Bible Gateway's Verse of the Day


Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

16 April, 2010

Personal, not Passive

Who is God? That is the question that was on my mind as I staggered my way through life. I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I kept Sabbath but hated it. I read my Bible, and yet nothing I learned gave me the sense of power that people said it did. I drifted alone in the sea of life, always knowing that the Lighthouse was there, but never seeing it through the fog. I was content where I was for a while, but then things started to happen. And when the sea got rough, I began to cry out to the lighthouse keeper, begging Him to light the lamp. What I got was more amazing than I could ever imagine.

I grew up in the SDA Church. I was taught that God was somebody who sat back and watched me, coming down only in church, prayer, and when we called upon Him (Psalm 50:15). He was distant and enigmatic. This perception stayed with me for years and years. I thanked God for everything good, and anything bad I just pushed off on the Devil. But then we decided to move and my life's seas got rough.

Like Abraham, we up and left the place we'd been living for 11 years and moved to the 20 acres that would become the Lazy Oak Ranch. My last day in the old house, I got sick and cancelled what would have been my last bass lesson, for that Saturday, my bass teacher died in a head-on collision. I loved him as a mentor, and it tore me apart. But he would have wanted me to soldier on, so I did. I got over it very quickly, and decided to carry on his legacy in some way. It kept me going. But still, God was distant.

The second rock my life-ship hit was love. I'd gone almost 17 years saying, "I don't need to date anybody. I'll just concentrate on living my life, and when it happens, it happens." But it happened. It was a field trip to the pumpkin farm a couple weeks before I turned 17, and I suddenly realized an infatuation with my best friend's sister. That Valentine's Day, I became her secret admirer, and after a couple months, I revealed my identity. A week later, I asked her out. Her initial yes was music to my ears, but she wasn't ready. Again, I was devastated. I took it way too personally, and slipped into an almost three year long depression.

This depression was perpetuated in one romantic failure after another (most of which were me not getting off my butt). College was stressful until I changed from Computer Science to Music Education. But my life was still a total pain. I blamed everything on my status as a bachelor, myself being a very romantic person and needing some outlet for that pent-up quixotic inclination. It finally took the engagement of the one person I couldn't get over to snap me back into alignment.

By this time, I'd resorted to living day-to-day, not setting any goals except declaring my major as music, and leaning heavily on God. It didn't help that we were smack dab in the middle of the largest financial hardship my family had ever seen, brought on in the largest economic recession since the Great Depression. Miracle after miracle happened, never at any time but the most desperate. It was just like the Widow of Zarephath, when God provided for her son and her. There was no way I could let that go past, and everything that happened brought me closer to God.

It wasn't until this February that I really contemplated my relationship with God. At The Awakening, a student-led worship service here at Walla Walla University, I came one Sabbath because I didn't have to sing in choir, which usually precluded me. I stayed for almost all of it, but the message was the same one I'd heard for years: if you just let God handle your life, you'll always be happy. This was the tail-end of my depression, so I'd shut off by the end of the message. When the second set of songs began, I had gotten no blessing and I didn't see the empty words of the songs I sang giving me anything either. So I walked out. I deposited the contents of my wallet, $2, into the offering basket and went back to my room. But God didn't stop tugging at my heart. The Spirit kept tugging on my heart, saying, "Hey, Michael, I want to spend time with you. So you didn't find me in The Awakening. Big, fat, hairy deal. You know where I'll be." I grabbed my notebook and my Bible, and headed for Heubach chapel. It's my favorite place to spend time with God because it's usually deserted and silent. Just like Elijah, that day I couldn't find God in the wind. I couldn't find Him in the earthquake. I couldn't find Him in the fire. And I know that if I couldn't find him in the Awakening, I most certainly wouldn't find Him in the massive Black History Month church service that was happening next door to the chapel. I spent some time thinking about God, talking aloud to Him, and actually feeling the Spirit next to me.

This led me to correlate God to a Big Brother figure. He's somebody I look up to, ask for advice, and He stands up for me. He knows what's best for me, even though I might want something completely different. It's this personal relationship with God that I enjoy, that I love. And when I don't have this relationship, I really miss it. It's not about rules or regulations. It's about having what Enoch had. He was so close to God that he disappeared one day. God took him to heaven, not because he was a perfect follower of the Law, but because he was so very close, spending every moment with God. This leads me to believe that a relationship with God is not this lukewarm, passive acquaintance, but a deep, personal relationship. God is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. And if you stick as close to Him, I think your salvation is guaranteed.

Next week, I'll talk about Sanctification vs. Justification.

Your Brother in Christ,

09 April, 2010

The Sabbath Was Made for Man

As an Adventist, the Sabbath is a crucial part of my life. It is a respite from the stresses of the week, an excuse to spend time with God instead of doing work. But that's only now that I'm an old and grey 20-year-old. When I was a kid, it came with a long list of don'ts and meant soup, Church, and boredom. At the Post-Vespers small group meeting on Good Friday, we discussed the motives involved, and tried to come to some kind of understanding as to what keeping the Sabbath actually means.

Let's start with the core Adventist doctrine of the Sabbath, Fundamental Belief #20. God rested on the 7th day and made it holy (or set aside). It was a memorial of Creation, a time for Him to spend special time with His children Adam and Eve. Jesus kept the Sabbath, even in death. Yes, He healed on the Sabbath, and yes, He picked grain on the Sabbath. But when criticized, he responded, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. I'd always heard that text, but not really known what it meant until I did some thinking. I'll get more into that in a moment, but first, allow me to rag on the Pharisaical (yes, I said it) Sabbath-keeping of many Adventists.

The biggest argument I have here is with the usage (not interpretation) of Isaiah 58:13-14, the famous "Turn away your foot from the Sabbath" text. I've heard many an Adventist use this text to bar people from doing certain acts on the Sabbath: everything from swimming to sports to playing Fallout 3. Talking about don'ts makes the Sabbath very limiting and tends to repel younger Adventists. The particularly repelling don'ts in my mind:
  • Don't go swimming
  • Don't watch secular movies, play secular board or video games
  • Don't play sports
  • Don't go out to eat
  • Don't cook
  • Don't read anything secular
  • Don't play card games (except for Trees and Flowers, Birds and Animals, etc.)
When we are told what we can't do, but not what we can, it tends to make the Sabbath less favorable. When we are kids, we can't quite understand the kind of personal relationship with God that I now take so much delight in. Yes, it's good to teach kids not to break the Sabbath, but many times parents nap while the kids die of boredom. They don't provide any alternatives. And when that happens, when nobody tells us what we can do, it becomes an even bigger day of don'ts.

So let's go over what should be done on the Sabbath. In my experience, there is no definitive answer. We go to Sabbath School and Church every week, and we eat lunch, be it at potluck or at home, either early- or mid-afternoon. But the sanctioned Sabbath activities aren't really clearly defined. The only blatantly encouraged things that come to mind:
  • Nature hikes
  • Bible reading
  • Devotional book reading
  • Sit around or sleep

What's going on here? Why are there so few dos and so many don'ts? Are we so concerned with breaking the Sabbath that we care only about what not to do? That's why I compare us to the Pharisees. They yelled at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and for picking grain on the Sabbath. Then Jesus tore them a new one. He said, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. What does this mean? Well, it seems to me like Jesus is saying that the rules for Sabbath keeping are more lax than the Pharisees made them out to be.

Let's not say that we can take this to mean that we can do whatever we want on the Sabbath. It's not that at all. Instead He was making a statement, which I shall paraphrase, "Hey! I was hungry, so I decided to eat something. Where's the problem with that? The Sabbath is not about what you shouldn't do, but rather what you should." The original purpose of the Sabbath, as stated earlier, was for God to spend time with Adam and Eve. Nowadays, I think a lot of people view it as a time to contemplate God, Jesus, and the Cross. But I don't think it's really even about that. It's about taking five and spending time with God, not because he wants us to do something with Him, but rather that He wants to do something with us. Remember the wonderful thought in 1 John 3:1 - "Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we are called children of God!" It makes me come to tears thinkin about it, that the most powerful Being in existence calls us His children! And he's proud to do it, too! Just think of the parable of the prodigal son. When he came back, his father threw a party and killed the fattened calf, something he was saving for a special occasion feast. God is like that with us - every time we turn away and do our own thing, and then see that the world has nothing for us, He will always take us back. Sabbath is a time to return to God, the One that loves us more than life itself, so that He can see us again, and so that we can visit with Him. I'll talk more about this personal God next time.

Your Brother in Christ,

02 April, 2010

Culture Shock: A Point of Contention

Many people ask the question: Why are our young people leaving the church? Many answers percolate through the minds of our church members. But none of them are definitive, and all of them are abstract. "It's the music," some say. The reasoning is that either the youth won't accept the divinely appointed music or that the elders are too traditionalistic and won't accept the music of today. Another rationale is that the church services are too boring for the youth, who are kept coming by flashy and complex performances, dramatic portrayals of Biblical events or abstract concepts, things the Church has long frowned upon. Another explanation is that the youth are simply troubled, seeking solace and acceptance in the arms of the whore of Babylon. But the reality is simple: The decline in youth attendance and activity corresponds to all of those reasons. The cause is even simpler: A subtle yet deadly form of culture shock.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church arose in rural, 19th century Michigan from the Millerite Movement. The Church's values largely corresponded to the values at the time. Simplicity was king, frugality was the norm; it was the common sense values of the American Frontier that drove the core values of early Adventism. Therein lies the problem: we as a Church allowed the core values of the 19th century American Frontier become the core values of the Adventist church, labeled them as divinely ordained, and thus they cannot change. It is true that some things have indeed changed: Wedding bands, for instance, are now considered a cultural symbol and are permitted when previously they were considered jewelry and disallowed. But we still have a long way to go in reforming the Adventist church, taking cultural values and breaking their dogmatic statuses away.

Exegesis and hermeneutics are two terms referring to the study and interpretation of a piece of written information such as the Bible. Biblical exegesis in a Protestant denomination such as Adventism relies heavily on the rejection of the Roman Catholic Church's allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures. Such was done by Protestants from Martin Luther to William Miller. But Protestants' literal interpretive methods pose several conundrums. The parables of Jesus, particularly the Rich Man and Lazarus, are clearly full of figurative language (Luther's philosophy was to interpret literally except in cases such as this). But then what about the Old Testament God, a God of vengeance, of war, and of death?

The thing exegetes have to take into account when studying the Scriptures is cultural context. In the Old Testament, the culture was very collectivist. It was about the group and not the individual. That is why Achan, his entire family, and all of his animals were killed after the spoils of war were found in his tent. If the head of the family broke the law, everybody was held responsible. In the American individualist culture, this seems to be an unfair punishment. But in the days of the Israelites, it was perfectly acceptable. Similarly, in the culture of the Old Testament, war was between gods. The reason for the Israelites' many conquests was to prove to the Lord's enemies that He was indeed the One true God. While in today's age it seems barbaric, it was culturally necessary for the wiping out of nations like Canaan and cities like Jericho. Let's not forget that Rahab helped the Israelites and was therefore saved from the destruction of Jericho.

My point in this is not to give you a Bible class or a history lesson, but to point out that God works across cultural boundaries. When we try and say that the 19th century values of Adventism are divinely ordained, or that the Old Testament is clearly fallacious because it paints a different portrait of the Lord, we ourselves are trying to be God. We are trying to put God in a box, and anybody who knows anything about Him knows that no box can contain Him. What the elders in the Church need to realize is that cultures change. And with the changing cultures, so changes the way we should look at our values and doctrines. As long as we keep the same fundamental truths the same, the little things can change. But the younger members of the church also have to realize that with the advent of things like computers, cell phones, and contemporary music, we have an entirely different culture than those who might be older. Things we may find perfectly acceptable may be culturally inappropriate in their eyes. We need to respect the culture of those who came before us while finding ways to change the status quo without being blatantly offensive.

Remember, we may be the future of the church, but the current culture is vastly different. We're not trying to knock down the Berlin Wall here. What we as young people need to do is realize that so that we can coexist peacefully with our fellow Adventists. One of Satan's favorite games is destroying our relationships with God. So stand up to him and stay with the Church.

Your Brother in Christ,