How To Save Your Relatives

How To Save Your Family! Evange-Living Series

Question. How can I save my family? Answer. You can’t. But since it’s probably not a good thing to end a blog after just 10 words, let’s talk about it.

Nothing is more heart-wrenching and helpless than looking at a loved one who seems to be wasting life away. Disconnected from God and themselves.  But one thing is absolutely certain. As much as much as we love our family members, God loves them more. Matthew 7:11; Psalm 27:10.

That’s a good word for that loved one whose life seems to have run off the rails. Not only does God love them, but God is chasing them. No, you can’t save your family, that’s God’s job. And He’s working on it as we speak. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” God is drawing, pulling, pursuing.

David acknowledged as much in Psalm 139:1, 2 and 7. “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away…I can never get away from your presence!” Frances Thompson called Him, The Hound of Heaven!

Matthew 18 puts it another way. It’s clear that God has no problem “leaving” 99 safe saints to search for that one lost cousin, or mother, or aunt, or grandparent of yours. And Luke 15:4 says he pursues, “until He finds it!”  That’s good news.

Now the fact that God is both pursuing and protecting our unsaved loved ones, provides comfort, but it’s no panacea for the pain. It helps to understand the role God gives us to play.

Pray Every-day!

Nothing focuses our prayer life like praying for relatives that are in trouble. Pray with the confidence that God hears and answers prayer. He also understands tears and wails and groans and anger and laments. So come straight. Because when you pray, things happen.

And get other folk involved also.  “If any 2 of you agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:19,20.

This is powerful counsel. Don’t stop at your prayer closet but enlist others to pray for your family. If you have a prayer team at your church, get them involved. When other ideas fail, you can be sure that prayer makes a difference. It might not work as we planned, and it might ignore our time tables, but prayer always works.

Be Consistent

One of the reasons relatives seem reluctant to follow us to God is because our Christianity can be painfully inconsistent. It’s not easy to be at your best all the time, but we must recognize how important a consistent lifestyle is to a non-believing relative.

It’s not fair, but often they are looking for any flaw they can find in our Christianity, to give them an excuse to continue their lifestyle. They are desperately trying to ignore the pleas of the Spirit to change their ways, and they will pounce on any inconsistency they see.

Peter’s counsel to wives is good advice for anyone trying to reach a reluctant family member: “Wives in the same way submit yourselves to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” 1 Peter 3:1-2.

But here’s a little secret. Your lost relatives generally know the difference between consistency and perfection. Don’t hold yourself to an impossible, man-made standard that you can’t keep now, and they won’t keep later. Let the word of God, not someone else’s books, sermons, or opinions be your guide.

Don’t Give Up!

Pray and keep on praying is the message of Matthew 7:7-11. The rescue process can seem painfully slow. At times it doesn’t seem to be moving at all.  Years can pass with no change or hope in sight. That’s why Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Don’t Give Up!

So, what do you think? Are you praying for your loved ones and relatives?

The Man Who Saved The Adventist Church From Obscurity

The Man Who Saved the Adventist Church from Obscurity

That’s how Elder Charles Bradford described Dr. Earl Moore at his funeral last week, “the man who saved the Adventist Church from obscurity. He was right.

The Sixties were tumultuous years in America. Presidents and pop stars alike were being murdered in the streets. The assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin King only made a bad situation worse. Cities from Newark to Detroit to Chicago were regularly in flames because of racial tensions.

But as bad as it was in the industrial north, it was considerably worse in the deep South. But it was in the South that black leaders like Charles Joseph, Randy Stafford, and others fearlessly led their communities and literally forced the Adventist church to confront the civil rights crisis.

Earl Moore led the charge. A graduate of Oakwood College and Loma Linda University, He pastored and later became the Community Services and Health and Welfare Director for the South-Central Conference. Moore was an amazing activist who was always pushing his community and his church to confront racism, injustice and poverty.

He Defied the General Conference

President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty in 1964, but it was clear by 1968 that his heart wasn’t in it.  Martin King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s response was to organize the Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign demanded economic and human rights for poor people. They set up a 3000-person protest camp on the Washington Mall, and stayed for 6 weeks.

Dr. Moore, Dr. Charles Joseph and the South-Central Conference had created a mobile medical unit that was offering free medical and dental care in the deep South. They brought relief to thousands. They decided to take the van and offer those same services to the crowds gathered for the Poor Peoples Campaign in D.C. But when the General Conference was alerted of their plans, they sent clear instructions for them not to go.

When Moore and his associates got word from the squeamish General Conference that they should not participate in the Poor Peoples Campaign, they sent back a response that I’ll always remember.  Moore and his friends simply responded, “We’re going to Washington because our people are there.”  And with that simple but straightforward response, they did what they had to do.

He Put The Church On The Map

Despite his defiance, or better, because of his defiance, the Adventist Church benefitted. Pictures of that mobile unit that defied the General Conference are currently on display in the African American History Museum in Washington, D.C.  The van is also mentioned in the television documentary, “M.L. King: The Assassination Tapes.”

Earl Moore went on to become a recognized and respected civil and human rights leader. He worked alongside leaders like Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and others. For 20 years he was the vice-chairman for the Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta. He brought much needed attention to the church for his local and national efforts.

He Supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Throughout his life, Moore was a strong supporter of Christian education in general and black educational institutions in particular. His son Wayne was one of my roommates at Oakwood and he is currently an emergency medical specialist in Gallatin, Tennessee. As a matter of fact, because of the influence and encouragement of Moore and others, 10 Moores graduated as physicians from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee.

We Don’t Know Our History

There are few things that irritate me more than leaders who speak as though community activism began with them. It’s inaccurate and fundamentally disrespectful. And worse, it misses an opportunity to learn from those who worked under worse conditions than we can imagine.  The years that I spent listening to and observing Dr. Moore, Dr. Joseph and others, were as valuable as any university education.

We owe an incredible debt to Dr. Earl Moore and other Adventist civil rights giants. We can make a dent in that debt with recognition and respect. But more than that, we can continue their amazing legacy by making a difference, right where we are.

What do you think? What can we do to impact our communities?

Meet the Farmer Who Scheduled Your Sabbath School

Meet the Farmer Who Scheduled Your Sabbath School

Well, that isn’t the actual farmer, but I probably didn’t miss it by much. Let me explain. Last week I posted a casual question on Facebook and the number of responses surprised me. So, I’m pausing my Evange-Living series to explore the topic.  This was the post that launched a major conversation.

Anonymous Church.

Sabbath/Sunday School Attendance-50.

11 o’clock Service Attendance-500.

Is the issue scheduling or commitment?

I was exploring the reason there seems to be such a difference in the number of people who attend Sabbath School and “Divine” Worship services. The responses were both interesting and entertaining. One gentleman wondered whether describing the 11 o’clock service as “divine” might be tipping the balance. Mothers young and old complained of the impossible job of getting children up and out. There were numerous complaints of irrelevant quarterlies and boring teachers.

But this observation kept showing up, “Well, we get to work on time, we ought to get to Sabbath School on time!” Interesting point. It seems to make sense, but does it really?  A better question might be, what does one have to do with the other? Work is compensated, worship is not. Work times are mandatory, worship times are not. This is where the farmer comes in.

Follow the Farmer

Question. Why do we generally meet at 9 am or 11 am? Is there something sacred about those times? The answer is no. There are several theories about why most churches meet at 11 on Saturday or Sunday mornings. But the most accepted theory is the agrarian theory, the farming theory. We worship at 11 because in the early stages of church history it was the most convenient time for farmers. They got their early chores done and then headed to church.

So, is that a good enough reason for you and me?  I’m pretty sure that the early morning hours will always be a great time for Sabbath school and worship for most of us. I prefer it. It’s not just tradition, but it’s the body clock. But that’s not the case for everyone. Many mothers and millennials suggest that a later start might be a better start for church members and visitors alike.

The Question of Convenience

Although we know that convenience was a primary driver for church service times historically, many Christians feel that the words Christianity and convenience are mortal enemies. Convenience is a priority of a church that is lukewarm and uncommitted. And in many ways, they are right.

But there is a serious danger of raising our preferences to the level of principle. Erecting standards that are more personal than spiritual. Teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. Matthew 15:9.

There are excellent reasons for starting Sabbath/Sunday School at 9 am. and the worship service at 11.  Many surveys still point to early Saturday and Sunday as the preferred worship times. That’s fine as long as we recognize that it’s a matter of personal choice and Christian liberty.

The Sabbath Was Made For….You!

For many Christians I sense that the reluctance to consider a more convenient time for services is influenced by a misguided understanding of sacrifice and struggle. The attitude is, “no pain, no gain.” For worship to be meaningful it demands sacrifice. David says as much in 2 Samuel 24:24. But taken to the extreme it makes a burden of the Sabbath and it totally miscasts grace.

The very idea of grace is that we get what we don’t deserve, what we did not work for. Moses told Israel,

“When the Lord your God brings you to the land He promised to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He will give you large and beautiful cities that you did not build, houses filled with every good thing you did not supply, wells that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant!”  Deut. 6:10-11

Same for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was designed to be a delight. Isaiah 58. For many overworked, stressed-out Christians, the most delightful thing about the Sabbath could be some extra sleep. Is that a bad thing?

We will never be able to please everyone when we choose a Sabbath School time or worship time. My preference is to stick with the tried and true when there is doubt. But it’s perfectly appropriate to explore new times, additional times, convenient times.  The sacrifice that we need to prioritize in all of our services has already been made. On a cross.

So, what do you think? What Sabbath School time or worship time do you prefer? Do you see the issue as commitment or scheduling? Do your friends and family feel the same way?

Don’t KNOW Nobody?? Can’t REACH Nobody!

Don’t KNOW Nobody?? Can’t REACH Nobody!

Excuse the bad English in the title, but I’m making a point. Distance is dead in evangelism. If you are going to make an impact on people you must have contact with people. It is arguably the weakest feature of Adventist evangelism. We have often isolated ourselves to the point of irrelevance.

There is no Impact without Contact

I just left a powerful Ministers Conference at Hampton University in Virginia. Over 9000 ministers were in attendance from various Christian denominations. For years I have attended this conference and others for the amazing preaching, insightful workshops, and fellowship. Yes, the fellowship. I have developed valued personal and professional relationships with ministers of other denominations as we worship and study together.

This year the new African American hymnal by GIA publications was introduced at Hampton. The previous hymnal was a classic. It’s an ecumenical/non-denominational hymnal that pays particular attention to contributions by people of color. It will be enjoyed by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Christians across the globe. Dr. Jason Ferdinand was on the organizing committee that selected the hymns, and many Adventist classics are included.

From the host of religious communities involved, 3 religious leaders were asked to pray at the special service introducing the hymnal. I was one of the 3 religious leaders. I was asked, not necessarily because of my position or perceived talent. But I was asked because of a confidence and comfort forged through relationships.

I listened with pride as Jason led the group in the Adventist standard, “Watch Ye Saints.” His relationships gave him a platform to remind the crowd of our passion for the second advent- “Lo He Comes!” It was a musical testimony to the power and importance of relationships.

When Your Friends All Look Like You

When we prepare local churches for public evangelism, we always include a request for the members to identify and invite their non-Christian friends to the meeting. Like Jesus, that lost sheep is our priority. Inevitably we discover that the saints have a problem. They don’t have many friends that fit that category.

Now for new Christians, it’s good counsel to be extremely careful about your exposure. It’s safe. And each of us needs to know our limits and then ere on the side of caution. But if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, it’s time to grow up! How can you be salt if you don’t mingle? How can you be the light of the world if you’re avoiding the world?

Jesus said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. ..As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” John 17:15-18
Paul put it this way, “When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too……Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. I Corinthians 9:21-22 LB

We have to forge relationships with Christians and non-Christians that disagree with us on scripture and points of doctrine. Now the depth of the relationships will vary based on our maturity and other variables, but effective evangelism won’t happen without it.

To those who are concerned that their faith might be challenged or compromised by exposure to other beliefs, perhaps you’re right. Continue to develop and ask God for openings. For those who are convinced that they may be “contaminated” by exposure to other believers because they are obviously sinners who “know better.” Please don’t go! Your attitude will kill your opportunity.

But this is how I feel. If I don’t have a faith that can stand a challenge, then I don’t have a faith at all. I have had opportunities to explain my beliefs to religious leaders because we were friends in discussion, not enemies in debate. We need to put a premium on developing relationships that God can use to build his kingdom.

So, what do you think? Do you have many friends outside of your faith tradition? Why or why not? What are the dangers? How can you protect yourself?

What’s Missing From Adventist Evangelism?

What’s Missing From Adventist Evangelism?

ADVENTISTS!! That’s what’s missing from Adventist evangelism. Adventists. Everyday Adventists. Not celebrities. Not pastors. Not evangelists. Not paid bible workers. But normal, natural, balanced Adventists. Everyone I mentioned above is valuable to evangelism, but the most effective evangelists are not really “evangelists” at all.

Let me illustrate. The average life expectancy for a US citizen is 78.7 years. For men it’s 76 years. For women it’s 81 years. I would speculate about why women live longer than men, but my wife reads my blogs!

Now it is alleged that by the time most Christians come to the end of a normal life, they would have heard 5,000 sermons, sung 10,000 songs, prayed 20,000 prayers…. and led 0, no one to Christ!

That illustration has obvious flaws. There are holes in the math, differences in circumstances, and various definitions of evangelism. There will certainly be people in heaven who were influenced by our example. But it begs an important question. How many Christians can recall one person they have personally led to Christ? How about you?

Now there are a boatload of challenges to effective evangelism today:

  • Neglected prayer
  • Outdated methods
  • Distracted members
  • Hard hearts
  • Absence of Holy Spirit power

But the most glaring absence in Adventist evangelism-personal or corporate-is the local Adventist. There is not a program or plan or preacher powerful enough to do what God has designed individual Christians to do. God’s plan for outreach was surprisingly simple:

“But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Witnesses! From the point of our conversion we have been given the supernatural power to witness effectively. Witness is who we are, and witness is what we do. We need witnesses more that Bible instructors. We need witnesses more than we need mission trips. We need witnesses more than we need campaigns. We need witnesses, men and woman who are simply telling what they have seen and heard.

When we witness it increases our Biblical knowledge

There is an epidemic of biblical illiteracy today. Not just in the world but in the local church. And it has serious consequences. Jesus told the Sadducees in Matthew 22:29, “You are in error because you do not know the word of God….” Same for us. We pay a price for not knowing the Bible. It weakens our witness. It shatters our confidence. It undermines our faith

When we witness it reveals our Biblical weaknesses

I am convinced that most Christians won’t realize how little they know until they are asked to explain or defend what they know. Sharing your faith is not only a great spiritual discipline, but it reveals areas that we need to improve. I Peter 3:15 says, “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have.”

One of the most embarrassing experiences I had as a young pastor was explaining the spirit of prophecy to a Mormon couple in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ll never forget it. And I’m glad I won’t. Because the mistakes that I made and the lessons I learned serve me well to this day. I didn’t realize how confused I was or sounded until I was asked to explain my belief. That’s a benefit of sharing your faith.

Witnessing is living and sharing the good news of Jesus. It’s a lifestyle. It’s inviting someone to church. It’s praying for a co-worker. It’s attending a graduation or funeral or wedding of a non-believing friend. We should never expect a church to do what only individual church members can do. Ellen White puts it this way:

“Everywhere there is a tendency to substitute the work of organizations for effort…Christ commits to his followers an individual work—a work that cannot be done by proxy.” Ministry of Healing p.147

For many the summer is a season of outreach, mission, and evangelism.  This series will look at practical ways to expand the kingdom of God.

Question. Who was the person primarily responsible for you becoming a Christian?