Friday, November 25, 2016

Church Unity - A Time for the Men of God to Lead the Way

John the Baptist - Troublemaker
It is a tough time to have opinions here at the end of the world. It seems that you can't believe anything without 40 or 50 people doing a Youtube video that says you're crazy or malicious or even downright evil. I looked up "Seventh Day Adventist" this morning and the ones that were against us outnumbered the ones for us by far better than 2 to 1 against.

Many of these videos were by former pastors or independent pastors attacking the church for one perceived sin or another. I've been critical of a few moves by church leaders in the past in my own blogs and comments, so I can't righteously cast the first stone.

The Psalmist (133) says, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" There are preachers among us who say this means we should all sit down and shut up and do what the church leadership tells us to do no matter what. But while Scripture praises the beauty of unity among God's people, it also bids God's servants to tell the truth for "The Truth shall set you free." Just as many of us interpret that to mean we should speak out loudly and firmly against what we believe are the sins of those who claim to be of the body of Christ.

Myself, I have come to believe that the church can have differences of opinion and still remain unified in loving service to Christ. Sadly, not everyone believe that works. There are those who believe that all must believe exactly the same things across the board or be purged from the church.

If you look at the history of the Adventist church however, you'll find that we've always had differences of opinion; sometimes strident disagreements as a matter of fact. Despite these, the church still stands. There has always been disagreement in the church over doctrine and details of Christian life - women's ordination, drums in the church, the sanctuary, righteousness by faith and the Shut Door vs. the Open Door doctrines to name a few.  We've always worked it out.

Before Christ came the first time, the children of God had descended into nitpicking and to the development of rigid interpretations of laws and customs related to everything from how far you could walk on the Sabbath to whether or not there would be life after death for anyone. There were Pharisees and Saducees duking it out in loud debates within the Sanhedrin and the synagogues.

Today we have offshoot ministries, lapsed Adventists and angry fundamentalists blasting us and sniping at each other on the Internet. We even had a prominent SDA evangelist recently banned from holding an evangelist series in a North American Conference because he was considered too polarizing to be allowed to hold an evangelistic series in that Conference.

As the signs more than ever point toward Christ's soon coming, the spirit of dissent and disunity spreads among human beings like a pestilence. More than ever before, people are divided on every possible point of belief, whether it be on politics, religion, custom, tradition and even on subjects as basic as diet and sex.

It is time for the men of God to arise and stand together; to unite and lead our families to heaven. It is time we put away the kinds of nit-picking, strivings about fine points of theology. Jesus sliced through the tangled web of human practices heaped upon the Law of God, reducing all the law and prophets to two principles. Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. "Upon these," Jesus said, "Hang all the law and the prophets."

The simplicity of the Gospel is what will bring us unity. Religious bullying and condemnation are the devils tools and must be laid down by the Children of God. We may disagree. We may engage in discussions over out differences, but they must not divide us. Angels will not stand at the gates of heaven to kick out those who guessed wrong on the Feast Days or the Sanctuary Doctrine. God will judge. We must not for by the same standard by which we judge others, we ourselves will be judged.

Me, I hope God will go easy on me, so I try to keep my judging of others to a bare minimum and focus on Christ, the power and source of our salvation.

© 2016 by Tom King

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Camping Genius: The Monkey Bridge

Ambitious Monkey Bridge (not recommended for a first time out)

If you're going to work with Pathfinders, you've got to know how to build a monkey bridge. You may think it's a useless skill, but I've built two or three of them over my career. One was over a deep gully at a treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids. It was part of our obstacle course. The kids helped me build it and keep it up. It expanded our nature trail significantly. They loved to cross the gully after a rain when there was water in the creek below.

It's a basic Pathfinder thing. Here's how to build one.  It's easier to build one over the ground than over a creek or gully. Start out with a simple practice one before you try to build one over a gap. You can string the support ropes while standing on ground. Over a creek, you have to work your way across while standing on the ropes. It's a lot trickier. For detailed instructions, the Boy Scouts

  • 3 strands 5/8" to 3/4" rope - each the length of the span plus 1/3 to 1/2 the gap extra for tie-offs 
  • 3/8" to 1/2" support ropes
  • 2 pair of 5/8" to 3/4" anchor ropes - 15 to 20' long
  • 6 heavy 3 foot long steel spikes
  • 50 feet of 1/4" lashing cord
  • 3 pound sledge hammer or 20 pound sledge - your choice
  • 6 - 8' landscape timbers for the sheer legs. 
  • 2 - 3' squares of thick fabric
Basic Directions:
  1. Measure the distance you need to span. Twenty-four feet is a good beginner's span with kids.
    Anything much longer can be dangerous, especially if the lashings aren't secure as they are likely to be with kids. Lay out the foot rope
  2. Set up two teams. One group starts out building the sheer legs (the big wooden A's in the picture).  The other bunch should drive in the anchors. 
  3. When putting together the sheer legs, put some kind of thick fabric between the legs to protect the foot rope from friction against the sheer legs.  
  4. Drive 3 anchors about 2 feet apart and 8 feet or so from the sheer legs. Some experts drive the three in a line as shown in the drawing. Drive the stakes into the ground angled away from the sheer legs. Drive them deep. They'll have to take a lot of strain.
  5. Lash the sheer legs together as shown in the picture and raise them on both ends. To make them more secure dig holes for the legs to secure them. 
  6. Tie anchor ropes to the outside stakes and tie them between the anchors and the tops of the sheer legs. Use a clove hitch with a keeper half hitch to keep them from slipping. You can also use a round turn and two half hitches to secure topes to the sheer legs.
  7. Run the foot rope between the legs of the sheer legs over the top of the fabric between the sheer legs. Tie the ends of the foot ropes to the center stakes at either end. I've used a stick or pole as a lever, taking one turn of the handle in the foot rope between the sheer legs and the anchor. Once the foot rope is in place, you can take half turns in the rope with your stick and then lash the end of the handle to keep the foot rope tight. The foot rope will take most of the weight so it needs to be tight. The top ropes will provide extra support. 
  8. Next thing is to tie the handropes between the tops of the sheer legs so that you have two handrails that will be shoulder height above the foot rope. The bridgeway will be shaped like a  "V". Again use a clove hitch which you can pull tight and secure and then tie an overhand knot as keeper
  9. Now begin tying the support ropes between the handrails and the foot rope. I use clove hitches and lengths of rope long enough to make four passes. Start tying the ropes from one end. If you run out of rope start a new length by overlapping the first knot. I use clove hitches because they make a nice longer knot to step on. The first time you can tie the support ropes standing on the ground. For fun try doing it as though you were working over a height. It's tricky, but challenging for the kids and that's what you want.
  10. When you're done, check all the knots, make adjustments as necessary, put away your tools and let the kids try it out. 
Here's a simple X-frame version

You can find details on the knots and safety recommendations by following the links below. The Scouts have some really good material on building a monkey bridge. Once you've mastered it, you can hang one anywhere.  At camp we once hung one over an inlet of the lake. If you fell, you made a big splash. How cool is that?

If you've never built one with your kids you owe it to yourself to do it.

Detailed References:
  1. Double-A-Frame-Monkey-Bridge
  2. Single X frame Monkey Bridge
  3. Monkey Bridge - Boys Life Article 
  4. Handbook of Scout Engineering (PDF download)
  5. A Survivalist's Guide to Rope Bridges

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Seeds of Change

Deborah - ordained of God
Since the big "high level" GC meeting on October 6, I've been getting a confusing flood of "updates" from the GC and the North American Division seeking to clarify what actually happened at the meeting. According to the Adventist Review, "...officers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted on Oct. 6 for a document detailing actions to be taken in response to certain entities of the world church that are not in compliance with an action voted on by more than 2,000 representatives of the 19.5 million-member denomination at its most recent General Conference Session held in San Antonio, Texas from July 2-11, 2015."

The San Antonio vote, despite many efforts to either explain or obscure what happened in San Antonio, was not a vote to end women's ordination. It was a vote about who has the power to decide whether or not to ordain women. The vote took back power from the divisions ceded to them at a 1903 general conference where power was decentralized away from the church - a move Ellen White, who attended the conference, approved. Rather than voting down women's ordination - a tricky proposition given that opinions on the subject are sharply divided among SDA theologians and previous study committees that have found no objection to ordination of women - the GC in 2015 merely got itself made "the Decider."

Ultimately the issue comes down to who ways whether we can ordain women as pastors or not. GC says, that's us. The divisions, at least some of them, beg to differ. Over here in the Washington Conference and in both West Coast divisions, sentiment has come down rather firmly on the side of women's ordination. Women have been ordained pretty widely in this and other divisions, particularly in the North American Division. Now the GC says they can't do that. Heretofore, such decisions were firmly in the hands of the division and local conferences. Now it's not.

Daniel Jackson, NAD president keeps reassuring us that nothing is wrong and that we all need to be unified and that everything is okay. Obviously everything is not okay, especially if the GC forces division and conference leaders out of office and demotes or removes women pastor's already installed. A guy I knew back in college, Randy Roberts, who pastors the LaSierra College church, recently made an impassioned pro-women's ordination speech at a meeting of concerned division leaders. His motion at that particular conference probably seemed "rebellious" to come folk. It was not. It mostly reaffirmed the shared beliefs of an apparent majority of pastors in the division.

With all of the controversy over this issue, NAD staff probably need to keep looking for less inflammatory words than "rebellion" to describe the resolve on the part of some conferences to ordain who they please. 

Two things trouble me.  First the words "high-level" to describe the October 6 GC committee that decided how to handle the non-compliant divisions. I've never found the authoritarian approach to religious organization to be good for the church. To be honest, I think the headship doctrine of strict levels of authority based upon church rank and gender are not very representative of the structure of the relationship God seeks to have with his people. It's Calvinist in its origins and unprecedented in Adventist theology prior to Samuel Bacchiochi's return from earning advanced theology degrees in Vatican schools. This is not to say old Sam turned Catholic on us, but his writings took a turn for the more restrictive in many ways. I lost more than one friend that left the church after reading Bacchiochi, looking for a path to God that was a little more arduous than the then prevalent 'righteousness by faith" path.

The second thing that troubles me is the seeming intent by some in our GC leadership to return Adventism to "the way it was".  I remember how the church once was when I was a child. It was authoritarian, legalistic and more than a bit grim and it nearly scared me away. I fortunately met Christ thanks to an HMS Richards Sr. protoge' who taught us about righteousness by faith. I met Christ as He is - a loving God whose love awakens in us love and obedience and who saves us by his Grace. That was a new version of Christ in my church. Prior to that, evangelists just hammered us about our clothes, our diet and our behavior as though somehow we could grit our teeth and that would get us through to Paradise. Combined with vivid pictures of the last days and the time of trouble, that formed the old time Adventism of the day, I had a completely wrong picture of God and kept me more out of the church than in.

In a recent speech, Ted Wilson called for members to "“... lay aside our personal opinions for the good of the body of Christ, and that we will, together, march forward to the kingdom of God." The calls for submission have become almost daily lately as the GC seeks to enforce its will on "noncompliant" Adventist believers.  I think this is a bad thing. I am not good at marching. I'm more of a wanderer. Sheep are like that. We need a shepherd, not a drill-master.

The thing that has made our church strong over the decades is a willingness to look at Scripture as our spiritual source. We also have the prophetic gift to help us form our belief system. We've got 28 fundamental beliefs and membership in the church requires we adhere to those. God only gave us ten, so I think we've probably got those covered. A difference of opinion over a relatively unimportant point of doctrine should probably not be characterized as a rebellion.

Progressive revelation has played an important role in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ellen White commented that ""There are mines of truth yet to be discovered by the earnest seeker."  She believed that capital "T" Truth was an advancing truth. We can clearly see this with respect to the issue of monogamous marriage which was tolerated in ancient times, but became a clearly accepted doctrine by Christ's time. Slavery, which was accepted as a fixture of life, even into New Testament times, is clearly not something God approves of.  In Scripture were the seeds of the end of slavery.

The Biblical roots of our Constitution, injected into that document the seeds of the end of slavery in the United States. We learn slowly, we human beings do, but God has promises in Isaiah 54:13 that he will be our teacher and our children's teacher. The reason that slavery, polygamy, stoning, the divine right of kings and other ideas became repugnant to us is because the seed of that repugnance is buried in the pages of Scripture, planted there in Eden, watered at Sinai and grown to fruition on the tree on Calvary.

Because we are a people who believe in "Thus saith the Lord" some would have it that there must always be one firm and exact way of looking at things and no other. Had our forefathers adopted that attitude, we'd all still be Catholics. The great reformers like Luther, Zwingli, Wesley and Calvin mined great truths from Scripture. Some of them they got right. Some they got wrong. Others they overlooked altogether to be discovered later by other searchers.

Our responsibility as a church is to be God's Earthly MASH unit. We are the front-line aid station for a wounded and suffering world. Our job is to take in the lost and sick and injured, not to focus on ways to exclude and marginalize others. Adventism has been able to absorb debate over issues over the years. Within the church you'll find everything from feast day keeping legalism to vegetarians waiting for the coming of the Lord to people with more liberal ideas about love and forgiveness and Grace.

The point of unity for the Christian church is, of course, Christ. Are we going to turn the focus away from Christ over whether or not to pay women pastors the same as we pay men, which is a lot of it if you really want to get right down to it?

I really liked the Norwegian church's response to the GC vote on ordination. All their male ministers turned in their ordination credentials and the conference's pastors, male and female, instantly became equal as commissioned pastors. It was a courageous act on the part of the men and it left the GC without any real leg to stand on since the GC staked the issue on ordination and not on whether women should be silent in church.

Ellen White, in responding to an earlier church crisis counseled strongly that the church's leadership should not attempt to exercise what she called "kingly power".  It would do our leaders well to remember that. In the meantime, whatever I believe I am not in rebellion against my church nor will I leave it. As Morris Venden once pointed out, you can't change the church from outside the church.

Men do have a leadership role which I believe is a God-given trait that goes with being men. That said, remember what God did when men wouldn't step up and do the job. Deborah led the Israelite armies when Barak proved too chicken to go on his own. God even used a woman to knock off the enemy general.  A couple of men turned down the prophetic gift prior to Ellen White's taking it up.  So female leadership is not unheard of in the Bible.

Perhaps we should call what the pastors of Norway did and the men like Randy Roberts who are risking their careers over the issue, not "rebellion", but "resistance".  We are a fellowship after all and not a dictatorship. Seeking change is not rebellion. No one I know wants to break up the church. The truth will set you free and, as a whole string of dictators over the centuries have learned, you cannot rule a free people. The chain of command in the Christian church is short.  There's you and then there's God. That's pretty much it for the chain.

While we might disagree with our leaders on issues of conscience, as I have in the past, that does not mean I will leave the church in any way other than feet first in a pine box. As one church deacon told one of our church's self-declared "leaders" when he tried to move a Filipino family out of "his" pew, "Brothers, nobody owns a pew in this church. They all belong to God!" My church belongs to Jesus. He lets anybody be in it that wants to be in it and lets anyone out who wants to be out. The only one we need to absolutely obey is God and even He, as perfect as He is, is pretty good about forgiving us when we mess up. Perhaps in return, we should go easy on our leaders and our leaders should go a little easier on those they are responsible for. After all, like us, they're only human.

© 2016 by Tom King

Saturday, September 17, 2016

God Gets My Attention

God's Teaching Tools?
The thing is, I used to have trouble not paying attention. I'd get busy with all the stuff you have to do to maintain a family, keep the lights on and food on the table and lose track of time so that God gets left out a lot. I still do that sometimes, I am ashamed to admit. The morning worship gets skipped a few days running. Life overwhelms us and I lose focus. Even now after 45 years as a Christian, it's still much too easy to drift.

In the event that I do, God who has a sense of humor as well as a powerful desire to make sure I do pay attention. He has a way of showing at those moments with some sort of attention-getting event. It always happens when I get too comfortable. My first experience with what I think of as "the hammer of God" happened back in the early 90s. It was a hot summer. I was working out of doors with kids doing sports-related things. I come from a long line of sweaty people. Allergens were everywhere. I was doing anti-histamines like a speed freak does meth and definitely not drinking nearly enough water to compensate for the concomitant dehydration.

The first hint that something was going very badly was a sharp stabbing pain to the gut. I went through the usual useless attempts to stop the pain. You guys know what those are, so I won't go through all that. Finally, in serious pain, I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. As an indicator of pain, this was a biggie. My wife was suddenly very worried because I NEVER give up the driver's seat willingly and she doesn't like to drive. She hurriedly bundled me into the car and we were on the road. I don't know what happened to our kids that night. I never saw her call anyone to come stay with them. I never asked, which is also an indicator of my level of pain as we had two boys and a little girl who could hold her own with them back at home and there were things in our house that could be broken which are expensive to replace. I didn't care at that point. The house could have been reduced to a pile of rubble in my absence. I didn't care.

By the time we got to the Cleburne hospital someone had apparently inserted a knife into my lower abdomen and was twisting it slowly now and then , just to remind me that it was still there. We arrive at the chateau de' Cleburne ER. They had this comical sense of humor with regard to parking. Parking for drive-up patients was down hill in the lower parking lot. To get to the ER required you to scale a formidable set of stairs or hobble up an even more formidable circuitous ramp. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act made them tear that ramp out and install and even longer one with flat places every so often where one might lie down to die without fear of rolling all the way back down to the bottom of the ramp.

Hobbling up that long ramp with a dagger in your lower intestines did not look like a whole lot of fun, let me tell you, so I opted for the stairs. Halfway up I decided the ramp might not be such a bad thing, but I was already committed. By now I was doing this Frankenstein-like shuffle step, periodically bending over, then taking a step accompanied by a deep groan, then a bend-over-stomach-clutch, then up again and moan. I looked like a scene from Zombie Attack III. I think I was wearing a ragged t-shirt I had been sleeping in. Moaning I staggered into the ER and stumbled up to the desk. The charge nurse didn't blink, apparently used to zombies walking into her ER.

If you have ever been to the emergency room, you know the drill. A grumpy nurse with a steely eye, an unsympathetic scowl, brandishing a pen asks you to sign in. She then hands you a clipboard and banishes you to the waiting room where you wait patiently with 20 or 30 other suffering humans for up to 8 hours or so. Then, when you reach the point where you don't think you can take it anymore, they send you to a little curtained off area and you wait another hour or two for the doctor to breeze through and pronounce judgment upon your condition. I was asked to rate my level of "discomfort", that was the term the charge nurse used, on a scale of one to ten. I gave it a 35. She was not amused.

Interesting Fact 1: When you do not amuse the charge nurse you move backward in the queue. By this point, I was in no condition to wait patiently for 4 hours for some doctor to come in, scratch his head and then go away to order some tests to be conducted by radiology in a couple of hours or so.

I'm a logical guy. I looked around and evaluated my fellow sufferers there in the waiting room and could see that no one else was suffering like me. A few were dripping blood or nursing an ice pack or throwing up into a little bag that Nurse Ratchet had provided, but I was pretty sure no one else had been stabbed with an invisible knife.

So, putting my great brain feverishly to work, I came up with a plan to get myself moved up in the queue. I had a little help as my invisible tormentor chose that moment to give the knife another sharp twist. I screamed. The reaction was all I could have hoped for. Nurse Ratchet raised her head from whatever romance novel she'd been reading and looked at me. Encouraged, I let loose with another scream; one I'm sure would have got me an "8", even from the Russian judges. 

Interesting Fact 2:  Screaming like a dying wildebeest on the Serengeti upsets the decorum of the ER waiting room. Squealing like a pig being slaughtered (what I call stage 2 screaming) moves you almost immediately to the top of the "next" list. The charge nurse punched a button somewhere and in moments I was loaded on a gurney and wheeled off to a barracks-like room where they put people who are going to die, but are not actually bleeding on the ER floor from a gunshot wound. 

By now I was screaming pretty much nonstop. I was doing a lot of praying of the "Please God make it stop variety." And here's where my religion got tested. Given the location of my pain and the intensity of it and also due to the fact that I was weeping, crying like a girl and remembering some words I used to use before I was a Christian, the nurse had already diagnosed my ailment - accurately as it turned out. She also chastised me for using uncouth words. I was alone on a gurney in an empty room full of gurneys mind you, but she felt a powerful need to correct my language for some reason.

Miserable as I was, and as out of my head with pain as I was, it worked. I grumbled a little at being admonished by this sanctimonious poor excuse for a Florence Nightingale. Here she is being all morally superior, I'd just like to see how she'd handle this much pain. Still, she did get my attention. I girded up my loins (all too literally) and I stopped cursing. I stopped in part because she made me feel guilty, me being an Adventist Christian and all, and in part because I was desperately hoping for some morphine for what my nurse guessed was a kidney stone. Shaking her head she muttered, "Men are such babies," on her way out the door.

Interesting Fact 3:  Even women, whom I believe routinely exaggerate the pain levels they experience in childbirth, say that passing a kidney stone is worse. This is obviously true. Women will willingly get pregnant again. Men will not willingly pass a kidney stone again. My urologist told me to drink lots of water to prevent the formation of stones. Since that day, I swill fluids like an Abrams Main Battle Tank swills diesel fuel. I now plan my travels through life so as to never be more than 3 minutes from a restroom. I WILL use the ladies room in a pinch. Waiting is not an option.

Interesting Fact 4:  Morphine does NOT kill the pain. The best it does is make it so you don't scream so loudly and you can resist the urge to use colorful sailor-words. Using colorful sailor-words is what got me my first dose of morphine. I did not intend for this to happen. The nurse, being a woman of delicate sensibilities and a powerful reluctance to issue narcotics to persons in pain, at first attempted to shame me into silence. It was, however, too late for that. I had just discovered that screaming like a girl made things happen.

I am not disparaging girls here. I describe my screaming that way because of the pitch of the scream, not anything gender-related or stereotypical weakness-wise. I can be as paternalistic as all git-out, but that is not it. What I found out by diligent experimentation that day was that a high-pitched shriek works better for getting attention than a deep-throated manly roar. Manly screaming apparently means to nurses that you are being tough and riding it out and therefore need no attention. When you no longer care about preserving the illusion of manliness and start shrieking like an over-heated teapot, some sort of internal switch gets tripped and someone trundles down the hall to wherever the doctor is taking a nap, wakes him up, and gets an authorization for some pain-killer. After another 30 minutes of this distinctly unmasculine behavior on my part and a call from admin three floors up, the doc gets up. Unable to sleep anyway, with all that unmanly noise emanating from corpse-storage where they'd left me, the doc, bleary eyed from being on the tail end of a 48 hour shift, comes wandering in, has a quick zombie-to-zombie consultation and sends me to radiology.

There they confirm that what I have is a kidney stone. They also apparently confirm the inadequacy of my company insurance and pump me full of morphine and wait for the stone to pass. Before it does, my insurance balks and they send me home with a plastic strainer and instructions to pee through that till the stone comes out.

Stone is something of a misnomer in my case. When it finally made a distinctly uncomfortable appearance in the strainer, even I, who had lived through the stone's passage through my more delicate tubules, blanched a little. The thing was the size of a goat-head. If you live in East Texas, you know what a goat-head is. It's an evil looking spiked seed from a pernicious weed that stabs you in the foot and cripples you for a couple of days at a time. This stone, like a goat-head, had horrible little barbs all over it. They analyzed it at the urologist's, told me to drink lots of water and sent me home.

The second one was bad and sent me to the ER, but I passed that one too. They gave me some potent pain killers which I used sparingly in case I needed them later. I later had a procedure where they tried to blow the stones up with sound waves. The first time they tried it I'd already passed it by the time they got around to doing the procedure and they let me go. The second time they tried it they had more success. For a while I was passing gravel. Then things got more interesting.

Since the first two kidney "boulders" and the lithotrypsy (the one with the sound waves), I've passed six more, including five kidney stones in one year - without another hospital visit. I passed the last five standing on my own two feet at home. I carefully nursed my supply of Hydrocodone and managed to make that one prescription last through the next year. I collected the pesky little rocks I passed that year in a little medicine bottle if you ever want to see them.  I take out the bottle once in a while, shake it so it rattles, and then drink a 20 ounce glass of water.

My attention was captured to say the least. God has a way of reminding you that you are still alive. My struggle with kidney stones, in an odd sort of way, reminded me that what we are doing with our lives is important. Going through that ordeal taught me how wonderful it is to feel good. Sore feet don't matter anymore. A tired back, aching muscles, the odd headache. Those are just reminders that we are still alive and we can still feel pain.

But it's not just physical pain I'm talking about. Life throws us a curve ever once in a while and beans us on the back of the head. We learn that we can survive whatever the devil throws at us (and believe me there is the stench of sulfur about a kidney stone, the death of a child, the loss of a home or job let me tell you). We may reach a point where we can pass a kidney stone or a life trial and remain standing up like a man and do it without screaming, wailing or gnashing of teeth. Sadly, it usually takes us a lot of repetition to reach that point, but reach it we do if we submit to God's training program.

God always finds a way to get our attention when we get sloppy and slack.
He toughens us through trial, makes us strong through adversity, makes us compassionate and willing to bear up under whatever falls upon us. Will God need to get my attention again? At 62, I feel like a tired old war horse sometimes and wonder whether God is done with me yet. I hope so, but probably not.

And it'll probably hurt. At this point I'm all out of pain pills, so I'll just have to stand through it till it's over. I've been through the training and God's a pretty good drill sergeant. I 'spect I can take it.

© by Tom King

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Up and Out: The Effect of Knowing God

To become one with our Father in Heaven is to be drawn beyond ourselves; beyond our little worlds into an unimaginable cosmic vastness that we cannot fully comprehend. We stand in the presence of God with our mouths hanging open and our eyes spinning in wonderment. If this isn't your reaction to fellowship with God, you might want to check again to see who it is you are actually worshiping.

To seek to comprehend God is to reach beyond your own experience. It is to step away from the very time in which you live and the culture in which you grew up. If you stick stubbornly to any Earthly thing, be it a school of philosophy, a political party, your upbringing, or even your Christian denomination without shining the light of God's presence upon it, you risk creating a false god for yourself.

My field in school was English and I looked at the various schools of literary thought, from classical to neo-classical, to modernist, to post-modernist, romantic to realist and soon discovered that each school wears blinders that shut out anything that does not support the particular canon of that particular literary school.  Tell a post-modernist that life has any meaning whatever and they will scoff at you, unable to entertain such a thought. To the post-modernist, stuff happens. That's it. I found the literary schools restrictive. I find the Christian school of thought liberating.

The atheist must believe that 80% of the world are deluded fools and totally wrong. As a Christian I can believe that everyone in the world owns a piece of the truth. I may believe that Christians have more of the truth, but I am not required to think everyone else is stupid, insane or willfully deluded in order to believe in Christ. It's a relief not to have to disprove everything that someone who disagrees with me says. It's nice not to have to circle the troops like Custer and defend my little hilltop. As a Christian, I occupy the entirety of time and space and thought. I don't have to build wall. Walls only get in the way and I don't believe God wants me to keep people out.

Even in our own church, we see time and again, little sub-sects of Adventism creating their own minor deities, as pernicious as statues of saints in cathedrals, standing between the worshipper and God, as though God might need such things in order to understand save his children. Those idols might be healthy things like veganism. I once knew an Adventist mom who, like the Pharisee praying on the street corner, once proclaimed that she was a "Vegetarian waiting for the coming of the Lord."

New SDA pseudo-prophets set themselves up as conduits between God and mere mortals. The David Koreshes, Benjamin Rodins, Robert Brimsmeads, et al will insist on carving out their own little temples in which they are right and everyone else is wrong. You can imagine them standing before the judgment seat insisting, "But God, I healed the sick, I preached to thousands, I built schools and churches and put my name on them on little gold plaques. I had the best doctrine of anybody!

The thing is, if you worship your own little ideals in your own little temples in your own little private circles, you cannot truly know the God who inhabits the cosmos, transcending anything you can imagine in your tiny little circumscribed reality.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God that you almost have to go outside to worship in order to get the full effect of the breath-taking reality of Him. His love draws you out and up, not down and in. You see two kinds of churches in the world. 
  1.  There are churches that build walls around themselves. The protect their sacred relics and their sacred doctrines and they worry about keeping members in and strangers out. They thrive on ritual and self-righteousness. Their churches are museums for well-polished saints.
  2. There are churches that don't build walls and don't just open their doors. They go out into their communities. They run schools, build hospitals, mission stations, new churches and minister to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the disabled. They do as Christ did and go among the thieves, prostitutes, tax-collectors, crippled, blind and mentally ill and they help bring them healing. They bring them into their churches, their homes and their hearts.
I am proud to be a Seventh-day Adventist. First off, we are not, by nature, an insular people. My church runs the second largest parochial schools system in the world and our students score consistently high against students from the public school system, despite our funding being so much less. We run a huge hospital system doing pioneering work in many fields. SDA doctors are some of the leading physicians and surgeons in the world. Our mission work dwarfs that of almost every other denomination in size, scope and organization. Our medical missionaries bring healing and help to some of the most isolated places on Earth. We have dozens of media ministries bringing light and comfort to millions. We are in every sense of the world, a world church.

This happened, I believe, because in the beginning, our founders approached God with a teachable spirit, willing to let God draw us up and out and beyond ourselves and the cultural, political and social mores of the time. We could not remain closeted in our churches once we had looked up and found that God was so much more than we had at first thought. We had to share His love. We had no other choice if we were to remain within the light of His glory and grace.

In these last days, the devil, our adversary, will come among us like a wolf among sheep, seeking to scatter the flock, to isolate and destroy us piecemeal. So before we get our heads down on some point of doctrine or some personality issue, let us look up and see if God approves of what we are doing.If what we are doing involves breaking the church apart with "foolish genealogies and strivings about the law," perhaps we are busily setting up a false idol and not worshiping the God of Heaven at all. I can tell you this. If you are pushing people out of the church or walling off your own little segment of true believers, you are probably not working for who you think you are working for.

If you seek God by searching for Him with all your heart and soul and mind and body, you WILL be drawn up and out of yourself. You won't be able to help it. If you listen, if you behold God and embrace the infinite reality of him, you will be changed and you will need no walls to protect you from the world. You will embrace humanity just as Christ did and you will love them all, be sympathetic to them all and find joy in serving your fellow human beings. God will replace your stony heart with a heart of flesh and grant you a place in his eternal universe.

Just saying.

Tom King
© 2016 by Tom King

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Do Christians Use Magic Words?

When Simon Magus came offering to buy the secrets of the
Apostle Paul's "magic", Paul turned him away.

I've seen a troubling trend in Christendom which has sadly begun to drift over into Seventh-day Adventist circles. Someone posted one of those large sized memes on Facebook the other day that claimed that the letter J was only 600 years old, so Jesus couldn't actually be the "Name above all names."

I've seen this kind of thing before. These guys seize upon some obscure legal point and wrap themselves up in it like a cloak. I had a friend who once told me she was a "vegetarian waiting for the coming of the Lord," as if being a vegetarian was what qualified her for translation. We've seen all sorts of fanaticism rise up in and around the great Advent movement. We've seen false prophets like David Koresh (aka Vernon Howell III), prey upon weak and mentally ill members of our congregations and gather followers to themselves based on little more than some obscure twisted point of theology.

These individuals always have some bit of religious practice or some greater "understanding" of scripture that places their followers above ordinary struggling Christians. They adopt such practices as writing G-d, when they mean to say God. I don't know about you, but seeing GD like that without the "O" always reminds me of a curse word that it took me two years to get out of my head after I worked on a Brown & Root construction crew. It's not helpful at all in making me feel holier to leave out letters in the names of the Almighty.

I think Jesus is smart enough to know who we are talking to when we call him Jesus. If you want to call him Yeshua or whatever obscure Hebrew-sounding name you think is the correct one, that's fine. But to make it a point of salvation is, I believe, to cast stumbling stones in the path of the saints. Besides, the sound of the letter J is NOT 600 years old. It may not have been written as a "J" like we recognize it, but in languages like Latin as in English, many letters can have more than one sound. In English a C can sound like and S or a K, for instance and the letter U was written as a V in Latin for a long time. The J sound is far, far older than that and without sound recordings from two or three millenia ago, you can't be sure anyway. The pronunciation of many ancient languages has been lost long ago. 

This quibbling about the name of Jesus and associated phrases is pretty much the sort of legalistic clap trap many fanatics soothe themselves with, believing they are somehow better than their fellow Christians because they use the right name for Yeshua. They treat the name of Christ as if it were some sort of magic word by which God is forced to do things for you. In other words, if I ask in the name of Yeshua, God has to do it, but if I ask in Jesus' name He doesn't? 

That's little more than a Christianized form of witchcraft. I once had a Church of Christ pastor tell me that my baptism was "no good" because I was baptized in the name of "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" instead of Pastor Thurber using the magical phrase "In Jesus name." I asked the gentleman if he really believed that God was too stupid to figure out who His Son was. We serve a loving merciful God, not some superior sort of sorcerer. Jesus accepted those who came to Him wherever they were and with whatever burdens they carried. He never asked a single sinner to say any special sequence of magic words before he healed them. Often Jesus healed people before he asked them to repent.

This is, of course, one man's opinion, but it is based on a lifetime of study and prayer and walking with Christ (which is Greek, not Hebrew I realize, but again, I think Jesus is quite intelligent enough to figure out that I am talking about Him). Jesus asked sinners to confess and let go of their sins and He put no other burden upon them, save to walk with Him and that's really not hard to do at all. All you have to do is spend time with Jesus instead of looking around for all sorts of obscure "rules for proper holiness" that you can come up with to make yourself feel more secure and to elevate your brand of religion above that of others.

This practice reminds me of those martial arts guys who constantly brag about how "My Karate is better than your Karate!" Jesus (or whatever makes you feel superior to call Him), wasn't a sensei. He was a savior. In the Old Testament, we are sternly warned against practicing witchcraft and magic. God gave us the gift of language that we might communicate with each other and understand what God is trying to teach us. Language is not a magic wand and should NEVER be used as one.

We had a bout of something a few years back called the ABC's of prayer which, while based on Scripture, was taken almost into the realm of magic by some practitioners.  While it is true that God always answers prayers, to demand that He answer them in precisely the way we want Him to, based on the strength of our "faith" and the quoting of the words of Biblical promises, strikes me as dangerously close to practicing a form of conjuring. A dear friend of mine was convinced that if he asked, believed and claimed healing from his bipolar disorder, that God would have to heal him. He stopped taking his meds and a few months later was unable to continue preaching and after several years of bizarre behavior, he put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe. So much for God having to do what you tell Him to.

While it might be exciting to think we could have that sort of power to heal and move mountains, that is a power that belongs to God alone and to attempt to bend the Almighty to our will is a dangerous business. The story of Hezekiah is instructive here. God told Hezekiah he was going to die and to prepare himself. Hezekiah prayed and prayed that God would give him a longer life. God chose to relent and gave Hezekiah 15 extra years, during which time he had a son, Mannaseh, the only king of Judah judged to be as bad as the Israelite King Ahab. Had Hezekiah submitted to God, how much better would it have been for Judah not to have had that terrible king?

Does God heal people?  Yes, unequivocally. Does He heal on demand?  Absolutely not. God is able to look down the corridors of time and see what the impact of every action will be. He knew Hezekiah would have a very bad son who would be king. He showed us the folly of demanding things go our way by granting Hezekiah's request. King David also prayed for the healing of his son, but when the son died, David got up and accepted God's will. David's willingness to accept God's reproval and his guidance was why he was called a "man after God's own heart".
Trying to force God to do what you think is best is always a bad idea. It is far, far better to pray and then wait for and accept God's answer.  In the same way, it's better to spend your time and energy trying to emulate Jesus than trying to find the right words to manipulate Him.  What was it Solomon said?

Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.
We are vain creatures who tend to believe that we know best about things. But, in the end, we are neither wise enough, nor prescient enough to demand things of God. We cannot, as God does, see what will come of doing what we desire. Christianity has no room for Christian sorcerers who by using the right combination of words can, like Harry Potter, make things happen the way they want them to. It just doesn't work that way.

© 2016 by Tom King

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Where In Scripture Does It Say, "Thou Shalt Choose the Lesser of Two Evils"

Elijah hiding out, having said some things to the king he didn't like.
I'm in a lot of trouble with my Adventist readers. As a blogger, I regularly touch the third rail of Adventism - politics. I can't tell you how many times I've been counseled to keep quiet about politics and, if I'm talking to a certain group of Adventists, to both be quiet and vote Democrat!

As anyone who reads my stuff knows, I'm a died in the wool Christian conservative, a strict constitutionalist and firm believer in small decentralized government. I've been told we are not to have an opinion about those kinds of things, but given how close politics comes to being religion it's a difficult thing to do, especially when politics is so apt to use religion as a vote-getting tool.

Jesus very clearly said to, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's."  It should be noted that of the 12 men he told that to, one committed suicide, 10 were executed by governments and the only one to die a natural death was banished, given hard labor and boiled in oil first.  As Christians, we don't so much attack governments as they attack us. It's an old story.

Sometime add up how many prophets were killed by Israelite kings in the Old Testament. And despite this they kept on delivering messages to the kings that they didn't want to hear. The prophet Nathan was lucky that King David feared God because one of David's soldiers was ready to lop off his head when he delivered his message.

And remember what Samuel warned the Children of Israel about when they wanted a king like everyone else. People tell me we should just be quiet and God will put in the leader he wants. At this point I remind them that God gave Israel a king even though He didn't want them to have one. And the Israelite kings did every bad thing that Samuel said they would; everything God through his prophets said would happen did.  Yet, God gave them kings. GOD WAS TEACHING WHEN HE DID IT.

I find that, as a Christian, inaction is not appropriate, especially when I live in a nation that God specifically gave us as a refuge of religious freedom; a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. Since our government derives it's power, authority and very existence from the will of the people, then when we are counseled to "render unto Caesar", we are, in effect, being told in America to "render" unto ourselves for we are Caesar - the source of power. That said, the political choices we as Americans have are not either/or. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.

If we hand over the reins of power to government in some misguided attempt to gain safety, security or the chance to "win", then we are, I believe, doing something God would disapprove of.
I'm from Texas. I admit it, so I think of things in a Texan context. I also grew up in an Adventist ghetto where we rolled up the sidewalks on Friday evening. I have seen what can happen when people take a stand. The boys at the Alamo, as a Trump supporter reminded me, lost that fight. He suggested that losing was the worst thing. This guy could not have been from Texas. The stand at the Alamo bought time for the Texican Army to get itself together and get to San Jacinto where they handily whipped Santa Anna. So the Alamo fight, by pinning Santa Anna's army for 18 days, won the war even though they lost the battle.

When I lived in Keene, we were sent a mule-headed wild man of a pastor named Ron Halvorsen. In my home town the good old boy network had it's roots deep in everything that went on in the town and we were slowly dying. Our kids were leaving. Church was as dry as the Hills of Gilboa. Ron came to town and planted the flag of truth. They fought him tooth and nail, but prayer meeting exploded from 45 people in the Youth Chapel to 12 to 1500 in a jammed sanctuary with another 100 or so kids in their own Wednesday service in the family center. When Ron left the good old boys celebrated. But the damage had been done and they never managed to get back their power. Ron Halvorsen stood for the truth and won, whatever the leadership thought. A lot of us are still in the church because of people like Ron and other brave workers for the Lord. These brave men and women gave us choices we could, in good conscience make. Many of these choices were not comfortable or easy, but they were right and set up against the "go along to get along" path that others were offering, these choices were the only ones we could in good conscience make.

C.S. Lewis pointed out once that “He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs--pairs of opposites... He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” Lewis foresaw the rise of political forces in the world which would attempt to manipulate people; to bend them to the will of their masters. He recognized who was behind such false choices and clearly warned us that such choices would be presented to us in order to maneuver us into a trap. He was right.

It appears that we really don't have a viable candidate running for president this fall. We are told that we must choose one or the other for fear the worst one will be, well, worse. I am a Christian and as an Adventist, the most stubborn sort of Christian, I do not accept the idea that I must choose between two evils. I can't find a passage in Scripture that ever recommends such a course. We Adventists have stood against the tide of Christendom throughout our more than a century and a half history. Many of our fellow Christians dismiss us a a dangerous cult because we won't back down and join the herd. We don't choose one evil or the other. We choose the truth, even though few religious leaders want that choice to even be on the table.

So I suppose being a Texan and a stubborn Adventist, it might be a little easier for me to just vote, "NO" in November.
I'm used to "losing". But, sometimes you do what is right because it is right and winning or losing doesn't come into the calculation. When it all comes down to it, Jesus is coming soon. He is the only one who's approval I wish to win. Heaven is the only reward I want. Eternal life is the only victory worth having. 

© 2016 by Tom King