An Apology…Being Like Jesus

About a month ago, I wrote a blog titled, “I Would Be Like Jesus.”  It was written to express my strong position in defense of women in ministry and against those who would demean and defame the calling of women.  In my haste and zeal to do so, I did not think clearly about the best way to do that.  I used the name of a young woman and her personal incident without getting her approval.  I have since learned that this brought her some discomfort and for that I am deeply sorrow.  That was not my intention.  So to Sabine Vatel, a tremendously gifted and talented woman in ministry, one with whom I have great respect, I apologize.  In life school is always in session.  And there is always more for us to learn.  Thank you for being a gracious instructor.  Words are powerful and they should always be used wisely, with discretion and care.

I WOULD BE LIKE JESUS

I have been privileged to come in contact with some wonderful young adults in ministry throughout my life. But none have done more to transform my ministry like the young women I have encountered. To speak of it fills me with deep emotions that many times I have had to stop writing.

Some months ago in 2016 after another unfortunate incident of senseless racial violence, I received a text from one of my brothers in ministry who expressed his deep pain for what the nation was experiencing. He expressed his kinship with me in this painful experience that our nation seems unable and unwilling to overcome.

I felt at the time a text response was insufficient and decided it was best to connect personally with him and reflect together about where we are in earths epic journey and what all of this really means. What was God trying to tell us? Having a rare opened Sabbath on my schedule, I decided to visit his church hoping to run into him in person and talk after the service. I thought that was my mission, but God had other plans.

When I arrived I discovered that the speaker was another pastor, a female and a former student who I was privileged to minister with as a Chaplain at Andrews University.

After the service I found her to see how she was doing. While her ministry was going well, I was surprised to learn that her camp meeting experience earlier that summer was not quite as enjoyable. She did not go into details but the incident was so unpleasant and demeaning among her male colleagues in ministry that she did not want to repeat the experience again. It was quite shocking to hear and it was then that I realized this was the reason I was impressed to attend the church I did that day. It was not to connect with my male colleague, but this female pastor. I encouraged and affirmed her but I knew then what I had to do. I had to author this blog. It was time.

What are we doing as a church? Questioning the authority of God and the authenticity of a woman’s calling to ministry. How dare any person, male or female, do that and oppose scripture. If you do, you must oppose Joel 2:27, 28, Acts 2 and Pentecost.

What are we arguing about when we argue about ordination? Ordination is NOT BIBLICAL. So why is a church that claims to be so Bible based so staunchly divided on an issue that is NOT BIBLICAL.

Does anyone know where ordination came from? You don’t need to be a theologian, Bible scholar or historian to unearth this information. You can Google this.

Historically the early church was not hierarchical and in the churches of Asia Minor formed by the Apostle Paul, ministry was not a function of office, but a gift of the Spirit. There was a radical equality of all in Christ, including an equality of gender and the gifts of all were recognized and allowed to flourish. There was no need for ordination – indeed there was no official clergy or priesthood. The brothers and sisters gathered to share a meal, literally and ritually, and to remember the Lord. The entire community celebrated, the entire community prayed, and if there were a presider at all, that person was called from the community to lead it in prayer.[1]

Gradually, especially after Paul’s death, a natural leadership emerged in the communities Paul founded. In Paul’s letters there is mention of elders ‘(presbeteroi), and leaders (episkopoi), though no distinction is drawn between the two, and there is no claim of authority based on a call from the apostle through ‘ordination.’ In fact, there is NO mention of “ordination” in the New Testament…Paul…never asserted an authority of coercion, never attempted to impose uniformity or conformity, or centralized authority (his or anyone else’s) on the communities he founded. Paul was content to trust in the Spirit to guarantee unity, precisely through the diverse gifts of the members of the community, and in particular through the “greatest” of the gifts of the spirit – agapic (selfless) love.[2]

Women, it is clear, played an important role in the early church – Paul addresses women, as well as men, as his synergoi, his “fellow workers.”[3] At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul acknowledges twenty-nine leading Christians in the Roman community to whom he sends greetings – ten of them were women. He calls Phoebe[4], a “woman active in the Church in Cenchreae, a diakonos, indicating that she was the leader of a home church. He writes of the woman Junia as being “distinguished among the Apostles[5],” suggesting that she was instrumental in spreading the faith, and eminent in the Christian community – in every respect Paul’s equal.[6]

Women in the early church were welcomed to share their gifts as the Spirit gave them; many women were considered prophets, and teachers, both regarded as higher gifts than the gift of leadership. Though cultural biases against women would gradually take root, in the earliest Christian communities Paul in his writings recognized women in ministry as his equal and welcomed their participation in leadership.

Over the course of the first hundred and fifty years of Christianity the function of church leader or bishop slowly developed into a distinct clergy over and against the “laity.” Bishops, at first merely the informal leaders among the many priests in a community, took on increasing authority, especially after the conversion of Constantine, when the monarchic episcopacy began to develop, and bishops emerged as powerful authorities in both civil and ecclesial society. More gradually still, the bishops of the great cities of the Roman Empire, Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, emerged as the Episcopal powerbrokers and Rome, claiming association with both Peter and Paul, and assuming central authority. What had been born as a gathering of people proclaiming the Lordship of Christ had become the world’s first fully functioning bureaucracy – the Institutional Church.[7]

There are two very clear conclusions to gather from this history. First, clergy ordination is of Catholic origin. How ironic that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has become a champion of a Catholic institution. Second, ordination’s original purpose was hierarchical and political not spiritual. It was intended to elevate the clergy above the laity and was imposed by Pagan Rome when Emperor Constantine joined the Christian church and gave civil authority to Papal Rome.

Jankiewicz, asserts the pagan origins of the word ordination. He writes, “It is well attested historically that pagan Roman society was ranked according to various strictly separated classes, which were called “orders” (from the Latin plural ordines).”[8] The notion of rank and order is a pagan idea that originates in the pagan Roman society of patronage. This concept of rank and succession crept into the church and became church dogma, just as other false teachings of the Roman Church became doctrine. Jankiewicz traces the origins of hierarchy in the church and identifies Ignatius as one of the earliest church leaders who sort to elevate the clergy above the laity. He writes, “Ignatius strived to elevate the authority of the bishop in the congregation.  It is in his writings that we find the prescription that only one bishop is to govern each church (known as mon-episcopate)…He is the first church thinker, thus, who presents a bishop as the undisputed head of the congregation, surrounded by a council of presbyters as well as deacons, who, in Ignatian writings, appear to be at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder.  “Let the bishop preside in the place of God,” he wrote, “and his clergy in place of the Apostolic conclave, and let my special friends the deacons be entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ.” [xii] “Obedience to the bishop was equal to obedience to God, whom the former represented.” Jankiewicz continues, “Building on the Ignatian understanding of ministry, Irenaeus developed the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, a doctrine that continues to lie at the foundations of Roman Catholicism today.”[9]

When we defend ordination and exclude women what is it that we are actually defending? Is it even a system that should be apart of a church that teaches the priesthood of all believers and preaches about the antichrist? Look at the inference of Ignatius, “in the place of God,” really. Christ came to remove every wall of distinction and every system of inequality that humanity created. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, but all are ONE in Christ.

Spiritual gifts are supposed to bring unity and harmony to the body of Christ, not create disunity and hierarchy. Its purpose is to build up the church into the perfect “man” Christ Jesus. The ultimate goal is for the gifts to bring the kind of unity that Jesus spoke of in John 17:27. However, ordination was not introduced or created to bring unity but hierarchy and division, to elevate the ministry above laity suggesting that the clergy are on a superior spiritual level above the laity.

So why is the church allowing ordination to be used in the same manner today? It is not Biblical. It is not bringing unity but division and it is being used to suggest that men are on a higher spiritual plane than women. None of this is biblical and all of it contradicts the purpose of spiritual gifts.

I remember at the General Conference session, when the ordination vote was taken and those whose side won the vote began to cheer, I felt that God had left the room. We had reduced the issue to a contest, a sport; a best of seven series. What next a free agent signing to see who wins the vote five years from now?

It is a mockery to God to Christianize and spiritualize something that was originally intended to divide the church without analyzing how it is now being used. Aren’t we using it the same way?

When a female minister is made to feel by men that somehow her call to ministry is less authentic or inferior to theirs then something is very wrong. When the first reaction to the vote, after the GC session, is to question whether women who have been serving in the church for decades as elders and pastors has been revoked, something is very wrong. When derogatory and harassing phone calls are made to women pastor to leave their calling in ministry and return to exclusive motherhood, something is very wrong.

Is this God’s ideal to bring unity and unleash spiritual gifts in the body of Christ? Is this the path God would have us take in uniting the church to build the perfect man Christ Jesus?

There is something to consider about leadership in the church. It represents an inconsistency in our hermeneutic. We often go to creation as the original model for marriage. We especially refer to this when marriage equality is discussed and people argue for the rights of same sex marriage, we are quick to say that when God selected a mate for Adam he created “Eve” not “Steve.” However, the creation account presents not only the original marital relationship that reflects the image of God but also the original leadership paradigm that reflects the Godhead. When God created Adam’s partner for leadership He created “Eve” not “Steve.”

The Bible says God gave “them” dominion of the earth[10]…”THEM” not “HIM.” And God said it was NOT good for the man to be alone. When God made that statement He was not just talking about His physical companionship, He meant His complete co-existence. That alone was not just numerically but alone in gender as well. Every aspect of Adam’s life was to be lived in community, a reflection of the Godhead. While their roles may not have been interchangeable, their status was no less equal. Adam and Eve’s existence was to reflect the relationship of the members of the Godhead fully equal and fully God, while existing in mutual submission to one another.

The leadership paradigm in Eden was completed when Eve was created, not Steve.  So why is it that in the church we preach heterosexual marriage as the original plan of God established in Eden but homosexual pastoral leadership? Man stands alone as sole head with other men, no women allowed. Could there be anything more unbiblical and anti-creationist. How opposed this is, to the plan that God declared as NOT GOOD in the beginning before sin.

Consider for a moment that when Christ ministered on earth he made no distinctions in whom he allowed to be his disciples. Luke’s Gospel tells us that there were a consistent number of women who followed Jesus and who supported Christ and His disciples financially from their own resources.[11] And in Jesus’ most desperate hour when all the  disciples, save John, forsook him, it was women who stayed with Him to the very end at the cross;[12]they attended his body and laid it in the tomb[13]and women were the ones to discover that Christ had risen and announced His resurrection to the world[14]while all of the men were in hiding. So how can men claim some exclusive position as the heralds of the Gospel when they were missing in action during the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus?

So what’s next? Oh it’s the title of my blog. The words of a song came to my mind as I thought about this subject. I could not get it out of my mind. It goes like this,

Earthly pleasures vainly call me; I would be like Jesus;

Nothing worldly shall enthrall me; I would be like Jesus.

Refrain

Be like Jesus, this my song, In the home and in the throng;

Be like Jesus, all day long! I would be like Jesus.

2 He has broken every fetter, I would be like Jesus;

That my soul may serve Him better, I would be like Jesus.

3 All the way from earth to glory, I would be like Jesus;

Telling o’er and o’er the story, I would be like Jesus.

4 That in Heaven He may meet me, I would be like Jesus;

That His words “Well done” may greet me, I would be like Jesus.

So I dedicate this blog to all of the wonderfully gifted, dedicated, talented and anointed women who have blessed me over my years of ministry…More and more like Jesus…

[1] Rich Hasselbach, “History of Ordination within the Catholic Church: A Selection from: Eucharist and the Church. 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Romans 16:3,6,9,12

[4] Romans 16:1

[5] Romans 16:7

[6] Hasselbach.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Darius Jankiewicz, “A History of Ordination (Part 1), April 5, 2013. Memorymeaningfaith.org.

[9] ibid.

[10] Genesis 1:26

[11] Luke 8:1-3

[12] Matthew 27:55

[13] Luke 23:55

[14] Matthew 28:5-8

“The ‘White’ Louis Farrakhan”

For many years now Louis Farrakhan has been one of the most polarizing figures in America. The leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI) has made many public statements that have been provocative to say the least and has been characterized by some as racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and in some cases even misogynistic.

While some may argue that it is all based on ones perspective, there is no doubt that Farrakhan is a polarizing figure. For a politician to be associated with him would almost certainly be political suicide.

However, when you stop to think about it how much different is our president, Donald Trump, from Louis Farrakhan? Has his rhetoric been any different? Need I go through the entire racist[1], anti-Semitic[2], xenophobic[3], and misogynist[4] statements and incidents associated with him? Do I need to recount them in this blog to support my premise?

The vital difference here is that President Trump’s virulent posture has been no impediment to his political aspirations, to the contrary, it has advanced them. Trump’s “Farrakhan-like” posture has propelled him to the highest office in the country and the world, the Presidency of the United States. And his virulent verbiage has been followed by surrounding himself with individuals who are known for their biased and xenophobic histories, namely Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions.[5] How does one explain a Farrakhan-like figure becoming the President of the United States? Is it simply because of the difference in skin color? Is America that racist or at the very least in denial about its racism. Racism is a loaded term that most people shun. They will quickly and readily deny any association with it when they fail to understand its true meaning.

Compare Donald Trump’s public record with that of Barack Obama for a moment; his speeches, associations, advisors, appointees and members of his cabinet.

To those who would call me a racist for pointing out the things President Trump has said and done, his statements and actions are irrefutable because they are a matter of public record. There is nothing to argue. What argument can be made to explain what he has publicly said and done? If there is an explanation, where were these apologist during the eight years of the Obama presidency when every iota of his words and inferences were analyzed. You may ask, what specifically am I referring to? Let me give two examples.

Let me use one well-known incident. You may recall a circumstance early in the Obama presidency in 2009. It was reported that Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates was arrested for breaking into his own home by the Cambridge police. As the story went, Dr. Gates, a 70-year-old senior citizen, had just returned from an extended trip overseas and was being helped with his luggage by his driver who drove him home from the airport. When they arrived at his home they found the front door jammed shut and with the help of his driver had to force their way into Dr. Gate’s house. That was the gist of the situation. As you might imagine, one of Dr. Gate’s Cambridge neighbors saw a strange “Black male,” that she did not recognize trying to get into the front door of a house in Cambridge and called the police. I will not venture to explore why she did not recognize her neighbor or notice he was a senior citizen, only that he was “Black,” but the police immediately responded to the call and when they arrived, Dr. Gates was already in his house bringing his luggage. To make a long story short, the Cambridge officer, after listening to Dr. Gates explanation still arrested him in his own home for disorderly conduct. When the incident was learned, it made news around the country and began a conversation about racial profiling and the attendant discussions that always accompany such incidents.

Here is where President Obama comes in. At a press conference President Obama was asked what he thought about the incident. In sharing his thoughts, Obama said he thought the Cambridge police officer “acted stupidly,” by arresting Dr. Gates in his own home. I think most of us would agree that the officer used extremely poor judgment in the way he chose to handle the situation and some would even say that to characterize his actions as “acting stupidly” was a mild description to say the least. However, when President Obama’s response hit the airwaves suddenly what the officer did was almost completely forgotten and Obama’s characterization became center stage. The entire story changed.  Many came to the officer’s defense and vilified the president for his choice of words in speaking about the incident and the officer. The controversy became so heated that President Obama had to publicly state that he “regretted his comments,” and ended up inviting the officer in question and Dr. Gates to the White House for what became known as “The Beer Summit.” All of this furor because President Obama said that a police officer, who arrested a senior citizen for breaking into his home, “acted stupidly,”…really?[6]

Contrast this with the plethora of public statements President Trump has made that were not only ill advised, but rude, insensitive, biased, vulgar, misogynistic[7] and yet there has been no public outcry for him to retract his statements or arrange for a “Beer Summit,” with the offended parties. How does one explain this duplicity?

When it was learned that Barack Obama was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, because some excerpts of the sermons from the pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright were considered controversial, candidate Obama had to hold a press conference explaining his position on race and his differences with Dr. Wright. Contrast Obama’s connection to Jeremiah Wright with Donald Trump’s relationship to Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart News, the far right news site, along with the endorsements Trump has accepted from various white nationalists groups.[8]  In an interview with Sarah Posner Bannon said Breitbart was the platform for the Alt Right Movement, a White Nationalist organization that embraces white identity politics.[9] Alt Right has been associated with racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and misogyny. Not only was candidate Trump not asked to explain his association with Bannon, the philosophies of Breitbart News and his willingness to receive the endorsement of such movements as a candidate for president; President Trump made Steve Bannon his chief strategist and senior counselor. How does one explain the glaring inconsistencies between the way President Obama was treated and the way the nation is relating to President Trump and his administration when it comes to the extremist racial groups and ideologies that he has associated himself with?

There were many Christians who voted for Donald Trump as president. Statistics say that white evangelicals voted in the 80 percentile[10] for his candidacy. Some of those same evangelicals did not hesitate to characterize President Obama as the anti-christ.[11] Some were predicting before the election that Obama was going to declare marshal law and suspend the election so that he could remain president indefinitely.[12] How do Christians explain these inconsistencies? Are we to look the other way and say nothing, especially when it seems the bias is glaring and obvious?

According to 2 Timothy 3:1,2 in the last days, men (people) shall be lovers of their own selves. Some modern translations say people will love only themselves. The Amplified Bible says people will be narcissistic, self-focused. This phrase, “Love only themselves,” stands as the first and primary descriptor in enunciating the condition of humanity in the last days. It gives one a fuller understanding of the motivation behind the sins that are listed in the succeeding verses. It has been our tendency to individualize such phrases and texts but to do so would be narrow, limiting and simplistic. While there is a personal application, there is also a corporate and communal application as well.

The tendency to be biased, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynist and racists is a sign of a love for self, the communal self. It is a love for the individual and communal self to the exclusion of all other selves. The fact that there is such a tolerance in some, acceptance in others and embracing in still more of Donald Trump and his brand of exclusionary politics is a clear sign that we are living in the last days of earth’s history. And what is more disturbing is when Christians, whom Christ commands to accept, minister and love “the least of these,” embrace and endorse the candidacy of a figure as overtly polarizing and openly divisive as Donald Trump. It suggests that Christians have lost their sense of what it means to reflect the Character of Jesus Christ as a Community.

When you consider that humanity was created in the image of God (a collective noun), we need to think of that image as being more than individual but communal. God exists in community, perfect community and perfect harmony. The longest recorded prayer of Jesus is found in John 17 and its theme emphasizes the importance of community. Jesus stated in John 13:34—35 that His commandment to his disciples was to love one another as he loved us and that love for one another would be the distinguishing mark of His kingdom.

The “White Louis Farrakhan”…I hope it caught your attention. But more than that I hope it caused you to think about what it means to truly exemplify Jesus Christ, not just as an individual but as a community. Where Jesus is, there can be no divisions, no separation, no biases, no bigotry, no xenophobia, no misogyny and no racism. Christians must be better as individuals and as a community and we must be willing to make our position distinctive and distinguishable daring to be different when society says otherwise. I will leave you with this compelling challenge from Martin Luther King Jr.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, and even his life for the welfare of others. In the dangerous valley and the hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.”[13]

[1] Lydia O’Connor, Daniel Marans, “Here are 16 Examples Of Donald Trump Being Racists.” 12/13/2016, updated 2/16/2017, Huff Post..

[2] Gideon Resnick, “Trump Appears to Suggest Bomb Threat Against Jews Are False Flags.” 2/28/2017, Daily Beast,.

[3] Marie Claire, “Yes, The President of the United States really has said this.” May 17, 2017, Marie Claire Co. UK.

[4] Claire Cohen, “Donald Trumpsexism tracker: Every offensive comment in one place.” January 20, 2017, The Telegraph.

[5] Lydia O’Connor, Daniel Marans.

[6] Wikipedia, “Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy.”

[7] Chirs Kirk, Ian Prasad Philbrick, and Gabriel Roth, “230 Things Donald Trump Has Said and Done That Make Him Unfit to Be President.” November 7, 2016. Slate.com.

[8] Mark Potok, “The Year in Hate and Extremism.” February 15, 2017, splcenter.com

[9] Ryan Lizza, “Steve Bannon Will Lead Trump’s White House.” November 14, 2016, The New Yorker.

[10] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “White Evangelicals voted overwhelming for Donald Trump, exit polls show.” November 9, 2016, Washington Post.

[11] Grace Wyler, “O’Donnell: Here’s Why People Think Obama Is The Anitchrist.” September 28, 2011, businessinsider.com.

[12] Dean James, “Breaking: Obama To Declare Martial Law If Trump Wins Election, Here’s What We Know…” October 20, 2016, americasfreedomfighters.com.

[13]The Words of Martin Luther King Jr. Selected by Coretta Scott King, Barnes & Nobles Inc. New York, NY. 2014, 24.

“Give Us A King”

It has been three weeks since the election of Donald J. Trump and the fall out has been unprecedented and unpredictable. The national protests to his election were almost immediate and yet one must question why? Even though his opponent Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over two million, everyone was aware of the rules before the election. We elect presidents through the Electoral College for better or worse and until the system is changed through constitutional amendment, that’s what we’re stuck with.

But there is a larger issue to ponder. What does the election of Donald J. Trump tell us about ourselves? What have we learned from this whole ordeal? We have certainly learned not to trust polls and think that their prognostications are an assurance of anything. They are as much a chance endeavor as rolling the dice or pulling a one armed bandit at a Las Vegas Casino. Perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement but you get the idea. There is no substitute for voting for the person you should have voted for instead of throwing your vote away by marking your ballot for an alternative candidate or staying home altogether believing your vote would not matter. There is never an excuse for abdicating your involvement in the election process.  Making a wise, measured, cautious decision when it comes to presidential elections is a must. Four years is too long and too much time to give a novice with crazy, racist, divisive, misogynistic ideas control of the reigns of power of the nation. However, that is not really what I want to reflect upon in this blog. I’d like to look at exactly who elected Trump and what it told us.

Of all the demographic groups that have been analyzed for electing Donald Trump, there is one that is quite disturbing and while unfortunate to admit, not surprising. Donald Trump garnered 81% of the White Evangelical Christian vote. How did this happen and what does it say to us? It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind such overwhelming support from any “Christian” group for Donald Trump when you consider the things that we learned about him during this campaign season. His campaign moniker was his racist, xenophobic, misogynist, divisive, war mongering rhetoric along with his mocking of the physically challenged. His so-called “locker room” comments about how to disrespect and sexually assault women while suggesting committing adultery did not deter White Evangelical Christians from voting for him in overwhelming numbers. The same White Evangelicals who excoriated Bill Clinton for his sexual improprieties with Monica Lewinski were willing to support and vote for Donald Trump. How can one explain this inconsistency?

There is a Biblical story that comes to mind when thinking about this election found in 1 Samuel 8 from the experience of the nation of Israel. Israel was a theocracy; meaning God was their king. He used prophets as His mouthpiece but God was the one who led, guided, protected and directed the affairs of Israel. When Samuel the Priest of Israel grew old and appointed his sons as his successor, Israel grew tired of the theocracy. Admittedly Samuel’s sons were flawed representatives of God, however, they were only human mouthpieces that could be replaced. God was always the one in charge. But something unprecedented happened. The leaders of Israel came to Samuel and made a request found in 1 Samuel 8:5. “…Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

It was the Jerry Falwell Jr. during the Republican primaries that came out early and endorsed Donald Trump when the field of candidates was still quite numerous. Pat Robertson, who invited Trump to a forum at Regents University, soon joined him and then other prominent leading Evangelical ministers followed. In the same way Israel did, Evangelical Christian leaders jumped on the Trump bandwagon, seeking as it were, a human king to lead them, like the nations around them and rejecting Divine rule.

When Israel requested a king God told Samuel to tell Israel what would happen when they “selected” human rule. He said in 1 Samuel 8:9(NIV), “…Warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights.”

God warned in 1 Samuel 8:11(MSG), “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them… chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons.” On November 12, 2015: This is the Trump theory on war. “But I’m good at war. I’ve had a lot of wars of my own. I’m really good at war. I love war, in a certain way, but only when we win.” Trump has blustered about what he will do to Isis, that he knows more than trained and seasoned military generals and has mentioned his willingness to use nuclear weapons.

1 Samuel 8:13(MSG) “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.” Trump’s lewd indecent conversation about women in 2005 with Billy Bush has already been publicized. It only served to confirm a lifetime of indiscreet misogyny on his part. The Telegraph, November 9, 2016, in an article titled, “Donald Trump sexism tracker: Every offensive comment in one place,” chronicles Trumps history of sexism, misogyny and other vulgarity toward women beginning in 1980 and extending to the present. There is not enough room in this blog to record all of the indecent, belittling, sexist, incest inferring comments, statements and actions Trump has been responsible for over the past several decades.  Having this kind of knowledge about Trump, how can White Evangelical Christians, who claim to be strong advocates of “family values,” explain voting for Donald Trump.

1 Samuel 8:15 & 17—“ He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy… He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves.” Not only did Donald Trump never produce his tax returns, like every other modern presidential candidate before him, but it was learned that he wiggled out of paying federal taxes for years using tax loopholes to free him from the responsibility every other citizen is accountable for. Recently it was reported that the cost of protecting the president elect and his family in New York City is over one million dollars a day. It has also been reported that after the presidential inauguration the first lady will remain in New York with her son for the remainder of the 2016-2017 school year until he finishes the school term. The additional cost for taxpayers will be astronomical. But that’s what it costs to support kings.

Some may be wondering why am I using a scripture about a king when in America we elect presidents. Do we really? During this election, did we elect a president or a king?   When Donald Trump campaigned he never explained what he would do to make “America Great,” just that he would. None of his policies were ever cogently crystallized. None of his initiatives were explained. His campaign was always only about himself and his persona. It was about his claims as a successful billionaire businessman. He publicly showed his admiration for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s dictatorial leader and disrespected the President of the United States. So what office was he running for, President or Dictator? Alan Coren says, “Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what it is you want to hear.” It seems that Trump was successful in telling people what they wanted to hear, just enough to get their vote and make him their king.

Samuel ended God’s counsel to Israel with this solemn caution, “The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect GOD to answer.” But Israel would respond, 1 Samuel 8:19 & 20 “No!” “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.” Does Israel sound familiar to you? Notice their blind unreasoning close-minded loyalty. No matter what someone says to reason with them their minds are made up concerning who they want to lead them. Have you seen this picture recently?

As troubling as the Trump election has been for many, still it is not America’s decision that is most troubling to me. It is the decision of 81% of White Evangelical Christians. What were my fellow Christian brothers and sisters thinking?  When Donald Trump was asked if he ever sought forgiveness from God he responded, “I am not sure I have,” “I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” When asked who Jesus was Trump responded, “Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind.” A man who does not feel the need to ask God for forgiveness and who sees Jesus as some kind of person to admire, a confidence builder is the person 81% of White Evangelical Christians voted for as their President. Really?

Confession and forgiveness are essential elements to the conversion process. 1 John 1:9 say, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When David sinned with Bathsheba, it was his ability to admit his sin and ask for forgiveness that made him a great king. His confession and plea for forgiveness in Psalms 51 is one of the great passages in all of scripture that teaches all Christians our great need for humility, to admit our wrong and confess our sins in order to receive the forgiveness, cleansing and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Proverbs 28:13 says “Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and renounce them find mercy.”

Jesus is more than just a security blanket. He is more than a life coach and confidence builder. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” He was not looking for a confidence builder as an answer. Peter said, “Though art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” There can be no doubt about who Jesus is in the life of the Christian. He is not just another good person or powerful security blanket or inspirational sage who has some good advice to give us. When Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin Council in Acts 4 and were asked by whose authority they preached, taught and healed Peter responded, “Salvation is found in on one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” Philippians 2 says “God has exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

In an interview on the Sirius XM Radio Show, Dan Rather’s America, David Frum, a Conservative Republican, and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, called Donald Trump the most secular president in modern history. Yet 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, knowing everything that is known about him. How do they explain this? Please don’t tell me about Supreme Court appointments. Where in scripture does Jesus ever mention or hint that He has called Christians to use the judiciary, the legislature or any form of government to advance his kingdom? His message was the opposite. When asked this question directly by Pilate Jesus responded in John 18:36—“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.” So what were White Evangelicals really saying when they voted for Donald Trump? Who were they really voting for and whom were they voting against. Was it Hillary Clinton or was it someone else.

When Israel came to Samuel and requested a king, Samuel mistakenly thought their request to replace his sons, his flawed successors, was a rejection of him. But Samuel’s vision was too nearsighted. God needed to broaden his perspective. And I would suggest that the 81% vote of White Evangelical Christians for Donald Trump was not just a selection between two human candidates. That way of thinking is much too narrow; too limited and secular for Christians, when such important decisions are being made. This is how God saw the decision of Israel. In 1 Samuel 8:7 it says, and the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not YOU they have rejected, but they have rejected ME as their king.”

So when 81% of White Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, whom did they really reject?

“REMEMBER HYMIETOWN?”

It was a generation ago, during his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination that Jesse Jackson referred to Jews as “Hymies” and to New York City as “Hymietown” in January 1984 during an off-the-record conversation with Milton Coleman an African American Washington Post reporter.  Jackson assumed the references would not be printed because of his racial bond with Coleman, but several weeks later Coleman permitted the slurs to be included in an article written by another Post reporter on Jackson’s rocky relations with American Jews.

A storm of protest erupted, and Jackson at first denied the remarks, then accused Jews of conspiring to defeat him. The Nation of Islam’s radical leader Louis Farrakhan, an old Jackson ally, made a difficult situation worse by threatening Coleman in a radio broadcast and issuing a public warning to Jews, made in Jackson’s presence: “If you harm this brother [Jackson], it will be the last one you harm.” There was mounting pressure for Jackson to end his presidential candidacy amid the controversy. It was strongly felt by some that no Presidential nominee should use such language when referring to another community, much less the Jewish community, a people who had suffered tremendous pain and anguish in their history.  Jackson was being pressured to withdraw from the race.

Amidst this whirlwind Jackson decided to admit his misstep and publicly apologize to a congregation of Rabbis at a Jewish Synagogue in New York. With conciliatory words Jackson said, “In private talks we sometimes let our guard down and we become thoughtless,” “It was not in a spirit of meanness and. . . . however innocent and unintended, it was wrong.” With these words and others Jackson would ask for forgiveness. He would also deny that the words proved he was an anti-Semite: “I categorically deny allegations that there is anything in my personal attitude or my public career, behavior, or record that lends itself to that interpretation. In fact, the record is the exact opposite,” he would say.

Some Jewish leaders were willing to accept Jackson’s apology. They had found his remarks offensive, but had also been disturbed by the severity of the attacks on him. After all, they confided, Jesse Jackson isn’t the only one using those ethnic terms. But some would not forgive; they scoffed at the apology in the temple—an apology made “belatedly” that “doesn’t acknowledge the gravity of his language,” said Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.  One who refused to accept the apology said, “He could light candles every Friday night and grow side curls, and it still wouldn’t matter.”  Other comments were made about the apology by those who believed it was politically motivated and insincere but eventually the incident would be forgotten, the campaign would survive and Jesse Jackson’s run for the presidency would in many ways pave the way for the future aspirations of Barack Obama.

Thirty years later on December 2015 when discussing Hillary Clinton’s loss to now-President Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary race, Donald Trump told supporters at a Monday-night rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that “she was favored to win and she got ‘schlonged,’ she lost.”  In case you didn’t know it “schlonged” is a vulgar derogatory Jewish term that is used to refer to the male gen—ls. I will not allow myself to use such language on my blog but you can Google the word for its definition and read how the term is used in the “urban dictionary.”

When Candidate Trump was confronted for his demeaning “publicly” spoken choice of words toward Secretary Clinton by the press, his response was not to apologize but rather to defend his remarks. “When I said that Hillary Clinton got schlonged by Obama, it meant got beaten badly. The media knows this. Its an often used word in politics!”

When Trump gave this explanation the press, instead of holding Trump’s feet to the fire, became his ally in excuse making by trying to find new and different ways to understand the meaning of the word “schlonged.” Here’s how one outlet tried to explain the word in Trump’s defense. “However, some believe that schlonged has a similar etymological status to that of words such as “screwed,” which has changed meaning over the years from having a sexual connotation to meaning ‘cheated’ or ‘conned,’ according to a Talking Points Memo report Wednesday.”

Another reporter remarked, “These phrases often get used with little conscious sense of their original meaning.” The reporter went on to cite a friend’s Facebook status that said he grew up in Long Island where the term “schlonged” was commonly used as a verb that meant “thoroughly beaten.”

Where were these minions when it came time to defend Jesse Jackson for his ‘Hymietown’ remark? Why weren’t they jumping to his defense to explain how certain ethnic groups sometimes use terms in casual off-the-record conversations and it is not always meant as a derogatory slur…

There was no chorus of voices calling for Trump to apologize. There was no cause for panic in his campaign. There was no sense that his presidential run was teetering on the brink of collapse or ruin, rather it was being defending by the press, who seemed to try in every way possible to bolster his presidential run and defend him.

How does one explain the difference in the treatment of Jackson when he used the word “Hymie” and the phrase “Hymietown” in a private off-the-record conversation with a Black news reporter that almost cost him his presidential campaign and Donald Trump who publicly said Hillary got “schlonged” by Obama when she ran for president in 2008? How does one explain the difference in treatment and the difference in the reaction of the Jewish community toward them when the remark was made? Has anyone heard any public excoriation from the Jewish community toward Trump for this vulgar remark toward a woman? What about the White community at large? Where are they in all of this? Imagine if any non-white candidate had made such a remark about Hillary Clinton. Could they possibly survive such a remark without even an apology? Let’s not even hazard suggesting an African American candidate saying it; we know the answer to that.

And while the press, the so-called “4th Estate,” should be taken to task for its soft ball spineless irresponsibility when it came to holding Donald Trump accountable, my greater concern is with Christians and specifically Christian Conservatives. Where is the Christian Right in all of this? What do they have to say about Trump’s rhetoric? Why have they been so silence since his campaign has begun? He claims to be a Christian, saying publicly that the one book greater than his own, “The Art of the Deal,” is the Bible, yet he seems to ignore what the Bible says while conducting his presidential campaign.

The Bible says in Matthew 7:12(NIV)—“ So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” We know this text to be the “Golden Rule.” However, Trump says he does not believe in ‘political correctness’. He feels he can say whatever he wants. How does that square with the “Golden Rule? Is that doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you? Or how does that equate with the words of Jesus in Mathew 12:35-37(NLT). Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” The Message Bible renders verse 37 like this. It says, “Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” Trump on several occasions has said he would bomb ISIS and has used vulgar language that I choose not to repeat, in describing how he would do it. But Proverbs 12:18(MES) says, “Rash language cuts and maims, but there is healing in the words of the wise.” I would say further, no Christian who has read the scriptures about the power of the tongue would agree with ignoring political correctness. James 1:26(CEB) says, “If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless.”

The Christian Right has not only remained silent, some of their most prominent and well-know personalities have endorsed Trump’s candidacy. Jerry Falwell Jr. has given his endorsement to Donald Trump and several prosperity preachers have spoken at Trump rallies advocating his financial philosophies. Ralph Reed, the onetime executive director of the Christian Coalition has jumped on the Trump band wagon with his endorsement and hosted a conference in June of some 2,000+ activists of Faith and Freedom Coalition supporters for Donald Trump. Like the Prophets of Baal who supported the throne of Ahab, it seems that some of today’s Evangelical ministers blindly support the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, without question or rebuke. And while they have nothing bad to say about Trump, they seem to have nothing good to say about President Obama.

Why has the Religious right brought little or no attention to the Christian model of the Obama family? Why no recognition of their exemplary marriage, their parenting or their children who have displayed a dignity and decency that has been a model for all American youth and teens. If they are such advocates of family values, why haven’t they taken the opportunity to praise the “First Family” for the dignified grace and virtue they have exemplified for all Americans? They were quick to praise Ronald and Nancy Reagan though theirs was a second marriage. They praised George W. and Laura Bush, though one of their daughters had an incident of indiscretion while a resident of the White House. I’m not suggesting anything untoward about either couple or family, just that their flaws did not exclude them from the Christian Rights praise. So why the silence when it comes to the Obama’s? Is it political or racial? When President Obama was criticized for making the decision to have dinner every night with his family instead of nightcap drinks with members of Congress, why didn’t the “Family Values” Christian Right come to his aid and defend his decision for his family? Are they really that partisan, or is it prejudice? Which?

Why is the Christian community as a whole so silent when it comes to the outrageous behavior of Donald Trump? Why no mention of his incendiary comments that are spoken publicly without any filter or apology. Some in the Christian community are never hesitant to speak about President Obama in negative terms. Some have called him the anti-Christ and presently are predicting that President Obama will declare marshal law, suspend elections and remain in the presidency using the 22nd amendment of the constitution. Others are claiming that he will use an executive order to remain in office. They are predicting evil from President Obama, but are seeing no evil from the divisive diatribes and dalliances of Donald Trump. They have the energy to speculate and pronounce outlandish prophetic conspiracies about President Obama, but remain silent when it comes to Donald Trump.  How does one explain this uneven analysis from Christians of the Religious Right?

The Bible is clear about where our trust should be placed. Psalm 118:9 (GNT) says, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to depend on human leaders.” Psalms 146 (CEB) is even more emphatic. It says in verse 3, “Don’t trust leaders; don’t trust any human beings— there’s no saving help with them! Proverbs 29:26 (CEB) reminds us, “Many seek access to the ruler, but justice comes from the LORD.” The Bible gives clear guidance on where ones loyalties should be when it comes to the endorsement and selection of leaders and Christians must always maintain a prophetic voice representing God’s directives in all matters of government. No political party or leader is entitled to the support of Christians without the consent of God and the endorsement of scripture and Christians must always use scripture to determine the direction they should take in political matters.

One final point, what we do know in scripture is that God is a God of justice. The Psalmist says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; grace and truth attend you.”(Psalms 89:15 Complete Jewish Bible) It is also clear that God is particularly concerned for the justice of the poor and oppressed. Proverbs 22:22—23 say, “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush he needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life. God identifies with the poor with these powerful words, “Those who are kind to the poor lend to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”(Proverbs 19:17) Finally, God gives this promise to those in political office who show favor to the poor. He says, “If a king steadfastly gives justice to the poor, his throne will be secure forever.”(Proverbs 29:14 CJB)

So how are we to determine whom we should support for the presidency?  Let me share this starting point as a litmus test.  God sends a clear message to all of the candidates who aspire to the presidency,  who seek His favor and endorsement. It is simple and concise. “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40 NKJV)

 

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?