23 Jun


By Bob McAlpine … I am an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (and a pastor too!) because of the adults who shared their lives with me as a teenager and showed me that a real, life-changing relationship with Jesus is possible. They wanted me to play guitar in the praise band with them even though someone had to teach me every lead part. They wanted me to go play laser tag with them on Saturday night even though I wasn’t old enough to drive. They wanted me to go with them on church retreats even though I was a know-it-all Bible nerd. They did not preach at me. They did not browbeat me or manipulate me. They showed me with their lives that Jesus was more precious and more powerful than any distraction offered by the world.

This group of young adults—college graduates just getting started in their careers—shared how their lives had been changed when they met Jesus. As a shy, nerdy teenager, I heard stories about how partying during college led to misery instead of happiness and how career “success” was worthless without Jesus. I listened while my friends talked about Jesus turning their despair into peace. I got to see firsthand how their lives were filled with joy no matter what their circumstances were. When I was sixteen, I did not wonder if God existed or if church was important because I was surrounded by friends whose lives demonstrated that He does and that it is.

I knew as much about the Bible as my friends who were at least ten years older than me, but their experience with Jesus was far more valuable than whatever biblical or doctrinal knowledge I had managed to cram into my head. My thoughts, attitudes, desires, and actions were not changed by what I knew about God and the Bible. It was not until I had my own encounter with Jesus and began to surrender my life to Him that change became possible for me. I persisted in both learning about God and pursuing a relationship with him because what I could see in the lives of my friends made me confident that my persistence would be rewarded.

Sadly, my experience seems to be the exception rather than the rule. As a pastor, I hear from many church members whose adult children no longer attend church because of negative experiences when they were teenagers. Sometimes those children, who are often close to my age, are attending a church on Sunday and simply want nothing to do with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Although every person’s story is unique and each person is responsible for their own choices, I believe that many people—especially those raised in Adventist families—leave our denomination because they do not experience any connection between what they learn from us and the power of God to change lives. Imagine attending church for your whole life, learning “the truth” about Sabbath, the state of the dead, and the investigative judgment without ever encountering Jesus! Many people my age report that this is their experience. I do not think that I would want to hang around that church very long once I left home.

For too long, it seems to me, Seventh-day Adventists have been laboring to convince both our young people and our evangelistic prospects to believe all the same things we believe while neglecting to introduce them to the God who loves them and offers them salvation. The problem facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is not a lack of truth or of theological depth. It is not a departure from our prophetic message or from our lifestyle standards. No, the problem facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is that we have forgotten how to introduce people to Jesus.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always struggled to keep Jesus at the center of our preaching and practice. Many point to the controversy surrounding Waggoner and Jones at the 1888 General Conference Session as a turning point in this regard, but it seems more accurate to say that 1888 simply identified the problem and we have spent the last 130 years trying to turn the ship of our faith.

One clear illustration of this problem is the truly dreadful state of the material available to prepare someone for baptism. Whether designed for children or for adults, nearly every resource is focused entirely on doctrinal or lifestyle instruction with very little attention paid to growing in a relationship with Jesus.

Believe in the Bible
Believe in Jesus
Believe in the Sabbath
Believe in the investigative judgment
Believe in the literal, visible return of Jesus
Stop smoking
Start tithing
Stop drinking
Start eating a vegetarian diet
Stop wearing jewelry

“. . . Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear!” (James 2:19, NET) It is no surprise that many people leave the church within a few years of their baptism when they get baptized knowing a lot about the Bible, but almost nothing about Jesus. Knowledge of the truth matters much less than being changed by an encounter with the Truth.

So, what can we do as a denomination to get better at leading people to Jesus? First, we have to clean our own house by making Jesus first in our hearts; then we will be ready to help others grow in their relationship with Jesus.

If Adventists want to get better at sharing Jesus with others, we must ensure that we are making every effort to know Him for ourselves. Simply put, I am calling for revival. Pastors, evangelists, administrators, and members must all confess to and repent of our impulse to gain more knowledge of God without seeking to gain more intimacy with Him. We must combine the knowledge we already have—sound doctrine, principles for healthy living, etc.,—with a burning passion for a deep relationship.

Think about how you would behave if your favorite celebrity became your neighbor. You already know lots of facts about them: their favorite foods, music, and books. You know their political opinions and what they think is most important in life. Now you can get to know them as a neighbor. You can share a meal together. You can chat with them about daily life and ask what they think about current events. You can see how they treat their spouse, kids, and friends. You can help them with their home projects and ask them to help you too. You might even find out that you have completely misunderstood this person you have admired from afar. Adventists should be approaching Jesus just like this! He is not an unapproachable celebrity, but a next-door-neighbor who wants to know us and be known by us.

Practically speaking, this calls for renewed emphasis on both corporate and individual prayer and Bible study. While this is hardly a novel prescription its efficacy is well-established. To fully embrace this path, members of local congregations must demand that their pastors teach them to pray before they teach them any more prophecy. Pastors must gently lead their congregations to seek Jesus in Scripture rather than seeking answers or the best proof text. Administrators must prioritize spiritual growth above numerical or financial growth.

God has promised in Jeremiah 29:13 that we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. When Adventists reconnect to Jesus, we will be empowered to introduce others to Him. Our connection to Jesus, and the resulting changed life, will be what attracts others to us and persuades them that Adventists might have something to add to their lives.

Introducing others to Jesus means more than teaching doctrine. Think back to my analogy of your favorite celebrity who suddenly becomes your neighbor. Learning everything about a celebrity by reading interviews is like learning doctrine; no relationship is required. Relationship develops in the context of sharing life together. So, helping someone grow a relationship with Jesus means sharing life with them and showing them how we share life together with Jesus. It means that we must, like Philip in John 1:46, invite people to “come and see.” In my mind, this requires us to prioritize passing on the practices of prayer and Bible study over doctrinal instruction. Both are important, but only one can be our highest priority.

Finally, when we seek to introduce others to Jesus, our posture matters. Christ left His throne in heaven to serve humanity (Phil 2:5-7; Matt 20:26-28) and Adventists must assume that same posture of service toward the world. This means refusing to consider ourselves superior to outsiders and instead, embrace our calling to serve them as Jesus serves us. We must demonstrate our willingness to leave our comfort zone and pour out our lives for others, instead of demanding that others leave their comfort zones to hear us preach to them.

True change is only possible when Jesus is central to our lives as Seventh-day Adventist Christians. When the power of the Holy Spirit is obvious to everyone because they can see the changes, He has wrought in us, our teaching on doctrine and lifestyle will be full of life and hope. Here is my final word: to close the gap between our profession and our practice, we simply need to make Jesus, all.

–Bob McAlpine is a pastor in the San Luis Valley district in Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

22 Oct


By Bob McAlpine –Have Adventists lost their way when it comes to political participation in 2020?

Seventh-day Adventists have always been deeply involved in American politics. When a national Sunday law was proposed in 1888, one of the Adventist pioneers, A.T. Jones, played a crucial role in defeating it. Ellen White herself was vocal about the evils of the Fugitive Slave Act before the Civil War and equally vocal about the necessity of “temperance reforms,” by which she meant advocacy against the consumption of alcohol after the Civil War.

This leads to a startling conflict of interests. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was the most prominent national organization advocating for both the national Sunday law and for stronger restrictions (dare we say prohibitions?) on alcohol consumption. Yet Ellen, publicly and privately, encouraged Adventists to actively engage with the WCTU.

How could it be possible for committed Seventh-day Adventist Christians to “unite” with an organization whose goals were so obviously at odds with Adventist beliefs? Let the messenger of the Lord speak for herself: “…while there is to be no sacrifice of principle on our part, as far as possible we are to unite with them in laboring for temperance reforms” (TE 222). Apparently, Ellen White believed it was possible for Seventh-day Adventists to cooperate with controversial organizations without compromising their commitments to core Adventist doctrines.

In my view, here is where Adventists in 2020 have lost our way. It seems that we have fallen prey to the false belief that participation in the political process requires that we endorse a particular party’s entire platform. Put another way, we have been deceived into thinking that involvement with an organization implies that we endorse the entirety of that organization’s agenda. But White’s writing about the WCTU gives the lie to that way of thinking!

White urged faithful Seventh-day Adventist Christians to do all they could to advance the kingdom of God, including working with others who were travelling in the same direction. This type of participation in the political life of a nation is only possible because Christians generally, and Adventists particularly, have both a God-given mission (Matthew 28:18-20) and a God-given metanarrative (Revelation 12:7-12) through which we can filter our involvement.

As an Adventist Christian I will never hang my hopes for justice, prosperity, peace, opportunity, etc. on the Democrat party or on the Republican party. I don’t put my hope in a political leader or in a ballot initiative. All my hopes hang on Jesus Christ alone.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13 NET).

Because my hope is in Christ alone, in his salvation and in his glorious appearing, I can pray for any political leader—even if I think they are a secret fascist/communist/Jesuit/whatever.

Because my hope is in Christ alone, I can affirm that black lives matter and that unborn lives matter—even if that leaves me without a comfortable place in any political party.

Because my hope is in Christ alone, I can cast a vote for a particular candidate or ballot measure—even though I can’t see the unintended consequences of my vote.

Because my hope is in Christ alone, I recognize that hanging my hopes on anyone or anything other than Him is just a (not-so-) subtle form of idolatry.

Our God-given calling is to advance the Kingdom of Heaven in the world until Jesus returns and we see our hopes fulfilled. Let us be active in the political life of our town, county, state, and country without losing sight of the ultimate goal. Let us give our allegiance to Jesus Christ alone and follow where his Spirit leads without regard to partisan politics. When we do this, we can labor alongside others confident that there will be no sacrifice of principle on our part.

(I’m deeply indebted to Pete Enns for jumpstarting my thinking on these issues: https://peteenns.com/dear-christian-if-the-thought-of-either-romney-or-obama-getting-elected-makes-you-fearful-angry-or-depressed-you-have-what-we-call-a-theological-problem/ )

Bob McAlpine is pastor in Alamosa and Monte Vista churches in Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Oct


By Bob McAlpine – Alamosa, Colorado… Every baptism is special, but the Alamosa church recently celebrated two baptisms that Bob McAlpine, Alamosa pastor, will never forget–the baptism of his two children, Meredith and Tristan.

McAlpine recalls the weeks leading up to the baptismal date, saying those weeks “stressed me out. I saw all the petty acts of selfishness that take place between siblings. Worse, I saw how my own bad habits and sins (let’s just be honest, here) were shaping my children.”

There are two types of parents in the world—those who think that their children are perfect, and those who are pained by every little fault or flaw they see in their children. I’m the second kind of parent.

The question McAlpine kept asking was, “How can I baptize these so obviously imperfect children?” The answer came as he was reminded multiple times that baptism is not for the perfect, but for those who want to follow Jesus.

McAlpine recalled the blessing his children gave him while they studied for baptism.

“While I was serving them as a dad and pastor, my children were also ministering to me. They reminded me that Jesus’s love, in the words of The Jesus Storybook Bible, is a “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love,” McAlpine said.

“Baptizing them was one of the highlights of my ministry,” McAlpine concluded.

Two students who attend the Alamosa Adventist school with Meredith and Tristan are making plans to be baptized later this month.  Outreach continues at the school as half of the students attending are from different faith communities.

–Bob McAlpine is the Pastor of the Alamosa Church; photo supplied