Archive for December, 2011

You Need to Read It — The Great Controversy

You Need to Read It -- The Great Controversy

Whether you visibly see it or not, there is a colossal battle taking place right now between the two greatest powers in history. Each of us has a stake in the outcome and each of us plays a part on the world stage. Revelation 13 opens up to us the view of the Great Controversy between the forces of heaven and the forces of evil. One of the best resources for understanding this spiritual battle, is the book by Ellen White entitled, The Great Controversy. Right now, there are hundreds of people across Pennsylvania who have a heart yearning to know God’s purposes and will, especially at this point in earth’s history. I have been deeply encouraged when recently I have struck up a conversation with a perfect stranger, and before the conversation is over, have encouraged them to read The Great Controversy. For there has been more of a willingness to accept this book, than in years past. From a professional person next to me on a flight to Atlanta, to a college student working at a pizza shop in Forty-Fort, PA, the response has been positive. What about you? This year in the Pennsylvania Conference, we are calling upon each church and each church member to read through the book The Great Controversy. Over the last year, our Conference Office staff followed along with me as we shared and discussed a chapter each week in morning worship. Your heart will be moved as you see the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose. And then in 2012, we will begin to pray that God will lead each one of us to those we can share a copy of The Great Controversy with. The time is right, as never before, for our world to hear the message of this book!

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The Christmas Stampede

The word stampede brings up different images, like 100s of rushing cattle in the Old West with cowboys racing alongside.  Another image is the Calgary Stampede, a week-long rodeo and festival in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  In Spain, there is the annual “Running of the Bulls” where 100s of participants run in front or alongside of bulls as they race through the blocked off streets of Pamplona on their way to meet a matador in the bullring later that day.

The Christmas stampede generally occurs the Friday after Thanksgiving Day in the United States – “Black Friday.”  In 2008, 2,000 shoppers outside a Wal-mart in Valley Stream, NY, stampeded into the store when the doors were opened, trampling to death a Wal-mart employee, even ignoring pleas and attempts by fellow Wal-mart employees to rescue the stricken man.  Since then at other locations, such as Target, Toys R Us and other stores, shoppers have used pepper spray, threatened to use weapons, and trampled other shoppers in line.

At the first Christmas in Bethlehem, there was no stampede to meet the birth of the King of Kings and Creator of the Universe when he arrived on planet earth as a newborn baby.  Just three foreign dignitaries showed up un-announced.  And a group of uneducated, unsophisticated, unassuming shepherds – the lowest of the blue collar workers.  The only animals were those kept in the stable and whatever the three wise men may have rode on.

The closest to a Christmas stampede came later when King Herod thought there might be a new king to assume his throne, and he sent his soldiers on a rampage through Bethlehem, killing all male children 2 years and under.

If there was no rush to meet Jesus when He came the first time, what will it be like when He comes again in the clouds of glory with all His holy angels?  I am afraid that today there is more of a rush to get the latest Black Friday deals on electronics and Christmas bargains, than there is to welcome Jesus into the heart and pursue a trusting, loving, all encompassing relationship with Jesus Christ.  Our economic engines encourage us to be materialistic and consumeristic, especially at this time.  All this can occupy the heart, instead of the Creator of the heart.  Jesus spoke to His disciples of His second coming and asked the question in Luke 18:8 – “…When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Just as Jesus came to this earth once, so He has assured us that He will come again.  Soon.  And when He comes the second time, there will be a stampede.  Revelation 6 speaks of what happens at the coming of the Lord to this earth.   “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”  (Revelation 6:15-17, NKJV)

At Christ’s next coming to earth, most people are stampeding to hide from the very One who alone wants to save them and is able to save them.

How about you?  Where is your heart and affection right now?

This Christmas season as you celebrate with family and friends. As you give and receive gifts.  As you observe the rush and the crowds in their holiday shopping.

I urge you to remember the great gift of God. Jesus, the baby born in the manager Who was and is heaven’s gift to each person here on this earth.

But even beyond that.  Now at Christmas when you think of the birth of Jesus as He came to the earth as a baby — remember that Jesus is coming again.

Just as surely as He came 2,000 years ago and was worshipped by the wise men and the shepherds, even so He will come again very soon.

Right now the world’s population may not be stampeding to meet him.  But you and I can be ready.  We can live each day in His presence.

Extreme Youth Ministry — Integrating Churches and Youth for Mission as Ellen White Counseled

When a Church, a Conference, and the Youth Department of the Conference all become intentional to focus on the calling of Christ for His mission in these last days, amazing things can happen!

The Pennsylvania Conference has challenged churches and pastors to become intentional for mission.  One of the churches that took up the challenge was the Reading Kenhorst Church. They invited the PA Conference Youth Department to send the COOL Camp summer day camp team to their area and they reached out to the children of the low income community around their church.  Kenhorst also invited the PA Conference PYC student literature evangelist team to come and reach hundreds of homes around the church.

From these efforts, the Kenhorst Church has begun a church planting project, that is involving a team of students from Blue Mountain Academy to be the ministry leaders as the mission to the children and families around the church continues on Sabbath afternoons. Compelling stories are coming from the young children as they are ministered to by our Adventist Youth.

This is just one of the ways that the Pennsylvania Conference and local churches are seeking to re-capture the Adventist calling in mission and youth ministry as given through Ellen White.  “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world!”  Education p. 271.    And it is a joy to see multi-generational efforts between the church members and the youth in this mission.  Ellen White had encourage us that, “There are many lines in which the youth can find opportunity for helpful effort. Let them organize into bands for Christian service, and the co-operation will prove an assistance and an encouragement. Parents and teachers, by taking an interest in the work of the young people, will be able to give them the benefit of their own larger experience, and can help them to make their efforts effective for good.”  Education pg. 268-269.

Will you join me in lifting up in prayer these efforts to incorporate our Youth and our Adults together, in the mission and ministry of Christ all across Pennsylvania?

What Influences kids to remain in the Adventist Church

As I write this, I am attending the annual North American Division Year End Meetings in the General Conference.  While there are several important actions that the elected church leaders and elected lay delegates are voting on, we also receive a number of reports from various NAD ministries.  Some of these are thrilling to hear of how God is at work.

One of the reports was the most recent ValueGenesis study, which was looking to see what factors most influenced SDA young people to remain in the church.  The notes I took include the following factors:

  1.  Build a warm and thinking climate in the home, the church and the school.  This means to stay close to young people, and be willing to engage with them in conversations as they express doubts and challenges to what you and I believe and have taught them to believe.  Conversations like that can be scary at first, for when they express doubts, we as parents, teachers, pastors and interested adults want to give them the “right” answers and get them to accept those answers,  and move on in the right direction.  However, young people, we are told, in expressing their doubts to us, are on a march toward faith.  Whereas with adults, expressing doubts are on a march away from faith.  So, stay close to young people, listen and dialogue with them in a supportive way.
  2. Help the Church become a Grace-oriented place.  This involves the attitude and atmosphere in our church bodies and our conversations.  While we want to “be right” in our theology and religious beliefs, we don’t have to be rigid in how we express that and how we treat each other.  Being a Biblical Christian should lead us to treat each other with the understanding and compassion that we believe Christ has treated us with.  The atmosphere in our churches says a lot about whether people want to be there or remain there.  Especially young adults.
  3. Encouraging a relevant and meaningful worship service.  Young people don’t need a “wild” or “radical” or even overtly “contemporary” style of service.  Although you may hear various people speaking about their convictions about the type of worship service they find appropriate, we need to consider our worship from a principal based position rather than only a personal preference based position.   Worship can become a lightening rod, or it can be a light in the darkness.  Meaningful worship can include updated congregational songs and new expressions for coming before our Redeemer and Creator.
  4. Assist families to create home-centered helping projects.  Young people are more likely to stay in the church as they participate with their parents in compassion ministry—especially as this is a value of the parents.  What young people see their parents doing is what they embrace and retain.
  5. Grow a children’s, youth and young adult ministry in the local church.  Around the 8th and 9th grade age bracket is the critical time for faith choices.  So it is said that even a bad youth ministry or a bad Pathfinder club is better than no ministry or club at all!  While I’m not entirely sure of that, the message is clear, have a children’s ministry, youth ministry or Pathfinder club – at the very least.  Churches without any children and that think they can’t have a children’s ministry because children are too noisy, too active or demand too much energy from church members, are churches that are only a few years from closing.
  6. Teach popular culture standards in the home.  We used to call them “church standards,” and now another appropriate way to say it is, “Life affirming choices.”  For young people to accept and integrate the Biblical values we hold together in the Adventist Church – the most effective way is for the parents to learn how to teach and model those practices and belief in the home.  It matters less what the church teaches and what the school expects and it matters more what the parents practice themselves.
  7. Learn how to “Faith Talk” with your family and friends.  “Faith Talk,” in this context, means becoming comfortable speaking with others about belief and trust in God. What Jesus means to you.  How God has been at work in your life.  Where you have experienced answered prayer. This means more than the ability to give a Bible study on a specific topic, but rather the ease at which we will speak about our relationship with God.
  8. Support quality Christian Education.  81% of all Adventist students have said that SDA schools are important in their SDA faith.  Supporting SDA Christian Education is well worth our support.

For more information on this topic, you can obtain a book from Advent Source entitled: Hey, Love  Them and They Will Come.

Joining you in Revealing Jesus and Making Disciples in our PA Mission Field,

Ray Hartwell