Why I Didn’t Stick It Out In the SDA Church Regardless of the State It’s In

I wrote my first post on this general topic, “Why I No Longer Attend Seventh-day Adventist Churches,” for the reason I stated in the blog – pretty regularly I would catch up with an old SDA friend through Facebook who was unaware I had left the SDA church.  When they found out, however it came about, there was usually some definite awkwardness.  If you read that post and saw the sheer length of it, you would understand why the explanation of my leaving would be hard to sum up in a few words to each individual person I had the desire to share my reasoning with.  I have posted the blog twice to Facebook now and both times many people have reached out sharing experiences very similar to mine while others have lashed out with judgmental accusations and warnings of damnation.  Through all of the comments though, either on the blog or Facebook, there have been some specific commonly asked questions.  I’ve answered them in the comment thread, but to make them easier to access I’m going to post them in separate, shorter, topic specific posts.

This is the second question I’m going to address in regards to my leaving the SDA church, and this is probably the one I’ve been most commonly asked – How is your leaving the SDA church going to help turn it around?  Or sometimes people simply accuse me of leaving the church only because of my experiences with people displaying unChristian behavior, choosing to directly call me self-serving, idolatrous, and judgmental (even though I’ve clearly written I left the church because it’s not following the Great Commission.)  I’ll include some direct quotes from the comments I’ve received pertaining to me needing to stay,

“…leaving it is not going to solve the problem. What the church needs is people like you to stick it out. Find an SDA service oriented church and help them grow.”

“…God is calling you to put into practice what you see missing in the Adventist church… I pray God leads you back to the Adventist church near you…”

“Although I agree in almost everything that you shared about the church, I don’t think leaving it is the best decision made… I really hope that some day you can go back to praising the Lord at an SDA church since the time is near…”

“My biggest question is, can the SDA church ever change or grow as long as those who wake up to the truth you spoke of leave the church. More of us need to stay in the church and be the change that we desire.”

“… why not be instrumental in starting a church of like minded SDA and seek to do all those things that God wants us to do… It is people like you that the church need[s].”

“I challenge you as I did my self to be the difference Sister Sharon. Our journey with Christ should not be determine on .. our experience with others… The Adventist church could do well with your gifts and talents. I know you are broken hearted sis, come home, come home.”

Here is my response to this question:

In terms of sticking it out regardless of what the local church is like – I told the pastor at our last SDA church, who was understandably upset we were leaving, that I don’t believe it’s my job to try to turn the SDA train around. I want to jump on a moving train headed in the direction I feel is right (loving people, serving people, reaching out to the lost), and that’s all I can do. It’s hard for me to find SDA churches that focus on reaching people, but every non-denominational church I’ve visited all have great programs in place to reach people far from God. I’m sure not every one of them does, but all of the ones I’ve been to have.  You’re asking me to stick around to attempt to change an entire church culture to have an outward focus.  First of all, I tried for years.  Second, that’s a very hard thing to do, if not impossible by human effort.  It has nothing to do with expecting perfection from SDA churches.  It has everything to do with still having a desire to serve God even in our imperfections.

hypocrite

I believe it’s a very dangerous position to be in to consider ourselves “saved” but not have a desire to serve.  I have genuinely tried to change things as I’ve said a couple of times now, but I can’t justify it to be a good use of my time to fight with other “Christians” who have very little or no interest in serving God.  At the SDA church I mentioned that we drove an hour to each way, the pastor preached a sermon on serving one Sabbath. He said that the desire to serve is a natural reaction to salvation. He said that when we truly experience salvation that we should be so grateful to God for what He’s done for us that we can’t help but want to serve Him and lead others to the same hope, peace, and joy that we’ve found. I really believe as James 2:14-17 says, faith without works is really no faith at all. I have no intention to judge specific people, I just think it’s a good heart check. Do I have the desire to serve God? If not, it may be wise to consider the authenticity of my Christianity.

I just would rather spend time seeking out or contributing to an environment that helps people who really feel their need for God and His cleansing than arguing with “Christians” about why they don’t want to serve. It’s interesting though that there are a large number of SDA young people who do leave the church, but they are still believers. They haven’t given up on God, they just desire a more authentic Christian experience. That’s really all I want.  If I can’t find that, I genuinely feel like I’m wasting my time.

One last point is that the SDA church loves to claim to be the “remnant church.”  I’m not going to delve into that right now.  For the sake of my current point let’s just say that at least at some point they were (in our hypothetical situation.)  The Jews were also God’s chosen people, but they became so proud and arrogant, so judgmental and legalistic, He gave up on them.  Is our goal as a Christian not to aim to be like Christ?  Who did Christ choose to spend more of His time with while on Earth?  Did Jesus spend more time trying to spark a revival among the religious Pharisees or did He spend His time with the outcasts of society – the prostitutes, thieves, and sinners of all sorts? God opened His work to all people because the Jews dropped the ball.  Couldn’t that be what’s happened to the SDA church (assuming hypothetically they were “the remnant church”)?  I think there are many similarities between SDAs and the Pharisees.  Here’s a little more about what Jesus thought of the Pharisees from Matthew 23.  Please read and see if any of this sounds familiar:

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

13“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.

15“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!

23“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law— justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

24Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

25“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

27“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

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How I Feel About the Sabbath as an Ex Seventh-day Adventist

I wrote my first post on this general topic, “Why I No Longer Attend Seventh-day Adventist Churches,” for the reason I stated in the blog – pretty regularly I would catch up with an old SDA friend through Facebook who was unaware I had left the SDA church.  When they found out, however it came about, there was usually some definite awkwardness.  If you read that post and saw the sheer length of it, you would understand why the explanation of my leaving would be hard to sum up in a few words to each individual person I had the desire to share my reasoning with.  I have posted the blog twice to FB now and both times  many people have reached out sharing experiences very similar to mine while others have lashed out with judgmental accusations and warnings of damnation.  Through all of the comments though, either on the blog or FB, there have been some specific commonly asked questions.  I’ve answered them in the comment thread, but to make them easier to access I’m going to post them in separate, shorter, topic specific posts.

So the first common question I’m going to address in regards to my leaving the SDA church is essentially, “What about the Sabbath?”  It’s also been written as a statement, that while others have seen the same concerns I have, they would never leave the church because the SDA church keeps the Sabbath.  Here is the response I’ve shared:

First I should clarify that there are actually other denominations who do keep the 7th day Sabbath.  To elaborate more on the Sabbath apart from that though – I’ve heard many times through the years from non-SDAs that they don’t believe God cares which day we worship Him because we should worship everyday. I actually agree with that train of thought about worshiping God daily and personally believe the Sabbath is specifically about rest, as the 4th commandment explains:

Exodus 20:8-11; 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

rest

Now there are several directions you could go with this. One is that most other Christian denominations don’t observe Sunday as a sabbath, or day of rest, either but rather just the day they attend church. I think the concept of a spiritual day of rest (sabbath) has really been lost for the most part.  I was talking quite awhile ago with a non-SDA friend, who was on staff at a non-denominational church we attended, about the concept of the Sabbath and its importance. In a very kind and open minded way they asked me what then are clergy members supposed to do if the Sabbath is so important and such a salvational issue? Pastors and other staff members at this particular church had to work the entire weekend (they held services on Saturday and Sunday.) So week after week and on for forever, they are not able to observe a day of rest on the weekend, whether it be Saturday or Sunday, because they are serving God through their profession in ministry. Are they breaking the Sabbath? This issue also applies to health care workers, the military, and other professions where they are just simply required to work on Sabbath. They have to to perform their profession.

The verse I always heard growing up to make all of this okay is that “it’s lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  But is it lawful to accept pay for the good you do on the Sabbath, or should all of the income earned from working on the Sabbath be donated?  Okay, so these people whose profession is in ministry, the military, or health care aren’t able to observe Sabbath during normal hours. Jesus told us that Sabbath is made for man’s benefit, not man for the Sabbath. What is this benefit He’s referring to?  Well in my own life I’ve experienced the wonderful blessing of a designated day of rest every week. I treasure it, look forward to it, and you know every time I’ve told a non-SDA about how I’m committed to observing Sabbath, the response is almost always, “Wow! What a great idea that is!” Or they’ll say they need to start doing the same thing.  Most Christians have completely lost the idea of a day of rest altogether, they don’t argue about whether it should be observed on Saturday or Sunday. That is a very SDA thing in my experience.

Okay, let’s go back to our clergy, military, and health care workers. Because their profession requires them to work (and do good) on Sabbath, does that mean they just don’t ever get to experience the blessing or benefit of that day of rest? Is that fair? Sabbath keepers are even proven to live longer.  It’s a wonderful, beneficial practice.  The person I spoke to (who did work in ministry) said they keep Wednesday as a designated Sabbath. Is that sinful to want to still enjoy the blessing in it even though they work for the church and can never do that on the weekend?  I do not believe keeping the 7th day Sabbath is a salvational issue. If it were, then no clergy or military member or health care worker who accepts pay for working on the weekend will be in heaven. Does that sound right? I just cannot believe that is the case.

rest 2

Ultimately I believe if we are seeking a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will impress on our hearts what we need to do.  A pastor at the non-denominational church we currently attend actually spoke in the men’s group recently (according to my husband) about how the Holy Spirit was impressing on him the need and importance of keeping a Sabbath each week.  He’s working at the church on Sunday so he said his new weekly Sabbath will most likely be on Saturday.  Interesting, huh?  Whether it be the Sabbath or any other religious issue, I truly believe our job as Christians is to show people Christ’s love, encourage them toward a personal relationship with him, and then we let the Holy Spirit work on what’s important in their life from there.

One of the Most Dangerous Messages of Modern Day Christianity

church My husband and I went to a church today where a sermon I’ve heard many, many times growing up Christian was preached (not where we’re members.)  The topic was unconditional forgiveness.  All of the classic verses were included as usual – turn the other cheek, forgive as we want to be forgiven, forgive a person 70 x 7 times, etc. etc.  If someone cheats on you forgive them, if someone is violent against you forgive them, if someone betrays you forgive them, the usual.  Now before I’m accused of being a heretic I want to say that I AGREE with all of these verses and the Biblical concept of forgiving those who wrong us.  I know the Bible calls us to forgive unconditionally, but the issue I struggled with for years was what it looks like to forgive a person who continues to do hurtful things and has no remorse for their actions.  Does forgiveness mean as a Christian we have to subject ourselves to ongoing abuse?

For years I felt riddled by guilt, “unChristian,” and questioned the authenticity of my faith over this issue.  I have several people in my life who choose to act in abusive ways, but when confronted about it are completely unwilling to even admit any sort of wrongdoing, let alone change in any way.  After trying to “be Christian” and reconcile the relationship over and over only to have the same behaviors continue, I felt lost.  Does being a Christian mean I have to let hurtful people do whatever they want to me?  I asked pastors this question and never met one who was sure what the right answer was until about a year ago at the last church we attended before moving to TX.  I arranged to meet with a woman in leadership there to share my experience and spiritual struggle and to seek her insight.  For the first time ever I was offered relief and clarity. After listening to my story she explained to me that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  They are NOT the same!  As a Christian, we are called to forgive unconditionally, but that does not mean that we have to be reconciled to a person who shows no remorse or desire to change their behavior.  She shared this site with me for further explanation and Biblical references that I’m going to use here as well: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-to-move-from-forgiveness-to-reconciliation

The article first asks the same question I had, “I encounter people all the time who are trying to forgive someone who has repeatedly hurt them. They know it’s their Christian duty to forgive, but they often feel they’re either being deceived or taken advantage of. They also have a disturbing sense that they’re enabling the selfish behavior of the very one they’re trying to forgive. Is this what forgiveness requires?”  It continues to say, “Jesus clearly warned that God will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25). It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving; instead, God expects forgiven people to forgive (Matthew 18:21-35). Yet forgiveness is very different from reconciliation. It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation.” Then it offers an explanation of the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

“Differing from forgiveness, reconciliation is often conditioned on the attitude and actions of the offender. While its aim is restoration of a broken relationship, those who commit significant and repeated offenses must be willing to recognize that reconciliation is a process. If they’re genuinely repentant, they will recognize and accept that the harm they’ve caused takes time to heal… Even when God forgives our sins, he does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions.” <—Fantastic point! “The process of reconciliation depends on the attitude of the offender, the depth of the betrayal, and the pattern of offense. When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is the confirmation of genuine repentance on the part of the offender (Luke 17:3). An unrepentant offender will resent your desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. The offender may resort to lines of manipulation such as, “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving,” or, “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.” <—These are verbatim things that have been said to me. “Such language reveals an unrepentant heart. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance… It is difficult to genuinely restore a broken relationship when the offender is unclear about his confession and repentance. We should strive to be as certain as we can of our offender’s repentance—especially in cases involving repeated offenses. Even God will not grant forgiveness to one who is insincere about his confession and repentance. The person who is unwilling to forsake his sin will not find forgiveness with God (Proverbs 28:13)…  Of course, only God can read hearts; we must evaluate actions.” The article goes on to explain the signs of genuine repentance which I’ve included below;

Seven Signs of Genuine Repentance

There are seven signs that indicate the offender is genuinely repentant:

1. Accepts full responsibility for his or her actions. (Instead of: “Since you think I’ve done something wrong . . . ” or “If have done anything to offend you . . .”)

2. Welcomes accountability from others.

3. Does not continue in the hurtful behavior or anything associated with it.

4. Does not have a defensive attitude about being in the wrong.

5. Does not dismiss or downplay the hurtful behavior.

6. Does not resent doubts about their sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity—especially in cases involving repeated offenses.

7. Makes restitution where necessary.

I’ve used this checklist on several occasions when I’ve started to doubt myself.  It’s offered me so much clarity and confidence in the way I deal with the broken relationships I have.  The page goes on to explain what our attitude should be toward a person who is truly repentant and gives great tips.  I haven’t gotten to that place in the relationships I’ve struggled with yet so I won’t include those in my post today.  You’re welcome to read the page I referenced in its entirety though.

So I believe one of the most dangerous messages of modern day Christianity is the confusion and lack of distinction between absolute forgiveness and absolute reconciliation.  Christianity does not call us to enable abusive behavior.  I’ve heard stories of severely abused young women new to the church hearing this message and going back to a past abuser to grant them forgiveness, only to be victimized again.  This is not what God wants from us!  I hope if this is a struggle in your life that the concepts here will offer the same clarity to you as it has to me. I approached the pastor after the church service to express my concerns.  He seemed to agree with my points and I suggested maybe if a future sermon is preached on this topic that the distinction be made between absolute forgiveness and absolute reconciliation.  Who knows if they will or not (maybe he was just being nice), but I had to say something!

Why I No Longer Attend Seventh-day Adventist Churches

(Another non plant based related post!) This post has been a long time coming.  I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to share my thoughts and experience, but every so often an old friend will find out I don’t attend an SDA church anymore and things get a little awkward so I figure it’s better to explain my perspective. I was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist church.  My mom took us to church and my dad is an agnostic Jew by ethnicity, who occasionally took us to synagogue with my grandparents on a Friday evening for their sake.  I attended Seventh-day Adventist schools from kindergarten to 8th grade which I’m grateful for.  I’m sure it’s not easy to pay for private school tuition.  I made many precious friendships through elementary and middle school that I still cherish today.  I had great teachers who had a lot of grace for my “question authority” personality.

I attended SDA summer camp at Mt. Aetna every year from 7 to 15 years old.  Mt. Aetna was my heaven on earth.  What a special, blessed place it is.  I will forever cherish the memories of singing under the stars at the “campfire bowl,” having all sorts of fun with friends, and getting baptized in the Mt. Aetna pond.  I never felt closer to God than while at camp.  My absolute favorite spot is the bridge over the stream.  I am so grateful I had the opportunity to work there for one summer in college.  My cabin was right next to the stream.  I loved laying on the bridge listening to the water trickle below or the leaves swaying in the breeze.  I loved to have personal devotions there.  I’ll share a couple of photos: mt aetna stream mt aetna stream 2 In addition to the influences of school and camp, I attended church weekly.  During my most formative years (12-18 I believe), I had a really wonderful youth leader.  He was one of those people who just genuinely cared and didn’t judge regardless of what crazy stage I might have been going through (punk/gothic for awhile, then  more of a hippie).  There were some mix ups with the youth leadership at that church at one point and a lot of the kids went to other churches for a more stable program.  This person stepped up and committed to always being there, whether one kid came to church or 15.  And he did it for years and years (I think he’s still teaching there actually).  God bless you E.  You know who you are if you read this!  I pray God rewards you richly for your diligence and selflessness.  You were like an angel in my life, a wonderful example of a kindhearted, godly male figure.  Thank you.

So I had some really special experiences through the church youth program doing fun things like going camping, having game nights and lock-ins at the church, etc.  I developed a personal walk with God early on in my childhood, and I know that foundation was given to me through the influences of the SDA church.  I’m forever grateful for that. I went to public high school and really struggled there because I was used to such a tight knit experience of having the same 25 kids in your class year after year.  I didn’t really know how to make friends with 7 different classes a day and different kids in each of those classes, only to have them change each semester or year.  It was really hard for me.

I decided to go to an SDA university for college and chose Andrews, another precious place for me.  There’s a special blessing on that campus.  You can feel it.  I loved my time there, other than the cold from being located in MI!  Andrews University has a campus church called Pioneer Memorial.  The pastor there is Dwight Nelson.  He is the real deal.  You can just feel that he has a personal walk with God and his love for people shines through him.  The spiritual atmosphere at Andrews was wonderful when I was there.  I had great professors, wonderful deans in the dorm, the University was very active in outreach in a local impoverished city, Benton Harbor, doing all sorts of programs for the people there.  They are making a huge difference in Benton Harbor.  There is no question that faith is being acted out there.

Andrews university

Then we come to the first point of conflict in my faith.  I came home from Andrews, high off of the experience I had there in the worship programs, service opportunities, etc.  I missed it all when I came back for the summer.  I grew up just outside of DC in MD and thought to myself that there’s no reason the same things can’t be done to help impoverished residents in DC as were being done for those in Benton Harbor.  I contacted an SDA church in DC to see if any similar programs were going on like those in place at Andrews.  There weren’t so I felt inspired to try to start something.

I had a friend from Andrews who lived in the same area and we partnered up with the church in DC.  We decided to start by just going door to door to the surrounding houses and offering to pray with people to build relationships with them (modeled off of the way Andrews University outreach was started in Benton Harbor.)  We made announcements at that church about what we were doing, I made announcements at my childhood church about it.  I was so excited to get something started.  I wanted to invite other SDA churches in the area to get involved too.  The SDA world headquarters is in Silver Spring, MD so there are a lot of SDA churches in that area.  I made information packets for around 30 churches inviting them to join in.  Guess who paid for the postage for my packets?  That youth leader from my childhood church.  Bless you.  Thank you for being so supportive and encouraging.

So after all of the effort and preparation, guess how many of the 30 churches showed any interest in participating?  None – except the host church who agreed to allow us to use their location as a central point.  And how many people  from the host church do you think decided to participate in the outreach their church was hosting in their own neighborhood?  Only one elder and he didn’t stay involved long.  Guess how many people came from my home church to support a young person in their church trying to do something to reach people?  My youth leader and then my mom eventually started coming.  I have some thoughts on this.  One is that maybe people thought what we were doing was a bad idea.  Maybe we weren’t going about it in the most effective way.  Why though didn’t they at least acknowledge my efforts as a young person and maybe give suggestions on how to be more effective?  No one even responded to the packets I sent out.

Maybe the churches I contacted weren’t inspired to go into DC specifically, but would rather have done something in their immediate, local community.  I don’t know.  I do know that when we went into the local neighborhood around the host church to offer to pray for people, many told us they’d lived next to that church for years and we were the first people to ever reach out to them. This is a problem!

I’ve heard there are 90 SDA churches within 30 miles of the world headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.  Do you know how many coordinated ministry efforts there are between the churches?  None that I knew/know of.  Why not?  There are so many suffering people in and around DC.  The region has one of the worst crime rates in the nation.  People need help.  Maybe the real issue is most Seventh-day Adventists simply don’t care about or prioritize evangelism.  Maybe they would rather attend church and let that be the end of it.  Maybe they don’t have a desire to make a difference.  Either way I can say from my experience that it was really disappointing as a collegiate young adult in the SDA church to not only not have any support, but people didn’t even take the time to acknowledge I reached out to them.  It’s not hard to understand why such a high rate of young people are leaving the church when they are so unvalued and unsupported.

(DC row house)

row house

So I went back to Andrews in the fall where things were great and let go of the DC effort.  The next summer I decided to work at camp rather than live at home.  When I left Andrews permanently I only lived back in MD for 2 months or so before moving to VA to live closer to my then boyfriend (now husband.)  In the city we lived there was only one SDA church.  I went there hoping to find something to get involved with like in college.  Unfortunately there weren’t any outreach programs in place.  There also wasn’t anything in place for young people.  The church had an older population overall.  It actually wasn’t uncommon for quite a few members of the congregation to sleep through the Divine service.

I began to feel like I was just going to church to “swipe my SDA card,” so to speak.  I kind of trailed off of going to church at all for the first time in my life.  I felt bad about not attending church regularly but felt worse and more frustrated when I would go. I’ll take a moment to explain to anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with the SDA church that the SDA community is very cultural.  They are very proud of their doctrinal beliefs and usually lead with those.  In fact, I did some Bible work (going door to door offering Bible studies) in high school using the Amazing Facts study guides which focus heavily on the SDA church’s interpretation of end time prophesy.  I would arrange studies with people who were already Christian so I could argue with them about doctrine and try to convert them to Adventism.  Looking back now I’m embarrassed I used my time that way and “surprisingly” I didn’t win over a single convert!

Why would SDAs focus so much on converting already saved people rather than reaching out to the person down the street who has never heard that God loves them before?  I imagine one reason is because it’s commonly taught and believed within the SDA church that only SDA Christians (those who practice SDA doctrines) will receive salvation.  This belief is one of several that make other denominations/people in general believe the SDA church is a cult. Most of the churches I’ve attended in my lifetime of being SDA are very conservative (not all, there are a couple of exceptions).  Jewelry is discouraged, sometimes makeup, definitely tattoos.  A lot of SDA pastors don’t even wear wedding rings.  They believe it’s vain or materialistic.  Few SDAs seem to have an issue with wearing nice clothes, driving a nice car, or living in a nice house though.  I’m curious where the line of judgment begins and ends?  Who sets these standards and what does it have to do with the Great Commission?

In most SDA churches I’ve attended women are encouraged to wear skirts or dresses rather than pants.  Some SDA churches only allow the piano or organ to be played in church, while others think acoustic guitar is okay but nothing electric and definitely not drums.  Others are more liberal and will have a full praise band, but they are not nearly the majority in my experience. One practice that SDA’s are known for is keeping the Jewish, or 7th day Sabbath (hence the name Seventh-day Adventist.)  The way people choose to observe Sabbath varies from family to family.  Some don’t believe in frequenting businesses on Sabbath because it requires other people to work, others don’t mind.  A family I grew up with wouldn’t allow their children to play on the playground on Sabbath.  I’m not sure why.  I wasn’t allowed to swim in a swimming pool on Sabbath “because it’s man made,” but if we were at the beach then it was fine to swim in the ocean because it’s a natural body of water.  So many rules that have nothing to do with spreading Christ’s love!

Even though I don’t attend SDA churches anymore, I do still personally observe the Sabbath as a spiritual day of rest.  Jesus says that Sabbath was made for man’s benefit and I believe it!  I look forward to it coming and treasure the break from work.  My husband and I use it as designated family time.  We’ll spend time outdoors, catch up on sleep, just do whatever we want to to make us feel refreshed and rested for the coming week.  Studies have shown Sabbath-keepers are proven to live longer.  Everyone needs a break sometime!  I love Sabbath, but as with sex or anything else God intended to be good, I think strict religious practices can spoil the blessing in it.  Also, Sabbath keeping is considered a salvational issue within the SDA church which is another disconnect I’ve developed between myself and the denomination.

scolding

So as you might be able to gather, there was a big difference between my experience at Andrews University and normal life at home.  I think it’s pretty common across the board that young people aren’t really encouraged or valued in SDA environments outside of school settings.  The older, more conservative members create environments so strict and religious I believe they’re driving the young people away.  Well, they are in fact being driven away.  I believe it’s some where around 70% of American SDA young people who leave the church.  Something has to change if the denomination wants to continue to exist here.

To continue with my story, I really felt the void of not attending church regularly.  My boyfriend and I had heard a buzz about a local non-denominational church so we decided to check it out. This was my first experience of ever seeking a church home outside of the Adventist church.  I was really nervous about it.  The non-denominational church met at a local high school.  Dress was casual.  Even the pastor preached in jeans.  He explained it was because he didn’t want a person who had never been to church before to feel like they wouldn’t fit in if they didn’t have dress clothes.  They were his best pair of jeans though he said!  (Nodding toward the mentality many people have that we need to wear our “best” for God at church.) 🙂  There was a greeter at the church with tattoo sleeves up both of his arms.  I’d never seen anything like it before.  There was a full band for praise and worship and the first message we heard there was about the importance of giving.

The pastor preached a great sermon on honoring God with our finances and at the end of the service ushers passed out envelopes to every person in the audience.  Each envelope had $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, or $1,000 cash in it!  The pastor explained he didn’t want to just preach to us about the importance of giving.  He wanted to show us what a blessing it is without having to use our own money.  He challenged the audience to use the money they were given to go into the community and bless someone with it.  Then we were supposed to report back to a blog they had set up to share our experience.  I was floored.  Everything about this was mind-blowing to me.

SDA churches are organized in conferences who report to divisions who I assume then are accountable to the world headquarters.  Either way, the tithe money churches collect go back to a conference while the offering stays in the local church.  The SDA world church does support lots of great ministries, has an extensive network of hospitals, schools, overseas missionaries, etc. so I guess it’s up to you to decide what you think of the system of money disbursement.  I personally am drawn to the idea of an independent, non-denominational church that is able to keep its funds locally to use as they deem best (with a strong system of accountability in place of course.)  Otherwise you commonly have SDA churches struggling to pay their utilities because they’re sending the vast majority of their money back to the conference.  It’s very common for SDA churches to post their budget deficit in the weekly bulletin.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one that operated in a budget surplus.

So the non-denominational church used their offering for the month to give back to the church to bless others with.  However you feel about it, it was amazing to me.  It made such an impact in the community the local newspaper wrote about it.  We continued to attend this church semi-regularly, but it always felt a little strange to us.  I had a lot of backlash from my mother about “leaving the SDA church,” even though I explained my reasoning about it.  She felt like I was going to hell because I’d turned away from the church.  I think she would have preferred I didn’t go to church at all rather than attend a non-SDA church.  My boyfriend and I became engaged during this time period and my mom didn’t participate in any of the actual wedding planning because of fighting over this issue.  We didn’t even speak for entire months during the engagement.  It was a very difficult and painful time overall.

Not long after getting married my husband and I moved about 30 miles north to live closer to DC again.  Our home buying process took longer than we anticipated and we ended up having to bounce around with family in MD while waiting for our house in Northern VA.  While staying in MD we ran into some old SDA schoolmates of mine and they invited me to their church.  We visited and actually loved it!  The church was very friendly and caring, the atmosphere was very non-judgmental and open, they were organizing events to connect with the local community.  It was just what we’d been praying for in an SDA church.  We loved it so much that we drove an hour each way (without traffic) after moving into our house to still attend there.  We did that for a year before the commute became too much for us.  In the summer the traffic was so bad some weeks it took us 3 hours to get home.  We had made wonderful friends there, were very involved in serving, and were really sad to have to start over with trying to find a church family.  We didn’t have much of a choice though and decided to try the closest SDA church to us.

After our experience with the non-denominational church and now the only healthy, active SDA church I’d ever been to outside of Andrews, we grew to look for two qualities in a church community: an outward focus and an environment where an unchurched person could attend and feel comfortable.  The church closest to where we lived did not have those qualities.  There weren’t really outreach opportunities at all.  We stayed for a potluck lunch there one week and a person actually told us that the sermons aren’t any good, but there are some nice people to make friends with so that’s why they kept going.  I don’t want to judge anyone who is trying to serve God in their career as a pastor.  I will say though that you can feel the difference between a Spirit filled message that inspires people to action and change in their lives and one that maybe filtered its way back into the sermon circuit again this year.  I really don’t want to be disrespectful, but I am not kidding when I say that.  At that SDA church near us, we heard a sermon once right after moving and coincidentally visited them a year later to give them another try and the same sermon was being preached as before.  I am being 100% honest.  It’s like going through the motions for the sake of the motions and not expecting any difference to be made or any lives to actually be changed.

(My face hearing the same sermon again before pulling a sneak out move.)

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We tried one more SDA church that was about 40 minutes away from us in VA and found they had Spirit filled sermons and a friendly atmosphere.  There still weren’t many outreach opportunities in place and not really anything going on for our age group, but we really liked the pastor and were so desperate for a church home, we figured we would try to make it work.  We filled out connection cards several times requesting information on opportunities to serve at the church and were never contacted back so we approached the pastor for help after several weeks.  He connected us to another young couple who was re-launching the churches monthly potluck lunch ministry that had fizzled out in previous years.  We started serving with them but wanted to have more of a sense of community so we got the idea to launch a group for post collegiate young adults.

To make this long story a little bit shorter, I’ll say in just a few words that no one after my husband and I committed to help with the potluck ministry.  We and the leading couple weren’t enough to organize, serve, and clean up lunch for the 70+ people who would stay.  In fact, not only did people not commit to helping, but previous potluck team volunteers would come behind us and “fix” things like the way we arranged the tables, or the napkins, or the dishes on the tables, etc.  They wouldn’t get on a volunteer rotation, but they would correct the “wrong” way that we were doing things.  Unreal.  It’s almost comical.

And as far as the young adult group went, no one expressed interest in it so I just cancelled the event I had organized. So discouraged in serving within the church, no outreach opportunities in place,  and with no interest from others in developing a sense of community for our age group, one final thing solidified our decision to leave after 8 months of trying to make this church our home.  Though we did, and still do, have a lot of respect for the pastor there and his family, the last sermon series we attended was on the “chiastic” structure of the book of Ruth.  For those unfamiliar, a chiasm is a form of poetry.  The book of Ruth is written in a poetic format and there was a four week sermon series during the main service analyzing that structure.  I can understand doing this as a small group study for Biblical scholars, but it was for the main church service for four weeks.

My husband and I asked each other if there was any possible way we could bring a person who had never been to church before and have them feel comfortable, or get something out of a sermon like that, and our honest answer was no.  If any church, no matter the denomination, is not making an effort to fulfill the Great Commission then what is the point?

We really did try to stick it out with the SDA church simply from a place of comfort and familiarity, not really ever even analyzing possible disconnects we might have had with doctrine.  After being separated for some time now, there are definitely some red flags there as well that have affirmed our decision.  Ultimately we are loyal to God, not to the Adventist church.  The bottom line for us is that we need to be involved in a church that is doing something to reach lost people.

After deciding to leave that SDA church, we visited a non-denominational church 15 minutes from our house. It felt just like the first non-denominational church we had attended.  This one even had a Saturday service so we could still attend church on Sabbath.  We loved it.  The pastors there were actually friends with the pastor from the first church, interestingly.  We jumped on board with serving there, got very involved in the small group ministry, and overall felt like our void had been filled.

There were so many outreach opportunities at the new church you couldn’t possibly do them all – A back pack drive for local students, a food drive for the local food bank, a mobile meal packing event with an organization called Feed My Starving Children that sends meals to starving children all over the world, the church sponsors a village in Uganda and many members sponsor children in that village.  The church also sends a mission team every year to serve there.  They had another mission team go to Guatemala, we joined a team to help raise funds for a well in Uganda.  The church had a Celebrate Recovery program for people struggling with all kinds of addiction.  Only in these Bible churches had I ever heard of providing resources for people struggling with pornography addiction or substance abuse.  You mean to tell me people in church have real problems and the church can have resources in place to help them?  This was truly mind blowing to me. There was so much growth in that church they were struggling to keep up with it.  That’s what we wanted to be a part of.  We just want to make a difference.

(Photo of an FMSC mobile meal packing event)

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We recently moved from VA to TX.  We were so sad to leave our church family in VA.  We really loved it.  Just for old times’ sake we tried a local SDA church here and this time we felt like the outsiders.  People were kind, but it was a traditional SDA church as described above.  God bless them.  I just know what’s right for me.  We tried four or five different local non-denominational churches.  I think we’d be happy to jump on board with any of them (except one pretty charismatic one that had barefoot people and lots of flag and ribbon waving which was a little overwhelming for us!)  The only way we made a decision was that one of the churches was particularly organized in their process for getting new people involved in the church and different ministries.  They have a system in place like clock work which we appreciated.  They are expecting growth and are prepared for it so we started the process of joining.  We’re taking membership classes now that end with you selecting an area of ministry to use your God given gifts to serve in. (Note the expectation to serve.  I really believe saved people who are unwilling to serve in a church are dead weight, no offense.)  They’ve grown from 80 to 2700 attendees in 8 years.  It’s not all about the numbers, but isn’t the point of the church to grow?  If it’s not to grow/reach lost people, then what is the point of any church?

In conclusion, I will probably always have a soft spot in my heart for the SDA church.  It gave me my foundation in Christ, provided many wonderful memories, I even met my husband through it.  It’s very much a part of who I am.  I know we are where we’re supposed to be now though.   Ultimately, everything goes back to my two must-haves:  an outward focus and an environment in place to welcome unsaved people.  In my experience, that’s very hard to find in an SDA church.

If Pioneer Memorial Church (the Andrews University campus church) was where I live, I’m sure I never would have thought of leaving the SDA denomination because of how much good is being done there.  People usually have to have a very good reason to question and then uproot themselves from a system they were raised in.  I really do appreciate Pastor Dwight’s ministry though.  I actually visited a friend there in April and was so pleased to get to hear him preach a sermon about some current issues Andrews is going through regarding their homosexual student population feeling unwelcome and unsupported.  I don’t want to go too much into it, but the basic message of the sermon was, you who are without sin can cast the first stone.  We’re called to love and support people, regardless of their area of sin.  Yours is no different than mine.  We’ve all got a sin problem and all need to deal with it with grace and compassion for each other.  Jesus Himself kept company with the outcasts in society.  Is the church following His example?  The Bible says the world will know us by our love, not by our doctrine or rules.  It’s our love that matters. Thanks for your time in reading this.  I’m happy to hear your thoughts if anyone would like to share.

*** First side note is there has been a pretty large response from people who have had experiences similar to mine who have either left the SDA denomination themselves or who are considering it.  Many have expressed that they have felt judged and isolated in their journey so I created a closed FB page for anyone who would like a judgement free place to share their journey with others who are going through similar experiences.  It can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/exsdasupport/  Anyone who joins for the wrong reason will be removed/blocked as soon as they make that evident.

*** Second, if you skim the comments thread you’ll begin to notice there are some frequently asked questions.  I did respond to them through the thread, but because there are quite a few now (making it kind of difficult to read through) I wrote a couple of additional posts to address those topics if you’re interested in them.  So far I’ve added, How I Feel About the Sabbath as an Ex SDA and Why I Didn’t Stick It Out In the SDA Church Regardless of the State It’s In.

*** Lastly, I’ve taken up blogging consistently again recently.  If you’d like to read some of my recent content, please click here.

Breaking & Transitioning From a Juice Only Fast

My intention was to make it to 25 days on a juice only fast.  My husband and I went to visit family for the Easter weekend and I let them know ahead of time I would be juicing.  I prepared my juices to take and was all set.  On Saturday morning, my 20th day, we went with our cousins to visit their home church they’re a part of.  I didn’t realize the host family would be preparing brunch for everyone.  I’m sure I could have continued the fast just fine, but the hardest part of fasting for me has always been feeling kind of isolated in social situations.  It’s just enjoyable to share a meal with people.  I started this fast on March 31, the day after one of my neighbors baby shower.  From that day until this Easter weekend we didn’t have any major social engagements other than our weekly small group from church.  There are always snacks but it’s not the same as sitting down to a meal together so I’ve been fine not eating there.  It really was the easiest stretch of time for me to fast.  I am really impressed by people who do juice fasts through the holiday season.  That seems like such a difficult challenge!  

Anyhow, at brunch they had a fresh fruit salad so I decided to go ahead and eat some fruit.  I had already drank juice earlier that morning for breakfast and it was around 11:30 I think when I broke the fast.  Some interesting things happened – first I was kind of surprised at how not that big of a deal breaking the fast was to me.  The fruit was delicious but it wasn’t like this flavor explosion out of body experience or anything.  I just felt fine.  I ate slowly, had no desire to gorge myself, wasn’t very tempted to eat the other foods they had on the table…  I’ve found through this fasting experience how much it helps to smell foods I might be tempted to eat.  They did have homemade, vegan banana muffins that looked really good.  I smelled my husbands muffin first and then broke off a piece about the size of the tip of my little finger and tasted it.  That was enough to feel like I experienced it.  We had a great time together as a group.  Later on that day I had more juice, I felt fine going for a nice long walk with family, and then we all met for a family dinner.  I figured since I broke the fast that morning I would eat something with everyone for dinner so I had a banana and corn that had been prepared.  I think now is a good time to include tips for transitioning well out of a juice fast.  I technically should not have eaten the corn for two reasons – it’s best to eat raw for about 5 days before transitioning cooked foods back in and the first 5 days should be raw fruits and veggies.  Corn is technically a grain.  I figured it couldn’t hurt much though and it didn’t.  Before I continue on my transition, here is a timeline for transitioning the right way (even though I haven’t followed it exactly!):

There are different suggestions for transitioning off a juice fast depending on where you look but they have generally the same guidelines.

– As You Finish Your Juice Cleanse:  Spend your first 5 days transitioning by following a plan of fresh juice 1-2 times per day and vegetable/fruit only meals and snacks.  Smoothies are great too.

– Continue to drink half your body weight in ounces of water to help continue the flush out of toxins.

– Wait at least 3 days before eating overt fats again. They are heavier foods and tend to take more work to digest, so give your system a chance to remember digesting whole foods again before you eat anything fatty.

 Add plant-based proteins, like nuts or beans, to your meals and snacks days 6-7. Then begin to add whole grains to your plant-based meals.  You may find that you tolerate gluten-free whole grains best at first like quinoa, teff and brown rice.The added proteins and whole grains will give your body nutrients in a variety of forms and help to retrain your digestive system for handling a regular, yet healthy diet.

– Eating just enough to nourish yourself without going beyond what is comfortable is at the heart of being gentle to your body.

– Consider how you cook your food to enhance the digestibility of your meals.  Bake, broil, grill, roast and steam your food. Stir-frying is acceptable as well with a small amount of oil.  Avoid fried foods or anything with a lot of oil or added fats since these are very hard to digest.
 
Okay, so these are the guidelines I am wanting to follow though I haven’t perfectly.  I’ll keep going through my transition experience.  I have read that after people begin to reincorporate fiber after fasting that you can have some “clean out” experiences.  It’s said that while you fast, waste in the digestive tract loosens and when fiber is reincorporated it pushes out the loose waste.  I’ll just say this happened to me on Saturday night and Sunday evening.  I’m just glad I decided to start transitioning before I had originally planned which would have fallen during the time I am going to be out of town visiting old friends.  On Sunday I had a banana for breakfast along with juice.  My husband’s aunt had made her banana bread and sent a loaf home with us.  When we got home I had a thin slice of it and then juice the rest of the day if I remember correctly.  Again, I did not follow the only raw fruits and veggies along with juice exactly for the first few days but Monday morning I had still lost 1/2 lb over the weekend. 
 
On Monday, now day 3 of the transition, I believe I had juice or coconut water in the morning, an apple, orange, and banana during the day, and then that evening after work it was really beautiful out and I really wanted to go on an outdoor date with my husband. It had been over 3 weeks.  We tried to think of our options for “clean” eating and it was pretty much between Chipotle and a Thai restaurant that caters easily to vegans.  We decided on Chipotle because it would be more fresh ingredients and less cooked veggies or added oil.  Now again, I technically should not have had beans on the third day as the high protein could be hard to digest.  I only eat vegan at Chipotle though so everything else was brown rice, fruit (avocado, tomato) and mostly raw veggies.  I ate slowly, chewed thoroughly, and didn’t have any discomfort.  Chipotle was the more out of body flavor explosion experience. 🙂  It’s hard for me to not overeat on it though because I love, love Chipotle so I know I shouldn’t eat there more than once a month max.  That’s fine.  
 
On Tuesday (the 4th day) we went to the grocery store.  I thought it might be okay to add some gluten free grains and got these chia, flax, gluten free, vegan waffles.  I wouldn’t normally buy waffles but I guess I wanted some of these vegan treats after coming out of the fast.  I like waffles with natural peanut butter and maple syrup.  That was the first thing to make me not feel well.  I felt weighed down, bloated, and tired.  I used to love peanut butter.  Like, really love it.  Now it’s just too heavy.  It’s exciting to see change!  Anyway, this is probably enough detail for now.  Again, I know I haven’t stuck to the time line I am supposed to for transitioning.  I’m not beating myself up though for several reasons:
 
– I haven’t had any digestive upset except the discomfort from the waffle/peanut butter combo.  And I don’t mind that experience because I’m excited something fatty made me feel bad.  I don’t need or want it.  
– I really was able to reset my palate.  I have no craving at all for junk foods like vegan cookies, processed vegan ice creams, chips, etc.  I am so happy to eat plant based whole foods.  I think I fasted long enough to break the addiction to junk foods.  Only one other time in my life can I really remember feeling like this, no temptation at all for sugary treats (my lifelong battle with a sweet tooth.)  I don’t even crave chocolate, at all.  What a difference!  
 
So going forward after my sort of mixed celebration days, I have a couple of goals that aren’t really new.  I want to completely follow the Forks Over Knives food pyramid which I shared before.  I’ll repost it here.  
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And I want to make a point to not eat after 3 PM unless it’s a special occasion.  Our metabolism slows around 4 so it’s best not to eat later in the day than that.  I also need to get back to exercising everyday as I got out of the habit while fasting.  So ultimately,  I still have quite a bit more weight I want to lose.  As far as I’m concerned though, I accomplished exactly what I wanted to with the juice fast.  It’s not all about losing weight, though that’s a great bonus!  It’s really about “rebooting” our bodies; resetting our palate and our relationship with food.  It’s about a lifestyle change, not a quick fix for weight loss.  If there is no change in old habits, all the weight will come back on.
 
 
Now even though I’m done with this long term fast, fasting is still a great thing to incorporate into our lifestyle.  I’ve read it’s great to fast one day per week, a block of 3 days straight per month, 5 days straight every 3 months, and 10+ days every six months to continue the cleansing process for our body.  That’s all for now!

Days 12-19 On A Juice Only Fast & Oil Pulling

I’m a little behind in my blogging.  It can be hard to keep up with during the more busy times in life!   Well, days 12-19 were still pretty easy.  My biggest struggle was the desire to go on a date with my husband.  I just missed sharing meals with him.  I also began to generally get tired of drinking juice.  In my normal life I’m more of a water only person.  I don’t care to drink other beverages usually unless it’s something special here and there like a natural root beer or something like that.  I stuck it out though.  By 19 days I’d lost around 17 lbs.  I didn’t really have any major detoxing symptoms other than the coated tongue.   I believe it was on day 17 that my tongue was more pinkish in the morning.  I’ve noticed anytime I drink Kombucha though that the white coating on my tongue flairs up quite a bit.  Must be true that Kombucha aids in detoxing!

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This is a photo of what’s in a standard green juice for me.

I believe it was during this stretch that I learned about “oil pulling” as another detoxing method.  I’m excited to make it a regular part of my life!   Essentially the idea is to take cold pressed (or extra virgin) oil, I prefer coconut, and swish it in your mouth for 15-20 minutes.  The oil is said to draw out bacteria and toxins from your mouth.  At the end of the 20 minutes you spit the oil into the trash as you don’t want to clog any drains!   Oil pulling is supposed to have many oral health benefits as well as helping prevent migraines, sinus issues, skin problems, etc. You can read all about it here: http://www.foodmatters.tv/articles-1/oil-pulling-the-habit-that-can-transform-your-health.

coconut oil

Well, I still have a blog to catch up on about breaking the fast so I’ll keep this one pretty short!

Days 6-12 On a Juice Only Fast

Well, there won’t be a whole lot to say!  From day 8 and on has been pretty easy. Very few detox systems other than some chills here and there and the coated tongue.  On day 8 I felt so good I was in the mood for some spring cleaning.  Days 9-11 were all great.  We’ve had some beautiful weather so that may be helping with my increased energy and overall “good vibes.”  I just feel happy and refreshed after a long winter and satisfied in my efforts to change my health.  I actually started my cycle yesterday.  Before I started incorporating juicing into my life in general I couldn’t function without painkillers due to the severe cramping I would get the first day of my cycle.  The last few months I’ve needed a heating pad, but still lasted without painkillers.  Yesterday I had no painkillers and didn’t need the heating pad.  I had very mild cramping and a little bit of lower back soreness and that was it.  Coming from being a person who has fainted from the pain of menstrual cramps before to basically having none is like a miracle.  It’s life changing.  I spent most of the afternoon yesterday cleaning up my garden for spring and just had such a wonderful time.  I feel great!  I haven’t been sleeping nearly as much as I was.  This could be a result of all the sunshine I’ve been getting but the detoxing process definitely isn’t making me tired.  This morning at the start of my 12th day, I’ve lost 12.5 lbs.  This could be a little more than it would normally be due to some menstrual bloating.

juicing

Psychologically, I don’t fantasize about food really anymore.  Also, the thought of some of the “health food” brand junk foods I used to eat doesn’t really appeal to me anymore.  I feel more of a respect for my body and its ability to function so well on juice/liquids only.  I also feel empowered that if I can go this long without any solid foods at all, I know I can resist the temptation to eat unhealthy things.  We don’t have to be slaves to our food cravings.  The true purpose of a juice fast/cleanse is not just weight loss.  It’s a chance to reset our relationship with food.

At this point I plan to continue on juice only until April 25.  That would make 26 days.  I’ll be going to visit friends from college and want to be able to share some meals with them so I’ll be juicing still along with eating raw foods.  That way I can eat a salad if we go out or have fruit for breakfast.  I plan to continue transitioning back to eating slowly so that I can eat cooked food with my husband for our anniversary in early May.  My goal is for no weight gain from my transition so I’ll be very, very careful!  Anyway, I’ll post other updates as I go.  I hope if any of you have considered a juice fast as a way to heal your body, reset your relationship with food, and lose weight that you’ll be encouraged and try it!