



Turks and Caicos Islands Mission

The Turks and Caicos Islands Mission (TCIM) will engage in evangelistic outreach in most of the districts across the mission. These include the following youth and church crusades:

1) The "Jesus Loves Apps" youth evangelistic series with guest speaker Pastor Geovanni Franklyn from the Northeast Jamaica Conference is currently under way at the Blue Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Providenciales.

2) The Filidelfia Church crusade is scheduled for September 5-20, 2014, with a guest evangelist, Pastor Luis Torres, from the Dominican Republic.

3) The Ebenezer Church crusade in Grand Turk will be held during September 6-27, 2014, with a guest evangelist, Pastor Jude Bien Aime Joseph, from Haiti.

4) The Antioch Church crusade in Grand Turk will be conducted during October 5-25, 2014, with local lay evangelist Elder Patrick Gilroy Jarrett.

5) The Ephesus Church crusade in Providenciales will take place during October 2014 with Pastor Wilson Isnord.

6) The Five Cays Church crusade in Providenciales during October 2014 will feature local lay evangelist Elder Osias Joseph.

7) The Blue Hills Church crusade in Providenciales that will be held during October 2014 will involve the laity of the church.

8) The Maranatha Church crusade in South Caicos during November 2014 will feature Pastor Roy Lindsay.

Responding to Independent Ministries

Responding to Independent Ministries

 

Relating to self-supporting ministries is pleasant in comparison to some independent ministries, who regard their ministries as ordained to “straighten out” the leadership of the church; bring the church “back on course,” and “qualified” to receive tithes of members. As noted in last week’s article, the latter consider themselves as loyal members of the church although their operations run counter to the programs of the church. Accordingly, I will attempt to explain how we should respond to them. In doing so, I will reference again an article by Woodrow W. Whidden, printed in Ministry Magazine, August 2000.  Firstly, a look at the Wesleyan’s Revival of the 18th Century, the significance of this for Adventists and finally, how the church can relate to “independent Ministries.”
 
A Look at the Wesleyan Revival in the 18th Century
Woodrow W. Whidden explains, “Any effort to draw parallels from one historical setting to another is always a delicate pursuit since the parallels of history are often elusive and inexact.” Nevertheless, he views The Wesleyan Revival of the 18th century as presenting “numerous striking similarities to many Adventist para-church movements.” Says Whidden, “The parallels and concerns are so striking that I find them quite irresistible as a laboratory to explore the dynamic ways religious minorities and establishment majorities relate to one another.” He pointed out, “John Wesley never intended to be a divisive schismatic in any of the innovations that he introduced in his 18th-century evangelical revival. He died an ordained Anglican priest and proclaimed his loyal intentions to the very end. However, Wesley never shied away from doing what he thought necessary to advance his Methodist outreach, especially to the ‘poor’ who were caught in the social and spiritual crossfire of the early Industrial Revolution.” As such, from this context, Whidden identified two major factors that contributed to the unwanted schism that the Methodist revival ultimately experienced and their relevance for Adventism.
 
Relevance for Adventism
Whidden observed, “All across Protestantism, including Adventism, and in a number of sectors in the Roman Catholic community, there is a growing appreciation for small group ministries and lay leadership in all aspects of church outreach and nurture.” Furthermore, he states, “In the face of these trends, denominational ministers and administrators need to adopt wise and restrained practical and/or theological caution.” In fact, he contends, “in many cases, church leaders need to get out of the way” only “if there is an abundantly evident manifestation of positive spiritual fruitage.” On the other hand, “If the teaching and action of a particular para-church movement shows little or no positive fruitage, there may well be need for church administrations to take necessary action.”
 
Seeking Harmony
 
According to Whidden, “the central issues that appear to be unresolved between the main body and some of the so-called ‘independent’ or ‘self-sup porting’ ministries does not seem to primarily concern theology per se.” Comparing to the Wesleyans and the Anglicans, he views the issues mostly having to do with “matters of organization and lifestyle.” As such, he posed the following questions: “How should the organized body relate to groups that continue to criticize it regarding real or imagined compromise on moral and lifestyle issues?” “How does the church relate to a manifest claim of entitlement, by the ‘independent’ ministries, to receive ‘tithes.’"
He admits, “The solutions don't reveal themselves easily, but some potential schisms do appear to be amenable to solution if enough mutual patience and dialogue can be brought to bear on the situation.” In addition, he believes, “Much of the stress could be alleviated if the establishment administrators would take more time to reassure the ‘independent’ ministries that they affirm their doctrinal orthodoxy, loyalty and sincere zeal to protect, for example, the delicate balance between justification and sanctification.” He goes so far as to say, “Denominational leadership needs to be prepared to humbly and patiently dialogue with the independents and seek every possible area of agreement. They should be prepared to be vulnerable to the questions and concerns put to them.”
In seeking balance Whidden argues, “On the other hand, the ‘independent’ ministry leaders would do well to renounce any intention to knowingly receive tithes.”  Additionally, they need to ask themselves: “How far are we actually willing to go when it comes to our separate publications, institutional development, camp meetings, conventions, and other independent teachings and activities?” “Are we reaching the point where the finer points of our own prescribed behavior and teaching are becoming the primary points of ecclesiastical identity and meaning for our followers?” “At what point do our criticisms of the church and its leadership become destructive or irreparably damaging and divisive to the body of Christ?”
            Going back to the reference of the Wesleyan Revival, Whidden concludes, “With the loudest protestations of loyalty and all the best motives for reform and renewal, the Wesleyans eventually found their primary ecclesiastical identity with the United Societies rather than established Anglicanism. Do Adventist ‘independents’ really want now to go this route when it comes to established, denominational Adventism?” Quite frankly, I do not think so. Next week, I will identify some of the supporting and independent ministries.

Independent Ministries

Independent Ministries

 
Today, I begin a new series on independent and self-supporting ministries with the view of providing some clarity and understanding to these ministries.
 
Defining Independent and Self-Supporting Ministries
            Independent Ministries refer generally to those organizations and individuals who supposedly work along the church, assisting the church in advancing its mission and message. Within the context of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Wikipedia notes, “Supporting ministries are those that exist to support the church's ministry. The Seventh-day Adventist church recognizes the contribution made by these organizations as being such that the main church is unable to contribute to.”  Furthermore, it explains that such organizations “adhere to official church guidelines and do not openly solicit tithe or solicit money from members during official functions” (Ibid). Philip W. Dunham and Maylan Schurch, in their book entitled Blinded by The Light: The Anatomy of Apostasy, estimate that there are some 800 such ministries that are mostly supportive of the church and its teachings. Additionally, Matthew A. Bediako, former Executive Secretary of the General Conference, in an article in the Review, pointed out that those “who provide and receive these services have been equally blessed.” And as a means to coordinate these ministries, their strategies, plans and foster communication, “the General Conference appointed a committee to oversee these key objectives. The committee's goal is to encourage mission initiatives, while at the same time preserving unity, order, and financial support for the basic church structure.”
 
Examples of Such Ministries
            Self-supporting and Independent initiatives include some of the well-known ministries such as:
 
3ABN
Amazing Facts
HKEA Evangelistic Alliance
SafeTV
My Gospel Workers
The Voice of Prophecy
Quiet Hour Ministries (formerly The Quiet Hour)
It Is Written
Voice of Prophecy
Amazing Discoveries
White Horse Media
Firstlight Broadcasting Network
            The above list is not exhaustive as there are more international and of course local ministries within some of our local fields. However, not all independent or self-supporting ministries work in tandem with the church, and therefore the following section.
 
Self-Supporting Ministries Viewed With Concern
Back in 2000 Woodrow W. Whidden wrote in a Ministry Magazine article, “In Self-supporting, ‘supporting,’ and ‘independent’ ministries are terms that have created considerable discomfort and confusion in the minds of many Adventists in recent years.” He explained, “These expressions encompass Adventist para-church groups and organizations that normally have some missionary, evangelistic, revival, or reform (theological or lifestyle) goal as their reason for existence. ‘Self-supporting’ and ‘supporting’ groups have generally been positively viewed by denominational administrators. It is the ‘independent’ ministries that have raised the most concern.” (Ministry Magazine, August 2000).
Whidden detected that the ‘independent’ ministry groups all seem to have two things in common:
1. The vast majority of these groups proclaim their loyalty to the formal denominational organization. This, however, is usually followed with a careful listing of the church's numerous faults and theological defects.
2. While affirming loyalty to the church, such organizations deliberately claim that the church is deficient both in doctrinal purity and ethical accomplishment.
            What should be the approach of the church toward such groups? Next week, I will continue my research based on Independent Ministries.

Shepherd’s Rod - Sifting Truth From Error

Shepherd’s Rod - Sifting Truth From Error
Questions to Ask

 
         For this final write-up on Shepherd’s Rod I reference six test questions provided by George W. Reid, taken from an article he did for the Biblical Research Institute. Again, as noted in the previous two weeklies, the article by George is reprinted with minor adaptation from the Adventist Review.
 
Track of Truth Lies Close Behind the Track of Error
         George Reid from research discovered that, “The experience of the Shepherd's Rods and similar groups illustrates the hazards, not in holding strong religious faith, but in distorting it.” Furthermore, in referencing a poignant statement of Ellen White, he pointed out, "the track of truth lies close beside the track of error" (Review and Herald; Oct. 22, 1903). As such George contends that there are “Several simple but important tests [that] should be applied by every believer who wants to build solid faith while hedging against error.”
 
Applying The Tests       
         When invited to Sabbath lunch and or a Bible Study one needs to be aware of the approach by Shepherd’s Rod. Seeing themselves as being called to reform the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they target new believers who most vulnerable. Also, they position themselves to teach the Sabbath school lesson especially in small churches where there is not a resident pastor and the leadership may be inadequate. Therefore, if you do not know a person or may be uncertain, call your pastor and or field leader. Additionally, take note of the following test questions.
         1.    Is there a heavy concentration on one or two main points?     
         2.    Am I hearing a careful pursuit of understanding, or an urging toward quick conclusions?      
         3.    Does the person or group distance themselves from the larger body of believers? Such separation robs us of the balance provided by hearing the whole church.      
         4.    Does the promoter or group emphasize impending danger to the point of creating a feeling of desperation? A true walk with Christ builds hope and confidence, not terror.     
         5.    Is undue attention given to the ideas of one person?     
         6.    Am I urged to accept uncritically whatever is promoted, buttressed by the use of selected Bible texts and Spirit of Prophecy quotations as proofs?
 
Critical Thinking Is Needed       
         Says, Reid, “Ours is a perilous age for Christians, not only from unbelief, but a willingness to believe too much. The false lies beside the true. The drives of human needs and the hype of marketing, both in products and ideas, push us to make the most crucial of decisions on shallow evidence. Christ has a better way: careful searching of His Word and placing utter trust in Him alone.”  How relevant is such a statement given that a wrong decision could lead to destruction now and in the future. We need the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit daily in our lives. In fact, it is our privilege to pray for it as God is most willing to impart this through His Holy Spirit. Additionally, I wish to call for a confidence in God’s established church notwithstanding some of its issues. The issues are not with God or His church per se but with people or individuals and that may include you and me. Accordingly, I conclude with a few relevant quotations on the church and its leaders taken Acts of the Apostles by Ellen White.
“God has made His church on the earth a channel of light, and through it He communicates His purposes and His will. He does not give to one of His servants an experience independent of and contrary to the experience of the church itself. Neither does He give one man a knowledge of His will for the entire church while the church—Christ’s body—is left in darkness . . ..”
“There have ever been in the church those who are constantly inclined toward individual independence. They seem unable to realize that independence of spirit is liable to lead the human agent to have too much confidence in himself and to trust in his own judgment rather than to respect the counsel and highly esteem the judgment of his brethren, especially of those in the offices that God has appointed for the leadership of His people. God has invested His church with special authority and power which no one can be justified in disregarding and despising, for he who does this despises the voice of God.”
“Those who are inclined to regard their individual judgment as supreme are in grave peril” (The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 163, 164).

A Look at the Shepherd’s Rod Teachings

A Look at the Shepherd’s Rod Teachings

 
         Last week I sought to provide a history of the Shepherd’s Rod. Today, I will explore some of their teachings showing some differences with those of Seventh-day Adventists and, of course, the Bible. As noted the sources for this new series are as follows: the websites for Adventist Biblical Research and SDADefend.
 
Denying Messianic Prophecies
         In an article on Shepherd’s Rod teachings taken from an earlier edition of a Review article, George Reid observes, “Perhaps the most important is the idea that a Davidic kingdom of absolute righteousness is to be established in Palestine prior to the close of probation. This was the event foreseen for April 22, 1959. By divine intervention, Arabs, Jews, and others would be displaced to make room for this kingdom, whose citizens would be the 144,000, including Shepherd's Rods and certain others.”       
         He further pointed out, “Shepherd's Rod teachings deny that messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 7:14 (‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…’) and Micah 5:2 (‘But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah… out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel’) met complete fulfillment with Jesus, arguing that they should apply to the coming Davidic kingdom.” Instead, Shepherd's Rods see themselves as appointed “to announce the approach of this Davidic kingdom.” It is their view that afterward, “Jesus will return to establish another kingdom with the Second Advent, which is to follow the close of probation.”
 
Interpretation of the Parable of Wheat and Tares
         In looking at the parable of the wheat and tares, and the harvest of Revelation (Matt. 13:36-43; Rev. 14:14-19), Houteff “applied these to the present time period, anticipating the coming of the Davidic kingdom.” Instead of Houteff describing events to occur at Jesus' return, he assumed “the harvest of grain began January 1, 1931, with a vision he received appointing him to call out the 144,000.” Additionally, he taught, “The harvest of tares, …will be a divine slaughter of Adventists who reject his message, fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 9.” However, as we know the harvest, and the separation of grain from tares take place at the second return of Jesus at the end of the world, which follows the close of probation according to Matt. 13:39-43.
 
The Prophecy of Ezekiel 9       
         A major theme of Shepherd's Rod teaching has been an interpretation of the prophecy of Ezekiel 9. Unfortunately, it would seem that Shepherd’s Rods ignore the initial meaning or application of the entire book of Ezekiel that has its setting in Babylon, and God’s desire to reach His people through the prophet Ezekiel. Instead, Shepherd’s Rods bypass the historical meaning and fast forward to “a point prior to probation's close,” when according them, “divine agencies will destroy those Adventists who reject the appeals of the Shepherd's Rod.” They claim, “this represents an invisible coming of Christ to establish the Davidic kingdom prior to probation's close. Later, Jesus is to come in visible glory to establish His kingdom following the seven last plagues.”
         Shepherd’s Rods contend, "Had the church as a body, or at least the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination accepted the message of reform as presented to them in 'The Shepherd's Rod, Volume 1, there would be no necessity for that class to fall by the figure of the five men with the slaughter weapons. It is the reception or rejection of the message that will fix the destiny of the two classes as described in the following testimony: (quotes Early Writings, p.270)."-The Shepherd's Rod, Volume 2, (1932), p.218.
         On the other hand, we as Adventists see the prophecy's primary meaning in the Babylonian conquest of Judah, but paralleling “with the visions of Revelation 7:15,16” indicating ‘analogies with certain final events. But those events will follow the close of probation.”
 
The Seals of Revelation 5       
         The fracturing of the Shepherd's Rod movement, which began in 1961, has led to “a wide variety of additional beliefs promoted by different subgroups” For example, Vernon Howell (David Koresh), held a special interpretation of the seven seals of Revelation (6:1-8:1). He declared that he alone held a satisfactory understanding of the seals that he used to bolster his claim “to be the Lamb who alone can open the seals (Revelation 5).” Again, this interpretation of Howell stands in marked contrast to the Adventist understanding, which sees Jesus as the Lamb and the seals as reaching across 2,000 years from the time of Jesus to His return. Unfortunately, many of the followers of this subgroup perished with David Koresh in the Waco, Texas massacre on April 19th, 1993.

A Look At The Shepherd’s Rod

A Look At The Shepherd’s Rod

 
         With reports of Shepherd’s Rod teachings in certain pockets of the Union territory, I thought to do a series of articles looking at this organization, its history, teachings and its approach towards the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I will also seek to take a look at Ezekiel 9, a familiar reference point for Shepherd’s Rod. However, for this initial study I will explore the history of the movement. Sources for these articles are: Shepherd's Rod - SDADefend www.sdadefend.com
/WolvesinFleeces/Rods%201.htm -The Branch Davidians/Shepherd's Rod—Who Are They ...https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/.
 
The History of The Shepherd's Rod
          The "Shepherd's Rod" or otherwise referred to as the "Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Church, " is “a religious offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.” Started in 1929 by Victor Houteff, and its unusual name, "Shepherd's Rod," was the title of his first publication, as well as his chosen name for the organization until 1942.
         Born in Raikovo, Bulgaria, on March 2, 1885, Victor T. Houteff “immigrated to the United States in 1907 at the age of 22, after having been expelled from Bulgaria.” Believed to be “originally a Greek Orthodox, Houteff had become involved in some kind of difficulty with his native church; so much so that they requested the Bulgarian Government to expel him from the country.”
         He arrived in America, (Illinois) in 1919 and thereafter, he was baptized into the Rockford Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, by 1923, “he had moved to Southern California, where, two years later, he had his membership transferred to the Olympic Exposition Park Church in Los Angeles.”
         It was reported that soon after his membership transfer to the Olympic Exposition Park Church in Los Angeles, “complaints came from some of its members that Houteff was teaching rather unusual beliefs in his Sabbath School class and at private Sabbath afternoon meetings with some of the members.” Consequently, “a representative group of church workers, Bible teachers, and leaders met with him to consider his views on November 14. 1929. But nothing came of it.”
 
The Approach of the Church Towards Houteff and His Followers
         At the 1930 General Conference Session, held in San Francisco from May 29 to June 12, Houteff seized the opportunity to proselyte members and leaders by distributing copies of a study he hectographed entitled The Shepherd's Rod. “One of those who received it-and had time to carefully examine it-was the well known F.C. Gilbert. Familiar with the teachings of the church, he wrote a letter to Houteff pointing out a number of errors in his publication and recommended that he give them up. Gilbert also wrote to the church leaders in Southern California and recommended that careful study should be given to this problem before the situation worsened.
         Consequently, on July 23, the Exposition Park Church Board met with Houteff to consider the problem, but nothing was accomplished. A second board meeting was held on August 14, at which time "It was moved and supported that Brother Houteff be asked to retract his statement that Elder Spicer is not a Sabbathkeeper and to apologize for the disturbance in the church on Sabbath, November 30, 1929. Since Bother Houteff did not make these apologies, the motion was amended as follows, [that) the church wished to express its disapproval of Brother Houteff's action in this matter."
         Additionally, “on October 16, the union president, conference president, and local pastor met with Houteff, at which time this action taken was that: 'The Shepherd's Rod is neither true to simple facts, nor true to the word of God, and it is condemned by the very ‘Testimonies’ it quotes from. We warn our dear brethren against the false conclusions this poor man has come to.’”
 
Further Development
         However, “In 1935 Houteff and 11 followers moved to a newly purchased farm near Waco, Texas, which they named Mount Carmel Center. By 1937 a tentative organization was functioning, calling itself ‘The General Association of the Shepherd's Rod Seventh-day Adventists.’ The group continued zealously producing and distributing its literature, infiltrating Adventist churches in search of anyone who could be persuaded to join them.”               
         In 1942, the U.S. Selective Service draft posed a major quandary for Shepherd's Rods as “draftees could be granted Sabbath privileges only if they could be shown to be bona fide members of a recognized religious group advocating that belief.”
Accordingly, “the leaders dropped their claim to be regular Seventh-day Adventist members and registered with the United States government under the name Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.” Subsequently, they issued certificates of membership, documented their ministers and sought to transition to a separated group in 1942 though not altogether complete. Nevertheless, “they continued to insist that they comprised the true and faithful Adventists.”               
         Before his death in 1955, Houteff announced that, “following a period of 1260 literal days, Christ would initiate His kingdom. His wife Florence, succeeding to leadership, identified the 1260 days as extending from November 9, 1955, to April 22, 1959. As the fateful day approached, a call was issued for the faithful to dispose of property and come to Mount Carmel Center. An estimated 800 persons arrived, many bringing the proceeds from the sale of possessions.”  Unfortunately, “When the day came and went, unmarked by the expected event, disillusionment led to fracture of the Shepherd's Rods into smaller groups, the largest remaining at Waco and adding the name ‘Branch.’ Some members returned to Seventh-day Adventist churches.”                   With unsuccessful efforts by Adventists for reconciliation, “late in 1961 Mrs. Houteff renounced the Shepherd's Rod teachings as in error and shortly moved to disband the group”. Nonetheless, “one of the factions gained possession of the Mount Carmel Center” and eventually came under the control of Vernon Howell in 1984, who had been disfellowshiped in 1981 from the Tyler (Texas) Seventh-day Adventist Church. “Howell later changed his name to David Koresh.” However, “Under his leadership the group radicalized its program and stockpiled heavy firearms, prompting the February 28 raid by law enforcement authorities—ending in a shootout and standoff that propelled the Branch Davidian group into the media limelight worldwide.”                                        More to follow. . . .

Living in Tension

Living in Tension

 
In the insightful book by 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.”

Inspired Counsels of Ellen White

Inspired Counsels of Ellen White

 
For the past 4-6 weeks I have sought to sensitize, inform and encourage a greater respect for the works and inspired ministry of Ellen White. Today, I present my final article on the subject. In fact, it was my intention to conclude two week ago but owing to a series of quotes employed in the recent Geoscience Conference on Origins, held in Venice, Italy, of which I was privileged to attend from June 23 – July 2, I thought it necessary to add this final article. Therefore the quotes presented, relating to “Restraining Without Obscuring Truth,” “Meeting Opposition” and “Role Model – Religion Isn’t Limiting,” are of great significance.
 
Restraining Without Obscuring Truth
Prepare the Soil Before Sowing the Seed. In laboring in a new field, do not think it your duty to say at once to the people, We are Seventh-day Adventists; we believe that the seventh day is the Sabbath; we believe in the non immortality of the soul. This would often erect a formidable barrier between you and those you wish to reach. Speak to them, as you have opportunity, upon points of doctrine on which you can agree. Dwell on the necessity of practical godliness. Give them evidence that you are a Christian, desiring peace, and that you love their souls. Let them see that you are conscientious. Thus you will gain their confidence; and there will be time enough for doctrines. Let the heart be won, the soil prepared, and then sow the seed, presenting in love the truth as it is in Jesus.—Gospel Workers, pp. 119, 120.  (1915). – {Evangelism, p. 200.2}
 
Do not at the outset press before the people the most objectionable features of our faith, lest you close their ears to which these things come as a new revelation. Let such portions of truth be dealt out to them as they may be able to grasp and appreciate; though it should appear strange and startling, many will recognize with joy the new light that is shed on the Word of God, whereas if truth were presented in so large a measure that they could not receive it, some would go away, and never come again. More than this, they would misrepresent the truth.—The General Conference Bulletin, February 25, 1895. – {Evangelism, p. 201.1}
 
Meeting Opposition
The Lord wants His people to follow other methods than that of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation be just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges that only drive them further from the truth. The work which Christ came to do in our world was not to erect barriers and constantly thrust upon the people the fact that they were wrong (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 121).
 
In the advocacy of the truth the bitterest opponents should be treated with respect and deference. ... treat every man as honest. Speak no word, do no deed, that will confirm any in unbelief (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 122).
 
Do not, when referring to the Testimonies, feel it your duty to drive them home. In reading the Testimonies be sure not to mix in your filling of words, for this makes it impossible for the hearers to distinguish between the word of the Lord to them and your words. (Ibid)
 
Be sure that you do not make the word of the Lord offensive. We long to see reforms, and because we do not see that which we desire, an evil spirit is too often allowed to cast drops of gall into our cup, and thus others are embittered. By our ill-advised words their spirit is chafed, and they are stirred to rebellion. (Ibid)
 
Role Model – Religion Isn’t Limiting
Dear youth, what is the aim and purpose of your life? Are you ambitious for education that you may have a name and position in the world? Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day stand upon the summit of intellectual greatness; that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. You may every one of you make your mark. You should be content with no mean attainments. Aim high, and spare no pains to reach the standard (Messages to Young People, p. 36).

An Independent Bahamas –Forty-one Years Later

An Independent Bahamas – Forty-one Years Later

 
It was just twelve months ago that we paused to celebrate our nation’s historic 40th anniversary. Now, a year later, we mark our 41st anniversary. Noticeably, the celebrations are not as hyped up and widespread as last year’s, and understandably so, as such celebrations are costly. Nevertheless, there are some characteristics and qualities relating to our country that ought never to be low-keyed or downplayed. Gratitude, a sense of pride and personal development, in my opinion, ought to receive daily attention, if we would build a better and stronger nation. As such, I share the following for consideration.
 
Gratitude
            Each year, our neighbors to the north celebrate thanksgiving. Though one may question the connection and relevance of some activities and celebration associated with the annual Thanksgiving holiday, in relation to the original intent of Thanksgiving, inarguably, the setting aside of a day to commemorate the nation’s beginning and offer thanks to God is commendable. Similarly so, I feel that the marking of our country’s independence calls for thankfulness and gratitude to God for His blessing upon our country and us. According to Psalm 100, we ought to, “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, . . . Serve the Lord with gladness; . . . Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God;”
Remarkably for a small nation of some 350, 000 people, we have excelled in academics, sports, medicine, tourism and to an extent, a demonstration of democracy, etc. Markedly, we still have a sense of god-ness or respect for the Divine, as seen in the offering of prayer at most public gatherings. Even at both lower and upper houses of parliament, prayer is offered. Nonetheless, I wish there was a greater and daily display of gratitude among us as a people for who we are, our uniqueness, what we possess and of course, our God. Traveling to different places has awakened within me a greater appreciation for my being Bahamian and for the Bahamas- especially when I compare. No wonder many from the outside prize and value what we take for granted –the friendliness of our people, our marine environment, gorgeous beaches, an attractive chain of islands and favorable weather patterns, making the Bahamas a preferred site for  year round visits. In the words of a popular song, “We are blessed,” Therefore, should we not wear gratitude on our proverbial sleeves? Certainly, we ought to!
 
National Pride
Additionally, there seems to be a need for a greater display of national pride. As the name suggests “national” is widespread, taking in the entire nation inclusive of every highway, round about, street, lane, alley and even every signage. Yes, it ought to include our seas, lakes and creeks.  It speaks to where I live and the way that I regard and care for my surroundings, space and self. It also relates to respect for the past and current leaders, as well as other builders and contributors of the nation, irrespective of creed, politics and hue of skin. It refers to pride and appreciation of that which is Bahamian, our culture, our food, lifestyle and our uniqueness. In addition, it ought to speak to an abiding respect for God. According to Deuteronomy 4:7-9, the Bible records that a nation who forgets God, His statutes and His blessings, is destined to ruin and failure. In fact, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah thousands of years ago, urged his people, “Believe your God and so shall you be established; believe in His prophets, so shall you prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20, NKJV).
Could it be that some negative behavior being manifested in some pockets of our society speaks to a lack of respect and pride for the nation, self and the things with which God has blessed us? Consider graffiti on buildings, walls and the like; unkempt parks, public cemeteries and in some instances historic buildings and sites; indiscriminate dumping of waste; lack of care and attention to our marine and national environment raise serious questions relating to national pride. One such question being, “Do we know the value and significance of what we possess?”  Hopefully, a sense of national pride will enable us to comprehend the words of the Hymn Writer, Maltbie Davenport Babcock, who wrote,  “This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres...This is my Father's world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
To realize the above, Government, church, educators, civic groups and the media must network. It is more than a periodic display of national colors and a reciting of the pledge. We need a mindset so that we would know our identity and be proud of the persons God has made and the islands He has entrusted to us.
 
Personal Development
Given the aforementioned, when practiced and embraced, our nation will demonstrate greater growth and maturity. Forty-one years later, we ought to be  a people believing in ourselves and our abilities; a people spurring one another on to greater heights. Forty-one years later, we ought to be demanding more of our students as opposed to lowering the bar to meet their level, and mediocrity ought not be a part of our vocabulary. “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God's ideal for His children. Godliness--godlikeness--is the goal to be reached,” says an inspired writer. Composer of our national anthem, the late Timothy Gibson, penned, “See how the world marks the manner of your bearing! Pledge to excel through love and unity. Pressing onward, march together to a common loftier goal; . . .'Til the road you've trod lead unto your God, March on Bahamaland.” God bless the Bahamas!
 
Pastor Leonard A. Johnson, D.Min. President,
Atlantic Caribbean Union of Seventh-day Adventists
(Bahamas, Cayman and Turks and Caicos Islands)

Additional Helpful Points in the Interpretation and Use of the Ellen G. White Writings, Part II

Additional Helpful Points in the Interpretation
and Use of the Ellen G. White Writings, Part II

 
The Ellen G. White writings were penned through a period of seventy years.  Certain communications were written for individuals, others for the church, and still others for both Adventist and non-Adventist readers.  Accordingly, it is important to take into account certain points when interpreting and using these writings.  Therefore, I share the following taken from Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White, vol. 3:
 
 
6. The Spirit of Prophecy Writings are not to hammer or drive.
The Testimonies should not be used to drive or compel others. They provide guiding principles. It is our privilege and responsibility to endeavor to persuade others, but not drive them. Says Mrs. White, “We may be severe as we like in disciplining ourselves, but we must be very cautious not to push souls to desperation”(Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 507).  This is illustrated in the adoption of the reformed dress in the 1860’s: “Some who adopted the reform were not content to show by example the advantages of the dress, giving, when asked, their reasons for adopting it, and letting the matter rest there.  They sought to control others’ conscience by their own.  If they wore it others must put it on.  They forgot that none were to be compelled to wear the reformed dress”(Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 636).
 
7. Each person must decide questions of conscience on his own behalf. 
It must be recognized that individuals with different backgrounds and experiences may relate themselves somewhat differently than others to certain counsels.  Each person must settle some things with his conscience and with God.  Ellen White’s attitude on this matter was made clear in that which was written in the early days concerning the health reform: “We must go no faster than we can take those with us whose consciences and intellects are convinced of the truths we advocate.  We must meet the people where they are.  Some of us have been many years in arriving at our present position in health reform.  It is slow work to obtain a reform in diet.  We have powerful appetites to meet: for the world is given to gluttony.  If we should allow the people as much time as we have required to come up to the present advanced state in reform we should be very patient with them and allow them to advance step by step, as we have done, until their feet are firmly established upon the health reform platform.  But we must be very cautious not to advance too fast, lest we be obliged to retrace our steps.  In reforms we would better come one step short of the mark than to go one step beyond it.  And if there is error at all, let it be on the side next to the people” (Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 20, 21).
 
8.  Maintain absolute honesty. 
Each must be honest in his relationship to the Spirit of Prophesy.  Each individual exerts an influence for or against acceptance of the Spirit of Prophesy.  “It does not become anyone to drop a word of doubt here and there that shall work like poison in other minds, shaking their confidence in the messages which God has given, which have aided in laying the foundation of this work, and have attended it to the present day, in reproofs, warnings, corrections, and encouragements” (Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 43).

 
9. The Testimonies present God’s ideal. 
God sets before His people His ideal, to which we should ever strive.  It may take time to reach this point.  Some may fall short in some respects.  But God does not reject or cast off His people while they are seeking to reach His ideal.  But how much more abundantly he can bless, and how much pain we would save our selves, if we would seek God’s will for us and accept the messages wholeheartedly.
As an illustration, we may cite the founding of our first college.  The call was for educational institutions in the country, with land, industry, and agriculture.  The brethren responded to an appeal to a college but built in Battle Creek on a small piece of land across the street from the Sanitarium.  Ellen White could see that the institution would face many problems, and could never fully meet God’s plan, located in Battle Creek; yet she stood behind it giving it her strong support.  However, when an opportune time came she urged the moving of the plant to a location more in keeping with the instruction God had given.
 
10.  Obedience is blessed by God
We must recognize that “those who receive the Testimonies as the message of God will be helped and blessed thereby” (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 42).  God’s blessing is in proportion to our acceptance of His counsels and our willingness to apply them to our experience and work.

Additional Helpful Points in  the Interpretation and Use of the Ellen G. White Writings, Part I

Additional Helpful Points in
 the Interpretation and Use of the Ellen G. White Writings, Part I

 
The Ellen G. White writings were penned through a period of seventy years.  Certain communications were written for individuals, others for the church, and still others for both Adventist and non-Adventist readers.  Accordingly, it is important to take into account certain points when interpreting and using these writings.  Therefore, I share the following taken from Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White, vol. 3:
 
1. The Counsels are not given to take the place of faith, initiative, hard work, or Bible study
God did not use the spirit of Prophecy to make us dependent or weak.  Rather, the counsels are to make us strong by encouraging us to study the word of God and by encouraging us to move forward.
 
2.  Study the counsels to learn God’s will, not to prove preconceived conclusions. 
Ellen White explains, “Why will not men see and live the truth?  Many study the Scriptures for the purpose of providing their own ideas to be correct.  They change the meaning of God’s word to suit their opinion….  They quote half a sentence, leaving out the other half, which, if quoted, would show their reasoning to be false.  God has a controversy with those who wrest the Scriptures, making them conformed to their preconceived ideas” (Ellen G. White, MS 22, 1890).
 
3.  Recognize that conditions in institutions and in the experience of the individuals may change. 
The purpose of the testimony of reproof is to bring about a change.  If that change has taken place, cognizance should be taken of this.  In a message sent to the General Conference session of 1893, Ellen White declared, “Not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history” (Christian Service, p. 41).  This statement must be understood as applying to the situation in 1893, at the time the message was presented.  It was given to startle the church and to lead to a change of conditions so that a much greater percentage would be ready to meet the Lord.  To apply this statement in strict detail today would be out of keeping with an understanding of the purpose of the giving of the testimonies.
 
4.  Avoid unauthenticated statements.  Care should be exercised not to employ unauthenticated statements
Many times they are in conflict with the true teachings of the Spirit of Prophecy, and their use may be perilous.  On this point Ellen White has counseled: “And now to all who have a desire for truth I would say: Do not give credence to unauthenticated reports as to what Sister White has done or said or written.  If you desire to know what the Lord has revealed through her, read her published works.  Are there any points of interest concerning what she has not written, do not eagerly catch up and report rumors as to what she has said” (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 696).
 
5. Correct conclusions harmonize with the over-all tenor of the Spirit of Prophecy’s writings. 
Conclusions reached as the result of a study of the Testimonies must be in harmony with the tenor of the writings themselves, taken as a whole. Statements picturing deplorable conditions of individuals or groups may be isolated from their setting and put together in such a manner as to yield a picture quite out of harmony with the over-all presentation and Ellen G. White’s conclusion. Statements delineating certain phases of counsel may also be misused. If the conclusion reached by assembling a group of statements is not in harmony with the general tenor of Ellen G. White’s teachings as a whole, faulty work has been done. To be continued next week.

Quotes of Significant Interest

Quotes of Significant Interest
 

            The following quotes shed light on diet, how God’s Church should be regarded, and correct interpretation of scriptures. These, among other quotes, ought to be considered highly as through these, we may address some current issues that are extreme.
 
Ellen White Not Our Criterion
According to Roger Coon in his book ELLEN WHITE AND VEGETARIANISM Did She Practice What She Preached? - One of the most sensible things Ellen White ever wrote on the subject of health reform was the following: “Those who understand the laws of health and who are governed by principle, will shun the extremes, both of indulgence and of restrictions. Their diet is chosen, not for the mere gratification of appetite, but for the up building of the body. They seek to preserve every power in the best condition for the highest service to God and man. .  .” (MH, p. 319).
Additionally, Ellen White cautions, “There is real common sense in dietetic reform. The subject should be studied broadly and deeply, and no one should criticize others because their practice is not, in all things, in harmony with his own. It is impossible [in matters of diet] to make an unvarying rule to regulate everyone's habits, and no one should think himself a criterion for all” (Ibid, p. 320).
Not only did Ellen White not wish to be a criterion for church members, but neither did she wish to be a criterion for the members of her immediate family, according to Coon. Ellen White is quoted as saying, "I do not hold myself up as a criterion for them"( Letter 127, Jan. 18, 1904; cited in CD 491, #22).
 
The Church Is the One Object of God’s Supreme Regard
Ellen White says of the church, “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 12).
 
Not to Refer to the Church as Babylon
On another occasion, she discouraged folk calling the church Babylon, “Again I say, The Lord hath not spoken by any messenger who calls the church that keeps the commandments of God, Babylon. True, there are tares with the wheat; but Christ said He would send His angels to first gather the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into the garner. I know that the Lord loves His church. It is not to be disorganised or broken up into independent atoms. There is not the least consistency in this; there is not the least evidence that such a thing will be. Those who shall heed this false message and try to leaven others will be deceived and prepared to receive advanced delusions, and they will come to naught” (Manuscript Releases, vol.1, p. 348-357).
 
The Bible Contains All the Principles . . . .
The Bible contains all the principles that men need to understand in order to be fitted either for this life or for the life to come. And these principles may be understood by all. No one with a spirit to appreciate its teaching can read a single passage from the Bible without gaining from it some helpful thought. But the most valuable teaching of the Bible is not to be gained by occasional or disconnected study. Its great system of truth is not so presented as to be discerned by the hasty or careless reader. Many of its treasures lie far beneath the surface, and can be obtained only by diligent research and continuous effort. The truths that go to make up the great whole must be searched out and gathered up, “here a little, and there a little” (Ed 123.2).
 
It Is Easy to Put a False Interpretation on Scripture
Ellen White says, “it is easy to put a false interpretation on Scripture, placing stress on passages, and assigning to them a meaning, which, at the first investigation, may appear true, but which by further search, will be seen to be false"  (This Day With God, p. 43).  Also the same author said, “Only those who have been diligent students of the Scriptures and who have received the love of the truth will be shielded from the powerful delusion that takes the world captive. By the Bible testimony these will detect the deceiver in his disguise. To all the testing time will come” (GC, p.625). 

Statements Mistakenly Attributed to Ellen G. White

Statements Mistakenly Attributed to Ellen G. White

 
I would imagine that you have heard some quotes and/or expressions attributed to Ellen White. However, upon research or inquiry, you may discover that she did not make those statements. Therefore, in this weekly edition, I will attempt to highlight some of the alleged statements with the hope of lending understanding and clarification. These examples are taken from The E. G. White Estates website.
 
Specific Targets of Impending Disaster (i.e. the Twin Towers in New York)
Reports that Ellen G. White identified specific areas as targets or centers for earthquakes, fire, flood, tidal wave, submersion beneath the sea, or enemy invasion are without foundation, and must stem from an association of ideas with more general statements in the Ellen G. White books dealing with coming disasters… See Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, pages 411-414, for her statement regarding the linking of specific areas with predictions of disaster.
 Contrary to unsubstantiated reports, Ellen White made no prediction concerning the destruction of a twin-towered building in New York City or any other place in the world. She described scenes involving the ruin of ‘magnificent,’ ‘lofty buildings’, but nowhere does she mention any currently identifiable buildings.
 
Eggs upon Your Table
Lifting the sentence from Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 400, which reads, ‘Eggs should not be placed upon your table,’ from the context of the paragraph and the setting of the chapter has led some to a distorted concept of Ellen G. White's position, set forth clearly in The Ministry of Healing, page 320. In this reference she says, “Those who live in new countries or in poverty-stricken districts, where fruits and nuts are scare, should not be urged to exclude milk and eggs from their dietary.”
 
Ellen G. White and the 144,000
Nowhere in the Ellen G. White writings is there a statement to the effect that Mrs. White would be one of the 144,000. As recorded in Early Writings, page 40, the angel did tell her when, in vision, she seemed to be visiting another planet and desired to remain there, that ‘if you are faithful, you, with the 144,000, shall have the privilege of visiting all the worlds,’ etc. See also the statement in Selected Messages, book 2, p. 263.
 
Sign Indicating Close of Probation
A published statement which appeared in the Review and Herald Supplement of June 21, 1898, to the effect that a literal darkness will cover the earth as a sign to God's people that probation has closed, has been attributed wrongly to Ellen G. White. It was actually written by a Seventh-day Adventist minister. Such teaching is contrary to her statement in The Great Controversy, page 615, which reads: ‘When the irrevocable decision of the sanctuary has been pronounced and the destiny of the world has been forever fixed, the inhabitants of the earth will know it not.’
 
Apostasy of Seventh-day Adventist Churches or Conferences
The report that Mrs. White predicted the apostasy of entire Seventh-day Adventist churches and conferences is without support. See the statement concerning ‘The Shaking’ in Early Writings, pages 269-273; and Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 41, for these words: ‘Company after company from the Lord's army joined the foe and tribe after tribe from the ranks of the enemy united with the commandment-keeping people of God.’

The Purpose of Ellen White’s Writings

The Purpose of Ellen White’s Writings

It is important that we understand the purpose and objective of the writings of Ellen White. What was her intention? How did she intend that her writings should be used? Accordingly, I will share a few points that should prove beneficial in explaining the above questions. Theses points are taken from the book, Reading Ellen White by George Knight, a noted Church Historian.
 
Not to Take the Place of the Bible
It is clearly stated by Mrs. White that her writings were never intended to replace the Bible. In the introduction to The Great Controversy she penned, “God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience . .       .. The Spirit was not given –nor can it ever be bestowed –to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching [including her own] and experience must be tested” (GC vii).
 
To Direct Back to the Bible
            George Knight notes that in a dream in 1871 Ellen White saw herself surrounding the Bible with several of her Testimonies for the Church. “You are not familiar with the Scriptures,” she heard herself saying to the people. “If you had made God’s word your study, with a desire to reach the Bible standard and attain to Christian perfection, you would not have needed the Testimonies. It is because you have neglected to acquaint yourselves with God’s inspired Book that He has sought to reach you by simple, direct testimonies, calling your attention to the words of inspiration which you have neglected to obey, and urging you to fashion your lives in accordance with its pure and elevated teachings” (2T 605). Additionally, she explained that the written testimonies “are not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed” (ibid.).
 
To Rebuke Sin and Urge Obedience to the Bible
            Linked to the first two, Ellen White counseled, “If the people who now profess to be God’s peculiar treasure would obey His requirements, as specified in His word, special testimonies would not be given to awaken them to their duty and impress upon them their sinfulness and their fearful danger in neglecting to obey the word of God. Consciences have been blunted because light has been set aside, neglected, and despised” (5T 667).
 
To Apply Biblical Principles in a Modern Setting
            Mrs. White claimed that “the Bible was given for practical purposes” (1SM 20). The same could be said of her writings. George Knight pointed out that “They do not set forth a traditional systematic theology, nor has she assumed the role of an infallible Bible commentator. To the contrary, they are practical to the utmost. Beyond rebuking sin, they point out the better way and provide guidance for daily Christian living and for the daily application of biblical principles” (Reading Ellen White 19).
 
To Prepare a People for the Final Days of Earth’s History
            In the book The Great Controversy and others, she magnifies the biblical issues that will face God’s last-day people. “Her whole ministry,” observes George Knight, “aimed at not only pointing to the return of Jesus in the clouds of heaven but also counseling men and women on the necessary preparation for that day. In a sense she echoed the mission of Christ, who urged His people to be ready for His coming (see Matt. 24:36-25:46), which would be soon (Rev. 22:20). In The Great Controversy, we read that “none but those who have fortified the mind with the truths of the Bible will stand through the last great conflict” (pp. 593, 594).

The Call of a Prophet

The Call of a Prophet

Over the years, God has sought to communicate with His people face to face, through patriarchs, urim and thummim, and of course through prophets.  Unfortunately, there were several prophets who were reluctant to carry out the will and plans of God.  Such included, Moses, Jeremiah and Jonah.  Despite their reluctance, God provided the gift of prophecy to ensure that His message would be carried to all peoples.  Therefore, for this Ministerial Weekly, I seek to highlight the calling of Ellen Harmon White. 
 
The Call of Ellen Harmon
Ellen Harmon was called to the prophetic office as a young lady (17 years old), following the rejection of the prophetic call by William Foy and Hazen Foss. Admittedly, she, like some of the prophets of old, was very reluctant to accept the call as noted in Selected Messages, book 1, p. 32: “When this work was first given me, I begged the Lord to lay the burden on someone else. The work was so large and broad and deep, I feared I could not do it.” Additionally, Ellen wrote, “If I could have my choice and please God as well, I would rather die than have a vision, for every vision places me under great responsibility to bear test of reproof and warning, which has ever been against my feelings, causing me affliction of soul that is inexpressible.  Never have I coveted my position, and yet I dare not resist the Spirit of God and seek an easy position” (Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 36, 37). 
 
The Scope of the Call
It is of interest to note that the prophetic call included the responsibilities of being a medical missionary worker, caring for orphans; speaking on temperance; being a writer; interceding for those who are wronged and urging conferences to care for aged ministers.  One can read about these in Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 33 and 34.  As prophetess, she was required to give the message accurate