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.

29 March, 2011


What is reverence? Is it a set of motions we go through before we can be granted an audience with God? Is it a list of ideals that help us to show greater respect for God? Is it a synonym for manners? Reverence is a term that we are often unacquainted with because its meaning is so nebulous that we just take it in context like a baby learning how to speak. Many in today's society are calling for a revival of sorts. We want to make church services more reverent, and in so doing, bring our focus back to God. It is my experience that there are several ways to do this, some of them right, and some of them wrong.

Before we address what must be done to make church services more reverent, we first must address the definition of reverence, this enigmatic thing with a myriad of nuanced meanings. According to, reverence is "a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe", with another definition being, "a gesture indicative of deep respect". The latter definition, while appropriate, is not the kind of reverence we need more of. It is the kind of reverence that Ellen White is always advising must be observed, and for good reason. She writes that, as the person giving the sermon is a messenger of God's, we shouldn't be chit-chatting back and forth, being disruptions and distractions for other people that are actually trying to listen to the sermon. She also cautions that if your children are wild and unruly, you would be better off staying home (as a courtesy to others, more than to God, I think) and teaching them yourself. Yes, this reverence is needed, but it is in no way a means to ridding the congregation of lukewarmness and bringing them to a holy boil.

The former definition is probably the most appropriate reverence to practice in the house of God. It is a sense of deep respect, tinged with the awe that Jesus, creator of the universe, died in our place. I think the NIV puts it best: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8, emphasis mine). That is the sense of reverence that we should be feeling every time we step into the Sanctuary. It should not be nothing but a multipurpose room; it should be a special place where we can think about God's only Son, and His sacrifice. I mean, we are Christians, aren't we?

This is one reason that Catholic cathedrals are designed the way they are. As the worshiper enters the cathedral, before them is an image of Jesus, before which is an altar where the bread and wine is blessed (similarly to the blessing on the bread and wine given in Adventist Communion services, but we don't believe in transubstantiation and they do). To one side--I've always seen it on the left, or at "God's right hand"--is the pulpit, where the priest gives his homily. This placement is to draw attention away from the human messenger and toward Jesus, whose image is there to remind parishioners of the Crucifixion. It is not really idolatry, just symbolism (I'm not saying it's right to worship at the image of Jesus, but they aren't worshiping a false God and therefore not breaking the First Commandment). The crucifixes present in any Adventist church I've attended have been empty, pointing to Jesus's victory over death and His coming return. But other than the occasional stained glass window, those empty crucifixes are the only thing that separates our churches from ordinary auditoria.

If imagery is not present to remind us of Jesus's sacrifice, then what is left? The service content. At any part of the service, from prelude to postlude, one of the people who make the service possible can mention something that points to Christ. And if we are observing proper reverence (manners) then we can take that anecdote, song, text, or sermon, and we can use it to have more reverence (awe-inspired respect) for God.

Therein lies the problem; we have always been taught, essentially, that reverence meant manners. As a young Adventist, you probably went through the "prayer checklist", a template given you by your parents as to what you did with your eyes, hands, head, and so on. Why? It was reverent. You never ran in church (you probably did; you just won't admit it). Why? It was reverent. You didn't talk aloud during the service. Why? It was reverent. Reverence was a list of rules, not a sense of respect. It wasn't until I got to college that I really felt that sense of reverence. And still, I have found reverence in a wide spectrum of things, from the Z. Randall Stroope's loud and tumultuous Conversion of Saul to the silence of Heubach chapel when all I needed was a whisper.

Just as it is experiences that count when building any relationship, it is experiences that count when building reverence. As Adventists, we tend to become Vulcans and avoid outward displays of emotion, unless we are showing a placid happiness. I say that if anything, that practice has made us lukewarm. We are so apathetic that we don't feel anything. Throughout the Bible, what were some of the biggest events that converted people or brought them closer to God? One very notable display was the contest on Mt. Carmel. After hearing nothing from Ba'al, I would assume his followers had begun to doubt (Elijah probably didn't help with his taunts). Finally, FIRE shot down from heaven, instilling reverence into the people. This reverence, the kind that God desires, is also translated in some versions as "fear".

No, this is not a fear for one's life. It is not a worry. It is, in fact, the very essence of a relationship with God. This definition relates to a reverential awe for something or Someone. Without this reverential respect, we are lukewarm. We need to understand every time we think of God, that our Creator gave His life so that we could have life to the fullest. That alone demonstrates a selflessness that none of us is capable of. Not Ghandi, not Mother Theresa, not even you. We as humans are inherently imperfect, and a being of such perfection as God demands that respect.

We can sit here and say, "Don't chat back and forth with your friends in church; when you do, you are an instrument of the Devil," or we can tell people to take a seat and greet people instead of standing up. But none of that matters. Isaiah paints the picture of our obeisance plainly: "We are unfit to worship You; each of our good deeds is merely a filthy rag. We dry up like leaves; our sins are as storm winds, sweeping us away" (64:6). No matter how many times you refrain from talking during the sermon, kneel in submission when praying, or even try to be respectful of God, it will never be enough. No one can please God by obeying the Law (Galatians 3:11). So why should we even try?

Let's decide once and for all what it means to make our services more reverent. Instead of focusing on our actions, we should focus on the content. Yes, we should listen to the sermon; in being respectful of the speaker, we are being respectful of God and His message. But we should also realize that without your heart in the right place, you might as well stay home. Open yourself to receive Christ, and He will fill you. That's what being reverent should entail. When we're so focused on what to do and what not do do while in the Sanctuary, we inevitably lose sight of the reason Christianity exists: to praise and thank the One who made it possible for us to live.

Your Brother in Christ,

12 March, 2011

Creation vs. Evolution: my thoughts

This is a touchy subject. A lot of you will be horrified by what I say. But nevertheless, in light of the recent debate with La Sierra University at the core, I decided I would share my thoughts regarding Creation and Evolution.

First, let me state what I believe. Then I will explain.
  1. I believe in six consecutive, twenty-four hour periods of work, followed by one twenty-four hour period of rest in which God shaped the blob of matter He that had just created into the planet that we call Earth.
  2. I believe that these one hundred and sixty-eight consecutive hours occurred approximately six thousand years ago.
  3. I believe that God created all the base forms of life, the unique ancestors of every genus that we see on this Earth today.
  4. I do not believe that certain forms of evolution are impossible, and I do not believe that God created every species that we see on this Earth today.
Yes, I believe in certain kinds of evolution. But before we continue, let me settle this little semantic argument. Evolution is a notable change observed over a period of time. It could be anything ranging from laptop computers to the myriad species of Galapagos Finches (one of the most commonly cited examples of evolution). In organisms, evolution is what we could call in music Variations on a Theme. The original species still survives (unless it has become extinct), but there are numerous variations within it.

Let's take a look at domesticated animals: dogs, cats and horses. Each kind of animal has a common ancestor, and yet there are many different breeds with unique characteristics within each. I have heard that some people who disavow evolution believe God created every sort of animal we see today. While I don't doubt that God designed for things like crossbreeding, God did not create Labrador retrievers as Labrador retrievers. He did not create Tennessee Walkers as Tennessee Walkers. Those are human-supervised variations in species due to selected breeding. This form of evolution has been going on almost as long as history has been recorded. It is documented, proven science.

Another form of evolution that is documented, proven science is something called adaptation. This is variation in species due to environmental factors. The aforementioned Galapagos Finches display numerous variations in beak size based on diet. This is due to inherited changes brought about by environmental factors. Natural selection plays a big role in survivability: if an organism simply cannot adapt enough to survive in an environment, it becomes extinct. However, if an organism can adapt enough to survive, it survives. I do, however, doubt that God makes these natural selections completely random. He designed the food chains and the systems of adaptation to be self-sustaining, much like the systems that make up any living organism.

One prime example of adaptation is people of African ancestry. They are primarily dark skinned (though still humans; I hate to use "race"), and the obvious reason is that the people that migrated to the deserts of Africa needed darker skin to avoid many of the problems associated with overexposure to the sun. This variation was inherited and is still seen today. I don't think it was a random mutation, either. It was God saying, "This is what they need to survive. Make it so, Number One."

Any demonstrable natural evolution is driven by the Divine hand. Similarly, any demonstrable unnatural variation is driven by human hands. It is not random mutation that gets the job done; if left unchecked, nature on this sinful Earth would be devoid of beauty and filled with chaos. The fact that a flower blooms is evidence that somebody has His hand in the harmony of the universe.

Now, shall we discuss the biggest argument between creationists and evolutionists? Yes, let's. The two biggest complaints Creationists have with the Theory of Evolution are abiogenesis and the common-ancestor theory. Abiogenesis is the formation of life in the primordial sludge of the young Earth, and the common-ancestor theory states that every form of life (at least within the animal kingdom) has a common ancestor in that primordial sludge. The most notable series of evolution are that of the horse and that of homo sapiens.

Let's start with abiogenesis. When you mention it to a run-of-the-mill evolutionist, you receive flack; they state that "Evolution has NOTHING to do with abiogenesis! It has to do with how life has changed over the years!" Oops, problem. You see, when a run-of-the-mill creationist thinks of Evolution, they automatically think of the old-style theory that contains abiogenesis, billions of years, asteroid impacts that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, etc., placing a heavy emphasis on the notion that God does not exist and had nothing to do with the origin of life. Current evolutionary theory, according to those I've spoken with, has almost nothing to do with origins and more to do with non-theoretical evolution such as intraspecies variation. Why, then, are people so vehemently opposed to teaching intelligent design in schools? Could it be that they are in the business of teaching things like adaptation, things which are not theories, but science? My biggest guess is that the reason ID is never really even brought up is that people automatically think "YOU'RE PROSELYTIZING OUR KIDS!" That, and they misrepresent ID as an explanation for our current variations rather than an origin theory, which is what it is. They make the same mistake Christians do in thinking that Evolution, which itself has evolved since Darwin's time, is an origin theory and not an explanation for the variety we see in life today.

Now let's talk about the common-ancestor theory. The theory that hominids share a common ancestor with apes is a subject of much debate since the Bible says God created man in His image. The Evolutionary Theory states that apes and humans are two different evolutionary paths of the same organism. This I must disagree with. Humans are the only sapient creature on the planet Earth. There are, I would argue, other sentient creatures, but as intelligent as they are, they still don't have the ability to philosophize. I think apes probably do have a common ancestor, but they do not share it with humans. I've heard people talk about the upright-walking gorilla Ambam as evolving before our eyes. I can't agree with this, though; his standing upright is obviously imitative of the people he sees at the zoo every day.

I could go for pages and pages about the reasons I don't believe in as broad of a common-ancestor approach as the evolutionists, but I think I've covered the topic well enough. I believe that God created life and the base forms of all organisms. I also believe that God set in motion processes which allow organisms to adapt to their environments. All the animals we see today are descended from versions of themselves, be the evolution divinely supervised or the cause of human intervention. Burn me at stake all you want; that's what I believe about the origin of species.

Your Brother in Christ,

04 March, 2011

What About Foul Language?

I recently read the Sermon on the Mount again. It is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. One segment jumps out at me every time, and it's not because it's confusing or especially great, but it was one thing that I always thought was really strange in the way people used it:
33You know that our ancestors were told, "Don't use the Lord's name to make a promise unless you are going to keep it." 34But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God's throne, so don't swear by heaven. 35The earth is God's footstool, so don't swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don't swear by it. 36Don't swear by your own head. You cannot make one hair white or black. 37When you make a promise, say only "Yes" or "No." Anything else comes from the devil. (Matthew 5:33-7, CEV)
Every time I've heard somebody use this text throughout my years, it's been in reference to foul or vulgar language. But the passage is clearly not talking about the usage of foul language. The verse that always made it sound weird to me was v37: "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No,' 'No'. For whatsoever is more than these is from the evil one." This verse has nothing to do with "swearing" as we use the term today. Taken out of context, and especially if one omits v37, this passage could be used as a prohibition on such intensifiers as "Oh crap!" But including v37 makes the passage about trustworthiness, which is ever-important in the life of a Christian.

So if this passage doesn't place a ban on vulgarity, what does? I think something that would be more conducive to the ends of the misquoters is Philippians 4:8: "Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise" (CEV).

In order to understand why we should stay away from foul language, we sometimes need to understand its origins. Here are three "bad" words that are in the Bible: hell, ass and damn. Why, then, are they considered to be foul language? Well, let's start with "damn".

To damn is to condemn, or to curse. The Bible says that only God has the power to judge, and therefore we should not condemn people or things. The word's use as an intensifier is probably more common than as a curse today: "Damn, that was close!" is just one example. An acceptable alternative would be, "Wow, that was close!" but it does lose some of the intensity that the less desirable word adds to the sentence. It can also be used as an expression of disdain, which is closer to a curse: "Damn, I was hoping that would have worked out."

The usage in the expression, "Damned if I do, damned if I don't," for expressing an impossible and undesirable situation is perfectly legitimate and is not foul or vulgar in the least. It's another way of saying, "Either way, it will end in ruin for me." The only thing is that since the word "damn" has been added to the list of foul words, all instances of it are barred from modern "polite" conversation.

Many words have come to replace "damn": man (as an intensifier), blast, curse, etc. But are we really avoiding a certain series of muscle movements, or are we avoiding the actual curse itself? We as humans naturally want to curse things undesirable. If not, why would Jesus have warned us to "judge not, lest ye be judged" (Mt 7:1)? Blasting is a form of condemnation; cursing something is a form of condemnation; everything we replace "damn" with means essentially the same thing. We have no reason whatsoever to judge something because we are not perfect, and we will not be until after we ourselves are judged.

Now let's look at "hell". The only reason that word is considered a bad word is that we hate to talk about the ill fate of the wicked. In many Christian circles, Catholic and Protestant alike, Hell is described as a place where the wicked and sinful will feel the wrath of God for all eternity. It is a place of torment and of suffering. Sounds like a nice vacation, doesn't it? Of course not! Nobody wants to think of this as being anybody's fate, and it was (and still is) often used as a scare tactic. "If you don't repent, you're going to hell!" say some ministers. "Gays will burn in hell!" says Fred Phelps and his thralls. Hell this, hell that: everybody that isn't perfect is going to burn in hell. The Bible teaches something else, though: the wicked will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). With one notable exception in Exodus, in every instance throughout history, fire consumes. It consumes the wicked, for that is the only way they will have peace. Ellen White explains that the destruction of the wicked is an act of mercy, not of anger or hatred. Those who hate God and are beyond his grace (due to a little thing called free will) would find every day in the Kingdom of Heaven to be as torturous as the traditional definition of hellfire. They would want to be destroyed, and so God will give them what they want, that they would suffer no more.

Now let's get into the modern usage of the word "hell" in a more conversational setting. Often, people say, "to hell with it," which is essentially the same thing as saying, "damn it." A more kosher way of putting it is to say, "forget it," though more common is, "screw it." But the usual usage of "hell" is in an exclamation of confusion and surprise: "What the hell?" This is, of course, short for something along the lines of, "What in (the) Hell is that?" Similar utterances include, "What on Earth is that?" and "What in heaven's name is that?" They fulfill the same function while avoiding the usage of the undesirable word. "Hell" is not really a bad word; it's just something we don't like to think about, so we've ousted it from the "proper" speech.

Finally we come to the word "ass". This is an old English name for equus africanus asinus, the common domestic donkey. Never in the King James Bible would an ass be referred to as a donkey because the word simply hadn't been invented. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "donkey" originated in 1785: "originally slang, perhaps a dim. from dun 'dull grey-brown,' the form perhaps influenced by monkey. Or possibly from a familiar form of Duncan (cf. dobbin)." I myself have used the word in my poetry, referring to myself as stubborn. And that's exactly what calling somebody an ass used to mean: stubborn. And they're not necessarily known for their intelligence, either. Again, this is not a bad word. Likening someone to an ass is no worse than saying they're stubborn, thickheaded, and so on.

There is, however, a text that advises us against doing such a thing, found in Matthew 5:22: "But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell" (CEV) Since asses weren't good for much more than being pack animals, calling somebody an ass is essentially calling them worthless.

I won't get into some of the less desirable language. Some of it was created as profanity, so naturally it doesn't fall into that which is good, pure, praiseworthy, etc. Let's instead have a look at what swearing used to be. Nowadays, it means anything that includes foul language. But in the past, when you swore, you made a promise. It was the equivalent of signing a contract nowadays. You would swear by something you cared about: a parent's grave, the Bible, the rising of the sun, etc. Taking that last example, you could say, "I swear by the rising of the sun that I will repay you," or you could say, "As surely as the sun rises, I will repay you." They meant the same thing. Jesus cautions us against these things, for if we make a promise that is as binding as the rising of the sun, then we are bound to it. Circumstances beyond our control could get in the way and prevent us from fulfilling the contract. It could keep on like that for years, for all we know. Instead, Jesus, in his usual habit of uncomplicating things, said, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No' be 'No'." If we were trustworthy, which we should be as Christians, then nobody would need proof of our word in the form of an oath. Our word would be enough for people to have the comfort that we would fulfill our end of the bargain.

That is not to say that all oaths are evil. I have sworn two oaths (other than contracts, license agreements, and so on) in my life: one of allegiance to the United States of America and the ideals of her Founding Fathers, and one to God. And my pledge to the USA has never been concrete. It's been contingent on whether or not I agree with her values, which are growing increasingly counter to my own in recent days. My oath to God, however, is simple: I will serve Him no matter what trials and hardships come my way. I didn't have to make any complicated promise held in place by some truth; it was a simple answer to a simple question. "Will you serve Me?" "Yes." My word is bond. And that's how it should be.

Your Brother in Christ,