Why You Should Be Angry

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Anger isn’t the “negative” emotion we often make it out to be.

[/blockquote]After I indifferently described an upsetting family situation to a friend, she replied, “You have yet to be angry in a way that the bible blesses.” It’s not that I wasn’t ranting or raving enough; it’s that my apathy, itself, was sinful and impeded the healing work God wanted to do. Somehow, we’ve downgraded the Ephesians 4:26 command to “Be angry, and sin not,” and taken it as mere permission to be angry, with an expectation to get over it quickly. When we study that verse, however, we see both the command to be angry and the context for why we should be angry.

One of the first things we try to do with our emotions is change them. We try to immediately conceal, curb, or change emotions like anger, which we think of as negative or bad. But God gave us the capacity to experience a wide range of emotions, and not only that, He’s commanded us to experience them. But wait. If God is commanding us to experience anger, then we’re in direct opposition of His commands when we “stuff our feelings,” dismiss our anger, or avoid these feelings altogether. When we run from our feelings, we rebel against God.

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Instead of changing your emotions, allow your emotions to change you.

[/blockquote]Anger isn’t the “negative” emotion we often make it out to be. Anger is often a secondary emotion, which masks other painful feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, or rejection, but that doesn’t make anger any less powerful. C.S. Lewis contended that God uses pain as a megaphone to rouse a deaf world because pain [and anger] insists upon being heard. Anger still serves the purpose of propelling us into action.

I’ll borrow from Pastor Choco, who said, “Prayer is good, but it has to move us to do something.” Anger is good, but it has to move us to do something. The context of the command to “be angry and sin not” is one that demands a just response to evil and wrongdoing. We’re commanded to experience our anger so it can do what it should – empower us to confront sin and right wrongs. This isn’t a call to anger that is explosive or destructive, but rather anger that is restorative and seeks to build up. Heart Check: How do you know your anger is Godly? If it angers God, it ought to anger us.

You can’t profess to be a Christian and be unapologetically apathetic about the triumph of evil. God isn’t indifferent about injustice and wrongdoing. He’s angry, and He couples His anger with action. The cross, dripping with mercy, was as much an outpouring of God’s grace as it was His wrath, as much a symbol of His rage as His restoration. Righteous indignation seeks not just to destroy evil, but to restore to good. Heart Check: Are you more excited about exposing sins or about covering sinners? Love covers a multitude of sins.

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Anger is good, but it has to move us to do something.

[/blockquote]Your anger over senseless murders, racism, addiction, sexism, and the unending list of social ills should stir a desire to rage until you see restoration. If your anger never pushes you to action, you’ve missed out on precious opportunities to both be blessed and be a blessing, opportunities to be angry in a way the bible blesses. So the next time you’re angry, I challenge you to sit with it, to see what actions it stirs within you, and if they’re aligned with the will of God. Instead of changing your emotions, allow your emotions to change you, allow them to change your world.

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The resources below can help you with expressing your anger in healthy ways, whether with a trained therapist or like-minded, supportive friends.

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Why Bible Reading Can Be Difficult and What You Can Do About It.

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“ It’s too boring…”

“It’s too hard…”

“It’s not relevant…”

“I don’t get it…”

“It’s too old…”

And they go on. I’ve heard them, you’ve heard them.

Let’s face it: Reading the Bible can sometimes be a slow death experience. Maybe it hasn’t for you. But it surely has been for me.

Pastors, teachers, and well-intentioned Christians have portrayed reading the Bible as a joyous search for Mickey Mouse in Disneyland. But for me, more often than not, it has instead been a painfully cruel game of “Where’s Waldo” in Jurassic Park.

It’s been a journey, but I’ve learnt to appreciate the Bible quite a bit. It’s actually been a joyful experience! But why has reading the Bible been, and, can be, such a difficult experience for many?

My dude Peter has something to say about that:

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
(1 Peter 2:1-3).

The word that had me pause is “if” in v.3.

In the Greek, this word is used as a conditional clause. This means that the facts of verse 1 and 2 are assumed to be true IF the condition for it to be true in verse 3 is valid. In other words, my dude Peter is saying that you’ll grow through the word of God IF you have experienced who God is for yourself.

This makes more sense when you see how Peter introduces the letter in chapter 1. The disciple spends a significant portion of the chapter explaining to his hearers who God is and what He has done on for, and, behalf of them. He then goes on to make a brief appeal to the read the word of God and introduces the next thought cluster with the verse above.

Let me put into Kevinese what Peter was maybe trying to say few centuries ago:

Reading the Bible can be so difficult for many people because they are trying to figure out WHAT God is trying to tell them before trying to figure out WHO God is to them.

The Bible is a love letter from a Father revealing His heart to His kids. Inspired by my buddy Richard Martin who shared this thought with me, if I can add something to Scripture (which I can if I want to get stoned), I would add just two words before Genesis 1:1:

Dear Kevin..”

Because that’s what the Bible is! From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a beautifully syncopated symphony of a Master Conductor leading the instrumentalists to compose this single line of melody that has been reverberating through the chambers of human history since the beginning of time:

“God…is…love.”

But some tend to focus on the melody at the expense of forgetting the heart behind it – much like a student who is at an orchestra to write a report for credit rather than to listen to the music for enjoyment.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve heard the muted groans of many well-intentioned people when it comes to reading the Bible. For many, it’s been a textbook rather than a love-letter. For some, it’s been a cutlass to cut others rather than a scalpel to surgically restore their own hearts. For the longest time, The Bible has been a manual for my spiritual growth. Nothing more. Nothing less. Because of this perspective, reading the Bible became more of a chore rather than a joy for me. I may have trusted His words, but I didn’t trust the Author.

The Bible is the only book in the world where the key to unlocking it’s meaning lies in the heart of its Author. 

It took some time for me to realize that Bible reading was excruciating when done in the absence of a loving and trusting relationship with God. That started to change when I prioritized learning about the God of the word before comprehending the words of God.

That being said, if you’re struggling to read the Bible as I used to, here are a few things you can start doing right away:

1) Don’t be too hard on yourself 

Sin has jacked up all of us since the fall. Our first parents’ innate orientation towards God and his laws has been completely and irreparably reversed by sin. While Adam and Eve enjoyed floating on the streams of God’s love prior to the Fall, we have been swimming upstream. So the reason why things of God tend to be difficult and amorphous is because our sinful human nature defies Him at every.single.level. It’s not your fault. There is an enemy. And you better give credit where credit’s due.

2) Change your perspective

The good news is that even though we have been wrecked by sin, by grace through faith, we have already moved from death into life. Christ has begun his good work in us, creating in us the desire to both will and to act according to His good pleasure. Since His work in you is conditional upon your choice to permit Him, you can now choose to change your perspective about Scripture.

How?

Start looking for Him before looking for what He’s trying to tell you.
Search for the Planner before seeking His plans.
Look at Him in the face of Jesus, before hearing what he’s trying to tell you.

And the more you do this, the more you begin to see Him. The more you see him, the more you want to see him. The more you want to see Him, the more you want to spend more time with Him in Scripture.

You’ll then begin to realize that information about God will lead you to intimacy with God, and your intimacy with God will then lead you to learn more information about God.

Who’s with me?

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I Thought I Was a Liberal – Until I Met the Conservatives…

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Terms like “liberal” and “conservative” can have such subjective and controversial connotations within the church. Yet according to dictionary.com, “liberal” simply means “favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.” And considering that, I thought I was a liberal. You see God had been doing a lot in my life to bring me to deeper understandings of what’s truly important. And as He brought me closer to Himself, it was interesting how things that had seemed like such big issues in my own life or in the church just didn’t seem that… important anymore. In the light of the gospel I found a security in my faith that I’d never had before. I knew the Lord – and that gave me more freedom to be okay with both those whose convictions were to the left of mine and those who were to the right. I could rock out with hands raised with the praise bands and meditate reverently on good ole’ hymns. No, I was not afraid of progress nor reform. I felt I’d finally become a “liberal” in the truer definition of the word.

 

But then I met the conservatives.

 

Yes, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Remember? I was secure in what mattered in my faith! But there, at the peak of my “maturity,” I found myself called to a place where I wasn’t supposed to leave my house without a skirt, there seemed to be more Ellen White study than Bible study, and people ate lots of carob – for fun! Yes, to some that may sound like heaven. But for me, well… I wasn’t quite prepared. And to be honest, it didn’t take long before my “liberal” self started becoming a bit frustrated and resentful.

 

All of a sudden I realized I wasn’t as “liberal” as I thought.

 

But in the throes of my conflict, God started to reveal a few more things to my not-so-liberal soul. And hopefully they’re ones that can apply to the larger quest for unity and a truly “liberal” spirit in our church as well.

 

1. Ask yourself: Does this bother me because it’s harming God’s glory? Or simply because it’s opposed to my preferences? Yeah… That’s been a hard question for me to answer… One of the people that really inspires me in this regard is the apostle Paul. On one hand, Paul was super willing to sacrifice his personal rights and freedoms. “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free?” Paul writes in 1 Cor. 9:1. But he continues:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law… I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NKJV).

 

Am I willing to do that? Am I willing to sacrifice the type of music I’d prefer in church, the type of clothes I’d prefer to wear, the type of food I’d like to eat – or whatever else – if that’s what it takes for the sake of the gospel?

 

Now on the other hand, there were some things that Paul stood very adamantly against! Speaking of circumcision for instance, Paul fumes: “But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.  I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves” (Gal. 5:11-12, NASB).

 

Why was Paul so strong on this and not on other things? I think that Paul realized what was going to get in the way of the gospel and what wasn’t. Circumcision, the misuse of the law, or any other teachings that diminished the message of salvation by grace alone were repulsive to Paul. While he constantly challenged believers to holier lives, he wouldn’t stand for any confusion over the gospel message – nothing that might supplant the cross of Christ. And here’s where I see it boiling down to today: If it is an issue that will dangerously damage people’s picture of God’s character and understanding of the gospel, then we have a reason to lovingly, tactfully, stand up. But if it’s something that is more related to my personal convictions and preferred lifestyle, it may be time for me to sit down and grab some carob.

 

2. Remember: We all think we’re the “balanced” ones. Look, I’ve even had someone tell me that I was “the most balanced person” they knew! So of course I must have it right [Smug look]. Well much as I’d like to believe that, I’m sure there are plenty of other people that know me who would see things differently. I’ve heard it said that we automatically tend to see everyone to the spiritual left of us as not serious/advanced enough in the faith (the apostates) and everyone to the right of us as fanatics:

 

“I don’t know why John’s still eating meat. I mean doesn’t he know the counsels on vegetarianism? But now Mary on the other hand, she insists on having everything vegan – and even raw! She better learn to be more balanced!”

 

Yes, the vegetarians will blast the meat eaters while chiding the vegans for their extremism, the vegans will look down on the ovo-lacto vegetarians while secretly disdaining the raw food proponents, and so on and so forth. Our definition of “balance” tends to be wherever we currently are. But we’re all on a journey of growth. Think of areas where you personally have grown and changed in your Christian experience – if the “you” of a few years ago met the “you” of today might he/she have seen you as either fanatical or apostate? Thoughts to ponder…

 

3. They’re not necessarily judging you. We don’t like feeling judged. But thankfully perception is not always reality. People are often not what we think they are. Some of the people that I’ve at first thought would be the most straight-laced and judgmental have floored me with how kind and loving they ended up being. It’s so easy to make a surface judgment, to stereotype, to decide what people are like before we’ve really given them a chance to show us. Believe it or not, not all northerners are cold and unfriendly, not all southerners are gun-toting racists, not all liberals are out to corrupt the church, and not all conservatives are out to judge everyone. Give them a chance before you decide. In fact I’d say that most times when I feel like “everyone’s watching me” or “everyone’s judging me,” they’re not. You may be nowhere in their mind at all! And if, by chance, they turn out to be judging you after all, remember that how people act is often a reflection of how they see God and how they believe that God sees them. Don’t hate them; have compassion on them. Love them. Show them what God is truly like. Who knows, you might just change their perception.

 

4. Can we still work together for a common goal? At the end of the day, we may still realize that we are stuck in a body of believers with people that we don’t agree with or naturally gel with. But we also have to realize that God’s stuck us all together for a purpose. We have a mission, and according to Matthew 13:30, that mission is NOT to go around figuring out who’s “wheat” and who’s “tares” so we can pull out the contaminators. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downing the need for church discipline at times. Yet ultimately, it’s God’s job to purify His church, not mine. Our job is to somehow work together to accomplish a mission – a purpose.

 

One of the beautiful things about the 1 Corinthians 12 “body of Christ” analogy is that unity does not have to equal uniformity. Legs don’t have to look like hands. Eyes don’t have to function like ears. And likewise, when we realize we are different than each other, we may want to ask: How can we work together WITH our differences for the furtherance of the gospel? How might our differences actually lend strength to the work of the body? Even though I must stand within my own personal convictions and identity, can I still find common areas in which to work with those I’m not naturally as comfortable with? Might God have put them in the same church as me for BOTH of our sanctification?

 

Yes friends, I’ve come to believe that the work we’ve been given won’t be accomplished by those on the right; nor will it be finished by those on the left. It will only be finished by all of us – together. Lord, help me to be a true liberal. Even with those who are different.

 

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3 Realities That Frustrate A 2nd Generation Pastor

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As you may or may not know, I work in a unique ministry setting in that I pastor in a bilingual district with both English and Spanish churches. Being a 2nd generation Hispanic who pastors a predominantly 1st generation church has its pros and cons. One of the positives is seeing the explosive growth that happens in many 1st generation churches up close. One of the potential negatives, however, is that there is usually a high turnover in people as they come and go back to their country of origin. For some immigrants, they follow the job market and may not stay in one place very long. As a result, the next year may give you a totally different set of church leaders than the previous one.

Those cons are not problems that frustrate me. I do have real frustrations that I face, though – real ones that keep me up at night. Three of the biggest ones are the following.

1) It’s frustrating that 2nd generation pastors risk being pigeonholed.

When I was studying in undergrad, all of the Theology majors were assigned a church where they would intern (in order to gain practical field experience). We were invited to give our top 3 choices to the Religion Department. Being that I had always gone to a Spanish church as a kid but felt more comfortable expressing myself in English, I put down three English-speaking churches. However, when the assignments came back, I had been assigned to a local Spanish church.

Why?

When people see a Spanish-looking name, it’s easy to assign a preconceived idea onto that person and fit them into a particular category, especially in a manner that is rigid and exclusive: pigeonholing. In the case of my undergrad, I didn’t fight it and actually ended up enjoying my time at the church.  However, the principle behind it was what has always bothered me.

What many people don’t realize is that 2nd generation people straddle the line between two cultures: their parents’ home culture and the culture in the country which they grew up. They are members of neither and both at the same time. Not too many people realize that.  Because of this, when people hear the name Nelson Fernandez and know I’m Dominican/Salvadorian, they usually just lump me as Dominican and assume I’m from there (when I’ve never been) and completely ignore the fact that I’m also half-Salvadorian.

Why does Pandora play ads for me in Spanish when I have no Spanish music on my station? Racism. No, just joking. I don’t know what weird metric Pandora uses, but I have no interest in listening to Daddy Yankee. Sorrynotsorry.

I usually hear nationalistic sayings like, “Like it is back in our home country” tossed around in 1st generation churches. However, for the 2nd Generation, this is our country. We don’t know of any other. So when someone sees my name and picture, I fear being stereotyped. I fear being assigned to play a particular role because society doesn’t understand the gray areas that occur within and between cultures, nor do they understand the idiosyncrasies that 2nd generation people live with.

To frame this discussion another way, can Whites only pastor White churches? Can Blacks only pastor Black churches? Can Asians only pastor Asian churches? If you pigeonhole pastors, yes. And that bothers me.

2) It’s frustrating that sometimes language is used as a barrier to be maintained, not an obstacle to overcome.

I have a great pastor friend who came to do an event at my Spanish church. We visited the homes of many people and ate a lot of great food. In conversation with the families, we would usually talk in Spanish to the parents and the kids. Yet, when the kids started speaking English to me, I would respond in English because that was the language that they felt better expressing themselves in.

However, my friend said, “I’m making a rule that you can only speak in Spanish.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because this is the Greenville Spanish Seventh-day Adventist church and you are their pastor.”

I wasn’t offended by what he said, but I did think to myself, “Yeah, but their kids speak English and so do I. I’m their pastor too.”

Many 2nd Generation people struggle with speaking their parents’ native tongue as fluently as they do. In some cases, while they can be understood by their parents and peers, they are embarrassed to speak publicly. This is especially pronounced when they fumble words in public and native speakers make a big deal about it or publicly shame them.

What’s the difference between this and when some people insist that everyone speak only English since this is the United States? Aren’t these two sides of the same ethnocentric coin?

Batman, a.k.a. Hombre Murciélago: “We only speak Spanish in this house!”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blessing and an advantage to speak multiple languages fluently.  Being bilingual is a huge asset, personally and professionally.  However, I’m convinced that my job as a pastor is not to teach kids to speak their parent’s language; my job is to help connect people to Jesus in their language of preference. This brings me to my third point.

3)  It’s frustrating that the church is sometimes used as the preserver of cultural norms rather than the challenger of them.

Historically speaking, the church throughout the ages has always been at its most dangerous when it was used to elevate one culture above another.  Time and time again, the tendency has been to preserve the culture in which it finds itself, instead of seeking to understand how God could be using a new group to teach the old group something about itself.

  • *First century Christianity sought to preserve Jewish norms rather than adopting and embracing new Jewish believers.
  • *When Constantinople fell and the Roman Empire was on the ropes, Catholicism was seen as the preserver of Western social norms in the face of attacks form barbarians in the North and Islam in the East.
  • *In the new world, the Spanish Inquisition made sure that the new lands conquered by Spain would adopt the cultural norms that existed back in Spain. Goodbye Inca, Aztec, and Taino cultures.
  • *Whites in the South used Christianity to preserve the social norm of intrinsic, systematic racism.

See a pattern?

In the same conversation that I mentioned a little while ago, my same friend and I continued our conversation.  He said, “In 10 years, you won’t have a Spanish church because all the kids will grow up and no one will be able to be leaders in the Spanish church from them.”

Personally, I don’t see that as a problem; I see it as an opportunity to start a new kind of church. Since when was the church meant to always stay the same? When we say that we want young people to be church, is there really a hidden cultural agenda there?

When we say we want young people in our church, do we really mean that? Or do we actually mean that we want prototypes of ourselves to preserve our values?

In conversation, my wife said the following:

“The church is there to meet the needs of the community.  For example, if the community is mostly 1st generation and needs a solely Spanish-speaking church, then it should have one.  But as families change with each generation, and the community is made up of 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation bilingual Hispanics, why wouldn’t the church change to meet the language needs of its community?”

Christianity was meant to challenge culturally held values and assumptions and point them back to Biblical values, not blindly embrace them. Why? In questioning the values that we hold, we may realize that some of them are actually cultural values rather than Biblical ones and should be changed.

If you don’t believe that there are socially held norms that are antithetical to the Bible, I invite you to check out the following post:

9 Sins the Church is Okay With

Culture goes deeper than many of us realize. We spend so much time and fighting over the superficial issues while ignoring the real issues that run much deeper.

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We would be well-served if we took time to examine our own hearts and cultures and see where we have room to be changed into God’s image. In all of this, I want to say that I still love my culture. However, Biblically speaking, it’s always important to remember that our primary allegiance is not to a language, a political party, or a national flag. We may be 1st, 2nd, or even 16th generation immigrants, but we are all sojourners on this earth.

We should all be longing for a better country–a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16) and remember that our present affiliations are only temporary.

What’s been your experience? Share!

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You’re not like me, and that is OK!

 

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The following events, I experienced myself:

*I was asked whether it is ok to baptize someone that is living in the USA without working documents.

*I overheard a conversation where a family was sharing that they will not vote for an African American candidate for president, based solely on his skin color.

*The day Obama was elected president, the newspaper with that headline was ripped. This happened in an Adventist office.

*Someone tells one of the Hispanic pastors that he should tell all his undocumented members to go back to their country. Immediately.

*A 1st generation Hispanic church member tells a 2nd generation youth to please attend an English speaking church, making fun of his Spanish pronunciation and sending the clear message that his kind are not welcome there.

These all happened in the last 10 years.

11 o’clock on Sabbath morning is still the most segregated hour in Adventism in America. In order for our churches to become what God intended them to be, we must take the lead in reconciliation. Being reconciled with God means being reconciled with my brother. God intends his church to become a house of prayer for all people.

As we seek to become a house of prayer for all people, we must intentionally seek to develop relationships and make our churches a welcome place for the following types of people.

1. People that don’t look like me. One of my good friends, Pr. Harold planted a congregation in Oregon. Originally, the church started as a 2ndGeneration Hispanic Church. What he soon discovered, is that 2nd Generation Hispanics marry and have friends of different cultures. One time, a person that was attending asked why they called the church a “church for 2ndGeneration Hispanics”. In his attempts to become more inclusive and to reach out to a neglected segment, he was in fact being the opposite of inclusive. The church is now called Mosaic, a Multicultural church in the west side of Portland. This church includes African Americans, Koreans, as well as people from Hawaii, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, among others.

The fact is that the younger the person, the more tolerant he is of different races. The browning of America is happening, whether we like it or not. Think salad bowl, not melting pot.

2. People that don’t think like me. In the church that I grew up with, questions were not often welcomed. You did what you were told, and that was final. With this generation, such methods hardly work. In order to reach them, we must allow them to express their opinions, value their input and respond with solid evidence, not just a “because I say so”. I still remember the answer our youth leaders gave us when we asked why we could not go to the movies. First of all, your guardian angel stays outside when you go into a movie theater. Secondly, Ellen White condemned movie theaters. Thirdly, because we told you not to. Not a word was mentioned about content of the movies, being able to select better entertainment or allowing us to question why the same people that condemned the theater watched the same movie in their home. When we pointed out that there were no movie theaters in EGW days, we were met with accusations of rebellion and not conforming to the truth. It’s incongruences like this that helped some of my friends to reject orders completely when they went to the movies and saw that the place was no different than the local mall. I’m not advocating movie going. I am advocating for consistency and plain common sense.

What I see happening all too often in our churches, is the labeling and demonizing of people that hold other viewpoints. Liberal, extremist, contemporary, conservative. These are just some of the labels thrown out there. It has been said, that when fishermen don’t fish, they fight. I wonder if the millions of people down the street that are on their way to “not heaven” really care whether we sing two more praise songs or if the prayer comes before the welcome, (actual fights in church boards I have been present in). What if we used those energies and the time we spend in countless committees, to minister to the community that surrounds us? What if we helped people to realize God is madly in love with them?

I don’t have to compromise my values to connect with you. I don’t have to change my mind about doctrine to open my arms and love you. I don’t have to leave my brain at the door, just my prejudice.
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5 Reasons Why You Absolutely Positively Need a Digital Detox (and a Real Vacation)

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My wife and I just came back from our first real vacation ever. This year, instead of using vacation time to travel and visit family, for our five year anniversary we decided to fulfill a long-desired wish and visit the greater London area for two weeks of a well-deserved break.

Before we left, we agreed to a digital detox (meaning a full disconnect form all forms of digital communication: text, phone, emails and of course, social media) for those two weeks. Full disclosure, I was more consistent with this in our second week, but I’m convinced that this one decision had a profound impact on me and will be a part of all future vacations. You should seriously consider doing this too, and here are five reasons why:

Continue reading 5 Reasons Why You Absolutely Positively Need a Digital Detox (and a Real Vacation)

Priest vs Pastor

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In the long discussion concerning women’s ordination, I heard something which pricked my attention: a comparison between this debate and Korah’s Rebellion in Numbers 16. What intrigued me about this idea, aside from the disturbing ideas and logical fallacies, was the correlation drawn between priests and the modern pastor. The question that must be asked is whether or not this correlation is justified. Are pastors essentially modern day priests?

Let’s be honest: when we read something in the Bible, for the most part we all interpret it through a modern lens. Thus when we come across a particular item we don’t have today, like a temple, our natural instinct is to correlate it with something we know, like a church. Therefore we think of temples like churches, even if that might paint a highly inaccurate picture (hint: it does).

Ideally of course we would like to interpret the Bible on its own terms and in its own culture. Unfortunately there is little to be done about this; we can only interpret based on what we know and frankly we know very little about the world of the Bible. Even archaeologists such as myself who have made it our life’s work to understand the world of the Bible will freely admit we don’t know much. So we view the Bible through the modern lens; it’s not a bad thing necessarily, more of a reality. Often these misinterpretations are harmless but they can also lead to very dangerous and inaccurate theologies.

In case I haven’t tipped my hand enough already, priests and pastors aren’t the same thing. Frankly, they’re not really even close. This is a problem when it comes to attempting to use priests as an argument against women’s ordination.

First, what was a priest? In short, the priest was the mediator between the worshipper and the deity. This mediation worked both ways. On the one hand, the priest took the concerns and requests of the worshipper before the god; on the other, they communicated the will of their particular god to the people. In a way, priests acted like divine cell phones between normal people and the deities who ruled the cosmos.

This communication was done via specific cultic rituals for which the priests were responsible. It should be noted priests were different than prophets, who in theory received special visions and messages from the gods. Priests instead received their information from the gods through meticulously studied omens and signs. Perhaps the most common way to discern the thoughts of the gods was through casting lots, essentially like tossing dice or flipping a coin. The Greek Iliad and the Ugaritic Aqhatu Epic both mention priests reading birds for signs. Some of the earliest “scientific” texts were essentially omen guidebooks for reading the will of the gods. From Mesopotamia, a clay liver model was found with notes written on it telling what certain parts mean. In case you were wondering, the art of reading body parts for omens is called extispicy and was widely practiced all over the ancient world.

Perhaps my favorite form of omen-reading is something called teratology or monstrous births. Essentially if some kind of deformed animal was born, it had some kind of special meaning. Things like, “If its (lamb) nose is like the ‘nose’ of a bird, the gods will destroy this land” or “If it has no spleen, the king will not obtain offspring” and stuff like that. I mean, exactly that; those are direct quotes from an Ugaritic teratology text. There are about fifty of those things in the text, covering everything from no left ears to no nostrils to no “middle part of the right leg.” There are all kinds of prediction from these, good things like the king beating his enemies (predicted by a missing left ear) or bad things like, well, the gods destroying the land.

For the most part, Yahweh seemed to prefer to communicate his will through either prophets or his law. Think of Deuteronomy 6 where Yahweh commands his people to repeat the law until they see it in their sleep. For most answers of what Yahweh wanted, people simply needed to know the law. In other cases, when Yahweh had a specific message for his people, he would send a prophet.

However, when the people needed specific guidance, usually a yes or no answer, they went to the priests to consult Yahweh. The priests didn’t practice extispicy or teratology but they did do a form of casting lots: the Urim and Thummim. The Urim and Thummim were two stones the high priest had on his priestly garments. Exactly how they worked is unclear, whether it was like flipping a coin or spinning a bottle or a light shining on one or the other. Regardless, the priests used this to consult Yahweh for yes (Urim) or no answers (Thummim). Most often when the Bible talks about Yahweh telling someone whether or not to do something, this is what is meant. See the story of David rescuing Keilah for example.

Another odd sort of divination the Israelite priests performed was the test of an unfaithful wife in Numbers 5. It’s one of the weirder laws in the Old Testament but the basic principle is if you think your wife is cheating on you but can’t prove it, take her to the priest and he’ll administer a test to see if she is or isn’t. The test depends on Yahweh’s will being revealed in the test.

More often however, priests worked human to god instead of the other way around. Just like divining the mind of the gods, appropriately expressing your requests required specific rituals. Do the wrong thing and instead of a rain storm one could end up with locusts. At least, that’s how the theory went. Getting the god to do what you want wasn’t as simple as yelling, “Hey Baal, can you do me a solid?” You needed to perform the proper rituals.

From Ugarit, for example, there are tablets describing sacrificial rituals and incantations. For example, there are sacrifices for national unity, Viagra-esque incantations, and wards against snakes and scorpion, amongst other things. Keep in mind, in the ancient world, everything had to do with the gods. So if you were going on a voyage, you sought the good will of the sea god. If you needed rain, you sought the good will of the storm god. If you needed a kid, you sought the good will of the fertility god or goddess. In Judah, hundreds of female pillar figurines have been found thought to be votive offerings for fertility; kind of like fertility voodoo.

These rituals were fairly complicated. One of my professors suggested the dozens of ritual texts found were essentially priestly cheat sheets. One even listed a bunch of gods which was initially thought to be a pantheon list until someone noticed a series of tick marks next to the divine names. It was actually a checklist.

As a result of the complexity, the priests were the only ones who possessed the knowledge of how to perform the proper rituals in order to keep the gods happy and correctly present your request to the deity. Thus you had to go through the priest to get what you wanted from the god. This was their job, to present your needs before the god and hopefully get them to do what you want.

In many ways, this was quite similar to what the Israelite priests did. They performed the cultic rituals of the tabernacle and temple, connecting the people with Yahweh. The priests officiated the festivals, performed the sacrifices, and collected the offerings to Yahweh. If someone needed forgiveness for sin, needed to make a thank offering, needed to make a festival sacrifice, or anything else to do with Yahweh, an Israelite had to go to the priests.

There were two main differences between Israelite priests and other priests. First, the Israelite priests were chosen from a specific family from a specific tribe whereas other priests were chosen by kings or older priests and could come from anyone, everywhere. Secondly, the Israelite law was focused on atonement for sin, not appeasing the gods, at least in theory.

But other than that, Israelite priests were no different than any other priest. While the idea of what the sacrifices were was different, the practical effects were the same. If you needed to connect with Yahweh, you had to go through the priests. Otherwise, you were out of luck.

Obviously this granted priests a lot of power. They controlled people’s access to the god. More than once, priests ended up gaining more power than kings. Once, an Egyptian pharaoh banned all gods but one, Aten, in order to curb the priests’ power. It only kind of worked as the pharaoh’s dynasty soon faded. Although it seemed to generally work well in Israel, the story of Eli’s sons is another cautionary tale of what happens when priests begin to abuse their power.

To summarize, priests were fundamentally facilitators of cultic rights and rituals. They were not necessarily educators or counselors for the people. Sometimes they were of course, but that wasn’t part of the job description either in Israel or anywhere else. The Israelite priests were facilitators of the Yahweh Cult (note: cult is an anthropological term, not a reference to validity; a cult can be true religion too) and not much more.

This is very different than modern day pastors (side note: there is no Biblical parallel to our pastor). First, we don’t really have cultic rituals unless you’re Catholic. We do have rituals, like baptism, communion, and marriage; but unlike the Israelites, these are not necessary for salvation and neither do they facilitate it. They aren’t cultic.

Secondly, as believers we can now approach God at any time and in anyway. We don’t need a priest to forgive us our sins or anything else like that. Instead we go through our High Priest Jesus Christ, not a pastor.

Pastors are caretakers, teachers, and guides, like shepherds. In fact the term “pastor” is related to the term “shepherd.” Nomadic people groups who rely on shepherding are called “pastoralists.” Priests are rarely called shepherds; interestingly enough, that epitaph is often applied to kings.

Priests and pastors have completely different roles. Pastors don’t do what priests did in the Old Testament and vice versa. Therefore trying to compare the two is faulty and can lead to dangerous theological ideas. Priests and pastors are nothing alike; we’re not Catholic.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the Bible and will help you read it differently. My purpose here is to shed light on the strange cultural and historical oddities in the Bible. If anyone out there has any questions about the Bible and its history, feel free to ask. I’d love to answer your questions if I can.
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Adventism and Activism

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Nothing annoys me more in the context of activism than Christian activists who send a message of hate to the culture around them. You know what I am talking about: Picketers at LGBT events that hold up signs about how God hates homosexuals (though they usually use much more offensive terms), or crowds who come out from the local evangelical churches to yell hateful slurs at pregnant women as they enter abortion clinics. This type of activism may make us feel like we are doing God a favor. It makes us feel like we are standing up for him and doing the right thing. But the more I read the Bible the more difficult I find it to picture the God who constantly rebuked the “religious” while hanging out with the “others” at one of these events.

However, I do believe Christians should be activists. This is something I have come to really embrace recently. For example, I am a Seventh-day Adventist. As a Seventh-day Adventist many of my beliefs actually encourage activism. Here are some examples:

Creation: The belief that we were created by a loving God, in his image, for the purpose of relationship shows that all of human life is valuable and precious. As a result Adventists should stand for human rights and equality among all of humanity including equality of women and children. We should also be active in the fight against slavery (surprisingly prevalent in the world today especially in the context of sexual slavery), child labor, abortion, human trafficking, domestic and workplace abuse, bullying, racism etc. We should be deeply involved in supporting ministries for the homeless, the abused, the battered women shelters, and should sound a loud cry against genocides, war crimes (such as what we see in Syria right now), and the mistreatment of any human being whether they be an illegal immigrant, an atheist, a Muslim, a criminal, a homosexual, or anything else.* According to the creation model, all humanity is God’s creation and regardless of our choices we all deserve basic human rights. This also calls us to be stewards of our environment and stand against Corporate Climate Silence, support the EPA, and join the Going Green movement.

Sabbath: The Sabbath is a memorial of Creation. As a result, everything said above applies. However, the Sabbath commandment also highlights the value of foreigners and animals. As a result, Adventists should stand for the fair treatment of immigrants and animal rights. While we may be polarized as to how we deal with the whole “immigration problem” we should not be polarized as to how we deal with immigrants. They, as much as anyone else, are human beings and deserve to be treated with love and respect. Servants were not allowed to work on the Sabbath in Israel either. This calls us to stand for the fair treatment of workers including fair wages, hours, and time off. Growing up, it seems like the only thing the Sabbath got Adventists involved in was the fight for Religious Liberty. And that’s awesome! We totally need that and have done pretty well at it. But religious liberty only benefits the religious. We need to take a stand that will make this world a better place and the Sabbath calls us to much more than just religious liberty. The Sabbath is all about rest. Part of it is a call to rest in Gods finished work of creation. This calls us to stand up for environmental issues and the conservation of wildlife, parks, and endangered species. The Sabbath is also a day God set apart for us. We don’t do God a favor when we keep the Sabbath, he does us a favor. The Sabbath is a day that God connects with humanity on a deeper level than throughout the week without the distractions of work and bills. This highlights the fact that God loves to mingle with people. The ultimate revelation of that is the incarnation of Christ who “dwelt among us” and calls us to be likewise incarnational. Incarnational ministry follows Jesus model of becoming a man and dwelling among us. Adventists are known more by their attempt to get away from every one than for their attempt to mingle. But the Sabbath calls us to be incarnational. To live in the cities, the suburbs, the mountains, the country and to mingle with those around us and seek intimacy with them. This calls us once again to stand for the equality of humanity by standing against exclusivism, elitism, racism, prejudice, feminism, chauvinism, sexism, discrimination and bigotry.

Christs Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary and the Second Coming: The teaching that Christ began his final work for humanity in 1844 and whose second coming is now at hand has serious implications for our culture. Firstly, it is a huge call to missions and gospel centered humanitarian work of which Adventists do very well at internationally. However, looking at the churches around me here in America I would never even come close to guessing that we have such an urgent message for the world as 1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming. As a matter of fact, it would seem that the rest of the evangelical world is the one that has that package simply by the way many of them do church. Many of our churches are dead. Many of them are not preparing anyone for the judgment or the second coming. On the flip side, many evangelical churches are community centers that reach out and heal the broken through divorce ministries, addiction recovery, teen outreach, friendship evangelism, health evangelism, etc. while many SDA churches are simply Sabbath morning clubs. 1844, the investigative judgment, and the second coming call us to step out of our spiritual myopia and become actively involved in helping the addicted, the broken, the lonely. It is a call to reach out to this lost world with more urgency than ever before that they may come to know Christ and his cleansing blood. However, we don’t just do that by going into a city and hosting an evangelistic series at a church no one wants to go to. We do this by making our churches centers of healing and hope and by going out into the community and meeting their needs, supporting their children’s education and schools, teaming up with agencies like the food bank and providing food for the hungry and help for the poor. In doing so we will open the doors to prepare people to face the judgment with joy and meet Jesus with dancing.

Christian Behavior: This doctrine calls Christians to live lives that honor God. This includes choosing amusement, entertainment, dress, and foods that honor God. Herein is so much we can stand for. While the rest of the evangelical world is making leaps and bounds in creating high-quality Christian entertainment including movies and music Adventists seem to be lagging way behind. How about creating an Adventist fashion line that makes modest but trendy clothes (it seems like most modest clothes was pulled out of grandmas closet)? Ever heard of Modest is Hottest? It is a Christian ministry that takes a stand against the objectification of women and seeks to help young girls find their true value in Christ. Adventists should be active in the fight against the adult industry which breeds objectification and is linked to crimes such as rape and sexual slavery. And what about food? Adventists have been preaching the health message for decades now, but we have dropped the ball on it. For many of us the health message consists of “don’t eat unclean meats, drink, or smoke and you are healthy” while nothing could be further from the truth. Many vegetarian and vegan Adventists are just as obese and unhealthy as meat eaters. In addition, many who are healthy are not really healthy. This is because health is not only physical but social, mental, spiritual, and sexual. In addition, Adventists should have been leading the way in health evangelism, however, a recent article in Christianity Today shows that it is the rest of the evangelical world that is doing so.** They are publishing best sellers and some churches are even building fitness facilities. One such church built a fitness facility for the community and went from 200 members to 8,000 in six years. Now, I am not suggesting that this is a competition and that everyone else is beating us at it so we need to run faster. I am simply suggesting that we have had this message all along and have not done what we could with it. And its not just our brothers and sisters from other denominations doing this, its the secular world as well. Our culture is enamored with preventative medicine right now. Awesome documentaries about health, longevity, the food industry, and the benefits of vegetarianism are all being made by agencies who have no burden for Christ and his salvation. We need to take a more active stand against obesity and sugar, the unethical practices of the food industry, and better nutrition and fitness programs for public schools.

So the question now is, how can we take a stand on all of these issues and at the same time not become those hate spewing activists that I mentioned at the beginning of this article? The answer is found in the following Adventist doctrine:

Great Controversy: The belief that humanity is deeply involved in a war between Christ and Satan should influence the way we interact with our culture. Every ounce of wickedness in this world is a symptom of this horrendous war. And at the center of this war is a distortion of the character of God. It is this distortion that keeps so many people away from God and causes the culture to despise God. As a result, while Adventists should be activists and take a stand on many relevant issues we must always do it with the Great Controversy in mind – remembering that our enemy is not sinners but sin, not humans but demons. Our responsibility in being activists is not to show the world what we are against but to show them what we are for. To show them the love of God in a way that has never been seen before. This is what Jesus did. While he hated sin he always showed love to the sinner. The character of God has been so maligned over the centuries that being an activist with a hateful “me vs. you” attitude will only hurt more than it will heal. God is calling us to reveal his character of love to the world. This must be our main priority. No matter what cause we choose to engage in and support the people on the “other side” must never get the impression that we hate them. In addition, the Great Controversy helps us to remember what is really important. Many people involved in activism become obsessed with their cause. Christians cannot afford to do this. Jesus and his saving grace should be the our theme and song. It is not healthy to approach any of these causes with an obsessive legalistic attitude that breeds elitism, bigotry, and conspiracy theorizing which leads to the demonization of everything and everyone in our culture. Jesus. His love. His grace. His power. His love. This is to be the heart beat of our activism. If it is, I believe we can engage in these causes in a way that will promote healing, kindness, and love. That would be awesome.

So there you have it. The pillars of Adventism are more than cute doctrines for us to debate over Sabbath lunch at grandmas house. Instead, believing in them places upon us the responsibility to live them out in our daily lives. While activism will never fix the problems of this world we are nevertheless called to not just believe but do something with what we believe. I’d like to begin. Will you join me?

Note: This article was originally published at pomopastor.com

* For the sake of clarity, let it be known that I am in no way shape or form equating any of the practices and lifestyles mentioned in this statement with one another.

** http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/june/fitness-driven-church.html

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