The other day I turned on the TV to watch the news. But as I scanned the channel guide, another show caught my eye: Happy Days, the 1950s-era sitcom (produced in the 1970s and 1980s).
I immediately felt a wave of memories from watching Happy Days as a boy. I’d fly off the school bus with my saxophone and duffel bag and race up our long gravel driveway, our dog leaping beside me. Out of breath, I’d burst in the front door, put two Pop-Tarts into the toaster, and if I timed everything perfectly, I’d be sprawled on the couch right at 4:00 when the Happy Days theme song started: “Sunday, Monday, happy days! Tuesday, Wednesday, happy days! Thursday, Friday, happy days! Saturday—what a day! Groovin’ all week with you!”
I liked watching Happy Days almost as much as Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. (I watched too much TV.) I liked the 1950s setting; I liked the humor; and I especially liked the friendship between Richie Cunningham (a regular guy, like me) and Fonzie (the coolest guy ever). “The Fonz” wore a leather jacket, and all the girls loved him. It was fun!
How could I have been entertained by this? Why didn’t I see it?
So when I turned on Happy Days the other day, I expected to enjoy the throwback memories of Richie and the Fonz (my old buddies).
The episode I watched was set in Arnold’s Diner. Fonzie walks in (the studio audience cheers) and proceeds to kiss about a dozen girls, one by one. Someone asks where Richie is, and Fonzie says inappropriate things that produce great laughter.
It’s a hard thing to realize that what once seemed acceptable . . . really wasn’t. Sure, Fonzie and Richie might have been likable characters, and not every episode of Happy Days was so lewd. But as I sat thinking about it, and my daughter walked through the room, I realized that the overall culture of Happy Days was degrading to women—reducing them to mere objects. (“I found my thrill,” the guys often sang, “on Blueberry Hill.”)
How could I have been entertained by this? Why didn’t I see it?
Culture (like its sister word, cult) is one of the most dangerous and powerful forces in our lives because, by living within a culture, we get used to it. We get changed by it. We tend to take it lump-sum rather than carefully distinguishing. That’s why a generation can be simultaneously patriotic and prejudiced, or hardworking and selfish, or compassionate and entitled.
I think of other tough realizations. As a boy I loved the breathtaking Shamu whale shows at SeaWorld; I didn’t stop to think about the captivity. I also remember the “Siamese Twins” at the county fair. We peered through a window to watch these two brothers—“Oh, look, they’re arguing!” Even as my young heart felt a discomfort, I didn’t say anything.
But someone did. At some point someone said, “Freak shows are wrong.” “Whale shows are wrong.” “Objectifying women is wrong.”
At some point we, too, can say, “It’s wrong.” “We were wrong.” “I was wrong.”
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor and author in Denver, Colorado. He leads study tours to Israel each summer.
Here are three questions for you, followed by three lessons.
The answer to all three questions is the same: Nehemiah.
In this year of brokenness and politics, we find three important lessons in the story of Nehemiah—the final story before the coming of the same Messiah for whom we wait.
Where are our minds and hearts right now? Do we need to lift our eyes from temporary things to eternal things?
1. “I was cupbearer to the king” (Neh. 1:11). Living in the midst of palace intrigue, Nehemiah could have filled his mind with politics. There was plenty of it. (Nehemiah’s king, Artaxerxes, took the throne by assassinating his older brother—after their father, Xerxes, was assassinated.) Nehemiah’s very job description (sipping from the royal cup to see if he would die) was steeped in intrigue. Yet Nehemiah’s mind and heart belonged to another place—the faith and homeland of his ancestors: Jerusalem. Where are our minds and hearts right now? Do we need to lift our eyes from temporary things to eternal things?
2. “I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’” (Neh. 2:3). Nehemiah showed his true feelings. Like Esther before him in the same royal court, Nehemiah wasn’t too proud to pour out his heart, even to a Persian king. This transparent act was rewarded surprisingly with royal permission to go home. With whom might we need to talk candidly right now? And how might God bless the open longings of our hearts?
3. “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (verse 17). After many years of brokenness, Nehemiah called his people to rebuild their city, their homes, their lives. When we get knocked flat, it can be tempting just to accept the new normal—to live in disrepair. In the tumultuousness of year 2020—filled with sickness, quarantine, and distance—some of us might feel lackadaisical, unmotivated, and empty. Will we be the ones to stand up and call those in our circles to rebuild? Will we be the ones to help others repair their broken walls? to come home?
“When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them.’ Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!” (Ps. 126:1-3, NLT).*
These are only three of the many beautiful lessons in the book of Nehemiah. Give yourself the gift of reading this final Old Testament story for yourself. Then turn the page to a new story, called Matthew, which tells of more wise travelers from Persia to Judea, seeking to repair their own brokenness.
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor and author who leads a study tour each year to Jerusalem.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, what did you want back? What did you not want back?
Forty days into the lockdown, that’s the question I posed to people in my circles—Facebook friends, church members, students. Someday it will be interesting to look back on this period and see where our minds and hearts were—and whether our lives truly changed.
Someday it will be interesting to look back on this period and see where our minds and hearts were.
So that’s how we felt after 40 days, just as some lockdown restrictions were being eased. How much will these 40 days change us? Will more people keep working from home? Will people remember “how isolation has brought community within my community”? Will we reembrace the “the ability to show up for people,” as one busy mom wrote, without “not having the time to show up for people”?
For me as a pastor, the lockdown has opened my eyes to the repeated longings of another pastor: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8).
Then in a wistful moment I realized: Is this how Christ feels about us all the time?
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor in Denver, Colorado. He leads a study tour to Israel each summer. He wants it back next summer.
“Whenever two or three . . . come together . . . , I am there with you” (Matt. 18:20, CEV).*
When basketball star Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in January, a friend of mine posted an online question: What was your favorite Kobe Bryant moment?
Along with the many amazing moments on the basketball court itself, I shared my own favorite Kobe Bryant moment: when Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal reconciled.
For those who don’t know the story, Kobe and Shaq were teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers—winning three consecutive championships together. Kobe and Shaq were also both alpha males who contended internally with each other . . . and, eventually, refused even to talk.
Shaq finally left Los Angeles to play for another team, the Miami Heat. And when the two teams played, Kobe and Shaq barely acknowledged each other.
But then in 2006, during a Los Angeles-Miami game on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, Shaq approached Kobe for a handshake and a hug. Everything changed.
Separation is the hardest experience we can have in life. That’s why restoration, the opposite of separation, is the most beautiful experience we can have in life.
When Jesus said, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20), He wasn’t talking about two people worshipping together. (Jesus doesn’t need a quorum of two to be with you.)
When we have the opportunity to heal a broken relationship, we must grab it.
Jesus was talking about coming together. Look at the fuller context: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ . . . For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (verses 15-20).
This is why two or three are needed—because it takes two (sometimes three) to reconcile. Jesus cares so deeply about healed human relationships that He personally promises to join the experience in a special way.
Jesus knows firsthand how painful human separation is. He once turned to His friends, after nearly everyone else had left Him, and said, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67).
In the end, Jesus was rejected by nearly everyone. Yet He forgave them all—inviting them back into relationship with Him. That includes you and me.
When we have the opportunity to heal a broken relationship, we must grab it. Another friend of mine once told me about the hardest 40 steps he ever took in his life—walking over to reconcile with someone whom he’d been in conflict with. He said the healing between them brought incomparable joy and renewal.
Yes, just as it takes two to tango, it takes two to come together. But it’s never just two. Because Jesus Himself is there with you both.
* Scripture quotations identified CEV are from the Contemporary English Version. Copyright © American Bible Society 1991, 1995. Used by permission.
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor and author who leads a study tour to Israel each summer.
Sometimes I read or hear comments about the Adventist Church’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs along this line:
“Well, I didn’t beat them over the head with the 28 Fundamental Beliefs or anything.”
“The 28 Fundamental Beliefs aren’t a salvation issue.”
“Don’t eat pork, don’t swim on Sabbath, and all the other Adventist beliefs.”
A few thoughts:
1. When commenting on a church’s beliefs, it’s important to know what they actually are. Our 28 Fundamental Beliefs begin like this: (1) The Holy Scriptures, (2) The Trinity, (3) God the Father, (4) God the Son, (5) God the Holy Spirit, (6) Creation. They end like this: (25) The Second Coming of Christ, (26) Death and Resurrection, (27) The Millennium and the End of Sin, (28) The New Earth. (You can easily find the full set of beliefs online.)
2. It’s true that one of our beliefs (no. 22) does focus on Christian behavior—the abundant life in Christ. This belief calls us to lifestyle choices that “produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives” (but it doesn’t prohibit swimming on Sabbath). Most of our Fundamental Beliefs, however, aren’t about our work but about God’s redemptive work through “The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ” (no. 9). This is the only “salvation issue.”
3. I completely agree that our focus should not be on the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, but on the Bible itself. We don’t believe by studying beliefs; we believe by studying Scripture. For a long time, Adventists refused to list our beliefs, saying instead, “Our only creed is Scripture.” The reason we began spelling out our beliefs was to clear up misperceptions of who Adventists really are. (Are they Christian? Why do they keep the Jewish Sabbath? Why do they avoid some foods?)
Though it was helpful to articulate what we believe, this unfortunately shifted the focus of our faith to our beliefs rather than to the basis of our beliefs: Scripture itself. In many cases we ended up teaching our own children and students Adventist beliefs (via memorized lists and multiple-choice questions) rather than teaching them how to study Scripture verse by verse.
This has resulted in a damaging environment in which many Adventist young people (and old people) think we “have” the truth without entering into the truth of God’s Word for ourselves. Surveys show that more than half of Adventists never study the Bible on their own. This is deeply ironic and the reason we are half-dying.
But there is good news. Studying Scripture brings life to the lifeless (Heb. 4:12). Yes, it takes longer to study the Bible than it does to memorize a list of beliefs. But the rewards are great as we run “to and fro” in God’s Word (Dan. 12:4, KJV), as the very first Adventists did.
4. In the meantime, enough sarcasm and cynicism about Adventist beliefs. The jokes are too easy. Sarcasm (especially among pastors and spiritual leaders) doesn’t build a spirit of faith; it only builds a spirit of sarcasm. Our statement of beliefs isn’t perfect (the prologue admits as much), but it’s our sincere attempt to express what we have found the Bible to teach, even as “our only creed is Scripture.”
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is a pastor and author who leads study tours to Israel each summer.
Years ago I was asked to lead a church that a buddy of mine, Jackie, had been leading temporarily. The situation felt delicate. “Jackie,” I asked, “how do you honestly feel about this?”
“Andy,” he said, “I completely support you. We all have to know our place in the kingdom.”
Jackie’s words amazed and humbled me—“We all have to know our place in the kingdom.” Even as Jackie recognized that this particular job fit my abilities, I also recognized that other aspects of our church perfectly fit his. As I took the mantle Jackie became my right-hand man, and together we had a wonderful working relationship.
Knowing our place in the kingdom isn’t always about stepping forward; sometimes it’s about stepping back.
A few years later I was coaching the middle school girls basketball team at our local Adventist school. While I loved coaching these girls, we weren’t winning many games. Following the season a new coach moved to the area—a great guy named Billy, whose teams had won more than 500 games through the years.
One afternoon the school principal (and a close friend) approached me. “Hey, Andy, how about letting Billy be the head coach, and you can be his assistant coach and team dad.”
Although these words stung a little, I also remembered Jackie’s words: “We all have to know our place in the kingdom.” I accepted the new arrangement, welcomed Coach Billy, and two years later our team went undefeated and won the championship. Years later we still talk about that special season together.
Knowing our place in the kingdom isn’t always about stepping forward; sometimes it’s about stepping back.
Lately I’ve been thinking about this principle as it relates to our world church. There are times we as church leaders, too, must recognize our place in God’s kingdom—even if that means stepping back and letting someone else lead. When things just aren’t going very well, stepping back from a position isn’t spiritual failure; stepping back is spiritual victory.
Here’s the risk when leaders won’t step back: the leadership vacuum may be filled with the wrong new leaders instead of the right new leaders. A new generation frustrated with leaders who may be spiritual but not gifted (for a particular position) might bring in the reverse—a generation of leaders who are gifted but not spiritual.
What God’s kingdom, and His church, always need are leaders who are both gifted and spiritual—men and women who deeply love Christ and His Word, and who recognize their place of calling. Their leadership comes naturally and easily. And when it no longer does—when they feel the seasons changing—they humbly step down, or up, to new callings that come naturally and easily once again.
For the sake of the kingdom.
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is senior pastor of LifeSource Adventist Church in Denver, Colorado. He leads a biblical study tour to Israel each summer.
It’s been 201 years since William Miller quietly became convicted from Scripture that Jesus Christ would soon return to earth. That’s a long time, especially when you consider it’s been 502 years since Martin Luther not-so-quietly nailed his own convictions onto a church door. (How is it possible that the Adventist reformation has lived two fifths of the Protestant Reformation? And that the Protestant Reformation has now stretched to more than 70 sevens?)
It’s been 175 years this month since the Great Disappointment. Jesus did not break through the clouds, leaving the first Adventists weeping and weeping until the day dawned. One hundred seventy-five years is a long time. Raise your hand if you were an Adventist living in October 1844 who thought we’d still be here in October 2019. That’s what I thought.
We must retrace the same journey as our spiritual ancestors: entering into the scriptures for ourselves.
It would be understandable for some Adventists to struggle with apathy today (even as Adventists today are probably glad they got the opportunity to be born). While our denomination continues to be one of the fastest growing on earth, these recent statistics from North America are sobering:
What’s happening? How are we doing? And what’s the antidote to apathy?
A global crisis? Certainly, if there were worldwide or even nationwide devastation, people would be driven to their Bibles and to their faith communities, as they were after September 11.
Many have experienced smaller-scale crises of faith, resulting in a stronger faith. (Indeed, when Adventists leave the church, then return, the leading reason, at 90 percent, is biblical preaching.)
But it shouldn’t have to take a crisis, nor should we wish for one. There is a better way to renew our faith.
First, we must clear out the bad stuff, even some of the good stuff, from our lives. “The first step in spiritual renewal,” writes Jim Cymbala, “is demolition.” If we find that we have no hunger for God and His Word, we might be too filled with everything else.
Second, we must retrace the same journey as our spiritual ancestors: entering into the Scriptures for ourselves. Many years ago as a young adult, I had gotten apathetic and frustrated with the Adventist Church. I knew all the Adventist beliefs; what I didn’t know well enough was the foundation of those beliefs, the Word of God itself. Taking a friend’s advice, I read through the Bible in a month . . . and never really stopped. My apathy melted away, replaced by an unshakable confidence in God’s Word.
This is the simple experience of the earliest Christians, the earliest Protestants, the earliest Adventists. It can be our experience, too—in October 2019—as Jesus prepares to break through the clouds.
*From presentations given by Lee Venden at Glacier View Ranch, January 6-9, 2019.
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is an Adventist pastor and author. He leads a biblical study tour to Israel each summer.
A young woman, Michelle Carter, was sentenced to jail after being convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy. Michelle had sent Conrad a series of text messages urging him to take his own life.
Initially Michelle had encouraged Conrad to get help for his personal problems. But over time Michelle began to get frustrated and impatient with him. It’s been speculated that she wanted to win the sympathy and attention that comes with being a grieving girlfriend.
Without dwelling further on this tragedy, here are two questions:
First, how would you feel about Michelle Carter if you were Conrad Roy’s parents? You raise your son. Like many kids, he hits some rough spots in high school. He withdraws socially. You can’t begin to imagine when he’s upstairs texting in his room that his girlfriend is encouraging your son to take his own life. How would you feel about Michelle Carter if you were Conrad Roy’s parents?
Now a second question: How would you feel about Michelle Carter if you were Michelle Carter’s parents? You are, of course, beyond horrified to learn that your daughter encouraged another family’s son to commit suicide. You can’t even bear the thought of facing his family.
After the first humans defected they experienced for the first time what God Himself experienced: parenthood.
But what are your feelings toward your own daughter, Michelle, a 17-year-old you’ve raised from diapers to onesies to pajamas to prom dresses? Do you still love her with all your heart? Would you do absolutely anything to make all this pain go away?
We don’t know exactly what it means that we were made in God’s image. But it must at least mean this: We cannot stop loving our children; we are incapable of it. God also cannot stop loving His children. He also is incapable of it.
After the first humans defected, they experienced for the first time what God Himself experienced: parenthood. For the next 900 years our first parents must have watched in horror as their children and grandchildren fell deeper and deeper into sin. Yet through it all they felt the same thing God did: unshakable love for their children.
When Cain began thinking about killing his own brother, Abel, God spoke these words to Cain: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin [or a sin offering] is crouching at your door” (Gen. 4:7).
Some scholars believe that God is warning Cain that sin is crouching at his door, like a ferocious animal. Other scholars, however, suggest a different animal lying at his door: a sacrificial lamb. Indeed, the Hebrew word chatta’t can mean “sin offering” (see Lev. 4:25), referring to an atoning sacrifice. And the Hebrew wordrobets, translated “crouches” or “lies,” can be associated with pasturing a herd or flock (see Gen. 29:2).
God might actually have been telling Cain: “Do what is right, Cain. But if you don’t do what is right, it’s not over for you. A sin offering is lying at your door. Let yourself be covered by the blood of the Lamb.” Was this God’s message of race from the very beginning . . . , from a heavenly Father unable to stop loving His children? Just like His Son.
Andy Nash ([email protected]m) is a pastor and author who leads study tours to Israel.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Ex. 20:7).
What does the third commandment really mean?
Growing up, many of us learned that the third commandment essentially meant “Don’t swear.”
It’s certainly true that Scripture teaches us not to let corrupt talk come from our mouths, but instead to speak what’s true, noble, and right. It’s interesting that nearly all forms of profanity bring down (1) God’s name, (2) God’s gift of sexuality, (3) God’s gift of the human body.
But in actuality the third commandment is about much more than using God’s name profanely. It’s about using God’s name lightly.
Is it positive or negative that we use God’s name so readily and easily in our culture today?
Here’s something to think about. Given that the Hebrew people were terrified to utter the name of God at all, how should we feel about such modern expressions as these:
It’s a God thing!
God is so good!
God is working!
God is moving!
God impressed me to tell you that . . .
We got the mortgage! Praise God!
Is it positive or negative that we use God’s name so readily and easily in our culture today? Does it just depend on the situation? Could each of these phrases be very meaningful or be very meaningless depending on the way they’re used?
For example, imagine that I can’t find my car keys for three days. Then I suddenly find my car keys and say, “God is so good! I found my keys.” Is that OK? Is this praising God for all things? Or is this using His name in vain, in an empty way?
It’s a difficult question. Maybe the answer depends on the way we live our lives more broadly.
Let’s say that when something good happens in your life, you are quick to say, “God is so good!” But this isn’t the only time you refer to God—or talk to God. Your entire life is centered on God. You rejoice in the Lord in all things, in abundant times as well as desert times.
Now let’s say that when something good happens in your life you are quick to say, “God is so good!” But this is about the only time you refer to God—when your circumstances are good. What has become your God? Your circumstances.
The third commandment is not about what we say as much as how we live. More literally the third commandment reads: “Do not carry the name of the name of the Lord in vain—do not represent the Lord Your God in an empty way.” Just as the high priest of Israel carried the names of the 12 tribes before God in the holy place, so are we, His followers, to bear His holy name in our lives. “The worst blasphemy,” writes Elton Trueblood, “is not profanity, but lip service.”
As believers, let’s resolve not to carry the name of the Lord in vain. We are not only on holy ground; we are the holy ground in which He lives, moves, and has His being.
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is an author and pastor who leads biblical study tours to Israel.
Most people read the Bible in one of three ways:
We touch it. Perhaps we receive a daily Bible verse on our mobile phones, or we randomly open our Bible and see where our eyes fall.
We hop around in it. We bounce-bounce-bounce all over our Bibles, searching for truth (or trying to prove that we’re right).
We crawl through it. In January we resolve to read through the Bible in a year. Sometimes we make it; often we don’t.
Each of these Bible reading methods has its place and can be used by God to richly bless us from His Word. If you’d like to go even deeper in your study of Scripture, here are three ways to read Scripture verse by verse—the way it was written.
1. Walk Through Scripture. God’s Word is meant to be savored, step by step. To begin (or renew) your walk in Scripture, here’s a pathway:
Select a book of Scripture: a short book, such as Ephesians, Titus, or Jonah; or a longer book, such as the Gospel of John.
Select one or two good biblical commentaries on the book.
Study one chapter at a time: Ephesians 1, Ephesians 2, etc. Freely underline and write notes in your Bible, interacting with God’s Word. Even better, have a “Meet at the Text” weekly small-group study; you’ll be refreshed by each other’s insights.
Reading through the Bible in a month will jump-start your soul.
When you’ve finished one book, move on to another, then another. You’ll begin noticing beautiful connections within God’s Word.
2. Run Through Scripture. The prophet Daniel wrote that end-time believers “shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Dan. 12:4, NKJV).* This beautiful imagery depicts believers running back and forth through the books of Scripture.
When we’ve learned how to walk in Scripture, we’re ready to run. For example, when you’ve carefully studied the book of Daniel verse by verse, you’ll be ready to study the book of Revelation verse by verse. Studying Kings and Chronicles verse by verse prepares you to study the prophets from this same time period: Isaiah and Jeremiah, Hosea and Micah.
3. Fly Through Scripture. Along with walking and running through Scripture, there’s also a time to take flight. Instead of reading through your Bible in a year, how about reading through it in a month?
Reading through the Bible in a month will jump-start your soul. The key is to read without stopping; approach the Bible as one grand story. As you fly over the windswept peaks of the Old Testament you’ll feel yourself longing for a Messiah. You’ll never forget the day you reach Matthew.
Reading through the Bible in a month isn’t as hard as it sounds: about 40 pages a day (the total pages divided by 30).
When you wake up and go to bed with Scripture, when you eat it for breakfast, lunch, and supper, God’s Word will become your daily bread. You’ll never be the same.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Andy Nash ([email protected]) is an author and pastor who leads biblical study tours to Israel.