Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Friendly Appeal to My Friends at GYC - Repost

(Note 1: I originally posted this about 11 months ago but I thought it fitting to repost it as GYC approaches again. This is an appeal to all those who are preparing to present at this year's GYC in Houston, Texas.

Note 2: I started preparing this blog before David Asscherick gave his closing talk at GYC this past Sunday, January 2. I was thrilled to hear him say some of the same things that I had already been thinking about. His "cautionary" words were very appropriate and, in this post, I simply want to piggy-back on what he said in that talk. I am also glad that he said it because there are a lot more people who value his thoughts than there are who even know I exist!)

I often have people ask me what my thoughts are on GYC (Generation of Youth for Christ). As a pastor and conscientious Christian, they want to know if I think they or their children should attend GYC. Without hesitation, I always encourage people to attend this wonderful annual event. Though I have not yet attended my first GYC due to various circumstances, I have greatly admired from afar what this movement has accomplished and continues to accomplish.

It thrills my heart that there is a growing group of young people (and not so young people) who want to get back to classic Adventism and proclaim the three angels' messages, aim for a higher standard of living, and steer clear of compromise. It also makes me glad that there is a group out there that "gets it," realizing that we are not called to entertain our young people but to challenge them. I share most - perhaps even all - of the same values as those who have started this juggernaut. Beyond that, I consider many within the GYC leadership camp to be personal friends.

It is within this context that I want to share one of my biggest - and perhaps only - concerns with those who lead out and participate in GYC. (I hope it is clear that I submit this concern with an attitude of humility, love, and friendliness, and that it is merely one person's perspective.)

This is my concern in very simple terms: as I have observed GYC from a distance over the years (listening to many presentations on Audioverse and tuning in live via the Internet on occasion), I worry that there is, at times, such a huge emphasis on the Adventist distinctives, standards, and - to put it simply - "doing," that there has not been enough emphasis on "the matchless charms of Christ."

To put it a different way: over the course of my short ministry I have determined that there are essentially five components that go into - or at least should go into - every presentation of biblical truth. This is not exact or scientific, but those five components are the following:

1. What Christ has done for us.
2. What Christ is doing for us.
3. What we have done.
4. What we are doing.
5. What we should be doing.

As I listen to much of the material that is presented at GYC, I often come away with the impression that most of the time is spent on numbers four and five - though mostly on number five. And I understand why that is to a large degree. As Adventist Christians, we are not called to sit on our hands or be passive in our faith. Rather, we are called to "go" and "do." Similarly, the church is presently fraught with compromise (though that could be said about any time in the history of Christianity, of course) and we need to be reminded of our high calling. We need to raise the bar when it comes to standards.

I wholeheartedly affirm all these things.

But here is the problem: whenever there is a heavy emphasis on what one should be "doing" or on what one should be believing, we often find ourselves unwittingly setting others up - or even ourselves - to lead an "old covenant" (or that dreaded word "legalistic") lifestyle. And I fear that many young people leave GYC knowing that they should not be listening to certain types of music, or watching movies, or they know that Genesis affirms a literal six-day creation, but they do not have a deeper appreciation for what Christ has done for them and what He continues to do for them.

More than that: they may leave feeling very convicted that they need to start doing certain things - engaging in personal witnessing, living a healthier lifestyle, striving to overcome sin - but they do not have the motivational mechanism nor the know-how to achieve these things. In short, they have not had their hearts compelled by the Gospel or love of Jesus Christ - which is the only vehicle by which anyone can ever accomplish the things we are admonishing them to accomplish.

And time and time again whenever people know what they are supposed to be doing but have a hard time accomplishing it, they simply get driven further and further into discouragement until, at last, they just give up on the whole thing altogether. Lawlessness is sure to follow.

This was the case with Israel of old. Whenever the book of the law was discovered and implemented by a righteous king - like Josiah - it would simply be outward conformity that was emphasized without an inward heart-change that can only be accomplished by the Gospel. And Israel ended up being driven deeper and deeper into apostasy - all because they kept trying to change their outward behavior without having their hearts changed first. And the heart can only truly be changed when it dwells upon what Christ has done for us and what He continues to do for us.

And this heart-change needs to be a 
daily - even moment-by-moment - experience! Thus, we need to constantly be dwelling upon the love of Christ. Or, as Ellen White says, "We must gather about the cross. Christ and Him crucified should be the theme of contemplation, of conversation, and of our most joyful emotion. We should keep in our thoughts every blessing we receive from God, and when we realize His great love we should be willing to trust everything to the hand that was nailed to the cross for us" (Steps to Christ, pp. 103, 104)."

Here is an important concept that must never be forgotten: #5 (what we should be doing) can never be accomplished without a strong emphasis on numbers 1 & 2 (what Christ has done and continues to do for us). Simply put, no talk of 1 & 2, no accomplishment of #5.

Let me repeat that: no talk of 1 & 2, no accomplishment of #5.

And we are not speaking of a "token" mention of Christ's work - both past and present - for us. We are not talking about mentioning it in passing. Everything we present - whether it's a talk on creation/evolution or entertainment or personal witnessing or "no turning back" - must be bathed and saturated with Christ's work on our behalf. As Paul reminds us, "The love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor 5:14-15). This is why Paul, when writing to the Corinthians in his first letter, told them that he didn't want to know anything among them "except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).

Don't get me wrong: I am not speaking about a shallow, fluffy, or "feel-good" presentation of God's love that doesn't challenge anyone. These types of presentations are a dime a dozen and they are generally vague in what it is truly meant by God's love. Subsequently, they don't truly grip the heart - much less change it.

What I am speaking of is a deep, balanced, heart-changing explanation of the love of God that will truly draw one into a whole-hearted commitment to Christ and His mission.

My good friend, Herbert Douglass, likes to talk about the "ellipse of truth." He explains this ellipse: "This means that truth is the sum total of its objective and subjective elements, the two foci in the ellipse of truth." Thus, in any presentation of truth we cannot emphasize one element to the neglect - or diminishing - of the other. It will result in an imbalance that is unhealthy and even deadly.

So when we see the landscape of Adventism and how there seems to be a huge diminishing of our doctrines, our standards, our mission, and an inbalanced emphasis on love, grace, acceptance, forgiveness, etc., we must resist the urge to swing the pendulum in the other direction, unwittingly forcing us into the other ditch. (I am not saying that this is what has - or hasn't - happened with GYC, but that it very easily could happen - especially considering that, as GYC grows in popularity, more and more young people attend who may or may not have a whole-hearted commitment to Christ before attending.)

What we need is a perfect and balanced blending of the two. We need to challenge people - whether young or old - to reach a higher standard and fulfill their divine calling as their hearts are motivated and changed by the love, cross, and Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, will Christ finally have a prepared bride who can truly accomplish what we have been trying to get her to accomplish for the last 167 years (but have been thus far unsuccessful because of the tendency to fall into either ditch).

So that is my friendly appeal to my friends at GYC.

Lastly, I want to share some select quotations from the pen of inspiration that emphasize the need to lift up the love and cross of Christ in every presentation we give. I ask that you give them your prayerful consideration (I would also invite you to read the book Lessons on Faith, by A.T. Jones & E.J. Waggoner, for a good idea of how a person can truly enjoy a changed life as they live by faith):
  • The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption--the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. (Gospel Workers, p. 315)
  • It is our duty to preach faith, to present the love of Christ in connection with the claims of the law; for neither can be rightly understood without the other. In every discourse the love of God, as manifested in Christ, the sinner's only hope, should be dwelt upon until the people realize something of its power and preciousnessIf this is done as it should be, it will not be said of this people that they teach the law but do not believe in repentance, faith, and conversion. We want these subjects to be blended as God has blended them; then will the truth be presented in its completeness, not as a mere theory, but as a power that will transform the character. It will then be preached in demonstration of the Spirit and with power. Then those who have accepted the doctrines of the Bible will not be unfed; they will feel the vivifying influence of the Holy Spirit. (Gospel Workers, pp. 227, 228)
  • Ministers and people have lost much by not dwelling more continually upon the work of our Redeemer. We should contemplate the love that led Christ to give himself as a ransom for fallen man, and this amazing love should be revealed in every discourseThe sacrifice of Christ not only makes apparent his compassion for the children of men, but also makes manifest the love of the Father; and this love ought to draw all men to God. The closest relation exists between God and his people, and the ambassador of God's truth should ever represent Christ. He should exemplify, by precept and example, the love of God, that those who are instructed by him may be brought into a position where they shall receive the divine blessing. The servants of God are to be earnest, penitent, trustful, thankful. Their lives should be living epistles, known and read of all men. They should be continually looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. The subjects dwelt upon by the gospel minister will be of a character to elevate, ennoble, and sanctify the soul. The teacher of divine truth should present the necessity of close communion with God, and dependence upon the righteousness of Christ. When the minister fully realizes his own helplessness without the aid of Christ, the danger of his becoming exalted will be removed, and Christ will absorb everything; his presence will pervade the whole soul, and impress all the senses. (Signs of the Times, January 27, 1890)
  • The Lord can do little for his people, because of their limited faith. The ministers have not presented Christ in his fullness to the people, either in the churches or in new fields, and the people have not an intelligent faith. They have not been instructed as they should have been, that Christ is unto them both salvation and righteousness. The love that Christ manifested in taking human nature, in bearing insult, reproach, and the rejection of men, in suffering crucifixion on the cross, should be presented in every discourse. It is Satan's studied purpose to keep souls from believing in Christ as their only hope; for the blood of Christ that cleanseth from all sin is only efficacious in behalf of those who believe in its merit, and who present it before the Father as did Abel in his offering. (Review and Herald, September 3, 1889)
  • It is true men will say, "You are too excited; you are making too much of this matter, and you do not think enough of the law; now, you must think more of the law; don't be all the time reaching for this righteousness of Christ, but build up the law." Let the law take care of itself. We have been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa, without dew or rain. Let us trust in the merits of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. (1888 Materials, p. 557)
  • In Christ is the tenderness of the shepherd, the affection of the parent, and the matchless grace of the compassionate Saviour. His blessings He presents in the most alluring terms. He is not content merely to announce these blessings; He presents them in the most attractive way, to excite a desire to possess them. So His servants are to present the riches of the glory of the unspeakable Gift. The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrines would accomplish nothing. . . . Tell the people of Him who is "the Chiefest among ten thousand," and the One "altogether lovely." The Song of Solomon 5:10, 16. (The Desire of Ages, pp. 826, 827)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Removing the High Places

People who have read my blog for a while or know me personally have a good idea of my continuous struggle with professional sports. My challenges are fairly well-documented - and confessed!

Over the last year or so, however, the Lord has been putting in my path other people who have seemed to recognize the downfalls of investing too much time (or any time) in this form of entertainment. And these are not just ultra-conservative people. These are individuals who many would probably consider to be fairly well-balanced. My dad, for example, has definitely had a re-thinking of the subject over the last year. Then, one of my seminary professors, out of the blue, shared with me, via e-mail, that he had felt convicted about this area and was not spending as much time worrying about his favorite teams. And just recently, a very good friend of mine, much to my surprise, told me that he has been wondering lately whether he would want his children (that are just a figment of his imagination at this point) to be concerned with sports. "There are a lot better things we could be doing for three hours on a Sunday afternoon," he shared.

I don't think my interactions with these individuals are coincidental - even if just to remind me of my own priorities. And I am also wondering if God is raising a generation of men (or a couple generations of men) who are seeing the follies of professional (and even collegiate) athletics during this important juncture in earth's history. Could our obsession with professional and collegiate athletics be our own modern "high place" or "Baal worship" that God is calling us to remove (for one explanation of the "high places" in Israel, see 2 Kings 17:11)? As I read the Bible, I am startled how, with each successive generation, idolatry got worse and worse - mainly because the previous generation refused to remove the "high places." And I know I don't want that for my children.

Yesterday, this issue was again posed to me by a balanced yet conscientious friend of mine on Facebook. He wanted my perspective on the whole issue because he knows I have shared thoughts on it before and it is something he is struggling with. Below is my very informal and off-the-cuff response to him. Perhaps it will scratch where you're itching. Or perhaps you will respond to my sentiments much the same way others have: with a great deal of ambivalence, ridicule, or feeling as though you are being judged - which is not my intention at all. This is simply where I am in my thinking (though, sadly, as you will see, not in my living) and I do not condemn anyone else for not being at the same place philosophically, spiritually, or otherwise.

Anyway, without further ado, here is how I responded to my friend on Facebook:

Boy, great question! This is something I continue to struggle with. There is what I want to do in my mind, but then there is what my flesh often allures me into doing. I am a pretty easy target when it comes to the devil tempting me with sports, though.

So let me just explain where I am in my thinking, and then where I am in my doing.

For the last ten or so years, I have been under the conviction that God doesn’t want me involved in watching professional sports (and NCAA as well, though that is not as much an issue for me). This is mostly because it is not really all that productive, nor is it edifying, and it distracts me from what is most important in life - God, family, sharing my faith. It really drains me of affections that should be fully devoted to God and family.

Thus, I came to the decision many times over that I cannot participate in sports fandom on any level - watching, reading about, listening about. For me, sports is an addiction that I cannot participate in in moderation. Either I watch a game and get fully sucked into all that surrounds it, or I don’t watch it at all. I cannot find any middle ground.

But I am not even sure that God wants me to find middle ground. I honestly don’t think that there is one single redeeming quality about watching an athletic event - with the exception of doing so with people with whom you are trying to share the gospel or foster a relationship. I am not saying that this is a moral issue on par with one of the Ten Commandments and that if anyone does watch sports he or she is lost and in danger of losing their salvation. This is just where I am in my thinking and everyone is at a different place.

The reason I don’t find there to be much that is redeeming about sports is because of the violence on some level that is usually committed in most sports - especially football and hockey. Football literally shaves years off peoples’ lives. The average NFL player, for example, who plays four years in the league, has a life expectancyof 55 years, with each additional year of playing contributing to an even shorter life expectancy. Thus, we are literally watching people kill themselves - and others - for the sake of entertainment.

Beyond that, the act of competition where people win and lose is antithetical to the gospel, where everyone wins.

Aside from these two issues, the incredible waste of time that sports naturally produces is inexcusable to me, especially at this important juncture of earth’s history, where we are called to be more interested in Christ’s honor, glory, and salvation, then our own entertainment. This does not mean we should be going at a serious pace all day, every day, but that we should choose forms of “recreation” that truly “re-create” rather than destroy our thirst for spiritual matters. Interestingly, I just heard this definition of sin recently by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. It is what John Wesley’s mother told him the definition of sin is when he was a boy, and it is very poignant and relevant to this discussion: “Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

With all that being said, let me just briefly tell you where I am personally as far as implementation. This is an area that I have not fully surrendered over to God. I have moments of victory and periods of “dryness,” but that’s usually not during football season or it’s at times when the Patriots aren’t playing so well. I have lost much of my interest in the Red Sox, though I sometimes listen to them as I am driving during the summer, and I feel like I can do it rather innocently. But when football season comes around, or when the Bruins are playing well, that’s another story. I still have great affection towards these teams!

So pray for me, brother.

*I would encourage anyone and everyone to watch the video below. It is very poignant!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Convergence: A New Blog

Hopefully it won't be the case, but you may be hearing from me less on this blog for a little while. That is because I have been blessed with the opportunity to share my thoughts via a new blog on the Bangor Daily News website. I have called it "Convergence," and it is geared more toward a general audience. This current blog, "New England Pastor," is more of an "in-house," Adventist-focused blog. "Convergence" is geared more toward a general non-Adventist, even non-Christian, audience.

This is an exciting opportunity to share a perspective on God with those who may not encounter it otherwise. The Bangor Daily News website is the most read online news source in Maine, so it provides great potential. I plan to post weekly (usually on Mondays, probably), so bookmark the page:

Thus far, I have shared three posts: 1. "Who Are Seventh-day Adventists?" (which, by God's grace, seems to have garnered some positive feedback - both from Adventists and non-Adventists) 2. "Thankful," and the one I just posted yesterday 3. "More Than This."

Please pray for this venture! And don't worry, I will be sharing still on here as well as the Spirit moves and as time allows.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Did Jesus Always Frown?

I have this problem. It's a terrible problem and I am approaching it with all seriousness. For some reason, for much of my life I have possessed a picture of Jesus that I am not quite sure is completely accurate. I don't know where I got this picture. Maybe it is the visual representations I have seen. Maybe it is the attitude with which people have shared the gospel story. Maybe it is the countenance many Christians have - those who are supposed to be a reflection of Christ.

But the picture I most often have of Jesus actually turns my heart away from Him, rather than drawing it closer to Him.

The picture I most often see of Jesus in my mind is a frowning, despondent, serious, and somber Jesus. It is a Jesus who rarely smiles. A Jesus who seems like He's going through a script. A Jesus who was so focused on His mission that He did not have any time to laugh and communicate joy.

I don't think this is an accurate picture of Jesus at all.

Please don't misunderstand me. I firmly believe that Jesus, when He came to earth, had a serious work to do. I firmly believe that He was, indeed, a "man of sorrows" who was "acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). But I don't think this precluded Him from expressing and displaying pure joy. This doesn't mean that He was careless or irreverent. But I think it does mean that He displayed a pure and holy joy and happiness that caused people to long to be in His presence. After all, the fruit of the Spirit includes "joy" (Galatians 5:22), and Jesus was certainly led by the Spirit!

As I have thought about some of the people who seem to be the most Christ-like in my life, many of them are characterized by having a sincere but joyous countenance. They seem to have a genuine happiness and joy. I think they are simply reflecting their ever-loving Savior.

Ellen White hints at this in a couple places (I am sure there are many, many more quotes like this, but time does not allow me to look them up): "The Lord does not desire us to be sad and disconsolate" (Review and Herald, Sept 10, 1895). She also writes, "Nothing of the world can make sad those whom Jesus makes glad by His presence. In perfect acquiescence there is perfect peace" (Signs of the Times, July 6, 1904).

One of the most beautiful pictures of Jesus I have ever come across is the way that Bruce Marchiano portrayed Him in the "Visual Bible" series on the book of Matthew. I am usually pretty skeptical when it comes to people portraying Jesus in film, on stage, or in a "Passion Play" (I declined an invitation to play Jesus in the Passion Play in college when I was invited. It is a fearful task to take on, not to be taken lightly). I think it can be a little dangerous in presuming to try to portray Him, sometimes bordering on the irreverent. But I think Bruce Marchiano - who presented a chapel talk at Andrews University ten years ago or so when I was a student there - does a very, very good job of representing Him. I have never seen Jesus portrayed in this way. I think it is revolutionary. And whenever my mind turns to his representation of Jesus, it warms my heart. It is a Jesus my heart is attracted to - because it's a smiling Jesus.

If you've never seen any of the series before, check out this Youtube clip below. The series simply takes the gospel stories from the NIV and follows it word-for-word. There is a narrator and all the characters stick to the exact words that the Bible says.

Of course, all this causes me to evaluate my own portrayal of Christ. I think I need to smile more.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Musings, observations and the occasional insight

(Every once in a while I still read Don Banks's "Snap Judgments" about the National Football League where he shares his "Musings, observations and the occasional insight" about the week of NFL games. I don't admit this proudly - only to indicate where I got the title for this particular post.)

I want to share a few random and often unrelated thoughts that are rolling around in my mind about life, politics, the Gospel, prophecy, etc. Some of them may be the basis for future blog posts. More than likely, however, none of them will be.

And so, without further ado, here are some random thoughts:

  • I think it is a lot easier to villainize a person when you do not know him or her personally. I have experienced this far-too-often firsthand. I am a lot more likely to tone down the rhetoric if I realize the person to whom I am responding is a real person, with real feelings, and a real soul to save; a person who is precious and valuable to God.
  • With that being said, I'd like to borrow an old C.S. Lewis argument and apply it to someone/something else: either Catholicism and the Pope are exactly who they say they are (God's unerring and infallible representatives on earth), or they are "the devil of hell" (Mere Christianity, p. 43). There can be no other option. For no Church can claim to be what the Catholic Church claims to be and be anything but what it claims to be - or the Antichrist. This is very "black and white" and polarizing thinking, I know. But again, I am talking about the "system" itself, rather than the individual members. My thoughts on the issue were solidified in my mind almost ten years ago when I stood atop St. Peter's Basilica and looked down upon the Pope's quarters.
  • The same is logically true of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (though we do not claim to be "infallible").
  • I bet you will never guess - in a million years - what the population of the City of London is. Keep reading to find out the answer!! (How is that for a teaser?)
  • I have been pondering lately what would have happened had Christ not completed His salvation mission or lived a completely victorious/sinless life. Would Satan have immediately gained control of the whole universe? Would the whole universe have immediately imploded? Would the problems only have been limited to this earth? We will probably never know these answers this side of heaven.
  • It seems to me that most of us, when we reject an idea that we once subscribed to, get very cynical about the people who still subscribe to the idea and assume that there is no way the person(s) has arrived at that idea by thinking critically. We assume they are incapable of thinking independently, but have instead been "brainwashed" or are just spewing the party "talking points." And then we think we have already heard every possible argument for the particular viewpoint, and know, for certain, that it cannot be true, immediately discounting any argument that might come our way in favor of the rejected idea. Am I being ambiguous enough?
  • I think the "faith of Jesus" is one of the most foundational ideas in scripture that I am starting to understand more and more. And, by God's grace, it will be the basis for my next book - if I ever write another one (much less get it published).
  • I am surprised when I come across a committed and conscientious reader of Ellen White who doesn't believe in the idea of total victory over sin - and a completely mature generation at Christ's coming. Not only is the idea prevalent in Scripture, it is in every crack and crevice of her writings.
  • I truly believe time is short.
  • I have always been amused by the term "worship leader," as if "worship" only happened during a Saturday or Sunday morning ceremony, and that one could actually be "led" by another through this very personal experience.
  • Similarly, I have been "amused" by how churches are sometimes renaming themselves "worship centers" (like a church near where I used to live in New Hampshire did), again, for the above reasons, and as if we can only engage in "worship" within the confines of those four walls. Does 1 Samuel 15:22 mean anything to us?
  • I heard the last 15 minutes of a Mark Finley sermon a month ago, during the 3ABN Camp Meeting, and it was the best sermon I have ever heard him preach! It was full of the new covenant gospel message of "Christ our righteousness." And I e-mailed him to tell him that soon after. He graciously responded.
  • I played racquetball with my brother-in-law the other night for the first time in about eight years. He thoroughly thrashed me. Truth be told, it was the first athletics I have participated in since having ACL reconstruction over two years ago (my knee still isn't back to where it should be for a multitude of reasons - chiefly among them being my laziness). It was a blast. I forgot how fun racquetball is - and we will be playing regularly from here on out. And hopefully I can hold my own against him eventually.
  • Whoever said that you should not live close to family - or in-laws - didn't know what they were talking about. Either that, or they did not have my brother-in-law and sister-in-law living three houses away, like we do.
  • I guess I have given some people the impression in the past that I did not think my seminary training was beneficial. This could not be further from the truth. I absolutely loved my time in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and think there are many fine Christians who teach there.
  • One of my absolute favorite seminary occasions was chapel every week - especially when the 300-400 attendees (mostly men) would sing a hearty hymn. Nothing against women, but there was just something about having a predominantly-male congregation, lifting up their strong voices during chapel. There is a nostalgic feel to it.
  • I was also ecstatic whenever I would show up to chapel and see a man I greatly admire - Dr. Richard Davidson - as the scheduled speaker. He always made seemingly archaic Old Testament stories, rituals, ceremonies, and concepts come alive.
  • The population of the City of London is 11,700! (Check out this Wikipedia article for the explanation.)
  • I listened/watched my friend, Mark Cleminson's, testimony today (he, of Amazing Discoveries fame). Though there are still some unsettled questions in my mind, I think he presented a very balanced and edifying message.
  • I heard from someone else this week that the Vatican is supposedly funding Islam - the same Islam that rose up as a protest against the false Christianity of Catholicism, and the same Islam that Catholicism fought back against. And now the Vatican is funding their hated rival. I am not saying it is totally crazy, but it is almost . . . .
  • Then again, their long time nemeses - the Waldensians, Lutherans, Anglicans, etc. - have "kissed and made up" with Rome in some fashion or another over the last decade or two. So who knows?
  • I know this stuff is not breaking news for those who regularly get their diet from various conspiracy sources, but supposedly the "smoking gun" in all this was Slobodan Milosevic - the deplorable Yugoslavian dictator who was responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent lives (or so the media wants us to believe, it is alleged). Supposedly, during his trial - in which he defended himself - this genocidal man pulled back the curtain on Catholicism's funding of Islam. He seems like a very credible source to me - if, in fact, this is even what he said during his trial. (I trust you sense my sarcasm.)
  • On the other hand, someone else proposed to me the other day that, essentially, there was no way the Vatican could seize the same level of control in the world - at least in the West - because all these countries enjoy a democracy, unlike bygone eras when they were run by "hereditary monarchy systems." But these same Western countries, allegedly committed to democracy today, are becoming more and more socialist in their approach, resulting in the stripping away of freedoms - especially religious ones. Exhibit A is Canada, where it is becoming increasingly "sticky" to maintain one's commitment to religious convictions and speak out against - for example - gays, without potentially violating hate speech laws. Methinks it isn't a stretch to imagine a day when all these democracy-loving countries (including the United States) will one day strip away all our freedoms for "the common good."
  • Which is why, to me, it has become increasingly sensible to be a "libertarian" when it comes to politics.
  • I was greatly blessed by my dad's presentation on "corporate repentance" a few weeks ago at the NNEC Prayer Retreat. I don't think anyone else has ever presented it in such a powerful, balanced, practical, non-judgmental, and loving way. And I can truly say that it made a lot more sense to me than it ever has in the past. Which is why I think it is just what the Seventh-day Adventist Church needs to hear - especially at this critical juncture of earth's history.
  • I have a beautiful, loving, and gracious wife. And one of the things that amazes me the most about her is how she can stay at home all day with two crying kids, get frustrated with them, and then come back a few minutes later and seem to have boundless energy, love, and affection for them. She is able to put the stress behind her and commit herself fully to them - in a loving and caring way.
  • I am also amazed at how I grow to love and adore my kids more and more every day - constantly thinking that my love for them cannot grow any deeper or richer. But it does.
  • And I am also skeptical about the idea that I am going to love my kids even more when they are whiny, self-centered, fairly cognitively-developed teenagers, than when they are cute, innocent toddlers and infants. But people tell me this is true. Until then, I will just accept it by faith.
  • This is no criticism of any of my former churches, but I think God has my family in the right place at just the right time. I have been able to devote so much more time to my growing family in this district right now than I probably would have been able to if we had not moved. And we would have been living in a two-bedroom condo (with Acadia Belle living in our closet, or we, living in the basement, two flights of stairs away from our kids who think it makes sense to wake up frequently through the night).
  • God works in mysterious ways - or at least brings good things out of less-than-ideal circumstances.
  • If you read through my complete list of ramblings . . . congratulations!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Universe at Risk

(Note: this is the unedited version of my upcoming editorial for New England Pastor magazine.)

I am always intrigued by how much I learn about God from my kids. I know that I am no exception. These discoveries are often the result of the little headaches, heartaches, and challenges that come along when one is a parent. Sometimes they are from a Bible story I might be explaining or reading to my son, Camden. In this case, I gained profound theological insight into the great controversy as I was reading the story of “Jabel the shepherd” from the My Bible Friends series.

The story is a retelling of Jesus’ “lost sheep” parable in Luke 15. It recounts the tender care the shepherd has for his sheep, the protection and guidance he gives them. I remember the version well, sitting on my father’s lap long ago, scanning the painted pictures and listening to the reassuring words of God’s love, care, and searching heart. But as I was going through the story with Camden during this particular occasion, I was startled by a clear inaccuracy in the rendition. According to the author, when “Jabel” (as the author names him) goes out to search for the one lost sheep, he leaves the 99 in the sheep pen. But this is not how Jesus tells the story. According to Jesus, the shepherd actually leaves the 99 “in the wilderness” and goes after the one lost sheep.

The reason this jumped out at me is because I have been perplexed by Jesus’ words for a long time. The Greek word for “wilderness” is eremos and it very clearly denotes a deserted place, unprotected against any or all that might wish to cause harm. It offers no safety while the shepherd attempts his rescue-saving mission and, presumably, if the shepherd never returns, the sheep will be left to fend for themselves, dangerously vulnerable and in jeopardy of themselves getting lost.

“Why,” I had always wondered, “would Jesus imply that He leaves the 99 in danger while attempting to find the one?” Of course, I fully recognize that not every parable—nor every word in those parables—is supposed to carry deep theological insight. But neither do I want to discount such anomalies out of hand, presuming that a story, text, or word was simply arbitrarily chosen by the author.

And that’s when it hit me (I guess all I needed was a little visual aid): The reason that Jesus says that the 99 are left in the wilderness is because these represent the unfallen beings in the universe that were endangered when Christ came on His earth-bound rescue mission. Think about it: If Jesus had failed in His rescue mission, what would have happened to the unfallen universe?

Thus, not only did God risk Himself in the plan of salvation, but the entire universe was placed at risk as well.

Though not addressing this idea in its fullness, Ellen White gives credence to some of these ideas in Christ’s Object Lessons. There she writes, “The rabbis understood Christ’s parable as applying to the publicans and sinners; but it has also a wider meaning. By the lost sheep Christ represents not only the individual sinner but the one world that has apostatized and has been ruined by sin. This world is but an atom in the vast dominions over which God presides, yet this little fallen world—the one lost sheep—is more precious in His sight than are the ninety and nine that went not astray from the fold. Christ, the loved Commander in the heavenly courts, stooped from His high estate, laid aside the glory that He had with the Father, in order to save the one lost world.”[1]

With this “wider meaning” in place and recognizing that the lost sheep represents the fallen world in a corporate sense, it stands to reason that the 99 do, in fact, represent those—perhaps the other created worlds—who have never fallen. And, thus, we are able to see that we are “more precious” to God than the unfallen beings that reside in the vast reaches of the universe.

So what does all this mean? Is it simply a nice theological idea that has no relevance to our lives? Hardly. Recognizing the risk the whole universe was placed in gives me a deeper appreciation for how much God values me and the premium He places upon my redemption. It also helps me take my eyes off my own salvation and onto the broader issues that are taking place. Though God’s heart is all about me and my salvation, my heart shouldn’t be. I should have more sympathy for what God has been up to in this great controversy, and more sympathy for the unfallen universe that has been placed at risk—and been forced to wait a long time—for God’s plan of salvation to draw to its exciting zenith. Thus, I can respond to God’s grace not only for His sake, but the entire universe’s as well. After all, as Paul declares in Romans, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, NKJV).

[1] Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1941), 190-191.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Two Nights, Two Conversations, One Realization

The last two nights I have been a part of two unrelated - yet related - conversations. Neither of them were earth-shattering, but they gave me occasion to do a little reflecting. Last night, my wife and I were treated to a much-needed night out. Camille's brother and his wife now live three houses down from us in Maine, which has been such a huge blessing on many levels, and they were gracious enough to hang out at our house after our kids went to sleep.

When we returned from enjoying a meal at our local Indian restaurant, a quick trip to the mall, and the L.L. Bean outlet, we visited with them for a while. We get the opportunity to do this 2-3 nights a week and we usually have enjoyable conversations. Last night was no different. At one point in our conversation, though, we got to talking about our formative years. We reflected upon our family dynamics, our relationship with our parents and siblings, and so forth - which caused me to come to an interesting realization that I shared with the three of them. "When I think about where I was as a kid or teenager," I said, "I am amazed that I ever grew out of that. I am amazed that I 'escaped' from those crazy years." And, as I shared with them, it is usually pretty embarrassing to think about where I used to be.

They all agreed. As we looked back on those years, we all realized that we were nothing but self-centered, silly, ignorant brats (my words)! It is quite startling to come face-to-face with this reality. (I shared similar reflections on this a few years ago.)

But then I got to thinking about this again this morning, as I was watching my little two-and-a-half year-old, Camden, and my eight-month old Acadia. And I was even more startled with this poignant and sobering question: do I suppose that I am no longer a self-centered, silly, ignorant brat? Has anything really changed?

Two nights ago, I was at Prayer Meeting. We are currently studying the book of Romans. We've been in the book for about a month now and we just got through the first chapter. We have had many interesting and insightful conversations. Some how, we got to talking about the "p" word the other night - perfection, a word that causes many people to break out in a cold sweat or hives. As John Wesley said, "There is scarce any expression in Holy Writ which has given more offence than this. The word perfect is what many cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them. And whosoever preaches perfection (as the phrase is,) that is, asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them worse than a heathen man or a publican."

In our discussion, though, my mind turned to what Paul writes about it in Philippians. "Not that I have already attained or am already perfected," he declares, "but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me" (3:12). Very clearly, Paul indicates that he has not reached that lofty goal of perfection. But he was still aiming for it and pressing on.

But a few verses later, Paul takes an interesting twist that is not fully appreciated when we simply read it in English. In verse 15 he admonishes the Philippians, "Therefore, let us, as many as are mature, have this mind . . . " The word for "mature" is the adjectival form of the verb "perfect" (adj., teleios; verb, teleio) in verse 12. Thus, Paul says, "Not that I have already attained or am already perfected . . . . [but] let us, as many as are perfect . . . "

So there is a sense in which, according to Paul, we are already perfect and yet not yet perfect. (As an aside, it is important to recognize that, according to Paul, arriving at perfection is a passive experience on our part. This is evident, even by reading the English. The verb in Greek is in the passive form in v. 12, meaning another Agent is performing the perfecting work and we are simply receiving it. Thus, it is not about us, trying harder to be good or become perfect. It's about "consenting" for Christ to do the work. See also Phil 1:6 and Christ's Object Lessons, p. 159). This only makes sense when we approach concepts relating to soteriology (salvation) from a "process" point of view and it helps us recognize that, for Paul, perfection is just as much a journey as it is a destination.

Recognizing this tension keeps us out of two ditches: it keeps us out of the one ditch that says we need to reach "absolute perfection" before Christ can come (often defined from a human perspective and relating to behavior modification) and the other ditch that says we will never arrive at the place where we will learn to always say "yes" to God and leave our lives of sin behind (which often leads to complacency in the Christian walk).

Paul's passage in Philippians relates to my reflections on the past because it tells me that, so long as I am continuing to grow and move toward the goal, God considers me to be "perfect." Yet I cannot feel satisfied and complacent in where I am because God, does, indeed, want me to eventually arrive at the place - completely by His grace - where I learn to say "yes" to Him all the time and I can be trusted with eternity, ultimately vindicating His character before the universe.

Of course, it does get tricky when one starts measuring "growth." By what standard does one measure growth? What is the fruit that one should inspect to see if there has been growth? Should I be watching less TV than I did ten years ago; eating healthier; going to be earlier? Or are the areas that I need to inspect more in the relational arena - ie., am I more patient, forgiving, loving, initiating? Or do I need to simply worry more about my social conscience - ie., my interaction with the poor, underprivileged, and hurting?

Or is there a place to inspect all these areas?

These are questions that cannot be answered now. But one last thing: whatever the case, I do know that we need God to do the inspecting because we do not even know our own hearts. Thus, one of the safest prayers we can ever utter is, along with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's All Just Icing

It seems to me that if there was one idea that I wish everyone could be impressed with, it would be this: the only thing - and I mean the only thing - anyone in this world deserves is non-existence.

That's it.

I, myself, have been impressed with this idea more and more recently. It is an idea that I have been familiar with for a long time, but for some reason, it seems to be hitting home a lot more in recent times. And I think that if people in this world could just come to recognize this truth, there would be a lot more gratitude and a lot less anger.

We wouldn't have people feeling entitled to everything. We wouldn't have greedy Wall Street bankers or angry protesters who want their hides. We wouldn't have people feeling as though the world is owed to them. We wouldn't have divorce. We wouldn't have Middle East conflicts.

This is because all of us would realize that anything beneficial that happens to come our way is simply "icing on the cake." It's a bonus. It's the cherry on top. The only thing we truly deserve is non-existence.

There are two very basic tenets of scripture that are foundational to this reality. They come from two passages in Romans that are frequently cited but not often milked for all their beauty. The first is Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The second, of course, is three chapters later, "For the wages of sin is death." The word for "wage" literally means "payment" or "compensation." It is that which a person earns on the basis of the work he or she has done. Thus, it is what he or she "deserves."

Of course, the work that every single human being has done is "sin." I prefer to put it in much more "PC" language: sin is the act of being selfish - which no human being can deny is an intrinsic part of our human fabric. In fact, I would argue that it is not only a "part" of our human fabric, it is the very core from which all our actions flow.

Thus, in light of the fact that we are all saturated with sin and fall into its snares every day, the only thing that any of us deserve - the only thing we are truly entitled to and should be the rightful recipients of - is death and non-existence. In fact, the human race should not even have continued to exist beyond Adam and Eve's infamous fall.

Ellen White puts it this way: "The inheritance of children is that of sin. Sin has separated them from God . . . As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death" (9MR, p. 236).

This is our rightful lot.

Yet we are still here.

And this is the reality that all of us need to recognize, grapple with, understand, and appreciate. We should not exist right now, but we do. We deserve death, punishment, non-existence. But instead we have all been given life.

As Ellen White states elsewhere, "To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring" (The Desire of Ages, p. 660).

This is further supplemented by what she goes onto say in the next sentence of the first quote I shared, "But Christ steps in and passes over the ground where Adam fell, enduring every test in man's behalf. He redeems Adam's disgraceful failure and fall by coming forth from the trial untarnished. This places man on vantage ground with God" (9MR, p. 236). It must be noted that the term "vantage ground" means "a position or place that gives one an advantage."

Though this concept may seem overly simplistic, I think that recognizing it has tremendous implications for my every day life. In full disclosure, I don't know how many times in my own marriage and family life I think I am entitled and deserve better treatment or greater benefits that I am simply not receiving. After watching my kids for two hours, I feel frustrated when my wife wants to have me watch them a little longer so she can go for a walk, or take a shower, or do anything other than watch them. "But I've just watched them for two hours," I think to myself, "I deserve to have a little peace and quiet now."

I do?

Says who?

This reality has implications for politics and the economy as well. We would find a lot less corporate greed and political jealousy. We wouldn't have teachers going on strike or unions demanding their "rights." The only right that any of us deserve is death. Everything, absolutely everything, is a gift from God.

This means that my life would be defined a lot more by gratitude. To use a very simple analogy, by virtue of the sin I was born into and the sin I continuously participate in, my rightful inheritance should actually be millions of dollars of debt. Yet not only has Christ, by virtue of His death and taking on the debt, zeroed my account, He has actually left me with a positive balance that equals billions of dollars.

Thus, am I going to cry, and be greedy, if I don't receive a few extra dollars that I think other people owe me? Am I going to get angry when my cell phone carrier has been charging me too much for too long? Am I going to get upset when my bank charges me a $5 monthly fee to use my debit card? Am I going to feel slighted when a person does not give me proper recognition, as if I were thinking in my mind, "Do they know who I am?" Am I justified in feeling frustrated when a person withholds his or her affections from me, as if there was some inherit worthiness within myself that deserves their undying commitment? Do I get annoyed at the person who is taking forever at the cash register because he or she is using 500 coupons, and all I want to do is purchase my loaf of bread?

As I already said, receiving anything in life is simply a bonus, extra gravy, a blessing.

So when I look at the equation, it elicits a response of humility, gratitude, and appreciation. And I find myself living in the shadows of the constant tension between where I should be right now and where I actually am. And I realize that I can live with the little annoyances and frustrations because that is the reality (which is far too often passed over): I am living.

And finding the balance between the two tensions causes me to live a life of faith - "I once was lost, but now I'm found."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pursued - now in stock from Amazon

My new book, Pursued, is now available and in stock from

You can purchase it by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Something's Gotta Give

(From top left to right: Texas wildfires, Alabama tornado destruction, Washington DC's National Cathedral earthquake aftermath, Vermont flooding)

People who read my blog or hear me preach or read other stuff I've written know that I do not dwell very much on the "signs of the times." In fact, I cannot remember ever taking a full sermon, article, blog or anything to focus on the idea that we are near the end of time and that the Lord is coming soon. It's not that I do not believe we are in the end times, nor is it that I don't think it is important we acknowledge the craziness in which we live. I just avoid talking about the subject for a few reasons:

1. I find that mentioning such things is often fear-inducing - exactly the opposite of what God is trying to do in these last days (see 1 John 4:18). God does not use "fear" to motivate. Instead, He seeks to use love as the motivating factor in Christians' lives.

2. Many of these "signs" have been happening for a long time. This does not mean that I do not believe they will happen with greater frequency before Christ comes, but it seems like for hundreds of years we have been saying, "Look at all that has been happening in the world; it must mean that the Lord is coming soon!" I don't want to be a scoffer like in the days of Noah, but in light of the next point, I do not look at the conditions of the world as the primary barometer as to the parousia's nearness.

3. The primary reason I do not get caught up in sign-watching is because, as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I believe Christ has been waiting for us for the last 165+ years, not the other way around. Christ could have come a long time ago, but He didn't. This is because He has been waiting for a "bride" to make herself "ready" (see Revelation 19:7). Only when this happens will any worldly conditions mean anything.

I write all this because even I have sat up in my chair lately and noticed the signs! I am baffled - absolutely baffled - by all the goings-on in the world, especially as it is related to natural disasters. Never before in my life have I witnessed as many natural disasters - and incredibly destructive ones, at that - as there has been in the last year or two.

What really has me shaking my head is what recently went on in Vermont in the wake of Hurricane Irene. For the last few years, you could often overhear me saying, "New England seems to be sheltered from any major natural disasters." I almost felt as though we were invincible. But then Hurricane Irene pretty much swamped all of Vermont, leaving major destruction in its wake (click here to see some amazing pictures of the Green Mountain State), and I couldn't help but notice.

So I got to thinking about all that has gone on in the last few years, and here are some of the major weather-related events that have happened:

1. 7.0 magnitude Haiti earthquake - January 12, 2010
2. 8.8 magnitude Chile earthquake - January 27, 2010
3. Iceland volcano eruption - April 16, 2010
4. Russian wildfires - July - September, 2010
7. Mississippi River floods - April - May 2011
8. Joplin tornado - May 22, 2011
9. Massachusetts tornadoes - June 1, 2011
10. Texas wildfires - April - September, 2011
11. Eastern United States earthquake - August 23, 2011
12. Hurricane Irene and flooding - August, 2011

This list does not even include Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the crazy snowstorms in the American south!

But many people have sat up and taken notice. In fact, it is not uncommon for newscasters to shake their heads and describe the disasters in apocalyptic language. Just recently, one newscaster in Boston said that he never remembers a time where there were tornadoes, an earthquake, and a hurricane all in one summer. It is just mindboggling.

Of course, everyone has a different explanation for why we have seen so many disasters in the last few years, but for my money, there are really only four viable explanations as to why we have seen these catastrophic events - two are "natural," the other two are "supernatural."

1. Man-made global warming
2. Natural weather cycles
3. God is punishing America or the world for its (our) immorality
4. God is slowly letting go of the four winds of heaven (see Revelation 7:1-4) because His sealing time is drawing to a close

In the interest of time, I will just go right to the fourth option - the one I think is most likely. I believe that God is slowly letting go of the four winds of heaven and indicating to us that time is short. I say this mostly because of the positive things I see happening among God's people more than anything else. I see there being a dual ripening of God's people and the world at the same time (see Revelation 14:14-20). If it was just the world that was getting crazier and crazier, and if it was just the weather that was just getting more and more destructive, I wouldn't pay much attention. But I see a lot of things all converging at one time, indicating that time is short.

I see mainly three things converging (sorry for all the lists - this is atypical for me):

1. The economic upheaval in America and in the world - which just seems to be getting worse and worse, much to everyone's surprise. Just when we think we've hit rock bottom, we seem to dig ourselves deeper.
2. The aforementioned natural disasters.
3. The call - and response - for revival among God's people. There seems to be a definite re-awakening for the message of Christ's righteousness among my particular community of faith. The leader of our denomination has called for church-wide revival. People have a renewed interest in the message of righteousness by faith. Not to get too provincial or myopic, but I see incredible things happening in New England among Seventh-day Adventists as it relates to righteousness by faith (read this for one vignette into it).

The convergence of these three things - and others - leads me to believe that Christ is at the door. But especially the last one. I believe we are on the verge of world-wide revival. I believe Christ is coming soon - or, at the very least, He is trying really hard to come real soon.

But it rests upon us to seize the opportunity to prepare ourselves - by His grace - for the "marriage of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7).

Chapter One

If you are interested in reading the first chapter of my new book, Pursued by a Relentless God, you can find that by clicking here.

Similarly, you can order the book by going here.

It should also be available from soon from here - including the kindle version.

And, if you're interested in reading the book I published three years ago, Waiting at the Altar, you can find that here at as well.

Sorry for all the self-promotion. In all sincerity, I am very uncomfortable with it - but I am also remembering that if I feel like God impressed me with a message to share, then the word needs to get out!

Lastly, here is the promo video once again:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Real Problem With "Spiritual Formation"

Note: This is a "sneak peak" of my rather lengthy editorial in the September-October 2011 issue of New England Pastor magazine.

A lot has been made recently about the topic of “Spiritual Formation.” Books have been written, blogs have been posted, sermons have been preached, pastors and teachers have been accused. It has become one of the hottest issues within Adventism.

At the center of the controversy is the idea that certain individuals within our ranks are promoting—or, at the very least, unwittingly endorsing—a “New Spirituality” that goes beyond an innocent and appropriate spirituality that the Bible and Ellen White promote, and into the world of Eastern spirituality, Catholic mysticism, and pantheism. We hear phrases like “contemplative prayer,” “centering prayer,” and “meditation” thrown around, and the result has been an atmosphere of suspicion and criticism.

Just recently, one of our denomination’s publications conducted an interview with a few professors from our seminary on the topic. In the interview, the individuals sought to assure Adventists that, though some of the “buzz” terminology has been used, the seminary is not promoting in any way a form of “Spiritual Formation” that is on par with Catholic or Eastern versions of it.

I read the article with interest because I took a class in the seminary from one of the professors who was being interviewed—a professor who I respect greatly and believe to be a genuine man of God, who has also written for New England Pastor in the past. In fact, it was the class “Spiritual Formation” (which, in an attempt to alleviate concerns, has subsequently been renamed “Foundations of Biblical Spirituality”) and it was the very first class that I took in the seminary—a class that all incoming M.Div students are required to take at the very beginning of their seminary training. Overall, I felt like the interview accurately reflected my experience in the class, and I did not notice any overt—or even subtle—reliance upon the unfortunate practices that have been allegedly borrowed from Catholic and Eastern religions. There was no mention of “centering prayer” or anything of the sort—at least that I can remember (though, in the interest of full disclosure, it has been five years since I took the class and my ear was not necessarily attuned for these buzz phrases).

With that being said, I do have some serious concerns about the emphasis on so-called “Spiritual Formation” that goes beyond any type of “New Age” connection it may or may not have. The truth is, I do not know if there are people within our ranks who are deliberately—or even unwittingly—promoting a type of spirituality that borders on the spiritualistic; there very well might be. The real concern for me with “Spiritual Formation” is that it very subtly leads people into an old covenant (or salvation by works) mentality and experience.

Every theological or spiritual paradigm either leads people into a system of salvation by works or a system of salvation by grace. There is no middle ground. Either the paradigm leads to a man-initiated old covenant experience or a God-initiated new covenant experience. It either engenders to bondage or it engenders to freedom. It either focuses on man, seeking God, or God, seeking man.

For my money, the “Spiritual Formation” paradigm sadly falls into the former category—it is a paradigm that seems to focus on what man has to do to seek and get a hold of God—rather than vice-versa.

But is God so hard to find that we need to jump through all these hoops to find Him?

I picked up a copy just recently of a book that, for many, is the authoritative work on “Spiritual Formation.” The book was required reading for a class I took a decade ago on “personal spirituality” as an undergrad. Wanting to get a better sense of where this paradigm is coming from, I was fairly startled to read again the explanation of why a person goes about engaging in so-called “spiritual disciplines.” The author—who comes from the Quaker tradition—writes, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.”[1]

As I re-read this explanation, I once again realized why I was so uneasy with the book—and the class—over a decade ago. The author proposes that we go about certain disciplines—meditation, prayer, fasting, solitude, service, etc.—as a way of receiving God’s grace. But is this how we “receive” God’s grace? Isn’t this more akin to the Catholic method of receiving grace—which is done through the sacraments—than what the Bible prescribes? Do we not receive God’s grace when our hearts respond by faith to the proclamation of the Gospel (see Romans 10:10, 17; Ephesians 2:8; 3:17; etc.) —a point that the Protestant Reformation rested upon?[2]

To be fair, the author of this book—and many others—would say that we are saved entirely by grace and that our salvation is based solely upon the merits of Christ. What they are talking about, they will say, is the process of sanctification; of becoming more like Jesus. But isn’t the Christian journey from beginning to end received solely on the basis of faith? Are we not justified and sanctified as our hearts respond in faith—and thus, these so-called “disciplines” are done in response to receiving God’s grace, not as a basis for it?

Unfortunately, I very rarely hear and read much about faith at all when it comes to the topic of “Spiritual Formation.” There is little-to-no emphasis on the objective work of Christ on Calvary; of the fact that Christ forgives us of our sins and gives us a new heart when we respond to Him by faith; of the fact that we have a seeking Savior who writes His law on our hearts and minds and finishes the work He began in us, thus making obedience a delight to us.

This, to me, is what is most troubling about “Spiritual Formation.”

[1] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: the path to spiritual growth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 7.

[2] Rick Howard, in his book, The Omega Rebellion (Coldwater, Mich.: Remnant Publications, 2010), 25-30, does a good job of contrasting the faith-based experience of Martin Luther, which catapulted the Reformation, and the works-based experience of his contemporary, Ignatius of Loyola, who was the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and forefather of modern “Spiritual Formation.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wishing I Could Write in the Prophetic Perfect

Oh, how I wish I could write in the prophetic perfect and say that this mountain has been conquered. But three amigos and I will be attempting to climb Mt. Katahdin - Maine's highest peak and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail - on Thursday and Friday. It stands at 5,268 feet and we are planning to hike Knife Edge - one of the most thrilling and daunting trails in the northeastern United States. I have never climbed Katahdin and, in fact, it will definitely be the greatest summit I have ever tried, but I am really, really, looking forward to it!

But I petition your prayers. And enjoy a few images from Google Earth of this beautiful mountain (the first is the perspective from Chimney Pond, where we will be camping Thursday night, the second from Knife Edge - a trail that, at times, shrinks to three feet wide with a drop-off on each side of the trail).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mary Magdalene's Story

This is probably Elder Robert Wieland's most well-known sermon. It is a powerful, powerful one that I would encourage you to watch.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Passing of a Giant

You probably won't read the news of his passing in the Adventist Review, or on the Adventist News Network website. You probably won't read it in Spectrum or see it announced on 3ABN. And that's fine. But the Adventist Church just lost one of its biggest - yet maligned - giants last week. Elder Robert J. Wieland - missionary to Africa, author of over 25 books, and herald of our history - passed away on Wednesday morning, July 13. He was 95-years old and ready for the Lord to return. Sadly, he did not see this fulfilled.

Whether realized or not, it could be argued that his influence across Adventism over the last 60 years has been unsurpassed. After coming across a book by E.J Waggoner in 1939 entitled The Glad Tidings, he fell in love with the gospel and became startled that few within his own community of faith shared his enthusiasm. And he was even more startled to discover that Adventism's own messenger - Ellen White - proclaimed that the message E.J. Waggoner, along with A.T. Jones, was sharing would usher in the latter rain and bring about Christ's Second Coming if embraced by the church. But when he, along with fellow missionary Donald K. Short, called this truth to the attention of church leadership, the news was not received.

And so, for the next 60 years, until his passing, he served as "a voice crying in the wilderness," reacquainting the church with that "most precious message" and encouraging us to repent of rejecting what the Lord wanted to do among us.

It was this latter emphasis that met with the strongest reactions and most resistance. It was this emphasis that many simply could not bear.

I had the privilege of knowing Elder Wieland, either indirectly or directly, for essentially my whole life. He was a family friend and I remember him staying with us on at least one occasion when I was a kid. But not only was he a family friend, he was also a huge spiritual and theological influence. Much of my understanding of the gospel came as a result of reading his books, listening to his sermons, and, to a lesser extent, corresponding with him personally.

The last time I saw Elder Wieland was three years ago - almost to the day. I spent almost five hours with him at his home in Meadow Vista, California. He served me a "simple, simple meal," as he said, and we enjoyed great fellowship. He was alone, having laid to rest his wife just a short time before. As always, his heart was heavy with the burden of that "most precious message" and he reacquainted me with his experience. His grief seeped out as he recounted, not only the challenges he faced personally (threats of disfellowship; the emotional assault on he and his family throughout the years), but the pain that has been brought to His Savior because of His bride's refusal to prepare herself for the wedding.

Of course, he almost couldn't contain his excitement when he would ask me, in response to when I would mention the names of professors and pastors I encountered during my time in the seminary, "Is he with us?" Whenever I would start talking about a person who seemed to be sympathetic to that "most precious message," he would ask this question, with a twinkle in his eye. He was still holding out hope that pastors, professors, and other church leaders would lay hold of the message and proclaim it with power. He was still holding out hope that he could be a part of the group that saw the Lord's return.

And, to be honest, I was convinced that the Lord was preserving Elder Wieland for His Second Coming so that he might be translated, honoring his many years of faithful labor. After all, every time I saw him I was amazed at how his age didn't seem to match his health. He always seemed to look a lot younger than he actually was. But his passing before the Second Coming speaks to the precise point he made for so long: even the Lord's hands are tied when it comes to the timing of His return and whether the bride prepares herself.

Of course, a strong hope in that blessed hope was not realized by Elder Wieland; but his work has not been in vain. The influence of this Adventist Giant has rippled out to the ends of the earth and shall continue to do so, I trust, until the Lord's return.

Until then, Elder Wieland, "having obtained a good testimony through faith," will, like the great faith heroes of Hebrews 11, wait in his grave, not having "receive[d] the promise, God having provided something better for us, that [he and] they should not be made perfect apart from us" (Hebrews 11:39-40).

May we all, by God's grace, be that generation that is made perfect on their behalf - and on the Lord's behalf.

E'en so, Lord Jesus quickly come.

(Update: Elder Wieland's obituary - which I have not yet read - is available here)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Which Came First?

Not to belabor the topic of corporate justification, but I would just like to, very briefly, add one more thought to this important topic (please read three of my recent posts on this important topic: "The Sticking Point," "My Personal Journey With Corporate Justification," and "Investigating the Biblical Basis for Corporate Justification") .

That is, I have heard people object that God could not have justified the whole world at the cross because "to justify" means not only to "declare righteous" but to "make righteous." And since the whole world is clearly not righteous in an actual sense, there is no way God could have justified the whole world at the cross.

Furthermore, what benefit is there to God to declare someone to be righteous if that person is not actually righteous? Isn't it just a sham righteousness that does not fool God, whose ultimate goal is to have a people who are actually made righteous?

But such objections beg a lot of questions.

Firstly, how is a person made righteous?

Secondly, does a person's righteousness exist prior to God's declaration of righteousness, or subsequent (or even simultaneous) to it?

Thirdly, at what point in a person's righteous life is he or she at a place where God is justified in declaring him or her to be righteous?

Now, let's exercise our noggins a little bit.

To the first question, how is anything made? By God's word: "For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" (Psalm 33:9). "Then God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light" (Genesis 1:3).

To the second question: nothing exists in reality prior to God's declaration of it. With the example above, light did not exist prior to God's declaration of it. Neither does righteousness exist prior to God's declaration of it. Therefore, if I insist that God can only declare people to be righteous who are first made righteous, then I must insist that a person has made himself or herself righteous - because the means by which God makes something righteous is by speaking it into existence through His word.

Of course, the response will be that God declares people to be righteous who have faith, or that His declaration and making righteous are simultaneous. Very well, then. But whence comes faith? "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Thus, it is God's word that produces faith also.

Therefore, God's word is the means by which faith is induced and sinners are made righteous. This is why God declares the whole world to be righteous; this is why He justified and forgave the whole world at the cross. Because declaring the whole world to be righteous is the only way that God can make a person righteous.

Thus, it is neither pointless nor superfluous for God to declare that sinning people are actually sinless. Neither is God lying when He does so. He is calling "those things which do not exist as though they did" (Romans 4:17). He is actually living by faith; acting on the basis of what He sees, by faith, we can become when we respond to His word. (This is why Galatians 2:16 says we are not "justified by the works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ.")

This is because God's word, His declarations, His decrees contain power in themselves to accomplish that which they say they will accomplish. "My word . . . shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please" (Isaiah 55:11).

As Ellen White notes,
In every human being [Christ] discerned infinite possibilities. He saw men as they might be, transfigured by His grace - in "the beauty of the Lord our God." Psalm 90:17. Looking upon them with hope, He inspired hope. Meeting them with confidence, He inspired trust. Revealing in Himself man's true ideal, He awakened, for its attainment, both desire and faith. In His presence souls despised and fallen realized that they still were men, and they longed to prove themselves worthy of His regard. In many a heart that seemed dead to all things holy, were awakened new impulses. To many a despairing one there opened the possibility of a new life. (Education, p. 80)
The truth of the gospel is that hope begets hope, faith begets faith, confidence begets confidence, righteousness begets righteousness, and God's word begets that which it declares. Thus, God's declaration of the entire world's justification begets - if we will let Him do it for us - our being made righteous.

Of course, there is one small caveat: God never takes our free choice away. Even though God's word necessarily produces that which it declares, there is one instance in which this is not the case. God's word is infinitely powerful, but it chooses not to force man's will. Thus, though Christ does declare us all to be righteous in a grand attempt to get us to believe His perspective and respond by faith, His declaration will not force our will.

But this doesn't change the reality of Christ's perspective nor His continued attempt to convince us of that view. Indeed, when we respond to God's view, as my friend Ty Gibson says, "Faith believes facts; it doesn't make facts" (A God Named Desire, p. 147, emphasis original).

And thus is the beautiful and glorious truth of the power of God's incredible declaration of corporate justification.