Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Breast Milk, Anyone?

I usually don't post stuff like this, but I just had to for this one. And I don't know if the guy is just trying to get a little publicity, but a restaurant in Switzerland is going to start serving and cooking with human breast milk at his restaurant. My sister, who is all about breast feeding her daughter until she's about 19 (I'm kidding), is really intrigued by this and pointed it out on her blog.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My New Camera

Well, after doing some research and prayer, I bought a new camera, which arrived on my doorstep from Amazon this morning. I bought a brand new Canon Rebel XSi. I took it for a little test-drive last week at a camera store in Manchester, and I think it has all the features I want. I had thought about buying the camera from the store, since the price was actually comparable to anything I could get online. But there were two things holding me back: I found it for $13 cheaper from Amazon, and, more importantly, they didn't have it in stock right then, so I would have had to have driven back to Manchester sometime this week - which is 30-40 minutes in the opposite direction from where I normally drive. So, it would have been more than just a $13 difference with gas prices these days (not to mention the time I would have to spend driving to and from). But I think it would have been nice to support a local store, rather than the giant online retailers.

The camera seems nice so far, though I haven't done much. It is super light and has some neat features. It can take a lot more frames per second than my previous camera, and it has mirror lock-up for those longer exposures.

I did pray (though not enough, admittedly) about whether I should spend all this money on a camera - something that is merely a hobby for me. I have been wondering for a while if I should spend so much time and money on something that is merely a hobby. Am I really helping anyone by taking part in such a pasttime? I don't know. I have been trying to figure out how I can utilize my photography as more than just backgrounds for PowerPoint presentations, and the covers for my New England Pastor magazine. Even though I love New England - taking pictures of white churches, covered bridges, and other charming architectural icons doesn't seem like it necessarily turns a person's mind to the Creator. I do take pictures of scenes that are purely nature, but I take just as many of these man-made structures.

The same holds true for snapshots on family vacations and outings. It's nice to have a record of memories, but is it all that important to have a $700 camera for such a thing?

So . . . I continue to try to figure out how I can use this hobby of mine for God. Suggestions would be welcomed.

On another note, I don't have a lot else on my mind these days as it relates to blog posts. Nothing has struck me as blogworthy recently, but I'm sure there will be something in the near future. We are just starting the Nominating Committee process in my churches, and it promises to be quite intense. I am praying for God's wisdom in this whole process. We really need it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Christless Adventists

Note: I wrote this over two years ago while in the seminary. The class on Revelation was taught by Dr. Jon Paulien, and one of our requirements for the class was to converse on a discussion board for the class, as well as send e-mails with our thoughts on Revelation to our fellow students. This post was in response to something that Dr. Paulien had said in class, as well as the overall tenor that was present among a number of students. The post may seem pointed and direct at times, and I am not wishing to offend anyone. But sometimes we need to be pointed and direct! As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

Adventism has doctrine and prophecy, and Willow Creek and Evangelicals have Jesus. Though in passing, this is what Dr. Jon Paulien shared yesterday in Revelation class. He's not alone. Many other people advocate this idea.

Is this an accurate statement, though?

Admittedly, much of our preaching and doctrine is Christless ("dry as the hills of Gilboa" Ellen White would say) and even much of our preaching about Christ is Christless. But I have always been a little uneasy when people insist that the mega-churches and other Evangelical denominations have Christ, and we don't.

Can a church really have Christ if they don't have doctrine, or prophecy, for that matter? This follows the assumption that doctrine and prophecy are exclusive from Christ.

It's not an either/or situation, though. While Adventism may get caught up in preaching Christless doctrine at times, what we need to do is find Christ in the doctrines. Just as it's not faith or works, or even faith and works, but faith that works, it's doctrines that are Christocentric.

Indeed, if you preach/teach the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, the Second Coming or any of our other 28 Fundamental beliefs, and Christ is not at the center of them, then it's not true doctrine.

I would argue, on the other hand, that these other churches aren't truly preaching Christ at all. They're preaching a version of Christ that is devoid of His fullness. It's a bunch of medication that doesn't truly heal the sin-sick soul. We don't need to go to Willow Creek, or Saddleback, or wherever else, to learn about Christ. He is among us.

If someone is struggling in their walk with Christ, they don't need less Sabbath, they need more. They need to understand that Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath who bids them to come to Him and find rest for their souls.

If someone is discouraged about their faith experience, they don't need less sanctuary, they need more. They need to understand that Christ was the Lamb slain for them; that He is standing at the right hand of the Father right now, interceding for them; that He not only promises forgiveness, but cleansing.

If someone is tired of their Christian walk, they don't need less 2300 days, they need more. They need to understand that Jesus is now at the other end of those 2300 days, cleansing the sanctuary in heaven, as well as the one in their hearts, and He is eager to return.

If someone is struggling with their faith, they don't need less Ellen White, they need more. They need to understand that because Christ loves us so much, and that He shed His blood on Calvary, He, because of His mercy, gave us a special message from His heart in these last days, that will help us in our times of need and struggle; to guide us through the stormy weather and the rocky terrain.

Although someone can certainly accuse me of taking a verse out of context or spiritualizing it, when the disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 14 and said that they were going to send the 5,000 into the villages to get someting to eat, Jesus' response says a lot. He told them, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." And what did they get for their hungry stomachs? They got Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Do we, as Adventists, have to send people to these other places to give them a taste of Jesus, or can we provide Him for them? Jesus tells us, "You give them something to eat."

"Here is the patience of the saints: here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev 14:12).

A Most Precious Message

The audio and PowerPoint slides for my latest meeting on "A Most Precious Message" is now available for download. The audio is here, and the slides are here. From now on, I will just post a link for the PowerPoint slides to the bottom right, below my "Reading List." Thus, you will simply have to check back each week for these slides, instead of having me making it a point of mentioning it every week.

If you would like to subscribe to the audio - which includes the weekly Prayer Meeting series on "A Most Precious Message," as well as my weekly sermons (which, right now, is about "Mere Adventism") - you can subscribe by clicking the link to the right (the one that says "Subscribe to my sermons") or you can just click here.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Investigating the Judgment - Part 2

Evangelicals have a problem on their hands (the same holds true for "Evangelical Adventists," and, to a lesser extent, more liberal Adventists - though they aren't challenged by certain biblical teachings as much because they do not hold the authority of scripture in as high a regard). The challenge is a topic that I addressed a few weeks ago in part one. That is, the biblical witness is abundantly clear that God performs a judgment based on works. Any serious student who reads the Bible cannot get past such verses as Ecclesiastes 12:4: "For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil." And there are others, of course.

But here's the problem for Evangelicals: maintaining that God performs a judgment based on works challenges at least two important pillars of their faith. 1.) A judgment based on works places too much emphasis on the law, and supposedly diminishes the role of grace. And, perhaps more importantly, 2.) such a thought jeopardizes the destiny of an individual, thus undermining the dearly-held teaching of "eternal security," "the perseverance of the saints," or, as it is commonly known "once saved, always saved." (These three terms, or whatever other term you can come up with that describes the same thing, are not necessarily synonymous within the lexicon of Protestant/Evangelical Christianity. There are varying nuances to each system, but all find their origin in Calvinist theology. I will address this subject as well in a future post.)

So notice what they do in light of these clashing ideas: they place the judgment after the Second Coming, and each person receives his or her reward upon arriving in heaven. Thus, they take a verse like Romans 14:10, where Paul says that we will "all stand before the judgment seat of Christ," and make it into a literal experience that a person goes through upon his arrival in heaven. And, depending on how the judgment goes before Christ's judgment seat, the person will receive a reward that is consistent with how many good works he or she performed, or what that person did with the talents that Christ gave to him, etc.

Aside from the fact that it ignores the plain biblical witness - that Christ will bring His reward with Him at His Second Coming, not after it (see Rev 22:12) - it, more importantly, is a false teaching that appeals to a person's ego. Not only does it take a person's eternal destiny off the hook and exonerates them of any true responsibility here on earth (I would be more than happy to coast through the rest of this life without ever acting with Christian responsibility if it simply costs me a bigger house in heaven), but it, as with all false teachings, pets human pride. To think that I can gain a bigger house, a brighter crown, a whiter robe, by performing better here on earth is the epitome of self-love and self-centeredness.

At the same time, it is incredibly ironic that, in an attempt to make the judgment more palatable - and less "scary" - by placing it after the Second Coming, Evangelicals have actually made it more troublesome. In the Adventist understanding of the judgment, we do not maintain that we actually, literally and physically stand before God as He goes through the books, looking over our records. The Evangelical explanation has its participants literally and physically standing before God's judgment seat, crossing their fingers in hopes that they have enough good deeds to earn that new heavenly BMW. In the Adventist understanding, we have Jesus as our Defense Attorney, pleading our case before the universe, claiming His blood on our behalf. In the Evangelical understanding, the participant is standing disturbingly alone before God, hoping that He can speak up enough on his own behalf. In the Adventist understanding, Satan is the "accuser" of the brethren. In the Evangelical understanding, Jesus is. The Adventist understanding is ultimately God-centered, with the purpose of vindicating and clearing God's name before the universe and our fellow human beings. The Evangelical understanding is self-centered, with the purpose of vindicating our names before God and our fellow human beings.

And the list could go on . . . .

So I ask you: which version of the judgment seems more palatable, less ego-centric, and more gospel-oriented? It seems pretty obvious to me.

Evolution at Its Finest

The headline is too priceless for me to not comment on. Over at "Right End of the Telescope," my friend Ken points to an amazing scientific experiment that is going on right now. Scientists are on the verge of "creating new life form" by making living matter out of non-living matter. This, I suppose, will be enough to once and for all show that there is no need for an Intelligent Designer.

The article starts by proclaiming that "a team of biologists and chemists is closing in on bringing non-living matter to life." And then it boldly proclaims, "Szostak's protocells are built from fatty molecules that can trap bits of nucleic acids that contain the source code for replication. Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system that satisfies the conditions of life, but isn't anything like life on earth now, but might represent life as it began or could exist elsewhere in the universe" (emphasis added).

The article goes on: "That opens the possibility that one day, in the distant past, an RNA-like molecule wandered into a fatty acid and started replicating. That random event, through billions of evolutionary iterations, researchers believe, created life as we know it."

Nevermind the fact that there are a lot of qualifiers there ("could," "might," etc.). What strikes me as incredibly ironic is that these intelligent scientists are trying to prove that non-living matter can turn into living matter, by intelligently guiding the process - thus eliminating the need for a Creator (or so the theory goes).

But wouldn't we call such an exercise "Intelligent Design"?

It sounds an awfully lot like something I read in Genesis: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground [non-living matter], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [living matter]" (Gen 2:7).

To the articles credit, the writer does go on to say, "The entire line of research, though, begs the question: where would DNA, or any other material carrying instructions for replication, have come from?"

Yes, it does beg the question! Where did any matter - or any "laws" that govern that matter - come from, if not the hand of God?

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Most Precious Message

I have started a new series in Prayer Meeting entitled, "A Most Precious Message." A few of my church members requested that we talk about this subject, and after giving it some prayer, I decided to go ahead and discuss this controversial topic.

I must candidly admit that I am no expert on the subject, but I want to try to be faithful to what really took place in 1888 within my faith community. Admittedly, my views have been shaped by many in the "1888" camp, but I am trying not to simply regurgitate the party-line that many propose. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with what I've been taught - and what people in this camp maintain - but I want to primarily study what Ellen White and Jones & Waggoner said on the subject, not what someone else has told me Jones & Waggoner said on the subject.

If anyone is interested, you can listen along each week, since we are recording each meeting. As with all my sermons, the audio downloads of these presentations are available here. And, if you're interested, the PowerPoint slides from the first presentation are available for download here. Please check back for further slides that can be downloaded from subsequent presentations.

If anyone listens to the audio, or reads the PowerPoint slides, I would love to hear your feedback.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Giving Up the Ghost

So yesterday I accompanied my church school to Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire. It is one of two national parks in the United States that is devoted to an artist and it is absolutely beautiful. A sculptor, Saint-Gaudens's most famous piece is the Robert Shaw Memorial, which stands across the street from the state house in Massachusetts, and commemorates the Massachusetts 54th regiment - the first all-black regiment to fight for the North during the Civil War (this is particularly intriguing to me at this time because I just read about the regiment in Goodwins's, Team of Rivals).

The weather was wonderful, the kids were well-behaved, and I was shooting away with my Canon Rebel 300D camera. I've had the camera since 2004, and though it a "dinosaur" in this technological age, it has served me well. While taking a picture of someone besides the Robert Shaw memorial, I looked down at my LCD monitor and saw blackness staring back at me. Confused about the problem, I took a few more pictures, only to see the same thing. When I pressed the playback mode, all that was recorded in those frames was nothing but black.

After a little bit of research and fiddling around with my camera today, I have realized that the inevitable has happened: it has given up the ghost. To be more specific, I guess a camera's shutter only has a certain shelf-life, and it appears as though my shutter has reached its limit. If I wanted to have the shutter repaired, it would cost me about $300 - which is not worth it at all at this point.

So I need a new camera and, truth be told, I have been wanting to buy a new one for a little while anyway - so this gives me a good excuse. It was about time to give up this fossil (ironically, just about ten minutes before the camera stopped working, I was telling one of the students that I wanted to get a new camera).

But the problem is, I wish I had known this would happen about two days before. Timing is everything, isn't it? Just one day prior to my camera's shutter giving up the ghost, we bought a new $300 point-and-shoot camera for Camille, and an $800 computer (both of which are being shipped to us as we speak)! Needless to say, I cannot afford a new camera right now, but I cannot afford not to have a camera as autumn approaches (and Camille's point-and-shoot just won't cut it for me)!

So I'm not sure what to do.

I guess I'll start a fund raising campaign on this Blog.