Keeping “Happy” in the New Year

Keeping “Happy” in the New Year

keeping happy
 
In a few days, many will be saying the words “goodbye to the old” as they welcome a new year. This transition from old to new can signal a sort of completion and a chance to start over and learn from the past. Accordingly, I share the following with you as a challenge and encouragement.
 
It’s Over!
            The expression “it is over” signifies conclusion.  Often heard at the close of the year, its utterance is often tied to some sort of emotion.  For example, the unemployed may say these three words with heartfelt gratitude for making it through a challenging, financially-barren period; the grief-stricken may mournfully cry out at the memory of losing a loved one; and those who may have been at death’s door or may have experienced the loss of homes or belongings, may exclaim with joy at being alive. Then for the many who experienced their breakthroughs in 2017, whether it was a desired pregnancy, weight loss, accomplishment, or change in lifestyle resulting in a better quality of life, they may say this three-word sentence with a sense of satisfaction.  Nevertheless, the one sentiment that would be common to all would be that of thankfulness for making it through another year.  The fact that there is still life is reason enough to celebrate.  With the dawn of 2018, new opportunities and possibilities exist.  Situations can change for the better.
 
A New Beginning
            Therefore, with a new slate, a new year, a new 12-month period, or fresh start, one could approach 2018 with optimism especially in the light of a life committed to God. As we consider the many promises such as Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (ESV); Or 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (ESV), it is clear that God has a purpose for us and does not want us to be fearful or anxious about anything. Fear robs us of life and energy that could be used to achieve so much. It prevents us from reasoning and trusting God for a needed breakthrough.
Accordingly, I implore of you, trust God for whatever you need to accomplish in 2018. Of course, your goals must be in accordance to His will for your life. He is able to do more than you can imagine, and He takes great delight in blessing people. After all, does not the well-known biblical passage say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life?” This clearly speaks to God’s love for humanity. So, given this reality, I can be optimistic. However, it is necessary that one does his part. That is, in anticipation of a job, one must continue to apply and, while waiting, enhance skills and knowledge; or, if someone desires a spouse, pay attention to self and attend functions and events where one is likely to meet others. In other words, wishing is not enough. Being active in anticipation, while maintaining trust in God, is crucial for the desired outcome. Indeed, a new year offers opportunity for a fresh start or to try again.
 
Learning from the Past
            The change from the old to the new also offers opportunity to learn valuable lessons in moving forward. For instance, ask yourself, what did I do last year? Were my activities positive? How did they impact my life? What about friends? Were they positive? Were we helpful to each other? Did I grow as a result? What should I do differently? Essentially, we can benefit from the past by learning what not to do or how to do differently. Therefore, failures of the past can be the stepping stones to better things in a new year. Hence, I encourage positive thinking notwithstanding how difficult things have been or are, for there is always a way out with God.
UNC women's basketball coach, 
Sylvia Hatchell, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013 survived, and on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, made history by joining the elite few in her field with her 1,000th career win. Four years ago, life nor continuation of a successful career seemed possible for her. Likewise, you may not see a way out given your present condition of health or finances, but God can change anything; the key is to embrace Him and trust Him unreservedly.  While I cannot tell you exactly what He will do and when He will do it, I can assure you that He will act in your behalf. The year 2018 can be a time of fulfillment with God! And the true happiness you will experience with Him will remain throughout the year!

The Gift that Extends Beyond the Current Season

The Gift that Extends Beyond the Current Season
 
gift

It is that time again when many look forward to receiving gifts, bonuses and surprises. Additionally, it is that time when many are tasked with the question, “What do I purchase my child, spouse, parent or the special friend?” Finding the right gift is not always easy.  However, I share with you what I consider the best gift that one can give or receive which, incidentally, extends beyond the current season to every month, week, or day thereafter this; and it does not cost one anything. All one must do is receive it.  What could that gift be, and how can it be obtained? John 4:10 describes it simply as “the gift of God.” To clarify, a Samaritan woman who was asked by Jesus for water to drink shifted the conversation to the subject of nationality and therefore, Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (ESV John 4:10).
 
Why Such a Gift?
The “Gift of God” which is true, real, and most relevant is found in the person of Jesus Christ who essentially constitutes the total package for humanity.  Anything that one could ever need or desire is found in or could be supplied by Jesus. That may or may not be money, true and lasting happiness, purpose, friendship or other material needs. No wonder a familiar hymn carries the words, “Jesus is all the world to me.”  How true! Consider what he brought to persons many centuries ago.  He restored life to the son of a woman who was being carried to the grave (Luke 7:11-17).  He brought healing to a paralytic man (Mark 2). He offered sight to the blind man who for many years of his life never saw anything, but Jesus changed all of that (John 9).  Additionally, He placed importance upon children who were being run away by misunderstanding disciples, who thought Jesus was just too busy for little ones (Mark 10:13-16).  But how mistaken! Also, He fed 5,000 men besides women and children who otherwise could have starved without such an intervention (John 6). He offered hope and an alternative to a Jailer inclined to commit suicide (Acts 16). These all speak to the relevance of “the Gift of God” at work in behalf of men, women and children. Imagine, “If we knew the Gift of God” and would fully embrace Him, life will take on new meaning. 
 
The Relevance of This Gift
If God can do the above, then certainly He can do what is required for us today.  That involves not just supplying our needs but, above all, giving us a sense of hope and an assurance of a better tomorrow.  Essentially, Jesus is able to provide food where cupboards lay bare; He is able to give healing to those stricken with diseases of all kind.  He can defray the expense of a college student as well as provide a much-needed house or a car for that matter.  In fact, Jesus can do any and everything that we may encounter today or will ever encounter.  Personally, I cannot think of anything close to that. The Bible makes it clear that there is “nothing too hard for Him to do for us.”  If you can think of any issue that constitutes a challenge or difficulty, remember “with the Gift of God” it is not an issue for God. As some say locally, “It is a piece of cake,” meaning “no challenge.”
 
What Should Be Our Response to the Gift of God?
With a gift so complete, relevant, timely, and all encompassing, shouldn’t there be rejoicing and merry making?  And such could only be the case when one embraces Christ.  In the words of the popular Christmas hymn, we should all exclaim, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel has come to thee O’ Israel.”  In addition, one should be led to shout, “Joy to the world the Lord has come.” Then, the response should advance to one of worship. In fact, the following songs convey the message of worship: “O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us endure Him, Christ the Lord.”  And this is best coupled with the lyrics, “O come to my heart Lord Jesus there is room in my heart for thee.” Is there room in your heart or on your agenda for Jesus? A simple prayer inviting Jesus to come into your heart can make all the difference to a purpose-less and dull state. Don't you want that joy now and forever? It can be yours now! As Jesus declared to the woman at the well who eventually embraced Him, He says to us today, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (ESV John 4:10).
On behalf of my wife and the Adventist Community, I wish for you spirit-filled holidays and a blessed and purposeful New Year!

Utilizing the Gifts and Talents

Utilizing the Gifts and Talents


 
gift
Availing Myself of the Gift(s)
            As already noted, everyone is endowed with at least one gift, talent or ability. However, I believe that there are other gifts that lie dormant needing cultivation and honing. One with the gift of discernment can usually detect what may not be visible to the “naked eye.” Nevertheless, discernment is but one step, for equally important is the need of an individual to avail him or herself of the opportunities presented. And what better place than in your local church to get started? Have you considered that some of the greatest medical personnel, teachers, singers and speakers got their start in church in some youth meeting, Pathfinder Club, Sabbath or Sunday school, or at their elementary school? With Youth Day as well as the necessity to find teachers weekly for Sabbath School, many a talent has developed; and persons are benefitting financially and otherwise.
            As I move around, persons tell me about their past involvement in the Pathfinder Club as well as other areas that gave them a start, or instilled confidence in them.  Unfortunately, when persons are reluctant to avail themselves, choosing to turn down opportunity after opportunity, saying, “I cannot do it –people will laugh at me,” or “John is better at this, check him out,” they fail to cultivate potentials.  It is possible that some of you reading this understand what I am attempting to explain. I can think of a dozen persons right now who seldom got involved, but with the establishment of new congregations, such persons have amazed themselves and others.  They are doing what they never thought would happen –playing the piano, doing the weekly bulletin, serving as Sabbath school superintendents, or leading out in Youth meetings.
 
Availing Self Yields Dividends
            Now today, with such involvement and exposure, these persons are holding top and responsible positions in the church and in society locally and overseas. In fact, some own businesses and are applying skills and knowledge acquired from the Pathfinder and Master Guide clubs. Some have even acquired an added language through missionary service in a foreign land. Some have taken on a spouse because of the direction the gift, talent and /or ability took them.
.
What Is the Point?
            Referencing the Adult Sabbath School Lesson of Sunday, June 7, 2009, the author, in speaking on the parable of the Talents, makes four salient points that should be digested by each Christian parent and every individual:
Reality number one: We all have talents. No one is left without some talent. That is the first truth Jesus wanted to impress upon His disciples.
Reality number two: We do not all have the same number of talents. It is a fact of life that we will have to accept. Some people are gifted in many ways while others are not so multi-talented. Those who have several talents should never look down upon others who have fewer talents. Jesus' point is clear: The quantity of our talents is not the most important; what we do with whatever we have been given is what matters.
Reality number three: Some refuse to use their talents. Some never recognize the talents they have. Sadly, no one reminded them of their gifts. Or they did realize their gifts but, for a variety of reasons, refused to invest any energy in developing them.
Reality number four: Not using your talents is serious business. The "worthless servant" gets no second chance. He is thrown "into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 25:30, NIV)—the symbolic description of the utter nothingness of eternal death. Not using what God has entrusted to us not only impairs us in this life but jeopardizes our eternal life. This means that the issue of being faithful stewards is not something that belongs to the periphery of our Christian experience; it is the vital characteristic of discipleship.
 
Recessions May Bring out Hidden Talents
            Has it occurred to you that the present economic meltdown may be the catalyst that God uses to bring out of us that creativeness He placed there, but prior to now there was no need to cultivate and nurture that gift, as everything was going well? Now that the security of the job is gone and bills are piling up, we are forced to look within and explore what potentials God had already placed there. We may be pleasantly surprised to discover some unused talents

Are You Thankful?

Are You Thankful?

thanks

            Generally, folks regard November as a month of thanksgiving, especially the latter part of the month. However, one’s orientation will determine what thanksgiving means. Accordingly, I offer a few thoughts for consideration.
 
Gratitude - A State of Mind
The Apostle Paul enjoins us “to give thanks always.” What does that mean? Is one being called upon to give thanks under all circumstances? How can one be positive when he or she has been afflicted with pain as result of the murder of a promising son? How can a person be thankful when he or she has been made redundant and Christmas is nearing? How can one be thankful when sickness and attending costs prevail? Notwithstanding the aforementioned, we can be grateful and positive!
 
Gratitude Does Not Condone Wrong Doing
Being thankful is not akin to condoning wrongdoing when one displays gratitude under trying conditions. Gratitude does not mean that one will not experience pain, as it is only human to do so. However, a spirit of gratitude teaches one to look for the good even in every negative case. Consider Paul who advocated thankfulness always. In the book Ephesians, he is in prison, a place not known to be a pleasant and welcoming environment, nonetheless he describes it as being “in heavenly places.” It was not the place but the mindset, cognizant of Christ’s presence, adopted by the Apostle that made the difference. The same experience can be ours. Flip the coin and think: had Paul taken the negative approach, he would have risen no higher than his thoughts; and life would have been one of numerous complaints- and lacking in fulfillment and purpose as designed by God.
 
Life Is Not Always Predictable
Life does not offer a bed of roses, children without issues, spouse without fault, or perfect church members. Politicians and preachers; maids and mathematicians; athletes and astronauts -all have shortcomings, for they are all human. So the reality is that as long as we live with another person, we will have days of disappointments and frustration. It is possible that if you have not lost a relative, it is likely to happen, as death is real and part of our lot. So if I accept these realities of life –choosing not to dwell on the negatives- I am more likely to find the good all around and certainly in spouse, child, friend and colleagues. Whatever we look for we will find. It is said that gold miners in South Africa sift through tons of dirt to find precious diamonds, but some persons pass precious diamonds looking for dirt.
 
Potential to Change
Change to positive thinking and action is possible in every situation, otherwise the Bible is a myth and Christians are mistaken. I choose to think positively, for within each person, even the ones creating havoc and instilling fear in our land is potential for good. It may require you or me to elevate the thinking of such persons to see their God-given potential as something for good. Each person is designed for greatness, as each has been entrusted with talents and abilities possibly untapped and yet to be recognized and cultivated. Christian writer Ellen White explains, “If human beings would open the windows of the soul heavenward, in appreciation of the divine gifts, a flood of healing virtue would pour in” (MH 116.1). Additionally, White says that “Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise” (MH 251.1).
 
Application
This period of thanksgiving can translate into a daily and lasting experience when I begin to embrace a thankful disposition- choosing to look for the good in others and in me. Sometimes we can find it most difficult to forgive ourselves. Can you imagine if many of us would decide to be thankful and engage in thanks-living? Our nation would experience a positive turn-around. Too many persons are angry –angry with parent, sibling or friend, as one might have been betrayed or abused by a trusted one. True, there might be a reason to be angry, especially at the high rate of murders in our country, but being upset unnecessarily and remaining that way stands to ruin our lives. We need to release some things and move on. Medical Research indicates ‘That positive emotions lead to biochemical changes in the body.” St. Francis of Assissi says, “Help me to change the things that I can and to accept the things that I cannot change.” You can be thankful!

I Believe in My Church

I Believe in My Church

lovechurch
 
Almost daily the Seventh-day Adventist Church is accused of wrongdoing or objectionable practice. Admittedly, the church, which comprises of you and me, is not immune to missteps. In fact, it does err. However, I have learned from experience to apply the principle of “not rushing to judgment,” but instead “checking the credibility of the source of the accusation” and “researching the charge.” A case in point relates to a recent email widely circulated about the GC president writing to the pope, or one last year by Andrew Henriquez, via his Prophecy Again ministry, captioned: “First Open Transgender SDA Elder under Pastor Stoltz, Hollywood Church! Is this the First of Many?” Through the presentation on You Tube, it appears that Henriquez is indicting the Seventh-day Adventist Church generally with wrongdoing. There seems to be no attempt to isolate an issue associated with a local church. In fact, if one were to view some of Henriquez’ video clips on You Tube, one would see this trend of broad brushing. Accordingly, I thought to research this latest accusation. In doing so, I have applied the principles mentioned above.
 
Don’t Be Quick to Judge
            For starts, yes, there is a Seventh-day Adventist Church by the name Hollywood SDA Church, and the pastor is Branden Stoltz. In my attempt to verify the information, I tried reaching the union president for California where the church is located, but I was unsuccessful. A pastoral colleague, Barrington Brennen, unknown to me, was researching the same issue and tried to reach Pastor Stoltz by both telephone and email without success as well. Upon further inquiry, I checked with another pastor who resides in the United States and was acquainted with the church. He informed me that while he knew the church, he did not have any information about the matter in question. However, he was aware that the church has a specific ministry, which reaches out to gays and lesbians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Still not satisfied, I pursued a 21-page document purported by Henriquez to be the basis for the Hollywood’s decision to choose transgender/gay/lesbians as leaders, for he claims that the document reveals that the Seventh-day Adventist church accepts the LGBT lifestyle.
 
Do the Research
            Therefore, I researched and located the 21-page document and examined it. Titled "An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care," it is a Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Position Paper voted on October 9, 2015.  Consider the following excerpt, "Scripture condemns heterosexual immorality no less than homosexual practice and warns against any harboring of lustful thoughts and desires for such practices. While homosexuality is a distortion of the Edenic ideal, ‘there is no condemnation’ for homosexually oriented persons as long as they ‘are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1) and do not harbor or act upon their orientation and propensities. The same principle applies to those who struggle with heterosexual immorality (see Matt 5:27–28; Rom 6:1–23; 8:1–4; Col 3:1–10; James 1:14–15). Even as some individuals may experience a miraculous deliverance from sinful heterosexual and homosexual urges, others may have to wrestle with such tendencies all their lives (see Gal 5:16–25). One is not culpable for these involuntary tendencies, but for acting upon them either in imagination or actual practice."
            However, on page 16, the following section has been misquoted to sanction placing homosexuals in leadership of the church, but observe the statement for your-self. It says, “All persons, including practicing homosexuals, should be made to feel welcome to attend our churches while non-practicing gay persons should be welcomed into membership and church office. All should receive spiritual care from the Church (Gal 6:1).” The keyword is “non-practicing” but unfortunately Henriquez and others apparently ignore this and seek to profit their ministries by sensationalizing parts of the article, albeit irresponsibly, to their advantage, but we must be persons who search and enquire always believing in God’s church. The focus here is reaching to all; after all, did not Christ say, “I came to seek and save that which was lost?” How can the church of Christ do any less for those in any sin be it adultery, stealing, dishonesty and the like? Reaching out to such persons affected is not the same as condoning.
 
Check the Source – Examine the One Bringing the Charge
Quite frankly, I do not know Henriquez and could not find a biography of him on line. One pastor told me that he is considered to be an off-shoot-like Adventist member.  I could not confirm this, but I do view some of his teachings as extreme, irresponsible and sensational, which beg the question of his intention or objective. Nevertheless, I implore you to have confidence in the church and its leaders; and take the approach of not rushing to judgment, but research carefully the charge and the one bringing the accusation, as the truth stands on its own feet. Additionally, persons like Henriquez and their anti-church teaching should be avoided.