Yeezus & Jesus
Kanye and Paul in search of the King and His throne
I’m a born-and-bred Seventh-day Adventist, a Sabbath school teacher, a local elder, a preacher when asked, and I work for the Adventist Review. I've been a part of the culture of Adventism since birth. My parents raised my sister and I to love Jesus and to learn of His amazing love for us. I've been on 20 or so mission trips. I was a Pathfinder since I could walk. I was homeschooled. I went to Adventist elementary school. I went to an Adventist academy. I graduated from Southern Adventist University. I found my wife there. She was a Pathfinder Master Guide. She was homeschooled. We’re both vegans who love haystacks like they are fresh manna every Sabbath (insert the warmest smile I can offer). I love the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church and I’m actively involved in my local church.
Much of that story may sound familiar to many Millennial Adventists out there. You might be one of them. They may be your friends, kids, nieces, nephews or grandchildren. But according to the latest statistics, 66% of them may diverge somewhat on that last line – that they still love the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church and/or are actively involved at the local church level. I could have been in that 66% and it is something I don't take for granted.
You see, there’s a chilling reality that I can confirm with my own testimony: many of my friends no longer make their way through the church doors each Saturday to hear that familiar phrase “Happy Sabbath.”
Though they may have been raised on haystacks and vespers, something along the way caused them to make a tough decision.
There are several prominent theories as to why we are witnessing an exodus of our youth and young adults. Is it because they got caught up watching more movies than sermons? Well, I did too. Was it spending more time reading Sports Illustrated than the Bible? I did that too. Was it listening to Yeezus more than Jesus? Well, I did that too.
Yes, it’s true: though I grew up with all the ripe conditions for a fully Adventist future, the truth was that something (or Someone) was missing from my Adventist Christian experience, and that led me to the Republic of Laodicea (the church that John's speaks of in Revelation as the last day church). It’s an alluring place where everyone says “Happy Sabbath” and “bless her heart.” People in the Republic of Laodicea think they can easily tell where others have fallen off the way with their diet i.e. pork-eating, cigarette smoking, wine-drinking, R-rated movie-watching, Sunday going, sailor-cursing lifestyles.
As I sat at the Young Adult Life Summit hosted by the North American Division in Ontario, California last night I was reminded of how dangerous it is to judge people because they “sin differently.” That was how Pastor Myron Edmonds of the Glenville Adventist Church in Cleveland, Ohio put it. He was following up on a powerful presentation by June Price, chaplain of Andrews University. She had reminded us that God is always speaking, but as Jesus said, it’s the condition of the soil of the heart that determines if we can hear Him.
It’s easy when exposed to the goldmine of truth to think that we can easily spot the shortcomings of our fellow wayfarers on this journey - but that's the number one symptom of Laodicea.
If you paid attention to the news this past week, you may have heard about rap mogul Kanye West and the collaboration of a familiar face around Oakwood University - Kirk Franklin. The saints were in an uproar that Kirk Franklin, a Christian, would pollute his soul by spending time with the likes of Kanye aka “Yeezus.” It almost sounds like the criticism directed at Jesus who would often be found in the company of publicans and prostitutes.
To anyone with a true understanding of the great controversy, Kanye resonated with the Apostle Paul, for whom Kanye’s latest album, “The Life of Pablo,” is said to be named.
18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. -Romans 7:18-23
Is Kanye recognizing perhaps unknowingly the battle Paul describes above? The battle each of us face on a daily basis? Given the title of a previous album - Yeezus, I’d say there is some type of struggle taking place.
Kirk Franklin sadly is no longer a part of the Adventist faith community. What a blessing he would be. What a blessing many of those 66% who have left would be. I was blessed to hear some beautiful testimonies from my friends Ben Lundquist and Marquis Johns, both of whom are leading out in Young Adult Life in the North American Division. Both shared their vision for what the local church can become if we better equip and empower a generation of younger adults with the ability to lead in this generation.
What about the risk? We serve the ultimate risk taker who left all of heaven to come to the war zone of earth to put his life on the line that we might be saved. I’d say it’s time to throw caution to the wind and recognize our bloodline from the ultimate Risk Taker.
Tracy Wood, Associate Director for Young Adults for the North American Division, shared his uncontained joy with me as he reviewed what is taking place with leaders in attendance. More than 60 leaders flew in from India for the summit, along with hundreds of others from around the NAD. The event was replete with individuals who are leading our youth and young adults to believe that Jesus and His church are worthy of engaging with through all of the talents the Lord has given us.
Even to my judgmentally jaded eyes, the theme was manifestly Christ-centered. As Pastor Edmonds shared Jesus’ plea from Revelation 3 that we be either hot or cold but no longer lukewarm, I was impressed with the simple yet profound truths that Seventh-day Adventists possess. We may be known for the Sabbath, haystacks, vegetarianism, longevity, or church growth, but the real gift we have for the world is a better understanding of the Man--Jesus.
Many Christians understand that Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again. Adventists don’t believe in the maxim ‘Once saved, always saved,’ but rather “Once lost, and now found.” “Once made better, and now made better every day through the power of Jesus.” The Saviour didn’t stop saving man from sin at the cross. He saves many today from the power of sin and its penalty every day.
Seventh-day Adventists understand where the story began—in heaven, and why it came to earth. What Lucifer has been doing behind the scenes. Why Jesus didn’t set up His earthly kingdom on resurrection morning. And why today we wait in eager expectation for the harvest to finally be ripe. We have a reason for the hope that is within us. We understand why the 6000-year experiment must take place to eternally silence selfishness and sin. We don’t believe Jesus is still installing bathroom floors in our heavenly mansions or paving the streets with dump trucks full of gold. We believe He is actively interceding at the seat of mercy for the billions of inhabitants of the earth because He wants none to be lost…including Kanye West . . . Kirk Franklin . . . you . . . me.
We’ve been blessed with the whole story of the plan devised by the heavenly trio for saving humans from their sins and forever eradicating the universe from that ego—selfishness--that strives for the throne of the heart each day.
This movement was started by “young adults.” Let’s not forget that some of those young adults were pork-eating, tobacco-using, Sunday-keeping, 19th-century “hipsters.” The Lord grew them into a mighty movement that today we must sustain and re-energize to see it through to its dramatic, Spirit-led finale.