Thursday, February 23, 2012

Condemned At Birth to a Life of Frustration

Comic modified from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Reviewing Adventist World, NAD Edition

February, 2012
Vol. 8, No. 2

Adventist World is free online. For that reason, I only review or comment on articles that I believe to be of special interest. This includes editorials, special supplements, and NAD features not available online.

WORLD REPORT included an inspiring story of Jose Barrientos, a volunteer chaplain at Washington Dulles International Airport.

In his opening address to the North American Division (NAD) meetings, Dan Jackson, NAD President, set a generous Christian tone for the proceedings when he told the congregation of church leaders and lay delegates not to discourage smokers from attending church. “If God would attach an odor to every sin, humility would not be a problem in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

It was reported that the base salary of denominational workers would go from $4,095 or $4,180 a month. It’s their first raise in four years.

It was also noted that “26 percent of Adventist families have young children at home, which means a lower supply of students for church owned schools”. In addition, “69 percent of Adventist families earn less than $50,000 a year, making it more challenging for those parents to send their children to Adventist schools”.

Delegates reaffirmed the 2010 action that commissioned ministers could be considered for Conference and Mission presidents. The vote by secret ballot was 162-61.

Docs Handysides and Landless made their usual stellar contribution to World. DISEASES OF CHOICE is a short, informative warning about how humans can effective shorten their lives. Seven major culprits were mentioned: tobacco, foods high in saturated and trans fats, excessive salt, alcohol, excessive sugar, especially sweetened drinks, physical inactivity, and obesity.

An ADRA insert makes an impressive case for continued support. Were you aware that ADRA served 16,277,085 people last year, provided $18,847,755 of food assistance, and participated in 818 emergency relief projects?

DR. RABBIT’S MISSION FIELD by Terri Saelee is a sobering account of Adventist Myanmar refugees in the US and Canada and what readers can do to assist them. (Dr. Rabbit was the nom de plume of Eric B. Hare.)

HOW CAN WE HELP SAVE THEM? by Cecilia Cornejo assumes that when our children “leave the church”, they are “lost”. Unfortunately, the parental safeguards suggested in this article are the same old “tried and true” nostrums that are almost guaranteed to fail.

Finally, AN UNUSUAL PARTNERSHIP is a MUST READ, eye opening report about an Adventist educational program in China. Chek Yat and Sally Lam-Phoon should be in charge of worldwide Adventist education. Brilliant!

My Life, According To My Wife

Modified from the comic Dilbert, by Scott Adams
(click to enlarge)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prophets Needed!

Modified from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

February 9, 2012
Vol. 189, No. 4

WORD NEWS AND PERSPECTIVES is an important section of each magazine. I do not report on its contents because it is available at the online address I provide with every review.

I am excited about this issue, because Andy Nash’s, UNREST OVER A REST DAY, argues the official Adventist position on the sacredness of the Sabbath as a holy day rather than an “arbitrary” day in the weekly cycle of seven days. Willie Hucks provides the opportunity to discuss the theology supporting the notion of God’s “permissive will” in his essay, THE MOST DANGEROUS PRAYER. And Carol Campbell’s A PEACOCK AND INQUIRING MINDS touts Adventist approved textbooks that blend religious dogma with science.

As you might expect, I can’t wait to comment!

However, before I get to that, I want to send kudos to Bill Knott. His editorial, MORE THAN A HUDDLE, began to thaw out a progressive Adventist’s winter of the soul.

“Adventist congregations aren’t simply evangelistic huddles, as vital as evangelism is to the overall faithfulness of a remnant people. Our worship, our fellowship, our holding of each other in the dark moments that come to every life are just as fully expressions of our loyalty to the Good Shepherd as are the Bible studies we give or the sermons we preach. They don’t replace the deliberate telling of the story of Jesus, but neither are they only precursors to it. Heaven measures faithfulness in more than converts won or souls reclaimed.

“Praise matters; fellowship matters; reconciliation matters—and when the body gathered in His name affirms these truths, it will find a power in its witness greater than it has ever known.”

Don’t miss THE ANONYMITY OF WARMTH by Dixil Rodriguez. Her columns alone are worth the price of a subscription.  This one is a MUST READ!

Andy Nash’s cover feature, UNREST OVER A REST DAY, begins the discussion with an assertion that may shock traditionalists.

“Sure, some Adventists have put way too much emphasis on the seventh-day Sabbath, as though we invented it. Sometimes the theology has been way, way off. I once visited a Sabbath school class in which the teacher posed this question: “Is it possible for someone to be saved who doesn’t keep the Sabbath?”

“Raising my hand, I said, “I think it’s possible for someone to be saved who does keep the Sabbath.”

“I probably shouldn’t have said that, but I was frustrated by the attitude that keeping Sabbath contributes to our salvation. It doesn’t. No more than prayer, Bible study, living with integrity, or helping abused children contribute to our salvation. We are saved by Christ’s finished work alone.”

Unfortunately, Nash does not follow-up this theological assertion with an explanation of “Christ’s finished work”. Instead, he launches into an argument defending the traditional sanctity of the traditional seventh-day Sabbath.

Nash discusses three passages that “present a challenge to Sabbathkeeping after the cross. Three texts in particular are cited by critics of Sabbathkeeping: Romans 14:1-6, Galatians 4:8-10, and Colossians 2:13-17”. He then uses these texts to make an argument for the official Adventist position on the Sabbath:

“With all of our faults—and we have many—one of the most beautiful things about the Seventh-day Adventist Church is that we are truly Judeo-Christian. We celebrate salvation in Christ alone as taught in the New Testament. We also celebrate our heritage in the timeless commandments written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. This is the new covenant: laws written not just on stone, but on our hearts as well.”

from Romans 14
“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters…Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand…One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.”

Paul goes on to say: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification…So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”

The sense of the words is clear. Nash’s argument: “It seems highly doubtful that something as important as the Sabbath would be dismissed so casually” is not convincing.

from Galatians 4
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”

Here, Paul suggests that those promoting the “observation” of some days, months, and seasons are an attempt to influence the theology of the new believers. “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. “ 

It’s not clear which “days” Paul is referring to. Nash makes his case.

from Colossians 2
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

The sense of the words is clear. Nash’s argument: “Apparently the expression ‘Sabbath days’ in this sequence refers to some of the annual [Jewish] festivals…Whenever we find the sequence of feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths in the Old Testament, it’s almost always within one particular context: sacrifices,” is not convincing.

Not only do two of Nash’s reasoned arguments fail to persuade, his arguments throughout the piece are officially anathema! *

* The grammatico-historical or “plain word of Scripture” hermeneutic position is (currently) sanctified by official Adventist theologians. (The literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is a good example.) In his defense of a sacred seventh-day Sabbath, Nash employs the historical-grammatical method (the attempt to discover the author’s intended meaning) and historical-critical method (the process for determining the original meaning of the text through examination of the grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical background, the literary genre as well as theological considerations).

THE MOST DANGEROUS PRAYER by Willie Edward Hucks II assumes that God “allows” tragedy and misfortune. (How is this different from “decides not to protect us from” or “causes”?) Hucks go on to explain that God “allows” suffering because it teaches us to trust God. Tell that to the child being raped, the man whose genitals have just been connected to electrodes, or the woman watching helplessly as her infant dies from malnutrition.

Job asked the question, “Why do the innocent suffer?” God’s reply, “It’s impossible for you to comprehend the answer.” That mysterious reply had to be good enough for Job, and it has to be good enough for thoughtful Christians.

Carol Campbell’s A PEACOCK AND INQUIRING MINDS promotes a series of science textbooks that support religious dogma.

“Learners need to realize that there is no spiritually neutral subject matter, but that ‘every subject area should be taught from a solidly biblical perspective so that students grasp the interconnections among the disciplines, discovering for themselves that all truth is God’s truth’…Using the Bible as the lens for [scientific] inquiry has the potential to transform our Adventist classrooms.”

Sadly, these words were written by the Director of Elementary Education for the North American Division Office Of Education.

As I reflect on the attempt, by an Adventist Professor of Religion, to defend the sacredness of the Sabbath using hermeneutical positions that are officially heretical; an argument, by an Adventist theologian, that suffering is ultimately good for us; and the declaration, by the NAD Director of Elementary Education, that scientific inquiry should be limited to religious assumptions and biblical explanations, it allows me to better understand the following statistics reported in A PASSION FOR REVIVAL: AN INTERVIEW WITH LEE VENDEN in the February, 2012, issue of Ministry Magazine.

“At the present time, up to two million inactively attending and/or former Seventh-day Adventists live in North America.

“Of the nearly 1.2 million North American Adventists currently on the church books, less than 500,000 attend church even once a month.

“Based on the above statistics, for every North American Adventist who regularly attends church, five have either left the church or no longer attend.

“If North America had retained 80% of its own youth  (since its inception), and it only experienced biological growth, there would presently be more than 8 million Adventists in North America.”


Modified from the comic Non Sequitur, by Wiley 
(click to enlarge)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Crunch Time at Silver Spring

Modified from the comic Non Sequitur, by Wiley 
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

January 19, 2012
Vol. 189, No. 2

Once again, this review is a twofer: two reviews for the price of one!

This issue includes an inspiring biography of Terry Lyndon who refuses to allow his dyslexia to derail his dreams of AN ACCOMPLISHED LIFE; Hyveth Williams suggestion that young people raised in the church and are now nationally known athletes IN THE ARENA of sports might be “an untapped resource for Christian mission”; ‘I AM MAD, REALLY MAD, Walter Thompson’s refutation of the argument that God is in any way responsible for the tragedies of life; and a great miracle story, THE VOICE ON THE ROAD, by Delmer G. Ross.

Cliff Goldstein’s iPADS IN HEAVEN is his usual downer:

“Most folk, though, never come close to achieving what [Steve Jobs] did. Even those who achieve their dreams often find that they still struggle with a sense of meaninglessness because death…will take it all away from them and, eventually, from everyone else as well…What pushed [Jobs] to seek a greater stake in this world, death (at least the inevitability of it), should have been what revealed the futility of putting down roots too deep here, in what’s always shallow ground. Most folk are dead a lot longer than they’re alive, and the reality of death always threatens to nullify the meaning of that life anyway. Sure, Jobs accomplished a lot, but in contrast to a million years, or to eternity, what does it matter?

"As Jesus said, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal’” (Matt. 6:19, 20). 

This final quotation carelessly misrepresents the meaning of Christ’s admonition and turns this homily on its head! These are words that forever give the lie to those who claim that in the end, our lives are meaningless.

Reviewing the Adventist Review
January 26, 2012
Vol. 189, No. 3

This issue includes HEALTHY COMPETITION, Kimberly Luste Maran’s delightful reminder of what it was like to be parent leader in children’s Sabbath school; Delber Baker’s CONFLICT HAPPENS, WHAT THEN is a straightforward essay on what it takes to solve interpersonal and theological problems; and Gena Wahlen’s THE NOTE is about an abusive father and a teenage girl’s answer to prayer.

IT'S NOT A FAD by Miroslav Pujic is a MUST READ challenge for Adventist leadership in a postmodern world.

Andrew McChesney is in top form once again. TEAM SPIRIT is a real life deus ex machina solution to his editorial conundrum. It will make you smile!

Safety First

Modified from the comic FoxTrot, by Bill Amend
(click to enlarge)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

So Very Comfortable

Modified from the comic Dilbert, by Scott Adams
(click to enlarge)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

January 12, 2012
Vol. 189, No. 1

There is a lot of excellent content in this issue. However, the cover article, PSYCHE, PSUCHE, AND SOUL by Jennifer Jill Schwirzer takes some cheap shots at secular psychology and psychiatry that are self-serving and parochial. ‘Nuf said. Regular readers know that I am not a biblical literalist, and you won’t be surprised that Lael Caesar’s ruminations regarding The Fall, LOSER MAN: YOU DON’T BECOME GOD BY GETTING ANYTHING, has generated my take on Adam and Eve’s experience with the Snake.

In a Letter to the Editor, Erica Armstrong has nice things to say about my favorite Review editor

“Kudos to Stephen Chavez for his editorial ‘Our Amazing, Unpredictable God’ Dec. 8,2011. I don’t know what I find more offensive: that finite creatures claim to know everything about an infinite God, or that they dismiss out of hand what anyone else says that doesn’t agree with their narrow view of God.”

MEASURES OF FAITH by Dixil Rodriguez is one of her best columns ever. It’s a MUST READ, particularly if life has made you question the significance of your life and witness.

THE GOD OF IIMPOSSIBLE CAUSES by Sudha Khristmukti is a story that demonstrates the results of persistent and constant Christian love.

THOSE CRYSTAL-BLUE EYES by Edwin Orsonio-Centerwall will break your heart and motivate you to write a generous check to causes like ADRA or Physicians Without Boarders.

Monte Sahlin uses statistical CHURCH TRENDS to prove the following:

 “If we learn to listen carefully to others—unselfishly—then we are more likely to be able to speak words of real hope to them. If we respectfully pay attention to the way others think about spiritual things, then we can find opportunities to meet their needs and suggest how Christ’s message can be meaningful in their lives.”

LIVING THE DREAM by Stephen Chavez is a reminder that the Christian life is an irrepressible reflection of thoughtful kindness.

The story of The Fall has been and always will be the bane of biblical literalists. I have never heard a sermon preached that dealt with the entire story. It’s as if Genesis 3:22 & 23 doesn’t exist! Consider the facts as reported in the NIV.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it…

And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

What is to be learned from this story?

God told Adam and Eve that if they ate or even touched fruit from the tree, they would die.

The Snake said they wouldn’t die if they ate the fruit, and they didn’t!

The Snake said, “When you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. It happened!

According to the story, even after The Fall, Adam and Eve could have lived forever as long as they had access to the tree of life. However, God didn’t want these two, disobedient, newly minted “gods” to live forever, so He kicked them out of the Garden, and made their lives, the lives of their descendants, and the lives of all other flora and fauna on the earth so difficult that they would have to ceaselessly recycle their immortal genetic material.

The story suggests that Adam and Eve were simply higher order animals before The Fall. Their disobedience made them gods, i.e., human beings, “knowing right from wrong”. The story suggests that Eve’s disobedience was the result of God’s attempt to create a mate for Adam that was endowed with more curiosity, daring, and desire for wisdom than Adam had previously exhibited. Did God inadvertently create a “companion” with too many godlike tendencies to remain an animal? Was Eve’s disobedience a crucial evolutionary step in the creation of god-like human beings?

And what about the Snake? The Bible clearly identifies him as an animal, not Satan or the Devil. Why that particular snake was created remains a mystery!

Your tithe at work.

Modified from the comic Dilbert, by Scott Adams
(click to enlarge)