Friday, December 21, 2007

Whatever Happened to Good Preaching?

I have to admit it: I have a hard time sitting through a lot of sermons these days. I think there are a number of reasons for this predicament - as a preacher, myself, I always feel antsy about being the one sitting in the pew, listening to someone else - but I think the most fundamental reason for my struggle is the fact that, quite frankly, there is very little good preaching these days. I do not write this to insinuate that I am the best preacher in the world, but to share my concern that people are not hearing the Gospel.

First, a word is in order, though. These days, a movement has been gaining momentum that diminishes the preaching of the Word. Instead of having a "traditional" service where a preacher stands up and preaches, some congregations are moving in the direction of having less preaching, and more interactive programming - whether that be small groups, where everyone participates instead of one person preaching, or other forms of "artistic" services that neglect the straight-forward proclamation of the Word.

Not only do I think this is a bad idea, but I think it's unbiblical. Sixty-one times the New Testament utilizes the Greek word kerusso (which literally means "to preach," "proclaim," or "make known"). We are told that John the Baptist came preaching, Jesus preached, and Paul "solemnly charged" his understudy, Timothy, to "preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2).

Interestingly, history also shows us what happens when the Word is or is not preached. In his book, Feed My Sheep, the great H.M.S. Richards writes, "Read your church history. Read not only what the lines say, but read between the lines, and you will see that in every age the fortunes of the church of God on earth have risen or fallen with the fortunes of preaching. Wherever preaching came up, the welfare of the church came up; wherever preaching has gone down, the church has gone down" (p. 27).

He then writes, "There came a decline in religion in spite of the beautiful churches, and the beautiful music, and the beautiful liturgy, and the beautiful art," noting that revival only came when good preaching came. "God always had a man on fire with a message from heaven. And a revival came. Revival always comes through preaching" (pp. 27, 28).

So with all this in mind, why isn't there any good preaching - at a time in earth's history when we need good preaching more than ever?

Truth be told, in the last seven or eight years, I have probably heard, at most, ten preachers who I would consider to be good preachers. This, despite the fact that I've probably heard a couple hundred speakers in that time span. What amazes me the most, though, is the fact that some of the most well-known preachers - both inside and outside of Adventism - are not among those good preachers I've heard. It boggles my mind.

I don't know how many times there has been a "buzz" about so-and-so's preaching and I will download a few sermons by them and listen to it as I drive around in my car, only to be extremely disappointed by what I hear. Ultimately, I press "forward" and listen to the next sermon, only to be disappointed as well.

And it's not as though I am just an insecure preacher who is jealous of other people's recognition in preaching circles. I truly long to sit down and listen to a sermon where my heart can yell out a hearty "Amen!" Sadly, my heart usually does not.

Admittedly, I do have high standards. But it's not just because I'm a preacher and I "dissect" every other person's sermon and try to see how technically sound they are. For the most part, I don't care if a person follows their outline to a T, has three points - and three points only - and has a perfectly polished introduction and conclusion. I just want to hear the Gospel preached, in whatever shape or form that is packaged.

So, as I've reflected on where the good preaching has gone, here are some common characteristics of the "bad" preaching I've heard, and why it disappoints me:

1. Most sermons are laced with Old Covenant thinking. This is, in actuality, probably the biggest reason for poor preaching, which is prevalent in about 98% of sermons I hear. All the other reasons are very much secondary to this main reason.

For those of you who do not know what I mean by "Old Covenant," I would encourage you to read Skip MacCarty's recent book, In Granite or Ingrained? The term "Old Covenant" does not refer, first and foremost, to two dispensations in time, but two experiences that a person can have. The Old Covenant experience is a person making promises to God, while the New Covenant experience is a person believing God's promises to him or her. This is a very simple explanation of the concept.

When God promised Abraham a son, Genesis tells us that Abraham said "Amen!" to God (he believed God) and that was that. This was a New Covenant response - Abraham believed that God would fulfill His promise. However, a chapter later, Abraham entered into an Old Covenant experience when he tried to "help" God by sleeping with Hagar. Instead of believing God's promise, Abraham took matters into his own hands.

So how does this play out in a lot of preaching? Too many times we talk more about our responsibility as Christians than what Christ has already accomplished on our behalf. Instead of saying that God takes the initiative in our relationship with Him, for example, we tell people that it is their duty to wake up 15 minutes earlier each morning to pray and read their Bible.

We have sermons on "priorities," and how we, as Christians should make sure we have our priorities straight. We may even bring up a jar with sand in it, and show how rocks won't fit in the jar if there is already sand in it. Then we'll take the sand out, put the rocks in first, and then poor the sand in it, only to amazingly discover that it all fits if we prioritize!

And thus, if we only prioritize and make God first in our lives, then everything will work out and we'll be able to fit everything in.

Nice thought . . . but where's the motivation of the Gospel? Such a presentation is a nice little illustration, but what if, instead of saying the rocks represent time with God, they represent exercise or any other thing that's good for us? In other words, the fact that we throw God in there doesn't make it any more of a Christian - or biblical - concept.

Which leads me to my next point. . .

2. A lot of preaching is simply humanism cloaked in Christian language. I've heard whole sermons that sound like an advice column in my local newspaper, or a book that belongs in the "self-help" section of Barnes & Noble. Inherent in these sermons is the idea that if you just put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything with a little education, and a lot of hard work.

Have you ever heard a whole sermon that talked about, something to the effect of, "Ten steps to improving your marriage"? One of those steps may be "praying together," but even that can be humanistic if it is simply another step to achieving perfection.

Or how about, "Learning to forgive others"? The idea of forgiveness may sound like a biblical idea, for sure, but a whole sermon will be spent quoting the latest psychology or scientific data, but never once quote the Bible. The preacher will stand up and say, "We cannot forgive others, until we first forgive ourselves." That's a nice thought, but was it James or Peter that wrote that in one of their epistles? I haven't found it yet.

Sadly, if the Christian experience is simply a Twelve-Step program that is devoid of the motivation of the Gospel message, then it is simply humanism - the idea that human beings have some type of inherent goodness that they can uncover within themselves - masquerading around, taking the Lord's name in vain.

3. There's too much frosting. Admittedly, I am probably guilty of this myself, at times, but this is also a dangerous ditch to fall into. A preacher gets up and tells feel-good story after feel-good story - which may or may not be true - and then tells us that Jesus loves us.

One of the things I appreciate the most about Dwight Nelson's preaching - and his teaching - is his concept of the "Indicative" and the "Imperative." Every sermon, he says, must contain the "indicative" (the done) and the "imperative" (the do). Most preaching is either one or the other, but very little of it is both. We must first tell our audiences what Christ has accomplished on His cross - He has secured salvation for humankind - and then we must tell them what their motivated response will be.

One of my favorite illustrations for this concept is Nicolaus von Zinzendorf's conversion experience in the 18th century. While traveling around Europe as a teenager, he came across a painting that portrayed Christ, bleeding and gasping for His last breath on the cross. Underneath the painting, the sobering words read, "All this I did for thee; what doest thou for Me?"

That's the indicative and the imperative! Christ went to Calvary for us, what are we going to do in response to Him? In light of the indicative truth of the cross, paying tithe, giving up smoking, surrendering an addiction to pornography - all these things seem pretty easy to me. I am responding to Christ's indicative actions on Calvary, and I am willing to do anything for Him.

I cannot preach all frosting all the time - too much of it makes people want to vomit. Nor can I preach the imperative all the time - that's the epitome of Old Covenant thinking and it burns people out. But every call to action in my preaching must be couched in the indicative truth of Christ's accomplishments.

4. And, finally, many times I don't know what the preacher is trying to say. This is the one technical aspect that I will mention. Please, make your Big Idea abundantly clear! Don't have 17 points for a sermon. Don't even have three points, contrary to what many preaching professors tell you! Just try one point, and stick to that (contrary to this blog post!!).

One of my favorite quotes comes from the pen of the great C. S. Lewis: "I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused." This does not mean that a person cannot share deeper theological insights. It's just - try to simplify it for the common man. If you cannot, then you probably don't know what you're talking about to begin with.

Thank you for taking the time to read this whole thing. Sorry for the longness! If you've reached this point, congratulations! Again, I do not write these things to be critical, only to encourage people to preach the Gospel!

In essence, bad preaching is the result of a misunderstanding of the Gospel. That's really what it comes down to. I don't care if you're technically solid - if you don't understand the Gospel, your sermon will not connect. A person can dress up a dead man all he wants, but that ain't going to help him sing.

The same goes for sermons. We can dress them up all we want, but if the preacher doesn't have a fundamental understanding of the Gospel, then that sermon ain't going to sing.

Have a happy Sabbath.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Good Lady

It's too bad more of us don't read "Sister White" more often. She actually has some good things to say if we get past the whole squabbling over her role as a prophet.

I have been reading The Ministry of Healing for the first time, and yesterday I came across this quote that just about everyone can probably agree with, no matter what side of the aisle you may sit on: "The inhumanity of man toward man is our greatest sin" (p. 163). That's quite a statement to make! And, indeed, one need not observe a church potluck too long to realize that oftentimes we can be downright nasty towards one another.

She goes onto write, "Many think that they are representing the justice of God while they wholly fail of representing His tenderness and His great love." How I need to remember this every day!

God can plant that tenderness and love in our hearts. It does not come natural to us, but "He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Boston: City of Champs or City of Chumps? Part 2

I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong.

The Patriots are not evil - at least not every single player on the team. And, hey, maybe Bill Belichick isn't so evil himself.

For those of you who didn't read my previous post- wondering out loud if the Patriots were poor sports, bad fathers, and chronic adulterers - I reflected upon that a few weeks ago. Initially I planned on writing a "Part 2" that talked about the Red Sox - a team that was supposedly cursed for 86 years but finally won a championship three years ago, and followed it up with another one this year. But something happened between then and now.

First of all, I read this article, which makes Bill Belichick appear a little more human, and a little more likable - not that I ever disliked him (the most amazing part of the article is the story about Belichick pulling over on the highway to help a motorist who flipped over. He was only one of two people that actually pulled over to help the person, though there were probably about 500 cars that drove by on the busy stretch of highway).

Though I will not excuse his character flaws, I have always believed he is a misunderstood person, who is super paranoid and self-conscious around people he doesn't feel "safe" with. Anybody who has ever had the chance to listen to him being interviewed on Monday afternoons on WEEI in Boston, knows that he lets his hair down and actually jokes around with people he knows. Why? Because he feels like he's in a "safe environment." In that regard, he's no different than most other people.

And then there's the event I just went to on Monday night. My wife, my dad, my cousin and I all got free tickets to the seventh annual "Athletes in Action," banquet, held at Gillette Stadium. This banquet honors athletes in Boston who display high Christian character. In particular, Heath Evans, who is a fullback for the Patriots, was given the "Ernie Tavilla Award." This award is given to the athlete who "demonstrates outstanding leadership and character on the field, in the home, and in the community." Past recipients have included Red Sox players Trot Nixon and Mike Timlin, as well as Patriots player Don Davis.

It was a very inspiring night. We had VIP tickets - worth $150 - which allowed us to get there an hour early and meet some of the players that were in attendance. We met and talked with Patriots Kyle Brady, Kevin Faulk and Billy Yates. I also got to meet former Red Sox legend Dwight Evans, and radio announcer Joe Castiglione. I talked with Castiglione for about 15 minutes. He's a very nice guy (pictured with me above). I grew up listening to him on the radio and, in fact, listened to him on the radio during this year's World Series race, since I don't have a TV.

All of these men are of fine Christian character, and they were very inspiring. We talked with Kyle Brady for about five minutes (pictured below). He was very personable and seemed like a very genuine man. I also spent a few minutes talking with Kevin Faulk, who I noticed was limping quite a bit. When I asked him if he was all right and going to be able to play this week, he said that he definitely would be able to. I read reports that he didn't practice yesterday, though!

Billy Yates is a very nice guy, and he made it a point to remember my name, as well as Camille's and Shannon's. He is from Texas and he talked with Camille a little bit about the fact that she went to college in Texas, though he, of course, had never heard of Southwestern Adventist University! He is a very nice and humble guy, though. Just seems like a "regular Joe."

Speaking of a regular Joe: Joe Castiglione also shared a lot about his faith, and the fact that he and Red Sox third baseman, Mike Lowell (the World Series MVP) go to church together every Sunday they're on the road. In fact, the day of game 4 of the World Series - which was a Sunday - Castiglione said that he, his wife, and Lowell went to church in Colorado. It just so happens that the priest was from Boston, and he asked the audience if there were any Red Sox fans in attendance. Castiglione and his wife raised their hands, but Lowell kept his hand down because he didn't want to make a big scene.

It is a funny little story, but cool to know that the day the Red Sox won the World Series, Lowell - who seems like an incredibly nice guy whenever I've seen him being interviewed - made it a point to be in church.

The most inspiring part of the night, though, was Heath Evans' acceptance speech. He brought up his Bible and talked for about 15 minutes, assuring us that football pails in comparison to knowing Christ. On his priority list, God is first, his family second, and football is somewhere way down there. Football is unfulfilling, he said, and most players - whether they're Christian or not - admit that. They are constantly searching for something more.

This is definitely evident in his quarterback, Tom Brady, who said a few years ago in an interview on 60 Minutes, "Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, 'Hey man, this is what is.' I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it's gotta be more than this. I mean this can't be what it's all cracked up to be. I mean I've done it. I'm 27. And what else is there for me?" The interviewer asked, "What is it?" And all Brady could say in reply was, "I wish I knew. I wish I knew." I'm sure Heath Evans, for one, is doing his best to try and model what it is that Brady is looking for by the way he lives. He may not proselytize in the locker room, but people see the way he lives and yearn for the same thing, no doubt.

Evans wanted to make sure that everyone at the banquet had a personal experience with Christ, and said that he was willing to stay until 2:30 in the morning to talk with anyone who didn't know Him. He opened his Bible and read a long passage of scripture - when Christ washed His disciples feet - and was blown away by the thought of God washing the feet of created beings. This inspires him. And it should inspire all of us as well.

No, Boston sports stars aren't perfect - and they are not the only athletes in America who display Christian character. But it's at least nice to know that some of the men I cheer for can be admired, and they are not afraid of pointing people to Christ.

For a few more pictures of the night, please check out this link.

Shannon and Camille, checking out a foggy Gillette Stadium.

Monday, November 26, 2007

All or Nothing

I've been going through the book of Luke for my personal devotion and study time. It's been a big blessing. In particular, this morning I came across a very simple yet profound description of Jesus' first encounter with Levi Matthew. After approaching Levi and saying, "Follow Me," Luke's next words are sobering.

Luke simply writes, "So he left all . . . "

And herein lies my problem. Could the same be said of me? "So he left all . . . "

Of course, as with a previous post, we must ask, "How much of 'all' is all?" Certainly we see he didn't leave his house, family or friends. The next verse tells us that he held a party in his house for Jesus, and invited all of his tax collector friends to party it up with them. Yet I'm quite sure that Levi left his livelihood behind. The millions of dollars that he illegitimately earned through fraudulent tax collecting were left behind. His wealth was no longer a priority.

I don't have millions of dollars stored away like Levi did, of course, but there are things in my life that I should naturally want to leave behind when Christ says, "Follow Me." You have the same, no doubt.

Yet something struck me as I ran through this little passage. How often do we make such a big deal when Christ asks us to follow Him, feeling as if we're losing out on something when we "leave all"?

I can't help but think of one of my favorite quotes in Steps to Christ. Ellen White writes, "But what do we give up, when we give all? A sin-polluted heart, for Jesus to purify, to cleanse by His own blood, and to save by His matchless love" (p. 46).

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me! We give Christ our sin, our unrighteousness, our filthy rags - and He gives us Himself. He clothes us in His perfect robe of righteousness - He places a Giorgio Armani suit on us - in exchange for the tattered and torn clothes that we are wearing.

Almost in anticipation of our incredibly confused minds, Ellen White goes onto say in the very next sentence, "And yet men think it hard to give up all! I am ashamed to hear it spoken of, ashamed to write it."

Luke didn't lose anything that day when he left all. He gained all.

And what about me?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How do you meet people?

I am one of those terrible people who has very few friends outside of the Seventh-day Adventist church. In fact, right now, I'm not sure that I would be able to name you one person that I would consider a very good friend, who is not an Adventist - or, at least was not an Adventist at one point.

Living in a town that is 40 miles from my employment doesn't help, either. The only real interaction I have with people in my town is at the Post Office, where I have to pick up my mail since I live too close to it for them to deliver my mail to my door (that seems kind of backwards - I would have thought they would force me to pick it up at the Post Office if I lived too far away).

Thus, I am petitioning all of my faithful readers to give me ideas as to how to simply meet new people, and just get to know them. I don't necessarily want to have an agenda, where I have to baptize them in the next three months. While I am not opposed to ultimately bringing them to a saving experience with Christ (assuming they don't already have one), I don't necessarily think that my interactions will be the, "Are you saved?" variety.

One thing that has always made me timid as well, is striking up a conversation with females. I am extremely paranoid and self-conscious of the possibility of looking like I am trying to "hit" on a lady, especially ones that are around my age. This is a very delicate issue.

So, please share some ideas with me. I am open to anything. While I consider myself to be a fairly outgoing person, this is one area that I struggle with. How does a person go from the casual, "Hi! How are you?" stage of interaction, to a deeper, "Tell me about yourself" stage, especially when the only real interaction you may have with a person is walking past them as you exit the Post Office, or buying a stamp from them?

Here is a quick snapshot I just took this morning, by the way, of our first real snow fall of the year. It's a wonderful time to be in New England!

Friday, November 16, 2007

What came first?

Do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do God?

The other night at prayer meeting at one of my churches, we got to talking about forgiveness, an ever-present, ever-needed discussion. Although I wasn't leading out, it became apparent to me that a few people in the room were dealing with doubts about forgiveness in general, and God's forgiveness in particular.

Thankfully, a few of the other people wanted to assure the others in the room that if we just came to God, then He would forgive us. "We have to be repentant first, though," one said, "But God will definitely forgive us if we ask Him."

Ever-so-tactfully, I decided to interject and steer the conversation back to something Jesus did. As the Roman soldiers gambled over Jesus' garments, Luke tells us that Jesus looked down and said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Bible, but the implications of it are incredible. Here were these men, gambling over Jesus' clothes, not the least bit repentant, yet Jesus had already forgiven them. The reality is, I told the people at prayer meeting, is that Jesus already forgives us even before we ever ask Him, or even before we are ever repentant.

This concept is scary to some people, I guess. One of the attendees, who was a visitor, seemed very uncomfortable with the idea. "No, we have to be repentant first before God can forgive us," he said. So then I asked him, along with everyone else, "Does God expect us to forgive each other, even if they don't ask for it, or are not the least bit repentant?" "Yes," came the response from everyone else, though this man didn't say anything. "Then why wouldn't we expect the same from God?"

The truth of the matter is, God's forgiveness towards us is dependent only on one thing - His cross. It is not dependent on my request, my repentance, my penance. It is only dependent on His objective accomplishment on Calvary.

Of course, you and I will never experience the power of that forgiveness until we come to a personal understanding of our wretchedness and our need for repentance. But, as Paul writes in Romans 2:4, even that repentance is a response to God's objective goodness that He has already accomplished and displayed on Calvary. "It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance," is how he puts it.

In light of God's ever-present forgiveness, we are drawn to His bleeding side, humbled by our desperate need for His cleansing grace.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Review of "The God Delusion"

H. Allen Orr has a very good critique of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The critique is very good, making many points that I would also bring up. If you've read the book, or even if you haven't, I would encourage you to check out the link.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Boston: City of Champs or City of Chumps? Part 1

Fact: Boston is arguably the greatest sports city in the world (and by the "world," you, of course, know that I mean the United States). Nowhere will you find a region with such passion for its sports teams. And with recent championships to match its passion, no city - or region, for that matter - has as much to talk about and celebrate as Boston and New England.

After being "cursed" and not winning a World Series for 86 years, the Red Sox have now won two championships in four years. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the last six years, and are having a historical season this year, with some national commentators labeling them the greatest team of all time. The Celtics, on the other hand, had one of the greatest off-seasons of all time and are hoping to raise another banner to their over-filled rafters. The Boston College Eagles are ranked #2 in the country in college football, and even the woeful Bruins are having a good season so far.

As a life-long Boston sports die-hard, you would think that I would be happy. But something isn't quite sitting well with me.

Until now, I have tried to avoid writing about sports on my blog. Though, ashamedly, it takes up quite a bit of my thinking, I haven't wanted to write about these things on here when there are things of far greater importance to discuss. I am not proud of the attention I give to this pasttime, and it's something I've struggled with for a while. But I felt I needed to bring up a few points.

Let's start with the New England Patriots. For six or seven years now, these losers of years-gone-by have been on the top of the NFL world. After winning three Super Bowls in seven years, every other franchise in sports has wanted to emulate their "team-first" model. Their owner has been a first-class owner, who has always tried to bring in high-character players. The coach emphasizes team over individual glory. The quarterback is one of the hardest working players in all of professional sports. All of these attributes are certainly admirable, even from a Christian perspective (however flawed the foundation of sports is in the first place - an "I win, you lose" mentality that is antithetical to the gospel).

This year, the Patriots have assembled one of the most talented group of athletes one football team has ever collected, and it has paid off so far. They are on pace to set a whole slew of individual and team records. This next week's game against the Indianapolis Colts has been labeled the greatest regular season game of all time.

But all is not well in the world. At one point, everyone in the NFL loved the Patriots. They were the underdogs who came out of nowhere - a "David vs. Goliath" story every week they played. Now everyone hates them. One writer has labeled their upcoming game with the Colts a game of "Good vs. Evil" saying that "The fact that I don't even need to tell you which team represents Good and which stands for Evil says a lot about how low New England has sunk." Imagine using such superlatives to talk about a football game - a football game!

Why the sudden disdain for the Patriots, though? Because they're a bunch of classless cheaters, who run up the score versus other teams, according to many critics. For those who don't know, the Patriots were caught cheating earlier this year, videotaping their opponents signals. Besides the fact that the videotaping wasn't really all that beneficial, everyone has now spewed their collective venom towards our darling Patriots.

Coach Bill Belichick - who no one outside of New England has ever liked, anyway, since he's tight-lipped and "arrogant" - refused to talk about the incident, causing people to wonder how much cheating the Patriots have been engaged in over the past years. Many have even called into question their previous Super Bowl victories, wondering if they used such tactics then.

And what have the Patriots done since then? They have, in essence, stuck it to the league. There is no doubt that Belichick, who holds a grudge like no other figure I have ever seen in sports, is trying to run up the score in the games they are playing, pretty much breaking every rule of etiquette in football. Yesterday, they were winning 38-0 in the fourth quarter - a lead that no one has ever surrendered in the fourth quarter - and they were still gunning for the End Zone. They ended up winning 52-7.

After the game, the opposing coach, Joe Gibbs, hardly spoke to Belichick - if at all - in the obligatory hand-shake. He was visibly upset, though in his press conference, he said that he had "no problem" with what the Patriots did. The players, on the other hand, weren't as cordial. "That was blatant disrespect," said one player, who confronted Belichick after the game about the move, "I hope we can see them again, definitely. You don't see Joe Gibbs doing that. You can't even imagine that kind of stuff coming from him. . . This isn't like college going for power rankings. This is the pros you show some respect, show some class."

There is no doubt what Belichick was trying to accomplish. He, once again, shrugged off the idea after the game, however. Earlier in the week, he said in reference to these situations, "When you're playing defense it's your job to stop them. It's not (the offense's) job to not score. It's like I tell the offense, what the (bleep) do you think I send you guys out there for? To punt? We have a punt team for that. That's not your job. Your job is to go out there and score points. If you come off the field and you haven't scored points you haven't done your job."

What seems like a little silly football issue has many people fuming. And from a purely humanistic perspective, I can't fault the Patriots for scoring as much as they can, and "getting back" at all those naysayers who have questioned their integrity (of course, you don't prove your integrity by throwing out your integrity). But, as a Christian who follows sports, I cannot check my morals at the door when I watch a game. Though they are playing a sport and they're paid to score as many points as possible, these are still people with hearts and minds who are deserve respect, no matter what they may have said about you.

And I feel terribly about Belichick's behavior towards Joe Gibbs, one of the classiest men in all of sports. Himself a Christian, I know that he treats other people with respect and dignity, yet Belichick kicked the man while he was down, showing little respect for a man who has accomplished so much - both in football and, more importantly, in life.

This isn't the only fault of the Patriots, of course, beginning with their cheating in the first place. The fact that they are not alone in their cheating - every team in every sport does something that is illegal in order to get an advantage - does not acquit them, it merely indicts the whole system of sport-worship that we have bought into. And, in many ways, we are the reason for the cheating. We pay millions of dollars, devote thousands of minutes, and become hysterical to the point of violence in the name of sport. How can we then fault these professionals who are only trying to do everything they can to surpass our expectations and demands?

Belichick's personal life isn't one that I should necessarily admire, either. I may root for him one day a week, but how can I ignore the other six? Though I realize we are all in need of God's grace, this is a man who is accused of having had an affair some years ago, thus forcing his wife to leave him. He is also the man whose son, while traveling around Europe with the family a few years ago, came up to him and asked, "Dad, who is this man?" It was a statue of Jesus (In his defense, Belichick said he wasn't proud of the incident). He also has a son - whether the same one, or another, I'm not sure - who was arrested a few years ago for marijauna possession. I'm sure it's not a coincidence that Belichick will often spend all night in his office at the stadium, "game planning" for his next opponent.

And then there's the "Poster Boy" Tom Brady, that of GQ fame, who is dating one of the world's most glamorized Super Models - and he ain't too shabby looking himself. This, after impregnating his former girlfriend, who he dated for three years. When the story first broke about his ex's impending motherhood, there wasn't even a peep out of the man, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. He had his spokesman issue a statement, as he was seen in Paris with his new flame (I'm sure, after making a mistake the first time, Brady made sure that he and his new lady had separate rooms for their romantic weekend excursion). As many have pointed out, I can't help but wonder what people would be saying if Tom Brady were black.

And these are the people I cheer for every Sunday. I overlook their inefficiencies, not because it's the Christian thing to do, but because they keep me entertained week in and week out.

What a terrible monster we've created.

Friday, October 26, 2007

All Means All

I remember Dwight Nelson asking the question a few years back in a sermon, "How much of all is all?" Seems like a silly question, I know, but the implications are profound. Believe it or not, there are many people in varying circles of Adventism and Christianity-at-large that debate the all-ness of all.

The question finds relevancy in a passage of scripture that, perhaps, has not gotten enough attention in the debate. I realized the full weight of Isaiah's message last week as I prepared to preach my first sermon in my new district. Isaiah's message in chapter 53 juxtaposes two camps in the atonement drama. There is the "us/we" and the "Suffering Servant" - who Christians have long identified as Jesus Christ.

Sixteen times in vv. 1-6 does Isaiah utilize the first person plural pronoun. He speaks of "our iniquity," "our griefs," "our peace," "our sorrows," etc. No place is this more evident, however, than in v. 6 where he says that "all of us" have gone astray. There is no qualification for the "all." All means all.

I'm reminded of the British theologian G. K. Chesterton, who once responded to an article in The Times of London that asked, "What's Wrong With the World?" Chesterton wrote a letter to the editor, saying simply, "I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton."

How often we like to pass the buck. But "all" means all. We sometimes like to excuse our problems, gloss them over, or even twist scripture to justify our own sinfulness, and say that something or someone else is what's wrong with the world. But "all" means all.

Wonderfully, however, Isaiah's message doesn't end there. The verse is an inclusio in Hebrew, enveloped in the words "all of us" at the beginning and end of the sentence. "All of us" have gone astray, Isaiah writes, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of "all of us." The "all" who have gone astray, are the "all" that Christ has suffered death for.

There is no qualification for the "all" in either instance. Isaiah isn't simply speaking for Israel or Christians, who would come later. His book addresses not only God's people, but the surrounding heathen nations. Just as all human beings have gone astray, so, also, all humans have had their iniquity laid on Christ, resulting in justification for all. Christ didn't simply have the iniquity of "some" laid upon Him - "some" who would later accept His gift - but He had the iniquity of "all" laid upon Him.

That's good news. How much of all is all? All! Isaiah's message unequivocally declares the infinite reaches of Christ's atoning sacrifice. Christ gave all, that He might save all.

Will "all" be in heaven? Sadly, no. Just as Christ healed ten lepers, only to have one return in gratitude, many will throw away the gift that Christ accomplished on His cross.

Are you one of the nine ungrateful, or would you like to join the one in infinite gratitude?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

And you think chapel on Adventist campuses is not well attended?

So I went to a chapel service at Dartmouth College today.

Originally a school to train missionaries to reach Native Americans, this Ivy League School is very secular now. But I still didn't expect to encounter what I did at the service.

I found out about the weekly service when I walked around the campus last week. A sign outside Rollins Chapel says, "Weekly chapel service, Thursdays at 12:30 PM. All are welcome." I felt like I qualified for the "all," so I returned this week. Running a few minutes late, I noticed a lone bike sitting up against the outside wall. I walked up to one of the massive gothic doors, swung it open and, to my surprise, saw that the chapel was empty.

But then I heard something - someone speaking. So I walked through the dark lobby toward the sanctuary, only to realize that the service was being held in one of the side alcoves. When I rounded the corner, I looked, and to my utter shock, there was only a handful of people sitting in the wooden chairs, listening to the chaplain give his weekly address.

Sitting down in the back row, I counted the number of individuals there. Twelve - besides myself and the chaplain.

Twelve! In a school of 6000 students and almost 700 faculty, there were only 12 people in the whole building. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I wasn't expecting thousands, but I was expecting more than a handful, too.

It's sobering. College campuses are the bastions of secularism - especially those that pride themselves on being academically elite, like the Ivy League schools in this part of the country. But some how, some way, they've got to be reached.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Enzyme

I came across a very intriguing DVD a few months ago that, at first, I thought was a little tacky. Though I didn't actually watch the DVD, I went on the website and viewed the trailer and was very impressed by it. It is produced by Enzyme Productions and the first DVD is called [Re:]ally.

The reason for my skepticism is because it is very Rob Bell/Nooma-esque in its approach. But I think, judging from the trailer, that it is a whole lot better than Nooma and it seeks to go deeper than that series. Starring David Asscherick, [Re:]ally is geared towards the secular audience and the questions they may grapple with concerning God. One of my friends, Justin Kim, is a writer and producer for the series, and I applaud these guys for thinking outside the box. Though Asscherick, et al., are cut out of "conservative cloth," you have to tip your hat your hat for them. They have gone far beyond anything 3ABN has ever produced.

I would encourage you to check out the website here, maybe even order a DVD. I know that I plan on getting one soon. I think it will be very effective in the secular audience in which I live and minister (and, no, I don't get any royalties from this plug).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Six Questions With . . . Robert Wieland

Robert J. Wieland is a retired missionary and an ordained minister living in California. He has served the church in varying capacities for over 50 years. Born into a Lutheran home, he discovered the Sabbath truth while attending Sunday School at a Presbyterian church when he was in High School. After attending Southern Junior College for two years, he had to withdraw when he could not pay his tuition. He later went on to attend Washington Missionary College, and it was there that he discovered the beauty of the gospel by reading The Glad Tidings, by E. J. Waggoner. His love for these truths met with opposition, and he was told that there was no place “in the work” for him. As a result, he colporteured for a short time, with little success, and it was then that the General Conference publishing director helped him eventually find a position pastoring a small church. From there, he went on to become a missionary in Africa. In the 1950’s, he, along with Donald K. Short, first started to raise the General Conference’s consciousness about the church’s rejection of the message of Righteousness by Faith, as proclaimed by E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones at the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since then, Wieland and Short (who is now deceased) have continued to proclaim this message, ultimately publishing the book 1888 Re-Examined in 1987. In addition to this book, he has also published over 20 other books, including Corporate Repentance, In Search of the Cross, and Grace on Trial. Now 92, he is still as hopeful as ever that the Lord will return during his lifetime.

1. For the last 50+ years, you and the late Donald Short have been promoting the 1888 message and calling for a corporate repentance for the church's rejection of the message. What has changed since you first began?

[I] must make [it] plain, DKS [Donald K. Short] and I do not "call for denominational repentance"; we have said that the Laodicean message describes our denominational history, and verse 19 is the Lord Jesus Himself calling for corporate and denominational repentance. Over a hundred times Ellen White has said that "we" in a corporate sense brought on our record denominationally the sin of "insulting" the Holy Spirit and rejecting Christ "just like the Jews" and the guilt "in a great degree" of withholding the message from our people and from the world. The prime issue: is this true? Arthur L White led the General Conference personnel to believe that as leadership, "we" accepted the message and we have it as our firm possession, and "we" have been proclaiming the Loud Cry message intact ever since. We are "in need of nothing."

Has anything changed in half a century? Yes, thousands of people around the world have a rudimentary knowledge now of the significance of our SDA history. They can now pray intelligently and are better equipped to meet the issues of the last days. Anyone who wants to learn about the story of the latter rain and the loud cry beginning among us can find information readily available.

2. In what way(s) are many Adventists guilty of "Baal worship" today?

Only unconsciously. But that was the case with the people also in the days of Elijah—apostasy had come on them gradually, and Elijah understood. Ellen White recognized that the rejection of the message in 1888 would make possible deception into a counterfeit. She recognized in Jones and Waggoner's message the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of Elijah: before the great and terrible day of the Lord. Baal worship is the subtle deception of the worship of self disguised as the worship of Christ. The widespread adulation of people and leaders is evidence.

3. What has been the general attitude toward you in the past few years among the church governing body?

A sincere effort was made by a former General Conference president over a decade ago to investigate the 1888 history and message (the "Primacy of the Gospel Committee"). The chairman at first showed a keen interest and seemed to be understanding; then when the president had to resign, the opponents took over the committee. The original agreement was that if the committee should end in disagreement, both sides would make a report to be published by the General Conference. But only one was published.

4. According to your understanding, what is the main idea of the 1888 message that the church finds so repulsive?

The ultimate answer: the idea of overcoming sin per se, and thus preparing to honor Christ at the close of probation. The 1888 idea of the cleansing of the sanctuary is misrepresented as the false doctrine of "perfectionism."

5. At this late stage in your life, do you think that Christ will return while you're still alive?

I am in my 92nd year; I cherish the same faith in the nearness of the Lord's return as I held when I was baptized at the age of 12—I thought the Lord would come so soon that I would not be able to finish high school. This is what the Bible speaks of as "the blessed hope." I cherish it today. I understand that the Lord Jesus Himself wants to come; the ongoing misery in the world weighs on His heart, He longs to put an end to sin and cruelty. But He cannot act unilaterally because He has taken upon His sinless nature our sinful nature and has become forever one of the human race. The original dictum is still true, "it is not good that the man should be alone," and that applies to Jesus as the Son of God and now the Son of man. He must have "an help meet," a bride who can understand Him and sympathize with Him. It is she, not He, who has delayed "the marriage of the Lamb." The agenda before the church now is to grow up out of our spiritual infancy, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, prepared to stand at His side as a bride stands at the side of her husband whom she has learned to know and to appreciate for what he is. She gives him her heart.

In order for this development to take place it is necessary that the church learn to "comprehend" the length, breadth, depth, and height of the love (agape) of Christ. The latter rain and the loud cry are not emotional excitement, but a message, the ultimate one of Christ and Him crucified. The church at present does not comprehend what Christ accomplished by His sacrifice on the cross. The Sunday-keeping Evangelical understanding has gradually and unconsciously absorbed our attention. The "third angel's message in verity" will be Christ and Him crucified in its ultra high fidelity reality of truth.

6. Why hasn't Christ returned yet?

The "most precious message" that "the Lord in His great mercy sent" to prepare a people for Christ's coming has been kept from the church and from the world "in a great degree." He dares not come until His people are ready; otherwise they would perish by the brightness of His coming.

Be of good courage in the Lord. He will bless your work; let us trust Him. Even if He permits you to meet opposition. Hang on. Please keep me personally in the background as much as you can. The ultimate blessing to come on the church must not be of a personal nature. Self must forever be out of sight.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Halo 3, Jesus and You

Tying in very nicely with a previous post I had, Alex Carpenter on the Spectrum blog has noted this recent article in the New York Times about many church's - including "Conservative" evangelical churches - usage of Halo 3 as a means to bring youth into the pews. The article is absolutely astounding. Even Dobson's "Focus on the Family" is non-committal about the evils of using such tactics.

Once again, it is apparent that we will do anything to chase after the almighty numbers game. The ends justify the means. And Adventists aren't immune to this, either, of course. Until we truly understand the gospel, we will have to continue to use such gimmicks. Sadly, we are baptizing many but converting few.

Read Alex's very appropriate response here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

“Isn’t God great?”

Richard Dawkins has provocatively—and wrongly—proposed, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”[1] While those of us who have a higher view of God would rightfully object to such a gross suggestion, perhaps we need to give such objections a little more contemplation.

A few weeks ago, I sat in on a Sabbath School class that was discussing the story of Ahab and Jezebel. Following the lesson quarterly faithfully—as every Adventist does, of course—the teacher came to the climactic end of Jezebel’s life, using such vivid language to describe the last few moments of the wicked queen’s life. After explaining how Jezebel was thrown out her window and splattered onto the ground below, only to be licked up by dogs, without missing a beat, the teacher excitedly said to his mesmerized audience, “Isn’t God great?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, God is great. But certainly not for the reason that this well-intentioned teacher has in mind.

For some odd reason, many of us gloss over the gory portions of scripture and we take disturbing delight in reading about Israel’s many victories, however bloody they may have been. As youngsters, we imagine that battle field long ago, when little David—fresh from playing on his little harp—knocked down the giant Goliath and cut off his head. And then we say, “Wow, what a wonderful God we serve!” Or we sing, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a tum-ba-ling down,” thinking nothing of the lives that came to a premature end that day.

Truth be told, too many of us have a “Yeah! God really gave it to those suckers” attitude, as if those people simply got what they deserved, while we sit snuggly in our corner of self-righteousness, left alone by a God who could—and probably should—get rid of the whole sorry bunch that we are. And we lick our chops, looking forward to the day when all the wicked will finally fry in the lake of fire, paid back for all the evil things they have viciously done.

But some how, I don’t think God feels the same way.

When we read these sad accounts in the Old Testament—and a few, surprisingly, in the New—and hardly bat an eyelash, desensitized by the much more noble pursuit of celebrating God’s victories and deliverance, God’s heart breaks. It broke when He did it, and it breaks every time He thinks about it. Much like Israel of old, who slaughtered so many lambs that they forgot how painful it was supposed to be, we have missed the important fact that God hates to take life.

He says as much. In the book of Isaiah, when the prophet describes God rising up and being angry, he describes it as a “strange act” for God. The Hebrew word for “strange” is zur, and it has the connotation of being foreign, or literally coming from another family. What Isaiah tries to tell us is that God’s anger or wrath is not par for the course. It is totally contrary to His character.

Similarly, God plainly says in Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’ ”

Why is it, then, that those of us who supposedly follow this same God, find so much pleasure where He does not? Why do we take pleasure—however deep down inside our hearts we may hide it—when Saddam hangs, or McVay fries? Why do we have a sick sense of satisfaction when a Catholic priest gets murdered in prison, or a homosexual contracts AIDS?

Truth be told, in some backwards kind of way, I feel that atheists like Richard Dawkins are mildly justified in describing God in such terms, because they are describing the god that we have introduced to them—a god who is made in our image. Can you expect anything more when someone like Dawkins gets letters from “loving” Christians, saying stuff like:

I'd love to take a knife, gut you fools, and scream with you as your insides spill out in front of you. You are attempting to ignite a holy war in which some day I, and others like me, may have the pleasure of taking action like the above mentioned. . . However, GOD teaches us not to seek vengeance, but to pray for those like you all. . . . I'll get comfort in knowing that the punishment GOD will bring to you will be 1000 times worse than anything I can inflict. the best part is that you WILL suffer for eternity for these sins that you're completely ignorant about. The wrath of GOD will show no mercy. For your sake, I hope the truth is revealed to you before the knife connects with your flesh. Merry CHRISTMAS!!!

PS You people really don’t have a clue as to what is in store for you . . . I thank GOD I’m not you.[2]

Sadly, this is the attitude far too many of us have.

But let us listen to our Lord: “As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’ ”

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31.

[2] Ibid., 211, 212.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Book Review: "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I stumbled across a book the other day while I was in Barnes & Noble. After searching unsuccessfully for about an hour to find a book that looked appetizing enough, I quickly decided on this one. To say the least, it was one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a while.

A New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea is the riveting story of a man who has done more to fight terrorism and promote peace in Central Asia than any grenades the US military has thrown, or bombs they have dropped. It’s the story of how much of a difference one man can make.

In 1993, Greg Mortenson’s attempt to climb the world’s second highest—and probably toughest—mountain, K2, was derailed. After failing to reach the top, and ultimately losing his way, he stumbled into a remote village in northern Pakistan. For the next few months, the kind and gracious people in the village nurtured him back to health. Overwhelmed with gratitude toward the people, he promised them that he would return and build a school for the village—something the Pakistani government had promised, but never delivered.

When he returned to the United States, his whole existence revolved around raising money so he could return and build the school. To save all the money he could, he had a dramatic change in lifestyle and decided to live in his car, as well as keeping his other expenses to a bare minimum.

Finally, after a year, he had enough money to return to the village to start building the school. Unfortunately, there were a number of speed bumps along the way, but the school was finally completed. Thinking that he would simply return to America and resume his life, one of his biggest financial backers convinced Mortenson to go into the work full time, and he has subsequently built 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as providing aid and help to a number of other government-funded schools. All this he has done in one of the most impoverished and war-torn regions in the world.

The book is full of adventure and raises the reader’s awareness to many issues relating to that area of the world. Mortenson’s adventures forced him to cross paths with members of the Taliban, and he has had tea with some of the scariest characters on earth. He was even held hostage for a week in the region of Waziristan—the region in western Pakistan where many believe Osama bin Laden is likely hiding today. It is by far the most dangerous and unchartered region in Central Asia, torn apart by warring clans.

Three Cups of Tea has a lot to say about our present approach to the war on terror and Mortenson ultimately shows that it is love, compassion, and education that ultimately eradicates hatred in the human heart, not guns. While the United States bull-dozed through Afghanistan and then left the country desolate to pursue other demons in Iraq, the country is almost worse now. Millions of dollars of aid that was promised to the Afghani people was re-allocated to the war in Iraq, and this has left many people in the area with a bitter taste in their mouths toward America.

Reflecting America’s approach, one man said, “I’m a moderate Muslim, an educated man. But watching this, even I could become a jihadi. How can Americans say they are making themselves safer? Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against America for the next two hundred years.”

He then went onto say, “Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you . . . have to attack the source of your enemy’s strength. In America’s case, that’s not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.”

One man, Greg Mortenson, at least gets this. He has done more for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan than any military brigade could do in a hundred years. Though he was raised in Tanzania to a Lutheran missionary family, he wears no Christianity on his sleeve. And yet he does. Because the ideals he lives for—loving people, caring for them, providing for their needs—is far more Christian than what any right-wing American who breathes war displays. And, ironically, though he does no proselytizing—and probably doesn’t even espouse to any Christian creed—the people in Central Asia call him a Christian (who, from the West, isn’t a Christian to them?).

So I ask you: which image of Christianity is better? The one that Greg Mortenson unintentionally displays, or the one that many of us violently promote? Fortunately, there is at least one person in the Muslim world who is giving the people a true picture of what it means to be Christ-follower.

He inspires me to do the same.

Recommendation: Must-read.
Pages: 348.
Quotable Quotes: “I was just an average bloak. . . I don’t know if I particularly want be remembered for anything. I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest. But my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics. That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain” (pp. 129, 130—Sir Edmund Hillary).

“I don’t want to teach Pakistan’s children to think like Americans. I just want them to have a balanced, nonextremist education” (p. 209—Greg Mortenson).

“I don’t care where the money comes from. It’s all washed clean in the service of God” (p. 236—Mother Teresa, in response to the criticism of receiving money from “questionable” sources).

“In times of war, you often hear leaders—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—saying, ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans” (p. 239—Greg Mortenson).

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die” (p. 286—Julia Bergman).

“It was a very humbling victory. Here you have this Islamic court in conservative Shia Pakistan, offering protection for an American, at a time when America is holding Muslims without charges in Guantanamo, Cuba, for years, under our so-called system of justice” (p. 308—Greg Mortenson).

Friday, September 21, 2007

"Salvation Issues"

All is well in the world.

My wife arrived safely from the East Coast - 14 hours late (see my previous post below) - and she is sleeping soundly in the bed in our hotel room with her mouth approximately a half-inch open. I wish that I could take a picture and post it on here to accompany this entry, but I fear that that would be an abuse of my marital privileges.

I have an itch to write, however. It's been a while since I've really written anything and I feel that I owe the world some of my thoughts (though I'm probably mistaken). Plus, I'm not that tired right now.

So I may as well go ahead and quickly write about something that I've been thinking about for a while. Why not? It's nothing profound, but something that has been on my mind for sometime.

That is: what, exactly, is a "salvation issue"? I've heard this term thrown around a lot. Some people may say, "Well . . . jewelry is not a salvation issue," while others may say, "What you believe is not a salvation issue."

The idea really hit home with me a few months ago when I came across another Adventist blog (one that seems to be fairly frequented) and they seemed to be congratulating themselves by writing that they believed in the Sabbath, not as a "condition or a salvation issue, but . . . a gift of the eternal rest we have in Christ."

Don't get me wrong. I applaud them. The Sabbath truly is a wonderful blessing from Christ, a reflection of the fellowship we have with Him. But do they really know what they are saying when they write that the Sabbath is not a "salvation issue"? It's a term that is thrown around a lot, and I'm not sure that too many people really stop and think about what they mean by it.

Again, I pose the question: what, exactly, is a "salvation issue"? I was talking about this with one of my pastor friends a few nights ago - "colleagues," we're supposed to say - and he agreed with me when I told him that, on the one hand, nothing is a "salvation issue," and on the other hand, everything is a "salvation issue."

Question: is murder a "salvation issue"? What about lying or committing adultery? What about cheating on your taxes? What about paying tithe? Or - heaven forbid - what about drinking coffee?

The truth is, if the Sabbath is not a "salvation issue" then murder can't be a "salvation issue" either. And if murder isn't a "salvation issue" then we may as well throw the whole thing out because you can't really get any worse than murder (I'm sure some could argue that there are worse things).

Reflecting on the whole issue of "salvation issues," I wonder if people are trying to say that you are not saved by doing or not doing the said thing. Thus, keeping the Sabbath doesn't save you. Abstaining from alcohol doesn't save you.

But this is a purely artificial distinction and reveals the fact that those who are trying to distance themselves from legalistic thinking are, themselves, legalistic. Presumably, they believe that certain things are "salvation issues" (i.e., murder, treating others with love, feeding the hungry, promoting world peace). What makes them so?

Last I checked, what we do does not contribute one iota to our salvation (though some well-intentioned folks may disagree). Clothing the naked or fighting for the poor does not earn me any brownie points in heaven, no more than keeping the Sabbath or avoiding harmful substances does. None of these things contribute to Christ's atoning work on the cross. To pick and choose which issues become "salvation issues" is to play the part that God can only play, and make Him into our image.

Yet at the same time, all the aforementioned things can be salvation issues, in some senses. Though salvation is a free gift from God (which is not even based on my faith), how I respond to God's convicting Spirit reflects the reality of my salvation relationship with Him. If His Spirit convicts me of a certain area in my life - pornography, hatred, Sabbath, and, yes, even coffee and other health-related issues - that needs to be surrendered over to Him, then that specific thing very much becomes a "salvation issue." It doesn't matter how grandiose or how minute the issue is, when the Holy Spirit presses it upon my conscience, my salvation, in many senses, hangs in the balance.

I believe this is part of the great tension that Paul and James both present. On the one hand, Paul makes it abundantly clear that we are saved by grace, and not of works. On the other hand, however, James says that we are not simply saved by faith, but by works also.

In the end, when some people claim that certain things are not "salvation issues," I believe that many of them are simply trying to excuse their own behavior that they know to be wrong. Yes, some of it is purely semantical, but this world - indeed, this universe - hinges on semantics. What we say and how we say it is incredibly important. Christ is, after all, the Word incarnate. We need to be very careful how we say things.

Let's not make artificial distinctions. Let's make it crystal clear that nothing we do contributes to our salvation in an objective sense - not even our faith. Yet, on the subjective level, our behavior is a reflection of that objective reality and whether or not we have truly surrendered to the Almighty. This does not mean we should go around and say that "everyone" needs to do this or that (yes, there are issues that we can make such bold proclamations about, including the Sabbath), but neither does it mean that we should avoid bringing these issues to the forefront of people's consciences - as the Holy Spirit leads - and encourage them to experience a deeper union with Christ.

We need not apologize for some of these more "peripheral" issues that Adventists are peculiar for. Of course, we shouldn't bang people over the head with them, either. But we should be eager to show them that there is a better way. God wants to not only give them life, but life more abundantly.

And now, I must go. But first, a picture for you of the Oregon coast that I took last week. Not a great photo. Nice place, though (Cannon Beach).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

They call it "Field School"

TUALATIN, Ore. - It's 10:07 PM PST, and I am supposed to pick up my wife at the Portland airport at 11:19. That won't be happening, however. Due to severe weather conditions in Minneapolis, her plane was diverted to Rochester, Minn. and she'll be spending the night either at the airport or a hotel, once they are bussed to Minneapolis. Hopefully it's the latter.

So, instead of spending 54 hours with her for the first time in two and a half weeks, I'll only get to spend about 40 hours with her before she flies back to New Hampshire. And such is life. I've been doing a lot of waiting over the past few weeks.

I've been in the lovely Northwest for the past 16 days. They call it Field School, but I'm not sure how much of that is going on. It's been slow. We've been holding some meetings in Woodland, Wash., and though the evangelist is great, the pastor is great, the church is great, my classmates are great and everything about the Northwest is great (except for the fact that I'm separated from my wife), we haven't done much. Attendance has been sparse - and we have not even shared any of the "testing truths" yet.

But there are reasons to be positive. Some folks who are attending have stories to share, testimonies to tell. God has been blessing - and you can never put a price tag on a soul in Christ's eyes.

Meanwhile, we've almost done more sight-seeing than visitation. In some ways, that's fine, but in others, it's kind of a sad commentary on the challenges that we face here. We've hiked around Mt. St. Helens, camped at Mt. Hood (pictured right - taken this morning), and seen the Oregon coast (below). It's all very beautiful - definitely my favorite place in the US outside of New England.

However, I want to make another point - and perhaps this deserves a whole other entry - but whoever said that the Northwest is the most secular area in the United States has never been here. Truthfully, it seems like there is a Christian church on every corner - and an Evangelical church for that matter. There are three or four Christian radio stations in Portland, alone! Honestly, the Northeast is way more secular than this place. I know this is purely anecdotal and lacks any true empirical evidence, but I have eyes, folks. I can see. And I think there is probably plenty of evidence that the Northeast is every bit as secular (if not more so) as the Northwest.

The reason our meetings are so sparsely attended, by the way, is because we are holding them in a town of about 4,000 people, and there was no pre-work done before the meetings began. Handbills aren't going to bring in the masses, friends! But I digress. . .

Well, that's about all for now. This is probably the most unfocused blog entry I've had to this date, but I just wanted to inform my faithful readers of what has been going on with me for the past few weeks. And you can be sure, with the slowness of our experience here, that I would be writing more often. But the place I'm staying doesn't have internet (myth #2 of the Northwest: everyone is wired. This is not true at all).

Fortunately, tonight I am staying with two wonderful fiends of mine - David and Val Smith - who have internet. Though they've gone to bed, they have consoled me as I received news that my wife would not be arriving tonight.

More later, I'm sure.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Five Questions With . . . Russell Burrill

Russell Burrill was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts of Baptist parentage. He became an Adventist in his late teens through the ministry of the Voice of Prophecy. He graduated from Atlantic Union College with a B.A. in Theology in 1963 and married Cynthia Hartman, who also graduated the same year with a B.A. in Elementary Education. He received an M.A. from the seminary at Andrews University and a D.Min. From Fuller Theological Seminary. The Burrills have two children: Jim, a Computer Systems Analyst for Adventist Health Systems Sunbelt in Orlando, Florida, and a daughter, Ruth Davis. She and her husband pastor in the Carolina Conference.

Russell and Cynthia’s ministry include seven years pastoring in Connecticut and Maryland, followed by seven years full-time evangelism in Mountain View, Chesapeake, and Upper Columbia Conferences, followed by another seven years pastoring in Spokane, Washington and Wichita, Kansas. From 1985 to 2007, Russell was the Director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute, for seven years in Chicago, and since 1993, in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He continues to teach at the Andrews University Theological Seminary, where he holds the faculty rank of Professor. In 2005 he was also appointed NAD Ministerial Secretary and NAD Global Missions Director.

Russell is the author of numerous articles, the Prophecy Seminar lessons, and nine books, including Revolution in the Church, and Rekindling a Lost Passion.

1. Will Adventist churches in North America ever get away from pastor-dependency as you have envisioned it?

Will every Adventist church get away from pastor dependency? Obviously no. Will some? Defintely yes. It is happening. In fact whole conferences like Pennsylvania have committed to move in this new direction. In that Conference, every pastor has bought into the concept and the Conference is moving forward. Individual churches throughout NAD also are moving in this direction.

2. What do you think it will take to really motivate Adventists into action?

As HMS Richards use to say. "The only way to finish the work is to put all the Adventist preachers in jail". I hope it doesn't come to that, but if all else fails, God will finish His work, because He is in control.

3. Realistically speaking, where do you think the Church will be in ten years?

I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but God is leading and God is in control. I would hope we would be in the kingdom, but that is in God's time. It is hard to be realistic here. One naturally hopes for the best, but unless there is major change in the local church we will probably still be where we are today.

4. You suffered an unfortunate setback this past spring. How have you personally rebounded since this event?

The event last spring was very traumatic, but by the grace of God I have recovered. I no longer think about it or at least consciously dream about it. My biggest concern is that my attacker has found the help he needs so he can recover. God has been gracious and restored me.

5. Why hasn't Christ returned yet?

It is easy to speculate, but that is all it is. Christ will return in His time, not mine,. The Scripture declares we must preach in all the world and then the end will come. Is that every nation? every language? every city? every town? every person? I no longer speculate, I trust that He will return when He is ready. I will do my part and wait for Him.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Bloggiest City

For all of you faithful readers of my blog (probably about 2 of you), I'm on family vacation in Nova Scotia, Canada right now.

But I just came across this delightful article, naming Boston the bloggiest city in the United States.

This, of course, isn't surprising, considering how intellectually superior those of us from the "Hub of the Universe" are!

Check out the article here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

West Coast Offense

When you have drawn your last breath, and life is over, how would you like to be known as the "inventor of the West Coast offense"? Thus, the life of Bill Walsh - legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers - is summed up.

I'm sure he was a wonderful man who loved his family, but this is what a person on TV last night said Bill Walsh would be remembered for. How sad. A life wasted - if that's all he did.

Because, when the last inning has been played, or the buzzer has sounded; when the Hall of Fame calls your name in Cooperstown, or 60,000 fans are finished screaming your name at the Super Bowl; when the last play has been scripted, or they've carried you off the field on their shoulders for the last time . . . what then?

It's a lesson to us.

Well has Solomon said, "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity."