Lord I Believe…But! Christians and Doubt

In 2017, the Barna Institute conducted an important study that revealed that 2/3 of Christians report they’ve experienced doubt….I assume the other 1/3 were either lying or misunderstood the question. Because if you are seriously pursuing God, and you never run into doubt, as my former teachers would say, “you might not be applying yourself!”

Doubt is no respecter of Christians. It shows up in the lives of new believers and mature believers alike. Don’t believe me? Come with me to a going away party at Galilee. 11 disciples were there. Peter was there. So were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They were listening to one last message from Jesus before his ascension.

This group had seen it all. They had heard it all. Signs. Wonders. Miracles. Resurrections. But even as they received their final commission from Jesus, we read something amazing in Matthew 28:17, “And when they say him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”

Some what? Some doubted. Now if there should have ever been a doubt free zone, that should have been it. But this group, the group that would later turn the world upside down, experienced doubt.

How did Christ respond to doubters?

The fact that the disciples were troubled with doubt came as no surprise to Jesus. He reads the heart. So how did he respond to his doubting disciples? He taught, he encouraged, he commissioned, and he left. Not a word about it. And how did he respond to other doubters?

  • In Luke 7 when John the Baptist doubted him, Jesus said, “Tell John about the miracles you’ve seen and heard.”
  • In Mark 9 when a distraught father cried out, “Lord I believer…help my unbelief!”, Jesus healed his son.
  • In Luke 24 when the Disciples were doubting that he was a real man, Jesus said, “Watch me eat this fish.”
  • In John 20 when the doubter himself, Thomas, questioned whether Jesus really rose from the grave, Jesus said, “Touch my hands and feet. Put your hand in my side!”

All disciples. All doubters. Not one word of condemnation from Jesus. Doubt is not only not a sin, it’s a part of the human condition. And rightly understood, it can be extremely helpful.

Let me share a few more points about Christians and doubt.

There is a BIG difference between doubt and unbelief

It’s important to define terms. The Greek word that we commonly translate doubt, distazo, is not a settled unbelief, but a wavering or uncertainty. It has been described as an open-minded uncertainty. Unbelief on the other hand is a close-minded certainty. Doubt is open to God’s guidance. Unbelief is not. Doubt is searching for answers. Unbelief is confident the answer is nowhere to be found.

Be a Berean

The Bereans were commended in Acts 17:11 for examining and scrutinizing the word of God delivered to them by Paul and Silas. They didn’t just take for granted that what they heard was true. In this mis-information age, we need to have that same attitude. This type of healthy skepticism can lead to a much stronger faith.

Real faith has substance

Faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as having substance and evidence. It is far more than a feeling; it is grounded in “infallible truths.” Acts 1:3. If your beliefs cannot stand the glare of close examination and scrutiny, then they may not be your beliefs at all.

Unresolved doubts can be deadly

Doubts may not be sin, but they can lead to sin – if ignored. Doubts may be different from unbelief, but they can lead to unbelief – if ignored. Examine your doubts to understand what they are seeking or signaling. Follow that examination with prayer and serious study for the answers that you need. And this type of examination is too important to do alone. Ask for help.

Finally, Tim Keller has some helpful advice that I actually revised and expanded this week in a post, “A faith without some doubt is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about what they believe will find themselves defenseless……” He’s right.

So, what do you think? Have you ever wrestled with doubt? If so, how did you deal with it?

The Church That Changed Gospel Music…and what Adventists can learn

In early 2019, a buzz was building in the music industry about Kanye West’s new gospel choir.  The choir was the center attraction of the rap icon’s “Sunday Services.”  I heard so many rave reviews about the choir and its “unique sound,” that I went to You Tube to hear for myself.

I had barely pushed play before I recognized the “unique sound.” I heard it for years at Bishop Carlton Pearson’s Azusa conventions and on Sunday mornings at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. The director of the Sunday Services choir is Jason White, the former minister of music at West Angeles.

It’s the COGIC musical influence. We explored it last week in our first blog. (https://bit.ly/3hMGoLM) It’s no accident that many of the pioneers of contemporary gospel music are products of that Memphis based, Pentecostal denomination; The Winans, Andrae Crouch, Edwin and Walter Hawkins, The Clark Sisters, and many others.

What is it about the COGIC experience that birthed such musical genius? Like all denominations, Church of God in Christ churches are not monolithic. But these are some characteristics of the COGIC music tradition that we can learn from.

They developed their young people

There is something that the Clarks Sisters, the Hawkins, and the Winans have in common. Not only are they family, but they all began singing together in the church as children. Andrae Crouch began playing for Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ at the age of 11, wrote his first song at 14. COGIC musical talent was cultivated and promoted early.

And not only that, when their musical talent blossomed, the church got behind their own artists financially, even in controversy. When the Clark Sisters released the hit song ‘You Brought the Sunshine,” it created a problem with many COGIC leaders. Same with Edwin Hawkins and “Oh Happy Day.” But it never stopped the larger church from supporting, promoting, and buying their product. We can learn from that.

They were given freedom to fail

Nothing kills creativity like an atmosphere of judgement. Especially among young people. I can remember the early days of gospel music in the Adventist church, when members armed with quotations from brown books, would literally walk out on a children’s choir if they got “too worldly.” Unfortunately many of those young people and musicians returned the favor and walked away from the church.

COGIC kids were given the freedom musically to struggle in a supportive atmosphere until they got better. And they did. I remember some early performances by the Clark Sisters that were painful. But the crowd was on their feet, encouraging them as if it was the best thing they’d ever heard. We can learn from that.

They reflected their theology in their lyrics

COGIC lyrics were generally marked by simplicity and repetition, but they reflected their Pentecostal beliefs. To this day the lyrics of COGIC artists often reflect points of  their theology that Christians of other faith traditions disagree with, including Adventists. That can be a problem when the songs are popular and praise teams adopt them. It illustrates why it is essential for Adventists to identify and support their own gifted writers and composers.

The Black Adventist Musical Heritage

Finally, last week we noted that Black Adventist musicians are recognized and respected in ways that we often underestimate. I see it whenever I attend ecumenical conferences. These are 4 words that often come up about Adventist music:

  • Harmony – It has been said that the issues that Adventists had with drums, indirectly contributed to a culture of rich harmonies and acapella music.
  • Hymns – Black Adventists have always had a reputation for valuing hymns.
  • Training – True or not, black Adventists are thought to put more emphasis on early vocal and instrumental training.
  • Excellence – This characteristic comes up frequently from Adventists and non-Adventists alike. This emphasis on excellence has been both a blessing and a curse.

Black Adventists and the Church of God in Christ both have rich musical histories that are a gift to the body of Christ. We can learn from each other.

What can black Adventists do today to continue and strengthen our musical heritage?

The Sharpton I Know

Sharpton. He’s a polarizing figure. The Floyd funerals have proved it again. From his earliest days as a New York activist to his current leadership of the National Action Network, few figures have been more polarizing. Sharpton’s supporters hail him as a champion for the oppressed. Sharpton’s detractors blame him for deteriorating race relations in America.

But issues like police misconduct, civil rights, and civil rights leaders look different depending on who you are and where you are. As Nelson Mandela was fond of saying, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” And in early 1999, Al Sharpton and I were sitting in a Marriott hotel in Riverside, California discussing ways to calm a community that was about to explode.

On December 28, 1998, a young lady by the name of Tyisha Miller was driving her aunt’s car in Riverside, California and her tire went flat. As she waited for help in her locked car, she had a seizure. Officers were alerted, came to the locked car, and found her foaming at the mouth and shaking. She had a gun in her car for protection and the officers claimed that she reached for it when she came out of her coma. They opened fire 23 times. 12 of the bullets hit Miller….4 in the head.

The city exploded. Long standing tensions between the minority community and law enforcement resurfaced. I was asked by the family and religious community to lead a steering community to address the volatile issue. Months of press conferences, marches, and court cases followed. The full story is for another day, but it brings me back to the hotel room with Sharpton.

Over a two year, period, I came to know civil rights leaders from Martin King III to Jesse Jackson to Joe Madison, to Dick Gregory to the late Johnny Cochran. Each of them was helpful, but none of them made the difference that Sharpton did. These are some of the things I came to know about him.

He’ll come when you call him

Many of the critics of Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others accuse them of being ambulance chasers and publicity hounds. The accusation is that they troll for racial and social problems and then make them worse when they show up. The reality is that most of the time both Jackson and Sharpton are invited by the immediate family to come and help.

As tragic as Tyisha Miller’s death was, it remained a fairly local issue until the family got Sharpton and his crowd involved. When he came the national media came with him and issues of police misconduct in Riverside became national news. He was hard working and very sensitive to the needs of the family. And none of his efforts cost the family or the steering committee a dime.

He might get you arrested

Even before Sharpton hit the ground in Riverside, there was talk civil disobedience -going to jail as a form of protest. People had been marching by the thousands but the police officers who shot Tyisha Miller had still not been fired or even disciplined. The community was getting restless and dangerous. Sharpton suggested that we conduct a major march to the downtown police headquarters, block the entrance, and force our arrest. The publicity would force the city to move.

Well, I quickly found out that the clergy in Riverside was not as eager as the clergy in Birmingham and Montgomery to go to jail. Some of them reminded me that this wasn’t the 60s. Some of them reminded me that they had unpaid traffic tickets! But there I was, leading from the front. In charge and eventually in jail.

He’s not always consistent

It could have been my ears, but I thought I heard Sharpton and Dick Gregory say, “Don’t worry brothers and sisters. We’ll be the first ones in and the last ones out! We’ll be the first ones arrested and the last ones released!” That was particularly encouraging to a reluctant band of leaders, some of whom weren’t sure if they could get out of jail as easily as they could get in.

True to his word, Sharpton was the first to be arrested. I was in the next wave, about 15 minutes behind. As I walked into the holding area with my friend Robert Edwards, who did I see walking out of the holding area but Al Sharpton and Dick Gregory. It’s probably not appropriate to reveal what I thought or said, but so much for the first being last and the last being first! He’s human.

He was always courageous

The quality I respected most in Sharpton was his courage. He was absolutely fearless. Under constant attack from law enforcement. Misquoted by the media. Second guessed by even some of the victims he attempted to help. He never wavered. He came early, worked hard, and stayed late. You don’t really understand or appreciate the Sharpton’s of the world until you need their help.

Sharpton and I disagree on some significant subjects. But we need more people willing to publicly stand for what they believe. People with the courage to speak for those who can’t effectively speak for themselves. Because at some point, you might very well need someone to advocate for you. That’s when you’ll really understand and appreciate Sharpton.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?!