23 Jun


By Ed Barnett … Jesus was the ultimate example of Christianity. It is through Jesus that we hear and learn how to live the Christian life. Christianity is not easy; it goes against our grain as selfish, sinful human beings. I have four wonderful and bright grandsons and yet, with each of them, I see their selfish nature come through. We are simply born into sin. It is simply something that every one of us must fight daily. Jesus makes it clear that others are to be the top priority for Christians.

May I take you through several Bible passages that Jesus shared clarifying what a Christian should be like?

Mathew 7:12—The Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets.” That is not easy to do because of our sinful nature. Just going to church for a couple of hours a week won’t give you the change of heart to really live by that model that Jesus gives us in the Golden Rule. Just having your name on a membership list in the Seventh-day Adventist Church won’t help you to live by that model.

Another passage from Jesus is found in Matthew 22:37-40: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

I believe that everyone we encounter is our “neighbor” and these verses tell us we need to “love them like ourselves.” Notice there is no qualification for what that person may look like, what nationality they are. There is no mention of whether they are male or female. No mention of the political party they support or their religion. There are simply no qualifications specified. This says to me we must love everyone no matter what walk in life they represent. That is not always easy as you may hate what your neighbor stands for. Yet Jesus says you still need to love them.

There is another verse that many Christians struggle with and I see people struggling with it often in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

This is a tough verse. Often in our churches, I hear people judging other people. It may be about what they wear. It may be what they brought to potluck: “It had cheese in it.” It may be they are judgmental about the pastor, or the pastor’s wife. It may be about the Conference leadership or another local church. It may be about someone else’s Sabbath observance. The list could go on forever.

In the beatitudes, (Matthew 5:2-12): Jesus speaks to His people:

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit”
“Blessed are those who mourn”
“Blessed are the meek”
“Blessed are those who hunger”
“Blessed are the merciful”
“Blessed are the pure in heart”
“Blessed are the peacemakers”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted”

At the end of the list, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil again you because of me.”

We struggle at times with the list of special people God identifies in the Beatitudes. It is not easy to meet people who “insult and persecute you.”

But God calls us to do all these things if we are truly Christian.

Matthew 7:13,14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” It is easier to just join the crowd and go merrily through life doing what you want to do. To me Jesus also insinuates in these verses that His ”way” is hard to follow; it’s a narrow path on the way to heaven.

Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’” Jesus makes it clear that there are people who think they are followers of Christ, but are they really? They may even have done good things, but Jesus says: “I never knew you.”

It is easy to be called a Christian and to go to church for a couple of hours a week. It’s a lot harder to truly be a Christian and live life in the unselfish way Jesus asks us to live; to live life for others instead of self. The only way to live the way Jesus calls us to live is by spending time with Him every day. And you cannot do it on your own! It is only through God’s power that you can live the successful Christian life. It is all about Him!

–Ed Barnett is RMC president. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By Dick Stenbakken … Knowledge is a wonderful thing. The Bible encourages us to seek God’s knowledge above silver or gold. Knowledge, linked with wisdom, is more valuable than jewels and brings wealth and recognition when rightly used and appreciated (Proverbs 8:10-36).

Knowledge of the Bible, its doctrines and prophecies, is great, but there is something beyond knowledge: the ability to put that knowledge into practical work shoes and gloves to touch the lives of others. Paul’s thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians spells it out well. He says without love, the practical fruit of knowledge, without application of what we know, we are just making noise to no practical end. The results are zero. In fact, our noisy sharing of knowledge might just be irritatingly counterproductive.

The Scriptures challenge us to know. But beyond the cerebral sacrament of knowing, there is the reality of applying what we know to the needs of those around us: the honest, no-strings-attached life that demonstrates belief by unselfish, selfless service.

Jesus lived out what He knew. He touched lepers. He spoke to outcast women. He healed ceremonially unclean women and morally unclean men. He demonstrated His theology by his actions. His was a ministry of presence, an incarnational ministry we are invited to mirror. He ministered to people with a no-strings-attached love. He left the choice of belief up to them. There was no quid quo pro demand or expectation.

I have seen that kind of incarnational ministry, and it is winning and warming (as well as challenging!). Here are some examples:

Joe Martin was selling books when he encountered a man who said he would love to buy the books, but he didn’t even have money for shoes. Sure enough, as Joe looked, the man had no shoes. “What size do you wear?” Joe asked. When the man replied, Joe’s face lit up: “That’s the size I wear too! Here, take my shoes. They will fit you,” he said as he quickly removed his shoes and gave them to the shocked, but appreciative man. Yes, the books were “truth filled,” but Joe’s actions spoke an immediate and more readily understandable truth about God’s love than the printed pages of the books the man couldn’t afford.

Or, consider the woman who was teaching Sabbath School one winter when she saw a family come in dressed in well-worn, but clean clothes without any coats. “Did the children leave their coats in the hallway?” she asked the mother. “Well, no . . . they don’t have any coats,” was the timid response. The teacher smiled and said, “We are going to do something very different for Sabbath School today! Mom, you go to the adult class. We’ll meet you at the church service.” That day, the children’s class met at Target. When they got to the worship service, the children without coats all had new, warm winter coats and boots matched by ear-to-ear smiles. (You can debate the timing if you wish, but Jesus said something about the ox in the ditch on Sabbath. I think this equates.)

During the year I spent in Vietnam, I routinely went on convoys with the troops (remember the ministry of presence . . . incarnational being with people?). The troops started their day at 3 in the morning when their trucks would be loaded. At 7 or 8 they lined up and pulled out to deliver food, water, ammunition, supplies, and fuel to various locations. I was in an open jeep in the middle of the convoy (think “moving target in a shooting gallery”). There were safe (safer hopefully) stopping points where we would pause for lunch before going on to our destination. The drivers were young men with voracious appetites. But I never was on a convoy where I didn’t see many of the soldiers give their lunch, and extra goodies they brought along, to the ragged children who swarmed us like ants when we stopped. Somehow the news media never covered that, but I saw it time and time again.

Consider Greig, a Roman Catholic Army chaplain/priest assigned in the greater Washington, DC, area. His job was to give denominational coverage to multiple Army installations in and around DC. His schedule was brutal. He heard there was a brother priest who had been badly wounded in an Iranian IED blast and was now in Walter Reed Medical Center. He didn’t know the man, but he was a brother, so Greig went to visit him. When he got there, the man’s mother and sisters were in the room. They were haggard by the long vigil they were keeping, and by the serious injuries of their loved one. Greig visited with them, had prayer, then said, “If there is anything I can do for you, here is my home number. Feel free to call.”

When he got home, there was a message on his answering machine. The family was asking him to come sit with their loved one on Saturdays so they could get a break. Would he be willing to do that? Saturday! Saturday was Greig’s only free day. It was, essentially, his Sabbath day of rest.

Greig spent every Saturday for the next three months reading and conversing with a man who was so severely injured that there was no way of knowing if he was even aware someone was in the room with him, let alone comprehending what Greig was reading and saying to him. Greig told me he would read for up to eight hours on those days. He would read until he was so hoarse, he could speak no more.

Consider an adult Sabbath School class who was invited to help a teenager get some clothing that was appropriate for her situation: she barely had the basics. The class took up an impromptu offering, including IOUs for those who didn’t have checks or cash with them: the class raised more than $400 on the spot. Two weeks later, it was proposed that the class start a fund to help people in need and to have funds on hand to meet the needs when they arose. The class voted to do so. That was more than 10 years ago. Since then, there have been no appeals for funds. People just continue to give and meet needs as they emerge. Thus far, gifting has been more than $50,000. Funds have covered food for neighbors in need, payment for heating bills during a winter for an immigrant family, help for mission trips, and more. Recipients don’t need to be members of the church; all they must do is demonstrate a need. No strings. No hooks. Just modeling a willingness to put faith into action and theology into practice.

James, Jesus’ brother, put it well: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV).

It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Esoteric knowledge about the Bible, prophecy, and theology has a place, but meeting needs and modeling the Gospel is always appropriate. Compassionate ministry of presence opens hearts and blesses both the giver and the receiver.

We can be so absorbed in attempting to parse prophetic details that we miss needs and opportunities to bless others right around us. Beliefs that wear boots and gloves to lift others’ burdens bridges the gap between profession and practice.

The poet, Edgar Guest, said it well in “Sermons We See”:

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how
you live.

–Dr. Dick Stenbakken, retired army chaplain (Col.), served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North American Division. He lives with his wife Ardis in Loveland, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By James Moon … As a people awaiting the return of Christ, it is all too easy to be Armchair Adventists who prefer profession over practice, and find ourselves channel surfing between 3ABN, Loma Linda Broadcasting Network, or the Hope Channel. Other Armchair Adventists engage in online debates via forums like Facebook, Twitter, Spectrum, AdVindicate, or Fulcrum 7.

Sabbath afternoon has been one of my favorite times to sit back and surf. What’s the latest controversy or theological debate? How can I satisfy my sense of biblical superiority by seeing what the “right” or “left” side of the church is saying? I might not pray “thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector,” (Luke 18:11), but I have certainly thought while sitting in my armchair, “thank God I’m not like other Adventists. Thank God I’m balanced!”

On a personal level, the armchair is a dangerous place for my spiritual well-being. The armchair is also a significant risk to our missional health as the corporate body of Christ. It is all too easy to tweet, post, or reply from our Lazy Boys instead of engaging seekers or unbelievers in authentic, face-to-face conversations. In exchange for personal ministry moments with the potential to experience the saving grace of Jesus with unbelievers, we tend to choose pontificating about “spiritual matters” that mean nothing in the scope of eternity. So, what is the answer for our armchair apathy?

For me, one “getting out of the armchair” experience involved a moment of reflection on the steps of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Capulin, Colorado. It was the late spring of 2015, and while a Catholic Church is probably the last place you would expect an Adventist pastor to learn about moving from profession to practice, sometimes Jesus takes us to unexpected places to teach unexpected lessons. Kind of like His journey with the disciples through Samaria and subsequent conversation with the woman at Jacob’s well (see John 4:1-42). While Christ’s disciples were not expecting to learn anything in this God-forsaken Gentile land, Jesus wanted to give them a taste of food they knew nothing about (John 4:32).

I got a taste of what Jesus was talking about on that spring day in Capulin when I looked up from my journal to see two young men and a young woman making their way to the boarded up high school directory across the street from St. Joseph’s. They were passing a beer bottle between them and talking about old times.

In that moment, the Holy Spirit encouraged me to get up from my armchair, cross the street, and engage the three strangers in conversation. My heart was nervous. “Lord I don’t know what to say. I have nothing in common with them. They’ll probably think, ‘who does this guy think he is? Some holier than thou Christian?’” All the negative scenarios played out in my mind. Fear was holding me hostage.

But Jesus didn’t give up. “Just go over and engage them in conversation. What do you have to lose? I will be with you. I can help you.”

So, leaving my armchair of insecurity, I made my way across the street. This is an excerpt from my prayer journal account of that day in Capulin:

May 25, 2015: I had a missional prayer encounter with Tommy, his friend Alex, and Alex’s girlfriend Kayla. I saw them talking by the Capulin Youth Center. I went over and said hi. Tommy lost his parents five years ago when his dad shot his mom and then shot himself. Tommy said, ‘You live and then you die bro. That’s all there is to it. You live and then you die.’

Tommy’s sense of hopelessness was palpable: “You live and then you die bro.” Nothing more, nothing less. Just life, and then death. Nothing to look forward to. Only the sorrows of a past in which his father killed his mother and then took his own life. Listening to the stories of Tommy and his friends, I felt so powerless. My heart hurt for and with them. There was no quick fix.

Not knowing what to say in response, I asked if I could pray with them. My prayer was specific, simple, and brief. I asked Jesus to comfort Tommy in his grief, give Kayla wisdom about her future, and to be with Alex when he returned to jail. At the end of the prayer Tommy said, “Bro, you know, I don’t have a lot of people pray for me.”

My heart longs for Adventists to be known as the people who pray with people. Oh, that we might get out of our armchairs and get on our knees in intercession for the Tommy’s of this world. While we argue and debate over fine points of doctrine, they are in desperate need of a doctor. It is time to leave our armchairs and lift our arms to heaven on behalf of those longing for purpose, hope, and salvation.

Mission isn’t a debate. It is a decision to listen. Before the world will hear what, we have to say, we must give them the opportunity to say what we need to hear. We need to hear their story by listening to their sorrows, hurts, hopes, and dreams. Because imbedded in the stories of people all around us is a bridge to good news of God’s love. In Tommy’s case that bridge was having someone pray with him about his grief and loss.

Who is the Tommy God is calling you to bless? Let your witnessing begin with listening. Because as you and I choose to get out of our armchairs, open our eyes, and notice the people God puts in front of us, we will find a world longing to be heard. As Jesus said, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35, NIV).

I’ll be the first to admit, it can be a struggle to leave my armchair and cross the street to engage in a missional moment of listening. Whether it is the fear of rejection, my own insecurities, or just the desire to digitally disengage. But when I have chosen to engage with the Tommys that Jesus puts in my circle of influence, I have felt most alive and most fulfilled missionally.

In my journey of witnessing through listening, the Lord has given me a simple strategy for discipling through listening and prayer. Spelling the word HELP, this strategy involves four steps: heeding, engaging, listening, and prayer. The first step is to heed the person God shows you. Step two is to engage them in conversation through a question or observational statement. Step three is to listen to their story. And step four is to minister in prayer. Based on the conversation, the Holy Spirit will impress you as to whether you should simply pray for the person privately, or whether you should extend an invitation to pray together in the moment.

As I continue seeking to get out of my armchair and engage in the HELP practices, I have found them to be an effective discipleship catalyst. Because as we pray specific, simple, and brief prayers with the people we have listened to, they feel heard and loved. They also gain a confidence to talk to Jesus themselves.

This is what happened with my wife’s friend Susan.* Susan was someone who didn’t go to church on a regular basis. She had experienced trauma at the hand of religious people. But after Ingrid constantly listened to Susan and prayed with her in the context of an organic friendship, Susan offered to pray for Ingrid during a stressful time. Ingrid’s commitment to listen and pray with Susan resulted in Susan learning to listen and pray.

May I challenge you to try heeding the people God shows you, engaging them in conversation, listening to their story, and ministering to them in prayer. Because I believe these simple practices can HELP all of us get out of our armchairs and into the mission of making disciples. Give it a try. If you would like to share your experience, I would love to hear it. Simply, send your story to: [email protected]

–James Moon is pastor for worship at Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Collegedale, Tennessee. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By Barry Casey … In the London Underground, there are signs cautioning us to “Mind the Gap,” calling us to attention when getting on and off the Tube. It’s a sign that should be posted in a lot of other places in our lives.

There is the gap between our public aspirations to equality and the stark realities of systemic racism, the deconstruction of voting access for millions of people, and the constant inequity between the top one percent in this country and almost everyone else.

There’s the gap between what corporations claim are their highest values of equality, service, and diversity, and the reality of discrimination, indifferent service, and a whiter shade of pale in corporate boardrooms.

There’s the gap between our personal best intentions and what we actually display to the world. And there’s the gap between what we, the church, claim as the kingdom and what we substitute in its place.

Show us the Father, the disciples challenged Jesus. And he replied, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” The disciples, like us, saw only that which fit the scope of their vision. The Father was too sovereign, too remote, too terrifying to be anything less than thunder in the mountains or a mighty wind rolling back the waves of the Red Sea.

Jesus brought the Father across that gap between the human and divine, slipping the invisible footprints of the eternal God into his own along the roads of Galilee. He called his Father by an endearing name. But old habits are hard to break: we can be sure not many prayed to God as “Abba,” or “Daddy.” There was an unbridgeable gap there, fixed and immovable in their eyes—and ours.

How often do we think of Jesus as divine? Most of the time. How often do we see him as fully human? Far less. There is a gap. Yet, as human, he suffered all the temptations we do and more. To whom much is given, much is required.

If we really saw Jesus as human, we would not be surprised when his anger flares up, when he weeps over Jerusalem or when he pounces on the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. These are not weaknesses; they are evidence of an impassioned soul completely immersed in this world, yet constantly breathing the air of transcendence.

Within the spectrum of the visible, Jesus’ divinity ripples, fades, reappears and vanishes. “I and the Father are one,” Jesus claimed, infuriating the keepers of the sanctuary and bewildering the disciples. “Divinity flashed through humanity,” said Ellen White, in a metaphor as visceral as it is inadequate.

We keep trying to summarize Jesus in a thirty-second elevator pitch. It can’t be done. We want something we can carry with us, an amulet for the fingers when we are tempted or grieving. We have the images we’ve gathered from the Gospels: Jesus making his way across the waves to the terrified disciples, rubbing his thumbs across a blind man’s eyes, and enveloped in a brilliant cloud as the voice of God reverberates across the dry hills. These are part of our inner art galleries, companions to the work of artists who have stretched his likeness across their canvasses.

The senses need touch, though. Body yearns for body. We would take the Emmaus Road in the late afternoon, our hearts broken, if we thought there was the slightest chance, we could relive that moment with the mysterious stranger who innocently asked what happened in Jerusalem that weekend.

We are not within the same chronological trajectory as Jesus. There is a gap. He burns across the skies at light speed. When we read his story in the Gospel of Mark, the prose itself is breathless. The narrative runs to keep up with him. He emerges from the wilderness, the habitation of demons, and immediately turns his hometown synagogue upside down. Full of the Spirit, he announces the breaking in of the kingdom. “The time is ripe,” he says, “and God’s kingdom has come close. Change your purpose and trust in the good news.”

A man tortured by possession is in the synagogue screaming in pain. Jesus reaches deep and drags the demon out, leaving the man shaken, but grateful, the onlookers stunned by the authority of Jesus’ word. Across the gap between the stiff sanctity of the sacred service and the raw clawing out of the demon from its midst, the word of Jesus sizzles through the air: “Put on a muzzle and come out of him!”

We come up against a mystery: Jesus and his mission are one and the same. To have some inkling of Jesus as a living, breathing person is to take tentative steps across the gap between this world and the kingdom. He shows us the way to God, not through a formula for successful salvation, but by being the person in whom God was most fully seen. At the risk of cliche, the way God acts in the world is through Jesus as the Way.

We get this not through a painstakingly logical progression of thought, but by a leap of trust across the gap. In Jesus we see God as God wants to be seen and known.

Even so, there is still a gap between Jesus and us—a gap that cradles history and human nature. Over the course of a lifetime, we are drawn to Jesus in a multitude of ways. We may see him in art, sense him in music and poetry, revel in the gospel stories, interpret his words for our situation.

There is always the situation and the story. A gap stretches between the two.

The situation is this moment in history, the events, and structures we find ourselves within. Language, myth, and symbol are how our story creates us in this situation. Our situation and Jesus’ situation differ, not in nature but in degree.

The whole of human life consumed and transformed him in ways that we will likely not experience this side of death. We get glimpses of it, we hear the music occasionally, but the heavens will not part for us as they did for him. The gap remains. Therein lies our glory and our salvation. He has done what we cannot do that we might live through his life.

–Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communication for 37 years in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of his writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. His first collection of essays, “Wandering, Not Lost,” was recently published by Wipf and Stock. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By Japhet De Oliveira … Was it reasonable to expect that Cain would look after his brother Abel? Was it reasonable to expect that Sarah would bring the eldest son before her ailing husband for a blessing? Was it reasonable to expect that Jacob would not deceive his brother and father? Was it reasonable to expect Samson would not his break vows? Was it reasonable to expect that David would not sexually assault his best friend’s wife? Was it reasonable to expect Peter would not deny Jesus?

All familiar stories, and some would immediately counter with a strong retort, articulating the great expectations for each person and how they could have avoided the epic fails. They would reference model citizens like Daniel and Joseph. They would add that this is beyond reasonable and unacceptable to even consider; therefore, clearly all cases of great expectations.

We do have great expectations for others all the time. The fairly recent “big reveal” about the Royal family in England and the accusations of systematic racism illustrates this. We have great expectations for global pastors, like Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias, John Ortberg, and Carl Lentz, and when the horrible stories were “leaked” we question their entire ministry. Everything is out in the open today. Everyone is being watched. We have and demand great expectations.

In the early days of the Adventist Church, co-founder Ellen White would write letters of counsel to members about areas in their lives. In later years, when these were gathered together and published, the practice was to simply list the individuals as brother “A” or sister “B.” We protected the surviving family and living memory, as it was the lesson not the name which made the difference. Today, our culture has shifted. We have globally become the accusers of John, naming, and bringing those we have great expectations of to the public. We take pride in the countless websites and email newsletters that “reveal” when the great expectations have not been met.

It would seem that along with our great expectations of others we anticipate great failings. When you buy an old house, as Becky and I did decades ago back in England, you have great expectations for how this house will become a home. You soon discover not one layer of wallpaper but several layers from the previous owners. Not one layer of bathroom tiles but two and some are not tiles. Not one type of flooring but several surprises. There are some owners that simply place new thin fixes on top of the old ones in an attempt to meet the great expectations that others have for them. Our frustration is with the previous owners. They have failed us. We have great expectations, and they did not deliver.

It is easy to have great expectations of others. In every church, community or plant, people have had great expectations of their pastor. Some of those are exciting and some of them are unique. Some of them are heathy accountability and some of them are mind-bending, black-site directives. When the apostle Paul shared that he would be all things to all people for the sake of the gospel, I am confident, he had not met all the people from the 21st century.

Our expectations of others are necessary. There is a reason that we crumble and stumble in such open and catastrophic ways from the days of Cain to this day.

Perhaps, there is another way. Perhaps there is the way of Jesus, that is peppered through both the first and second testaments. Perhaps there is the way that calls us to stop deflecting the great expectations for ourselves onto others. What if you forgave yourself, as Jesus has forgiven you? What if you extended some self-grace, as Jesus has given you boundless grace? What if you took up the mantle as Jesus has given you the strength?

What is the great expectation today?

This pressure point to be perfect and present a more “amazing you,” is as ancient as time itself. We have to resist the shallow. We have to resist the calculated vulnerability. It is a glamor veneer.

The great expectation is to be a human of significant character. I am in the process of developing the new department of Story & Experience for Adventist Health. After I hired the core directors, we processed the culture that we wanted to develop for our department and the company as a whole. It’s an incredible privilege to seek brilliance, and find creatives for film, art, and events. Resumes, references, and requirements can all be absolutely top notch, but what you want to unlock, what you want to discover is character. The great expectation is that you find humans with strong character traits that are rooted in love.

“You shall love . . . your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, ESV).

It is easy to have great expectations of others; love, however, calls us to have great expectations of ourselves first. Jesus loves us and His love is pure. When you respond to that love, you are motivated by a different cause in your life. You understand your value. You wrestle like Jacob and become Israel. You sense the great expectation and true expectation from Jesus on your life—and you step up. That has to be primary.

This moves your focus and attention from the great expectation on others to what you can bring to the table today. The love of Jesus changes your character. It changes you in every sphere that you exist and influence. You are a living force for good. You bring joy to conversations and complex realties. You are a person who lifts those who are exhausted. You are suddenly fully replenished. Reflect just for one moment on the encounters Jesus had with people in the Gospels. Every person who accepted His love for them left replenished, energized, and motivated to love others.

This is the great expectation.

“Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” —John 5:8 (ESV)

Jesus is the only true living source of all love, and the daily walk always starts with Him.

Today, accept the love of Jesus. Look in the mirror and know that you are beautiful. Jesus has great expectations for you. Allow Jesus to start with you.

–Japhet De Oliveira is story and experience executive for the Office of Culture at Adventist Health in Roseville, California. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By Shawn Brace … A church member of mine, Emily, recently became friends with Jennifer (not their real names) when they both brought their daughters to a gymnastics class. While they sat there watching their little four-year-old girls do tumbles and somersaults, they got to talking and immediately hit it off, going very deep, very quickly.

Week after week, Jennifer would tell Emily a little more of her story, which often ended with both women in tears. Jennifer revealed that she had come from a very toxic, abusive, fundamentalist Christian home, where, among other things, girls had to wear long dresses, they couldn’t wear makeup or cut their hair, and they had to follow strict rules of entertainment. This is to say nothing of the shame-based messaging she constantly heard, leaving her with the gut-wrenching impression that her value and identity were based on her conformity to strict human standards.

Needless to say, and quite understandably, Jennifer came to the point of rejecting the whole thing altogether. If this is what organized religion was all about, why bother with it? There’s only so long a person can exist in such a traumatic environment. Powerfully, Emily, ever mindful of the mission of God, would week after week sit with Jennifer in her pain, listening to her as she processed her grief. As a missionary for Christ, Emily understands that we are called to embody the gospel and provide space for others to tell their stories without judgment or condemnation or attempting to leverage their story for the purpose of “converting” them.

And yet not surprisingly, such a posture was attractive to Jennifer, and she started admitting to Emily that she still believed in God, and missed music and singing a great deal. She was just so skeptical about the church thing.

It was at that point that Emily started telling her about our church—about how our mission is to be a “safe, serving, and Jesus-centered” community that embraces people; that doesn’t use shame as a weapon to promote conformity; that invites people into the family of God, no matter where they are in their faith—or lack of faith—believing that every person has dignity and value. Emily even pulled her phone out and showed Jennifer the promotional video from our church, which beautifully articulates these very values. And then she very sensitively invited her into the circle sometime, while making it clear that it was okay if she never joined.

That’s where the story is for now. I don’t know what will become of Jennifer. I don’t know if she will someday show up at our building and worship with us. I don’t know if she will sit at Emily’s dining room table and enjoy spiritual fellowship with her. It’s a story that’s still being written.

But as Emily shared this story with me, a light suddenly turned on. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that as Jennifer went away from their conversation that day, with Emily’s invitation ringing in her ears, there was a question that she wasn’t asking herself and there was a question she was asking herself.

I’m willing to bet that she wasn’t asking herself, “I wonder if that church has ‘the truth’?”

Instead, I bet the most pressing question in her mind was, “I wonder if that church is ‘safe’?”

And those two questions are worlds apart—in fact, they’re centuries apart—but most of us Adventist Christians, still living in a different world and in a different century, don’t grasp the incredibly important significance in this shift.

Unfortunately, most of us are still asking and answering nineteenth-century questions, and our witness has suffered as a result.

Are We Just “Thinking Things”?

American Christianity, from which Adventism arose, came of age in the wake of the Enlightenment. Western society, in the eighteenth century, went through an intellectual revolution where reason and rationalism became king. Whereas prior to the Enlightenment, the world was an enchanted place, as philosopher Charles Taylor puts it, the Enlightenment disenchanted the world. Suddenly it wasn’t that God magically upheld the world; the world was governed by natural laws that could be observed, measured, and calculated.

While Christianity, for the most part, felt threatened by the Enlightenment, it soon realized it must embrace it if it was going to engage society on its terms. It thus adopted Enlightenment assumptions, with its heavy emphasis on scientific inquiry. Historians have noted that American Protestants, especially in the nineteenth century, utilized the scientific method of Francis Bacon to defend their religious views. Bacon was an English philosopher who had lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, serving as England’s Attorney General and Lord Chancellor. But he was most noted for his development of an inductive approach to science that resulted in him basically being heralded as the father of modern science.

This Baconian method, as it has been called, became the lens through which Protestants in the nineteenth century looked at the world and read the Bible. The Bible became primarily a book of objective facts that contained data points that must be mined to arrive at general conclusions. If one simply plugged in the right formulae, he or she could come up with the right answers, like the pharmacist does in filling his or her prescriptions. The primary concern of the biblical interpreter was thus to establish the propositional rightness of one’s conclusions, using scientific methods, and just as the scientist could rest in the certainty of his or her conclusions, using the right formulae, so too could the biblical interpreter. What’s more, they could also be certain that anyone who disagreed with their conclusions was being intentionally rebellious, since the Baconian method, rightly employed, always established objective theological “facts,” which no honest person could dispute.

It should be noted that this was all well and good and relevant to the time. Such a method, utilized by Adventists, gave us the raw materials—such as the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and the Second Coming, among others—that helped us form the most powerful and beautiful picture of God, rightly constructed, that I’ve ever encountered. These raw materials were likely only uncovered because we utilized this Baconian method. So, we praise God for such an approach.

The challenge is, not only is our current cultural moment asking different questions and looking at the world through different lenses, we are also not simply, in the words of James K. A. Smith, “thinking things.” We are feeling things, relational things, social things, physical things. We are whole beings. In other words, we want to encounter “truth” not only in its propositional form—as a list of propositional facts that one either mentally assents to or doesn’t—but in all its full-orbed beauty.

It just so happens, amazingly, that, according to Scripture, the idea of “truth” is much bigger than its narrow Enlightenment-definition. To be sure, it includes intellectual and propositional content; but it entails so much more. In Hebrew, the word “truth” doesn’t have much to do with the rightness of an intellectual idea, as though it was simply scientific fact; the word, ‘emet, denotes the idea of “firmness,” “faithfulness,” “reliability.” In other words, “truth” has not only intellectual dimensions, but relational, social, and emotional ones. It’s no wonder, then, that when Jesus defined truth, He said, “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6). Truth is a Person, not just a proposition. This is what Ellen White means when she uses one of her favorite phrases to describe our quest: we want “the truth as it is in Jesus.”

We are thus people of Truth not simply because we happen to preach and proclaim propositionally-correct ideas. We are people of Truth when we are faithful, reliable, safe, and trustworthy people; when we live lives that consistently display the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). And a church that determinedly proclaims “present truth,” while neglecting, and sometimes even consciously downplaying, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—is in no intelligible or biblical way a church that loves, values, or proclaims the Truth.

Indeed, love is, always was, and always will be, “present truth.”

Perhaps there is no more sobering and confronting words than Ellen White’s on this. “Many take it for granted that they are Christians, simply because they subscribe to certain theological tenets,” she observes. “But they have not brought the truth into practical life. . . . Men may profess faith in the truth; but if it does not make them sincere, kind, patient, forbearing, heavenly-minded, it is a curse to its possessors, and through their influence it is a curse to the world” (The Desire of Ages, p. 309).

Talk about an eyeful!

But this is what it means to close the gap between truth and Truth. There are thousands of Jennifers in the world, burned out by religious communities that have settled for a Baconian version of truth, when God is calling us to continue down the path beyond Bacon to a far more beautiful, robust, and wholistic experience of Truth.

And whenever it is we finally and fully embrace it, I’m convinced we’ll set the world on fire.

–Shawn Brace pastors in Maine and, along with his wife Camille and three children, is seeking to learn how to live out the gospel in his neighborhood and city. You can listen to his podcast “Mission Lab” at https:// missionlab.podbean.com. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By David Brillhart … One of the most useful tools near the beginning of my work as a cameraman was what, in the industry, we called a tweaker. A tweaker is a tiny flat-head screwdriver. The shaft and blade are small enough to accomplish a very specific, but vital, task.

In the early days of color television, cameras were fragile. If you got a solid, clean picture out of them, it was because they had been properly tweaked. A camera that wasn’t tweaked could still make pictures. But they looked horrible, the way a 3D image, meant to be seen with 3D glasses, looks without the glasses. You can make it out, but the main image is overlaid with a red or blue version of itself. It is blurry to the eye and very difficult to look at.

A camera in this condition requires tweaking. That tweaker tool was used to make the correct adjustments, literally aligning what were called Plumbicon tubes, or the eyes of the camera, if you will, so that the camera could see properly.

An engineer or the camera operator, carefully wielding a tweaker, could get the image aligned and once again viewable.

Reflecting on my early years as a Christian, a lot of my energy went into carefully observing and tweaking my behavior and my belief system. Hear a sermon, read a passage from Scripture, and then do my best to adjust my behavior and my worldview. I was hard on myself. I was hard on others. My life was one tweak after another. But it seemed I would never get resolution. I often considered myself a failure in the eyes of God. God wanted a good picture, and with me God was getting a mediocre picture at best.

God loving me in my thinking, meant God tolerating my aberrant behavior until I got it right. And so, I tweaked and hoped and tweaked and prayed—all along finding myself farther and farther away from my goal of being perfectly tweaked. It doesn’t surprise me that many a Christian either throws in the towel or finds themselves in a very narrow, sequestered life hoping decade after decade that someday they’ll get it right.

One day with tweaker in hand, I had an epiphany. The camera I was about to tweak couldn’t tweak itself. Something, someone outside the camera, who cared about the camera and the images it made, had to do the tweaking. An expert, an engineer, if you will, had to make the adjustments. Only then would the camera be tweaked.

Self-tweaking only gives the illusion that something useful is being accomplished. I recall feeling compelled to share my convictions with family and friends and even complete strangers. Convictions about beliefs and doctrine. Rights and wrongs, dos and don’ts. How’s and how nots.

Learning that the Holy Spirit is the Master Tweaker buoys my faith in a God who is wholly on my side, supporting me and cheering me on. I know that the tweaking is a gift from the omnipotent and omnipresent One we call God. I am at peace. God chose me. God adopted me into a family that God oversees and cares for. God created a covenant with me that cannot be broken. And God did all this—and even began tweaking me—before I ever knew it.

This, in my mind, is the great mystery. The unrestricted gift from God, free to all, that inspires a willingness and desire to be tweaked. It’s the very thing that frees us from feeling a need to be the messenger, and quietly and effectively BE the message.

One only needs to be willing and receptive to God’s tweaks. Tweaked to be the message. To be grace, mercy, justice, clothing, food . . . the hands and feet of Jesus. To be love.

The Lord is my tweaker, I shall not want . . .

–David Brillhart is a cinematographer/filmmaker based in Sacramento and currently director of marketing for Crossroads Senior Living. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By Tony Hunter … I’m going to plagiarize a few words. I suppose, technically, if I tell you that I’m plagiarizing and tell you who wrote it and from what book, it’s not plagiarizing.

You know, because of how words work.

Jim Butcher, the author of Blood Rites, opened his fictional book with these words from the main character, Harry Dresden: “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.” It’s a great opening line.

What’s not great is that they are the words that came to my mind as I pondered the theme of this issue, that theme being the difference between profession and practice within Christianity and, more specifically, Adventism. That opening line echoed in my mind as a metaphor for the denial of our part in a large problem, even as it echoes Adam’s proclamation that it wasn’t his fault.

It’s a great metaphor because we (Christians and Adventists) built this building. We lived in it with questionable consideration, did sketchy maintenance on it, and poured the gasoline on it as we saw fit, juggled with the implements of fire, and then ran around pointing at everyone else (those not-Adventists and/or anyone who disagrees with whatever) when the whole thing burst into flames.

We either said one thing but did another or lacked any sort of consistency in the spirit of what we said or what we did. And this is important, because it is often in the difference between what we say and what we do that lies, pain, chaos, and despair often exist. And that reality itself is distressing for many because it also speaks to expectation. The expectation being that an organization declaring certain spiritual truths about itself would conduct itself according to those spiritual truths. And when that inevitably doesn’t happen, we have problems.

This is because the difference between happiness and despair is usually expectation.

But perhaps this is being unfair. How can an organization with millions of members and a lot of cooks in the kitchen exist within any sort of consistent thought and action, and have any sort of real cohesiveness in practice?

That is a much larger issue that all organizations struggle with. But I’m not sure that the more spiritual issue is actually any smaller. That’s because the problem with there being a difference between what we say and what we do is one of identity and belief.

Who do we think we are, and do we actually believe it?

I’m not talking about the details of Biblical prophecy and the inconsistent Adventist interpretations, nor the details of the equally questionable remnant theology that still floats around our churches. I’m talking about something more fundamental and foundational to who any Christian claims to be.

Our identity is as children of the Creator, siblings of Christ, who are to be known by the entire planet by our love. Who are to love their neighbors as they love themselves? Who are to be willing to give the shirts off their own back to someone in need? Who are not to think ourselves better than anyone? Whose very religion is to care for orphans and widows? Who is to welcome those different than us with open arms into our homes and lives and communities?

I’m not putting the citations for those portions of the Bible in here. Partially, because I need to conserve my word count. But also, if anyone doesn’t recognize those words from your own Bible, you’ve just illustrated the problem.

As Christian Adventists, those words are our identity. That is who we are. And I’ve rarely met anyone who would hear that and disagree. But weirdly, that identity doesn’t always, or even usually, trickle down into our doctrinal theology and practice.

We claim to be a people of love, but have spent a ludicrous amount of money, time, and energy bashing Catholics, non-Adventists, non-Christians, and anyone who doesn’t see the Sabbath as we do.

We spend more time on prophecy evangelism than we do helping our communities. And no, our hospitals and ADRA don’t count. We don’t get to hand off our spiritual duty to others just because it’s easier to give them money.

In a typical prophecy evangelistic series (the primary way new Adventists are created other than by birth), out of the 4–6 weeks that the series goes, usually only 1–2 nights are spent on the core of what it actually is to be a Christian in terms of Jesus death and resurrection. The rest is spent trying to prove through Bible prophecy why Adventists are better than everyone else and why you need to be one to be saved.

You read that correctly. Sure, no one outright says you have to be Adventist to be saved. They merely try to point out that Adventists are the most correct, and then link that with remnant theology, a theology that says only those that conform to our version of Bible truth will be God’s chosen, therefore they need to choose us. Our baptismal vows are based on this idea. But, if as we say one is saved through Christ and Christ alone, then there should only be one baptismal vow and one message of evangelism: Jesus.

We say we are all one in the eyes of God, but then create differences between gender and race in church things and argue about those rights.

And don’t get me started on gender identity. We are so busy arguing about the “right” and “wrong” of it, that few are bothering to actually care for those in one of those categories because caring for others is apparently not as important as dying on a shaky and irrelevant theological hill.

If we are to be known by our love, but don’t show the world love, then either we weren’t teaching love, or we don’t actually believe love is who we should be.

The difference between what we profess and what we practice exists because we don’t actually know who we are and who we want to be. It also exists because we, as an organization, are spending more time and money on proving we are correct than we are on being an agency of love.

Proving we are correct, and being love, are not the same thing.

The tragedy is, if we focused more on being love to all humanity, we would automatically lend much more weight to some version of correctness.

But as it stands, we care more about the nuances of Sabbath keeping than we do the suffering of another human. And while that may not be true on an individual basis, it is what our corporate behavior suggests.

Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Those were the words of God spoken through the prophet Micah. Everything else was meaningless, it was suggested. If we actually do believe that God is love and that we should be too, that the world is supposed to know us by our love, then perhaps it’s time to just shut up entirely. Maybe the spirit of Christ can no longer rest in our words.

Perhaps it’s time to stop professing in words and let our hands speak for us.

To plagiarize and paraphrase: “Preach the gospel. And if needed, use words.”

–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife Nirma live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By Dany Hernandez … I was born with a curse—the curse of being an includer. This is a curse I did not request and did not order. This curse was gifted to me! This curse keeps me from looking at the world from my own perspective and, instead, forces me, on a daily basis, to imagine what the world looks like from the eyes of others. This curse is the reason why in all my years of ministry, I have always migrated to the margins. The margin is where the inside ends. Whatever or whomever is contained within these boundaries begins to lose its identity the further it gets from the center. The margin is where the line, or lines, have been drawn by a company, organization, institution, or someone and is usually defined by a set of rules, traditions, expectations and creeds.

In “The Lion King” Simba finds himself at the elephant graveyard, a place he has been told to avoid, when Zazu interrupts his journey and says, “You are way beyond the borders of the Pride Land.” In other words, you’ve reached the margin . . . and you’ve crossed it. Those of us who have spent all of our lives inside the margins, can’t even imagine why anyone would even consider crossing that line. Because, at some point, the people inside the margins told everyone that the margins were dangerous, that outside was a bad place where evil things happen once you step across that border. So, in order to avoid evil, we surround ourselves with individuals who will provide accountability, encouragement, guilt and even, at times, shame to keep us from the margins. Unfortunately, our churches have forgotten that most people live in the margins. And this should not be a shock, but this also includes the people who appear to be right in the middle, away from the edge. Let’s face it, people are leaving “church” in droves, and we need to own it and admit it. We can get creative with all sorts of numbers, and justify our success, but the reality is, if we don’t do something drastically different, we will find ourselves protecting the castle alone.

This tweet from someone I follow on Twitter expresses the sentiment of so many people today. We must listen if we want to remain relevant.

“I’m not avoiding Church so I can live a life of debauchery. I’m avoiding church because I can’t make sense of the people outside the church being kinder and more understanding than those inside the church who gave me pat answers and shame with a side of victim blaming for 25 yrs.”

After reading this, probably the first instinct for you and me is to say, “You’ve just been at the wrong church.” Naturally, we want to defend the things we believe in and are a part of. But, by doing so, we often fall right back into “pat answers.” We are really good at those. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Avoiding the Questions

Hang with me for a minute. The theory of spiral dynamics attempts to understand human thinking, behavior, and development from not just a personal, but also a historical/cultural perspective. Spiral dynamics would say that the basic need for all humans and cultures moves from the need to survive to the need to believe in wizards, magic and gods. After that, we organize ourselves around an individual or strong figure until we disagree with that person and seek to move into a community with a certain creed that will be upheld no matter the leader. This is where religion and denominations come into the picture.

But something fascinating happens, eventually. Humans begin to ask questions about the creed or set of beliefs they’ve been a part of and in doing so, appear to many as heretics, backsliders, and dangerous to the community. In this next stage, humans ask “Why?” A lot and pat answers will automatically be dismissed. Humans see science as saying one thing and faith as saying another, and they attempt to make sense of those things and find that churches and faith communities feel as if those two are mutually exclusive. So, we avoid the questions. We encourage them to not lose their faith. We warn them about the dangers of doubt.

The harsh reality is that our country finds itself right now mostly split down the middle between those two stages. About one half of our country strongly holds to creeds and traditions without questions asked, and the other half is seeking something more. The other half isn’t necessarily seeking answers as much as the freedom to explore and ask questions. But the tension comes when a certain group feels they have all the answers and therefore questions are discouraged and seen as a lack of faith or commitment.

As churches, we have become very uncomfortable with saying, “I don’t have the answer to that question.” But, if we are going to bridge the gap between those at the margins and others who are way outside the margins, we need to embrace, “I don’t know.” Because guess what? Everyone can see through the lack of depth in pat answers.

Blame It On Google

At some point in history, the church and the preacher controlled the information. We shared our findings and backed up our ideas based on the sources we liked and agreed with. However, I hope we all realize the moment we say something in public, a large majority of individuals is Googling the thing you said to make sure you didn’t get that from some obscure and random source. The church is and will continue to be held accountable for the things we say and the things we do, and if those things do not align with love, justice, and mercy, we will continue to lose credibility and our relevance in society.

Dazzle Them With Jesus

Archimedes is credited with saying, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” In other words, get to the point even if you don’t like the point. Don’t waste people’s time by trying to dazzle them with words. How about dazzle them with honesty and sincerity. Dazzle them with the fact you also have some questions and there’s a mystery to all this we are all in search of.

How about dazzle them with the truth of Jesus. Not all the theological stuff, but with the practical, because people could care less about theology unless they see that theology played out in a real, everyday manner. Dazzle them with forgiveness, inclusivity, compassion, kindness, and generosity. Dazzle them with the fact that Jesus lived on the edge, in the margins, and way outside the boundaries. Dazzle them with the fact that you, just like Jesus, are pure and simple about love, justice, and mercy.

My Two Cents

Here are some practical thoughts from someone who spends a lot of time with people in the margins.

Embrace and encourage difficult questions you might not have answers for.
Provide spaces for conversations about challenging topics such as racism, poverty, and the LGBTQ+ community, to name a few.
Make it obvious you are for the community, not against it.
Language has changed; use language people understand.
When in doubt, focus on Love, Justice and Mercy

Now, you don’t have to change anything if you’re only interested in preaching to the choir. If your main concern is keeping the 99 sheep safe, by all means, just shut yourself in the barn with them. They’ll be happy, you’ll be safe, and everyone in the choir will say “Amen.” Inclusivity, on the other hand, will cost you. It will be difficult. Now that I think about it, it’s not a curse.

–Dany Hernandez is lead chaplain at Littleton Adventist Hospital in Littleton, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Jun


By Reinder Bruinsma … It was more than twenty years ago, but it is an experience I will not easily forget. I received a message with an urgent request. Would I please come and visit brother Jones (not his real name)? He was terminally ill and was eager to see me before he would die. Our brother was a member of one of the Adventist churches in Amsterdam, but I was not his pastor. I was, at the time, in charge of the Dutch Adventist publishing house. So, I wondered why my visit was important to our brother.

I knew who brother Jones was, but, frankly, I did not like him. He was one of those persons who are always right in their interpretation of the Bible, who always wants to have the last word in Sabbath School, and who knows exactly how a real Adventist should live.

But what could I do? I went to see him the day after receiving the message. When admitted to the room where he lay in his bed, he wanted no one else to be present. He told me to look under the bed for a tin box. When I found it, he instructed me to open it and to look inside. I saw a pack of 1000 guilder notes. (This was before we had the Euro.) “You may use this for your ministry,” I was told.

Somehow, I knew instinctively that something did not add up. I therefore asked my treasurer to put the money in the safe. I wanted to know where the money had come from before we would use it. Brother Jones lived for about three more weeks and during a few pastoral visits, the local pastor discovered how brother Jones had acquired the 30,000 guilders (worth about 15,000 dollars at the time). Just a few months earlier, brother Jones’ older sister had died. He had been appointed to care for her estate. Her savings were in the tin box that I had been given. The sister of our brother was a Roman Catholic, and she had left instructions that the money should go to her parish church. But, brother Jones, being a truth-filled, prophecy-loving, Catholic-hating Adventist, did not want to see any money go into the “Babylonian coffers” of the Catholic Church. He knew a much better destination and decided to re-route the money.

Of course, I made sure the money ended up with the local Catholic parish. However, the experience made a deep impression on me. Here was a church member who was convinced of the truth of every syllable of the Fundamental Beliefs, who was an avid reader of all the Ellen G. White books that had been published in the Dutch language, and who would spend a good number of hours every week in mining all the “present truth” from the Sabbath School lesson quarterlies—but what good had it done him? On his deathbed, this one hundred percent ultra-orthodox Adventist was prepared to lie and cheat. Of course, it was for the good of “the work of God”, but it was despicable deception, nonetheless.

It’s time to find out what difference it makes

The experience with brother Jones inspired me to write a little book. It was published by Pacific Press, and the editor who guided the manuscript through the pre-press process, gave it one of the longest titles in recent Adventist publishing history: It’s Time to Stop Rehearsing What We Believe and Start Looking at What Difference It Makes. The experience with brother Jones has stayed with me. I asked myself the question: How can one be so religious and so focused on being doctrinally correct, and yet, at the same time, so blatantly ignore the moral principles of the kingdom of our Lord? Is it possible that we constantly ‘rehearse” our doctrinal beliefs, but that this remains a useless exercise and makes no difference in how we live?

I decided to take another good look at each of the Fundamental Beliefs—27 at that time; the 28th would be added in 2005—and to ask in each case: What difference does it make in my every-day life that I believe this? It became a fascinating exercise. I must admit that there are a few Fundamental Beliefs that did not seem to make very much difference in daily life, whatever way I looked at them. But I was determined to find some element that made a difference. For if a doctrine does not make any difference in the Christian praxis, it might as well be eliminated from the list.

Let me just mention a few examples. Fundamental Belief No. 3 is about God as our heavenly Father. So, I asked: How does a better understanding of the Fatherhood of God help me to be a better father for my children? Belief No. 4 is about Jesus Christ. This raised the question: How does a better grasp of who Jesus was help me to become a person who resembles Him? How will becoming aware of how Jesus broke with traditions as He served the people He met, give me the courage to be a non-traditional person in my support for others. Belief No. 10 deals with the Sabbath. Worshipping on the seventh rather than on the first day of the week surely makes me different from all the other fifty or so people who live in our apartment building. But does the experience of celebrating the Lord’s Day add an extra dimension to my life? Does it not only make me stand out from the crowd, but does it make a difference for me by importing divine peace into my busy life, and by providing me with the unique time slot that I need to cultivate my relationship with God, with my loved ones, and with God’s creation?

Wrestling with this pivotal question, what real-life difference my doctrinal beliefs make was extremely meaningful for me, but, apparently, it also struck a chord with many readers. This small book brought me more reactions than anything else I wrote before or after. Again, and again, people wrote me or told me that what I had written had given their faith a real boost and had made their religion into something more than a set of religious teachings to which one is supposed to give intellectual assent.

“The truth will set you free”

In John 8: 31 we read how Jesus is in a conversation with a group of Jews “who had believed him.” Jesus tells them that they will be real disciples of His if they “hold” to his teachings. Then follows a crucial statement, when Jesus declares: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (vs. 32). Note that the truth will not simply give additional information, and that it does not just satisfy our intellectual curiosity. No, the truth will do something very special for us. It will set us free. It will make us a better person. It will make us more balanced, more tolerant, more outgoing and more content. How? Because it is that the kind of truth that comes from Above and is, first, personal, and relational. This is what Jesus underlined when He told his disciples: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. Knowing Jesus is not limited to knowing about Jesus. It is more than theological learning and more than saying “yes” to several Fundamental Beliefs. Knowing Him is having a personal relationship with Him; it is being guided by the hand of our heavenly brother (Hebrews 2:11).

The apostle Paul is the foremost theologian of the New Testament. At times, his theology is rather complicated. Even Peter acknowledged that Paul’s “letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). But for Paul, theology as a system of beliefs—important though it may be—never stands by itself. We consistently find in his letters that Paul’s theology is translated into praxis. The question “What is the content of our faith?” is linked to the question, “How does our faith change us into a better human being, in the service of others?

Perhaps the Letter to the Ephesians illustrates this principle most clearly. After having given a theological explanation of what “living in Christ” means and underlining the importance of unity in the Body of Christ, Paul switches gears and urges the believers in Ephesus to live as children of the light: “Be imitators of God . . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1). In the remainder of the letter, there follows lot of advice that guides us in our various relationships. Or, if you want another example of how faith is linked to praxis, go to the Letter to the Colossians. Some issues in the earlier part of this letter continue to puzzle many theological minds, but then the apostle focuses “on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10).

God will judge our brother Jones. He may well have possessed some redeeming qualities that I did not detect. But he helped me to look beyond truth as a system of theological statements to Truth as a relationship with Jesus Christ, which gives meaning to my life as I continue to “grow in Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

–Reinder Bruinsma, PhD, has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church in publishing, education, and church administration on three continents. He recently received a royal decoration for his contributions to the life of the church and to society. His forthcoming new book is about the how, when, and why of the Second Coming of Christ. He writes from the Netherlands where he lives with his wife Aafie. Email him at: [email protected]