Sunday, May 31, 2015

What To Do About The Enemy Within?

We all should be looking in the same direction,
that is, if we all plan to go to the same place.
Dan Jackson, President of the North American Division of the SDA Church recently issued an appeal for unity within the church. He did so in response to an alarming increase in the number of disruptive factions within the church. It's not surprising that we see this as the signs of the times point ever more clearly toward the soon-coming of Christ.

There was a line I remember from an old 60s rock song that went, "Satan, Satan is my name, confusion is my game."

We should not be surprised that our fellowship is being attacked from within. Satan knows he's fighting a losing war and the only way to win a war you will lose if you fight out in the open is to fight a guerrilla war using subterfuge, lies and manipulation.

The many denominations of the Christian Church are evidence of Satan's past attempts to fracture the fellowship of Christians.  They are also evidence of God's ability to work all things together for good to them that are called according to his purpose. The various denominations and independent churches also serve as MASH units for wounded children of God looking to find their way to Him. Churches minister to various specific needs, bind up wounds and, if they follow scripture at all, point the way to Christ.

Anyone, whatever denomination he or she may at first find themselves in, may find their way to God for God is strong enough and smart enough to find his true children in whatever church or place they may find themselves. Scripture does not teach that we must learn magic words or perform special rituals to earn the favor of God. There are some things like communion and baptism that we practice as a way to help us to mark the milestones in our journey to God and to remind us of what it means to follow Him. But one thing is certain. Wherever we are when we get started, God will lead us surely to Himself and the closer we get to Him, the closer we draw to one another.

So what have we got to contribute as Adventists that we should do as Elder Jackson says and stand together in unity?  Well, the most important thing we contribute is a clearer understanding of God's character. Let me give you some examples of SDA theology that helps people to know God better. After all, to know God, as Jesus said, is the only way to have eternal life.

  1. The soul is NOT immortal.  God told the truth about that to Adam and Eve. Therefore, God is also not an unrelenting torturer of sinners. As Jesus said, God can destroy both the body and soul in hell.
  2. There is no ever-burning hell.  God does not want his lost children tormented forever, nor for his saved children to ever have to see such a thing again.
  3. You don't mess with the ten commandments including the one about the Sabbath. God is just and his law is not complicated. Ten simple rules is all the universe needs to work quite well.  Nobody should meddle with them in order to better market the church to pagans. God is consistent. He is not capricious. You can trust that He will be the same tomorrow as He is today. Also through the Sabbath command, we learn that God wants us to take a day off every week to spend with Him. How cool is that?
  4. Jesus is coming soon. God can be trusted. If He says, "I will come again and receive you unto myself..." then He means it and will actually come back and get us.
  5. We are saved by God's grace alone.  God knows our frame, He knows that we are dust. He knows that we cannot change our hearts nor our behavior on our own and supplies us the strength to obey his law and to choose what is right. We need only choose to allow him to work that change in us. God loves us that much.
We Adventists have a lot to say about God's character. It's not about who has the right take on doctrine. It's about having the right understanding of God's character because knowing God is the key to achieving eternal life. We should teach these wonderful revelations to all the people out there for whom the hell-fire and damnation preaching and legalism is seriously problematic. The fact that we do just that for the most part, may account for the fact that in North America, the Adventist Church is the fastest growing Christian denomination out there.

Elder Jackson's right.
Instead of spending time playing "Sister Bertha Better'n You" and looking down our noses at our brothers and sisters over some obscure doctrinal interpretation, we need to be telling people the good news - the stuff we already agree on and quit attacking our brothers and sisters over minute and petty points of interpretation in order to make ourselves look more pious than everyone else.

God's not going to be impressed with your sanctimony I promise you. If you stand up before the judgment and try to get by with saying, "But God, I had my doctrine exactly right!" He's going to say to you, "I never knew you."  That would be sad given how easy God has made it for you to gain eternal life.

(c) 2015

Tom King

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fallen Warriors: Ron Halvorsen Sr.

Pastor Ron Halvorsen Sr. - Hairy-Chested Adventist Man
"Jesus ate fish." The simple statement by her pastor shocked the very rigid Adventist church lady of the sort Ray Stevens dubbed "Sister Bertha Better n' You" in his song "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival. Sister Bertha (not her real name) had been busily laying some harsh judgment on a fellow Adventist church member for his revelation that he had eaten some fish in his time. She turned to face Pastor Ron Halvorsen in some confusion, having expected, as such people do, to have won some vegetarian brownie points from her pastor for having schooled this obviously lapsed saint regarding his dietary duty. She had, after all, chosen a spot well within earshot of the pastor to deliver her judgments.

"Well Jesus didn't have the Spirit of Prophecy!" the lady sputtered aghast at her pastor's loosey-goosey attitude on the burning issue of dietary morality.

"JESUS IS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY you whitewashed SEPULCHRE!" he thundered silencing the good sister and sending her scurrying for cover.

Ron Halvorsen was one of those he-man, testosterone-filled warriors for the Lord who inspired me as a young person looking desparately for a strong male role model. My own father took a powder when I was five and my relationship with my stepfather was not terribly strong. I found my role models mostly in books - King Arthur, Captain Hornblower, Captain Blood, Captain Kirk; those sorts of guys. I had a few flesh and blood men I looked up to as well. Ed Burns and Sam Miller from summer camp both taught me a lot about what a man was supposed to be like and to do.

My first encounter with Ron Halvorsen was actually in the chow line at Lone Star Camp during a ministerial conference just after he came to Texas to take over the Keene, Church. I was doling out peanut butter and asked him if he wanted some.

He grinned at me broadly and said in his thick Brooklyn accent, "Sure. I love the stuff," he stuck out his plate. "I ate so much peanut butter as a kid that if they'd stuck me with a knife I probably would have bled peanut butter. I knew this was the right pastor for my hometown church. I'd grown up in Keene. My family helped build the town. I had a feeling he was going to shake things up in the Holy City.

I was right. Within a year, Pastor Ron had two services packed with more than 3000 people coming every Sabbath. He soon had more than 900 showing up for prayer meeting. Before he came they were meeting in the Youth Chapel and there were fewer than 40 showing up each week.

Under Pastor Ron, though, we soon had a fleet of school buses fanning out through the surrounding county picking up children and old people and bringing them to church. Volunteers like me rode along and played the guitar and filled the buses with the voices of children and elderly saints singing at the top of their lungs as we rumbled across the country-side.

Pastor Morris Venden
Needless to say, the "white-washed" sepulchres in Keene hated Pastor Ron too, but to the children of Christ in that church, he was like oxygen. God rest his soul.

Some people leave a terrible hole in the fabric of space and time when they are taken from us. It has been a privilege for me to know such people. Some of them like Pastor Ron and Pastor Morris Venden loom large and you cannot help but notice their absence when they go to their rest. With others, like my friend Dave Spenser and my beloved son Micah and the many stout-hearted, hard-working, God-fearing men with whom I have shared my church, you don't realize what a hole they have left behind in our lives, until they are gone. Only later do you begin to discover what awful gaps are left behind in our world without them.

May each of us live lives that, when we are taken to our rest, the world is rendered as full of holes as a Swiss cheese for the lack of us being in it.

The quote by Sister White in the sidebar is a clarion call for men of faith to arise and take their place in the front lines. Time is growing short and as warriors like Pastor Ron and the others I have mentioned fall, I pray that ten Adventist Christian men arise to take their places. God knows that we need them.

© 2015 by Tom King

Church Fellowship: The Pizza Party With a Twist

This is what the finished pizza ought to look like.
Sometimes you just need to get the brethren and sisteren together for some old-fashioned fellowship. Here's an interesting twist on the pizza party that's sure to encourage people attending the event to talk to one another, share recipes, laugh and develop new relationships. The secret to stimulating all of this "fellowshipping" is simple.

Everybody helps make the pizza.

My wife and I used to do these with people we invited from the church. The party design is also simple:

  1. Everybody who is invited is asked to bring some combination of cheese for the pizza, a jar of their favorite pizza or spaghetti sauce and all the creative kinds of pizza toppings they'd like on their pizza. Also ask anyone who owns a pizza pan or pizza stone to bring it. You'll need lots of these. In a pinch you can make the crusts on a sheet of aluminum foil and transfer the foil to a large baking sheet to cook.
  2. Two hours before the party, make up dough balls for individual pizzas - one for each group you will divide the attendees into. With kids I'd put two in a group because each will eat half a pizza at least.  You can find the recipe for the never-fail pizza crust we used here at the Potluck Vegetarian. Just click on the link for full instructions.
  3. As everyone comes in, have the stove heated to 450° to 500° and ready to go. Have them move to the tables, bars or counters where they will work with their group and give them a ball of dough. If you don't have a dough hook, give them a half-formed dough ball and let them knead the dough for about ten minutes. That'll settle the more ADD among the group. Kneading is hard work. That's why bakers have huge arms.
  4. When the dough is ready, each group gets the ingredients they brought. Share the jars of sauce around. It doesn't take very much sauce. Make sure everyone has cheeses and whatever else they need.  Then go away and let them make a pizza. It's easy. They'll figure it out.
  5. Make sure the floor is clean. Someone will inevitably try to twirl their crust. It never fails. We make guests take their shoes off. That way the floor is clean enough that you can brush off a dropped crust and cook it.
  6. As the pizzas are made ready, put them in the oven two at a time. Put the top and bottom racks of the oven as close together in the middle as you can. Pizzas don't need much room. They're very thin. It only take 8 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the crust.
  7. As they come out, cut the pizzas into 8 to 16 pieces so everybody can sample each others' pizza creations. Keep rotating the pizzas through the oven for the rest of the evening. The extra ingredients can be dumped into a big salad if you like. Have someone bring a lot of lettuce and tomatoes and suggest people bring their favorite salad dressing along to share.
For more details, go to "The Potluck Vegetarian" for the tricks and secrets to making perfect homemade vegetarian pizzas. A lot of people are confused at first when you tell them they have to make their own pizzas, especially the guys, but they will warm to their task I promise you. When their pizzas come out, they'll be worse than new papas showing off "their" pizzas and bragging on themselves and their pizza making technique.

It really is a lot of fun and stimulates a lot of conversation and good fellowship and you don't have to play any embarrassing ice-breaker games to get people talking.

Try it some Saturday night in the fellowship hall. It's tons of fun and educational for the kids - just make them wash their hands first - I'm just sayin'.

© 2015 by Tom King

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The End of Time: Did Christ Intend for Us to Be Socialists?

Forgive me for talking about politics in a religious forum. I have been told we Adventists are not to discuss politics (usually by SDAs who vote Democrat), but given that Ellen White once said that God was punishing the Union because we were not fighting the Civil War to free the slaves at the time, I think I'm on solid ground. Elijah, Elisha and practically all the minor prophets posted criticism of the government on the ancient equivalent of the Internet. Many were murdered by the government for speaking out. Political speech by followers of God has an ancient and honorable history. 

I found this quote the other day by militant anti-religion, pro-capitalist writer Ayn Rand:

  • "Socialism is the doctrine that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that his life and his work do not belong to him, but belong to society, that the only justification of his existence is his service to society, and that society may dispose of him in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever it deems to be its own tribal, collective good." - Ayn Rand
I posted it someplace and a militant anti-religion socialist wrote back: 
  • The Rand quote makes socialism sound a lot like Christianity. But then historians say the early Christians were socialists.
She has a point, but it's one of those deceptive talking points that liberals, socialists and atheists throw at you to try to prove you are intellectually dishonest unless, as a Christian, you are pro-socialist.

If you take away the word "collective" and substitute "God" the Ayn Rand quote does sound like what Christians believe - sort of!  It's just that whether we worship the collective or God marks quite a distinct dividing point between Christians and secular socialists. The big (and this is very big) difference between the two is that Christians can serve their beliefs according to their own conscience, entirely without forcing any other individual to do so. We believe God gave us free will because he does NOT want to force anyone to love or follow him.

On the other hand, collectivists demand that everyone be a collectivist (socialist) and love socialism (i.e. The State). Look at history and you'll see what happens to anyone who lives in a socialist state and does not serve the state and appear to love it. Hundreds of millions of deaths in the 20th century alone of people are attributable to government intolerance of people who chose not to serve the state.

And while it's true that the Roman Catholic Church slaughtered millions who disagreed with them, such behavior by the organized church led true Christians within the church to break away and worship God as Scripture told them to. The entire massive Protestant movement was a rejection of the Roman brand of collectivism. Over the centuries there was a constant stream of Christ's followers who left the political iteration of the Christian church because in it, they could not follow Christ, who never forced anyone to follow him.

Early Christians combined their goods because they were a spiritual guerrilla movement, both in Israel and in Rome, not because it was the most effective economic system as they quickly discovered. Their collectivist organism, very early became dominated by bishops and prelates who were more interested in accumulating power over the collective than in spreading the gospel. The early Christian collectivism under the care of the apostles (all of whom were good men), gave way upon their deaths to a system dominated by men who saw the position the apostles had held as a means to power.

Power as in the case of the apostles, did not corrupt. It was the power that, the apostles had held up until their deaths*,  which attracted the corruptible to leadership positions in the church. It wasn't the gospel that created the monumentally corrupt Roman church, it was, in fact, the continuation of a social structure that had always been intended as a temporary solution during the early days of the church, when Christians were being actively persecuted.

Christ never intended for us to create the sorts of centralized collectivist power structures that catholicism came to embrace. He always intended that the truth would set us free. It was the powerful Protestant belief that to follow God was an exercise of one's free will that led to the creation of the United States and our incredible Constitution.

For more than two centuries, the power of individual free will has been demonstrated as this country has ascended to hold power far beyond the wildest dreams of dictators, kings and emperors. It is little wonder that Satan and his minions have set their sights on acquiring the power of the United States for themselves. After all, power attracts the corruptible as we have seen.

Any church, any government or any organization that tells you that you must submit your will to the group and its leaders is not speaking to you from God. We must only submit our will to God Almighty and do the right thing as best we can determine from Scripture, prayer and reasoned thought. Anyone who tells you differently is not on the side of the Angels.

As Ellen White wrote in the quotation at the top of the sidebar of this weblog. It bears repeating:

  • The greatest want of the world is the want of men - men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall. - Ellen White
It is, admittedly, a dangerous world for such men. They inevitably find themselves standing against the tide of group opinion, against men in positions of power and against those who, having no scruples and a deep thirst for power, would do them harm should they oppose their will.

You must not submit ourselves to any group, no matter how noble their cause appears to be if it conflicts with the plain Word of God and your own conscience. I don't care if the person who tells you so is standing in the pulpit of your church or writing emails to you from the church conference office. You are called to stand in the breach and do what is right. Others may have differing opinions. That is their right. They have the same free will that you do.

We are called to do right, to treat others the way we would want to be treated, to keep the commandments and to bear the testimony of Christ to all the wide world. We are NEVER told by Christ to seize power and wield it for the good of the collective or the church. The Army of Christ is an army of individuals who share a purpose, not a homogeneous mass to be shoved around by ranked authorities like pawns on a chessboard. THAT is where we differ from those who call themselves "progressive". That is where we draw the line and go no further....until Christ shall come.

Tom King © 2015

* Note: The apostles, all save John were killed by "government" authorities as was Christ Himself.