Category Archives: Blog

Amazing Robe—How Sweet the Grace
by Arla Caraboolad

Imagine a church as a storefront with a huge window that boasts the most beautiful, amazing piece of clothing that was ever seen.

It’s flowing like a robe, but advertised as the one piece of clothing you will ever need. It fits every one who puts it on perfectly from head to toe. It moves with you, never impedes movement, never in your way, breathes, is always perfect for the climate you’re in—cool in summer, warm in winter, and more cozy and comfortable than your old faded cotton pajamas.

And the look of it—no one can describe it. But no one ever gets tired of looking at it. It looks soft and inviting, yet regal and stately. It shimmers and sparkles but is never gaudy or obtrusive, never shouts look at me! It always looks appropriate, never dowdy, and never embarrassing.

When you’re wearing it, people look at you; you see in their eyes You look terrific! They smile and say, “Love that outfit, you look so good in it.” as though you’ve never worn it before. EVERY time! In fact they look at you again and again as though they just can’t look at you enough. When they invite you anywhere, they say “Wear that robe thing.” They never get tired of seeing it.

People ask, “Where did you get that?”

And you always answer, “A friend gave it to me.”

“Really?” They ask. “How could I get one?”

“You just have to ask,” you say. “Just have to be his friend.”

“But can I buy one?”

“No,” you say.”He doesn’t sell them.”

“But surely for the right price…” they counter.

“They aren’t for sale.”

“Not even for a million dollars for one robe?”

“Not even a billion for one robe.”
They look at you like you’re crazy. So you say, “They are priceless. There isn’t enough money in the world to buy one.”

“But they’re a gift?” they are almost sarcastic now.

“Right” you respond.

“And I can get one? Is this guy like impossible to like or something, that he bribes people with these clothes?”

“No, he is actually the nicest, most caring, most helpful, most respectful, most encouraging friend I’ve ever had.”

“Ok, then what’s the catch? Nobody gives something of value for nothing.”

“I already told you, you have to let him be your friend, let him love you.”

“Ah, so that’s it. He wants to control you. Buy you with that robe, so he can own you and do whatever he wants with you or to you. Your his love slave.”

“No, it’s not like that. He really just wants you to be your best self. As I said, he wants to be your best friend. He wants to love you into your truest self. That’s why he gives you the robe. It makes you look your best, feel your best, do your best. It covers all the things you don’t like about you, all the scars you have. It makes you beautiful because he wants you beautiful and happy and free, strong and able to love.”

“Wow!” they say, heads shaking. “Wow! Tell me more about your friend.”

Is this overstating the graciousness of God? I don’t think so. This is how I see it—how I see Him and His gift of identity.

I haven’t fully experienced it yet, but I “get” more and more of Him.

To find other works by Arla, you can visit her blog @ arlasoveralls.wordpress.com

During February we celebrate Black History Month. So I wanted to share one of the great ironies of our country…the irony that so many blacks became Christians. Centuries ago, when slave-traders kidnapped men and women, boys and girls from Africa, these Africans were not Christians. They were kidnapped, sold, transported in the most horrendous circumstances across the ocean, sold again, beaten, tortured, threatened and killed with impunity…often by “Christians”. For the most part, slave owners in America did not want their slaves to become Christians…because Christianity taught the worth of each individual, freedom and dignity, and hope. Yet, many of these slaves began to believe in Jesus anyway. They began to gather and worship and have hope because of the amazing grace of Jesus and his offer of eternal life. These slaves became believers in Jesus despite the fact that their owners were not sharing Jesus with them and many did not want their slaves to believe. God works in amazing ways. But, this also gives me hope. If God can use slave owners to demonstrate the power of Jesus, surely he can use me too!

In Mark 4:13-19, Jesus explains a parable he told earlier in the chapter about a sower who sows his seed. This sower sows the word of God. God is the sower…but so is anyone who is willing to share the good news of Jesus. God never gets tired of sharing his good news…even sharing with people who do not want to receive the love of Jesus. But, even for those who do want to follow Jesus and hear his words, it is not easy. Jesus says this is because we are in a spiritual battle involving demonic forces. Jesus uses the example of soil to illustrate the different responses people have to hearing the word of God shared with them and how the evil one gets involved when God pours out his love on people. In v. 15 we see that when the word is sown to the first group of people (on the “path”), Satan comes immediately and takes away the word. In other words, Satan gets working! He is content to leave people alone as long as they are not actively receiving God’s Word. Satan loves nothing more than for people to be bored to death. But, when they become open to receiving God’s Word, boredom is no longer an option. Satan must now take action.

The second group of people hear the word and receive it with joy (“rocky soil”). But, sadly, they have no root and fall away when trouble or persecution comes. This is not random. Satan brings trouble. Growing roots means getting deep with Jesus…spending time with God. The third group of people are compared to seed sown among thorns. They also receive the word, but have an incomplete view of God. They are distracted by worry, fear, temptation and lust. In short, they are not willing to trust God to be in charge of their lives. We live in a spiritual battle. God loves us…without us doing anything. Yet, we are afraid to let this God of love be in control of our lives. We trust ourselves more than God. It is totally understandable…yet doomed.

The last group are the good soil. They hear the word, accept it and produce a crop. This is where many Christians get confused. Do we have to DO something to produce a crop…or simply be good soil? That is a tricky question, because the answer is we have to DO something…but that doing something is simply being good soil! GOD is the POWER. God is the one who draws people to Him. Yet, God uses us. God loves us so much he gives us the FREEDOM to use his power in whatever way we choose. We get to enjoy living for Jesus. God doesn’t tell us most of the time who to share with, how to love, when to love or where! But, Jesus tells us that if we are good soil, we will produce a crop. God never tells the church that they need to grow numerically! Yet, God says it is the inevitable result of being good soil. Today, God invites us not to stress. SIMPLIFY. God is looking for faithful people…but in the amazing love of God, he uses unfaithful ones too!

I have never written a blog before. Every week I write a sermon. Four pages of material I would like to share about what God has already shared and what thousands of other preachers throughout history have already shared about too. I don’t pretend to be innovative or ground-breaking. But, I do try to think. And, frankly, I am worried that many people don’t think anymore. I have been particularly astounded by the seemingly daily conversations from people about their lack of faith in statistics. (I won’t quote you one of the many studies showing that Americans don’t trust statistics because you wouldn’t believe those statistics either!) They say things like, “you can’t trust statistics” or “you can make statistics say anything you like.” I always respond, YOU ARE WRONG! Statistics always measure what they say they are measuring. But, you actually have to make sure that the people who tell you what they are measuring are telling the truth. That involves thinking! It is hard work. Yet I believe God calls us to think…to do the hard work.

In Mark 4:1-12, Jesus tells a parable that we call the Parable of the Sower (when we want to share it from God’s perspective) or the Parable of the Soil (when we are talking about it from a human perspective). He tells of a man who went to sow seed. In Mark 4:14 we find the seed the sower is sowing is the WORD. This means…the word of God. I believe the word is the same thing as the LOVE of God. God’s word is a revelation of God himself to people…it is God talking about himself. When God talks about himself he describes what he is like…and the most important thing about what God is like is love. So, God is sowing the seed…sharing his love for people. But, he does it in a way that makes no sense to us. My grandfather was a farmer. When he wanted to plant corn he tilled the ground and prepared the soil. But, God (the sower represents God first, but also includes any person who is sharing God’s love) does not just sow on the soil that is ready to receive it (called the good soil in this parable). God is extravagant with his love. He just starts walking around scattering his love on any old ground.

He starts on the path! I am not a farmer, but I know enough not to sow seed on the path. But, God doesn’t mind. His love is extravagant. He has plenty of love to go around. Then, he moves on to the rocky soil and the soil covered in thorns. This is not ideal soil, yet the ground is thirsty for the seed. But, sadly, even though they receive God’s word and his love with joy, trouble and distractions pull them away. But, it does not stop God from sowing his love.

Why does Jesus tell this story as a parable? Jesus tells parables (from the Greek word “parabole” which means two things side by side) is a story about earthly things that helps us to understand Heavenly realities. Jesus uses things we can understand (a man planting a crop) to help us understand things that are hard to understand (Heaven, God’s love, salvation, etc.) Jesus wants us to understand his love. But, Jesus also uses parables because they are HARD to understand. That way, if we are not receptive to his meaning, we will not be pushed further away from God. We simply walk away and shrug our shoulders. Jesus loves us so much that he intentionally loves us in ways that we either respond to or we just walk away from. That is wisdom.

Today, I invite you to seek the TRUTH…to think and explore the deep meaning of this parable. This truth is that Jesus has extravagant love for you. He is willing to offer you his love all the time and in every possible way. If you are open to receiving his love, I invite you to keep digging and keep reading…and God will continue to reveal Himself to you.

Husky in Snow

Image by: Bradon Schwarz

The brisk wind flowing through two coats of dense fur. The snow packed tight between pads of the paw. The musher yelling commands as his mutts haul their heavy sled. This is the DNA of a husky. Born runners. The working class of the K9 community.

I have newly discovered my dog, Mowgley’s, passion and excitement for snow. Born and raised in southern California, he had never thought such a white and fluffy phenomenon existed.

He would do his due diligence at inspecting every tree, snowball, and icicle on our daily walks through the snow. We were practically alone on the flat top mountain at 10,000 ft., so he was free to roam without a leash. He would wander until out of sight, then immediately following my whistle return to retrieve his reward for responding. The joy on his face was apparent. It might be ridiculous to assume dogs can smile, but his grin stretched to the corners of his jowls. I had never seen him so happy! Continue reading

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Do you have any opinion about seeds? Most of us are city dwellers, so perhaps our only connection to seeds is through the things they grow into: fruits and vegetables. Occasionally we’ll even eat seeds, but that still doesn’t make the topic of seeds any more exciting than talking about the weather for on a date.

The Bible, on the other hand, appears to get very excited about these little things we call seeds. In particular, Abraham is promised on numerous occasions that his “seed” will be too numerous to count. I was making some bread yesterday (yes, I am a cook!), and I took some caraway seeds to mix in with my flour. You can bet that I wasn’t even remotely in the mood for counting tiny bitty seeds. They look so insignificant! And yet, of course we know that every single one of those seeds has within it enormous potential, and a future much larger than might appear on the outside.

In Abraham’s world, having at least one seed (= descendant), and preferably a whole bunch, was probably the most important thing in life. That’s why you can imagine the thoughts going on in his mind as we read in Genesis 22 about how God asked Abraham to smashhis one and only seed. This was countable stuff. One seed. I don’t need to go into all of the pain Abraham went through in order to even get that one seed, his only son Isaac. You already know that stuff. At his age (he was a centenarian), what were the chances that he would strike gold again or win the lottery twice? Continue reading

Charles Blondin was one of the greatest tightrope walkers of all time. He first crossed Niagara Falls in 1859, then repeated it blindfolded, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, on stilts, and sitting down midway while he cooked and ate an omelette.

He did it once, however, carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. According to Colcord, the trip was terrifying. Blondin was only 5-5, 140 lbs. The ropes that keep the tightrope from swaying were broken. Blondin grew tired about 1/3 of the way across and made Colcord get off so Blondin could rest. Colcord then had to climb back up. Colcord had been warned not to look down, but he did and panicked.

But, what could Colcord do? Nothing. He was told to rest like a dead weight and NEVER try to balance if Blondin should seem to stumble or tilt.

They made it across.

What are the lessons for us? Trust. Surrender. Obedience. Colcord had complete faith in Blondin. When it really counted, Colcord realized he was powerless and trusted Blondin to get him across safely. How many of us, in our walk with Jesus, are more like the spectators in the crowd? We’re on the sidelines watching and may even feel like we’re part of the event. But, when it really matters, do you really trust God enough to risk everything? Would you ever lay it all on the line? That’s the difference between believing and being a disciple of Jesus.

Yes, that’s The Place’s very own Ralph Figueroa stepping in as the Lord’s stunt double for Oxygen Church Media, who provide Christian graphics. You can see Ralph in action as Jesus on many images on their site.

But, many, if not most of us have wondered what Jesus looked like. Here’s a traditional depiction of Jesus in Ethiopian Christian art:

There a whole entry in Wikipedia speculating on the physical appearance of Jesus. In it, some scientists have created a portrait of Jesus based on the bones that have been uncovered in the area from that time period:

Discovery Channel Jesus image

Does it really matter? If it does, how and why?


James Appel is a medical missionary in Tchad and a friend of The Place.

Last November, a container of medical supplies and equipment was shipped from the East Coast. This container had very specific items such as an x-ray machine and other important gear.

This is just a reminder to think of James and the work in Tchad. James and others regularly update the Bere blog at http://bereadventisthospital.blogspot.com/

To donate to Adventist Health International, which helps support the hospital in Bere:
http://www.adventisthealthinternational.org/article.php?id=6

Reprinted from PlusLine at http://www.plusline.org/article.php?id=4316

Why Bother with the Denomination?
By John McLarty

Reliable polls indicate Americans are interested in spirituality but not in the traditions, teachings and commitments of denominations. Church growth specialists have suggested that a strong denominational identity may actually retard the growth of a congregation. So why bother with the Adventist denomination? Why not simply focus all our attention on our own local congregations and ignore the denomination? What are the benefits of participation in a local church which is part of the Seventh-day Adventist denominational structure?

Adventism and Diversity

Among the regulars at my church on Sabbath morning, you’ll find contented life-long Adventists, recent converts excited about Adventist doctrine and life, and returning Adventists back in church after years away who still have major questions about aspects of Adventist doctrine or culture.

Then there are the “non-Adventist members,” people who have found a home in our congregation but have no intention of formally joining the Adventist church, refugees from the breakup of the World Wide Church of God, individuals from the Church of God Seventh-day and the Shepherd’s Rod movement, Messianic Jews, a couple of “off-brand” Sabbatarians with ministerial training but no congregation to pastor.

What holds us together? Adventism. Given the diversity of our congregation, if we tried to develop our own detailed statement of doctrine we’d either splinter into a dozen or so factions or we would have a theology so vague and generic, it would be impossible to give significant instruction to new converts.

By embracing Adventism as our doctrinal center, we are able to be passionate about theology without self-destructing in the collisions of personal viewpoints. We are able to welcome a very wide diversity of theological perspectives without losing the definition that is essential for effective outreach to non-Christians.

In “community churches,” the theology and spiritual life of the church either narrows to reflect the pastor or has very little definition. Many of these churches train their own pastoral staff in-house so there is very little theological cross-fertilization. There is no real connection with the larger stream of Christian history. Being part of a denomination works to increase the theological and spiritual diversity in Adventist congregations.

While Adventists have done poorly in race relations, being in the same denomination with congregations with differing racial identities pushes us to recognize our failures and to address them. Denominational connections can also assist congregations bridge generational gaps.

Adventism and Pastors

The pastors in the local clergy association I belong to have a very high view of the privileges and authority of the clergy and a correspondingly low view of the competence and trustworthiness of the laity.

Their perspective is not atypical. Recently, along with other Adventist pastors in my region, I attended a leadership seminar based on the work of John Maxwell, a prominent speaker among evangelicals. According to the presenter, pastoral leadership is the ability to get church members to accept and support the pastor’s vision of where the church should be headed and how it should get there. The laity do not play any significant role in determining the direction of the church. Their job is to support and implement their pastor’s vision. This approach to leadership is evident in all of the large community churches I’m acquainted with. The pastor has almost unlimited authority.

The Adventist system does not assign pastors that kind of authority. While our structure often limits the effectiveness of creative, innovative pastors, it also limits the impact of incompetent or misguided pastors. American Adventist culture sees an essential parity in the authority of laity and clergy.

Parity of spiritual authority does not come from some formal vote by the General Conference; it comes from the broader Adventist culture. If you’ve gone to Adventist schools, been a member of different Adventist congregations and have friends and relatives in other Seventh-day Adventist congregations, you have an almost instinctive yardstick with which to measure your pastor and congregation. If the pastor gets out of line, you know it. The greatest check on the abuse of pastoral power is the sense of history and tradition that lives in the minds of long-time Adventists, people who have enough history and breadth of contact with Adventism to resist (and correct) an erring but charismatic pastor (or administrator).

Adventist Institutions

It’s easy to see the effect of local congregations. It’s more difficult to gauge the value of other Adventist institutions such as schools, summer camps, and media. We could tell personal stories of how a particular teacher touched us, how summer camp scarred or charmed us, how a media program was our first contact with the Adventist Church. These individual stories are compelling, but the principle value of these institutions is in their function as the connective tissue of the body of Adventism. These institutions create the mental and social linkage among Adventist congregations. They connect the three kids in a twenty-member church in Kansas with the thousands of Seventh-day Adventist youth across the country (and world). They give meaning and hope to “church” when a local congregation or pastor is dysfunctional. Potentially, they limit the impact of the failure of a particular congregation. (And congregations do fail.)

Adventist Identity

Some would argue that we should be content to see ourselves as Christians and not give much emphasis to our Adventist identity. But “Christian,” in America, for many people means belief in the god of eternal torment. In the minds of many non-Christians, Christians are people who hate homosexuals and bomb abortion clinics. In the South I grew up in, “Christian” meant “separate but equal.” And not a few Americans are aware that regions of the country with the most pronounced “Christian identity” are the places with the highest incidence of child abuse.

Given this misunderstanding of the real meaning of “Christian,” I gladly embrace my Adventist identity. My secular neighbors are much less prejudiced against Adventism than against Christianity. So calling myself an Adventist or an Adventist Christian actually helps me in my evangelistic efforts among those who are not already born-again Christians.

Being an Adventist connects me with believers in New Guinea and Botswana. It connects me with Urdu and Korean-speaking believers here in the U. S. It connects me with the evil in Rwanda, where my people were both killers and victims. The denomination is not the same as the Body of Christ, but it reminds me of my spiritual connections with believers who are very different and very distant.

(On a practical note: While early evidence found that a strong denominational identity could hinder the growth of a congregation, later research reversed those findings. A strong denominational identity may well facilitate the growth of congregations.)

Adventist Theology

This is the real reason why I’m a booster of Adventism. For all its flaws (i.e. humanness) Adventist theology is the form of Christianity best suited to reach the modern, educated mind. In conversations with Buddhists, Jews, agnostics and garden variety non-religious Americans I have found repeatedly that the Adventist understanding of God and humanity elicits their respect if not their agreement.

The Adventist understanding of how “inspiration” works makes sense to modern people. We believe God inspired the writers; he did not dictate the words. Properly understood, this view encourages both scholarship and the meekness of classic Christian spirituality.

Adventists (even the fundamentalists among us) believe in the intelligibility of God. We are driven to interpret what the Bible says in a way that does not violate human intelligence and sense of justice. God himself, we believe, is a being of law. He is not capricious or arbitrary.

This idea of God’s intelligibility and lawfulness underlies our doctrines of judgment (decisions are made in the open, not in the secret heart of God), the fate of the wicked and the salvation of individuals in pre-Christian societies. It undergirds the Adventist educational enterprise.

The other pole of Adventist thought is the essential goodness of creation. We are obligated to show respect for God’s artistry through the way we treat our bodies. Nature is valued among us as a resource for spiritual life. Sabbath afternoon walks in the out-of-doors are a common feature of our life.

You will find some of these things in other systems of Christian theology, but no denomination has a theology that is as holistic and respectful of humanity as Adventism. No other theological culture does a better job of balancing reverence for the Bible and God’s transcendence and majesty on the one hand with a high regard for creation and humanity on the other.

Do we have problems? Of course. But when you consider the strengths of Adventist theology and culture, I believe you will be impressed with its usefulness for building a healthy life here and now and preparing for eternal life with Christ.

John Mclarty is pastor of North Hill Adventist Fellowship, near Tacoma, Washington and was, until recently, editor of Adventist Today.

That’s right, by shopping. While we at The Place do not condone unbridled materialism or laying your treasures in corruptible places, we still have to get things. And, if you’re going to get things, it makes sense to get them at fair prices AND donate some portion of the proceeds to the church.

The Place’s online store comes through Amazon, who donates amounts starting at 4% back to us. We use that money for funding evangelism efforts.

Besides, if Bono does it, it must be okay, right?