3 Ways to Redeem Your Time

If you listen closely, you’ll hear an interesting war of words on the internet these days. It’s a battle between two passionate groups. I call them the workers and the shirkers.

The workers seem to be obsessed with using this Covid-19 down time “productively.”  So they haven’t slept in a couple weeks. They are too busy learning a new language, writing a new book, starting a new podcast……. or lying about their new language, book, or podcast.

The shirkers love to take shots at the workers. They can sound a bit defensive at times. They criticize the workers for not resting and reflecting during the down time. Their favorite song is “Kum ba yah.” Their favorite cliché is, “we’re not human DOINGS, we’re human BEINGS!”

My suggestion for both groups is to call a cease fire and follow the Bible’s advice to redeem the time. And that will look strikingly different from person to person.

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise. Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16 KJV

What does “redeem the time” mean?

There are 2 words in the New Testament for time. One word defines time in the way that most of us understand it. It’s a series of moments. But the other word for time is a season or an opportunity. In fact, the New International Version translates Ephesians 5:15-16 just that way:

“Be very careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise. Making the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil.”

Redeeming the time is valuing time, cherishing time. Redeeming the time is investing in the opportunities that time presents.

So, how can we make the most of our Covid-19 down time? How can we redeem our time? There are a number of ways. Let me suggest 3.

Adjust your attitude about life and death

Dr. Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Seminary suggests that before we adjust our actions to redeem the time, we must first adjust our attitude about life and death.

Death is an inevitability that many in our culture find it hard to accept. There are countless diets, supplements, retreats and seminars that seem designed to further this notion that we can live forever down here. Won’t work.

The Bible on the other hand paints a very realistic picture of life. James 4:14 says it’s like a vapor, a mist. Now you see it, now you don’t. Same for Psalm 144:4. It describes this life as a fast disappearing shadow.

We must accept the reality that we can outrun a number of things, but we won’t outrun death. The key is to spend our time with the knowledge that our days in this sin cursed world are numbered.

Watch your comparisons to others

You’ll never take advantage of your opportunities if you are comparing yourself with others. That’s why the title of this blog is redeeming YOUR time! The unfortunate reality is that much of what we see and read about others does not tell the whole story. We get the picture after the photoshopping. We get the article after the editing. And so we are intimidated.  

We spend way too much of our time minding other folk’s business. That’s actually the source of the conflict between the workers and shirkers. Redeeming the time for some will mean taking a class. Redeeming the time for others will mean taking a break. Focus on your own time and opportunities.

Pursue your purpose

A key to redeeming the time is understanding your purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s handiwork. We were born with assignments God created us to do. When you know your assignment, it determines how you choose to spend your time. When you know your assignment, it helps you say no to things that are interesting but not essential.

And here’s the key. You don’t find your purpose by pursuing purpose. You find your purpose by pursuing God.

Hope this is helpful. Share the post if it is. How are you handling this down time? Feeling any pressure to produce?

How to Handle the Virus of Worry? Part 2

I’m not a San Antonio Spurs fan. Most people who know me, know that…especially Spurs fans. Maybe it’s that poker face of Tim Duncan as he destroyed folk, or that annoyingly polite David Robinson. But I met Coach Greg Popovich when I was pastoring in California, and I think he’s a genius.

Coach Pop attributed the Spurs success to something interesting. “Appropriate fear.” Of course, he acknowledged his draft success and the talent of his players. But he explained that he never allowed his squad to overestimate themselves or underestimate the power of the opponent. They were always prepared.

That’s probably a good place to start as we wrap up this look at worry. Should Christians worry? Well, that’s a yes or no question that’s really looking for context. The words for worry and fear in the Old and New Testaments are used positively or negatively depending on the context. For instance, if it’s Christian concern, worry is good. If it’s respect and awe, fear is good. But if either of those natural emotions are controlling you rather that you controlling them, then there’s a problem.

Last week we looked at 3 things we should avoid if we want to control anxiety, worry, distress and fear. Those things were fake news, fatalistic friends, and false prophets. Let’s wrap things up by looking at 4 simple, positive things we can do to battle this virus called worry.

Pray

Philippians 4:6-7, provides a perfect worry remedy: “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication. Make your request known to God. And Gods unexplainable peace will keep your hearts and minds through Jesus.”

There it is. Simple but effective. Pray. Dr. Tony Evans suggests that during this crisis when we are washing our hands multiple times a day, instead of singing “Happy Birthday” to time the wash, take that time and pray. Pray and pray a lot.

Study

In uncertain times when there is much that we don’t know, it’s good to review those foundational Bible truths that we do know. Take the time to study the great themes of scripture that will not only bring comfort but provide answers and instruction to weather this crisis.

For instance, in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us, “don’t worry”, at least 5 times. His primary reason is because we have the security of a perfect and protective “heavenly Father. For those who have been blessed to have good fathers, but especially for those who haven’t, now is the time to study the perfect “ Fatherly” characteristics of God. They will regulate your worry.

Move

There is a direct line between our state of mind and the state of our health. For many people, out of control worry is a symptom of a physical problem or emotional problem. Get professional help where necessary, but the answer might not be going to the doctor but going for a walk…. a regular walk.

Move!! Walk, run, skate, squat, rock, bike, climb…. or just lean! Do some sort of regular exercise, and it will not only help you physically but mentally.

Share

The research is overwhelming. There are few things that will stall or stop your worry like doing something for someone else. It’s documented that helping others will do a number of things, including:

· Counteracting stress

· Combating depression

· Increasing self-confidence

· Providing a sense of purpose

So, find someone to help and the first person who will be helped is you.

So that’s it. How are you handling worry during this season? What would your advice be?

How to Handle the Virus of Worry

Worry. It’s the Christian version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Most everyone does it, but few admit it. And fewer still learn the lessons that worry, and fear can teach.

These days there seems to be a lot to worry about. The coronavirus has created a new normal. Church services have been cancelled. Entire cites are under quarantine. Some areas are more impacted than others, but even that adds to the uncertainty of it all. We are fighting the worst possible enemy, one that we can’t see.

And the sad reality is, the coronavirus is the least of the worries of many families across this nation. Deaths didn’t pause for a moment. Families are mourning the passing of loved ones without the support of relatives and friends who can’t safely attend the memorials. Cancer didn’t disappear. Drug addiction didn’t stop. Problems didn’t pause. In other words, life with all of its challenges continues with or without a virus.

And in the face of this mess, Jesus gives an almost unnatural command in Matthew 6:25, “Don’t worry about your life.” Paul was even more emphatic in Philippians 4: 6,” Don’t worry about ANYTHING….” Really? Don’t worry about anything in life. How in the world is that possible?

First let’s be clear what the Bible means when it talks about worry. In the Old and New Testaments there are a number of words that describe worry. Some are positive, most are negative. It all depends on the context. The primary word is merimnao. When it’s describing legitimate concern or Christian care, then the word is positive. But that’s not the “worry” that the Bible warns us against.

The worry that Christ commands us to avoid is a destructive anxiety, an over-concern. It literally means “distracted”, “divided”, “driven in different directions” Like fear, it’s a legitimate emotion that is functioning illegitimately. In Matthew 5 and 6, Jesus talks about worry in the context of His kingdom. The issue is primarily allegiance. Where is your citizenship? Which king will you trust? More on that later.

But there are a number of practical things that you should avoid, especially in this pandemic, if you want to fight worry. I’ll identify 3 and we’ll take a more positive turn in part two

Fake News

In times of crisis we should aggressively guard the avenues into our minds and emotions. People are struggling with a type of sensory overload of news in general. But this coronavirus has been Christmas in March for the conspiracy theorists. Here are just a few of the theories:

· The US with help of Bill Gates manufactured the virus in 2018.

· There is a vaccine, but the government won’t release it.

· It began with Chinese eating bats in Wuhan.

· The US weaponized it against China.

· The Chinese weaponized it against the US

Now, I’m sure that someone reading this blog has found a friend in at least one of those theories. And that’s the genius of many theories. They have just enough truth to cover you while you take the plunge. But it’s a black hole. Conspiracy theories by their very nature are impossible to prove, so they have an endless shelf life.

But if you want to avoid worry, better to take one of Paul’s most famous remedies for worry, “Whatever is true…noble…right…pure…lovely…admirable…excellent or praiseworthy-think about those things!” Phil. 4:8

Fatalistic Friends

I used the word fatalistic for alliteration. The word I wanted to use was NEGATIVE!! There are some people who are negative by nature. Under the best of circumstances, they carry a cloud. But in a crisis that cloud becomes a storm. Are there often reasons for their pessimism? Yes. Should you make their worry the source of yours? No.

I wrote on Facebook this week that I’m convinced that some folk must stay up at night thinking of “helpful” things to post that will frighten people…. well, I was a little more graphic on Facebook, but this is a family post. The point is the source of your worry might very well be your well-meaning friends. Be careful of your company online and in person.

False Prophets

I’m being kind. I generally call them Prophecy Pimps. Religious leaders who have made a cottage industry of end time speculation. At times they seem to traffic in the worry of well-meaning people. I have lived and studied long enough to remember the number of cataclysmic events that were supposed to be “proof positive” that the world is about to end. But we’re still here.

I’m not being cavalier. I’ve not seen anything quite like this virus. But God’s ways and times are impossible to control or fully understand. I don’t know what’s happening next, but I do know what’s happening now. People are praying like they’ve never prayed before. That’s a great remedy for worry. I’ll pick that up in Part Two.

What are your thoughts? Please share. Thanks!

Will the Church Please Leave The Building – Part Two

Yesterday was interesting. Seems like every church… and church member… with a wi-fi connection was online. Some of them were obviously not ready for prime time. It made for some funny moments. The old joke is that some people have a face for radio. I’m beginning to feel the same way about churches.

But I’m a fan. I’m excited that churches have taken the media plunge. I also don’t think churches need to apologize for scrambling to get their worship services online. Public and personal worship is the fuel of mission. The problem is that too many churches have emphasized their worship services to the exclusion of other ministries. Hopefully, this isn’t another example.

Which is why I said at the end of Part One, the question of the hour for me is not where your church is worshipping this weekend, but where your church is ministering this week.

The building may be temporarily locked for public worship, but the church is open for business! We are the church and this could be our finest hour for ministry. Quarantines and shortages have limited some ministry options, but two primary areas should be our focus:

Serving the Members

Galatians 6:10 encourages us to take particular care of the members of our local church body. Churches seem to be doing a decent job of getting online. Streaming has become a priority. But if you look at the average age of most of our congregations, it’s clear that many of our members are probably “technology challenged.”

Assume nothing. Know where your church members are and how they are doing. And don’t wait for some magical system if you don’t have one. Phone. Text. Pony Express. Carrier pigeon. I don’t care! By any means necessary. Find some willing workers and get it done.

I drove to Memphis to see my parents yesterday. Both of them are over 80. It was comforting to me and my sisters to know how many members had been checking in on them already. That’s ministry!

Servicing the Community

Churches are at their best when they are ministering to the needs of people. And as this pandemic grows, so does the need for churches to leave the building and go to work. And it’s happening!

• Churches are distributing “grab and go” meals for the homeless.

• Churches are using their online platforms for cooking classes and health tips.

• Churches are providing breakfast and lunch for out of school students.

• Churches are leading blood donation drives.

• Churches are paying off outstanding medical bills for the underprivileged.

The Church of the Highlands in Birmingham is using its church parking lot as a remote testing site. Members are volunteering their services and people are coming by the hundreds. That’s what happens when the church leaves the building, even if it’s only as far as the parking lot!

And don’t overlook the value of simple ministries that don’t cost a dime. Canvass your community to determine their needs. Especially the seniors. Conduct a prayer walk that could include asking your neighbors how you can pray for them. Prayer requests are non-denominational, usually well-received, and amazing ice breakers.

It’s time for the church to leave the building!


Please Share This Post. Thanks! So how are churches in your area ministering in this crisis. What about your church? Any more outreach or service ideas?

Will the Church Please Leave the Building – Part One

We’ve heard the clichés for years. “The church is not a building!” “The church is not the steeple, it’s the people.” Cute. But the clichés are correct. The church is not brick and mortar, the church is a collection of people.

So, it’s a bit ironic that when the church is presented with one of the greatest opportunities in history to minister outside the walls, many of them are fighting to stay inside the walls! This fast-moving coronavirus crisis has already pushed us into a new normal. But some of the chaos in our communities has been overshadowed by the chaos in some of our churches.

Because there is an ongoing argument about whether their churches should follow the government’s “social distancing” mandates and cancel worship services.

  • “How can the government shut down my church?!”
  •  “We should obey God rather than man!” 
  • “The government is out of line.”
  • “They are removing our religious liberty.”

 Not so much. It’s true that our highest allegiance is to God. But God has described an appropriate role for the government.

In Romans 13:1-7, the government is described as “established by God” to keep order and provide protection. The protection of public health during this pandemic is clearly an appropriate role for the government.

Can they go too far? Of course, they can. That’s why no matter how desperate the situation, government is still bound by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that forces them to have a “compelling interest” when restricting church activities. And even then, if they have a compelling interest in limiting the freedom of a church, they must use the “least restrictive means.” I think they’ve met that standard so far.

At some point in our prophetic future, the government can and will seize our religious liberties and freedom. I’m not a prophet, but my sense is that this isn’t  it. This virus is probably preparation for much larger challenges to come.

And frankly, it’s not the church that has been suspended, it’s the public worship of the church. I would never minimize public worship. I think we were created to worship God. And public worship is central to our growth as disciples. But worship is not just what we do, it’s who we are. We are not bound by bricks!

I love worship. I teach Christian Worship and Black Liturgy. But my fear is that the mission and identity of some of our local churches are almost totally tied to their worship services. That’s not good.

How are we caring for our members? How are we reaching out to the community? The question of the hour is not where your church is worshipping this weekend, but where your church is ministering this week?

I’ll pick this up in Part 2. Your thoughts?

Non-Adventists in Adventist Pulpits?

Got a text last night. Another online prophet was blasting PELC for inviting non-Adventist speakers. Rolled over and went back to sleep. Since E.E. Cleveland and the committee initiated the annual invitations 30 years ago, the push back has been predictable. At times, almost comical.

Listen. We should be cautious when inviting ANY guest into our pulpits. Adventist or non Adventist. For the local pastor who has the liberty to invite non-Adventists into the pulpit, be careful. You should be super critical about whoever feeds your flock. Period. Adventist or non -Adventist. Some churches are not mature enough to handle a non -Adventist voice. You shouldn’t allow your liberty to become a stumbling block, even as you are helping them to mature.

But let me give 5 quick, common-sense reasons it’s dangerous to prohibit non Adventists from preaching from our pulpits.

Because Relationships Matter

Ministers have incredible influence. Even in this age of suspicion and leadership distrust, pastors impact the lives of millions in our communities. As Christians, we are in the people business. It makes sense for us to establish relationships with people who influence people. When pastors forge friendships across denominational lines, they not only discover common concerns, but the potential for theological dialogue is real.

A number of years ago I was able to share my understanding of glossolalia – tongues- to a group of prominent Pentecostal pastors in Southern California. They initiated the conversation because they trusted me. I was a friend. And there is probably no greater sign of trust, than when a pastor invites another pastor to share the pulpit. I had preached for them and they had preached for me. All of them? No. Just the ones I trusted.

Because It’s Arrogant

“Some of them (ministers of other denominations) who have rejected the light may be dishonest, critical and sharp…… but there are others who have lived up to the best light they had upon the scriptures.” (2)

Interesting insight from Ellen White over 130 years ago. Spoiler alert! Adventism is not the only faith community that trusts and believes the word of God.

Adventists are not the only ones who love Jesus.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe in holiness.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the Sabbath.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Adventists are not the only ones who believe that worship can get out of hand.

A quick glance at our fundamental beliefs reveals very little that is not shared by most mainline denominations. Our history and theology have a prominent Methodist influence. When a godly minister of another denomination preaches on a belief we share, it’s a blessing.

Because It’s Dangerous

Something interesting happens when the only voices you hear are familiar voices. You don’t realize it, but you go through life talking to yourself. You live in an echo chamber. You say something and the words come right back at you. No opposition. No contradiction. No change. That’s dangerous!

Adventists face the dangers of living in a bubble. We have our own everything. Adventist academies. Adventist universities. Adventist television. Adventist music. Adventist hotdogs and ham!

But its’ difficult to see the problem when the problem is you. Outsiders can be our salvation if they help us appreciate our strengths and confront our weaknesses.

Because It’s Inconsistent

This Saturday morning, Adventists across the world will gather in local churches and sing hymns that have strengthened their faith through difficult times. Some will complain that the problem with the church today is that we don’t sing enough of these great hymns. They not only inspire us but teach us. We’ll sing:

Amazing Grace

How Firm a Foundation

Lift up the Trumpet

When We All Get to Heaven

All written by amazing musicians. Not one Adventist in the bunch.

Now, I’m not equating a 5 minute hymn with a 40 minute sermon, but they both teach. Hymns teach. Books teach. Teachers teach. Preachers teach. We must be careful and use our judgement with them all.

Because It’s Judgmental

For many, this opposition to non -Adventists in Adventist pulpits goes to the idea that we don’t want false unity and weakening distinctives. I get that. But what I don’t get are Adventist Christians who claim that ministers of other denominations are false prophets- all of them. It’s insulting, judgmental, and frankly incorrect.

Ellen White again. “Ministers (of other denominations) have been treated by some of our laborers very much as if they were heathen-and they feel it.” (3) It’s wrong.

Of course, everything rises and falls on the preacher you pick. And frankly, some Adventist churches aren’t interested, prepared, or mature enough to hear a different voice. That’s fine.

But I’ve been blessed over the years to hear giants like Gardner Taylor, Charles Adams, and Sandy Ray bless Adventist congregations. The tradition continues today with the likes of Ralph West, William Curtis, Marcus Cosby and others.

Frankly, on the rare occasion that I’ve had a problem in my pulpit, it has been an Adventist preacher. And I have never had a problem with a non-Adventist guest. They have always taken pains to familiarize themselves with our beliefs and to be appropriate.

Perhaps it’s because I vet them all. Outsiders more carefully than insiders. That’s good counsel and an even better place to stop.

So what are your thoughts?

The Man who Saved the Adventist Church from Obscurity

That’s how Elder Charles Bradford described Dr. Earl Moore at his funeral, “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? And how can we impact our communities…today?!

Trick or Treat!  What About Christians and Halloween?

Trick or Treat!  What About Christians and Halloween?

It’s literally impossible to avoid Halloween these days. In a few days, everyone from Donald Trump to Maxine Waters will be knocking on our doors looking for candy. There will be parties and movies and fright nights in the woods, and haunted houses. The celebration seems to have expanded from a single day to an entire month.

According to the National Retail Federation, almost 70% of Americans will be celebrating Halloween this year. It is second only to Christmas as a commercial holiday. A quarter of all of the candy sold this year will be sold this season. And adults across the country will be eating that same candy for months.  Americans will spend over 8 billion dollars during this Halloween season. That’s billion with a B!

The origin

Where did Halloween come from? It seems that the celebration actually began with the Christian church. As early as the 4th century, according to church historian John Chrysostom, the church celebrated a festival in honor of martyred saints. It was called All Saints Day and originally held in May. The day before All Saints Day was called All Hallows(Holy) Day and eventually morphed into All Hallow E’en and eventually Halloween. Pope Gregory 4 shifted the original All Saints Day to November 1 to combat the popularity of the pagan Samhain Festival, and the rest is history.

The issue

So now the issue is, should Christians celebrate a pagan festival, or at least a festival with pagan origins?  It’s a good question. Halloween is circled on the calendar of the occult community. During the Halloween season:

  • There will be countless attempts to contact the dead.
  • More spells will be cast than at any other time of the year.
  • Animal shelters will refuse to offer black cats for adoption for fear they will be used in a bloody sacrifice.

It is the pagan high and holy day. Nothing else comes close. How should a Christian handle Halloween? Here are some thoughts.

What about Christmas and Easter? Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and there were no eggs and bunnies at Calvary. Both of these celebrations have pagan origins, but Christians have chosen to infuse them with spiritual meaning. Of course, Halloween is worse.  But if you’re going to use pagan origins as your argument against Halloween, at least be consistent.

And don’t stop with Halloween and Christmas and Easter. If you’re having problems with pagan origins, you’ll have problems with the names of weekdays and months, church steeples, clergy robes, wedding bands, and even flowers at funerals. And don’t forget about those pagan symbols on our currency, or money. Just saying.

We might not agree – What does the Bible say about celebrating Halloween? Nothing specifically, but a lot in principle. Leviticus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:9-13 are among a number of passages that warn Christians about the danger of flirting with the occult. Many Christians quickly respond that they are not celebrating the Kingdom of darkness, and that they are not impacted or impressed by the history. Halloween seems to fall under the banner of disputable matters, Romans 14. Matters that good Christians can disagree on.

Here’s a good example

It reminds me of Paul’s response to a disputable matter in I Corinthians 8.  Jewish Christians were upset because Gentile Christians were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. (Sounds kind of Halloweenish to me.) It was causing such a stir in the church that Paul’s eventual advice to the members was to stop it.  It wasn’t worth the trouble.

But Paul described the Jewish Christians as immature. “Weak’ is the word he used. The idol, he reminded them, was nothing but a piece of stone. No matter what the original idol worshippers intended, that idol is “nothing”, he says.  He makes the point that if your conscience is bothered because of the origin and history of the meat, then it’s wrong for you to eat it. But if another Christian has none of those issues with the meat, he’s free to eat it. Seems like good counsel for Christians who don’t see eye to eye on Halloween.

Don’t celebrate like a pagan.  If you choose to celebrate on Halloween, be careful how you do it. As I said earlier, Halloween is a high and “holy” day for the occult community. Each year around this time I receive a number of articles from former witches and warlocks who caution Christians not to be naïve about the spiritual and physical dangers of Halloween.

The Devil is real and so are his followers. Christians partying as demons and vampires are out of place any time of the year. Christians celebrating inappropriately or to excess are wrong any time of the year. Christians entertaining themselves with occult books, and motion pictures, and television series are playing with fire any time of the year. It is absolutely wrong to celebrate Halloween as a pagan tribute to the kingdom of darkness.

Take the day back! Halloween actually has its roots in the church. It began with good intentions, but the Devil absolutely defiled it. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather, Expose Them.” One of the most powerful reasons for Christians to celebrate on Halloween is to expose the tricks of the Devil.

Halloween, with all of its baggage, is a great teachable moment. It’s an opportunity to expose the Devil and his devices. So instead of screaming at the dark this Halloween, turn on the light. How?

  • Sponsor a Harvest Festival. Have a Halloween replacement celebration at your home or local church. Make sure that there are plenty of “treats” that will make the kids forget what they might be getting at a stranger’s door. Some churches encourage the kids to come to these events as Bible characters and they have contests for the best custom. Be creative. Get the kids involved in the planning.
  • Have a brief but inspiring message.  Teach the kids that there is literally a Great Controversy raging between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Teach the kids that life with Christ is a life of power over darkness. I John 4:4. Bring in an age-appropriate speaker who can connect with the kids or go to the Christian bookstore and choose from a number of powerful videos and resources for just that purpose.
  • Create a space for creative Christian fun.  This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t brain surgery. Many Christian kids are already disappointed that they are missing one on the most enjoyable days on their school calendar. They already feel a bit awkward explaining why they don’t celebrate Halloween like their classmates. That’s understandable. But it seems inexcusable for a local church to make a challenging holiday even worse by not scheduling some good clean Christian fun.

Halloween will always be a hot topic with Christians. It’s one of those issues that will never be settled, but it’s too important an issue not to discuss. I think the answer is this. Don’t celebrate Halloween, but celebrate on Halloween. But that’s me.  What do you think?

How to Criticize the Church

How to Criticize the Church

Some weeks it’s easier to be a Christian than an Adventist. This was one of those weeks for me. It began with Annual Council delegates forgetting that Halloween is still a week away and deciding to dress like extras from Little House on the Prairie…or Django. To many of us, they were a reminder of a patriarchal, racist chapter in our nation’s history. Can you say tone deaf?

Next the President of the General Conference went after music, worship, and social justice in the same message – just hours after the costume party. It gave rise to criticism that he was attempting to Make Adventism White…I mean, Great Again. I understand his call for moderation, and in context it makes sense. But what are the words I’m looking for? Oh, yeah. Tone deaf.

And then there was the “Unity” document. An attempt to rein in parts of the church that have been deemed, “out of compliance.” (Hint: That’s about 80% of you.) Again, it makes sense in principle. This is a 20-million-member denomination with more off shoot groups than we can name. But the unmistakeable backdrop is women’s ordination. And in my opinion, it’s another attempt to legislate a matter of conscience, context, and Union control.

So, what’s a frustrated Adventist professor to do? Well, I think its time to criticize. What? Yes, criticize. Is that appropriate? I think so. Ever heard of a prophet named Jeremiah? What about Ellen White and her Testimonies to the Churches and letters to leaders? What about Jesus and his letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3?

Is church criticism appropriate? I would argue that it’s not only appropriate but essential. It all depends on how it’s done. Let me give some suggestions on how to appropriately criticize the church.

Criticize biblically

There are some church issues that don’t need to be made public. As a matter of principle, we should attempt to resolve issues as quickly, quietly, and as close to the source of the problem as possible. Matthew 18 provides concrete counsel for most church conflicts. But that counsel is best applied to personal conflict. Not a perfect model for criticism of institutions.

Criticize accurately

One of the absolute requirements for going after an institution or an individual, is getting your facts straight. Don’t accept what you hear or what you read at face value. The internet is fast becoming a fact free zone. Ted Wilson is not a Jesuit. The church logo wasn’t designed by a warlock. Get your facts straight before you criticize the church.

Criticize constructively

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:15, that speaking the truth in love is a recipe for Christian growth and maturity. It’s also important for those who criticize the church. Check your motivation. Watch your attitude. Be conscious of how your criticism impacts and influences others. You can’t use the Devil’s tools to build the Lord’s house.

Criticize courageously

If you don’t have the courage to speak truth to power, step aside and support those who do. Our church structures are presidential to a fault. It’s great for efficiency, but it comes at the cost of collaboration and diversity. The warning against “kingly power” is more than cliché counsel. We have a real problem. We have literally enabled leaders to hurt themselves and us. For all the talk of free exchange, many of our leaders are surrounded by other leaders who won’t speak up because it’s contrary to their own self interests. I get it. But it’s not working. And it runs counter to the sensibilities of the generation that will be leading us next.

Criticize consistently

Finally, if you’re going to criticize, start with that person in the mirror. Don’t require something of me that you don’t value yourself. No one is perfect but have some integrity. Be consistent. And let me leave you with perhaps the greatest test of your integrity. How do you respond to a friend that’s incorrect or out of order? Not an enemy but a friend. Are you prepared to correct them?

So, there they are. Some simple suggestions from a professor who has been in a few battles. What do you think? Is it ok to criticize the church? Any observations or suggestions?

5 Reasons People Skip Church

5 Reasons People are Skipping Church

Something is going on. I’m not a believer in the secret rapture, but a lot of church members are missing! The problem isn’t confined to a particular region or religion. People just don’t seem to be coming to church like they used to.

An important Gallup Poll in 2016 said that 55% of Americans are members of a church, synagogue, temple or mosque. That’s down from 70% in 1999. And if they took that survey today, it would certainly be worse. Of course, there’s a difference between church membership and church attendance, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I noticed in that same Gallup Poll that even though church attendance and membership are down, 89% of Americans still say they believe in God. Interesting. People seem to be saying, “I believe in God, I just don’t believe in the church.”

I did my own unscientific survey around Oakwood’s campus and the reasons people give for skipping church vary:

  • The services start too soon.
  • I’m just tired.
  • The services are boring.
  • I can go to church online
  • I don’t want to get dressed up.

No surprises here. But as I review the data and study the surveys- especially the Barna Group national poll in 2014- there are a number of reasons that seem to keep coming up. Let’s look at 5 of the reasons people consistently give for skipping church.

The Church is irrelevant.

Always an issue. It can seem like the church is stuck on 8 track issues in an I Phone age. Social justice, income inequality, global warming, and police misconduct are dominating the airways and we seem to be stuck on cheese and drums.

To be fair, the church offers eternal principles that address all of these issues. The church shouldn’t be a slave to contemporary trends. But if people don’t get the sense that church matters or makes a difference in their everyday lives, they will vote with their feet.

The hypocrisy of members and moral failings of leaders

It’s true that the church is a hospital for sinners, but to the outside world the church just looks sick! Every headline of another pastor or priest who stumbles is more fuel on the fire. Every member who sings on Saturday and stumbles on Sunday is more fuel on the fire. People aren’t looking for perfection as much as they are looking for authenticity.

One of the positive developments in the Adventist church has been a strong emphasis on grace. It has continued now for several years. Great. But for some it has come at the expense of holiness or godly living. The two are not mutually exclusive. God is the source of both. And frankly, outsiders can’t see grace, they see how grace lives.

God is missing in the church

This is an age where people are looking for something real. Something they can experience. Something they can feel. Nothing wrong with that.  Can it go to extremes? It can, and it has. But if the church would consult the Bible instead of opinion on legitimate worship practices and the power of the Holy Spirit, there would be no problem here. People would experience authentic emotion and real change.

I feel lonely in church

This one really leaves a mark. How can an institution that talks so much about the value of fellowship, seem to provide so little of it? And cliché’s like,” To have friends, one must be friendly” may be helpful in the world but they don’t make sense in the church.  

Technology has connected us in ways that we never could have imagined, but we are probably more personally disconnected today than at any time in history. The church must provide fellowship on more than a superficial level. It can’t force relationships, but it can provide the space and opportunities.

The church dismisses legitimate doubt

Many churches and church leaders are totally uncomfortable with doubt. They can’t tell the difference between an honest question and an attack. And frankly, both of them are valuable, because they reveal the heart. I would argue that if Christians don’t struggle with legitimate doubt from time to time, they probably have a superficial faith. We should welcome the conversation.

Those are 5 reasons people are skipping church. What do you think? Do you ever skip church? If so, why?