Junior, Andrews University
What is the main motivator to keep a person in the church?
I suppose you could ask my mother why she is still married to my father after more than 28 years. Sadly, in this day and age of divorce both inside and outside the church, the question wouldnt be all that out of place. I mean, my father is bald, he has slowed down tremendously (I see it when we play ice hockey), and my mother contributes more financially to the family than he does, since she has the higher paying jobhe being a pastor. Why not dump him and get a newer, more vibrant man?
You could probably ask the same of me and the Seventh-day Adventist church. The music is old-fashioned, Im not allowed to dance or wear jewelry, and they steal my money. Why not dump the church for a newer, more vibrant model that fulfills my needs and preferences?
Like my mother, I have responded to a Man who loves me unconditionally. And though the music may not always meet my preferences, so what? My mother doesnt always feel excited about cooking for my father, either, but she enjoys doing it because it makes him happy. I enjoy doing things for the Lord because it makes Him happy.
Too many times we think of our own preferenceswhether they be music, entertainment, or worship stylerather than the Lords. How the Lord must weep when we are more concerned about ourselves than about Him.
The last couple of months I have realized one thing that has done more for my appreciation of the Lord than anything else. I didnt choose to be born; it was by the grace of God that I was brought into this world (though my parents also played a minor role, Im told). Ellen White reminds us, "To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life" (The Desire of Ages, p. 660).
As far as Im concerned, God doesnt owe me any favors. In fact, Im the one who owes Him a lotmy whole life. Paul says, "For you were brought at a price" (1 Cor 6:20). That price that Christ paid was His blood shed on the cross for me. Paul adds, "Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are Gods."
Praises. Paul must have understood this important truth to endure all that he went through: the beatings, floggings, shipwrecks, stonings, imprisonments. If anyone had a right to complain, it was Paul. Yet through all those difficult experiences, we read that he sang praises to God even when he was in prison. Wow! I find myself complaining over the smallest thing while doing the Lords business. The sermons too short or too long, the music is boring, Vegeburgers taste nasty, I cant go out to eat on Sabbath, etc., etc.
Unfortunately, many of us do not understand the gospel as Paul didthis man who wished to know nothing but "Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). As a result, we cant help but think only about Numero Uno.
But if we, like Paul, surveyed "the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died," our "richest gain" we would "count but loss, and pour contempt on all [our] pride." That great hymn by Isaac Watts ends, "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small: love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
This wonderful Man who became a "curse" (Gal 3:13) and "endured the cross" (Heb 12:2) so I could live, has asked me to be His bride. Can I turn down His loving appeals? How could I? Even if church were the worst place in the world, it would be the least I could do for the One who has done so much for me. We show our love for Christ by showing love to His church, however imperfect it may be at times.
It is now my job and wonderful honor, as the bride, to help with the preparations for the great wedding day when His name will finally be vindicated before the whole universe. What a great day when that verse in Revelation comes true, "Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready" (Rev 19:7).
Ellen White reminds us, referring to 2 Peter 3:12, "It is the privilege of every Christian not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Christs Object Lessons, p. 69). Not hastening His coming so much for the personal happiness of little old me, but hastening it so Christ can finally reunite with the souls He loves so much, and for whom He gave up so much.
Lights and Remnants
For the longest time I really despised the fact that we threw around the word "remnant" like it was going out of style. It seems that we Adventists have, at times, been quite arrogant in proclaiming this message to the world. Weve had a "holier-than-thou" attitude. But recently I have grown to appreciate the fact that we are Christs representatives here on earth; we are His remnant.
As I write this I am living in Scotland. I have a friend who told me the other day that I am the only American he knows. Needless to say, his image of Americans is largely based on his impressions of me. Yes, hes probably seen movies about Americans, read books, heard songs, but none of those compare to his impressions of me. And I can tell him as much as I want about how Americans are, say that were the nicest people who only love each other, but if my actions show otherwise, all my talking, I am sure, will mean nothing.
Many people have heard about Christ; maybe even read parts of the Bible. Perhaps theyve heard a song or even a sermon, but nothing compares to their impressions of a "Christian." I can even say great things about Christ, how He demonstrated His unconditional love for us by dying on the cross. I can wax so eloquent that the person I speak to will be awe-struck by my words. But if that person doesnt see Christs love and character reproduced in my life; if they dont see that unconditional love in my life for my fellow man, all my talk will mean nothing.
Paul calls us to this in the great love chapter: "If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but dont love, Im nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak Gods word with power, revealing His mysteries and making everything plain as day . . . but I dont have love, Im nothing" (1 Cor 13:1, 2, The Message).
You would generally think that a person who claims to follow someone else would act like them. So when a person sees a Christians actions, they must assume that that is the way Christ acts.
We have a responsibility as Christs church to demonstrate His character to the world. More than that, though, when Christs love reaches our hearts we will demonstrate His character.
Lights Shine. Ive always liked Jesus comparison when He said we are the light of the world. This analogy was not a command; Christ was trying to point out that our lights will shine automatically when His love reaches our hearts. He says, "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Mt 5:14). Many of us try to put up our big neon-fluorescent signs, calling attention to the fact that were a city or that were Christians. But Christ says to us, "Listen, dont worry about all your fancy signs. Youre a city! Regardless of anything you do or dont do, people are going to see your light anyway!"
The great news is that we do not have to worry about our lights; they will shine automatically when you and I understand Christs love for us. Too many times we worry about the light bulbs and try to fix them, but fail to plug the cord in. We are focusing on externals and failing to reach the heart of the matter.
Love Compels. This is what Paul was speaking about in 2 Corinthians 5:14, one of my favorite texts: "For the love of Christ compels us." It is that love of Christ that turns our lights on. When we understand "what is the width and length and depth and height" of "the love of Christ," we will be so overwhelmed that we will be compelled to live for Him without a whole lot of effort or thought.
Revelation 18:1 tells us that before Christ can come the earth must be "illuminated with His glory." But the only way that the earth will be illuminated with Christs glory is for Christs people to reflect that love in their own lives. Isaiah tells us joyfully, "Arise, shine: For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will rise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Isa 60:1-3).
This world is filled with darkness right now; it is looking for something to show them the way. What a great privilege we have, as Christs church, to allow "His glory to be seen upon [us]," so that the Gentiles "shall come to [our] light."
Will we respond, as a church, to Christs love and reflect His glory to the world? I hope we do. Because, as Ellen White reminds us, "When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own" (Christs Object Lessons, p. 69).
When we all come to a full understanding of Christs love, the rest will take care of itself. Thats why Im staying with the church. Christs love compels me to. I want His light shining through me to lead others to Him.