Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Moral Victory

Hooray! In the publishing world I know there is a lot of editing and cutting that is done, so one shouldn't be surprised if something they've written has been deleted when it hits the presses. But I'm happy to report to you that I just survived a close call.

A little while back, I was asked if I would write an article for a special issue of the Adventist Review that focused on the Beatitudes (the Review, for the few of you who are not Seventh-day Adventists, is our church's official weekly publication). All the articles would be written by people in their 20s and 30s, so it would be looking at the Beatitudes from "our" perspective (although, curiously, one of my friends who is nowhere near that age range snuck in there and has an article in the issue. I won't tell you who it is so as not to "out" him or her).

I chose to write on the Beatitude "Blessed are the pure in heart." Thing is, towards the end of the article I also "snuck" in something of my own - a quote from a book by one of my former Seminary professors (to be completely honest, I didn't try to "sneak" it in at all). Someone contacted me from the magazine and asked me if I could "finesse" the quote a little more to make it jive with "Adventist theology" better. Problem is, how can you finesse someone else's quote?

At the same time, I am not sure how much more "Adventist" this quote could be. This is nothing against the magazine at all, or the individual who contacted me about it, but this plain idea has been at the heart of Adventist theology for over 100 years. Sadly, most of the Church has forgotten this truth, while many others have abused it (hence, the reaction).

So when I looked at the finished product today, I was thrilled to see that they left the quote in (I assumed that they would, since they told me that they would not change anything without informing me). Not a huge deal, but a moral victory, indeed. I do believe that the quote brings home the point I was trying to make in the article. To leave it out would deprive the readers of an important element of my message.

And what was the quote that was a bit troubling?

By His Spirit, God can speed up the spiritual growth of His people so that they outgrow sin. By cleansing His people and presenting them to Himself without blemish, Christ works Himself out of the job of forgiving sins. He does not walk off the job. We could say that He is "laid off" from this work because there are no more forgivable sins to forgive.

What do you think about it? The quote is taken, by the way, from Roy Gane's book, Altar Call.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Learning From Lincoln

I've been doing a little "lighter reading" lately. Taking a break from theological treatises, or discussions on apologetics or other such philosophical subjects, I have been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's lengthy tome, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Though I've only read 153 pages of this ginormous book - which is 916 pages - I have been extremely inspired by what I've read so far.

It is a real page-turner that has fascinating insights on leadership, marriage, human nature, and many other things. The book is pretty much four biographies in one - following the political careers of, not only Lincoln, but his chief rivals as well: William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Edward Bates.

Here are some interesting things that have caught my eye so far:
  • William Seward - former Governor of New York, as well as a United States Senator - seems to be every bit as inspirational a figure as Lincoln was. He opposed slavery far more vehemently than Lincoln did. Perhaps if he had won the presidency (he was the front-runner among Republicans) the country would have been more divided than under Lincoln's tenure - I don't know. At any rate, I am tempted to buy a T-Shirt from that says, "I Love William Henry Seward."
  • Seward was not perfect, of course. He was so set on succeeding in the political arena, that his wife almost had an affair with one of his mentors. When he finally came to his senses, he wrote a long letter to her, apologizing. She was very gracious in response, realizing the natural disposition of a lot of men. In her response, she shared this profound quote: "Love is the whole history of woman, and but an episode in the life of man." I thought that idea was especially profound, and helps me understand the differences in the psyches of men and women.
  • Salmon Chase was born in Cornish, New Hampshire (a town that is about half-way between two of my churches - and also home of the Cornish-Windsor Covered bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the US and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world), and was schooled at Dartmouth College. During his lifetime, Chase had three wives die, as well as a number of children. In light of this tragedy, he was extremely depressed, but ultimately said, "Sometimes I feel as if I could give up - as if I must give up. And then after all I rise & press on." If a man who lost three wives and multiple children can decide to "press on," how about the rest of us?
  • Lincoln, himself, did not receive any real formal education. He pretty much taught himself everything - reading anything he could get his hands on. One time, a colleague of his walked in on him, as he was trying to teach himself geometry. There was tons of paper scattered everywhere on his table, and for two or three days he had been trying to figure out a way to "square a circle."
  • He also allowed his children to live without many restrictions, saying that "love is the chain whereby to lock a child to its parents."
  • I was greatly disturbed to read Goodwin claim that Lincoln "almost certainly found outlets for his sexual urges among the prostitutes who were readily available on the frontier" before he got married. She, of course, provides no footnote for this claim, showing that this is pure conjecture. After doing a little further research, though, I have now realized that she made this claim because of a belief that is gaining a little momentum lately - that Lincoln had homosexual tendencies. Thus, she tries to explain Lincoln's awkwardness around women - and apparent dearth of material on a love-life before marriage - by going to an extreme. This extreme is uncalled for, especially if people don't realize she has not footnoted her claim. Still, I can see her reason for doing it - in light of erroneous claims about Lincoln's sexual orientation.
  • When debating whether people should bring out the blemishes of George Washington - thus making him more human - Lincoln thought there was merit in "retaining the notion of a Washington without blemish" saying that "It makes human nature better to believe that one human being was perfect [and] that human perfection is possible." Though coming from a different paradigm than me, I highly applaud Lincoln's desire to maintain that human perfection is possible!
These are some of my preliminary thoughts on the book, and the characters that are documented in it. I look forward to many more pages of enlightening reading! I, of course, would highly recommend the book to everyone.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Whatever Happened to "Self-denial"?

This past weekend, as Camille and I journeyed to the somewhat-remote location where my church's Pathfinder club was camping, we got to talking about snow mobiling. Quite a number of my family members and friends who live in the colder and snowier climes of New England have snow mobiles, and it's a regular pastime for them in the winter months. This has been an especially good year for the activity since we have nearly set a record in New Hampshire for snowfall.

There has been a little bit of peer pressure, from certain individuals, for Camille and I to get a snow mobile of our own. This way, we could all go out together on a beautiful afternoon and enjoy some pure, innocent fun.

To be sure, that would be fun. But as we talked about it, Camille (thankfully) said, "You know, when we have kids, I don't think I would want them to have these types of 'toys.' " I was glad to hear her say that. Growing up, neither Camille or I had these types of "toys" in our families. We didn't have snow mobiles, jet skis, big screen TVs, boats, pools . . . This is not to say that these things are "bad," but that our parents never made them a priority (nor probably had the money).

And I got to thinking: whatever happened to the doctrine of self-denial? Far too often these days we are more than willing to spend thousands of dollars on such items, never giving it much more thought than whether we have enough money in the bank. Instead, we have whetted our appetite for luxurious living, constantly craving the next gadget or toy; the next cruise or resort vacation. Self-denial has become a four-letter word.

In her book, Help Your Self: Today's Obsession With Satan's Oldest Lie, Stephanie Forbes writes that today's culture "tells me that it is my human birthright to be the center of my own universe. I have the right to my feelings and their full expression. I have the right to pursue my heart's desires. I have the right to love myself. I have the right to do what I want, be what I want, accumulate what I want. Self-help tells me that putting myself first is healthy; sacrificing myself to any person or any cause is unhealthy. To be fully human is to be fully me, to be full of me. The justification for all this self-ness? I AM my own justification" (p. 16).

Yet I believe it was Jesus who said, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34). He isn't speaking only about the aforementioned things, of course, but it certainly doesn't exclude them. Most of the time, when faced with a decision to indulge ourselves in some of these things, we often ask the question "why not?" rather than asking "why?" We just assume that there is nothing wrong with such an action or purchase - so long as we keep putting our 10 or 15 percent in the offering plate each week.

I like the way C. S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, though: "I do not believe one can settle how much we out to give [to charities, etc.]. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them" (p. 86 - 1980 edition, emphasis added).

I am not at all implying that I have achieved such a lifestyle. There are others who could probably look at my possessions - my two computers, my fairly-expensive camera, my guitar, etc., - and say the same about me. At the same time, I am not judging others who have more than I have. I am saying, however, that each of us need to evaluate our own lives and ask the Lord to show us how we are not practicing self-denial. Perhaps we need to simplify our lives. Perhaps we are too married to attaining more, to always desiring the next toy or luxury vacation.

Perhaps, though, we need to look at the cross instead.

(Please note that the above picture was not taken by me. It was taken from

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Challenge

So I have a problem. I know the following admission may be startling coming from a pastor, but I don't know how many of my parishioners read my blog anyway, and I know that none of you will tell them.

What's my problem?

My devotional life. But maybe not for the reason you are thinking.

I don't know about you, but I have struggled to find that devotional experience which has lifted my spirits consistently into heavenly places. And the devotional experiences that do excite me I have been told are "wrong."

For example: in the Seminary - and other places that talk about one's devotional life - we are told in our Spiritual Formation class that we are supposed to have devotions that are purely, well, devotional. So when I read from the Bible, I am not supposed to worry about Hebrew or Greek or the true meaning of what someone is saying. I am supposed to read from the four Gospel accounts and imagine each scene, soaking in the imagery, the sights, the smells, the sounds.

The problem is, such a devotional experience doesn't do much for me. I am going through Luke right now and, although there have been moments of bliss, those moments have been few and far between. Part of that has to do with familiarity, I believe, and the fact that a lot of the stories I have read over and over again.

Such thoughts have made me feel guilty. "What's wrong with me?" I wonder, "Why can't I just read a passage from the Gospels and feel like I'm on Cloud Nine?"

And then I came to an interesting realization: when it comes to Ellen White as well, I am much more blessed by Steps to Christ than The Desire of Ages. In fact, I read Steps to Christ over and over again and am blessed afresh every time I read it. Similarly, when it comes to the Bible, I have enjoyed delving into Paul's epistles more than the Gospel accounts.

Why is this? Because I enjoy theological concepts and discoveries more than I do stories - which is somewhat ironic because I really do enjoy stories and I often fill my preaching and writing with them. But I much prefer digging for theological truth in the Bible than engaging in an exercise in futility where I am mindlessly trying to come up with some type of mystical feelings that derive from a "devotional" reading of a parable or story.

Does this make me a bad person? I hope not; otherwise, I'm in trouble. The reality is, everyone relates to and delights in God differently. And I, for one, think it is very damaging when people insist - whether explicitly or implicitly - that we should only go about our devotional time without trying to discover some deeper theological truth. This is honestly what people have told me in the past.

So this morning I set aside Luke for a little while and I decided to simply start in the book of Psalms and read it through in Hebrew. I only read chapter one, but what a blessing! There is something about reading scripture in the original languages that totally excites me. It opens up a whole new world and allows me to go deeper. And if devotions are supposed to be "shallow," then I am not sure I want anything to do with them.

I would love to hear anyone else's thoughts on their devotional experiences. What do you do that excites you?