- the weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period.
- the prevailing influence or environmental conditions characterizing a group or period.
The month of March is upon us. This means that one of my favorite sporting events is under way: the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Every year the tournament sparks a lot of conversation and analysis. During a recent episode of the nationally syndicated ESPN radio show “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd, he conducted an interview with ESPN College Basketball analyst and former Duke University College Basketball player Jay BIlas. I like Jay Bilas — not just because he played for Coach K at Duke, whom I root for — but because he, for lack of a better term, keeps it real. Colin started asking Jay about some of the results from the first weekend of games which left his bracket (and many others) in shambles. In response to Colin’s query about what could be learned from some of the upsets that happened in those first games Jay responded by merely stating “there is a difference between the weather and the climate.”
Jay went on to explain that in the first week of the tournament there were not a lot of “good” games, there were merely a lot of “close” games. Jay’s overall point was that in the NCAA tournament, barring a few outlying examples, the teams that have a consistent and proven winning culture and climate in their programs over the course of several years, will generally end up as one of the last teams standing when the “dust settles.” The tournament will have various different weather patters and “Cinderella stories” which grab the attention of the casual and everyday sports fan alike. Those stories, however, much like a New Jersey “snow storm” do not stand the test of time. Jay’s theory has proven true — three of the final four teams heading to Indianapolis this weekend are number 1 seeds. The fourth team, Michigan State, although a 7 seed, is far from a Cinderella participant. They are coached by the soon to be hall of fame coach Tom Izzo whose teams are a virtual lock for a Sweet 16 run at minimum every year.
I have been captivated by this weather vs. climate concept. It can be applied to things of far more importance than NCAA games and brackets. I am of the belief that it can help explain where we are now in the Seventh-Day Adventist Christian denomination, as well as help us examine how we can move forward.
- the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness.
- [intransitive verb] to undergo or endure the action of the element.
The SDA church seems to operate based on the weather. It is very hard to determine what our church’s climate is because we generally dialogue in an atmosphere of extremes. This is not to say that there are no balanced, “middle-ground” discussions happening within our church at large, but those discussions generally go unnoticed. We don’t write blogs and articles or tweet about what is happening (if anything) in the middle. We all (including myself) veer towards the extremes.
We talk about women in ministry when a group of men decide that they shouldn’t be in ministry. Then another group of men say that they should be in ministry. Lastly, those women who are currently in said ministry sit back and wait until we decide which group of men are right (or we (the GC) don’t and say each region can decide which group of men they would like to agree with). We talk about race relations in our church when one man preaches a bold yet controversial sermon that everyone decides to interpret through the context they choose which leads to reactionary statements like this which affirm the status quo. Then we all get to stand in the wake and wonder if we have made any progress at all. As church members many of us are “weather oriented.” When the preacher we like is speaking somewhere we are there. When the music we like is sung we sing along. When we do not feel that our needs are being catered to, we check out mentally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. As members, we tend to look to those in leadership positions to carry the church. The second that we feel as if they are not carrying his or her weight, we want them out. This mentality stifles church unity and growth and does not lead to a church body being effective at winning anybody new. It is impossible to continue building additions onto a faulty foundation.
While living in Berrien Springs, among the plethora of worship options available to me, it was easy to feel like I had the best of what this church had to offer. It was not until I left there that I started to get a sense for what the reality is for churchgoers (particularly young adults) in our current denominational culture. At Andrews, I did not have to commit to any ministry (though I did on varying levels to some) in order to feel as if I was getting a blessing. Every aspect of my consumeristic worship desires could be fulfilled depending on where I decided to attend that week. Unfortunately, in the real world, our church does not generally have those types of options. The easy reaction is to blame the church for not having enough versatile worship experiences. The more difficult reality, which took me a while to reach, is that the problem primarily resides within me. I didn’t want to commit to a church or ministry unless I thought that it was worthy of my time or energy. Even at the very basic level, when I wasn’t even looking to be personally involved, if I was not “enjoying” myself or being fed a certain way, it was impossible to focus. The spiritual climate of my life needed to change — actually, it needed to be created — because it never existed.
So how do we as a church — both membership and leadership — seemingly without a discernible spiritual climate effect a true, lasting change? Some of you may feel that we already have a climate. I would be interested to hear what that is. I think it would be important for me to clarify why I feel our spiritual climate as a denomination is essential, and what that may actually look like. The “weather” isn’t all that bad — I am not advocating for some universal form of worship or conformity. There is beauty in our diversity and wonder in our differences. If we are not known to be a people, an organization, a movement that are identified by a spiritual climate that is rooted completely in Jesus Christ, then we will continue being a people that sit around our exclusive water coolers and talk about the weather. That is the why…our message, our perception, our relevance in a world culture that can easily overlook who and whose we are due to the extremes that we allow to govern our speaking and thinking should matter to us. If not then we will slowly but surely fade into anonymity.
change CHānj (celtic, late latin, old french) verb
- [transitive verb] to make radically different.
- [intransitive verb] to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution.
- [intransitive verb] to disclose one’s faults; specifically : to unburden one’s sins or the state of one’s conscience to God.
If our church desires to move forward in any kind of meaningful way, we must begin with the act of confession. Much like any other human construct on this earth, we have sinned, and fallen short of not just the glory of God, but His mission for this movement. If we want to be intentional about inviting His Spirit in to set a new spiritual climate for this church, we need to confess those sins in the presence of God and in the presence of one another. There are several biblical examples of the power of confession. One of my favorite ones that speaks to the corporate confession that we should be seeking is found in the book of James:
“13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:13-16 (ESV)
This section of James chapter 5 is rightfully called the prayer of faith. This passage captures the current state that we are in. Whether we are sick and suffering or cheerful and full of praise, there is power when we come together in the spirit of confession and pray for one another so that all will be healed. This process, though at times painful, is worth it and we can enter into it with the assurance that the Lord will bring healing and motivate us to forgive. It is at this point that He can begin to set His climate in our church and in our lives.
- express regret or disappointment over something considered unsatisfactory, unreasonable, or unfair.
- to regret strongly.
The book of Lamentations is a collection of songs compiled shortly after the fall of the city of Jerusalem around 586 B.C. Although the author of the book is nameless, there is strong evidence from both Jewish and Christian tradition which ascribes authorship of the book to the prophet Jeremiah. The book starts off in an extremely solemn tone as the author describes the current state of Jerusalem which now laid in the wake of its fall:
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.
2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies.”
Lamentations 1:1-2 (ESV)
The book goes on to explain in great detail just how dire the situation of Jerusalem was. To add insult to injury: it was all their fault. Jerusalem was experiencing the judgment of the Holy God that they had rejected (once again):
“8 Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away.
9 Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future; therefore her fall is terrible; she has no comforter ‘O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!'”
Lamentations 1:8-9 (ESV)
The deep passion and sorrow the author expresses not just for the desolation of the once beautiful city, but also for that city’s great sin is truly gripping. He wastes no time and minces no words in his explanation of how and why this great city fell. As I read through the first couple of chapters of this book, I began to wonder if I approached my sin (and the confession of it) with this kind of genuine sorrow. Yes, Christ our Redeemer is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, but do we take the time to lament what we have done? Do our shortcomings truly matter to us? I believe that our church needs an extended period of lamentation. Our “city” may not have fallen in the way that Jerusalem fell, but we are living in the wake of the sin that God in His grace and mercy has been trying to save us from. How much longer will the walls of the city remain standing? There were many in the city of Jerusalem that believed that God would never allow them to fall because of their presumed special place in His heart. Are we operating with that same sense of false entitlement? In the midst of the author’s lamenting, he includes (thankfully) this measure of hope and faith that the people of Jerusalem had to cling to:
“19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! 20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. 21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”
Lamentations 3:19-25 (ESV)
Verse 40 of chapter 3 says that we should “test and examine our ways and return to the Lord!” The book ends in chapter 5 verse 21 with the author pleading “restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!.” We can find restoration and healing in Him only after we recognize and admit the depth of our wrongdoings against God and our fellow man. The confession of our sin is not enough. We have to enter into a period of lamentation through which we understand the severity of the situation we have placed ourselves in along with the surpassing grace and mercy of Christ that has brought us thus far in spite of ourselves. He paid the ultimate price for that sin. It is high time for us to stop acting like the price He paid wasn’t steep enough.
I know, in-reach is not a word in the traditional sense of the ones that I have used (and defined) up until this point. The in-reach process involves how we reach in to those who would categorize themselves (currently or in the past) as an Adventist. After going through the confession and lamentation process, it is important that we as a church reach in to the current body, as well as those who may have left as a result of what has been confessed/lamented, and invite them to critique the process. There are many feelings out there in regards to how the SDA church has operated up until this point — some valid and some not. I think the church should be open to hearing all of the validly held critiques of its members. It should have a listening ear and not a combative tongue.
The in-reach process includes talking about what has been positive and worked as well as that which has been negative and fatal to growth. The church should entertain the valid reasons that some may have had for giving up on this church (and in some cases Christ). We should feel a sense of ownership when someone has had a valid gripe with our church that we have either overlooked or disregarded. What matters to Christ should matter to us, and the people in and on the outskirts of our church undoubtedly matter to Him.
We also need to encourage an environment where people can ask questions. We should be empowering our members to think, not to conform. An informed member is an engaged member and we should be investing in the development of meaningful membership and not just “numbers-based” membership. We have some house cleaning to do, and through the power of Christ, we can let the members of this body know that we mean business.
- a significant point or central theme, especially one that has political, social, or moral importance.
- a communication in writing, in speech, or by signals.
- a messenger’s mission
I am not a theologian so I will not attempt to dive into the deeper ins and outs of the potential problems with how we have packaged our current message. A November 28, 2014 article on Lightbearers.org written by Ty Gibson entitled “The Old Covenant Brood” details the tragic turn that our church took away from the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ. You should read the piece in full for it’s historical context (and great content) but the following excerpts are vital to our climate change discussion:
If the gospel of grace does not flourish in a church’s theology and experience, the tendency will be to control others by political process, by majority vote, by contractual arrangements, by the formation of confederacies that advance restricting agendas upon the body of Christ. Apart from the principles inherent in the gospel, human beings do not know how to allow others the freedom to advance God’s cause in a manner that differs from what they feel themselves bound to.
Is this ringing any bells? Gibson goes on to explain in glowing terms a historic and current Adventist problem:
Even now it is common to hear Adventists say things like, “We don’t need to preach the love of God and focus on the cross, because the other churches are doing that. We’re called to preach the three angels’ messages, the Sabbath, the law of God, the judgment, and the Second Coming.” This is a rough articulation of a mindset that manifests itself in various forms, most notably in the way we define our mission and formulate the content of our evangelistic meetings and Bible study guides. But this is a false and dangerous dichotomy that only serves to emasculate the three angels’ messages of their real power, a power that resides alone in the proclamation of God’s love in all its glorious fullness as the real substance of all biblical doctrine. This kind of thinking entirely misses the crucial fact that Adventism was called into existence by God to proclaim the gospel—not a message distinct from the gospel, but the gospel itself—with the unparalleled clarity that our doctrinal understanding affords.
There is perhaps no more divisive and volatile an area of discussion in our church than the area of our message. Think of all of the sermon’s that have resonated within the church at large during…lets say the last five years. What were those sermons about? What was the tone of those sermons? Were they chalk full of the gospel in it’s pure, unadulterated form? Or was it about divisive issues such as (fill in the blank I won’t go there). What does that say about what truly matters to us? Do we want to continue to be the church that people view as the “know-it-alls” or do we want to be a church who is surrendered to the One who is all-knowing. There is room for diverse approaches to our message, but we need to make sure that it is centered around and all about Christ. If we were as hidden in Christ as He intended for us to be, many of our debates on our message would have worked themselves out (because they would have been worked out by him). As Ellen White said in the 1892 Review & Herald article referenced by Gibson in the Brood article:
“God calls upon all who claim to believe present truth, to work diligently in gathering up the precious jewels of truth, and placing them in their position in the framework of the gospel. Let them shine in all their divine beauty and loveliness” (Review and Herald, November 15, 1892).
Focusing on the gospel does not equal surrendering our “Adventist identity” (whatever that currently means). It means that we proclaim the supremacy of Christ throughout the pages of scripture. It means explaining how God’s eternal law found in the old testament becomes that much more beautiful when seen through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Gibson concluded the Brood article with this charge:
The remedy for all that afflicts God’s church is a clearly defined, clearly preached, and experientially embraced doctrine of justification by faith. As we engage in our dialogues and debates over culture and style, over methods of evangelism and approaches to mission, over operational policies and qualifications for ministry, the most productive course we can pursue is to first and foremost proclaim the good news of God’s love in all its clarifying beauty. From that premise, our hearts will enlarge toward one another, our minds will broaden with creativity in the execution of our mission, and we will be secure enough in Christ to allow our brothers and sisters to differ from us in their service for the Lord while affirming them as faithful fellow laborers in the spreading of our Savior’s fame.
I agree wholeheartedly with this charge. We need to be focused on embracing this kind of “messaging climate.” We should not be focused on whether or not it is our fault that Jesus has not returned yet (for a more in-depth discussion on this topic, see this Spectrum article). I wasn’t going to go there, but I will briefly. It is amazing that our church can look back at what did and did not happen at a 1901 GC session and express sorrow as to what transpired and somehow overlook our history on the subject of race. The video does not make any reference to one of the most currently talked about subjects in the world church. The year 1901 was 11 years after the General Conference segregated the NAD’s work in the south, and that was not discussed at the 1901 GC session that our current leadership is pointing to as a model for what we should be doing moving forward. We need to wake up and take a real look at the shortcomings of the past, and view them with honesty and integrity if we wish to be taken seriously.
- of undisputed origin; genuine.
- conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features
We need to be authentic representations of our original example: Christ. When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and this church, the essential features of Christ will manifest themselves and be reproduced through the course of our mission. As I talk to people around my age who are apathetic towards or disconnected from our church, one of the major reasons they point to is a lack of authenticity. Connected with that is our perceived unwillingness to ever admit that we have been, or currently are wrong. During some unrelated reading, I came across a pretty intriguing evangelical movement called Rethinking Hell. I have not read up extensively on who is behind the movement, but from what I can gather it is primarily focused on presenting an alternative to the commonly held “eternal conscious torment” model that most mainstream Evangelicals use to describe what hell will be like. They espouse the more “Adventist-friendly” annihilationist model that SDA’s subscribe to. On their welcome page, they had this to say about truth:
The Bible is the final authority for Christian belief. This means that believers should strive to understand what it teaches! Sometimes, inevitably, we misunderstand something. That matters most whenever it’s something of eternal significance. All the more so if we teach, defend, and act upon it (which we should, if it’s true). Biblical understanding is just critically important. Correcting our own misunderstanding is the flip-side of that. It isn’t pleasant. Realizing that we’ve been wrong can be unsettling, frustrating, and embarrassing. This should never make us unwilling to rethink our views. If there’s even a slight possibility that we may have misunderstood something important, we must resist the temptation to rationalize it away. Since what the Bible says is so paramount, dismissive, non-biblical explanations fall short (such as “this would make too many people wrong” and “anyone who believes that mustn’t be a real Christian“). Lovers of the truth will always return to the Bible, armed with humility, prayer and careful thinking.
This statement ties in to the messaging portion of our discussion as well, but I placed it here to make the point that authenticity does not equal infallibility. It actually means quite the opposite. A critical step in being authentic involves owning (completely) our wrongs. It also means operating in transparency. No more political moves. No more back-room deals. Why don’t we pull the cover off of what really happens at our General Conference sessions? Let’s encourage critical thinking and assessment as it pertains to how and where our money is spent. Being authentic isn’t just something that you do, it is a way of operating, a way of living — a value system that directs and motivates everything that you find your hands doing. We serve an authentic Christ. He isn’t sitting on a cloud in the sky looking down at us lowly humans stumbling over ourselves. Hebrews puts it like this:
“14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has beentempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)
Christ has intimate knowledge of our journey on this earth — which gives us that much more of an incentive to be authentic in our posture before Him and others. In an article on authenticity written by Pastor Stephen McAlpin for Relevant Magazine he stated, using Ephesians 4:22-24 as a backdrop:
“..[A]uthenticity in the Church is the quality of our exposure of brokenness and adornment in God’s grace. An authentic person is one who is both privately and publicly putting off the old self and, by God’s grace, putting on the renewed self.”
Christ is ready and willing to put back the broken pieces of our shattered lives through the power of His grace. All He needs is a willing vessel to be authentic in his or her recognition of the need for Him and Him alone.
- to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.
- to change in composition or structure.
- to change in character or condition : convert.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (ESV) “3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:3-7 (ESV)
The word of God is sufficient to stand alone on this topic. We need a personal and corporate transformation. It is time to put down the old — the bickering, the comparisons, the in-fighting, and the piety — and pick up the new — the goodness and loving kindness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that is sufficient to save us — not because of our righteous acts — but according to His mercy and the regenerative and renewing power of the Holy Spirit! This transformation begins with our total submission to Him. He takes care of the rest. In Titus 3, the attributes that we bring to the table are clear: foolishness, disobedience, slavery to sin, malice, envy, and hatred. When we choose to fall back and accept the goodness and loving kindness of God that is introduced in verse 4, true transformation takes place. In and of ourselves we can only produce the filth that is described in verse 3. Transformation is His job, and it is time for us to be ok with that.
- believe that (someone or something) will arrive soon.
- to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of.
We need to expect God to move. After all the previous climate change steps are entered into, it would be a waste if we did not expect a supernatural move of God in our lives and in our church.
“18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what wedo not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)
Being an expectant church should come natural to us. The Second Advent is part of our name. When John the Baptist was preparing the way for Christ to come, he stated (in Matthew 3) that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. It was a message of urgency — not just a message that looked forward to the coming of Christ, but an appeal to become a part of that spiritual kingdom immediately by faith. We need to be praying for Christ’s Kingdom to manifest itself in us and in our church now. As we prepare for and look forward to Christ’s return, we need to also expect Him to show up through His Spirit daily in our lives, our churches, and our organization. Lets strive to be the expectant vessels that are used to do things on this earth that only God can manifest through us. No more ordinary worship encounters. No more “playing church.” We should expect to be transformed every time we invoke the presence of God into one of our conversations, meetings, encounters, homes, church services, camp meetings, and general conference sessions. Lives should be changed. Souls should be saved. The liturgy should be secondary to His Spirit. The atmosphere needs to be set by Him alone, because it is only in that space where we can expect to see Him do what we couldn’t have done ourselves. It is at this point when we can play a vital part in co-laboring with Christ to help make our faith become sight:
“21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'”
Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)
It is this ultimate expectation that should drive every decision that we make as a church from here on out. Every decision that is made should be analyzed by the following framework: will this decision get us closer to hastening the coming of Christ? Are we closer to experiencing Revelation 21 as a result of this action? If the answer to either is no, I would submit that we re-analyze the course of action so that it can better fit that framework. As we expect His coming, let us also expect Him to move in us and through us right now in order to add to that number that He will call His people on that great day.
“20 He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Revelation 22:20 (ESV)
If you have read long enough to get to the end of this blog, I truly thank you. The purpose of me writing it was not to solve the world church’s problems in 5500+ words (I probably included 3000 more than necessary). The purpose of this blog is to start the conversation. What would #CLIMATEchange look like to you? Whether you connected with all of the factors I chose, or none of them at all, I want to hear from you. If you would have replaced a factor here or there I want to know what you would have included so that the change that we are seeking through Him can be as powerful and all-inclusive as it should be. Feel free to comment, share, and discuss what direction you would like to see taken in your life, your church, and your denomination. This blog is about you. This church is about Christ being lifted up by and through you. Let us seek His face individually and collectively as we strive to allow Him to do a new thing in us and through us.