Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cautionary Comments

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, quoted in the Associated Press and The Week Magazine

"Everyone believes very easily whatever he fears or desires."
Jean de la Fontaine, quoted in the United Press International and The Week Magazine

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reviewing the Adventist Review

June 12, 2008
Vol. 185, No. 16

This is an outstanding issue! When you finish reading it, give it to a friend.

Against the Wind by Lillian R. Guild
Christine was born in India and became an Adventist when she married and moved to Singapore. Not content to keep to herself the joys she'd found in Jesus, she became the catalyst for outreach efforts in her hometown in India. Now retired and living in Southern California, she continues to give Bible studies and teaches a Sabbath school class.

To Be Like Trees by Norman L. Mitchell
Mitchell is a retired professor of biology and tree lover. His essay is beautifully crafted and a MUST READ. His writing is poetic when he compares trees "planted by the rivers of water" to Christian communities "known to provide . . . shelter, solace, acceptance, and encouragement".

Testiphonies by Carl McRoy
McRoy shares my discomfort when I hear popular Christian speakers "share lively accounts of how sinful they used to be and how God is using them mightily now, following their conversion". He argues that Christians should more often celebrate the "keeping power" of God's grace; His ability to lead us NOT into temptation.

Open Heart, Open Door by Anna Perez
This story is an incredible MUST READ. Shortly after her husband's death, Anna opens her home to strangers, a young family of undocumented immigrants. Before the story ends, she has become the savior, mother and the grandmother of their extended family.

The editors are to be commended for their inclusion of letters reflecting the diversity of viewpoints. In addition a serious attempt has been made to include comments regarding recent issues. However, I believe another two pages of letters to the editor would encourage more readers to participate in a discussion of important current issues and make the magazine more interesting to an increasingly casual readership.

World News and Perspectives
Adventist Relief Workers Aid Victims of Myanmar Cyclone, China Earthquake
ADRA workers were the first to deliver aid to stranded survivors in Myanmar's isolated Pinsalu Islands. They are currently working with the United Nations and the government of Myanmar to provide emergency aid to 30,000 survivors. The fate of 1000 church members in coastal Myanmar is unknown. ADRA is also working with UN agencies and other nongovernmental organizations to take the lead in food distribution in Yangon, China.

Roger C. Smith, Jr., GC Associate Communication Director, died on May 8, following a lengthy illness; Paulsen’s Let’s Talk Series was concluded in Romania; Bill Knott delivered the Baccalaureate Address at Andrews University; and a Navajo outreach booklet has been published.

On Equality by Sari Fordham
Fordham asks an important question and suggests a change in official attitudes. "[How do] conservative Christians including women, view gender? Do we still believe that a woman's Place is fundamentally in the kitchen?" She goes on to comment, "After a radical beginning, our church quickly settled into gender norms. And while there are now growing numbers of Adventist women in ministry, they are still the minority. Even fewer women are in top administrative positions, such as conference or university presidents."

Introducing the Why
Empty Energy? by Jimmy Phillips
Phillips reminds us that, "Spirituality comes easily when wonderful emotions seep in. It's a lot more fun to sing when you can't hear your own voice. It's cool to pray when you're one of many. It's a much shorter trip to the altar with the crowd." He offers the following excellent advice. "Help [kids] find a specific, practical, and attainable ways to have an impact on their world. If it's not applied systematically, their exuberance [following a mountaintop experience] will soon fade."

Prayer Doesn’t Work—God Does! By Debbonnaire Kovacs
Debbonnaire sums up her charming, thoughtful essay with these final words. "Prayer is not a magic spell. It's just the name we have for the dialogue. Never, never quit talking. Prayer doesn't work—God does! Pass it on!"

Healing the Uncaring Heart by Bill Knott
In this excellent editorial, Bill speaks with the confidence that made me a fan before he was running the show. "When we reduce the ‘face of Jesus’ to only the Sabbath or the Second Coming or tithing or vegetarianism, we offer the world less than the Lord has offered on us. We become just one more flag waving on the boulevard, one more cause among so many others."

A Hidden Treasure by Carlos Medley
Medley compares his rediscovery of "a treasure chest of music—nearly 100 record albums" with the merchant who discovered the pearl of great price in Jesus’ parable. Along the way, he reveals that he is a musician and a music historian. Way cool.

Cliff, I know it’s a drag, but now everyone can read the Bible!

Modified from the book Rubes Bible Cartoons, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

The Secret of the Pharaoh’s Tomb

Modified from the book Rubes Bible Cartoons, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Spotting Biblical Literalists

Comic modified from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin
(click to enlarge)

Truth from an Unexpected Source

Comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin
(click to enlarge)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reviewing Adventist World, NAD Edition

June, 2008

This edition of Adventist World is an important one. The worldwide evangelistic and missionary efforts of the Adventist Church, as reported, are breathtaking. If this issue is a foretaste of things to come, it has to be a MUST READ for every informed church member.

My advice to readers is not to skip anything in this issue. I will comment on ten pieces in the order in which they appear in the magazine. I have a variety of reasons for selecting them.

MISSION GIVING reported by Elizabeth Lechleitner, editorial assistant, Adventist News Network
The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists has received a gift of over $100,000,000 "extraordinary tithe". Some of this "extraordinary tithe" "is currently allocated to specific areas of ministry. . .To help them [GC Administrators] allocate the additional tithe, delegates [at the April 6 Spring Business Meeting] agreed on a list of guidelines for evaluating potential initiatives. Paulsen said the church would await revised proposals from each church at region, and then move 'briskly' to distribute funds".

The SPECIFIC AREAS and the LIST OF GUIDELINES were not included in the report. Why not? Have they been published? If so, where?

"[Unnamed] Finance officers also addressed the churches investments in light of the fluctuating market. Commenting specifically on the church's retirement funds, General Conference associate treasurer Roy Ryan said because the church's holdings are long-term, diversified, and conservative, risks are 'manageable'".

The investment portfolio of the church is not included in the report. It is comforting, however, in light of the church's End Time Message, to know that Roy Ryan along with unnamed finance officers are taking a “conservative” "long-term” view when it comes to investing our money.

CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE by Drs. Handysides and Landless
Once again the docs come through with a beautifully written, informative essay.

THE SIGN by Jose Vicente Rojas
Note to Roy Ryan: Jose Rojas, Director of the Office of Volunteer Ministries for the North American Division might argue that the “long-term, diversified, and conservative” investment portfolio is out-of-sink with the times. According to him, the” ultimate sign [of Christ's soon coming] is now upon us”.

In an otherwise thoughtful essay that attempts, once again, to explain God's ways to man, Banini suggests that “God's refusal to interfere in human freedom cost Him Calvary. His power, expressed as we would have it, would bring to an end our human resourcefulness, which in turn would defeat God's plan to educate us, to have us develop character.”

This is a fascinating account of getting the “guide” to the ends of the earth. It is the only official Adventist publication that thousands if not millions of church members receive. It's too bad that the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide is a reactionary like Cliff Goldstein.

THE WORLD IS WAITING by H. M. S. Richards (sermon excerpted from Aflame for God, 1950 General Conference session, San Francisco)
I knew and admired H. M. S. Richards. I was eight years old when I heard them preach this sermon. These final prayerful words sum up what he preached. “Help us to tell the truth. Help us to love one another. Help us, O God, to be converted."

Ellen White’s prose continues to be the standard against which I judge what is written in every Adventist publication I read and/or review. "If all would carry out the instruction given by Christ, what love and unity would exist among His followers! Every heart has its own sorrows and disappointments, and we should seek to lighten one another's burdens by manifesting the love of Jesus to those around us . . .”

BATTLING DEMONS, Question: Is there a ministry, or gift, of exorcism in the Bible? by Angel Manuel Rodriguez
I think this essay is a MUST READ for anyone interested in exorcism. Rodriguez does a masterful job tackling a very difficult subject.

SABBATH AND THE END TIME: A Bible Study by Mark A. Finley
In this lesson Finley claims that the book of Revelation describes the seventh day Sabbath as “a sign of allegiance to God, the visible sign of our commitment to Christ”. His supporting text for this claim is Exodus 20: 8-11.

He goes on to assert that “Revelation brings to view two systems of worship: worshiping the Creator or worshiping the beast. The sign of true worship is the seventh-day Sabbath, a symbol of supreme allegiance to Jesus as Creator. The sign a false worship is the mark of the beast, and refers to ignoring God's way in favor of exalting the human rather than the divine. . .Since God created all things through Jesus, the seventh-day Sabbath is an end-time sign of worshiping Jesus."

Finley and Goldstein are on my prayer list. How is it that these two men have such powerful positions in the Adventist Church?

Adventist World Radio shares a story about a Somali young person’s first encounter with the words of Jesus. A MUST READ.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Reviewing the Pacific Union Recorder

June 2008

This issue really does connect the Pacific Union Adventist Family as the cover byline suggests. The stories are upbeat, informative, and well written. Design and graphics are excellent. A good-faith attempt has been made to include the names of all the people in photographs!

Reports indicate that all across the Union, individual members and church entities are making a positive contribution to their communities. School and organizations sponsor mission trips that enable students to get involved in community projects in the U.S. and around the world.

These first-hand experiences help students to see themselves as citizens of a world in crisis. This kind of community involvement makes it possible for students to appreciate their own educational opportunities. And it seems to be working! La Sierra University’s Cognitive Genesis report indicates that students in Adventist schools “outperform their peers in public and other private schools” across the country.

Editor’s Note
Props to the Pres. Ricardo, your editorial was carefully crafted and well written. I particularly appreciated the following enlightened and thoughtful comment. “Jesus articulated a mission statement that is still applicable through His body, the church. The mission isn’t just about us—it also involves the vindication of God’s character against Satan’s claim that God is not just and that humanity needs no law [of love].”

I must also congratulate the robotics teams from my town! I have been a strong supporter of Chico Oaks Adventist School for over thirty years, and it comes as no surprise to me that two of the four teams sent to the Adventist National Robotics League Championship are the teams that competed from Chico Oaks. We have an outstanding teaching and support staff, K—8, and a principle that any school, anywhere, public or private, would award a lifetime contract. Rick Nelson has my vote for Administrator of the Decade!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reviewing the Adventist Review

May 22, 2008
Vol. 185, No. 15

Wow! There are letters to the editors referencing the last edition of the Review! And no issue is included later that April 10! I knew you guys and gals could do it! Now if only the Review didn’t appear in my mailbox two issues at a time! Ah well, progress is progress. (By the way, this issue rates about a 7 on a 10 point scale.)

Life in the Lions’ Den
by John Graz
Graz reminds us that religious freedom is nonexistent in more than forty countries, and asks the question, “What would your life be like if you lived in one? According to Homer Trecartin, Planning Director, Office of Adventist Mission, to avoid prison or death, you would meet in “really small groups”.

Hellfire and Brimstone
by Alvin A. Wilson
The subhead reads, “It’s about our motivation for salvation; it’s about the character of God.” I couldn’t agree more. I also agree that the notion of everlasting hell fire is ridiculous “on its face” and extra biblical. However Wilson portrays God as sending “Jesus to the cross so as to bring about our forgiveness”.

This interpretation of Scripture is consistent with Adventism’s Fundamental Belief # 9. Unfortunately this “belief” demeans the life and teaching of Christ and pictures a pagan god who can only be appeased by the torture and death of his own son. Humans crucified Jesus. God had nothing to do with it.

We need only remember that Adventists, along with most Christians, are Trinitarians (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One) to realize how irrational this “satisfaction theory” is. We also have the words of Jesus in John 16: 25-27. “The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in veiled language but tell you about the Father in plain words. When that day comes you will ask in my name; and I do NOT say that I shall pray to the Father for you, because the Father himself loves you for loving me and believing that I came from God.”

Letting Your Light Shine
by Ellen G. White
Mrs. White’s words encourage and inspire. “The influence of the work we are doing will be felt through all eternity. If we will work in harmony with one another and with heaven, God will demonstrate his power in our behalf.”

To the Top
by Frederick C. Pelser
In 1933 Maurice Wilson froze to death above the 20,000-foot-mark on Mount Everest. His story is an amazing account of a man who surmounted unbelievable psychological, political, and physical obstacles in his attempt to summit Everest. However, I am in full agreement with Pelser when he writes, “Such vision and perseverance deserve a nobler cause.”

Diet and Environment
by Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
As usual, these docs know what they are talking about. And they don’t just talk about the heavy environmental costs to the environment of meat eating. They also argue for population control.

I particularly applaud the letter headed, Worthy or Not by Henry James Welch. “We disappoint the Lord when we place a low estimate upon ourselves. . .The Lord desires His chosen heritage to value themselves according to the price He has placed upon them. God wanted them or else He would not have sent His Son on such an expensive and dangerous journey to redeem them.”

Kids View
Once again, nice job! The graphics, the games, the calendar, and the kids’ comments about their dads are very cool!

Clifford Goldstein
The World’s Dead
As usual, Goldstein is thought provoking. He begins his essay with these words. “How much (if ever) have you thought about the outrageousness of what we have to believe?” He is referring to the Christian belief in the resurrection of the world’s dead. So far so good.

However, I couldn’t disagree with him more when he asserts that without faith in this belief, “our religion, everything we believe in and hope for is . . . ‘vain’. Loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, obeying the golden rule—these all mean nothing if we ultimately vanish into oblivion.” I don’t agree!

I am a follower of Jesus Christ not because I fear “oblivion” or am motivated by Heaven. My experience in this life, along with an inner conviction that I believe is hardwired into my DNA by my Creator, has convinced me that His message of truth and love is the only “rational” response to the challenges I face every day as a sentient being, an individual, a citizen, a husband, a father, and a grandfather.

World News & Perspectives
Adventist Congregation Wins $3.7 Million Land-Use-Suit Judgment
“A Seventh-day Adventist congregation in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., was awarded $3.7 million in damages on April 24 when a U.S. district court jury determined that Prince George’s County had discriminated on the basis of religion” when it denied the congregation permission to build a church. If the congregation wins on the contested issues, a judgment will be entered for the jury’s award.” The county will appeal if they loose.

Adventist Hospitals Offer Help in Rwanda
The four Adventist hospitals in Colorado, Avista, Littleton, Parker, and Porter are making a major commitment of time, money, equipment, and personnel to make a healthcare difference in Rwanda. These hospitals have just obtained a $750,000 grant to train local doctors in specialty areas such as general surgery, pediatrics, and internal medicine. This project is now supported by other Denver organizations including Engineers Without Boarders and the Denver Rotary Club.

After Disaster, Mexican Adventists Strengthen Church Bonds
Amazingly, attendance and giving have in creased in the six months following a flood that covered 80 percent of the state of Tabasco, destroyed at least four Adventist churches, and killed fourteen members. Adventists, young and old, unskilled and professionals, have played a prominent role in relief work.

Adventist Join in White House Prayer Breakfast
Dr. John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Director, and James Standish, liaison to the U.S. congress, represented the Adventist Church.

Lessons Learned
Value-added by Valerie N. Phillips supports the following moral with a thoughtful essay about the meaning of “value-added”. “Start with the basics and then add on your good works, but never do so in place of the weightier matters of the law. Only that, my friend, is added value.”

God Remembers by Loren Seibold is a reminder of the vanity of earthly greatness. And that’s a good thing to reflect on. But Seibold badly misses the mark when he asserts that in Heaven, if we ask the Jesus, “What did I do on earth that Your Father had to forgive me for? He’ll say, ‘My child, I really don’t know. Your sins are not only forgiven, they are completely forgotten!’”

Two things about this statement fail to convince. One is doctrinal, Adventist are Trinitarians not Arians—the belief that Jesus is a created being. And the other is rational. What is to permit sin from returning to haunt the universe if no one, even God, can remember what it was?

Calling All Maryland Adventists
by Roy Adams
As usual, Adams leaves no doubt as to where he stands on the issues. This time it’s an attempt to legalized slot machines in the state of Maryland. “It’s unconscionable when governments seek to balance their budgets by destroying the lives of the most vulnerable of their citizens. . .No voting Adventist in Maryland can in good conscience refuse to stand up and be counted this November. My hope is that we would care enough to act.”

Keeping It Simple
by Sandra Blackmer
Blackmer references Randy Pauch’s Last Lecture given at Carnegie Mellon University on September 2007, in which he reveals that he is dying of pancreatic cancer. This brilliant 47-year-old professor’s message “cuts though the noise” of everyday life. His advice is simple, “Have fun, tell the truth, dare to take risks, look for the best in everyone, make time for what matters, and always be prepared.”

Blackmer reflects that her last lecture would include what Pauch said he wouldn’t address, “the spiritual and the religious”. (Subsequent interviews reveal that he is deeply religious.) And, if you haven’t seen him speak on Oprah or watched his lecture on the Internet, you should. In her essay, Blackmer asks an important question: “Shouldn’t the Adventist message cut through “the noise“ of academic textbooks, scholarly lectures, and doctrinal debates?

Reviewing the Adventist Review

April 24, 2008
Vol.185, No. 12

This issue is a solid one. There are two pieces you don't want to miss. The first is a MUST READ editorial by Stephen Chavez, Call Me Christian. The second is a disturbingly misogynistic Goldstein essay, Justice From the Dust.

COVER STORY by Michael D. Peabody
Peabody makes the argument that our church has survived because the majority of us share a sense of mission. He argues that a pragmatic approach to church unity is the best way to preserve that sense of mission.

"Some members will fear that developing a practical or pragmatic approach that respects the value of philosophical differences will place too much at risk. But pretending that discussion and debate do not exist on controversy issues is even more dangerous because it drives the argument underground and encourages the sides in passive-aggressive sniping at each other. Failure to a knowledge and encourage in this process places the mission of the church at risk, and is a chief cause of Laodicean stagnation or mindless authoritarianism."

The Body fo Christ--Everyone Has a Place in It by Ellen G. White
As usual, Ellen White successfully champions independent thought with church unity. "Church relationship is not to be lightly canceled; yet some professed followers of Christ will threaten to leave the church when their path is crossed, or their voice has not the controlling influence which they think it deserves. . .They themselves would be the greatest sufferers; for in withdrawing beyond the pale of its influence, they subject themselves to the full temptations of the world."

Running the Family Business by Carolyn Macumber
In this parable the Christian virtues of respect, kindness, loyalty, obedience, and love defuse a potentially explosive situation.

A Metaphor for Prayer by Norman Johnson
Johnson compares the necessity of prayer with the necessity of breathing.

Vegan Versus Vegetarian by Drs. Handysides and Landless
Once again, the docs do a great job of answering questions about vegan versus vegetarian diets and HDL cholesterol. They continue to amaze!

Adventist readers continue to respond intelligently to what the Adventist Review has to offer. It's too bad that their letters are reactions to articles printed in the March 20 edition. So readers, either keep your magazines for at least two months if you want to discover whether or not you agree with the opinions expressed, or check out my review of the article!

Kids View
If only my copy of this edition had arrived before Mother's Day. Unfortunately, the April 24 and May 22 additions of the Review arrived on May 15, and my grandchildren missed out. Now that Kimberly Luste Maran is the Content Editor, the production quality of Kids View has improved considerably.

World News and Perspectives
"Oakwood University, the Seventh-day Adventist school, captured the top prize at the ninetieth and you will Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, billed as 'the largest annual academic competition between the nation's leading Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Assessment Office Seeks Highest Quality Level for World Church
Paul Brantley is the Adventist world church's director of the new Office of Assessment and Program Effectiveness.

2007 Sees Record Thirteenth Sabbath Offering Increase
The offering increased 10.4 percent to US$8.9 million in 2007, and mission projects on three continents benefited.

Clifford Goldstein
See my review of this essay here.

Lessons Learned by Valerie N. Phillips
A bottle of cereal-fortified formula finally quieted the cries of a fussy baby. We, like infants, often have difficulty communicating our needs. Fortunately “our God sees past our posturing, the pretense, the selfish bravado, and hears our wounded cries for what the are.”

Second Chances by Andrew McChesney
All to often people are not granted a second opportunity be selfless and compassionate in difficult situations. Thankfully, McChesney was granted that second chance.

Call Me Christian by Stephen Chavez
This editorial is a MUST READ. Not only is Chavez a brilliant writer, he is a brilliant Christian. You can read the entire editorial online, and that strongly recommend that you do. The following words only suggest the beauty of his writing and the generosity of his Christian experience.

"My understanding of Christianity, as well as my practice of it, is defined by Jesus, and Jesus alone. The church, Adventist or otherwise, is useful only to the extent that it faithfully reflects Jesus character to our wider communities. If we ever discover that our loyalty to the institution hinders our loyalty to Christ, we have to stop, re-examine our priorities, and return our focus to Christ."

It's All in the Numbers by Carlos Medley
Medley summarizes the US Religious Landscape Survey of 35,000 adults over the age of 18. This Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life examines "major denominational groupings, retention rates, and demographic data (such as age, income, and education levels)." His editorial includes the following statistics:

"Adventists had a larger percentage of women [members] then the Protestant average. We are also younger and have a lower average income than the total sample."

"Of all Protestant churches, Adventists, Lutherans, and Baptists retained the highest proportion of members from childhood to adult. . . 59 percent."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bar Sues Local Church

This fable was sent to me by Gary Schwandt, my oldest and best friend.

In a small town somewhere in America, a new tavern business started constructing a building in which to open up a bar. The local [insert the name of a church other than your own, or yours if the shoe fits] began a campaign to block the bar from opening with petitions and prayers. Work progressed, however right up until the week before opening, when
lightning struck the bar, and it burned to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug in their outlook until the bar owner
sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately
responsible for the destruction of his building, either through direct
or indirect actions or means. The church vehemently denied all
responsibility or any connection to the building's demise in its reply
to the court.

As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the
paperwork. At the hearing he commented, "I don't know how I'm
going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that we have a
bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church
congregation that doesn't."