Commitment and Connection

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I’m going to get there early.  Why?  Middle seats, time for popcorn, and watching the 20 minutes of trailers that come standard with films these days.  When the 12 studio logos roll by, along with the parent film company logo, the suspense is almost more than I can take.  I fall – immersed into the film experience.  I never went to films when I was young, so that experience of a dark room where someone else could actually share a vision of the way they imagine a story, uninterrupted by the knock at the door, by the call to supper, or by the insistence on bed time, was a new and concentrated experience when I first went to a film at age 19.  It was like I had given someone permission to share with me their personal window on the world in a very intimate way.

As a boy, I spent hours listening to The Bible in Living Sound, an Adventist audio drama production.  Once again, I seemed to slip into an introspective creative space where the stories came to life as if I was actually in Judea, seeing Jesus walk on water, heal the blind, and cast out demons.  I used my stuffed toys to play out the drama on my berber carpet floor.  I played those tapes until every last one was eaten by my tape deck.

When I was just over 11, my dad took my brother out in his car in order to show him how to drive.  He was approaching 15, and the back hills in central Oregon proved a worthy simulation for any hazard one might encounter on the populated roadways.  Slick patches of ice, random dear running out in front of the car, pot holes – all proved useful in developing good driving skills.  I insisted that I learn how to drive at the same time as my brother, though he would get his permit in several months, while I would get mine in several years.  This started a tradition at our house.  Friday night, after worships, or sometimes Sabbath afternoons, my dad would take us out and let us drive on the dirt roads.  Once again, I found this to be an exhilarating immersive experience.  We didn’t listen to the radio, but rather we talked, and my brother and I drove.  We drove for miles on end – sharing both the washboard of the road, and the rhythmic sounds of our voices as we had a connected conversation with our dad.

One Sabbath morning at Walla Walla College, I rolled out of bed and jumped in the Toyota Tercel that I learned to drive in back when I was 11 years old.  I decided I would not listen to the radio, but rather I would simply try to get lost.  I would drive out on a road until I found a road which I did not recognize, then I would drive down that road, turning randomly, to see how lost I could get.  I drove all morning long.  I found myself alone with my thoughts, and once again I fell into that singular kind of immersive experience.  It turns out that it is nearly impossible to get lost in the Walla Walla Valley.  It would seem that all roads lead to the Walla Walla Community College, for whatever reason.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve found it harder to get into those immersive experiences.  I slip into mindless Google browsing rather easily.  I might watch a T.V. show as a sound accompaniment to my teacher’s tasks.  I don’t read as many books as I would like.  I read articles.  I listen to NPR.  I like a good film as much as the next guy.  The problem is that sometimes I feel like my own distraction gets in the way of good films.  When I go to a theater and see a film, I come away feeling exhilarated, but at home, where I have the convenience of Netflix, I have no commitment to watch an entire film, so all of the sudden, nothing seems all that interesting on the biggest collection of professionally produced material on the planet.  It’s funny how an experience like The Lion King brought me close to tears when I was young, but in the comfort of my own home, it seems drab and uninteresting.

But then… Then I decide to turn out the lights.  I mute my phone.  I put away my computer.  I settle in a comfortable place on my couch.  I make popcorn.  I decide to give that story another chance.  Sure enough.  The emotive power rises again.  It isn’t the film that has gotten more drab, my mindset has become more hurried, more distracted.  Good stories are about the most sacred of tasks, developing relationships.  It is no surprise then, that, when deprived of attentiveness, the magic of film disappears.  This is not to say that every film does its part if only we show up attentive.  I remember going to see The Santa Clause 3 in theaters.  We had to leave the theater.  It was embarrassing to watch such a pathetic story struggle along.

There is something to the fact, though, that meaningful relationships require presence and undivided attention.  This is something that I’m finding more of a struggle to commit to as I become more “connected” to different forms of social media.

And now for the mirror… I look at myself and I find someone who needs to work on the art of mindfulness.  I need to shut out the noise, to empty myself.  It might sound as if this harkens to far-eastern religions, but I find it significant that when Elijah was in the hustle and bustle of Israel, he got distracted from his connection with the Kingdom.  He focused too much on the earthly king, and not enough on the one beyond the world.  When he went out and emptied the noise, then he heard the still small voice.

So my challenge to myself is simple: I must take time to seek mindfulness.  I must set up boundaries and barriers against the call of life, for life will happen with or without me, but I cannot happen without the connection to the story that has all the meaning in the world to me.

It’s time to not just see a film, but to watch it.

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3 Things Going Right in the NFL

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Over the last weeks football news has been dominated by headlines that highlight everything that is wrong with sports. We’ve seen NFL running back Ray Rice hit his wife in the face, and watched the NFL fail miserably to deal with the situation. Next, NFL icon Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse after beating his son with a switch excessively. These two stories are enough to make for a horrible month in sports. These storylines have caused me so much disappointment that I have quit watching ESPN, my favorite TV network; because instead of bringing joy they are making me question sports as a whole. Recent news in sports have put a damper on the games we all love and enjoy, but there is a whole lot of good going on in the sports world that is not getting the same front page headlines that domestic violence charges are.

Here are three stories from the NFL that can remind us that even though the recent landscape has been dark there are athletes and teams bringing light into the sports world.

  1. Devon Still is the type of father who I love to hear about in the news. Still is a defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals. He has a daughter named Leah who was diagnosed with stage four cancer last June. (A photo of Still and Leah is above.) Still has been by his daughters side throughout her struggle, and the Bengals organization have done their part as well. After cutting Devon Still from the team before the season the Bengals decided to add him to their practice squad and give him health coverage so that he could continue to afford his daughters treatment. The Bengals also began selling number 75 Devon Still jerseys. 100% of the proceeds from these jersey sales are going to fund pediatric cancer research. According to Fox Sports as of September 25 the Bengals had sold nearly 10,000 Still jerseys. This story shows everything that is right about sports. A father, a team and a fan base rallying together to help little Leah through her cancer battle. These moments are why I find sports so valuable.
  1. Chris Kemoeatu and Ma’ake Kemoeatu are brothers who both achieved their dreams of playing in the NFL. Both were lineman; Chris for the Steelers and Ma’ake for the Ravens. Chris was forced to retire from the NFL in 2011 due to kidney pains. He was found to have severe kidney disease, and in need of a transplant. His brother Ma’ake was a perfect match, and when he found out he could help his brother he told the Ravens that he was retiring from football and donating his kidney. Ma’ake’s sacrifice is so admirable, because he walked away from his dream and answered the call to save his brother.
  1. David Nelson of the New York Jets is another pro football player who is a light in the league. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti David went to the country and fell in love with a group of orphans who were living in poor conditions. David then found a home and converted it into an orphanage complete with hired Haitian house parents. David Nelson and his brother currently support 9 children all of whom they plan to adopt.
New York Jet David Nelson cares for 9 Haitian orphans.
New York Jet David Nelson cares for 9 Haitian orphans.

The sports world has felt like it was all bad during recent weeks. The headlines were predominantly negative, which made sports themselves appear bad. This is an easy way to feel about life. One or two things go wrong, and the bad begins to pile up and it feels like life is falling apart. This is when we need to be reminded that good things are happening too, and God is always working. Sports have suffered some black eyes in recent weeks, but there are athletes and teams that are doing good. We must be careful to let the bad outweigh the good, because for every Ray Rice there is a Devon Still and for every Adrian Peterson there is a David Nelson.

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The Investigative Judgment & Righteousness by Faith

[box_holder background_color=”]The following post is an excerpt from a paper I wrote for my “Studies in Daniel” class at Southern Adventist University. The paper focused on the Adventist doctrine of the Investigative Judgment as a whole, but the piece below deals exclusively with the Investigative Judgment and Righteousness by Faith. Because this is an academic piece it is a bit technical. Nevertheless, I hope you are blessed. If you would like to read the entire paper you can access it by clicking here.[/box_holder]

 

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One of the greatest attacks against the pre-Advent judgment doctrine is that anyone who believes it cannot have assurance of salvation. Marvin Moore once met a man who told him, “…with a doctrine like that, no one can ever have assurance of salvation.”[1] The reason for this is the pre-Advent judgment teaches that in 1844 Jesus began the work of investigating and judging the saved. Therefore, many have come to teach and believe that unless you are living a perfect life by the time your name comes up in the judgment you will be eternally lost. Thus, former Adventist’s Teresa and Arthur Beem can say, “In the investigative judgment you will not be judged by your belief in Christ but by how well you kept the Ten Commandments.”[2]

Such a teaching is damaging to the Christian faith because it completely undermines the doctrine of righteousness by faith in Christ alone. Growing up, my wife was taught that she did not know when her name would come up in the judgment. If it did and she was found not “worthy” of eternal life because she was sinning at the moment (or some other reason), then she would be lost forever and not know it. She could continue to strive to follow Jesus for the rest of her life, but this would be in vain since she was already lost. Clifford Goldstein’s wife was taught a similar version of the pre-Advent judgment. Goldstein writes:

My wife [was taught]… ‘that the judgment is going on in heaven right now, and that our names may come up at any time. We can’t know when that happens, but when it does, our names are blotted out of the book of life if we are not absolutely perfect. We are lost. We won’t know it, and we may keep on struggling to be perfect, even though probation has closed for us and we have no hope.’ Cliff went on to say, ‘Such a teaching is not good news…[3]
 

Not only is such a teaching “not good news” it is also a vile distortion of what the investigative judgment is all about. Jud Lake, professor of theology at Southern Adventist University reminds us that according to Daniel 7, “The judgment was rendered ‘in favor’ of the saints. Jesus is our advocate and in the judgment we are acquitted because of His merits, not our own.”[4] Unfortunately, as George Knight pointed out in his book, The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism, “The tragedy of Adventism is that we made the pre-Advent judgment a fearful thing…. Spiritual insecurity and lack of biblical assurance was the result. ‘God is out to get you’ was the message…”[5] However, Knight goes on to establish that, “[t]he purpose of the judgment in the Bible is not to keep people out of heaven, but to get as many in as possible.”[6] Therefore, the accusation that the pre-Advent judgment is inherently legalistic and that it is impossible to have assurance of salvation and believe in the investigative judgment simultaneously is true but only part way. The accusation is true if one believes the distortions of the investigative judgment. But if one bases the investigative judgment on the Bible then the accusation no longer stands. Scripture is clear that, “by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”[7] Paul warns “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”[8] Therefore, to interpret the pre-Advent judgment to mean that believers must be absolutely “perfect” at every moment or else they are at risk of losing their salvation goes contrary to the truth that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”[9] Once again, Moore offers a helpful insight when he writes, “…the judgment depends on whether we’re asleep in Jesus (if we’ve died before the judgment) or abiding in Christ (if we’re still living). It depends on whether we believe in Jesus, not on how well we’ve lived – that is, on our good behavior.”[10]

Adventist authors have emphasized over the years again and again that our standing in the judgment is not based on our works but Christ’s perfect work. Unfortunately many Seventh-day Adventist’s have had their faith damaged by the errors of their parents, teachers, and spiritual leaders who have taken a legalistic stance on the judgment. Leslie Hardinge, author of With Jesus In His Sanctuary tells us that “[i]n preparing for the judgment the important thing is not to think of what we have done wrong, or anything we might contribute, but on Whom we know.”[11] And in his little book The Great Judgment Day Adventist author John L. Shuler writes: “Our only hope in the judgment is to be hid in Christ (Col. 3: 3), clothed with His righteousness. His life alone will meet the requirements of the law by which we shall be judged…. Thus through the work of Christ in our hearts… we shall be accounted worthy in the judgment….”[12] Shuler goes on to say that “[i]f we are abiding in Jesus Christ, it is our privilege to face the judgment with perfect confidence.”[13] This is good news for many Adventists who have misunderstood the pre-Advent judgment, however, what a shame that God’s people would for one moment forget such a beautiful truth that “God’s justice was satisfied in Christ, who endured the death penalty instead of the sinner.”[14] Without it, our faith is no different than all of the other world religions that claim to know the path to salvation – a path that is always marked by works. Christ’s perfect atonement must forever be our theme and song, for it is the “power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…”[15] Clifford Goldstein put it well when he wrote, “This is the essence of the gospel, the good news. No matter who we are or what we’ve done, Jesus Christ can forgive everything and allow us to stand in the sight of God as perfect and as accepted by the Father as He was, because He will freely credit to us, as undeserving as we are, His perfect righteousness.”[16]

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[1] Marvin Moore, The Case For The Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation [Nampa: Pacific Press, 2010], 19.
[2] Teresa and Arthur Beem, It’s Okay NOT To Be A Seventh-Day Adventist: The Untold History and the Doctrine that Attempts to Repair the Temple Veil [North Charleston: BookSurge Publishing, 2008], 114.
[3] Marvin Moore, The Case For The Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation [Nampa: Pacific Press, 2010], 20.
[4] Jud Lake, e-mail message to author, January 31, 2012.
[5] George R. Knight, The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism: Are We Erasing Our Relevancy? [Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2008], 70.
[6] ibid.
[7] Eph. 2:8.
[8] Gal. 5:4.
[9] Rom. 3:24.
[10] Marvin Moore, The Case For The Investigative Judgment: Its Biblical Foundation [Nampa: Pacific Press, 2010], 32.
[11] Leslie Hardinge, With Jesus in His Sanctuary: A Walk Through the Tabernacle Along His Way [Harrisburg: American Cassette Ministries, 1991], 543.
[12] John L Shuler, The Great Judgment Day: In the Light of the Sanctuary Service, [Washington: Review and Herald, 1923], 117. Italics mine.
[13] Ibid., Italics mine.
[14] Alberto R Treiyer, The Day of Atonement and the Heavenly Judgment: From the Pentateuch to Revelation, [Siloam Springs: Creation Enterprises International, 1992], 221.
[15] Rom. 1:16.
[16] Clifford Goldstein, False Balances [Boise: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1992], 147.

photo credit: noyava via photopin cc

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Of Separation and Censorship

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Yellow, grey, yellow, grey.  My basketball shoes skipped along the dotted line on the asphalt as I made my way past Dairy Queen on a hot fall afternoon.  It was my fortune to live close to my school, so that rather than having to carpool, or wait for a bus, all I had to do was walk home, stick my house key in the knob, and the afternoon was entirely mine.  My mom was a nurse and worked in the afternoons and my dad tended a congregation as the pastor of a small church.  And I?  I loved stories.  I especially loved imaginative stories.  I’ll never forget the first time that I watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie over at the next door neighbor’s house when I was 8 years old.  I was enthralled with such a strange new story that, at the same time, drew on such an ancient tradition like martial arts.  Now at 12-years-old, I was skipping home to watch Spider-Man and a Disney show called Gargoyles in my sacred hour and a half before my mom came home .  What did all these viewing experiences have in common?  I never talked to my parents about any of them.  Likewise, I never told them that I liked to watch Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, nor that I watched The Dark Crystal, Reboot, Beast Wars, or Biker Mice from Mars.  So how did I learn about them?  I talked to my friends at school.  How did I get a hold of them?  My friends recorded them for me, or I recorded them myself.  I stashed the VHS tapes under my couch at home.  Why all of the secrecy?

When I was 8, I remember finding a rock station on my parents’ FM cassette deck.  My best friend Sean and I were walking around the corner of my house, cassette player in hand blaring rock music, when my dad confronted us.  My dad told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to listen to this kind of music – that it was wrong.  I still remember the shame associated with that interaction – the embracement of being scolded in front of my peer, and something else.  I remember the distinct feeling of disagreement with my dad.  I have the clear emotional memory of disagreeing with my dad’s assessment, and from that day forward, because of the shame of our interaction, and because I didn’t feel invited into any kind of a dialogue, when I had things I wanted to watch, things that I felt like my parents would disagree with, I simply snuck it.

I remember at one time my mom saying that she felt like Satan was coming into our house through the TV.  Once again, I had the distinct feeling of disagreement.  As I grew, I would listen to their reasoning.  They would use texts like Philippians 4:8, and texts like 2 Corinthians 3:18.  I remember the dissonance of these texts with stories of incest, rape and murder written into the very pages of the very same Judeo-Christian texts themselves.

At the same time, in my secret story sessions with Gargoyles, I was being converted to ideals of racial equality and the importance of community, in my secret story sessions with Spider-man, I was being converted to the ideals of service and self-sacrifice.  In my secret story sessions with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was learning the importance of self-control, commitment to comrades, and team work.  The way I see it, it wasn’t Satan coming through the TV, it was the ideals of the Kingdom.

Last year I watched a Frontline documentary called “Generation Like.”  It was an expose on the ways that brands use kids to market their products to each other via social media.  It also showed how kids market themselves to other kids on social media.  My first gut reaction to this documentary was the urge to protect every young mind in my purview from all of the controversial content on the internet.  My mind went immediately to internet blocking programs, to lectures that I could give, to sermons I could preach.  Then, after watching it several times, I started to get the real message of the documentary.  It was that there was once a time when we could lecture, preach, directly advertise, and otherwise drill ideas into the heads of our youth, and there was a better-than 50% chance that it would stick.  What this documentary clearly demonstrated was that for the vast majority of youth, the old way of communicating would immediately be out competed.  The real epiphany wasn’t the realization that the “drill it in” way of communicating is out competed by the interactive dialogue of content and ideas on the internet, but that it is out competed by the simple knowledge that such a dialogue exists.  If kids know that we are keeping them from being empowered, for most of our kids we haven’t just lost the battle, we’ve lost the whole war.

I came to the realization that we have two choices when it comes to our youth.  The first choice is that we can attempt to shelter them and censor every possible stream of content that they have access to.  For a fraction of youth, that might work, they might respect our wishes.  For the rest, however, they will gain access.  How?  Libraries, friends’ computers, friends’ phones, friends’ TVs, the local tech store, the local Wal-Mart, friends’ conversations, smuggled devices, magazines, comics, books, etc.  This is not a hypothetical; I’ve seen my friends do this, and I’ve done it myself during a decade with less access.  I’m not making an argument of opinion here, I’m stating a fact.  If kids are interested in it, they will gain access to it, and parents who censor will often be completely oblivious to it.  How bad can it get?  I’ve had 8th grade students whose parents told me that their child was not allowed to watch afternoon cartoon shows, and yet the student was completely caught up on Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad.

What’s even more disturbing is that kids are extremely adept at picking up on a parent’s, pastor’s, or teacher’s comfort level with subject matter based upon what they censor. When they censor material, they create a taboo around whatever subject matter they are censoring.  This guarantees that kids will only ever talk about these subjects with their peers who are often just as naïve about the subjects.  In short, when we censor, we are actually telling kids “You are on your own – figure it out.  I don’t ever want to hear about what you’re processing.”

We also have a second option, however.  We can be aware of our youth and their interactions with challenging material.  We can approach them with questions and dialogue rather than judgment.  We can empower our youth with tools of genuine discernment which go deeper than the over simplistic question of asking “Is this good for me to be watching or not?” and instead asks “What is the creator of this work trying to say about the world and human nature, and do I agree with him or her, or do I disagree, and why?  What are the implications of their ideas in the real world?”

And now for the mirror… Do I really have the courage to have these kinds of discussions with my students and the other youth to whom I minister?  Can I be that vulnerable?  It takes a HUGE amount of vulnerability.  I so often find myself jumping to condemnation when I see them watching a raunchy music video.  I find it so easy to jump into conversations saying “Why are you listening to that trash?!” instead of asking “What draws you to this song? What do you think this singer is saying about themselves and their values?  Do you agree with them?  Why?”  When it comes down to it, it’s easier to preach than it is to know and to be known.

I now understand my parents’ decisions to censor because I understand how counter intuitive it is to refrain from censorship.  I, like those who raised me, have easily snapped into judgment mode and lectured the kids around me about what they view.  I now know how strong my parents’ desire to protect and shield me was.  I know that they were doing what they were doing out of love, as ineffective as it was.

Yellow, grey, yellow, grey.  I often think back to those days of stealing glimpses of Spidey and the gargoyle clan on the small screen in the afternoons while my parents were away.  I wonder what understanding between my parents and me was lost because of the taboos that they raised around the material which spoke to me so deeply.

The bright side is that I have good conversations about these values with my parents today.  I feel that they do know me better now, and I know them better.  At the end of the day, it wasn’t censorship that saved me or my relationship with them, it was how they showed Jesus’ love that won out in the end.

I must admit, I feel a certain level of discomfort at knowing that I too have two boys, and that someday I’ll have to remember to counter my gut instinct to censor material and belittle and dismiss that which makes me uncomfortable.  I hope they stay innocent for a while yet, but this world thrusts us into knowledge as fast as that color down the middle of the road switches from the yellow line to grey.

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