In the Present Tense

August 11, 2010


A young friend asks about drums, specifically a drum set in church or for worship.  I suppose we’ve made progress. No one seems to object to the guitar anymore. The short answer is that there will never be an end to people attempting to make lists of good and bad instruments, foods, books, ideas– what have you. It saves everyone the trouble of thinking about things, about making judgment calls. Just adhere to the lists, and you will be OK.

Of course, one big problem is that the lists change over time. At one point, the organ was considered taboo, since it had been associated with gladiatorial combat. Come to think of it, I’ve known quite a few churches where “Who gets to play the organ” battles were somewhat reminiscent of gladiatorial combat. But I digress.

Of course, all this,in Adventism, is predicated on one reference–although repeated in several places– to “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing,” that took place in Indiana in the Holy Flesh movement of the early 20th century.

It’s always interesting how these passages get parsed out. For example, rather than taking what happened as a whole, critics like to single out drums and dancing. It seems to me that shouting is a staple of certain types of preaching which is deemed quite acceptable. Nor have I seen any serious attempts to ban all music.

But why should that be? If all these things, “shouting, with drums, music, and dancing” were bad, why should some be banned and others accepted? I just don’t buy it.  I’ve posted this video before, but I think it bears repeating.

Does anyone seriously contend that this Nigerian carol is inappropriate? It is not the type of music I grew up with, but I cannot listen to it without being profoundly moved.

If Christ can cast demons out of human beings who were once their willing hosts, cannot inanimate objects be employed for His glory as well? Things are just things. What we do with them is what makes them a blessing or a curse.

Shouting, drums, music, and dance can be used to deaden the moral faculties and lead us into sin; or they can be used to the glory of God.

Legalism, on the other hand, is always deadly. At the GC session this summer, Pastor Paul Frederick from India addressed gathering with these words :”One of the most serious problems facing the Christian church today is legalism. It wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. Legalism is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for obtaining salvation. But when we are living by grace, we realize that everything we need in our Christian experience is a gift from God.”

There followed a performance of an Indian song praising God, accompanied by hand drums.

To this ear, it sounded both uniquely Indian and uniquely Adventist in the same way that “Mas Alla del Sol” sounds both uniquely Adventist and uniquely Mexican. And the drums added to that effect.

July 23, 2010

Stage V the Outward Journey

Filed under: Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 10:33 pm

At the completion of the Inward Journey, one feels a renewed sense of purpose, of identity.  Having survived the dark night of the soul, one feels newly energized. And with all this comes a feeling of responsibility, a sort of “survivor’s guilt.” Not really guilt, but a sense of obligation, like the apostle Paul describes himself, “a debtor.” We want to help others facing the dark night.

But the dark night has taught us that growth is not necessarily welcomed by all. Some will not want what we have to offer. Some will not be ready to receive it. Still others may not understand it. So the Outward Journey begins.

We begin to reach out, but carefully. An old proverb says “Knowledge is proud it knows so much. Wisdom is humble that it knows so little.” The new knowledge gained in the dark night has given us wisdom, has humbled us. Even though we know we have valuable answers, we also realize that not everybody is asking the questions to which we have found answers. And even some asking do not want the answers we have, true or not.

And that makes up much of the Outward Journey. Seeking those whom we can help, those we might help, those who will allow us to help. Finding out how and when our help will help.

Finding others who have made the Inward Journey and begun the Outward Journey can help. Those who have never experienced the Dark Night will not understand us, and it will be difficult for us to help them.

Just as everyone’s Inward Journey is at once typical and unique, so will be the Outward Journey. So we can learn from others who have gone or are going through the experience, but we cannot simply copy them.  That’s good and bad news.  We can benefit from the experience of others, but we must find our own way.  God does not repeat Himself, nor make any of us mere duplicates.  So the Outward Journey will be a continuing journey of discovery, as we explore ways to share our authentic selves with others seeking their own authenticity.

It will be, as John Ciardi once described writing poetry, “Not easy, but joyfully difficult.”

July 8, 2010

The Inward Journey

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 3:18 am

Resuming the stages of faith and leadership.

The “Dark night of the soul” provokes The Inward Journey. The questions of the dark night lead us to wonder about our purpose in life, about our identity. These questions are about our inmost selves.

I have seen several ministers who came up to the dark night and simply shied away. It’s too frightening. In phase II, Discipleship, we learned a the rules, al the disciplines, all the right things to do. In phase III, Success, everything worked. Now, in phase IV, we discover that the disciplines and rules don’t actually work. They seemed to in level III, but that was a shallow III. Now we must look beneath the rules, beneath the disciplines, beneath the doctrines and proof texts. This is a crisis of existence, an existential crisis. And that’s what makes it so frightening.

There is no way out except through. It feels like a long, winding tunnel. And long before we find the light at the far end of this existential tunnel, we have to leave the light of certainty and proof behind. Thus, this is also a journey of faith, not sight. For we lose sight of the light behind, and must feel our way forward. Only then does the light ahead become visible.

And this new light is a light from within. Not that we become our own light, but that the light God has put within us becomes visible to us.  And the reward for letting go of the light behind, of the certainty and proof of the early stages, is that we gradually are able to reclaim them, and make them our own.

If we are willing, we can emerge from the dark night of the soul and the resultant inward journey with a new confidence, a new and deeper sense of identity. We hear all the same texts, the same explanations, but now we see new and deeper meaning in them. That’s because we have more meaning in ourselves.

Accept, even embrace the dark night, and we emerge with a depth of understanding, a new sense of identity, a greater confidence in God’s design and purpose. Reject the dark night, out of fear or discomfort, and we reject the opportunity for growth.

The psalmist says that God “gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” I have seen such people. Stunted in their Christian growth, with a broad but shallow ministry. And the tragedy is . . . they almost never realize their loss. They literally don’t know what they’re missing. And they often look on those who are going or have gone through the dark night as either foolish or lacking in faith.

If you are facing a dark night of the soul, be of good courage. Like Elijah in the cave, running for his life, you will discover that after the whirlwind, after the firestorm, after the earthquake– God is there, in the silence. And you will hear His voice.

June 23, 2010

Elijah’s Razor and Social Justice

Filed under: Christianity and Politics, Culture and the Bible, Present Truth — edoutlook @ 4:14 am

I see a great deal of talk today about being a “social justice Christian.” Although supposedly a theological stance, it usually devolves into a political one: favoring certain government remedies for social ills, such as government healthcare, for instance.  Many Christians are almost tripping over one another to declare themselves “social justice Christians,” in what appears to be an attempt to distance themselves from “ordinary Christians.”

As indicated in the previous blog, I’m going to apply Elijah’s Razor to that issue. And when I do, I find that, as well-intentioned as they may be, most of these remedies are treating the symptoms, not the disease.

Just take a look at these statistics. Children from a fatherless home are:

  • 5 times more likely to commit suicide.
  • 32 times more likely to run away.
  • 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders.
  • 14 times more likely to commit rape
  • 9 times more likely to drop out of high school.
  • 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances.
  • 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution.
  • 20 times more likely to end up in prison.

And that’s just the beginning. For a fuller (and more frightening) description, go here.

Years ago, when I was regularly in contact with the legislature, members of both political parties wanted to implement measures to deal with “at risk” children. I still hear that concern mentioned, in connection with certain social policies. Well, I’m no longer going to remain silent.  You want to really help ‘at risk’ children? Then don’t enact policies that encourage fathers to leave, or women to be single mothers.  Too harsh? Try this on for size:

“”Daughters of single parents are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a premarital birth, and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages.” (that’s on the same page as the previous data)

Should we provide help for single mothers? Of course. But we must be careful to do it in ways that do not encourage other women to become single mothers, and condemn further generations to fatherlessness and all that entails.

So Elijah’s Razor compels me to oppose anything that weakens the incentives to marry carefully, and then to stay married. Want to decrease child abuse? Then make cohabitation illegal, and enforce it. Find that too coercive? Then don’t talk to me about “at risk” children. A cohabiting male is much more likely to abuse mothers and children, both physically and sexually. End cohabitation, and you will dramatically reduce abuse.

And no, this has nothing to do with legislating either religion or morality. The costs to society are enormous. If it’s reasonable to prohibit one person from dumping their trash on another’s property, it’s reasonable to prohibit them from polluting the neighborhood with behaviors that injure us all.

No doubt this will alarm some. But it is time that we are all alarmed by the damage being done to the family.

And before anyone hyperventilates, I am not proposing that we outlaw everything that is injurious. Lying is injurious in various ways, but unless you do it in court, or in a contract or other legal document, it is not illegal, nor should it be. There are many behaviors that are wrong, but are not and should not be punished by the government.

But today’s “at risk” children may well be tomorrow’s felons. Yes, as Christians, we should do all that we can to help those already at risk. But one of the best things we can do is to help prevent more children being put at risk by the irresponsible behavior of adults.

June 21, 2010

Elijah’s Razor on Father’s Day

Filed under: Culture and the Bible, Present Truth, The End, Women in the Bible, Worship — edoutlook @ 2:57 am

I’ve been contemplating this for some time. I’ve hesitated, because I am generally suspicious of manifestos and ultimata. I’ve wondered whether I should go out on this particular limb. As this Father’s Day comes to a close, I feel compelled to finally declare myself.

This blog is titled “In the Present Tense” because I am a Seventh-day Adventist, and I believe the uniquely Adventist contribution is the one of “Present Truth.”

As George Knight has documented, “Present Truth” was not a single doctrinal position, but rather a dynamic concept of bringing God’s Word to bear on the most important issues of a particular time and place. In 1843 it was the Second Coming. In the summer of 1844 it was the “Tenth day of the seventh month.” In November 1844 it was the Heavenly Sanctuary. In 1859 it was the 7th day Sabbath. And so on.

Some other place and some other time I will explore this concept in greater detail, but today I want to focus on what I believe is Present Truth today, right now. What I think is the most important thing to realize here and now.

Frankly, I expect that this will result in a good deal of criticism, even ridicule. That’s one reason I have put it off until now. But, on this Father’s day, I feel impelled to declare my mind.

I believe that the most important thing for today is found in Malachi 4: 5, 6.

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

From our earliest days, Adventists have considered themselves the Elijah movement, those who act as forerunners of the King, as we proclaim the Second Coming. But for some reason we have been hesitant to proclaim what the Bible clearly designates as the Elijah message: Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children.

One consequence, I believe, is that we are hemorrhaging young adults at lethal rate. And few seem to either note it or even care. Another symptom of this failure to emphasize this crucial truth is that we are engaged in essentially trivial controversies.

Gay marriage, women’s ordination, worship wars, music –these are but a few of the highly controversial issues that generate so much heat and produce so little light among us today. And I believe that focusing on turning the hearts of the fathers to the children either resolves these disputes or puts them into perspective which makes them manageable.

You may have heard of Occam’s Razor, which basically states that the simplest explanation that takes all facts into account is likely to be correct. Well, this is my razor–call it “Elijah’s Razor.” From now on, if one side of an issue can be shown to aid in turning the hearts of the fathers to their children, then Elijah’s razor says that is the preferred position. If it  detracts from that cause, Elijah’s razor condemns it. If it has no effect either way, then Elijah’s Razor declares it irrelevant.

That’s it. That’s my declaration. I don’t want to pick any fights or start any controversies. But if someone asks me about any issue, from gay marriage to government health care to women’s ordination to worship and beyond, I’ll apply Elijah’s Razor. And there’s no better time to declare this focus than Father’s Day.

June 17, 2010

Growing in Faith IV– flood tide and heavy seas

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 4:03 am

A ship in a harbor is safe . . .

As I mentioned in the last post, a person can stay at level three and bask in the success. But that’s called a “hollow three,” and in the end becomes a “dying three” because things that cease to grow, die.

If, however, you continue to grow, you will encounter what psychologists call “the dark night of the soul.”

When we realize that success is not all there is, and in fact when we realize that success for its own sake is deadly, we confront a dark night indeed. At this point, something happens, or we realize/recognize something that makes us question our very existence, our purpose in life, whether or not anything we have done and been retains any meaning.

It has been my privilege to know a number of really excellent Christians, and every one who has a continuing, vibrant ministry after decades pass has encountered this dark night, this crisis of faith and even of existence.

I have also seen a number of what I can only call failed Christians, many of the pastors, who, when they collided with this darkness ran away from it. As an example, one pastor I’ll call Theodore (not his real name) had some difficult questions about inspiration and the gift of prophecy as a young minister. But his wife told him– she told me this herself– that he should not pursue those questions, as they would only lead him to discouragement. She was probably correct. He turned away from those questions, and remained as he was.

Although he possessed many gifts that could have made him an excellent pastor, his ministry and his sermons always remained shallow. Having avoided the deep waters of his own questions, he could not lead others through those doubts. Indeed, he shied away from any such questions.

It is truly sad. I never think of him without thinking of the famous lines in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

His wife wanted him not to take the risk, and he did not. He did not risk the voyage on the flood tide, and ever after his ministry was ‘bound in shallows.’

I remember a similar crossroads in my own life. I had just accepted a call to be  principal of a multi-teacher school. Upon arrival there, and settling into the new position, I liked it. I liked it a lot. And I realized that if I would just mute my questioning, and not do anything that would make any waves, I could probably stay in that school until retirement.

At the same time, I realized that my creativity and energy as a teacher were two attributes that made me an excellent teacher (my supervisors were unanimous in their positive evaluation). But that creativity and energy could often put people off. I knew my wife would prefer a quiet life, no controversy, no more moving, just ‘go along to get along.’ And one evening as we were shopping in a teacher’s supply store, I had just about resolved to do what it took. Damp down the creative fires, be more conventional, not do anything out of the ordinary.

And there, in the store, I saw a poster of a square-rigged sailing ship at anchor, the ship and land mainly a dark silhouette, the water mirroring a brilliant sunset. And on the poster, these words by John Shedd. “A ship in a harbor is safe. But that is not what ships are made for.”

The moment I saw that poster remains frozen in memory. I realized that I had been seeking to anchor in a safe harbor. But deep within my soul, I knew that was not what I was made for.

Since that day, some 35 years ago, my wife and I have weathered many rough seas together. And although there was a time when she hated that poster — she had her own dark night — today we both agree that, had I taken the easy, secure path, we would have lost much.

Everyone is tempted to avoid the dark night. Everyone wants to remain safely anchored in the haven of “Success.” But that is not what we are made for. To grow is to move beyond success, to face the dark night and heavy seas, and to find there deeper meaning in our lives.

June 10, 2010

Growing in Faith III — Success.

Filed under: Evangelism, Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 1:01 am

The third stage in growth is Success. Everything works here.  Everyone loves you. You no lonfer nee a mentor. In fact, some may choose you as mentor

The problem here is the temptation to stay here. This produces a “hollow three.” Sadly, many do choose to stay here.

You’ve seen the ones who stay here. Many an evangelist remains here, comfortable with shallow answers as long as they produce results. The fact that  people who contribute to the evangelist’s success don’t stay long in the church, nor do they grow, is considered the fault of the local church or pastor. “I got them here, now it’s up to you to keep them,” is a recognizable attitude.

Success also tempts the local pastor of a large church with impressive buildings and multiple ministries to avoid “rocking the boat.” But I always remember Sister Theresa’s reminder that “Our goal is not success. Our goal is faithfulness.”

Success feels good, but it is not our goal. It is not the goal of spiritual growth. It is one step along the way, but it is not our destination. You may have heard that “the good is the enemy of the best.” So it is with the success stage of spiritual growth. It is good, but it is not the best. And, being so good, we are tempted to rest in the hammock of success, and let the world go by.

Jesus had success in his ministry, and indeed the devil tempted him to accept success. But the path to salvation, the path to spiritual growth, lies in a different direction.

We have three more steps to go. And more than one bump in the road.

June 8, 2010

Growing in Faith II — Discipleship

Filed under: Law and Legalism, Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 3:23 pm

The second stage in this critical journey is Discipleship. Someone at this level often seeks a mentor, and is very conscientious about their faith. This is often a sort of ‘fundamentalist’ stage, where everything is black and white. In the first stage, Romance, everything was beautiful. In this stage, everything is right or wrong.

Some note that many young believers who do not abandon faith become very legaistic. That’s natural, as this Discipleship stage is an indicator of growth. So is abandoning faith, in an odd way.

Remember that at this stage, everything is black or white. It is only natural that some, seing a lot of tares, a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of imperfection in the church, should choose to abandon it altogether. They, too, are entering a Discipleship phase– looking for something better. Those who truly seek will surely find.

Of course, some abandon faith because it represents the easy path in today’s society, and the easy choice is seldom a good one. On the other hand, there are those who never progress beyond the Discipleship stage. They can be just as destructive as those who become opponents, because these permanent Disciples can become mentors for others, thus stunting their growth.

The most important concern is continued growth. Growth is painful, but things that cease to grow die. So when we see someone in the Discipleship phase, those of us who have progressed from that position should offer assistance and affirmation. If we simply condemn them, we fail to understand this whole growth process, and perhaps give evidence that we have not progressed past Discipleship ourselves. After all, condemning someone who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with us sounds a lot like black-and-white thinking. So instead of that, why not offer to share whatever we can?

We need to see the fundamentalism of the Discipleship stage not as good or bad, but as a necessary stage of development.

June 6, 2010

Wheat or Tares?

Filed under: Surviving in Church — edoutlook @ 2:59 pm

One comment after my previous post makes the point that we might ourselves be the tares. Of course that’s true.

It’s also true that the real tares seldom consider themselves to be tares. So how can we tell the difference?

One of the biggest differences, in my experience, is that the tares don’t see any need to change themselves. They want to change others. And they definitely don’t want certain questions asked. In fact, I’ve gotten in trouble with tares my whole life because I ask questions.

Now, anyone can ask the “Why?” question like a 5-year-old forever. And a person can simply refuse to accept an answer. I’m not talking about that sort of questioning. But I am talking about asking real questions about real problems. Tares don’t want questions unless they have formulaic answers. They certainly don’t want open-ended questions asked. And they don’t like questions without answers.

But life isn’t so simple. When a friend’s young child got cancer at 22 months of age, it frightened people.

Growing in Faith–Romance

Filed under: Uncategorized — edoutlook @ 2:56 pm

I  have been privileged to have the close friendship of Dr. Jon Paulien  for many years now. And I was privileged again to be able to spend time with him at the Iowa Missouri camp meeting this last week. On Friday morning he shared something with the pastors that I had heard fragments of before in our conversations, but had not seen fully until that point.

I believe it will be illuminating for many of my friends– and especially useful for the young adults I am so committed to. It certainly helped me. Over the next few days/weeks I will be sharing these important concepts here and at Elijah’s Run.

The first stage in growing in faith is the Romance stage. Everything is delightful, everything is beautiful, everything will always go well. We are so delighted to have discovered faith, to have encountered Christ and Christians, everything seems perfect.

This– like each of the other stages– is healthy and necessary. But in the Christian life, just as in real life, Romance cannot sustain your experience forever.

As someone married to my highschool sweetheart for more than 40 years, I can attest that Romance does not have to disappear– it can grow and flourish. When present, it is still wonderful and delightful. But it is fickle and inconstant, and often hides when troubles loom. So enjoy it whenever it is available, but recognize that it cannot sustain your Christian experience, any more than it can sustain a marriage, by itself.

It is the first stage, and a necessary one. But it is a stage, not a destination. Next time: stage 2.

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