Merry Christmas from the Haystack Blog!

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I love Australia. I love it so much I honestly don’t plan on ever returning to the US. This place is home to me and in some ways it feels as though I should have been born here. The milieu is mystical. There is a primitive vibe to it that leaves your soul feeling refreshed, connected, and somehow more human. And there is no need to elaborate on the beaches, the city, the towns or the people who are among the neatest folk I have ever met. I have never felt so at home in my life. Homesickness has not even bothered to show up.

The only weird thing about the land down under would have to be Christmas. Its hot. Sunny. And everyone goes to the beach. Being a Jersey boy I remember this time of year as frosty window panes and a higher gas bill. Somehow the cold and snow add to the wonder that is Christmas and without it Christmas just doesn’t feel as Christmassy.

And yet I am reminded that Christmas far exceeds my own cultural expectations. It exceeds chimneys, marshmallow roofs, and flurries; carols, scarfs, and evergreens covered in lights. Christmas is about the time-bound birth of a being who dwells in time-less eternity. Jesus, who is God, became an embryo. God almighty reduced himself to two layers of cells. Within two months he had grown to the size of a kidney bean and his fingers began to emerge. At five months he was slightly bigger and his eyebrows and eyelids were making an entry. At seven months he could open and close his eyes. Soon the calendar hit nine months and God was ready to be born, complete with hair, lungs, and chunky legs. And out he came.

My very existence demanded that Jesus die.

But why? Why did God do this? Why did he incarnate himself into human flesh? Why did he enter our world as a baby? Why go through nine months of development in a womb when he could have easily spoken himself into a fully formed child – or a man for that matter? I don’t pretend to have that one fully figured out, but whatever deep mysteries are revealed by this act one thing rings loud to me: This child was born to die. My very existence demanded his death.

Allow me to elaborate. As Christians we are often heard saying “I am alive because Jesus died” but have you ever stopped to consider that Jesus died because you are alive? Your very existence. My very existence demanded that Jesus die. He could not create us without simultaneously embracing suffering and death. Jesus died because I live.

And that’s the meta-narrative that far exceeds frost and gas bills. Its the historical reality of God entering our world as a baby for one simple reason: humanity. I love how I once heard a preacher put it. “Jesus died for man. I can shorten that for you: Us. I can make it even shorter: I.”

This Christmas I invite you to be humbled by the ever present reality that every breath you take demanded the death of the little boy in the manger. And yet, he was not simply an innocent victim – he was a willing sacrifice. God came into our world to willingly give his life for our redemption. There was no other way. In the midst of family, friends, music and food take the time to remember that in order for you to be there he had to die, and he did so willingly because of his love for you. And if this season brings you suffering rather than joy – memories of lost loved ones and senseless tragedies – celebrate anyhow. Perhaps not with glee and dancing, but by embracing the hope that Jesus brings.

From the Haystack blog and all of us at the Haystack.tv we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Rudolph, Hermey, the Shepherds, and the Island of Misfit Toys

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Musty… A mixture of straw, manure, and mold.  That’s what I remember from my first interaction with sheep.  One of the boys in my one-room Adventist school was the son of a shepherd and our class went to his sheep farm to see the sheep.  My most vivid memory of Levi is of him pinning me to the bathroom stall wall and saying hypnotically into my face, “I’m your friend.”  I don’t remember being entirely convinced.  Upon visiting the sheep farm, one of them kicked me.  I wonder if I would have had the same impression of sheep today if I had grown up tending them.  If you have ever been in 4H club, your hobby experience was probably pretty different than mine was growing up. I have never known the joy of bottle feeding a calf or having a pig to call my own.  Also, you might have a slightly better idea of what the challenge of managing sheep is like.  From my singular experience with both smell, and the kick, I think I might overestimate the difficulty of modern shepherding.  None of us, however, would really have the authority to talk about what it was like to be a shepherd in Jesus’ time, for it is a world so different from ours as to render much of our understanding impotent.  I’m willing to bet that it was stinky, but to the people of the time, sheep were money, and money was life, so perhaps they thought of it like we think of the smell of a crisp new Benjamin.  Or maybe they still thought of it as just the stench of a smelly sheep.  Either way, just as today we often do not manage our 401ks, the wealthy people of Jesus’ day didn’t manage their sheep.  They had others do it for them, then judged them for what tactics those shepherds had to use in order to compete in their jobs.  As Kenneth E. Bailey states in Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, “For the Pharisee a ‘sinner’ was either an immoral person who did not keep the law or a person engaged in one of the proscribed trades, among which was herding sheep.”  Shepherds, then, were outcasts in a very real sense in Jesus’ day, and while we must be careful not to assume too much about how they felt about their place in the social order, Jesus addressed the outcasts’ needs, and they loved him for it, so one can make the jump that it got to them sometimes being different and looked down upon.  This brings us to Rudolph.

Do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?  Robert May and Romeo Muller ask us, in their 1964 classic Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, to consider outcasts.  One of Santa’s elves, Hermey, is an outcast because he wishes to be a dentist rather than build toys.  Rudolph, of course, has a shiny nose, and his peers shun him for his difference.  Hermey’s reaction to being shunned for his life choice is as honest as any outcast in the real world.  He exclaims to Rudolph that he “[doesn’t] need anybody” and that “[he’s]… [he’s] independent” (00:21:43).  Rudolph claims the same independence, and so Hermey suggests that they be “independent together” (00:22:00).  Herein lies the first lesson of the film for unaccepting churches.  Misfits will leave, and it does not take much to make this happen.  As the society at large accepts and empowers misfits, churches should not be surprised when they leave unaccepting environments to seek out accepting environments.  Whether it’s an evolutionary biologist who is compelled by his or her own intellectual honesty to be a misfit, or a homosexual who is designated by nature to be a misfit, or a punk rocker, or an a film maker, or a homeless woman, or a drug addict, they all will seek independence together if they do not have a place in their one-time spiritual home.

As Hermey and Rudolph leave their home, they encounter a prospector in search of silver and gold.  They encounter an abominable snowman, and they encounter an island of misfit toys.  Outcasts who leave their churches will encounter many different perspectives – many different kinds of people, some driven, some potentially damaging, and some who have been damaged.  The abominable snowman is a danger, until he is rendered safe by Hermey’s skills, and the prospector risks his life for friendship rather than for silver or gold.  This is the second lesson that the church can learn from this story: that when people allow to serve each other with their gifts, everyone changes.

The most poignant example of redemption comes at the end of the story.  All of the misfits are reunited with the wider community.  Hermey becomes the dentist for the North Poll, Rudolph becomes the leader of the team with his red nose, the misfit toys find new homes where they make children happy, and even the abominable snowman finds a place in the community.  The third and perhaps best lesson the church can learn from Rudolph is that through accepting community, everyone is redeemed and all gifts are celebrated.

And what of me?  When I look in the mirror, I find someone who is eager to have a diverse community, brimming with life and spectrum, but if I probe that just a little, I find someone bitter toward the wider faith community to which I belong.  Am I ready to return home and join Santa’s reindeer team after seeing how it has rejected the misfits in the past?  The legitimate side of me looks at exclusionary language used by church leadership and concludes that it is not yet safe for misfits to return, but there is a vindictive, dark, bitter side of me that wants to punish my church for what it has done.  Without my willingness, and all misfits’ willingness, to return, stand, join in, and forgive, healing and redemption cannot happen.

The shepherds could have ignored the angels, saying, “If this is the Son of the God whose people have relegated us to be outcasts, then why should we go and see him or worship him?”  They chose to go.  They chose to show up despite being disenfranchised.  What did they receive in return?  Many things, one of which was a chance to be at the ground level a movement to mainstream misfits.  I hope that’s still what the movement is about.

I wonder what ever happened to Levi.  I hope he learned how to gain friends without pinning them against bathroom stalls.  Even if he didn’t, however, perhaps someday he still will.  I didn’t foresee redemption for the abominable snowman when I saw Rudolph for the first time.  Perhaps Levi’s sheep will lead him, just as I find God’s church leading me.

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When is a Tradition Too Traditional?

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Come 12 p.m. on Thanksgiving, my holiday cheer wakes up and kicks into overdrive. I set any and all Christmas music on repeat right up until January (I even have a Christmas station on Pandora just for Sabbath). I decorate everything within reach of the ladder. I wear my classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” t-shirt. My entire year pretty much builds to the month of December.

It probably has a lot to do with the fact that my family always made Christmas a big deal. Early in the month, we’d take (what felt like) a long drive to a tree farm and cut down the perfect, full-bodied evergreen tree. We’d decorate it with lights and ornaments that my family has owned for years and year. I loved leafing through all of the memories in those Christmas boxes. My Mom would share with me the stories about each and every ornament. She’d explain to me why she picked this one out when I was born, or how I’d made this one at school in the 4th grade. I always looked forward to the one special gift that my parents would give us to open ahead of time on Christmas Eve. We’d leave milk and homemade cookies out. Christmas day was marked with exciting presents, great food, and irreplaceable time with my family.

Looking back now, I try to figure out why it meant so much to me. Undoubtedly, it was a lot of fun. However, I think there’s more to it. I think I loved all of the traditions. We had a lot of traditions. In a world filled with so much chaos, there’s something reaffirming about knowing exactly what to expect. At a time when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, there’s an unmatched level of security when you have something to look forward to, something you can count on.

As an adult, I think I appreciate the stability that Christmas affords like I never could have as a child. Perhaps it’s silly, but to some extent, I feel like even if the world is falling apart, at least we’ll have Christmas. I know. Christmas is often materialistic and cheap, shortsighted and a bit vain, but there’s more to Christmas than that.

There’s more to Christmas than all of the glimmering lights, shiny bows, and Santa-printed paper. There’s so much discussion and controversy over the origins of Christmas, but I’ll let you in on a little realization that occurred to me several years ago. In Jerusalem, there are at least two recognized sites that claim to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. There’s a great deal of discussion as to which site holds the greatest claim, and to be honest, both sites have reasonable pros and cons as to why they are the true location of Jesus’ crucifixion. On my first trip to Israel, we visited both of them. While at the second site, I tried to figure out if the fact that there were two potential sites for Jesus’ death took away from the experience. You know, did the fact that there were two possibilities lessen any of the significance? And, I realized that I could honestly answer no to that question. Jesus’ death is so much larger than one physical site. The fact that there were two possible sites where this great event could have actually taken place only adds to its historical veracity.

In the same way, Jesus’ birth is so much larger than one particular day. It doesn’t matter what time of year Jesus was born as much as it matters that there is a time of year when we focus on this magnificent event. It doesn’t so much matter what ways Satan tries to detract us from focusing on Christ’s birth as long as we are aware of the methods of distractions and seek to actively keep Jesus as the focal point of our season.

Okay, now back to traditions. There’s a place for them. However, I think there comes a point where traditions can serve as more of a hindrance than a blessing. Before we even realize it, traditions can become a means to an end in and of themselves. If Christmas is all about traditions, then you are missing out on the heart of the holiday.

Let’s go a few steps past December. The same is true in our Christian walk. As Seventh-day Adventists, we have a LOT of traditions. Cultural Adventism, or a state where one practices certain lifestyle qualities of Seventh-day Adventism while largely forgoing the beliefs behind those practices is a thing. While I believe there’s merit in traditions, I also think our use of traditions can quickly turn awry. Here’s what to look out for when evaluating your use of traditions.

1) Traditions go awry when they become the end-goal and keep us from searching for deeper truth.

What is the purpose of traditions? If your purpose for the practice does not have a deeper connection than there’s probably something missing. How often do we sit down and repeat the exact same prayer verbatim before lunch? Yeah, we want to hit all the same points, however the before-meal prayer needs to sprout from an honest desire to connect with God in earnest thankfulness before our meal. Traditions can often serve to numb us from the need for more. This is precisely one of the main issues that the Pharisees had going on in the New Testament. They came right to the point of accosting Jesus for what they perceived as the apostles breaking tradition (Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:3-9). Jesus responds to them in Matthew 15:3, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” Jesus recognized that there was a huge issue in the way the Pharisees viewed tradition. It was all they had. They missed the commandments that the traditions were based on. The entire idea of traditions is that they are passed down. I love that about them! However, I think that can blind us. We can become so focused on the traditions that they become our crutch. Our daily or yearly practices are often exactly the same. For instance, every single morning, I wake up and read three chapters of my Bible (e.g. Joshua 1, 2, 3). It’s the start of my morning devotions. I do it because it keeps me consistent. However, at times, it keeps me too consistent. By reading three chapters in a row every morning, I’m not challenging myself to do anything different. I could read three chapters on a specific topic. I could read more chapters. I could start my day with my Sabbath School lesson or a book. While in this example all of those practices might be equal, traditions may keep us from growing. We may become so intent on our traditional approaches that we forget to search our new ones. We may become so used to how we do our devotions that we never develop deeper levels of our conviction or commitment to God. We make be so wrapped up in how Christmas is supposed to be that we forget to enjoy the extra time with our family and our God.

2) Traditions go awry when they become a substitute for passion/conviction.

While I think it’s noble to do something because it’s “the honorable thing to do,” if you are always making decisions for the sole reason that it’s “the honorable thing to do” then something is missing. Commitment is good, but commitment has to be based on something. It’s crazy to think that we can be committed without even knowing what or whom we are committed to. I know a lot of dear people in my life like this. They are so desperate for lasting commitment that they don’t always take the time to figure out what they should be committing themselves to. They just want to belong somewhere. They just want be working toward something. However, God is polarizing. Our commitments should come with feeling/conviction. I choose to love my husband (ongoing/continuous commitment), because I fell in love with my husband (feeling/conviction). James speaks to this relationship. In James 2:18, James writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Here, James demonstrates the mutually reciprocal relationship between conviction (faith) and visible commitment (works). We can operate solely off of commitment for a while. However, if we’re always operating solely off of commitment, we will come to the point where we burnout. If you notice that your actions are becoming more commitment-based than anything else, recognize that it’s an okay place to be. It’s not an okay place to stay. If this is the case, we have to do a major triage of our relationship with Christ to figure out what’s missing and what we need to change.

3) Traditions go awry when they stand-in for commitment.

The opposite could also be said in the spouse analogy from above. I continue to fall in love with my husband (ongoing/continuous feeling), because I chose to love him (commitment). In the same way that commitment has to come from deeper conviction, passion has to come from deeper commitment. Titus speaks to this group of people who only care about one-half of the equation. In Titus 1:16, Titus says, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” This might be more of the struggle for the vast majority of our generation. We’ve seen so many people that we love make commitments to the wrong person or thing that we are desperately afraid of being too tied down. We don’t commit, because commitment could take us down a rabbit hole that we might not be able to escape from. I think older generations see this as being commitment phobic. However, maybe it’s not so much that we are refusing to take commitment seriously as it is that we value commitment so highly that it becomes almost sacred ground. We are so desperate not to break our commitments that we become almost obsessed with our feelings. We think our feelings will lead us to the right commitments. It’s the counter logic to the “I’m going to do this because it’s the honorable thing to do” group. For this group, the only honorable thing to do is be true to yourself above all else. It’s very postmodern, and it’s hard to blame us for the logic we’ve been culturally indoctrinated into for so long. I think the problem becomes when we use our traditions (knowingly or unknowingly) as an excuse not to commit. If you follow me, Christmas may be a religious holiday, but it shouldn’t be your religion. Basketball may be a great way to connect with a group of people over something, but that isn’t enough. We short-change ourselves when think traditions are enough without any commitments.

I greatly value traditions (both of the Christmas and Seventh-day Adventist variety), but I do think we have to be aware of their propensities. At one point in time or another, we’ve probably all fallen prey to a combination of tradition’s tendencies. I certainly don’t think we could or should throw out our traditions, but I do think it’s super helpful to find ways to balance out their shortcomings.

So, there’s some of what I’m thinking about with Christmas fast-approaching. What do you guys think? In what way are traditions good? In what other ways do they go awry? How can we balance out the tendencies that they have the potential to create in us?

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Twas the Fight Before Christmas

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Christmas – in some homes and churches – is a minefield. At times you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Any mention of Christmas and you’ll be hit with a lecture including many of the following words: pagan, Mithra, lukewarm, compromise, Illuminati, etc.

I know someone who I literally only hear from once a year around Christmas time.  Either through a phone call or when I see them in person (again, usually around this time), I can guarantee that one of the points of our conversation will inevitably be the “paganism of Christmas.”

Why?  How can people become so emotional over something that from the outside seems so innocent?

Let’s Look at the Facts

Biblically speaking, December 25 is not actually Jesus’ birthday.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give us very little detail regarding Jesus’ time of birth. Without going into the technical details of it, the closest we can get to Jesus birth is the window between 7 B.C. and 1 A.D.

So, Why December 25th?

Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470 – c. 544) was a 6th-century monk and is best known as the “inventor” of the Gregorian calendar we use today.  When Dionysius computed the date of Christ’s birth in the Middle Ages, he named the year of the Nativity 1 A.D (Anno Domini). and stated that Jesus’ birthdate was December 25th  of that year.  The year immediately before this was the year 1 B.C. (Before Christ).

However, the Encyclopedia Britannica says that church leaders probably chose it “to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’” at the time of the winter solstice.  According to The Encyclopedia Americana, many scholars believe that this was done “in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts.”

In the minds of some, this history is enough to render Christmas “evil by association.”

Does the “Evil by Association” Argument Work?

Brace yourself christmas is a pagan holiday statuses are coming
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Really, this issue depends on where you throw out a practice because of its association with paganism. In my experience, people who use this argument are very selective of what they consider pagan and what they don’t.  Many things people use every day have roots in paganism but we use them so often, little attention is paid to them.

Wedding rings, wedding ceremonies, funerals, statues, money, the names of the weekdays, birthdays (including the cakes), and ties just to name a few.  When choosing to throw out something by a standard, you can’t have your cake and eat it too… especially because birthday cake is also pagan.

Even Christianity has adopted many pagan customs.  Why do people dress up for church?  Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week?  Why do we have pews, choirs, steeples, and seminaries?  Most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan cultures and rituals that developed long after the death of the apostles (for more on this, check out “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna).

Faced with this reality, some people will choose to “examine everything and hold on to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) in this season.  Others will decide to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Biblically speaking, both are acceptable.  You see, the debate over special days is as old as the New Testament itself.  Paul faced similar issues when he wrote to the believers in Rome, in Romans 14:5-6.

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God…”

 

So really, the decision of whether to celebrate this day or not is up you. Paul took the relativist approach before post-modernity made it cool. Hipster.

What About Ellen White?

Ellen White had a lot of things to say about Christmas.  The Ellen White Estate graciously has a page dedicated to her thoughts on Christmas which can be found by clicking here.

When I wrote about this a while ago, someone replied, “Well, that’s fine, but that was her opinion.  Aaron also allowed the Children of Israel to dance around the pagan Golden Calf in Exodus 32.”

That is a fair comparison.  But the main difference lies in God’s response and His appointed messenger.  In Moses’ case, Scripture records God informing Moses of the ruckus going on in the camp and basically tells him, “Moses, you need to deal with this now, otherwise I’m going to step in.”  The end result was the children of Israel being sternly rebuked, and having grounded up, golden calf milkshakes.

However, in Christmas’ case, Ellen White had a ministry that lasted for decades and she never once treated it the same way Aaron or Moses acted toward the Chick-fil-A mascot.  Actually, quite the opposite: in reading her above statements, you almost get the feeling that she is affirming Christmas when it is treated correctly.  If this were such an abomination unto the Lord, it should stand to reason that God would have given her a message like he gave to his servant Moses.

Thus, you are left with only two logical conclusions to this issue.  Either, one, she is a true prophet and Christmas is not to be treated as the debased pagan festival you claim it is, or two, she was a false prophet because she didn’t speak openly against this pagan festival.

The bigger problem with simply dismissing this idea that it was her “opinion” is this: you are placing yourself as the inspiration referee.  Is it a “straight testimony” when it agrees with you, and an “opinion” when it doesn’t?

For more on this point, check out this post.

This season can be used for so much good if we were to look at Jesus as the reason for the season.  So rather than fight about whether to put up Christmas lights, Santa, and trees or sing carols, focus on the fact that Emmanuel, God with us, was born and did come!

I wish you all a Happy Holiday.

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Below are some links to other well written and well researched articles that cover this topic. While none of these will convince someone who has already made up their mind they can serve as a blessing to those who are wrestling with this issue and seeking wisdom with regard to what choice they should make this Christmas. In the end, regardless of your position, we can all be thankful that Jesus came, died, and rose again.

Should Adventists Celebrate Christmas?

Christmas: Pagan or Christian?

Ellen G. White Statements Related to the Observance of Christmas

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Jesus Says #illridewithyou

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When my wife told me about the Sydney cafe siege I found myself glued to the news for the remainder of the day. Candice and I prayed for the outcome hoping that everything would work out fine. Sadly, 2 innocent hostages were killed along with the troubled Islamic extremist who held them captive for over 15 hours.

I was at work when the siege ended. The doctor I was working with, a Muslim man from Pakistan, was receiving calls and texts from his family who were worried about his safety. They had heard about the hate crimes that often follow terrorist acts and were hoping that he would be safe from any anti-Islamic retaliations. Their concerns were not unfounded. The terrorist act perpetrated by this man was sure to spark anger and hatred among certain segments of the population who would attempt to lash out against all Muslims as a way of “getting back”.

And it happened. A Muslim woman riding the train was harrased by a male passenger. Another Muslim woman riding the train was reported to have removed her hijab fearing her safety. “Within hours of the attack… a Muslim group reported that women wearing the hijab had been spat on and the right-wing Australian Defence League [ADL] called on followers to protest at two major mosques.”[1]

However, something remarkable happened. The woman harrassed on the train was defended by the rest of the passengers resulting in the mans arrest. The woman who removed her hijab was approached by a local named Rachel who told her “put it back on, I’ll walk with you.” Rachel said “She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.”[2] And the protests called by the ADL never materialized. But that wasn’t all. Twitter soon became inundated with the hashtag #illridewithyou. “The Twitter hash tag… express[es] support for Muslims who felt vulnerable on public transport in the wake of the siege.”[2] Yahoo News reports, “within hours it had been used in almost 120,000 tweets.”[3]

And the trend continues to grow as Australians rise to the occasion, responding to the Muslim community with love instead of hatred. Of course, not everyone is supportive but I have to say, I am totally blown away by how beautiful this response has been. During the last 3 months I have had the opportunity to work with a handful of Muslims from Pakistan, Malaysia and even Iran. It has been amazing to hear them tell their side of the story – how they hated Sadam Hussein, Osama Binladen, and the insanity of Islamic State. They have spoken to me of love, tolerance, respect for fellow human beings, and a desire to live at peace. These wonderful Muslims are haunted by the actions of fanatics whose inhumanity leaves them shaking their heads and at times, fearing for their safety.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and to treat each other as we would like to be treated. He calls us to embrace the foreigner and to treat every man as our neighbor. He calls us to reflect his character to this world by living, not for our own self-interests, but for the well being of others.[5] In effect, Jesus says #illridewithyou and I want his words to be exemplified in my life.

Now I don’t use public transport. This limits my ability to truly “ride” with a fellow Muslim. But what I can do is support the cause by refusing to embrace intolerance, hatred, anger, and enmity against Muslims, by standing up for them when they are mistreated, and by spreading the message of acceptance and kindness that is desperately needed in this hate-filled world.

In short: Jesus says #illridewithyou and so do I.

Note: This article was originally published on pomopastor.com

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[1] http://www.calgarysun.com/2014/12/15/illridewithyou-emerges-as-muslims-fear-sydney-siege-backlash
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/15/illridewithyou-hashtag-offers-solidarity-to-sydneys-muslims-after-cafe-siege
[3] http://www.calgarysun.com/2014/12/15/illridewithyou-emerges-as-muslims-fear-sydney-siege-backlash
[4] https://au.news.yahoo.com/nsw/a/25780011/illridewithyou-support-for-muslim-australians-takes-off-following-sydney-siege/
[5] Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 10:25-37, Luke 9:54-56, Galatians 3:28

photo credit: thedescrier via photopin cc

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Our Language Matters

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One of the many reasons I love our Adventist Education is the emphasis it reveals about us being a global church. This is transmitted in our schools by emphasizing mission trips, both domestically and internationally, as well as encouraging students to study abroad through Adventist Colleges Abroad. I was fortunate enough to spend a year abroad at Collonge-Sous-Saleve in what was probably the best year of my life. 

Spanish is my first language which gave me a bit of an edge to learn a third language. I prepared the year before by taking beginner French courses, learning French grammar (which is not at all easy to learn), and practicing what phrases I could. When the time came for me to go abroad, I could butcher some basic phrases… enough for about a two minute conversation with a French native. My year abroad taught me how important language was.

Did you know a bad pronunciation for “beacoup” which means “a lot” in English can be “nice ass”? Well I didn’t. I was just trying to say “Merci Beacoup” or “Thank you” to my teacher, and I ended up inappropriately complementing her. (My French teacher quickly told me, “that’s incorrect”—that is after bursting into laughter.) 

I wasn’t only there to learn the language, I wanted to learn French culture also. And no matter how many French culture courses I took, it wasn’t until I became fluent in French that I was able to understand the culture. The subtle nuances in their language were blind to me before. There were times I had been taught to use some proper French terms which French people didn’t use anymore. Other times, I was told that sentences I pieced together were “technically” correct, but there was a more effective way of communicating what I wanted. 

I had to immerse myself in the culture, allow French people to correct me, and experience the French way of life in order for me to truly understand the language.

The same happens between Christians and LGBT individuals in conversations. While most LGBT individuals (at least in the U.S.) understand Christianity and likely were even raised in a church, most Christians have little true experience or real relationships with LGBT individuals. As someone who straddles the line between these two groups, I often see them talk past each other, mostly because they are not actually speaking the same language. I’m not talking about English. I’m talking about definitions, phrases, connotations, and assumptions.

For example, when someone identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual; we mean it’s our sexual orientation, or in the case of transgender people it’s their gender identity. It’s a deeply integral part of who we are and how we see and experience the world. But, for a lot of Christians, when they hear someone identify themselves as gay, they assume that means that the person is having sex. Being bisexual doesn’t mean I’m sexually active. It just means I acknowledge the capability of being romantically attracted to both men and women. You don’t become straight when you lose your virginity (which is on your wedding night amirite?). You realize you’re straight right about, if not before, puberty when you start to notice your attractions to someone of the opposite sex. Here we end up using the same terms, but we mean two totally different things. 

Too often Christians use the term “homosexuality” while referring to their theological paradigm about same-sex sex. Christians will then condemn “homosexuality” saying the bible is against it. The problem with this is that gay people, who typically would never use the term “homosexuality” anymore except in a clinical setting, hear that their sexual orientation, which they experience as innate, is condemned. It sends a message that they are condemned as a person. Is that really the message we want to be sending?

There are also terms that are exclusive to the Christian community. For example, the phrase “gay lifestyle.” What do you actually mean when you say that? As someone who identifies as part of the LGBT community, I understand it as a phrase that stereotypically categorizes a large and diverse group of people into one “lifestyle.” What exactly does a straight lifestyle look like? Many times people actually use this phrase as a euphemism for “having gay sex.” But this is almost always based on the (misguided) assumption that identifying as LGBT equates being sexually active. Can you see where we start to miss each other with just a few key words?

In order for us to be on the same page, Christians need to learn to talk the talk of the LGBT community.

In order for us to be on the same page, Christians need to learn to talk the talk of the LGBT community. It’s really a minimal step that shows respect and genuine interest in knowing someone beyond a label. When I speak about a particular demographic, I go to great trouble to make sure I understand the terms that community uses when referring to themselves (and that evolves over time too). Christians need to be using the terms LGBT people use to identify ourselves with, in order to talk with us. You might be saying here, “Well Eliel, why don’t they learn our words and definitions?” 

Could you imagine me telling my French teacher “Now, I know this is your language, and you have used it for a much longer time period than me, but I think this way would be better. Do it my way.” That would have only accomplished personal academic failure and the perpetuation of the “Americans are arrogant” stereotype that many French have.

I had the time of my life abroad. I got to meet some of the most amazing people, and I would have never been able to get to know them if I didn’t learn their language and at least try to pronounce it the right way. 

If your goal as a Christian is to lovingly engage with people of the LGBT community, start by learning the language. Take a walk in our shoes. Ask a lot of respectful questions—and listen to our responses with no agenda but to learn what our lives are like. Learn about our community. BEFORE you jump in that heated conversation on a Facebook thread, think “How will someone in the LGBT community receive this message?”

It’ll save a lot of wounds when we start speaking the same language.

photo credit: Ame Otoko via photopin cc

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AmbassadorsEliel Cruz is a contributor on religion, sexuality and media & culture at The Advocate, Mic, and Religion News Service. He’s the co-founder and former president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. He studies international business and French studies at Andrews University in Michigan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Why Christians Should Not Justify Torture

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“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” —Caiaphas (John 11.50)

Substitute the word “tortured” in place of the word “die” in the above passage and you’ve got quite a provocative story.

I’m presently alarmed at hearing how many Christians are justifying America’s use of torture, saying things like, “They did what they had to do to protect the American nation.”

The first time I heard those words, the words of Caiaphas rang in my ears. This mentality, this logic, this philosophy, this way of reasoning should be the last for any follower of Jesus, for it was this way of reasoning that led to the death of our Lord. It’s this reasoning that killed Jesus.

It’s thi line of reasoning that led to the torturing of your Jesus. It’s this line of reasoning that led to your Jesus being bound and “blindfolded,” made to stand within a circle of men and guards who “spat in his face,” “slapped him” repeatedly, “struck” him, shouting “insults,” tauntingly endeavoring to intimidate him by asking him over and over to tell them, “Who struck you?”[i] And this was only by the ecclesiastical structure.

Jesus was charged with suspicion of insurrection[ii] against the Roman Empire and then turned over to a group of Roman soldiers who had no knowledge of the preceding case. The soldiers didn’t know Pilate believed he was innocent. If Jesus was standing before them he must have been guilty, and they were required to follow orders. After all, the peace of Rome (the Pax Romana, Rome’s national interests) was at stake!

So the military soldiers of the Roman Empire did to Jesus what they did to all suspected insurgents. (Remember that torture and crucifixion was reserved for the political enemies of Rome.)

The whole cohort of military soldiers was gathered around Jesus. They “stripped” him and made him stand naked in front of them all. After they chained him to a post and tortured him, they dressed this insurgent in the royal garb of an opposing empire. Then they taunted him, spat in his face and struck him repeatedly upon his wounds. [iii]

Then they led him away to be torturously executed.

Yes, it’s ugly to consider—but this, the torture of your Jesus, is where your philosophy that torture is necessary to protect national interests leads.

“In case Christians need reminding, we worship a suspected Middle Eastern insurgent who was tortured.”

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s critique of Caiaphas’ justification of using violence, including torture, for the purpose of protecting national interests (“Better for one man to die than the whole nation destroyed”—John 11.50). When Jesus died as a result of Caiaphas’ methodology, the entire philosophy of justifying violence for national preservation was unmasked. By God resurrecting Jesus, God is, once and for all, unequivocally critiquing the way of the empire, torturing suspected threats included. The resurrection locates God within the narrative. God was not with Caiaphas, protecting Jewish national interests. God was not with Herod, protecting economic interests of the wealthy. God was not with Pilate, protecting Roman empirical interests. The resurrection reveals that God was in the one shamefully tortured and suspended on a tree at the orders of superiors and at the hands of those who were simply following the chain of command. The resurrection is God’s action over and against the torture and death of Jesus as a necessary evil for national security. In the resurrection, God undoes and reverses the torture and death of Jesus and makes known for all to acknowledge, “I’m in solidarity with this one whom you tortured.”[iv]

The narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus is saying to us that this entire philosophy is flawed, for if even God were to show up and be perceived as potential threat, a suspected insurgent, even with due process, the system would torture and murder God, too.

As Mark Van Steenwyk recently stated, “In case Christians need reminding, we worship a suspected Middle Eastern insurgent who was tortured.”

It is always the fear of a foreign threat that drives the methodology of violence, including torture. In the 16th century, it was fear of the Turks taking over Europe that led to the torture and murder of the Anabaptists who spoke out against violence in the name of national interest. In Jesus’ day, it was fear of the Romans that caused Jesus’ Jewish audience to reject his critique of violence. In our time, Martin Luther King Jr. was quickly assassinated when he added a critique of the use of violence for the protection of national interests in Vietnam to his platform of racial equality. Gandhi, too, was murdered when his nonviolence was seen as no longer a tool for national interest, but as a threat. It was this fear of foreign threat that has also radically changed the face of Christianity for the last 1,700 years.

Let me tell you a story. For the first 300 years of Christianity, Jesus’ followers were a nonviolent people who felt it was better to have their own blood shed than to have their hands stained with the blood of another. As Christianity began to exponentially grow, this became a problem to the Roman Empire in the fourth century—for if everyone became a Jesus follower and embraced Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, who, then, would protect the national interests of Rome against foreign threats? Everyone would become a noncombatant.

Thus began the long and much disputed history of the Constantinian shift within Christianity, where Christianity simply became the tool of the empire.

But let’s imagine for a moment that the national interests of Rome in the fourth century had never compromised Christianity. As Christianity continued to grow, more and more Roman citizens would have embraced Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence.  Rome would have eventually fallen to foreign invaders. But the Christians would still have been present, and they would have continued to grow exponentially. Eventually, the new foreign empire would be facing the same challenges to its national interests that Rome had faced and would fall to its foreign threat. But, again, the Christians would still be present and still continue to grow. The third empire coming in contact with these Christians would eventually, too, be facing the same dilemmas.  This history would be repeated over and over, until, eventually, you would run out of empires, and Jesus’ new world would have been the last one standing.  All empires and national interests (beasts and dragons; see the book of Revelation) would have been overcome by a Lamb—not by a sword, but by a cross.

Would many Christians have died in the process? Absolutely. Yet they would have died with the hope of a resurrection into this new world once it became unobstructed. This is why Jesus emphatically said that the way we are going to change the world is through crosses not swords. Remember, crosses were only used by Rome for those suspected of being a threat to her nation interests.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16.24, emphasis added.)

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14.27, emphasis added.)

What does this all mean to American Christians today?

What if America, like Rome, has to fail for Jesus’ New World to succeed? Which allegiance would you choose? Would you remain a Jesus follower, or would your American patriotism and the protection of America’s national interests be of greater value? In other words, would you give up being an American to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus?

As Jesus followers, we are to call the nations to embrace the new world that has been founded by this Jesus.[v] When his followers historically have genuinely followed Jesus’ teachings, they have always been seen as a threat to the national interests of whichever empire they were living amidst. They were accused of turning society “upside down, ” as acting “contrary” to the interests of the Roman “empire.”[vi] Rather than calling Caesar “Lord,” they proclaimed Jesus was “Lord.” (Acts 16.31.) Rather than calling Caesar “King” and “Son of God,” they proclaimed Jesus as “King” and “Son of God.” (Acts 17.5–7, 9.20.) Rather than justifying actions for the perseverance of the “Pax Romana” (Peace through Rome), they proclaimed the “Pax Jesus Christo” (Peace through Jesus Christ). (Acts 10.36.) The refused to subscribe to Rome’s propaganda as being the “Savior of the World,” but instead proclaimed Jesus as the “Savior of the World.” (1 John 4.14.)

For all of these reasons, Jesus followers should be the last to justify the use of torture by any nation to protect that nation’s national interests. Not only was our Lord tortured and killed as a result of this way of reasoning, but Jesus also said we, as those who announce the new world founded by Jesus, we would also be seen as threats to our respective national interests, and tortured and killed as well.

“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.” (Matthew 24.9, emphasis added.)

Please, my fellow Christians here in America, stop justifying America’s use of torture.

“Love your enemies.”—Jesus, The Gospel of Matthew

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”—Jesus, The Gospel of Matthew

Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns …

 

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[i] “Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?’” (Matthew 26. 67–68.)

“Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.” (Mark 14.64–65.)

“Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.” (Luke 22.63–65.)

“When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” (John 18.22.)

[ii] “But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’” (Luke 23.5.)

[iii] “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27.27–31.)

“Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.” (Mark 15.16–20.)”

“And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face.” (John 19.2–3.)

[iv] “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, given to you according to the definite plan and purpose of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2.22–24.)

“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.” (Acts 2.32–33.)

“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2.36.)

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, but God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.” (Acts 3.12–16.)

“Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’” (Acts 4.10–11.)

“The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Founder and Savior.” (Acts 5.30–32.)

“You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day.” (Acts 10.36–43.)

“Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.” (Acts 13.23–38.)

[v] “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.’” (Matthew 28.18–17, emphasis added.)

“That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’” (Acts 23.11, emphasis added.)

“Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people.” (Revelation 14.6, emphasis added.)

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.” (Revelation 15.3–4, emphasis added.)

“To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all the peoples, the nations, and the languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.13–14, emphasis added.)

“I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb … the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. … On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 21.22–22.2, emphasis added.)

[vi] “While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’” (Acts 17.5–7, emphasis added.)

photo credit: Davi Ozolin via photopin cc

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Herb Montgomery is a Jesus-follower, husband, and father whose passion is to share who God really is with everyone he meets. Though his faith-journey began as a fear-based, performance oriented experience he soon encountered the teachings of Jesus and his life has never been the same. Herb has little interest in most things religious and believes that Christianity is  “about a person, not a religion”. He is speaker and director of Renewed Heart Ministries. You can check it out at renewedheartministries.com 

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Commands or Promises?

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All His biddings are enablings.

The words of Jesus are unique, they are unlike the words of any other man. I may tell you, “Swim to shore,” but I can’t give your tired legs the energy to kick; I can’t keep your head above water. I can only describe, exhort, urge, command. I can try to convince, try to encourage, try to clarify, but I can’t keep you from drowning and I can’t empower you to swim.

But Jesus’ word empowers.

So he tells the crippled man, “Take up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8) But the man was paralyzed . . . so he couldn’t walk . . . which is why he was hanging out at the pool of Bethesda hoping for a miracle . . . But the words of Jesus were not empty exhortations or commands: in His bidding was the power to accomplish it. The paralytic man grasped that power by faith and he willed to stand. And just as surely as he willed, the power came, giving strength to his weak ankles and legs.

All His biddings are enablings.

So when Christ says to you, “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1), He is not only instructing you but offering you power to live out this wisdom and truth, He is making available to you the power to see people without judgmentalism. And when He says, “Repent! (Turn around!)” there is more than command in those words—Jesus Himself is the Way to turn around and He gives you what you need in order to go a new way.

All the words of Christ, all the words of God, that we hear as commands we are prone to interpret as stern fiats, or perhaps as divine measuring sticks that tell us how high to jump. And truly God’s commandments are standards, and they are higher than we could ever conceive. Make no mistake about it: they are serious and they cannot be ignored or trifled with. But God’s commands are also promises. To the one who receives them in faith, the power to perform them will be granted. To she who gives up her own false power and casts herself on the power of the omnipotent Jesus, power will be granted.

All His biddings are enablings.” Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p331.

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What Irritates Me About the Women’s Ordination Debate

A few days ago I picked up a copy of an Adventist periodical and ran into an article on this whole “women’s ordination” thing. As I read the article I found myself horribly irritated. The article alluded to the following statements by Ellen White:

A great work can be done by presenting to the people the Bible just as it reads (2TT 129.2).

If men will take the Bible, just as it reads, they will make no mistake… (RH May 25, 1876, par. 40).

If men would but take the Bible as it reads… a work would be accomplished… (GC 598.3).

The language of the Bible should be explained according to its obvious meaning, unless a symbol or figure is employed (GC 598.3).

I could be wrong here, but I got the distinct impression that the point of the article was: If we all take the Bible just as it reads we will all agree that women should not be ordained. This is what I found irritating. While I do not disagree with the above quotes by Ellen, they are only half the story. And by highlighting this half of the story alone the article leaves the impression that students should disregard the cultural, literary, and historical context of the passages in question and just read them as they are. End of story. Yet nothing could lead us into error faster than taking the Bible as it reads without considering its cultural, historical, and literary context.

For the sake of clarity allow me to propose what would happen if we read the Bible “just as it reads” while ignoring the context.

 

If you are single forget about finding a wife.: 1 Corinthians 7:27

Don’t go to the doc if you are sick. Just pray.: James 5:14

Forget about women as pastors. They shouldn’t talk in church at all!: 1 Corinthians 14:34

Ladies: Don’t Make Yourself Look Nice: 1 Peter 3:3

Self-mutilation is acceptable if you want to overcome sin: Matthew 5:29, 30

If you and your family get attacked, don’t try and protect yourselves.: Matthew 5:39

If someone asks you for something you have, anyone, give it to him/her.: Matthew 5:42

Don’t pray in public (no saying grace at the restaurant!).: (Matthew 6:6)

Get rid of your savings account.: (Matthew 6:19)

Don’t make future plans.: Matthew 6:34

Hate Your Family: Luke 14:26

Give everything you own away. Don’t keep a thing!: Luke 14:33

Now of course, no one would accept this as a legitimate way of studying the Bible. Those who ignore the process of exegesis (which includes studying the cultural, literary, and historical context) often end up doing really dumb things like refusing to wear clothes with multiple fabrics because it says so in Leviticus or thinking that Jeremiah 10:1-10 is referring to a Christmas tree. Reading the Bible “just as it reads” often translates into superficial reading that leads to erroneous interpretations of scripture as opposed to a pure interpretation.

So was Ellen White wrong? Of course not. The context of her statements have to do with the Sabbath. In order to discredit the Sabbath many engage in Bible verse twisting – a process in which the plain teaching of scripture is twisted in the name of “exegesis”. It was to this that Ellen referred to when she wrote her statements. But to blindly apply this same counsel in every situation would lead us to adopt the ridiculous views shared above. In the same vein, there are people who twist the Bible to say that having multiple wives is OK, that Jesus is not God, that grace gives us a free licence to sin, and that slavery is not wrong. In this context, a plain reading of scripture is absolutely necessary (though such a plain reading would gain – not lose – from the exegetical process). But when it comes to issues that are not as clear, such as women’s ordination, it is foolish to assert that the entire debate can be settled by a “plain reading” of scripture. A thorough study of the cultural issues, historical perspectives, and literary intentions (among other things) needs to be studied and understood before we can make a claim about what is the true biblical position that God expects of his church today.

Sadly, there are some who equate exegesis with rationalizing and come to the conclusion that unless the text is read just as it is we are disobeying the Bible. But such is not the case. While Ellen White counseled us to take the Bible as it reads she also rebuked those who disregarded context. At the end of the day we may still disagree on our conclusions but lets refrain from pridefully asserting that we alone have the “plain reading of scripture”.

 

Note: This article was originally published on pomopastor.com

photo credit: Marco Bijdevaate via photopin cc

For the Love of God

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I’ve settled on the belief that my finite mind cannot yet fully grasp the entirety of God’s infinite love. I’ve also come to the conclusion that if we’ll ever love the way God loves, we’ll have to forgive the way God forgives. There’s no getting around this fact and no reducing it to fit our dwarfed desires to love the way we’d prefer, to love in a way that requires less of us, demands less sacrifice. Desiring any less is ultimately contrary to the love and will of God. The bible tells us that God IS love, and He so loved the world that He gave. What DID He give? Christ’s very life was the price that was paid. So, we see that love doesn’t just give; love dies. HEART CHECK: As Annie Lobert mused: You think you have passion but aren’t willing to suffer for another? Real passion dies for someone!

Do you love others to death, even those who hurt you most? Is your desire for restoration stronger than your desire for vindication? Dan Allender defines bold love as “a movement of grace to embrace those who have sinned against us” and “a commitment to do whatever it takes (apart from sin) to bring health (salvation)” to those who’ve harmed us most. HEART CHECK: Who are you loving boldly? Who are you depending on GOD to help you love? Do you desire to meet those who’ve pierced you deepest with an embrace that yearns for their restoration?

There IS no middle ground. Either we desire those who’ve hurt us be utterly destroyed by God’s fiery wrath or we desire that they be absolutely restored by His flaming love. HEART CHECK: Do I want this person, as terrible as their actions may have been, to be destroyed or to be restored? God’s heart is bent toward restoration. He loves. He forgives. He restores.

God sees the worst in us and forgives; He sees the worst, and yet He loves. I’m convinced we can’t love the best in people until we can forgive the worst in them, because even their best is filthy rags compared to a holy God! When I choose to love you, I’m choosing to love something born in sin and shaped in iniquity. How dare I then recoil from the sacrifice love demands of me? Love requires us to exchange our desire to see revenge for an equally strong desire to see redemption. Proverbs 10:12 says love covers all wrongs, and 1 Peter 4:8 says love each other because love covers a multitude of sins. HEART CHECK: Who’s done wrong by you? Who’s sinned against you, and how are you covering them? Love covers.

I can’t think of one person I genuinely love where I don’t have to submit my selfish desires in order to fully connect or reconnect with them. Love is built on a foundation of willingness to subject our will to the will of another, and not just any other, submission to the will of God. Letting this mind be in us, which is also in Christ Jesus, means adopting GOD’S view of others. God loves the people you can’t stand. Ask Him to show others to you in the way HE sees them, so you can love and forgive the way He does. The video below shows the steps to a 30-second forgiveness exercise many have found helpful. Pray about whom God wants you to forgive, and know that sometimes it begins with self-forgiveness.

photo credit: ‘Ajnagraphy’ via photopin cc

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