Elijah 3.0: The Sermon No One Preached

It has been eleven days since the conclusion of PELC (Pastoral Evangelism & Leadership Conference), the annual ministerial conference sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  It is the largest of our denomination and always has stimulating discussions, provocative workshops and powerful preaching.  The theme was of special interest to me since I was told by the one who recommended the it, that he was inspired by a sermon I preached titled, “The 3rd Elijah.”  I’m not sure how true it is, but as Martin King once said, “Thank God for the rumor.”  All of the sermons were exceptional, powerful, challenging, thought-provoking and inspirational and yet I returned home feeling something was left unsaid.  No criticism to any of the preachers or organizers, just a personal observation of a missing piece to the puzzle of presentations for the conference.  The missing piece for me is found in Malachi 4:5,6, which reads, ““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” NKJV.

The text was referenced in one of the sermons preached and mentioned in others but no one really dealt with its meaning. No one addressed the heart of the Elijah message, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”  The Amplified Bible says, “And he shall turn and reconcile the hearts of the [estranged] fathers to the [ungodly] children, and the hearts of the [rebellious] children to their fathers [a reconciliation produced by repentance of the ungodly], lest I come and smite the land with a curse and a ban of utter destruction.”  The Elijah message of Malachi 4:5 & 6 is a message of generational reconciliation.  With the racial, cultural, gender, economic and national tensions that exist among us today, the Elijah message calls us to reconciliation in the home.  A reconciliation initiated by the hearts of fathers turning toward their children and children toward their fathers.  Notice it does not say mothers but fathers  and that the force turning their hearts comes from outside of them.  “HE” shall turn and reconcile the hearts, the Amplified Bible says.  We are incapable of doing it on our own.  The power that causes us to turn toward each other must come from God. And the important element to this reconciliation is that it is initiated by the father.  The elder turns to the younger.

The real key to the reconciliation called for in the Elijah message is the foundational principle of kingdom of God.  The one principle upon which all other principles rest.  In order for generational reconciliation to take place, it requires mutual submission.

There is something very basic and fundamental about the existence of God that is often overlooked.  When the Bible says in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God,” the word that is used is for God is “Elohim.” In the Hebrew language the word “Elohim” is a collective or plural noun.  So when the Bible introduces us to God in Genesis 1:1, the first thing we learn about God is that God exists in community. And since each individual member of the Godhead is deity, in order for them to exist in community is through “mutual submission.”  They willingly submit and subordinate themselves to each other in an atmosphere of perfect love.

If you haven’t thought about it, the members of the Godhead elevate and uplift each other while placing themselves in a subordinate position.  Jesus submits to the will of the Father.  He says in John 5:30, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”  The Spirit uplifts the Son. In John 15:26 Jesus says, “even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.”  The Father elevates the Jesus.  In Philippians 2:9-11 it says, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.”  Jesus exalts the Spirit above himself in Matthew 12:33 when he declares,  “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” And finally, the Son magnifies the Father. 1 Corinthians 15:28 says, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”

In order for the mutual submission of the Godhead to function, each member must give up their rights, their personal prerogatives so that harmony, unity and community can exist among them.  Particularity and personal freedom has no place among them, even though, as God, they have every right to exercise their individual divinity.  Isaiah 9:6 tells us that Jesus is “The everlasting Father,” yet in the Godhead, He chooses to be the Son.

Mutual submission, it is a concept that we discuss and is apart of every aspect of the Christian experience. It is central to our understanding of the “Body of Christ.” It is the key principle that distinguishes “Christian Marriages,” from secular marriages. It is the bases upon which the principle of servant leadership is founded and yet it is rarely practiced in the Christian community.

Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another;  as I have love you, that ye love one another.”  “One another” is a phrase of mutuality, mutual submission and mutual love.  He then continues, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  Again, Jesus uses the phrase, “one to another.”  It is a phrase of mutuality.  But how can we be sure Jesus means mutual submission?  He explains further in John 15:12 & 13, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Here Jesus is explaining to us the quality of the mutuality.  It is the kind of mutual submission that He exemplified.  And lest we become confused He makes it crystal clear in the next verse, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

The Elijah message calls us to a higher quality of living in the community of faith that begins with generational reconciliation.  That generational reconciliation can only be accomplished through mutual submission.  A submission initiated by the elder toward the younger.  It means giving up my rights and freedoms for a higher good, the greater good of community and unity. And when we are united generationally, we more fully reflect the character of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, a Godhead that exists in a loving relationship of mutual submission.

The Apostle Paul sets before the Christian community an ethic of living that says because Christ died for all, those who live no longer live for themselves, 2 Corinthians 5:14,15.  He uses this premise to establish a higher principle of decision making that all Christians must exercise.  Whatever you may believe your personal rights are, or however right you may believe yourself to be, Paul gives this caution.  He says in 1 Corinthians 8:9, 12(TNIV) “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”  He goes on to say,  “When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”  As Christians when we make decisions, the higher good is to place the other before the self.  The harmony and well-being of the community is the higher good, not my personal rights and freedoms, even if those personal rights are not in and of themselves a sin.  When we ignore how exercising our personal rights may effect someone or ones in the community of faith and weaken them in their Christian walk, our actions become a sin against Christ. In other words the unity of the community is greater than the individual and to ignore that principle in my decision making is a sin.  Paul’s dictum can only be understood and appreciated when we understand the essential importance of mutual submission in the Christian experience.  That is, to prefer others ahead of self.   And in this instance Paul, as the elder, submits to the younger.

I have often been amazed at how little concern we have today in the church with how our decisions and actions effect those around us.  Simply because the Bible gives no clear prohibition against something, is not the sole criteria in determining whether or not we should decide what we do.  My personal understanding and conviction of what God requires of me may be the starting point, but it certainly does not end there.  Think for a moment if Jesus’ decision-making functioned at that level.  If He had made decisions about our salvation based on His personal rights, what would have happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?  What decision would He have made with the cup of our salvation?  Our salvation would have been in tremendous peril. Most assuredly we would have been lost.

As I think about the generational tensions that exist in our churches today and the growing intolerance that seems to endure, I am troubled by the elders of our churches who seem to have no patience or forbearance with any deviation from the traditions of worship and music that have caused youth and young adults to feel unwelcome in their churches.  And yet I am just as troubled by millennials who wear jewelry that they know offends their elders while playing the music they know is difficult for them to adjust to or accept.  We may have a personal right or freedom, but that is not the sole  criteria which determines a Christian’s decisions or actions.  The Elijah message calls us to mutual submission, surrendering our personal rights and freedoms for the good of the community and realizing that the highest good is living in harmony, not conflict and selfish discord.  And if true generational reconciliation is to occur, then the elders must initiate the process of mutual submission by following the example of Jesus in John 13:13-17.  Among humans, being right is not righteous, it is only judgmental.  Only Jesus is righteous and He calls us to a higher standard of living that says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

As many times as we have failed and as messed up as we are, Jesus has not given up on us.  He is still depending on His church to preach and live the Elijah message, in these last days of earth’s history. And lest you think otherwise He says to us, “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: Love one another.”John 15:16-17 MSG.

Elijah 3.0, Let’s start preaching it and living it…

Jesus Still Weeps

John 11:35 is known as the shortest text in the Bible. Growing up it was the go to text whenever we were playing scripture memory games and had to recite verses from memory. I think everyone wanted to be the first person to say, “Jesus Wept.” But the text is much more than the answer to a Jeopardy trivia question. It carries a much deeper message that Jesus was trying to convey and it has far more relevance for us today amid the multiplicity of tragedies that seem to be mounting around us. In recent days we have witnessed the mass shootings at Umpqua Community College, the tragic car accident that took the lives of three family members in Indianapolis on their way to school, the tragic killing of an 11 month old baby, along with a mother and grandmother in Chicago and the list goes on and on. It gives us all great pause and causes us to wonder, how should be respond to such tragic, sudden unexpected pain, suffering and loss?

As Christians we are especially challenged to respond to such tragedies and give answers to unanswerable questions and the age old query, why? Where was God? How could God let this happen to innocent people? When will it all end? There are no easy answers, however, the way not to respond is to discuss alternate attack measures when confronted by a gunman. At least that should not be the tenor of a Christian’s response.

What we know about Jesus is, violence was not His response to the savagery that surrounded Him. When His disciples attempted to defend him on the night of His arrest, Jesus responded, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”(Matthew 26:52, 53). When questioned by Pilate about His true identity Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.”(John 18:36).

No Rambo escape plans for Jesus. That was not His remedy for a tumultuous world. Nor is that His response to those who deal with the pain and trauma of sudden, unexplainable and unexpected loss.  Jesus’ response is found in the simple words of John 11:35, “Jesus Wept.”  They are so simple, yet so profound. When you understand the context of His tears you can fully appreciate them.

Jesus has just been told that one of His best friends is sick and instead of rushing to his rescue, Jesus allows him to die.  Jesus says the death will bring glory to God and to Him. This seems to make no sense at first, but in time it will.  Jesus deliberately delays and when He arrives at the home of His friends, Lazarus is dead and has been buried for 4 days. The sisters of the deceased are distressed and crying, disappointed that Jesus was too late. But Jesus’ response is to ask them both, “Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life.” Their faith is weak, but His is not. He asks them to take Him to the place where Lazarus has been laid to rest.

Jesus knows He is about to perform the greatest miracle of His entire ministry, the resurrection of someone who had been dead and buried 4 days.  And yet with that foreknowledge, as Jesus stands at the opened tomb He begins to weep. Why would Jesus weep for someone He is about to resurrect? Here is where Jesus’ connection with humanity is powerfully demonstrated. Christ is not just our Savior, He is also our High Priest.  What does this mean? There are two texts in Hebrews that explain its meaning.  The first is Hebrews 2:18 which says, “Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to ‘help’ those who are being tempted. The Message Bible says it like this, “He would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing and would be able to help where help was needed.”  Jesus related to the pain that His friends were experiencing as he reflected on similar losses in His own life. Death is a part of the human experience and Jesus was not immune from experiencing it during His lifetime.  Joseph, His earthly father had already died and the remembrance of that painful loss must have flooded his consciousness. He understood what His friends were experiencing and from that place of understanding Jesus’ tears began to flow.

But not only that Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but was one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Jesus’ empathy lets us know that He feels compassion for us. Henry Cloud writes, “We cannot grow if we are all alone emotionally. Life is too difficult. But if we know that someone truly understands, we know we are not alone with our feelings and thoughts, and we gain encouragement to persevere in our growth. We need to know that we are “heard”—on a human level from each other, and on a divine level from God: “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” (Ps. 10:17).”

Jesus wept because He identified with the emotional pain the sisters of Lazarus felt regardless of the joy they would experience in the next few moments, when Lazarus would be dramatically resurrected. The assurance that salvation brings and the certainty of the resurrection does not mean that Jesus is not attuned to the pain and sorry of human loss. He still weeps when we weep and the bereaved need to know that Jesus empathizes with them at a deep emotional level.  He feels what we feel and mourns with us when we weep.  When we experience tragic and unexpected loss, we are not left alone spiritually or emotionally.

Tragedies like the ones we have witnessed over the past few days are not the time for commentary and analysis on what might have happened or what people should have done or what preventive measures could have been taken to avert this attack or that shooting. Those things have there appropriate time and place to be hashed out and discussed. But as Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus, what the families who have lost loved ones need to know is the One who IS the Resurrection and the Life, Weeps with them as they mourn the loss of the one’s they love. They need to know they have a shoulder to cry on in their time of tragic, unexpected, unexplainable loss.  They need to know they will not be left alone emotionally but they will have our support.  They need to know that Jesus Still Weeps…and we weep with them.

An Anniversary to Remember…

Many Americans, African Americans in particular remember 1965 as the 50th Anniversary of the voting rights act.  The movie “Selma” brought to the millennial generation, one of the most important moments in American history that helped push the legislations passing by the Congress of the United States.  But there is another little known or remembered act that was also passed the same year that had as much if not more impact on America and would improve the lives of scores of people beyond the shores of the United States.  It was the Hart-Celler Immigration bill signed by President Lyndon Johnson on October 3, 1965 and it would forever change the course history for immigration in America.

Before its signing, 70% of all immigrant slots were allotted to natives from just three countries, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany.  Most of those slots went unused and what remained were long waiting lists for the small number of visas available to those born in Italy, Greece, Poland, Portugal, and elsewhere in eastern and southern Europe.  The Hart-Celler bill removed all nationality criteria in allowing individuals immigration into the United States and placed all people on equal footing.  But what is most important to remember is that it was the Civil Rights Movement that brought about this historic legislation.  At the time of its signing, the historic act was seen as an extension of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1957 Congress passed its first Civil Rights law since Reconstruction, another was passed in 1960 and then two more important bills in 1964 and 1965.  During that same era the Supreme Court had made major civil rights decisions striking down legal segregation at the state and local level.  This immigration bill was seen as another step in the process of ending all discrimination in America.

Representative Robert Sweeney, Democrat of Ohio said, “Mr. Chairman, I would consider the amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act to be as important as the landmark legislation of this Congress relating to the Civil Rights Act. The central purpose of the administration’s immigration bill is to once again undo discrimination and to revise the standards by which we choose potential Americans in order to be fairer to them and which will certainly be more beneficial to us.” (Congressional Record, Aug. 25, 1965, p. 21765.)

Representative Philip Burton, Democrat from California said, “Just as we sought to eliminate discrimination in our land through the Civil Rights Act, today we seek by phasing out the national origins quota system to eliminate discrimination in immigration to this nation composed of the descendants of immigrants.” (Congressional Record, Aug. 25, 1965, p. 21783.)

The bill would be responsible for the mass entrance of immigrants from the nations of the Pacific, the Caribbean Islands, South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, etc. who now reside in the United States. It essentially opened the doors to all non-European immigrant groups who once were denied access and opportunity to apply for entrance as immigrants.

So what does this mean?  It means that many immigrants now residing in the United States owe a great debt to African Americans, and others that were apart of the Civil Right Movement, who struggled for the place they now enjoy.  Many who now reside in this country and enjoy the freedoms and benefits of America, the education, the employment,  the residency and eventual citizenship through naturalization, etc., etc., etc., did not just receive those opportunities by accident or chance.  Someone DID make tremendous sacrifices to open the doors that allowed them entrance into America and that fact should always be appreciated, celebrated and remembered.

Why is this so important?  As I sat at the last General Conference session in July 2015, I watched while the only African American male vice president was ceremoniously dismissed from his position.  I would not suggest that any person owns any position in the church.  Everyone serves for the term of office he or she is elected and when that term ends, their tenure has concluded and the people have every right to select someone else.  But what was disturbing is that his position was eliminated from among the vice presidential slots.  It was quite poignant to hear one delegate, just before the final vote was take, mention that reality.  Her lone voice was penetrating and piercing for me.  It arrested my attention, if no one else’s.  She pointed out the omission of an African American male among the vice presidents selected to serve the world church.  She was the final speaker at the microphone just before the votes were registered.  After her observation, the previous question was called, the cards were raised, the voted was taken, the omission was ignored and without missing a beat the church rolled on.  A familiar pattern it seems, in the church.

I wonder, if my brothers and sisters from nations south of the equator, had remembered that some of them would have never entered the United States, were it not for the Civil Rights Movement and the Hart-Celler act, then perhaps her impassioned speech would have resonated more forcefully with them.  If they were aware that 2015 was the 50th Anniversary of Hart-Cellar, maybe they would have made a different decision concerning the leadership representation of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  Perhaps they would have remembered to include an African American male among the Vice Presidents of the General Conference World Church.  Do you think…perhaps…maybe…they might have…Just a thought.

A Tribute to Douglas

I grew up in a Christian home with very diverse musical tastes.  My mother a north-easterner from New Jersey grew up a Roman Catholic with parents whom she said had “British” tastes, hence her love for classical music.  She gave my siblings and I a healthy appreciation for the three “B’s,” Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven.  My father on the other hand grew up in the south, with more of a Baptist leaning.  His musical tastes fell along the lines of the great Southern quartets, the Dixie Hummingbirds,  and the Golden Gate Quartet, along with the Gospel Clefs, the Gospel Keynotes, the Sensational Nightingales and the lists goes on and on.  Needless to say this cross-section of musical tastes gave me and my siblings a tremendous appreciation for all types of music from Rachmaninoff to Mantovani to Perry Como (Thanks to the annual Firestone Christmas Albums) to Aretha Franklin to Singers Unlimited…well you get the idea.

Because of this, I have always had great difficulty with the narrow limits some Christians have drawn around what is called appropriate music for church and/or worship.  My specific experience has centered around the music wars that have been waged in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and seem to never end.  I have sat on many panels and even in 2015 a question will still arise about the appropriateness of “drums” in worship.  There are some who still have not figured out that an inanimate lifeless, breathless instrument has no power to commit a sin.  It is not the instrument, it is the person on the instrument that determines what happens on or with the it.  This inability to appreciate diverse forms of music and the tendency to confuse personal preference with principal has caused the church to force all musical forms into a Eurocentric classical-anthem-hymn-dominant box.  If you attended the recent General Conference you would have experienced musical renditions throughout the session with little to no stylistic deviation.  If you closed your eyes, you would have thought the same person and/or choir was singing at each service with a mere change of gender or voice from soprano to bass.  No one even risked singing in a different language.  Does this truly represent diversity in music and worship?

Forget about the Biblical inconsistency of such a position; think about it in a universe where no two people are alike, not even siamese twins.  There are no two snowflakes, flowers, hair strands, or fingerprints that are alike.  Since this is true, why would we believe there is only one acceptable form of musical expression that is pleasing to God when He is the one who created such a diverse universe.  Does that make sense?  I won’t even mention that the acceptable musical form just happens to align itself with one culture as well.  What a coincidence.

This brings me to Douglas Leacock.  A truly gifted musician who recently passed away.  I was stunned to learn of his passing from my wife last week and unfortunately will not be able to attend his well-deserved memorial service this coming Saturday,  July 27, 2015.  I was first introduced to Douglas as a youth when he and his sisters, Rosie and Janet sang for a program at my home church.  They were called “The Gospel Chimes.”  A fitting name for their melodious music.  I can’t remember the program or occasion but I can still remember the lyrics of the song.

“Tell ’em about Jesus, and His Love.” “Tell ’em about the Savior from above.”

“Tell ’em about Jesus, and His Love.” “Tell ’em about the Savior from above.”

“Do-Do-Do-Do”

I don’t remember sermons that well, but I remember that song.  That was Douglas, a genius musician who used his God-given talents to lift up Jesus Christ and tell others of His love.  Is there any greater purpose for a follower of Jesus Christ to fulfill, than to tell others of Jesus’ love?  But the real tragedy was that at some level, Douglas’ church didn’t make room for the kind of music God had gifted him to share.  He joins a long list of disaffected musicians from the Seventh-day Adventist Church with rare and usual gifts who were never truly appreciated, encouraged or celebrated by their church.  They did not fit into the narrow box that those who controlled the church determined was the only acceptable musical form that God approved of.  From the Blend Wrights who dared to sing their music to the rhythmic beat of the Hammond B-3, that began a revolution of African American female trios across  North American, to those whom I have know, Darnell Crandell, Charles “Lippie” Davis, Gene Andrews Jr. & Sr., Satara Wisdom, Bobby Soverall and many, many others.  They all were never really celebrated and embraced by their own church.  Many of them found greater acceptance in other denominations and worshipping communities outside of Adventism, to the great regret of us all.

So today I want to remember and celebrate Douglas Leacock for everything he meant and means to me and all of the young people whose lives he touched with his brilliant music during our youthful years together.  I am grateful for his willingness to share his God-given gifts with us even when he was not appreciated and celebrated among his own as he should have been.  And though I cannot join Rosie,  Janet, and the rest of his family and friends who will remember his life, I want to pay tribute to him for all that he did to make Jesus more real to me in song.  Though he is resting in Jesus, he is still telling me about the Jesus and His love.  And not even death can silence his voice in my heart.

Winning Arguments or Fulfilling Our Mission?

It was another historic vote in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and I was there to witness it first hand from beginning to end.  I have a slightly different perspective from other people about what happened, so I will express mine since I own this space.  Let me first say that I respect the process our church follows in making decisions.  Though I do not always agree with it and though fraught with many flaws, like all human processes, it is not immune to its share of foibles.  Unless you did not know before yesterday, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is as imperfect as every other church under the sun.  The enfeebled and defective portion of the quote from the Spirit of Prophecy should be in capital letters, so all members of the church will remember who we are, sinners saved by grace.

Having said that, I would like to suggest another problem that I believe hampers us as a church whenever we come to difficult and challenging decisions.  It goes to the heart of our alter-ego so to speak as a church.  It is a known fact that in our early beginnings, Seventh-day Adventists evangelists were known as great debaters.  We would challenge preachers and evangelists from other churches to defend what they taught and believed from the scriptures and prove that their position was more Biblical than ours.  As a result this has become a part of the personality of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  For better or worse we pride ourselves as being a people of the book, who truly uphold the Bible and the Bible alone as our creed of authority.  While other denominations say it, we maintain this as our benchmark.  Hence the reason we observe the Seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible, that was kept by Jesus Christ and His disciples after His resurrection and ascension, along with many other Biblical truths of the scriptures.  However, this same personality has not served us well when we have dealt with some issues of contention within the church.  Our debating personality has caused us to handle every issue as an argument to be won, instead of an issue to be examined through the lens of our mission.  Such has been the case in looking at the issue of women’s ordination.

It has been a established fact that there is no Biblical dictum for ordination in the scriptures for men or women.  At best it is a hierarchical system that developed over time some 150 years after the apostles, found in the history of the Roman Church.  This is an incontrovertible fact.  So what are we really talking about and how can we make some kind of immutable Biblical argument concerning the issue?  But when we as a church decided to examine the issue we followed the path of our personality.  We decided to settle the issue by framing the discussion in the form of an argument. We placed the issue in the form of a question to be debated, instead of seeing it as an issue of mission.  Does women’s ordination facilitate our mission?  Mission has been the theme of the entire General Conference.  It has been what the General Conference President has promoted at every turn.  He even began the discussion about the question by recognizing a group of young people representing “Share Him,” that had just finished conducting evangelism in Mexico and affirmed their fervor for mission.  But then we veered into our debating mode to decide whether or not divisions should be allowed to ordain women.

Think of how the discussion would have changed if the energies of the delegates were focused on examining how women’s ordination could facilitate the mission of the church.  Is not that the only issue that is worthy of our discussion?  If it does not facilitate mission, it is not worthy of the churches time or energies.  Stop to consider that human trafficking is a $32 billion dollar annual industry world-wide where 800,000 women and children are trafficked across international lines.  Think for a moment that one billion people are in poverty in the world today and the great majority of those people are women.  Most of those women live in developing countries, some of the same countries who voted against the resolution that was presented yesterday at the General Conference.  Do you think that perhaps if we focused on mission, by answering the questions posed by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46, that maybe our thinking would have changed on how we should vote?  What message could it have sent to the world if we as a church had made a decision based on mission to empower each division to ordain women in ministry because of the deep sense of urgency for the worldwide crisis that women face of oppression, exploitation and poverty.  And in responding to the call of Jesus in Matthew 25: 34-40 we are empowering women in ministry to respond to that sacred call and allowed our divisions to do so as they believe God is leading their mission imperatives.

Too much of our time as a church is spent in winning arguments and not enough of time is spent reflecting on how we should best fulfill our mission.  We just received a report about our growth from the secretariat that has warned us of its dubious direction in the future and yet we spent little time discussing how to address its implications.  We have remained in the same organizational structure with little to no change, without asking ourselves whether it still facilitates our ability to best fulfill our mission as a church.  We keep winning arguments, but winning arguments does not advance the cause of Christ.  It merely brings applauds, causes animosity, opens wounds and creates distrust.  We need to try a better method.

When Jesus slowly floated away from the disciples and gradually disappeared from their view on the Mount of Olives after His resurrection, He left them with one final message.  They were still wondering when He would establish their earthly kingdom.  And we like them often try to establish our earthly kingdoms.  We become sidetracked with earthly power and authority not realizing that everything on this earth is temporary.  He told them, “It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by His own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  When they left the mountain it interesting that their first test was a church election.  They had to replace Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus.  Interesting how life repeats itself.  The one elected really was not the issue.  What was the issue was how they would select his replacement.  Would they politic their way to a selection?  Would they use collegiality or favoritism or power positioning to advance their own careers.  Peter responds in verse in Acts 1:21.  He says, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time Jesus was taken up from us.  For one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  Their sole criterion was the replace had to be someone who they were sure had an experienced relationship with Jesus for himself.   Then after narrowing the selections down to two candidates, they left the final choice to prayer.  Listen to their prayer in verse 24.  Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”  It was this process that gave them Matthias.  Knowing Jesus for yourself and prayer.  No Urim and Thummim, no debates and arguments, just Jesus and prayer.  And it was this process that brought their unity and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

So what can we learn from this.  We just had an election.  Could it have brought the same results among us?  And if it did not why not?  It is a question for all of us to answer.  When we had our discussion about women in ministry should we have taken a different course?  I believe we should have.  And I believe because we chose the wrong method, we came to the wrong conclusion.  This was not an issue to be argued, this was a process to be examined.  Instead of pushing us apart, this issue should have pulled us together, causing us to examine whether or not the ordination of women helped to advance the mission of our church.  I believe we missed a sacred opportunity and in the process caused greater harm than good.  But I am one person and my opinion is not God’s.  I would not presume to be the divine.

There is one thing I am convinced of.  Everything that happens is an opportunity for us to learn.  God is trying to teach all us an important lesson through this experience and in time He will reveal what that lesson is.  It may not be the same lesson for all of us, but if we all have a teachable spirit we will learn the lesson He has for each of us.  I am still in the learning process so teach me Lord.  Are you?

Who Are We?

Who Are We?  An interesting question raised in the sermon of the re-elected secretary of the General Conference, G.T. NG.  He was right to suggest that we must derive our identity from God.  Much of the world has become obsessed with the notion of self-awareness and self-identity.  People believe today that the way to find ones true self is by looking inward.  But the wiseman who went through the endless search for meaning, identity and purpose through self-exploration and self-discovery, came to the conclusion that it was a “meaningless search.”  At every turn he would end with the words, it was like “chasing after the wind.”  He concluded in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that “God has set eternity in the human heart; and yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  In other words, there is a God-shaped void in all of us that only He can fill.  So human identity can only be discovered when a person finds God.  And when we understand who God is, we can begin to understand who we truly are.  Jesus said in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

So who is God?  This was the question posed by Pastor NG on Sabbath, July 4, 2015.  He suggested, that God was a “God of Revelation.”  An interesting proposition, for the Bible does say that when the disciples misunderstood the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and thought it was the tragic failed end of another false messiah, Jesus revealed to them, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27).  And while God does reveal Himself to us through the scriptures, He is very clear in telling us who He is.  God tells us who He is in 1 John 4:8.  And in the same verse He reveals the identity of His followers based on His own identity.  He says, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  Who is God?  God IS Love.  And those who profess to belong to Him must be lovers as an extension of Him.  This is how closely connected God’s love is with those who profess to be His followers. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:15,16.  Who is God?  God is love.  Who are we as Christians?  We are supposed to be living God’s love because we are from God.  But is that the picture most people have of Christians?  Does the average person associate God’s love with Christianity today?  Do they associate it with the Seventh-day Adventist Church?  Let’s make it more personal, do my friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers associate love with me as a Christian?  What about among fellow believers?  Do we share God’s love with each other?  1 John 4:20,21 says, “If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars.  For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen.  And he has given us this command: those who love God must also love one another.”  God challenges us to love deeply and unconditionally just as He does, and does not waver in His expectation of us.  So what does this mean when we think about who we are?

Can we truly understand God’s revelation without first understanding who God is?  The greatest miscalculation that Satan made in the Garden of Eden when humanity sinned was how much God loved us.  He thought he had won when he deceived Eve and caused Adam to deliberately sin against God.  But He could not anticipate the depth of God’s love and the lengths He would go to gain our salvation.  Satan did not believe Jesus would actually allow Himself to be humiliated in the manner that He was, in order to save us.  And when Jesus Christ arose triumphantly on the third day, it was then that Satan understood the true character of God.  He thought God was about power, authority, position and hierarchy but it was then that he realized that God is LOVE.  It is truly the mystery of Godliness.  Do we really understand the power of God’s love?  If we did, we would not regard it so lightly and handle it so casually and carelessly.  We would see it as the powerful weapon that it is in winning humanity and transforming the world.  And we would not believe that beasts, prophecies and doctrines are more powerful and convincing than love.

It is most fitting that the message Jesus gave Nicodemus, a learned Jewish theologian who was versed in the scriptures and doctrine and prophecy, was John 3:16.  “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.”

Who is God…God is Love…Who are We…

A Call To Prayer…

…When I arrived at the dome, I got there just in time for the fireworks…so to speak.  The end of the secretariat’s report on church membership was wrapping up and the nominating committee was about to present its first recommendation to the delegates.  When the final comments from the floor were made and the vote to end discussion was approved, the chair and secretary of the nominating committee presented the name of Dr. Ted Wilson for the position of President of the General Conference.  There were thunderous applauds.  His name was promptly moved by the secretary of the nominating committee for acceptance, it was seconded from the floor…and then the fireworks began.  Something unexpected took place.  A delegate requested that the name be referred back to the nominating committee.  This was unprecedented.  It was commented that this had never happened to a General Conference nominee for president before.  How accurate that is, I cannot say, but because of its rarity, the chair of the session was somewhat flustered in knowing how to handle such a motion.  His immediate reaction was to have the entire delegation vote on the motion to refer the name back to the nominating committee.  However, it was pointed out to the chair that according to the rules of order, voted for the General Conference session, that was not how such motions should be handled.  The chair was bound by the rules the session had invoked on the previous day, so the objection was heard privately by the chair and secretary of the nominating committee to determine its credibility.  After some deliberation, the chair and secretary returned to inform the delegation that the objections raised had already been heard and responded to by the nominating committee and were not of a level to change the nomination.  They presented the name of Elder Wilson a second time, but another delegate came to the mic with another motion to refer the name back to the nominating committee.  More discussion from the chair in opposition that finally led to another conference between the objector and the nominating committee chair and secretary with the same result as the first objection.  And then a third attempt with the same result…Do you see a pattern here…

There was one moment of civility in the midst of the polity and rancor.  It came when one of the delegates at the mic commented on his experience in previous meetings that had contentious situations like this.  His comment was, when impasses like this occurred we would pause in our meeting and call for prayer.  “Perhaps this is a time for us to pray,” he said.  A break in the tension.  A much needed spiritual break that reminded me of the only leader in recent memory who has instituted such a process as a regular part of the meetings he chairs.  If you have ever attended a meeting chaired by Elder Dan Jackson, then you know one of the first things he does is designate an intercessor who is authorized to interrupt the meeting at any time and whenever impressed, to call the assembly to prayer.  It is something I had never witnessed by any chair before Elder Jackson, and have seen many adopted since.  In many ways it has changed the way business has been conducted in the North American Division.  It seemed as if this delegate’s suggestion was appealing to the kind of spiritual solution that has been modeled by Elder Jackson.  But then for whatever reason, the delegate did not call us to prayer, instead he called question on the previous motion.  The chair seized the opportunity to cease discussion on all previous questions and call for a vote on the original motion, the nomination of Dr. Ted Wilson for President.  “All in favor please indicate by raising your voting cards.”  “All opposed by the same sign.”  The vote was overwhelming for the election of Elder Ted Wilson for President of the General Conference.  And so Elder Wilson was re-elected in a tense and somewhat turbulent atmosphere.  Not what anyone expected and a bit uncharacteristic for a General Conference Session.  But why are we so surprised.  How spiritual are General Conference Sessions?  Is that even an expectation?

As I think about other major denominations and their church elections, those that I have watched on the WORD Network or TBN, all of them seem to be very intentional about making them highly spiritual experiences.  Most of their time, energy and planning seems to be spent in organizing the most spiritual worship experiences, with the best music and preaching.  They seem to spare no expense in inviting special guest artist, preachers and presenters to minister to their delegates in achieving the spiritual goals they are hoping to accomplish.  The worship services are spirit-filled and power-packed.  The people seem to come expecting a powerful spiritual experience and leave fulfilled and satisfied.

But can we say that about our experience at General Conference.  How memorable are the spiritual experiences here?  What spiritual highlight have we come to this General Conference in anticipation of?  Most of our time has been focused on issues that we have come to battles over, already entrenched in our positions.  Our factions are already lined up and our alleys are already in place.  Our session is more like a political convention than a spiritual one.  We are more versed in procedure and policy than vision and purpose.  How serious are we as a church about seeking God’s will for us?  Really, how serious?  Serious enough to change our plans for His plan.

If Jesus came to our General Conference session without fanfare, as an ordinary person.  If he came without a delegates badge, no name, status, social standing or recognition, would we receive Him?  What if He told us all of our plans did not fit with His plans for the church.  Would we abandon them to follow His plan or would we abandon Him.  The next time someone calls us to prayer, will we pray, or will we call for a vote…

Have I Been a Neighbor Lately?

It was an interesting first day of the General Conference Session.  As always there were the pleasantries, the preliminaries, the working out of kinks in the the technical machinery as the voting devices were being tested.  There were the procedural formalities that sometimes can go unnoticed and undervalued for their importance.  And then came the first major report.  At least the first report of importance in my mind.  It was the addition of several new unions that were being added to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination since the last General Conference Session.  The first of several came from the continent of Africa.  All of the unions had memberships of 100,000 or more.  Some between 250,000 – 500,000 members.  I could not up keep with and did not record the exact figures, but at one point I noticed that three consecutive unions had a combined membership that was larger than the entire present membership of the North American Division; the division where the Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded in 1863.  Amazing when you stop to think that they had just been formed within the past five years since the last General Conference in 2010. There was one brief interruption before the vote, but they were unanimously voted into the sisterhood of organizations with hundreds of amens and applauds, etc.

Then came the next major event of the morning session.  The President of the General Conference introduced a gentleman(whose name I failed to remember-my humble apologies) who then introduced an idea of a video that was to be shown to the assembly.  It was presented as a solemn historic moment for us to watch and ponder in prayerful contemplation.  It was a dramatic scene from the past of the early Advent movement preparing for the 34th General Conference session in 1901.  In essence it portrayed what might have happened at that General Conference, had the attendees come together and unified.  Had they set aside their differences, confessed their sins and faults to each other, put aside their petty jealousies, envy, strife, back biting, etc. and come together, their unity would have ushered in the second return of Jesus Christ.  At least that is what was suggested by the video.  At the end of the video, the actor portraying Ellen White hears a voice who tells her what she is seeing did not actually happen.  The apologies she saw and the confessions made by the delegates to each other did not actually occur and the voice, (which I presume represented the voice of God) tells her, “this ‘might’ have been.”  The actor portraying Ellen then dramatically drops her head in tears realizing the great opportunity our church missed because its leaders were unwilling to confess their sins and faults to one another.  The screen went dark and then a phrase appeared reading…”What might have been…can still be…”  The President of the General Conference, joined by the officers of the General Conference, presented a typed statement with a message of unity that he and the General Conference officers had previously agreed to.  The message said that no matter what decisions or what the outcome of this General Conference, that we as members should not allow anything to divide us.  We should remain unified.  We were then asked to join in groups of two or three and kneel to pray.

As I reflected on these two high points of the morning session, I had many mixed feelings.  As one who is passionate about seeing new believers accepting Jesus Christ and joining His Kingdom I was excited and amazed by the phenomenal growth of our church on the continent of Africa.  We in the so-called “civilized western world” have much to learn about winning people to Jesus Christ from our so-called “third-world” brothers and sisters.  We get excited seeing three to five people baptized, while they are adding to the church the kind of numbers reminiscent of Pentecost.  But then the film depiction of the 1901 General Conference and the suggestion that the church was one “confession session” away from heaven.  Did I miss something?  Was that really what was being suggested?

Never mind the poor quality of screen play and acting, (when are we going to unleash the giftedness and talents of the millennial generation to help us with projects like this), but as I reflected on the content, without analyzing whether or not Ellen White’s statements were taken out of context and/or misrepresented.  As I looked at the film content itself at face value, it showed no semblance, no hint of racial, cultural, ethnic or even gender diversity among the attendees of the 34th General Conference.  The only visible female attendee, who was a character with any role in the film, was the one who portrayed Ellen White, the prophet.  There wasn’t any visible generational diversity depicted in the film.  The confessions that were made were only made among the attendees about themselves to each other.  There were no confessions about sins they may have committed because of their corporate ills.  No confessions about their lack of commitment to the world at large, or their lack of involvement in the social ills of the day.  No confession for their racial prejudices, or gender biases.  No confessions about any sins of omission about anything they failed to do in any area of life beyond their own private circle.  Is this the world we see ourselves as living in as a church?  Are these the only people we are responsible to?  And if we are in right relationship with our small narrow circle of friends and colleagues who look just like us, of the same race, age, socio-economic status as us; if we remain in right relationship them, is our salvation assured? Is THIS what delays the return of Jesus Christ?  REALLY???

Jesus was confronted by an expert lawyer who asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus astutely responded, “What is written in the law?”  The lawyer knows law.  He responds, “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Correct,”  Jesus responds.  “Do this and you will live.”  But then the lawyer asks the seminal question of life, “Who is my neighbor?” It is the question that confronts all of us.  A question that is uncomfortable for us to truly answer.  It confronts us in parking lots and malls, when a beggar walks up to us asking for a hand out or walks by our car window with a dirty squeegee trying to clean our windshield.  We can never truly side step it or get around it and as Christians Jesus never makes it easy for us to answer.  And Jesus just had to tell a parable like the Good Samaritan to illustrate it, and make it impossible for us to escape.  Think about the victim for a moment.  The only descriptor Jesus gives us is that the person is a male.  We don’t know his race, culture, nationality, language, religious affiliation and because he is stripped naked we have no way of knowing his socio-economic status.  We don’t even know his sexual orientation, uh oh…That really makes it difficult doesn’t it.  But Jesus doesn’t make being His follower an easy proposition, because to LIVE is Christ and to die is GAIN.  In the end, Jesus answers the lawyers question with a question, and in doing so, changes the original question.  He asks, “Who WAS a neighbor to the man who fell in the hands of the robbers?”  The stuttering lawyer responds, “the one who had mercy(grace) on him.”  Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise!”

Do we really believe as a church that in 1901 we were only one confession session away from ushering in the return of Christ without answering the haunting question Jesus posed to the lawyer in Luke 10?  If the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1901 understood their prophetic calling as preaching the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14:6-12 to every nation, how could they have believed Christ’s return was imminent when they had not presented the gospel to all of America, let alone the entire world.  The delay in Christ’s return has little to do with our inability to confess our faults to one another, as important as that is.  And please do not misunderstand me, I do not want to minimize the importance of what was done by the General Conference President and the officers.  We DO need to set aside all of our petty jealousies and differences and envies and ego striving and the like.  And we DO need to come together as a church regardless of what decisions are made at this General Conference.  But 2 Peter 3:9 is clear that God is delaying His return because He is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish but that ALL should come to repentance.  And how long will that delay be?  Only God in His mercy knows for sure.

So what must we do in the mean time?  We must continue to be faithful in presenting the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.  And while we are fulfilling that prophetic call from God, we must continue to answer the seminal Christian question that Jesus asked the lawyer.  Not just, “who is my neighbor?”  That’s a little too inwardly focused and exclusive.  Jesus’ question is more outwardly focused and inclusive.  It still challenges us all, and He’s still asking it of us.  And so I leave you with the question that I live with me each day…”Have I Been A Neighbor Lately?”

Are Christians LISTENING?

What a weekend. This past Friday, June 26, we have witnessed a powerful and moving eulogy delivered by the President of the United States at the funeral service of the recently slain Reverend Clementa Pinkney and also the historic decision of the Supreme Court to legalize same sex marriage. This was preceded by the unprecedented decision of Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina to request the removal of the Confederate Flag from its state capital, a symbol of national division, racial separation and America’s original sin and enduring legacy, slavery. Her bold move prompted the Governor of Alabama on Wednesday, June 24, to have all Confederate flags removed from the grounds of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. And in all of these moments of historic significance, I could not help but wonder, where were the Christians? It seems as if we are always a day late and a dollar short. Never thermostats but thermometers.

For decades the confederate flag, one of the most hateful and divisive symbols of separation and inequality, has flown over the state capitols of several of the southern states that made up the old confederacy. It was justified under the guise of honoring the ancestors of the south. But in some cases such as in Georgia, the confederate flag was reintroduce two years after the Brown v Board of education decision in 1954, believed to be done as a protest against school desegregation. It was raised at the University of Mississippi in protests against integrating schools and it has always been the symbol of white supremacy used by the Ku Klux Klan. And today it is incontrovertibly true that just about every white supremacist organization uses the Confederate flag as one of its identifying monikers. So how can anyone blindly claim that it honors southern ancestors and ignore these hateful and divisive racial realities and the way it has demeaned and intimidated African Americans and other non-whites for so many decades of this nation’s history.

But the real question is, why is it that Christians for the most part have been silent, and have done nothing to challenge and protest against this hateful and divisive symbol in the states where they live. I speak specifically now of Caucasian Christians. We know and have heard and seen African American Christian protest this heinous evil, but where has been the strong mass protest from our Anglo brothers and sisters of all Christian persuasions demanding that this evil symbol that feeds some of the most hateful and demeaning ideological views in our society, be removed from all state capitols.

When God asked Cain where his brother Abel was in Genesis 4, Cain’s response was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God challenged Cain to ‘listen’. Then he said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” For all times God made it clear that we ARE our brother’s keeper. We DO have a sacred obligation to all humanity, but it appears that like Cain, sometimes we as Christians are not LISTENING. We tend to hear what we want to hear, but we really are not LISTENING.

After the massacre in South Carolina, I listened carefully to the reaction and response of the families of the survivors and the slain. How moving and powerful it was to hear all of them share words of heartfelt forgiveness for the one who committed the vicious and senseless crimes against their loved ones in such a cold and calculating manner. Their selfless love exemplified in their Christlike forgiveness was the one glimmer of hope and it served as a shining example for all Christians to emulate. The sacrifice of the victims and their families compassion was so powerful that secular lawmakers were moved to do what all Christians should have joined together and forced them to do many decades before.

Here is the challenge. Christians will no doubt rally to protest the decision of the Supreme Court regarding same sex marriage. But will they be as fervent to see that every Confederate flag is removed that still flies on the top of other state capitols? Are we really LISTENING? Many Christians know John 3:16, but few know 1 John 3:16-18. Here’s what it says…“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”  Are Christians Listening?