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."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Savior of the Universe? I think so. Part 1

Who needed reconciliation when Christ gave of Himself on the cross? Apparently, more than just us.

I came across this wonderful passage a few months back in my personal studies. Though I was extremely impressed with the implications of it, it kind of escaped the corridors of my mind until just yesterday, when it was brought to my attention once again through a book I was reading.

Paul, in an unmatched treatise on the status of Christ, writes to the Colossians, "For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell" (Col 1:19; NJV - the words "the Father" are supplied). This is certainly an impressive statement to make, signifying the position that Christ holds in this universe. He is not simply a created Being, nor does He hold a position that's inferior to the Father. "All the fullness" dwells in Him.

But Paul continues, "and by Him, to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth, or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross" (v. 20). A casual glance at this passage doesn't reveal much. But a few things should jump out and scream at you, begging to be explored further.

Paul first of all claims that Christ reconciled "all things to Himself." The word for "reconcile" is a Greek word that is used only three times in all of scripture. It is the word apokatallasso and - whereas the most commonly used word (katallasso, which, as you can see, is the root of our word) simply means "to reconcile" - this word means to "reconcile completely." There is no further reconciliation that can take place when apokatallasso occurs. There is a finality to it.

What I find even more significant, however, is the proposition that Paul makes in relation to who or what was needing reconciliation. Instead of simply saying that humankind needed reconciliation, Paul boldly proclaims that all things - both on earth and in heaven - needed reconciliation.

We can understand that humans on this planet certainly need reconciliation, but who on earth needed reconciliation "in heaven"?

It is, indeed, somewhat a mystery. And yet this passage is a window into the deeper issues at stake. Evidently, Christ's atoning mission wasn't merely aimed at planet earth and humankind, the whole universe needed reconciliation as well.

Surprisingly, Adventists are some of the only Christians who believe that there is life outside of earth or heaven. And yet, just the same, even if there was only life in heaven (though the Greek word is in the plural here, perhaps signifying a larger arena), aside from this earth, this passage still reveals an incredible truth. That is, the hearts of God's created beings were estranged from Him - even if ever-so-slightly. There must have been some event that triggered this.

A further meaning of the Greek word for reconciliation is to "bring back a former state of harmony." Thus, the equilibrium of the universe was thrown off for some reason previous to Christ's earthly accomplished mission.

But in the cross-event, Christ reconciled the whole universe back into harmony with Him. In his book, In Granite or Ingrained?, Skip MacCarty writes, "In the Christ event God was revealing something breathtakingly new, even to the universe that lies beyond sin's borders, about His everlasting covenant promise and commitment to His creation" (p. 69).

Because of the cross, God's creatures - both heavenly and earthly - have a much greater appreciation for who He is. This is why Revelation records the angels as singing, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev 5:12).

God's infinitive love rises much higher than we could ever imagine. The waves of His cross have rippled out to the farthest reaches of His endless universe, reconciling hearts that we give little thought to. Christ, indeed, didn't just become humankind's Savior, he became the Savior of the universe.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Not yet . . ."

Note: For the few of you who have actually stopped by my blog to take a look, you may have noticed that I've posted an incredible number of entries in less than 24 hours. That observation would be correct. This is due to a few reasons. 1.) It is the last week of my seminary schooling, and I am procrastinating 2.) More significantly, my wife is in Maine and I am by myself for the most part. Now, onto my story.

I enjoy photography. That probably doesn't come as a surprise to some people, but to others it may be something new. Photography is a lot of fun and it gives me a lot of pleasure. However, it sometimes persuades me to do things that I may not otherwise do - like wake up at 4 in the morning and drive 45 minutes to take pictures of a harbor that is filled with a few fishing boats and a lot of fog.

Such was the case a few weeks ago. With a break from my seminary studies in Michigan, I spent a few days in a place I like to refer to as heaven on earth. For most sane people, this needs no further explanation. But for those of you who haven't experienced the bliss of this wonderful region, let me spell it out for you: It's called New England.

I drove out to New England for the week to drop my belongings (including my wife) off, and to enjoy a little time with friends and family. As the week neared its end, we found ourselves in wonderful Maine. It was here that I experienced the aforementioned 4 am wake-up. I decided I would explore the ceaseless coastline of this state (it apparently has more coastline than any other state in the contiguous US), camera in hand.

My travels brought me to picturesque Five Islands, a very small fishing village about 15 miles south of Bath. The road there was almost as delightful as the destination. I passed by wonderful inlet scenes, complete with dories and schooners, alike.

When I arrived in Five Islands, there was not a soul around and the fog was thickly hanging over the harbor. For most people, fog is a nuisance; for the photographer, it's heavenly. The mood that it produces is unmatched.

Seconds after I arrived there - the sky still dark from the lingering night - I set up my tripod and started snapping away. To be honest with you, I was kind of surprised that no one was around. After all, this was a working and active harbor and, although it was about five in the morning, I expected there to be fishermen preparing their boats for the day's events.

And then, after a few minutes of my uninterrupted shooting, an older gentleman showed up. He arrived in his old truck, parked it and then started moseying around the docks. Initially, I attempted to stay away from him. Although I am a fairly outgoing person, I am not one to normally approach people and strike up a conversation with them. But then, after trying to avoid having our paths meet for a few minutes, I could avoid it no longer.

So I said hi, to which he responded in the like, and I felt compelled to ask him a few more questions. You know, the usual, "How's it going?" "Are you going out on your boat today?" type stuff. Within seconds we had started a full-fledged conversation, complete with his delightful "Down East" accent (for those who are not from New England, "Down East" is the much-publicized region along the Northern coast of Maine).

I don't know why I avoided talking to him for so long. People like him are so interesting to talk with. They are full of stories and life experiences, eager to share a bit of wisdom they may have attained through the years.

He told me that he was a lobster man and that he went out when he wanted to since he was semi-retired. He had a partner that he was waiting for, and they were going to decide if they would go out for the day. When he asked me if I was a professional photographer, I told him that I was a pastor and he actually seemed intrigued by that.

I asked if I could take a picture of him, and he replied, "Oh, no. That's all right. I don't need a picture taken of me." Disappointed, I asked him if there were a lot of photographers that came by and he said, "Oh, yes. It's terrible. They're always coming around, walking all over the place, getting right into your boats and being real rude." Needless to say, I didn't want to be one of "them."

But then he said something rather amusing; ironic, almost. I suppose it's nothing all that profound or original. I believe it's a part of the famed Down East humor that is common among people of his pedigree. I asked him the simple question, "Have you lived here your whole life?" and without missing a beat he responded, "Not yet."

Makes sense.

At this point, how does he know if he will live his whole life in Five Islands? That type of witty and ironic humor is typical for Down Easters, but it was pleasant to experience it firsthand.

But, you know, I got to thinking a little more. How many of us are "Not yet" Christians? No, we haven't yet lived our whole lives on planet earth, but we fully expect to. We assume that we'll live our three score and ten, take a brief nap, and then wake up when Jesus returns again. And when that three score and ten is over, we'll be able to turn the "Not yet" into a simple, "Yup."

What if we looked beyond the "not yet," though, and believed that the "not yet" wasn't necessarily inevitable. What if we really believed that God would return before our "not yet" was over. What if we really acted like we wanted Him to come before we experienced marriage, parenthood, retirement, or our deathbed longings for heaven. What if we stopped paying lip-service to the idea that we want Him to come soon. What if we actually did respond to Him whole-heartedly. What a difference it could make. And then we could go to be with God for a thousand years, and Christ could make this earth anew.

And then it could all look like New England.

"Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:20).

Good-Looking Adventists

I'd like to offer you an invitation. Are you interested in joining a new group called "Good-Looking Adventists"? Let me explain.

A few months ago I happened upon a publication put out by sincere members of the Adventist church. From time to time I peruse this publication to get a feel for what they are thinking. It's always good to stay informed, after all.

There was an article in this particular issue that caught my attention, however. It was talking about being an "Intellectual Adventist." Now, forgive me for being a little slow, but it was the first time that it had been brought to my attention that there was such a group. Reading the article was intriguing, though, and left me quite impressed.

Presumably, the author believed himself to be a part of such an "elite" group. I'm not sure the criteria by which a person can belong to such a group, but I sure wanted to find out. I resisted the urge, however, to write a letter to the editor and inquire how I could become a member of such a group. Instead, I got my undergraduate transcripts from college - complete with my 3.21 cumulative GPA from prestigious Andrews University - and was prepared to send them in as my ticket to becoming an "Intellectual Adventist."

Strangely, the General Conference didn't have any information about this prestigious group when I scoured the church's website. This left me baffled. I could only conclude that it was not an official subsidiary of the church. It must be a self-supporting group.

But before I could proceed any further with my endeavor, something suddenly dawned on me. Why don't I start my own group - something that is more relevant to who I am as a person. Why not start a "Good-Looking Adventists" club? I mean, after all, my wife tells me I'm good-looking semi-frequently.

No, I've never been on the cover of GQ magazine - or the Adventist Review, for that matter - but it's not as though we would need to check any one's GQ quotient before they became a member, anyway. All anyone would have to do to become a member is to think that they're good-looking, and that would be good enough for me.

So what do you say? Are you interested?

"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. . . . Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God" (1 Cor 1:27; 3:18, 19).

No More Donuts, Please

A short time ago, I was invited to attend a Friday night program at a church that my friends attended. It was geared toward youth and young adults. They had been involved in this program for a few years, and they put a lot of time into it. While the program had enjoyed quite a bit of success early on, my friends were lamenting the fact that attendance had dropped off quite a bit recently.

This resonated with me, since I, too, led out in a Friday night program for more than a year. We, too, met with great attendance at first, but it was virtually nil as time went on, and we ended up scratching the program altogether.

My program and my friend's program was quite different, however. Whereas my program was largely Bible-study-based and had few frills, theirs had all of the bells and whistles that young adults seem to "need" these days. The place where they had the program was complete with dim lighting. There were nice comfy chairs that attendees could lounge in. The music was "contemporary." And, best of all, there was plenty of junk food for everyone's culinary tastes, complete with Krispy Kreme donuts. I, of course, had one.

As I sat there and analyzed the program, something suddenly occurred to me. I wonder how long they had been singing the same songs, eating the same donuts, and sitting in the same comfy chairs. While these things can be attractive in one's programming (though I felt like I almost OD'ed on sugar, between the donuts, soda and candy), there has to be more. People - whether young or old - need to be brought deeper.

Many programs I have sat in have less depth than my kindergarten Sabbath School class growing up - and these are geared towards more "mature" young adults or even older adults. Too many of us are Krispy Kreme Christians, and the unfortunate thing is that those who lead us don't think we are capable of going any deeper. Either that, or they, themselves, lack depth.

As I was thinking about these ideas, I happened to be working with a young man who just graduated from high school at an Adventist academy. Some how or other, we started talking about a program that a local church runs for young people. He attends it from time to time but hasn't been going recently because very few people attend it anymore. I was somewhat surprised because, last I heard, the attendance was high.

When I asked him why no one attends anymore, he replied, "Because people don't think it's cool anymore." Intrigued by his analysis, I prodded him more, "The problem is," he continued, "at these types of programs people are either entertained to death, or they're bored to death." He continued, "We don't want to be entertained. If we wanted to be entertained we would go to a movie. We don't come to church to be entertained." I believe the young man is on to something.

I proceeded to ask him if he had ever heard of the General Youth Conference (GYC), and when he said that he had, I asked him what he thought about it. He told me that there seemed to be a lot of people who attend it, but he wasn't sure why. "People just seem to get together and pray and listen to sermons all the time, but for some reason, a lot of young people want to go." He wondered if it had something to do with the fact that the people who attend these meetings become active and they involve themselves in different types of ministries.

Lest you think I'm trying to plug the GYC, let me just assure you that I have no agenda to push. I have never been to the GYC, nor do I know if I'll ever attend. At face value, there are probably things that I may not agree with, yet I recognize that the GYC must be doing something right. It has had staying power for a number of years now, unlike a lot of our other programs that start with a bang but fizzle out.

What are they doing right? Maybe it has a lot to do with the depth that they are pursuing. Few of them are Krispy Kreme Christians. Are their actions perfect? Hardly. But they understand that young adults are capable of going higher and deeper; that programs don't need to be amped up to draw interest; or that small group discussions don't need to be devoted to trying to find "God in the movies."

This is not a call to attend the next GYC. Neither is it a call to trash the guitars or can the PowerPoint. It's not even a call for legalistic reform that does not proceed from a changed heart.

It is a call, however, to move beyond the donuts. We are all a part of the unfortunate problem. But we can all be a part of the solution. When we uplift Christ and Him crucified, people will be drawn to our programming, donuts or no donuts.

*For an article I recently wrote for the Adventist Review on the issue of music, click here.

Perhaps it's not just us

I had a very pleasant conversation with one of my neighbors a few weeks ago. He has been attending a local Adventist church for some time with his wife, who has been an Adventist her whole life. Their daughter attends the local Adventist academy.

I was actually surprised when he told me that he was not an Adventist. Since I had seen him from time-to-time at church, I simply assumed that he was a card-carrying member of God's "Remnant" people. What shocked me even more, however, was when he told me how much he enjoyed attending this church. "The people are so accepting," he told me. And then he said, "I grew up in the [fill in the blank with any number of non-Adventist churches] church, and I didn't feel as welcome or loved as I do now."

I just about fell out of my chair. Actually, I was standing up at the time, so I almost fell to the ground. I had never heard such a crazy idea. Usually certain groups within our very own church try to feed us propaganda, telling us that Adventists are the only un-loving denomination on the planet. We hear horror stories of the un-countable masses that have been forced to leave our denomination because of this deep lack of love and acceptance.

To be sure, there are definitely hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals that have been wrongfully and un-lovingly treated within our denominational walls. I've heard the first-hand horror stories from people who have been treated in such a way. I do not want to diminish their reality at all.

But why don't we ever hear the positive stories? Why don't we ever hear the stories of other denominations that are just as guilty as we?

The truth is, I've come to realize that this problem is not peculiar to Adventism. We do not have a monopoly on being un-accepting, no more than other churches have a monopoly on love.

Perhaps - and this is still a working theory in my mind -those who feel the least amount of love and acceptance within our own denomination are those who have grown up in the church. The same can probably be said for individuals - like my neighbor - who grew up in other faith communities. As we grow up and mature and search for our own identity, we struggle to find acceptance and love from those who know us best. Or, at least that's our perception.

Many of us want to retain the cultural Adventism that we grew up with, while at the same time taking part in things that we know contradict that which our cultural community seems to speak against. When these two desires clash, we feel as though we are un-loved and un-accepted.

It's probably fairly rare to find a person who has joined the Adventist church later on in life who feels the same way. They have made a conscious decision to join the church, unlike many of us who were born into it and are now searching for our own identity.

It would be well for us all to remember Paul's beautiful words in Colossians 3:14, "But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does Ellen White take verses out of context?

I think that people are too quick to say that Ellen White wasn't using "exegesis" when she made so-called "homiletical" statements.

For example, in the Desire of Ages, Ellen White, in describing Christ, calls Him "the Chiefest among ten thousand" and the One "altogether lovely" (p. 827). These titles are taken from Song of Solomon 5 and would seem to have no messianic reference at all. The passage is an interplay between two young people who are head-over-heals for each other.

However, if one carefully (and exegetically) studies Song of Solomon 5, they would notice something very interesting. In describing her lover, the Shulamite uses an overwhelming number of words that parallel the description of the sanctuary/temple. Scholars have recognized that this isn't simply a haphazard connection. There is something deeper going on. One commentator says that "we resist using this fact to allegorize the text, but again we suggest that it associates her description with something exalted, even holy" (Tremper Longman III, Song of Solomon , NICOT, p. 174).

In my personal study of this book, I would say that there is definitely a typological interpretation that can be pursued. It's not allegorical or even prophetic, but there is exegetical ground to stand on to believe that there are messianic fulfillments. Ellen White, the few times she does refer to the book, isn't simply neglecting exegesis. Maybe she sees things exegetically that we have failed to thusfar.

The same can be said for the New Testament prophets and writers (cf. Matthew 1:23, etc.). Just because our "exegesis" of Old Testament passages may not draw the same conclusions, it doesn't mean the New Testamemt writers weren't using exegesis, or were using poor exegesis.

For many years, Ellen White's views on health didn't allign with "enlightened" science, but time has shown that her interpretations are/were correct. Perhaps our exegesis will show the same as time goes on.