A lot has happened since Part Two was written and posted, not the least of which is that ARISE has moved to Jasper, Oregon to merge with Light Bearers. (At least most of us have. Pastor Nathan Renner remains with his beloved church in Sonora, California but will continue to be a part of the ARISE team in important ways; Jeffrey Rosario has not yet made the trek, but will early next year after his wife, Marianna, finishes nursing school.)
Shortly after the move and the annual Light Bearers‘ Convocation (which was excellent, by the way!), my family and I fulfilled a lifelong dream by driving 2600 miles north to Alaska. This is where we are now. We’ll spend the next several weeks hiking, backpacking, canoeing, bird watching, fishing, and swatting mosquitoes. This is my last shot to finish this article before I disappear into the woods where there’s no internet access, so here we go with numbers 11-15…
11. Remember the Church, Though God’s, Is Made up of People
Fifteen years ago, when I joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I, like many others, held numerous misconceptions about the church. I remember the first time I saw church leaders make, what was to me, a really bad decision. I was perfectly nonplussed. But that was just the beginning. I remember the first time a pastor let both me and his calling down with some exceedingly unchristian and unfortunate comments. It was disorienting. I remember a dawning awareness that the church wasn’t where it could and should be. It was all so unsettling.
I had unrealistic and unbiblical expectations.
As is so often the case, hindsight has made these experiences much clearer. I chalk up my early frustrations and disappointments with the church to a lack of information and education on what the church actually was. I had unrealistic and unbiblical expectations. And these kinds of expectations are, without exception, doomed to be dashed.
Today, though sometimes baffled and frustrated by various church leadership decisions, I am aware of a basic truth that, somehow, eluded me earlier in my experience: the church is made up of people. Being a person myself, I am aware that people sometimes make bad or poorly considered decisions. I do it at least several times a day! This issue became clearer than ever to me when I studied some of the bad decisions made by the church in the book of Acts. A careful study of Acts reveals a church, in many ways, very much like our own. (I’ll save my thunder on this for a future article.)
“Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146:3). This is not the voice of cynicism, but of realism. Yes, the church is God’s institution made up of God’s people who are seeking to carry out God’s will in the world. I am convinced that usually we make the right decisions—from local church boards to General Conference committees—but too often we get it wrong. And it’s at these times that we must be humble, repentant, gracious, and teachable.
And we have to remember a fundamental reality: the church is made up of people.
People just like me. And you.
12. Find Godly Friends
I spent this last Sabbath here in Chistochina, Alaska, population 100. Richard and Judy Dennis live here and they are Seventh-day Adventists. They are the only ones. Add to this that Alaska is really, really big. Fellowship with likeminded believers can be tough to come by. On Sabbath, I went to Sabbath School in Dennis’s living room. We had Sabbath School via a telephone conference call with numerous other Alaskans living in remote locations. It was, truth be told, better than most Sabbath School classes that I’ve attended! There was a palpable enthusiasm among the participants. The enthusiasm was two-fold: they were studying God’s Word and they were connected with likeminded believers.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Good friends create authentic fellowship and good influence.
You probably don’t live in remote Alaska. But it may be the case that you live in an area where there aren’t many Seventh-day Adventists. Or perhaps, by contrast, you live in the “promised land” itself, Loma Linda. Wherever you are, do your best to surround yourself with godly friends. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Good friends create authentic fellowship and good influence. You need this. We all do. “It is not good that man should be alone” is true in more ways than one.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).
13. Read the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy
Really, this should go without saying. Unfortunately, it can’t. I am often astounded at the level of basic biblical illiteracy among those who have been believers for many years. This is both tragic and altogether unnecessary. The Bible is available in so many translations and “Study Bible” permutations today that its accessibility is greater than it has ever been. Furthermore, the writings of Ellen White are widely available in many and varied languages. So while it’s true that not everyone in the world can easily access the inspired writings, most of us can.
The reasons for studying and knowing the inspired writings for yourself are too many to list. But how about this one above them all: it gives you direct access to Jesus and His will for your life! There can be no better or more urgent thing than this. As the world becomes increasingly secular, sensual, and hostile and as deceptions and distractions abound, it is critically important that you be personally familiar with God’s inspired teachings and counsels. It is a matter of life and death.
Perhaps you need to turn over a new leaf. Commit yourself, over the next year or two, to reading the following books: the Bible, Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, Desire of Ages, Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy.
Won’t you commit to it right now?
Like the preceding lesson, this one should go without saying. But it won’t. And for me it’s personal. Here’s why: I’ve never been a particularly “good” pray-er. Unlike Bible study, which comes naturally and joyfully to me, praying is often tough for me. I resonate with Paul’s observation that, “we do not know what we should pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). I frequently feel exactly this. This is not the case for me with Bible Study, ministry, preaching, or witnessing.
This does not mean that I don’t pray. I do pray. But it can be a challenge. And yet when I do, I find it connects me with God in a wonderful and intimate way. It is an essential part of a connection with God. Also, it is a means of intercession before God on behalf of others. I freely admit that I do not understand exactly how intercessory prayer works, but I do believe that it does work. Furthermore, I am urged to pray by Scripture to “pray without ceasing” (1Thessalonians 5:17).
This is not easy.
But it is essential. And it is rewarding, both for one’s self and for others.
15. Keep Getting Up
Several years ago I wrote and preached a sermon titled, The Single Secret to Succeeding in the Christian Walk. Since then I’ve been told by more people than I can remember that that sermon changed their life. I know it certainly changed mine! The punch line of that sermon was three simple words based on Proverbs 24:16: Keep Getting Up.
These are words to live by.
I’ve been told by more people than I can remember that that sermon changed their life.
Sometimes I make the right decision. And sometimes I make the wrong decision. When I do the latter, the options aren’t many. You can either stay down or you can get back up. This is not a difficult decision to make. By God’s grace, I’m going to keep getting up.
You should too!
Over the past fifteen years I’ve learned many things. I’ve got more – much more – yet to learn. But in these three installments I’ve shared fifteen lessons from fifteen years. If you’ve found these helpful and resonant, by all means, pass them on. The church is, after all, a community. We need to learn from one another. We need to uphold one another. We need to love one another.
So here’s to another fifteen years…
That we may be Home long before that is my earnest prayer!