Adventism at the Crossroads: Recalibration

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Editor’s Note: On October 8, 2018, Oakwood University hosted “The Adventist Church at the Crossroads” featuring Dr. Jon Paulien, Dr. Leslie Pollard, and Pastor Japhet De Oliveira, who has shared his opening remarks with Spectrum. Read his sermon below:

Recalibration grounded in Jesus means we live with hope from the Holy Spirit, that the Searcher of Hearts knows us. That the Holy Spirit will call us to a better place every day. Do we embrace forgiveness, reconciliation and trust? Are we able to move to the space that God has called us and follow at any price?

Last Tuesday evening, Peter Chamberlain, who has served my local Church for over 30 years and currently is my lead elder opened our board meeting with a quick reflection, that caught my attention. Not that I don’t enjoy his monthly musings and insights from the Bible, but this was a stream that I could see directly pouring into the river today.

A river that I have prayed long and hard over

Does it have enough strength?
Is it flowing in the right direction?
Will it really shape the land?
Is the land rock or sand?

So today, by kind invitation from Dr. Jesse Wilson, and alongside two fellow brothers, Dr. Jon Paulien and Dr. Les Pollard, men who have written, forged, and danced within delicate times… I have to ask myself these questions.

Should I wait until I retire to speak?

OR

Should I speak so that they retire me?

Do these words,

gathered from the streams
of so many great men and women,
across the centuries of time,
form the river that is needed today?

Can a river make a difference in the desert?

Can a river make a difference in the barren rocks of a mountain?

Peter Chamberlain asked last Tuesday, when we consider the faith development of those around us, do we approach them like a potter does to clay or like a sculptor working on stone, with a chisel and hammer?

Do we like the mess of the potter working on the clay, molding it gently into the piece of art it needs to be….or do we prefer the hard direct cut?

Which metaphor resonates with God?

Which metaphor resonates with our Church?

Are they the same?

That is a dilemma we face

AND

Will require some recalibration.

As part of the Global Resource Collective (GRC), which is what Alex Bryan, Tim Gillespie, Sam Leonor, Paddy McCoy, and myself, started after the One project, we are currently preaching through the book of Romans.

You arrive at Chapter 8.

A powerful river.

It is as if the Holy Spirit knew that I would need to be reminded of this epic letter. After all, my hunch is that the gospel writers were pretty much inspired by Paul’s letter to the Romans and decided to pen their own story — hence Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

If I asked you…what is your favorite verse in that passage

YOU

probably along with me
would have picked Romans 8:28.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

But when you are in the midst of the chaos…
But when you are depressed and beaten down…
But when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel…
But when you sense your Church, our tribe Adventism, is at a crossroads?

Does this text resonate with you?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

When you respond to the call from God and it is an unquenchable fire within your bones, you read in Jeremiah 1:5—

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

BUT

Some men, opened their wardrobes, slipped on their London suits, tightened their shoe laces, fastened their cufflinks, knelt momentarily, rose rapidly…

And said… in the womb… you indeed were formed…

BUT alas

Your DNA failed to produce the right pigmentation of skin.

SO you will not be able to serve in the same way….

And said… in the womb… you indeed were formed…

BUT alas

Your DNA failed to produce the right genital apparatus.

SO you will not be able to serve in the same way….

And said… in the womb… you indeed were formed…

BUT alas

Your DNA failed to produce the non-questioning mind.

SO you will not be able to serve in the same way….

Does Romans 8:28 resonate with you?

Perhaps this is too heavy for us to handle?

Romans 8 starts us off on an entirely different journey…

Frankly, Paul launches us into a world where there is No Condemnation, to which we would all say AMEN

With no condemnation, Paul shares that we are indeed Adopted,

which means we are forgiven.
which we would all say AMEN as well

This is not forgiveness the way we forgive.

This is forgiveness that calls for reconciliation and trust.

Which Jesus offers and extends all at once, but we take our jolly time, hence the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives…

Of course for Israel of OLD being forgiven meant something entirely different…

HENCE Paul had to unpack the gift.

It’s like it was Christmas back in the 1980s… You got that really great electric remote controlled car… You know the type that had a wire attached to it…

EXCEPT

Your mum and dad, or your granny and grandad forgot to read the package… Batteries not included…

This is what Chapter 8 felt like when we hit verse 18….

Batteries not included…

For I consider that the suffering of this….

AND

you just can’t get past the sufferings…
Don’t go there Paul….
Don’t tell us that this is what the gift includes?
I thought you said we are forgiven?

This is where you need to just join me and let me tell you a story…of

Recalibration

Not about a boy becoming a man
Not about starting a new religion
Not about changing his name from Saul to Paul
Not about psychological re-programming
Not about a persecutor switching careers

It is about deep transformation of his heart and mind.

It is about capturing all that Saul was and redirecting.

It was a beautiful journey of Recalibration grounded in Jesus.

(This is why verse 18 makes sense and is beautiful.)

Saul grew up in Tarsus, a city that was considered to be a rival to Athens. A center of philosophical debate and teaching. They all were required to worship the goddess Roma and of course Lord Caesar and Augustus who was ‘son of god.”

The best estimates were that Saul was 1 of about 2,000 Jews in the 100,000 that lived the city. Saul, of course, along with his brothers and sisters would recite three times a day

Shema Yisrael
Adhonai Elohenu
Adhonai Echad

Hear O Israel,
The Lord our God
The Lord is One

So to declare that Caesar is the Lord… would be too much. Even though it was required. They brokered a deal with Rome, that they would pray to their ONE GOD, for Rome, and its Emperor… and Caesar agreed to LIVE and LET LIVE.

That is how Saul grew up. We also know that Saul was a Pharisee. Well trained in the Torah. This is not about being conservative or liberal. As N. T. Wright comments, it was more about if they were too compromised or too strict.

Living in a tight open community, everyone knew everyone else. Nothing went unnoticed. Saul, because of his tent making business learned from an early age how to swim comfortably in an intelligent, multi-cultural, inter-faith community.

He spoke Hebrew, he spoke Aramaic (just like Jesus), he spoke and wrote in Greek, he even understood Latin. He was well read. When you read his letters, you understand his ability to switch between Hebrew and Greek mindsets. He quotes poets and philosophers.

But there was a deep sadness that shrouded his life. There was a dark cloud that covered all his hope. For the narrative that he understood was rooted in Genesis.

In God who created ha’adam
In God who created Adam and Eve

For Saul understood that their disobedience meant they were exiled. Years later, despite the covenant renewal, They mess up and end up in Exile again. God rescues them from Egypt and the Sanctuary is built…

Do you remember what Saul would have been taught?

That seal of approval for them as a people was when they had the Shekinah Glory in the Sanctuary. It was the same when Solomon built the temple. It was filled with the presence of God.

However, before their exile the presence of God departed from the Temple.

Saul, knew why this was…

They had disobeyed
They had broken the covenant

Saul also knew through the Prophet Isaiah (52:7-12) that God promised to return.

What was needed was Revival and Reformation. Strict adherence to the Torah.

What was needed was next level investment.

What was needed was to earn forgiveness.

And

To do whatever it takes to make God return.

Saul had studied Daniel 9. He, with others, knew there was a period of exile….but the Messiah, the anointed ONE was to come… He was around 20 years old when Jesus died on the cross…

BUT

Could not see Jesus as the Messiah…After all the Temple was empty…

So Saul looked deep into his history, searching for examples of those who were taking this seriously. After all, his love for the blessings of what God offered was sincere.

When it came to the FOOD, the laws were there to eat only clean foods, and even killing the animals were not in the mad fashion done by so many others, but with care and respect.

When it came to CIRCUMCISION, the law was there to remind them sex was not a joke, but a covenant of mutual respect and love.

When it came to SABBATH, the law was there to remind them that one day Heaven and Earth, God and Humanity would have their time meshed together forever again. That we get to anticipate every week the time we have set aside to be with God.

But his people had wandered from this and what was Saul to do…

They ate anything that moved.
They slept with anyone who wanted to.
They made Sabbath just like any other day.

What was needed was Revival and Reformation. Strict adherence to the Torah.

What was needed was next level investment.

What was needed was to earn forgiveness.

And

To do whatever it takes to make God return.

There were two schools of thought among the Rabbis...

The school of Shammai or Hillel.

Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, said, we teach truth and people decide.

LIVE and LET LIVE — REMEMBER CAESAR? The way that Cesar had treated Saul’s people — That was Saul’s teacher.

Shammai, on the other hand, taught we teach truth and if people ignore, well, you have to take them out through violent persecution. Saul saw the story of Phinneas, how in one violent act he cleaned house.

He read the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal.

He understood that Judas Maccabeus lead a revolutionary revolt against Rome using these two characters as their SELECT models.

Saul now looked at his Temple in Jerusalem, the place where heaven and earth meet. The place where God and Humanity connect. They had rebuilt it…They had the finest marble stones, they offered morning and evening sacrifices, they gathered annually for Passover and other feasts, they heard the vibrations of the shofar echo through the valley, they saw the sunlight dazzling off the gold covered front.

BUT God was not present….

What was needed was Revival and Reformation. Strict adherence to the Torah.

What was needed was next level investment.

What was needed was to earn forgiveness.

And

To do whatever it takes to make God return.

Like Abraham
Like Jacob
Like Joseph
Like David
Like Daniel

Saul longed to hear the voice of God utter some word deep into his heart. Even though God had been speaking to him his entire life, it was only on the road to Damascus that he finally connected the dots.

Herein lies his tragedy, that caused the loss of life for children, men, and women.

Saul absolutely loved God

AND

Saul absolutely ignored God.

Saul was devoted with all his energy to follow God

AND

Saul was devoted with all his energy to destroy everyone.

SO

When Saul asked to see God
When Saul asked to be forgiven
When Saul asked to be accepted again

The last thing he ever would have imagined is to have the carpenter from Nazareth — Jesus — appear.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

Behold the Jesus….

Paul’s baptism of the Spirit did not lead him to speak in tongues or prophesy, but lead him to tell everyone that Jesus is the son of God.

So that Paul was to adapt the SHEMA in 1 Corinthians 8:6—

yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all
things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

By the time Paul takes his first journey as Luke describes it in Acts 13-14, he will be beaten up twice and left for dead on the streets.

But for Paul now… who had left the name of Saul…. Everything changed…

His Recalibration was grounded in Jesus.

He had started to piece the miracle and wonder of all God was doing, is doing and will do.

That is why, you understand he had to write this letter to the Romans…. to the center of the known world of communication… to the largest social media blast possible…

That we are all exiled because of SIN
That God has a plan
That God’s solution is Jesus

It is not US
It is not our logo
It is not our committees
It is not our vision

It is Jesus… as quoted in John 12:32

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

So Paul pens, knowing that we are worried about acceptance and forgiveness… Which is where we land back at Romans 8:

no condemnation + adoption = welcome to the family

BUT we want the world to RECALIBRATE as well.

We want the world to change.

Paul says, I know… I do, too…

You read Genesis 1 and the resounding words after each day of creation are:

And God saw that it was good.

And when he gets to Day 6 and is down on his knees

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

And we destroyed it all…

We can’t fix it.
We can’t repair it.
We can’t restore it.
We can’t resolve it.
We can’t undo it.
We can’t ignore it anymore…

So that the blood of those we love cries out metaphorically from the ground.

That is when Paul says:

No Condemnation + Adoption — YES

BUT

Creation groans
Humanity groans

But I saw this Jesus…and he introduced me to the comforter…that we call the Holy Spirit…

But today, Paul says, I want to give him a New Name… And when I tell you this New Name… It will change your world….

FOUND in Romans 8:27

And he who searches hearts…

It does not sound that great in English, but while we suffer… know that The Searcher of Hearts is with us, groans with us. He understands us and there is hope…hang in there for the Glory of God is yet to be fully realized.

For our recalibration must be grounded in Jesus.

So is Adventism at the crossroads?

Yes it is.

Over what?

Over everything…

Why?

Not because some of our leaders do not love God.

BUT

Because some of our leaders are misdirected.

Jesus never talked about the Kingdom of God and said we must:

Establish it
Further it
Build it
Extend it
Control it
Bring it

Jesus said:

I invite you to the Kingdom of God:

Seek it
Enter it
Receive it
Inherit it
Declare it has come

We all need a road to Damascus experience.

It’s called Recalibration

Jesus called Saul when he was a boy through Caesar:

Teach the word and live and let live.

Jesus called Saul when he was student through Gamaliel:

Teach the word and live and let live.

Jesus called Saul on the road to Damascus:

Teach the word and stop persecuting my people.

When I was 19 years old, Pastor Cecil Perry, was the British Union Conference President. He sat in on my very first ministerial evaluation, while I was studying Theology at Newbold College in England. With the years of ministry and wisdom under his belt, having seen endless pastors filter in and out through the Church, he asked me:

Who do you work for?

Do you work for the British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists?

OR

Do you work for God?

I panicked at 19, feeling I was trapped no matter how I answered the question.

Today, of course, that is an easy question for me.

Hopefully it is for you too….

For you understand that your own tithe, along with your congregations, pay for your salary.

You understand that there are expectations from below, around, and above.

BUT

We have experienced the Road to Damascus multiple times.

We call it Recalibration

AND

Recalibration has to be grounded in Jesus.

So today, we know clearly who we work for.

We work for God.

If defending those who are weaker in our broken world is considered heresy:

Remind ourselves
We work for God.

If creating space for intelligent and engaging faith is considered heresy:

Remind ourselves
We work for God.

If lifting up those who are called by God into ministry is considered heresy:

Remind ourselves
We work for God.

If declaring "Jesus. All." Is heresy:

Remind ourselves
We work for God.

Adventism is too beautiful to be distracted by polarization on offer… it is time now more than ever to:

Remind ourselves
We work for God.

 

Japhet J De Oliveira is senior pastor at Boulder Church.

Photo by Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash

 

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