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.