7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget- Part I

7 Gospel Concerts I Won’t Forget- Part I

Atlanta has been the Disneyland of the gospel music world this week. The Gospel Music Workshop of America is holding its annual convention in Atlanta and the city is buzzing. GMWA, founded by the late James Cleveland, is the largest music convention of its kind in the world. Everyone in the industry is in Atlanta.

Tuesday night, J. J. Hairston and Youthful Praise were in the middle of an incredible set. I began to reflect over the countless gospel concerts I’ve attended in my lifetime; some good, some bad, some unforgettable. I began to think about the concerts that, for different reasons, I remember clearly to this day. These are some of the gospel concerts that have stuck with me over the years,

The BlendWrights Concerts- Memphis, Tennessee

Every contemporary Adventist artist owes a debt of gratitude to those amazing ladies from Ohio. They fought the music battle in the heat of the day. They were singing passionate and creative gospel music in Adventist churches when you could get thrown out for singing, “ Elijah Rock!”

As a youngster, Pastor Robert Willis would bring the BlendWrights to Memphis, Tennessee each year and every concert was an event. Their instruments alone were banned in many Adventist churches. I enjoyed so many of those concerts, it’s impossible to pick a favorite.

As impressive as the singing and instrumentation, their lyrics were what changed lives. Songs like, “ Let Down the Ladder”, “All the World Is Mine”, “ How Many Steps to Heaven”, “ Courage”, “ Heaven Came Down”, and Eleanor Wright’s classic, “ Naaman the Lepar” could turn a concert into a full out revival. Unforgettable.

The Midnight Musicals- COGIC Convocations

It was understood that for a solid week each November, you could always find me and my buddies at the annual COGIC Convocation. Memphis is the headquarters for the Church of God in Christ International, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. It’s fair to say that no organization has had a greater influence on gospel music than them.

Groundbreaking artists such as Andrae Crouch, the Clark Sisters, the Winans family, the Hawkins family, and others all have their roots in the Church of God in Christ. Each year at the convocation, midnight musicals were held at Mason Temple. Many of the artists never became household names, but they are legends to gospel music fans. There would never have been a Hezekiah Walker or Ricky Dillard without an Institutional Church of God in Christ Choir. There never would have been a Kim Burrell without a Betty Nelson. I remember those concerts.

Danniebelle Hall – Memphis State University

I came to hear Danniebelle that night in 1978, because she was a popular lead singer for Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. But what I heard that night at the University was different from what I’d experienced before. She wasn’t just singing her hits, but she was leading the congregation in familiar gospel choruses. Some of them I was familiar with, others I wasn’t. But all of them were easy to sing and even easier to remember.

I was amazed at how the atmosphere changed as she wove her testimony through a series of simple, singable songs. I realized later that she and others were pioneering a worship form that’s familiar to everyone now-praise and worship. Before then it was either the deacons droning through a devotional service on Sunday, or “Father Abraham” and song service on Saturday. This was different and it caught on like wildfire.

Next week: James Cleveland, Thomas Whitfield and more. But enough about me. What are some of your favorite gospel concerts and concert memories?

It’s the KIDS…Dummy!

“It’s the Kids…Dummy!

Intro: Don’t take it personally, I’m talking to myself too. Church Growth and Discipleship is my thing. From Oakwood College to Andrews University to Fuller Seminary-ground zero for the church growth movement-it has been my passion. So I still shake my head when I think of how long it took me to fully appreciate how invaluable children’s ministry is to the growth and development of the local church.

It’s common sense, but common sense ain’t as common as it used to be. If you want to start a church, prioritize the kids. If you want to grow a church, prioritize the kids. If you want to resurrect a church, prioritize the kids.

Church growth books are like death, taxes, and diet books- they are always with us. Experts abound. Everyone has the special steps, the secret sauce. Everyone has the secret to doubling your membership, even if that secret has escaped their own church. But here’s a tried and true method for growing your church numerically and spiritually. Prioritize the kids.

Let me give you some reasons why, if we’re concerned about the present and future of the church, we’ll prioritize the kids,

If You Get The Kids, You Get The Parents

Now this isn’t the most important reason for reaching out to kids, but since our theme is growth, I’ll start here. “Parents who can be approached in no other way, are frequently reached through their kids.” Testimonies Volume 4 pg. 70.

Ellen White was on point. Seems like before my kids made it home from the hospital, I was already scheduling their baby blessing and baptism. I was literally more concerned about my kids than myself, and especially their salvation. I’m not claiming that I was right, but I am claiming that I was not alone!

The best way to get to most parents is through their kids. When you attract the kid, you attract the parent. And when the parents are made to understand how important their role is to the salvation of that kid, you will usually get both.

If You Get The Kids, You Get the Grandparents…and Aunts…and Uncles…

I was visiting a church one Sabbath that had seen a tremendous drop in membership. I was bracing myself for another disappointing look at a church that literally died over the last 30 years. But to my surprise, rather than having any pew to myself, as was usually the case, the place was pretty full. It didn’t take me long to see why.

It was Children’s Sabbath. The kids were front and center. They taught, they sang, they preached. And it seemed like every kid brought a cheering squad. Proud relatives were everywhere. Many of them probably had only been in a church for weddings and funerals. But they were there in numbers that day. And my church growth imagination was thinking of a hundred ways to get them back.

Get Them Early, Or You Might Not Get Them At All

Most of the research that I’ve seen over the years seems pretty consistent. Easily 75% of Christians come to Christ before they reach the age of 18. And the longer it takes, the longer it takes! Experts identify a 4-14 age window when kids are most open to the gospel. And we need to make it our business to cultivate that spiritual seed and then be prepared to harvest it.

“When Jesus told the disciples not to forbid the children to come to Him, He was speaking to His followers in all ages, –to officers of the church, to ministers, helpers, and all Christians. Jesus is drawing the children, and He bids us, Suffer them to come; as if He would say, They will come if you do not hinder them..” Desire of Ages, p. 517

And I Could Go On!

Here are some other reasons that local churches should put a greater investment in Children’s ministry.

    • It Passes On Our Faith.
    • It Begins To Train Future Leaders.
    • It Gets Men Involved.
    • It Makes The Church More Mission Minded
    • They Bring Joy!!

So, there you have it. Over the years I’ve hired more church employees than I can remember: custodians, drivers, teachers, day care workers, youth pastors, associate pastors, secretaries, administrators, musicians…musicians…. musicians…. more musicians! If I had it to do over again, at the top of that list would probably be children’s pastor.

That’s me. What about you? How is your church doing with the children and youth? Any suggestions?

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?

The Adventist Branding Problem

What do people see when they hear Adventist? What words or images come to mind?

For many years I have asked this very question to Adventists and non-Adventists alike in a word association exercise I use in evangelism.

The responses have been fairly consistent: Ellen White, Loma Linda, Sabbath, vegetarian, health, and the lists goes on. I have asked this questions from Indonesia to Indiana, from Brooklyn to Bermuda. It is interesting to me that of all the responses I’ve heard over the years, I have never once heard the words, Jesus or love. Not once. It seems that we have a brand problem.

An entire cottage industry has sprung up around the importance of branding. Conferences. Seminars. Webinars. Everyone seems to be pushing the importance of a good brand. And what exactly is a brand? Well, a brand is defined a number of ways:

  • A brand is a concept, service, or product that is publicly distinguished from other concepts, services, or products so that it can be easily communicated and marketed.
  • A brand is a feature that distinguishes one product from another.
  • A brand is an identifying mark that distinguishes a product.

Similar definitions, but the one I like the most, I found in Forbes magazine. “Simply put, your brand is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name!”(1) Exactly. So let me repeat.  The responses to this Adventist word association exercise indicate that we have a brand problem. And the problem with the Adventist brand is not that we are known by the wrong things, but that we are not known by the main thing.

And what is that main thing? What should distinguish us? What should be our brand? Well, Ellen White mentions it in a familiar quote. “Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world” (Gospel Workers p.154).

Now I know that my survey is unscientific and anecdotal. I know that there are a number of ways to express the love of Christ. And I know that other churches and denominations might evoke the same kind of answers. But those churches are not my concern. It seems to me that over the 20 or so years that I’ve been asking this question, that somebody should have mentioned Jesus!

So, what do you think? What do you see when they say Adventist? Do we even have a problem, and if so, how do we change it?

________________________

1. McLaughlin, Jerry. “ What is a Brand Anyway?” Forbes Online, December 21, 2011

Kim, Kanye, and Adventist Gossip

Kim, Kanye, and Adventist Gossip

Oakwood has a Publix!! Well not exactly, but the food store did recently open within walking distance of the school. (The fact that I am so excited about the opening of a grocery store is either a reflection on Huntsville or a childhood issue I have yet to confront. Either way, there’s reason for concern.)

I was at the cash register, when a magazine caught my eye. There they were.  Kanye and Kim West, aka Kimye, on the cover of In Touch Magazine, the kissing cousin of the National Enquirer. The caption read, “It’s Over! Kanye Leaves Kim After Massive Fight.”

Now I have to tell you, I’m not a fan of the Wests, and I am even less a fan of gossip magazines. But a quick glance at other media reveals that the Wests are not only together, but they are building an economic empire that could rival a small country. Now all of that could change by next week, but as of today, they are together.

What’s the point? That magazine is trafficking one of the most profitable but destructive commodities in popular culture. Rumor. Gossip. It’s big business. Unfortunately, it’s no stranger to the church. The Adventist church at times seems to be a rumor mill of “Jesuits”, affairs, and apostasies.

Gossip, rumor, and tale-bearing have always been a problem in the church. James 3 makes it clear that the tongue is the single part of our anatomy that is totally beyond our power to control.  Of the 6 things that God is said to hate in Proverbs 6, half of them have to do with the tongue.

But destructive words have gone viral in recent years because of the explosion of social media.  A piece of gossip or half -truth, traditionally died before it could get across the church. Today those same words can get across the world with the click of a key.

We Are Christians On and Off-Line

This is a point that’s easy to forget. We are no less Christian when we type than when we talk. We should be always courageous enough to speak out. There is no shortage of corruption and dysfunction in the church to address. But Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to speak the truth in love. It’s not always what you say, but how, when, and where you say it.

And Matthew 18 is still our conflict template. The goal is quick resolution, with as little damage as possible. Problem with me? Come to me. That’s not working? Keep moving up the levels. The reputation of someone much greater than us is on trial when we handle conflict.

These are 3 basic Christian communication principles that I hope to master some day!

Watch What You Say!

Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Proverbs 17:9, “Whoever covers or forgives an offense seeks love, but whoever repeats or gossips about a matter separates friends.”

Easy to type. Impossible to live- in our own strength. Whenever you talk or type, make it your goal to inform and uplift. There are appropriate times to challenge and protest. Actually, there’s no real growth without conflict. But fight the right way.

Another reason to watch what you say, is because you might have to eat your words later.  Things are always crystal clear until you hear the other side. And things are not always as they seem. On that same cover of In Touch Magazine, there was a photo of Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt together again, the caption,” Let’s Have a Baby!”

The problem with the Pitt-Anniston photo was that it had been photoshopped to make it appear they were standing together, but they were not. The photo told a lie. Christians tell lies. Sometimes intentionally. Sometimes accidentally. And if you’re not careful, you can pick up a lie or half- truth and make it live. Watch what you say.

Limit What You Say

Proverbs 141:3, “Set a guard over my mouth Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.”

James 1:26, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

The unfortunate truth is that most of us just talk too much. The permanence of what we post on- line makes the problem even worse. Every week we hear another politician, or athlete, or preacher forced to explain words they wrote years, sometime decades earlier. At times, the less one says, the better.

Popular society seems to define strength as conquest. Who can talk; cruder, louder, longer, and over the other. The nation is polarized around issues of race and politics and religion. But Christ reminds us in Mark 10:43, “But it must not be like that among you…” We are held to a different standard.

Do What You Say

As Christians we are agents of transformation. Our limited but well-chosen words must be followed by something even more rare and important. Actions. At times it’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.  Another reason to be careful what you say.

So, watch what you say, limit what you say, and do what you say. What do you say? Ever been the target of gossip or misinformation? How did you handle it?

3 Reasons to Say Thank You!

3 Reasons to Say Thank You!

It’s Mother’s Day season and I’m in a “Thank You” frame of mind. We all should be. My mother is a 5’ 3” fireball from Belize. You don’t EVER have to wonder what’s on her mind, because she’ll let you know. (Perhaps this will aid your understanding of my sisters.…particularly Marsha.) We’re blessed to still have our parents living in Memphis, and we don’t take that for granted.

But whether your mother, or grandmother, or that special person who stood in their stead, is alive or not, this is the season to say thanks. Thank them personally or thank God for them. Because saying thank you is not just good manners, it’s good living.

Amy Morin, in her Forbes Magazine article entitled, “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude,”(1) lists several personal benefits saying thanks brings:

  • Gratitude increases happiness and decreases depression.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.
  • Gratitude increases mental strength
  • Grateful people sleep better.

That’s a good list, but let me give you 3 reasons for saying thank you that are even better than those.

Number One: Saying thanks admits our dependency

The late author Alex Haley of Roots fame once wrote, “If you ever see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you can bet he didn’t get there by himself!” True of turtles, even truer of us. There is the tendency to see successful people as “self- made.” Wrong. Any success we achieve in this life can be traced back to the contributions and influence of others.

This weekend hundreds of students will be receiving their diplomas from Oakwood University. The energy, excitement, and pure joy of the students is something to behold. But there’s nothing like the weathered faces of the family and friends who sacrificed to make it possible. The students walk across the stage, but an unseen village walks with them. They deserve a thank you.

Number Two: Saying thanks demonstrates our love and appreciation

The summer after my freshman year at Oakwood, I spent more time on the basketball courts than working for tuition. So I had to stay home the first quarter of my sophomore year. My plan was to work, take a few classes at Memphis State University, and return to Oakwood the second quarter. But old habits aren’t changed overnight, and as the second quarter of Oakwood approached, I still didn’t have the money I needed.

I hated to ask my parents because they had already heavily invested in a college education that I was squandering away. So I was prepared to miss my sophomore year at Oakwood. But one afternoon my mother informed me that she had made arrangements for me to get back into school. I didn’t understand how she did it, but I happily returned to Oakwood.

Months later I learned how she did it.  She had gotten a loan at a ridiculous rate, from what amounted to a loan shark! She couldn’t afford it. I didn’t deserve it. But it was love. When I found out what she did, I cried. But I did more than cry, I changed. That’s what love will do. Thank you says, “I remember, I appreciate it, and I love you.”

Number Three: Saying thanks remembers our mortality

I’d like to meet the genius who put the words “aging” and “gracefully” together. Obviously he was a 13-year-old because there’s nothing graceful about aging. Getting old is difficult. Things move that should be stopping and things stop that should be moving! It’s not a pretty picture.

Psalm 90:12 teaches us to “number our days.” We should be aware that our days down here are slowly winding down. It’s just as important to number the days of our loved ones. We won’t have our loved ones with us always, so it’s critical to say thank you now.  Nothing is more heart wrenching than listening to a child who regrets not saying, “I love you,” or “I thank you” to a loved one who can no longer hear it.

So, let’s get started.  A phone call or a card to those who are with us. A word of thanks to God for those who are gone. I plan to live forever, because the greatest gift I received from my parents was my introduction to Jesus Christ. I’ll probably be thanking them a lot in heaven, so I think I’ll get started down here. So, who would you like to thank in this Mother’s Day Season?

(1) “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round” Amy Morin. Forbes.com 11/23/14