Do we Have to Agree on Everything to Have Unity?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa bay area.

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? Amos 3:3 NKJV

Amos asks how two people can walk together unless they are agreed. Does this mean they have to agree about everything in order to walk together?  I think the New Living Translation helps to clarify the question:

Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? Amos 3:3 NLT

The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary supports the NLT  by saying the meaning of this text is, “How can two walk together unless they have a common purpose?” 1 You don’t have to agree upon every little thing in order to go in the same direction. I have traveled with friends who, when we stop to eat choose a different restaurant than I want. I go to one, while they go to the one next-door. We eat, get back in the car and continue our journey in the same direction.

I have shared this passage a few times before:

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ.Ellen White, Great Controversy, page 258.

We talk about how we need to study the Bible with an open mind. Well, I believe we need to study The Great Controversy with an open mind as well. Many staunch Adventists talk like the book is all about proving which day is the real Sabbath. Of course that becomes clear in the book, but one major theme I see in The Great Controversy is that we should all worship according to our own convictions and none should force others to believe just like them or just like us. I have talked with several Adventists in the past, who would dispute this passage, because they strongly believe that if you are led by the Holy Spirit you will think exactly like they do. They are mystified by the idea in this passage that two people can be led by the same Holy Spirit without totally agreeing on every point of doctrine. Yet I believe inspiration is telling us that people can be led by the Holy Spirit without being  carbon copies of us!

Here is another passage from Great Controversy, which I believe contains a very strong warning to Seventh-day Adventists.

Yet honest and God-fearing as they were, the Pilgrims did not yet comprehend the great principle of religious toleration. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others. “Very few, even of the foremost thinkers and moralists of the seventeenth century, had any just conception of that grand principle, the outgrowth of the New Testament, which acknowledges God as the sole judge of human faith.” The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply  rooted of papal errors. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 292  

I have encountered Seventh-day Adventists who were just as papal as the papacy.  When we try to dictate what others believe or exactly how they worship, are we not  imitating the papacy?  Again, a major theme I find in the Great Controversy is that everyone should worship according to their conscience, and that includes people who don’t agree with us.

Tolerance for different opinions is not just something Ellen White preached. She also practiced tolerance in her own home.

We must remember that there are a great many different minds in the world, and we cannot expect everyone to see exactly as we do in regard to all questions of diet. Minds do not run in exactly the same channel. I do not eat butter, but there are members of my family who do. It is not placed on my table; but I make no disturbance because some members of my family choose to eat it occasionally. Many of our conscientious brethren have butter on their tables, and I feel under no obligation to force them to do otherwise. These things should never be allowed to cause disturbance among brethren. I cannot see the need of butter where there is an abundance of fruit and of sterilized cream. Those who love and serve God should be allowed to follow their own convictions. We may not feel justified in doing as they do, but we should not allow differences of opinion to create disunion. May the Lord help us to be as firm as a rock to the principles of the law spoken from Sinai, and may He help us not to allow differences of opinion to be a barrier between us and our brethren.-Ellen White, Counsels on Diets and Foods, Page 269 

Now butter may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but what I truly appreciate in this passage is how Ellen White recognizes that people who do not see things her way are still her “conscientious brethren.” She does not question the hearts of people who disagree with her. This is in contrast to a discussion I once had with a brother who told me I would see things his way, “once I get closer to Jesus.” Ellen White recognized you can be close to Jesus without thinking exactly like her!

Amos 3:3 says we should all be heading the same direction, but that does not mean we have to agree on every little thing. We don’t have to start a new church or denomination every time we have a difference of opinion.

I once worked in an area that had one main church. It seemed perfectly balanced to me. A leader in the church had some evangelistic meetings which spawned  a new church plant. The church plant was more liberal than the main church, so all the liberal members of the main church joined the new church plant. This left only conservative members in the main church. Suddenly in my opinion, the church plant became too liberal and the main church became too conservative. I thought it was much better when the liberals and conservatives went to the same church, because together they kept the church balanced. Now neither church seemed balanced, as far as I could see.

When we surround ourselves only with people who think exactly like us, our thinking becomes skewed!

Of course there needs to be a balance between tolerance for other opinions and letting every wind of doctrine freely blow through the church.

How tolerant should we be of other people’s opinions in the church?

What example did Jesus give us for tolerance within the church?

How do we decide which doctrines are worth splitting the church over, and which ones we should just show tolerance?

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

He’s Not My Brother, You’re Not My Father

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

You are looking at my favorite Florida sunset picture out of all the ones I have taken. While I love the beauty of Florida I have discovered as I travel around, that Florida is not the only beautiful place in the world. The sunsets on the sea are not the only way God expresses His beauty. He also expresses His beauty on snow capped mountains, lush valleys and meadows as well as majestic forests. God has too much glory and beauty for little Florida to contain, so He must spread it all over the world. It is the same with people. God is just too big and glorious for Him to portray Himself in one type of people. So He expresses His beauty in different types of people all over the world.

The spring of 2003 found me driving from Texas to Tennessee. I stopped for the night in Louisiana. The next morning I stopped at a doughnut shop in Mississippi. As I walked in, all eyes were glued to me, and were staring me down. I checked my zipper. Everything seemed to be okay. I walked up to the counter and smiled at the lady at the cash register, but she only glared back at me. I wiped my face. I must not have rinsed well after shaving. I cheerfully ordered my two chocolate cream filled doughnuts. My cheerful order was not met with a cheerful smile. The lady very curtly gave me my doughnuts, made change and glared at me as I smiled back and said “Thank you!”

As I turned around, I saw all the customers were still glaring at me. I smiled back at them and they only glared back at me. That is when I finally noticed something I hadn’t before. I was the only white person in the store. Everyone else was black. My first reaction to that realization was, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Your attitude towards me is so 1964! It’s 2003 people!” I came within an eyelash of making a grand speech, about how we are all friends back in Texas, but thought better of it. My church in Texas was a multi-cultural church with several different nationalities. (Notice I did not say races and I will tell you later why.) Not only at church, but also where I worked, I had black friends, white friends, Hispanic friends, and everything in between.

Later when I shared my experience with a friend, they reminded me that I was passing through an area where there was still anger over racist crimes. They reminded me about Emmett Till, the young black boy who was killed by some white men for no good reason and the jury let them go! That has created a lot of anger in the black people.

Well I want to share something with you. What happened to Emmett Till has created a lot of anger in me too! You see, I don’t think of Emmett as just black. I think of him as human. I like to think of myself as human as well. People call what happened to him a race crime, that pits blacks against whites. But here is the thing. I am the same race as Emmett Till! While he was black and I am white I am still the same race as him- the human race! What happened to Emmett was a crime against humanity-the same humanity I am a part of. I have just as much right to share the hurt and anger of this terrible crime, because as a human I can identify with him. You see, the Bible only acknowledges one race, the human race. We all have one Father. When Cain killed Abel, it was an attack on the human race and when those men killed poor Emmett, it was an attack on the human race as well- the entire human race, and it broke the heart of the same Father whose heart was broken when Cain killed Abel.

Even though I enjoy beautiful sunsets on the beach here in Florida, I am still concerned about how pollution affects beautiful places all over the world. You see I don’t just belong to Florida. I belong to the world. Emmett Till did not just belong to black people. He belonged to humanity.

When we become narrow-minded, thinking we only belong to people in our own area, color, or even church then we are denying how great and wonderful our God is. Even in the church we debate theology thinking our way of thinking has a corner on the market, forgetting that God is too great to pour all His theology into one simple narrow minded brain. I have said it before and will repeat it now, often our camp of thought is wrong, not by what it teaches, but by what it does not teach. Some people stress justification while others stress sanctification. Fact is you need both. So to get the big picture on theology we must put all our ideas together. I may love my beach sunset pictures, but we need beautiful mountains and valleys in there as well. While I see God’s glory in the sea, many see God’s glory in the desert. My sunset picture is not a complete comprehensive picture of God’s glory and beauty, and my theology is not complete either. When we put all our pictures together we get the big picture.

Luke 15:11-31 shares the story of the prodigal son, and in that story the older brother disowns his younger brother when he calls him “This son of yours”. He would not call him brother. Problem is we all have one Father. That makes us all family. God is the father of struggling sinners. If in my pride I claim the struggling sinner is not my brother, then I have also said God is not my Father! In the end of the story the older brother finds himself outside of his Father’s house, because he refused to accept his brother.

Quaid, an elderly man from Vietnam, whose family disowned him when He became a Seventh-day Adventist, was a member of a church I preach at here in Florida. Sadly, he has passed on. At his funeral, a mother of a struggling teen shared this story with me. Her daughter, we will call Shelby was dealing with some grief in her life and was acting out. She dressed differently and liked to dye her hair bright colors. One day at church people were talking about her and she was very hurt. She started telling everyone she was never coming back, because people were treating her like she was so different. Quaid, in his classic grey suit and tie sat down on a bench outside the church, with 15 year old Shelby, in her strange clothes and hair, and he told her how his family had thought he was strange for being Seventh-day Adventist, but it did not stop him from coming to church. He talked to her about how people thought he was strange because of some of his customs from his native country, but that did not stop him from loving them. This elderly man from Vietnam, sat on a bench with a rebellious 15 year old girl, and talked to her about all the things they had in common! He shared with her how, while being different, they both shared the same problems-rejection. He told her he was not giving up coming to church just because people thought he was different, and told her not to let them keep her from church either! Years later, Shelby attends church occasionally, but according to her mother, she would not be attending at all if it wasn’t for an elderly Vietnamese, traditional Adventist elder who saw himself in a 15 year old American rebellious teenage girl. Shelby attends that church occasionally and has friends from that church that she meets for socials outside of church, but Quaid will always have a special place in her heart.

Friends we share one Father. We are family. While I live in Florida I have an interest in the whole world because the lines between states and countries are only imaginary. I am not just a part of Florida. I am a part of this world. I am not just a Seventh-day Adventist. I am a Christian and therefore I have an interest in my Methodist and Baptist brothers as well. I don’t just belong to white people. I belong to people of every color and nationality because I am a part of the human race. I am a part of God’s great big family. I am not going to let narrow minded thinking force me outside my Father’s house.

You can study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

Unity and the Trinity

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you.  All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory.  Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. John 17:9-10 NLT

In the United States there is one federal government. One Congress, yet it has over 500 members. A husband and wife are one while they are still two individuals. Likewise, there is one Godhead. yet many people have trouble understanding how this can be. Could it be they are being a little too intense and literal? I observe that a lot of misunderstandings about the Bible come from us being more intense and literal when studying the Bible, instead of allowing Jesus and the writers to use figure of speech just like everyone else.  Just like there is one congress with over 500 members, so there is one Godhead with three members. While the Senator from Ohio is a congressman, the representative from Arizona is a congressman too. Just as the Father is God, so is the Son and Holy Spirit. Just as the 500 individual members of congress can all be congressmen, so the three individual members of the Godhead can all be God.

Jesus prayed in John 17 that His church would all be one just as He and the Father are one. Now if Jesus and the Father were just one individual then what Jesus would have been praying for would be for the entire church to be just one individual. This obviously is not so. Jesus wants His church to be one in unity just as He and the Father are One in unity.

Study more on the Trinity here.

Study more on this week’s SS lesson unity here.

Inernational Sabbath at Tampa First

l100_1807

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This coming Sabbath the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church will be celebrating our unity in diversity. Several countries around the world are represented in our church family. God’s love is so big and great there is no way He could express all of his goodness in just one race or culture, so He created several races and cultures so each one can give us a glimpse of His love and goodness.

The worship service and parade of flags begins at 11:30am Sabbath, March 2. Pastor Conrad Duncan from the Florida Conference will be our special speaker. Before the worship service we will have one Sabbath School class, brought to us by our own Pastor Brad Cassell. At 5pm we will have a music festival and then at 6:30 will be our International Food Fair. The money raised at the food fair will go to help the Sabbath School department.

If you have any questions just call the church office at (813) 933-7505. Hope to see you there!

My New Outlook For The New Year

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Humans are very seldom either totally sincere or totally hypocritical. Their moods change, their motives are mixed, and they often themselves are quite mistaken as to what their motives are.” – C.S. Lewis

In  order to be more personal I have made a video blog on my new outlook for the New Year. A quote by C.S. Lewis has given me a better way of looking at things in 2011. Please let my share my message with you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOw2ZXqwMJM