Editor – Jose, you have spoken of the need for Adventist members to start a revolution! In sociological terms, a revolution is defined as “a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence.” You certainly aren’t calling for violence of any kind, but you are suggesting the need for Adventists to initiate a movement of positive change. Tell us more about this.
Cortez – Yes, I believe it is paramount that we as Seventh-day Adventists, individually and corporately, reflect Jesus as much as possible. We have a great message, perhaps the most complete set of beliefs anywhere in Christianity, yet having been an Adventist for over 43 years, I have noticed that we can use more love and compassion, not only in our daily lives and personal relationships but in our church life, in how we treat our own members and even more how we treat those who are not like us. Our publications, presentations, and preaching also need to take the love of God and the compassion of Jesus to the next level. We need to understand that if we have everything down pat, have the right doctrines, and believe the right things, but have no compassion, then we are wrong. At times when I look around it feels that we have a big mouth and amputated arms and legs, and this is sad. If we are the Church of Jesus, and I believe we are, we must be a lot more like He is. We must show our love to others like He did when He walked this earth.
This is why we are calling for a Movement of Compassion among Adventists across the territory of the North American Division. Just imagine members of all ages, who intentionally live out the love of God and the Compassion of Jesus in practical ways everywhere, in our homes, churches, and communities, bringing hope for the future by loving and serving people in the present.
Editor – OK. So the North American Division is calling upon its members to be more caring and compassionate, and you have a slogan and various dates where you are asking churches and individual members to focus on this emphasis. Help me out. I’m feeling like this is a corporate campaign and am struggling with how we can do this so that it doesn’t just come across as an institutional exercise in “niceness.”
Cortez – Haha, an exercise in niceness is surely much better than an exercise in meanness. Looking at the life of Jesus in the Gospels, we see that although He was the Creator, He was not known as the Creationist, He was the Lord of the Sabbath, but no one referred to Him as the Sabbatarian. He was the Alpha and Omega and knew everything about the end time yet He was not known as someone who went around scaring people off with end-time events. Although He had created the body and knew all about total health, people did not know Him as the Health Freak. Neither was He known as the Perfect One, even though He was perfect. People knew Jesus because of His love and compassion. Wherever He went people could tell that He cared for them and loved them. His love and compassion were His genuine trademark during His earthly ministry. People knew Him as the one who was moved with deep compassion for them, the One who loved them in such a way that whenever He came in touch with them, their lives became better off than before. He loved people so much; He was willing to pay the ultimate price, His life, to save humanity.
When I look at our church, I see a great need for improvement, individually beginning with my own life, and also corporately in our churches. It seems that in our desire to remain pure and to pass on our heritage we have forgotten what Jesus was all about. For years some have chosen our traditions over the very people that Jesus came to serve and save, forgetting that even our beliefs are gifts from God to bless humanity. As a church, we have put an exaggerated emphasis on things that did not define Jesus, His life and ministry, such as dress, diet, taste of music, and perfection. Yet when I read about Jesus, I realize that people did not follow Him or love Him for any of those things. People loved Jesus because Jesus loved people.
I see this Movement of Compassion as a wake-up call, a reminder to Adventists in North America that Jesus counts on us to carry on and be Him in our communities. This is a personal call not to an event or a campaign, but to a personal lifestyle with the priorities of Jesus. It is really a call to a life of discipleship and mission. The dates are there only as reminders that we are His hands and feet. We are hoping that once Adventists across North America become very intentional about this, we will all get hooked on Compassion in such a way that we won’t need dates, logos, websites, or reminders. And I must admit, it is sad that we have to do this. We are supposed to do this automatically, but we are praying that as we raise awareness, people will take a closer look and that the Holy Spirit will lead us into that “compassionate Jesus lifestyle.”
Editor – What you are saying is revolutionary, and I am with you 100 percent. In the words of Stephan C. Paul, you are saying, “It’s time to quit protecting the seed and be the flower.” As Adventists we like to be known as “the people of the Book”–meaning that everything we believe and teach comes from the Bible. But I have to say that in many ways we are more info-centric than people-centric. We have all the right information, but often fall short when it comes to treating others with compassion and grace. We need to be more intentional about turning our theology into biography.
So, give me a brief overview of your vision for changing the culture of Adventist churches in North America.
Cortez – To help change the culture in North America, we have called for Adventists across the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and the islands of Guam and Micronesia to invest 10 million hours of intentional love and service to our communities in 2016. We’ve called it Compassion 10 Million. Why 10 million? It is a number that is big enough to inspire and totally doable. With 1.2 million Adventists in North America, if we all jumped on board, that would mean about eight hours per person during a year, which is not difficult at all. But let’s say that only 500,000 Adventists make a commitment to live a compassionate lifestyle, that would be about 20 hours per person, still something very attainable, and perhaps surpassable. How can we do it? By finding the needs of the people around us and making an intentional effort to help them with their needs, not just once, but on a regular basis. Many of our churches hold a special day for service in the community per year, but somehow we forget that our communities are around every day, people live and need us all 365 days of the year. If we only pass by once in awhile and do drive-by-acts of kindness and compassion, we may never truly bless anyone long term and gain their trust. But when we dedicate time to people and become the hands and the feet of Jesus to them, and are there for them on a regular basis, individuals, families, and communities begin to be transformed, relationships are built, the name of Jesus is lifted up before people, and our churches are revitalized as people get engaged in doing for others what Jesus did.
We are encouraging each Adventist church to participate in the Compassion Weekends, a special time set aside each second weekend of the month to show the love of God and compassion of Jesus in practical ways to our communities. A weekend when the different ministries and departments of our churches get to collaborate on behalf of those who are in need. The purpose of the Compassion Weekends is to remind us of our mission and help us to create the lifestyle mindset, Compassion is not something we do, it is something we are; compassion is not an event, it is a lifestyle. Repetition can help us to create the habit of caring for people regularly. The more we do it, the more it will become part of who we are as a church.
The challenge for each Adventist and each Adventist church in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah is to go out in the streets, meet people, find out what their needs and the needs of the community are, and begin to intentionally collaborate together, as members and ministries, to fulfill those needs, always remembering that the method of Christ is the best way to bring people to Jesus. This Movement of Compassion will help transform individuals, families and communities, will revitalize our churches as more people of all ages get engaged in serving others, will usher the church into the public square (where we have been missing for a long time), and will also cause our church to grow, because after all, who does not want to hang out with people who are loving, serving, and caring.
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