The Wearied God

church-cathedral-gold-goldenCan God get tired?

I started reading through Isaiah yesterday for my devotional time, going through it very slowly and deliberately, consulting frequently with the Hebrew as I try to soak in all its richness and pathos. What piqued my sympathy more than anything else in the first chapter was this heart-rending evaluation that God shares through the prophet, speaking of Israel’s empty worship: “Bring no more futile sacrifices before Me,” God declares, “Incense is an abomination to Me, the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting” (1:13).

Such an assessment hits close to home as I can almost hear God reflect on our modern-day gatherings: “I can’t endure your General Conference sessions, your church services, your youth conferences,” He laments. But then He adds even more poignantly, “Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates” (v. 14). Such strong words! Imagine gathering every week, naively thinking we’re praising God, only to discover He despises our behavior.

We don’t typically think – or like to think – of God in such a light. And yet He is not simply arbitrarily castigating His people; He announces that He will not hear their prayers because their “hands are full of blood,” (v. 15) as they evidently not only exploited orphans and widows (v. 17), but acted as harlots by going after other lovers (v. 21).

In short, Israel’s worship was hypocritical. They were honoring God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8). They were saying one thing but living another way – causing God to wonder, “When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand?” (1:12), almost as though saying, “Who told you to come worship Me? It’s pointless!”

But this is what caught my eye more than anything else in this passage. Speaking about their detestable worship gatherings, God not only says that His soul “hated” them and that they were a “trouble” to Him, but He actually declares that He is “weary of bearing them” (v. 14).

Indeed, Israel’s worship, Israel’s gatherings and assemblies and services, tired God out. They exhausted Him.

Could it be true?

We don’t often think of God in such terminology – or even in such a way. As I hinted at a few days ago, we tend to prefer to think of God in more robust and omnipotent ways. We prefer the God who never “faints nor is weary” (Isa. 40:28; Isaiah uses a different Hebrew word for “weary” here, though this latter word is used elsewhere in Isaiah to ascribe weariness to God). We gravitate to the God who acts as a constant provider for us, the One who displays grandeur, power, and majesty – who will always be there for our every need.

And yet the Bible often paints a far different picture of God, characterized at times by “divine vulnerability,” as Terence E. Fretheim puts it (God and Word in the Old Testament, p. 38). This is the God who experiences pain, suffering, frustration – indeed, weariness.

This picture from Isaiah 1:14 is not the only place that draws out God’s weariness, however. There are a handful of other places – all in the prophets – that reveal such a picture in the life of God. Perhaps most poignantly, later in Isaiah, the prophet quotes God as lamenting how His people have “burdened Me with your sins” (the word for “burden” is actually the word for “serve,” almost giving the impression of “enslavement”) and “wearied Me with your iniquities” (43:24). Again, in Jeremiah, God is hurt by how His people have abandoned and “forsaken” Him, and He cries out that He is “weary of relenting” (15:6), apparently tired of constantly bringing Israel back from reaping what they’d sown. Lastly, Malachi portrays God’s weariness because of Israel’s “words.” They were saying that “everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them” (2:17).

Of course, it should go without saying that such weariness was not of a physical nature but was clearly an emotional tiredness. God’s emotional tank was running on empty in relation to His people. The ones He had chosen to be a light to the world, to show His character of love to the nations, had “profaned” His name (Ezekiel 36:22).

Yet they kept on “worshipping,” kept on bringing their sacrifices to the altar, kept on talking, talking, talking – as though it was business as usual.

But it all wearied God – yes, in a real, concrete, literal sense, not just metaphorically. Such a weariness culminated in the cross, where the Psalmist presciently saw the tears of Christ, as He cried out, “Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness. I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20).

What about us? Will we pity our God, sympathize with our Savior? Will we provide Him with the much-needed rest He deserves?

Either way, let these words from Terence E. Fretheim sink in as we ponder the implications of how the rest we enjoy today stems from the weariness that God continues to endure:

It is clear that human sin has not been without cost for God, and that cost is due in significant part to the fact that God has chosen to bear the people’s sin. . . For God to assume such a burden, for God to continue to bear the brunt of Israel’s rejection, meant continued life for the people. Thus there is an explicit connection made between divine suffering and Israel’s life; the former was necessary for the latter to occur. God’s suffering made Israel’s life possible (The Suffering of God, p. 148).

Indeed, our rest comes at the cost of God’s weariness.

Let us therefore resolve, by His grace, to do all we can by faith to provide Him with the rest He so desperately deserves.

Can God Love Us More?

God_is_LoveThere is a popular refrain within Christianity, repeated frequently by many, that is so simple and seemingly self-evident that very few people probably even give it a second thought. We repeat it with such matter-of-factness that its axiomatic veracity has perhaps reached the level of canonization.

The thought goes something like this: there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more than He already does, nor any less than He already does. Or, in a more abbreviated sense, we may simply say that it is not possible for God to love us any more or any less than He already does.

For some time, however, I have wondered if such an idea needs to be disturbed and challenged. This wonderment was first instigated by a quote I came across a number of years ago – the fruit of which is now coming into greater focus. This idea was further encouraged when, after starting to write this post a month or so ago, I began reading a book by my friend, and associate professor of theology and Christian philosophy at Andrews University, John Peckham, entitled The Love of God (a book I can’t recommend highly enough – though, in full disclosure, it engages in significant heavy scholarly and academic lifting).

I will get to the original quote in due time, but let me first share a caveat and then delve into my biblical and philosophical reasons for questioning this popular adage.

First, the caveat: I fully appreciate the reason as to why such an idea is expressed – and fully agree with its intention. Fighting against an underlying legalism that, at the very least, lurks beneath the surface of all our psyches, we want to steer clear of the merit-based type of love that characterizes sinful humanity. Any sort of love that uses the language of “if . . . then” we want to disassociate from God with all the passion and zeal we can muster.

I get that. And I agree. To be sure, I think the Bible is clear that God loves us independent of anything we do. The most famous Scripture of all addresses that with unequivocal clarity: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) Jesus explains to Nicodemus.

But in our attempts to strip God’s love of every ounce of “conditionalism,” I wonder if we have also stripped it of its complexity, depth, and dynamism. Perhaps we’ve flattened God’s love such that, as Peckham quotes Charles Hartshorne as caricaturing, He is merely a “heartless benefit machine” who is “less than a friend” (p. 37).

What seems to have happened is that our understanding of God’s love has been largely shaped by Greek Platonic philosophy which was systematically introduced into Christianity by Augustine 1500 years ago and further promulgated by the likes of Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin – which shouldn’t come as a surprise to the perceptive Adventist.

Thus, considered through such a prism, God’s love is static, immovable, and emotionless. It cannot grow, it cannot diminish – precisely because it is inherently perfect and self-determining, immune from any influences outside itself.

On the one hand, we can somewhat appreciate such a philosophy. After all, Plato’s perspectives on the absolute perfection and self-sufficiency of God arose during a time in which the gods of Greece were mercurial and unpredictable at best – to say nothing of the primitive gods of the Ancient Near East.

And yet, Platonic philosophy takes us from one ditch to the other – and certainly does not accurately reflect the testimony of Scripture. In the Bible, God and His love are a lot more dynamic and passible (that is, capable of being affected by His creatures). Thus, for example, God says through Hosea, “When Israel was a child, I loved Him . . . My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (11:1, 8). Even more shockingly, in a verse that comes a few chapters before, God laments about His people: “All their wickedness is in Gilgal, for there I hated them. Because of the evil of their deeds I will drive them from My house; I will love them no more. All their princes are rebellious” (9:15, emphasis added).

Needless to say, in our discussions about God’s love, we tend to gloss over such uncomfortable verses – and there are many other similar ones that, while not necessarily explicitly addressing the idea of whether God can love us more or less, definitely demonstrate the dynamic nature of His love.

To be sure, there is a sense in which God has always and will always love us (see Jeremiah 31:3); that is not in question. The question is to what extent and to what degree God loves us, and whether or not our actions – positive or negative – can truly affect His inner life.

When I clothe the naked or feed the hungry, for example, do these actions actually – in a real, concrete sense – affect God in such a way that He experiences greater feelings of fondness toward me? Conversely, when I act with malice toward others, does this elicit a corresponding response from God?

Or do God’s feelings toward me – no matter my behavior – always resemble a flatline on a heart monitor?

Again, the question is not whether God does love us; the question is whether our behavior can actually affect that love.

To this end, John Peckham has labeled his model of God’s love as the “foreconditional-reciprocal” model – that is, God’s love exists prior to human action, but does contain expectations in order for it to be fully effective.

Truthfully, such a perspective gives greater depth to the God-human relationship. After all, just as we often like to say that God is not interested in having a relationship with machines who are devoid of choice, neither do we want to have a relationship with a God devoid of feeling who is incapable of evaluating our behavior and responding accordingly. Really, isn’t there a sense in which we as humans – created in God’s image – long to have praiseworthy behavior acknowledged in such a way that is differentiated from less acceptable behavior?

Do we really want a God Who pats us on the head with a twinkle in His eye both when we mess up and when we do right? It seems that the latter would be cheapened by the former, and, in fact, make the latter meaningless.

To be sure, we want a God who values and cares and accepts us no matter what we do. And this is biblical and right and good. But we also want to be affirmed in a unique way when we do something good – not as a matter of pride, but as a matter of natural relational equity, and assurance that we are truly – in a real, concrete sense – bringing happiness to the One we love. (If God always affirms me no matter what I do, how can I ever tell if my actions actually bless Him? This, of course, is a question that is completely incomprehensible for the person fully committed to the classic, Platonic understanding of God wherein God is not affected by anything outside of Himself – a perspective that includes much, if not most, of Christendom.)

Perhaps it’s important, however, to make a distinction between behavior that is meritorious, and behavior that is merely evaluated. By this I mean that our good behavior does not merit God’s love, but it does influence its scope and effectiveness. As John Peckham puts it, “God never removes his love from anyone who wishes to receive his love. However, the object(s) of God’s love may reject intimate relationship with God and, if persistent in such a rejection, forfeit reception of divine love altogether. . . . If I finally spurn God’s love, his love may continue to shine like the rays of the sun, but, by my own decisions, I am completely shaded from its light and warmth as if I have locked myself in a windowless basement” (p. 213).

Truthfully, our own intuition tells us that love grows – which is how I can say that the love I had for my wife when we first got married pales in comparison to the love I have for her now. We are mere finite humans, of course, and we can’t always assume that our experience mirrors the experience of the omnipotent God; but we were also created in His image, and nowhere in Scripture does it say that God can’t love us more than He already does (our assumptions notwithstanding).

So perhaps we need to look again at the Biblical record, considering afresh the dynamic nature of God’s love for us.

All this brings me to the quote I alluded to in the beginning. It is mentioned most notably in both The Desire of Ages and Steps to Christ where Ellen White reflects upon a verse that, in and of itself, should give us pause. That verse is John 10:17, where Jesus startlingly says, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.”

Notice the critical word “because”! Apparently, there is a sense in which Christ’s sacrifice for the human race induced from the heart of the Father a greater love on some level. To be sure, the Father has always loved the Son – even before sin entered the world and even before the world existed (see John 17:24). But both verses and ideas need to be held in tension and brought into harmony with one another.

Ellen White, in the aforementioned books, tries her hand at harmonizing the two. “That is,” she writes, “My Father has so loved you that He even loves Me more for giving My life to redeem you. In becoming your Substitute and Surety, by surrendering My life, by taking your liabilities, your transgressions, I am endeared to My Father; for by My sacrifice, God can be just, and yet the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus” (The Desire of Ages, p. 483; Steps to Christ, p. 14, emphasis added).

Notice those audacious words: “He even loves Me more for giving My life to redeem you.” Don’t miss it! According to Jesus, according to Ellen White, God’s love is dynamic. It can grow and deepen and expand – responding, yes, to the actions of others.

This may make us feel a bit uncomfortable, admittedly. But, again, this does not mean God’s love for us is ever in question. He will never stop loving us. And such a reality is not a prescription for holier performance so we can earn God’s love in greater measure. More than anything it is describing the dynamics of God’s love, rather than prescribing a way to procure more of it.

It’s simply an acknowledgment that God’s love – while consistent, long-suffering, and compassionate – is also characterized by emotion, responsiveness, and, yes, expansion and contraction. Indeed, while God may not be a human (at least the Father), He is a Person (in fact, the prototypical Person), fully equipped with all the relational capacities that we possess.

And all this should give us a greater sympathy for God’s situation, a greater sensitivity to His inner life, thoughts, and feelings.

Starving for Agape Love in a Culture of Rape

Jacob_Savery_the_Elder_-_Garden_of_Eden_-_1601We live in interesting times – especially when it comes to society’s attitude toward love and sexuality. In some ways, quite ironically, it seems we’ve almost come full circle as the proverbial chickens from the “free love” movement have come back to roost.

What I mean by this is that the “free love” movement has now been outed as a failed project to the point that radical feminists, who once craved the freedom and empowerment to throw caution to the wind when it came to their own sexuality, are now almost clinging to complete chastity because they are unsure if they are even capable of really meaning “yes” when they say “yes” to sex.

But let me take a step back and set the scene for you as I try to somewhat coherently articulate a few disjointed thoughts that are swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine linked to an article from The Washington Post that aimed its guns at feminists who seemingly want to label every sexual encounter as rape. Many are now no doubt familiar with the “yes means yes” campaign that has turned into laws in many states in America. Essentially, the movement wants to criminalize any sexual encounter where one of the participants – usually the female – doesn’t clearly and explicitly affirm that she wants to have sex.

In The Washington Post article, the writer cites a number of examples from her own past that, were today’s criteria in place back then, would have been considered “rape.” She balks at such an idea, though, saying that sex is a lot more complicated.

Despite its scorn for reticence, the new sexual revolution has a deep puritanical streak. Consensual sex is viewed as always under control, the result of a rational, fully autonomous choice. In this vision, there is either unequivocal “enthusiastic consent” or reluctant submission. In real life, though, there are many other possibilities.

You could agree to have sex to please your partner, despite not being in the mood, and get enthusiastic later. You could be sexually eager but emotionally ambivalent, or vice versa. You could be torn between passionate desire and ethical or practical reasons not to act on that desire. You could get drunk to quiet your scruples, or you may hope to be coaxed into surrendering to temptation. (Obviously, “coaxed” does not equal “physically overpowered.”) Some of this behavior may be unhealthy or immature. But if it involves consenting adults — who can refuse sex without reasonable fear of harm — those adults should be free to make mistakes.

What I found even more intriguing, however, was an article the writer linked to by a young lady from Harvard who is now grappling with whether an explicit “yes” is even enough; whether “yes” can ever really mean “yes.”

In her article, the young lady from Harvard concludes:

Here’s the point. Feminists sometimes talk about “yes” and “no” like they’re uncomplicated. That’s a messaging thing, and it works: We want everyone who hooks up with anyone ever to do so only with an affirmative, active yes. Teaching that consent is always clear is a tool in making it so, by mandating explicit and affirmative articulation.

But ethical sex is hard. And it won’t stop being hard until we make cultures that enable meaningful choice, cultures wherein we minimize, as much as possible, power imbalances related to sex. That’s a tall order, but we’ve got to get there. For all the confused queer kids and weird mornings after. For all of us to feel safe and valued and of worth.

Such sentiment, for the Post writer, where “yes” may not even mean “yes,” is just too much to bear. In fact, even aside from that, the whole “yes” campaign is madness for the writer which turns sex into a mechanical encounter, sucking all the spontaneity out of it, and oversimplifying things.

As I read both articles, though, something interesting happened in my thinking. My natural instinct would be to heartedly affirm the contrarian views of the Post writer as she aimed her guns at a demographic that I sometimes struggle with: radical feminists who seem to always cry victimhood and are seeking to destroy historic biblical values.

But then a few jarring thoughts suddenly surfaced in my mind; thoughts which I’m still grappling with.

1. While the world argues about what constitutes “rape” from a legal perspective, the giant elephant in the room is that the moment a person propositions another person who is not his/her spouse, even under perfect conditions, that person’s spiritual personhood and innocence are being “raped” and a certain level of coercion is already at play.

As human beings, both male and female, who are created in the image of God and designed to live by the law of love, any time another creature invites us to step outside the bounds of that law of love, our innocence is already being compromised. We are already being dehumanized.

In that regard, all sex outside of heterosexual marriage – and despite what Donald Trump’s people say, even some within – is in some sense “rape.”

So questions of “yes” or “no,” even if answered with great sobriety and lucidity, are somewhat irrelevant. So far has society departed from the sexual laws that protect all – or, as the Harvard writer calls it, “ethical sex” – that we have a hard time even comprehending that extramarital propositions have the seeds of rape inherently contained in them.

So we cannot – and must not – celebrate a philosophy which itself celebrates a loose sexual ethic, even if we are growing tired of the voices that seem to cry victimhood ad nauseum. 

2. Reading the article from the young lady at Harvard all of a sudden helped me realize that feminism – radical or otherwise – didn’t simply arise in a vacuum but is, in many ways, a natural and appropriate reaction to a gross masculinity that has wreaked havoc on society since Adam joined Eve in eating the fruit. Feminists are confused about sex – to the point that they are not even sure whether “yes” really means “yes” – because we as men have made it confusing and treated it and them as tools for our insatiable hunger to gratify our sexual selves.

Think about it. In many ways, Adam was the first male chauvinist. When God came to him in Genesis 3 and asked him why he ate the fruit, the first two words (or one in Hebrew) that Adam said was, “The woman . . . ” (v. 12). And men have been blaming women ever since – even, or maybe especially, in the area of sexuality. “She wanted it . . . ” “If she hadn’t been wearing that . . . ”

The reality is, men have spent the last six thousand years failing to show true masculinity – a masculinity that embraces all the good qualities of maleness as Scripture defines it and rejects those which Satan has installed.

So, while I am certainly not advocating that we embrace everything that radical feminism affirms, we men must forgive women for refusing to celebrate – and, in fact, passionately fighting against – what passes as masculinity and our sexual heteropraxy.

3. It shouldn’t surprise us that what really lies at the root of all this confusion about sexuality, and our confusion about what constitutes rape, is a yearning for agape love. Simply put, the world is starving for it – that love which “seeks not its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, MEV); that “self-renouncing love” which Ellen White says is “the law of life for earth and heaven” (The Desire of Ages, p. 19).

Such love makes all the questions of “yes” or “no” obsolete because, to begin with, no man would ever put a woman who is not his wife in a position to decide “yes” or “no” – and, in the context of marriage, no spouse would ever push beyond a “no.” Within the framework of agape love, if sex is seen as something one gives for the benefit of the other, rather than something one gets for the benefit of self, then the world would be a lot less confused about love and sex. And women – feminists or otherwise – wouldn’t be constantly wrestling with the question of whether they were raped or not.

But so long as sex continues to be of the self-serving variety, there will always be underlying feelings of violation and rape in the minds of those who are not its initiators.

Ellen White, in Ministry of Healing (her aptly named back whose title and topic has great relevance to the present discussion), pulls back the curtain on this question of what the world is starving for. “The world needs today,” she writes, “what it needed nineteen hundred years ago – a revelation of Christ” (p. 143). A revelation of Christ, of course, which reveals the heart of a completely other-centered, self-giving God.

How does this happen? She continues: “A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual [and we might add, sexual], can be accomplished” (emphasis added).

Through the grace of Christ, we are thus primed to show and give the world what it so desperately longs for: a revelation of God’s agape love, which manifests itself, among other ways, in – using the words of the young lady from Harvard – truly “ethical sex.”

Postscript: if you are interested in exploring further thoughts I shared on sexuality, you can listen to a whole sermon series I preached a few years ago called “Everyone’s Battle” by clicking here

Why I Love Maine!

Every once in a while, I feel the need to highlight the “New England” part of my blog title – and this will be one of those instances. Everyone probably knows, of course, that I have a real affection for the region of the United States in which I was born and in which I’ve spent almost my entire life. But after returning from a brief family camping trip last night to a new part of Maine to which I’ve never been, I thought I would both share some pictures I captured (simply on my iPhone) and explain why it is that I love Maine so much – all the while trying to draw some type of spiritual lesson.

Though there are many, many reasons why I love Maine so much, here is one of those reasons which is chief: there is so much of it to discover! It is actually quite astounding: Maine is a very, very big state – especially for the standards of the northeastern United States – and it is very sparsely populated (the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi River). As a result, there are some very hidden and out-of-the-way places here, and I seem to be discovering some of those places a lot lately.

The chief reason for this, which many people “from away” don’t recognize and appreciate, is that though Maine’s coast, from its southern point to its northern point, is only 228 miles if one were to draw a straight line. But taking into consideration all the peninsulas and coves and harbors and islands, that coast actually stretches out to 3,478 miles – which is the fourth longest coastline in the entire United States (only Alaska, Florida, and Louisiana, have a longer coastline).

This means that there are so many hidden nooks and crannies on the Maine coast, with charming coves seemingly around every corner.

Take, for example, the new place we enjoyed this weekend: Deer Isle. You can see, based on the map, just how intricate and zig-zagging the coastline is. It seems that around almost every turn in the road there was another cove, dotted with fishing boats and sailboats, and small islands. Such beauty!


And yet this is just one of literally thousands of islands off the coast of Maine!

So there is always some beautiful new place to explore and discover – with coastal variation all along the way.

But let me tell you a little more about our trip this time, with a few accompanying pictures.

After enjoying an absolutely fabulous anniversary trip last weekend with my wife, Camille, in our all-time favorite – Mount Desert Island/Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor – we joined Camille’s two brothers, their wives and children, on a campout last night on Blue Hill Peninsula, with intentions to continue on to Deer Isle and Stonington this morning.

A word of explanation: Deer Isle is the major island which lies most immediately to the southwest of Mount Desert Island (MDI) – which is considered by many to be the “jewel” of the Maine islands, being the home of Acadia National Park. MDI is my wife’s and my favorite at this stage in our lives because there is so much to do with our kids: it has amazing hikes, spectacular coast, nice restaurants, amazing resorts. But it is, admittedly, very touristy. When we’re in Acadia, we seem to frequently be the only ones from Maine!

But Deer Isle, and especially its crowning town Stonington, is a whole other animal. It is frequently named as a favorite place in Maine for photographers and travel guides, but it is still very much unspoiled. Indeed, as I discovered, it is probably Maine’s most authentically charming place.

So when we woke up this morning, which, with a 15-month-old, was way too early (4 AM – or roughly the time when the light started making its presence known in our tent), we headed for Deer Isle. Our initial destination was a remote beach that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law rave about: Barred Island Preserve, located in Stonington.

The drive there was worth the price of admission itself, practically. I am a hobby photographer and I know that lighting is everything! And the lighting was perfect during our drive (aided by two things: first, young children who wake up at first light when you’re camping; and secondly, paying close attention to the tide since we need low tide to enjoy Barred Island). My only regret was that we were unable to make any stops to take pictures!

But here’s the first little shot, taken from my car, as we crossed over the mainland to Deer Isle via the Deer Isle suspension bridge (an impressive sight in its own right):

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We soon found the parking lot for Barred Island Preserve and proceeded to embark on our one-mile walk through the coastal forest to the beach. This, itself, was quite a trek and was entirely enjoyable. We walked through a characteristically lush and green forest, hearing sounds of a fog horn getting louder, and smelling the salt of the ocean more poignantly, the closer we got. (Make sure you click on each picture in order to appreciate a much larger and fuller view of these sites!)

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When we finally got to the end of the trail, which, with young children, seemed to take longer than a mile should, the sight that greeted us did not disappoint! There, before us, was a completely serene, idyllic, and lonely beach – created only by the low tide with water lapping the sand on both sides.

FullSizeRender 40It was all ours! The only noises interfering were the sounds of seagulls and a lone lobster boat setting out for the open waters. There was also a sail boat, just to the left of Barred Island, that was slowly moving across the horizon.

The kids immediately got into their bathing suits and we all began to explore.

These were the rocks just around the corner of the beach.

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At one point, we noticed a seal swimming around a few hundred feet out (you’ll notice some of our party in the upper right-hand corner, just relaxing on the rocks, looking out at the seal.)

FullSizeRender 38Of course, there is one minor detail about the Maine coast that doesn’t sit well with many people: the water is very rarely warm. Such was the case today – with the temperature of the water probably around 55 degrees. But this didn’t stop the kids from splashing around the whole time we were there (with my littlest one, Winslow, in it practically the whole time). And Cameron and I, before we left, actually did go all the way in. It was cold but refreshing!

Here’s one last view from Barred Island Preserve before we left after staying for about two hours. During our whole time there, there was one other party that joined us. But, other than that, we had the whole place to ourselves! And this was July 4 weekend!

FullSizeRender 39After we got back to the parking lot, we proceeded to Stonington – that famed fishing villages that has captured the imagination of so many. Before we even got to the downtown, we saw some spectacular vistas. Just beautiful.

This is a classic Deer Isle – and coastal Maine – scene: a beautiful Cape style house overlooking an island-studded and rocky cove (the only thing missing are lupines, but those probably peaked a few weeks ago).

FullSizeRender 46Here is one of the first views of the actual harbor of Stonington.

FullSizeRender 48Unfortunately, we stayed in Stonington for a pretty limited time – and there was much else to explore. But I did have one neat experience during lunch: I met an old Mainer who was sitting next to us in the classic Maine diner. He was 88, having been born on Deer Isle and returning when he retired in 1991. He served in the Air Force for many years and then worked for the city of Lewiston, Maine. When I asked him what he did to stay busy these days, he said that he volunteered at his church. It turns out that he’s a deacon for the Advent Christian church – a denomination that is cousins to us Seventh-day Adventists.

What I found most surprising is that he says that the little Advent Christian church on Deer Isle averages about 80 persons each week. I thought that was remarkable for that off-the-beaten path location!

Here’s another shot of the harbor in Stonington.

FullSizeRender 50And a classic looking store in downtown, displaying its patriotism.

FullSizeRender 43As I said, we didn’t spend enough time in the village of Stonington. We must return some day.

But as we drove out, this was our parting shot: you probably can’t appreciate it as much, but we saw a kayaker paddling off into the open seas.

FullSizeRender 41For good measure, we added a bonus on the way home: with the day being so hot, we stopped by our favorite swimming hole, Branch Lake, and spent about 30 minutes cooling off. Branch Lake, which is about 30 minutes from our house, is a beautiful and somewhat-remote lake that has a clear bottom. It’s simply gorgeous!

FullSizeRender 47So why do I love Maine so much? Because it seems like there is always something more to discover.

And, even though Camille and I have our go-to place (MDI/Acadia/Bar Harbor) because it’s so family-friendly, I continue to be thrilled with making new Maine discoveries periodically!

And here’s the very sappy spiritual lesson: Maine is like the Bible! No matter how much you experience it, there is always something more to learn and discover about it. Plus – and this one is not a stretch nor is it sappy at all – spending time in Maine, enjoying its unparalleled beauty in nature, truly revives one’s spirits.



“What Will Be” – My Prayer for San Antonio

IMG_0473In a little over a week, thousands of Seventh-day Adventists—among whom will be nearly three thousand voting delegates—will gather in San Antonio, Texas, to conduct the business of the Church. Many eyes, both within and without Adventism, will be on that gathering in anticipation of a vote that will decide whether the executive committee of each division can decide whether or not to ordain women to gospel ministry.

A lot of opinions have been volleyed back and forth about the subject. Many people are anxious about which way the vote will go; others are bracing for the vote’s aftermath fearing it may cause irreparable damage either way.

But, while I’ve certainly kept abreast of the developments, my thoughts and prayers about San Antonio have been along completely different lines. In fact, for a few months now I have been daily praying a very specific prayer that has nothing to do with ordination.

The prayer has simply been this: I have been claiming Zechariah 12:10 on behalf of the Church, its delegates, and leadership:

And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

Though a lot could be brought out from this powerful verse—which, for my money, is one of the greatest, and perhaps most unexpected, promises in Scripture—the overall gist of it is that God will someday, hopefully soon, bring us to the place of supplication and intercession for Him; that we will look upon Christ, whom we have “pierced,” and we will feel a deep sorrow, pain, and sympathy for Him; that we will recognize our true condition and need—issues which cannot be resolved through simple majority vote.

In short, my prayer is that we will recognize our Laodicean condition and how we’ve kept Christ waiting from claiming His reward, which He purchased with His blood.

Indeed, think about this: even if we perfectly resolve the question of women’s ordination, we will still not have resolved our greatest problem—that of our Laodicean condition.

I would hate to be the one who says the emperor has no clothes, but I’d simply be quoting what the “Faithful and True Witness” of Revelation 3 has said. In fact, He goes even further than this, saying that we are not only naked, but that we are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”—problems that ordaining or not ordaining women would not resolve. I say this with all due respect.

Such a reality is confirmed by Ellen White, in Early Writings, when she pointed out the one issue upon which the Church’s destiny hangs. Writing over 150 years ago, she shared this sobering thought:

I saw that the testimony of the True Witness has not been half heeded. The solemn testimony upon which the destiny of the church hangs has been lightly esteemed, if not entirely disregarded. This testimony must work deep repentance; all who truly receive it will obey it and be purified” (p. 270)

Notice this bombshell! Ellen White fingers the issue upon which the “destiny of the church hangs,” and it’s not women’s ordination—as important a subject as that might be. It’s in heeding the testimony of the “Truth Witness” and experiencing deep repentance over what the True Witness reveals to us.

Sadly, tragically, this message has been “lightly esteemed, if not entirely disregarded.

Those are some sobering words!

Such a rejection is seen in our history as a people, especially thinking of the “most precious message” that God sent through Elders A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner, and Ellen White. Indeed, Ellen White plainly stated in 1892 that “the message given us by A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church” (1888 Materials, p. 1052).

Yet that same message which, according to Ellen White, was the “light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory,” was “resisted and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world” (Ibid., p. 1575).

And how heaven weeps!

So this has been my prayer for San Antonio: I am praying that we, as a people—and especially we as leaders, since the message of the True Witness is to the “angel of the church of Laodicea,” which Ellen White identifies as us as leaders (see Gospel Workers, pp. 13, 14)—would allow the “Spirit of grace and supplication” to run its full course on our hearts and that, with hearts broken from piercing our Savior through continued resistance, would experience “deep repentance.”

Imagine if such a thing happened! I mean, wouldn’t it be amazing if the Holy Spirit outfoxed the Devil and, instead of showing up to San Antonio to fight over women’s ordination, as the Devil thinks he’s set us up to do, we arrived to discover that heaven was poured out and that that “most precious message” was uplifted mightily, leading us to a place of denominational repentance over the way we have “wounded” Christ “in the house of His friends” (Ellen White’s words, quoting Zechariah 13:6, of what happened at the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888 and its aftermath—cf. 1888 Materials, p. 296).

It would, perhaps, be the greatest upset the universe had ever witnessed—and, of course, with our hearts humbled by the beautiful Gospel, the question about women’s ordination—and all others—would be easily clarified.

I do believe we are on the verge of witnessing this very thing happening. No, I know it!

One reason I think this is because the amazing video the General Conference produced (viewable below), which they will be showing at the GC session in a few weeks. It’s a beautiful acknowledgment of our collective failure to accept Christ’s assessment of our condition, and His solution to our problem: His righteousness.

With Mrs. Nancy Wilson I, too, believe that this GC session will be the launching point for eternity—and result in incredible good, reaching far, far beyond what may be decided about women’s ordination.

And along with Elder Ted Wilson, I not only say that “what might have been . . . can be”; I say, what might have been . . . will be.

Will you join me in claiming that promise and prayer?

Waggoner On Prayer


I was reading this morning from Living by Faith, which is a selection of writings from E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones. It serves as a sequel of sorts to the compilation Lessons on Faith. Both are absolutely pivotal for a person who is on the journey of faith.

This morning’s reading for me was simply called “Prayer,” and it was an article Waggoner wrote in 1893. It is absolutely fantastic and is probably one of the best things I’ve ever read on prayer, confirming the very realizations and experiences I’ve been having lately – namely, that prayer and helplessness go hand-in-hand and until one feels his/her helplessness it is pointless to urge prayer. This thought, in particular, speaks to that powerful point:

[God] waits for you to realize your need of Him. He cannot consistently, with the infinitely wise principles by which He works, bestow on you spiritual blessings that you would not appreciate. . . . Your heart must be in a condition to receive an appropriate gift before it can be bestowed. And when it is in that condition, you will feel an earnest longing that will naturally take the form of prayer.

This has been my precise experience!

But read the whole quote in context. I am simply going to reproduce the short article here. Read it and be blessed – and challenged! (This is taken from The Present Truth, October 5, 1893):

Prayer is the channel of the soul’s communion with God. Through it our faith ascends to God, and His blessings descend to us. The prayer of the saints ascend as incense before God. They come actually into His presence. Ps. cxl. 2; Rev. v. 8; viii. 3, 4. Prayer is the index of the soul’s spirituality. There is “the prayer of faith,” spoken of by James, and there is also the wavering prayer, mentioned by the same writer. There is “the effectual, fervent prayer,” which “availeth much,” and there is also the cold, formal prayer, which avails nothing. Our prayers show the exact measure of our spirituality.

The effectual prayer takes hold by faith upon the word of God. Faith not only believes that God is, but that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Heb. xi. 6. It is offered not formally, but with a sense of need; not doubtingly nor despairingly, but with full confidence that it is heard, and will receive an answer in due time.

The effectual prayer is not argumentative, for it is not the province of man to argue with God. Its statements are not for the purpose of conveying information to God, or of persuading Him to do what He had not intended to do. God cannot be persuaded by man. The arguments and appeals of a finite man cannot change the mind of the Omniscient. The man of faith does not plead with God for any such purpose. He does not want to persuade God to work in man’s way, for he believes God’s statement that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than man’s ways. His prayer is ever, Thy will, not mine, be done.

What then is prayer, and what the purpose for which it is offered? It is the expression of our assent to that which God is willing and waiting to do for us. It is expressing to God our willingness to let Him do for us what He did wants to. It is not left for us to instruct the Lord in regard to what we need. “Your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” He knows what we need much better than we know ourselves. “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Rom. viii. 26.

God knows every need that we have, and is ready and anxious to give us that which will supply them; but He waits for us to realise our need of Him. He cannot consistently with the infinitely wise principles by which He works, bestow upon men spiritual blessings of which they would have no appreciation. He cannot work for man without man’s co-operation. The heart must be in a condition to receive an appropriate gift before it can be bestowed. And when it is in that condition, it will feel an earnest longing which will naturally take the form of prayer. And when this longing is felt, when the soul feels an intense desire for the help that God alone can give, when the language of the soul is, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God,”-the effect is to open the channel between God and the soul and let the flood of blessings which was already waiting to descend. And it is the intensity of the desire that determines how wide the door shall be opened.

We need to realise more the great truth that God sees and knows everything that we need and has every provision made for all our wants, before we have even considered those wants ourselves, and that our work is not to determine what must be done to relieve them, but to place ourselves in a position where God can relieve them by the means which He has provided; to conduct ourselves with Him, to know His mind and thus to move according to His plans, and not set about the fruitless task of trying to make Him work for us according to some plans of our own.

The One Common Characteristic of History’s Greatest Men

Roger_Williams_and_NarragansettsOver the last seven or eight years, I have been drawn to reading biographies of some of history’s greatest men (apologies to history’s greatest women – I just have a harder time relating). I’ve read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals, Eric Metaxas’s biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I just finished John M. Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty.

Even a little farther afield, I read Unbroken a few years ago, which – if you haven’t heard by now – is the inspiring story of Louis Zamperini who, after a short career as an Olympic runner, suffered one of the most harrowing and grueling journeys after his plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during World War II. And I could perhaps also add that I’ve gathered a few gems while reading a recent biography of E. J. Waggoner.

I read biographies for inspiration. I read them to glean insight on what makes great men great.

Because, the truth is, I make it no secret: I aspire to greatness and want to change the world insofar as it can bring glory to God and help hasten His return – recognizing, of course, that I am falling infinitely short of this goal (if my wife and kids won’t confirm my failings for you, certainly the churches I pastor could).

As I’ve gone through these biographies, though, I’ve noticed that these great men seemed to all share a number of common characteristics that made them great. I could list many.

But through it all, I’ve noticed one characteristic in particular that seems fairly ubiquitous, standing out above the rest.

I’m probably late to the party, and it may not be all that profound to you, but this characteristic has stuck out to me quite poignantly. It is simply this: all these great men were willing – no, eager – to relentlessly pursue their convictions even at the risk of great personal loss, some of them even death.

They had convictions, of course. We all do. But what separates a person who is merely a historical footnote and those who are memorialized – and here we could add people like Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and of course Moses, Elijah, Paul, and Jesus – is that the latter were willing to not only do something about their convictions, but follow them to the point of personal loss.

Their convictions weren’t merely armchair convictions. They didn’t follow them when it was only convenient, trendy, or popular. They were sold-out and devoted to them, and would not waiver from passionately pursuing them. Indeed, the refused to play it safe. A life of ease and comfort was not an option for them so long as their convictions remained unfulfilled.

In short, they all exercised unparalleled courage – starting, of course, with an absolute disdain for the status quo, followed by an equal obsession with ferociously pursuing change.

The experience of Roger Williams is, of course, fresh in my mind.

After arriving in the New World in 1631 and immediately being courted to become the pastor of the church in Boston – the New World’s most prestigious pastorate – which he declined, he was soon banished from Massachusetts for promoting what he would later call “soul liberty,” i.e., a person’s right to freely follow his or her conscience in matters of worship and faith. Such an idea was extremely radical for his time – and Massachusetts, believing they were in covenant with God to stand as the “city on a hill” that showed the whole world what a Christian nation looked like, would have nothing of it.

They at first decided to send him back to England, but when they issued him a summons, Williams sensed that his life was actually in danger and, leaving his wife and kids in Salem, escaped into the Massachusetts wilderness. For the next fourteen weeks, during the harsh winter, he was sustained by the care and kindness of Native Americans.

Life didn’t get a whole lot easier for him, however, when he emerged in the land south of Massachusetts and ultimately started Providence Plantation and what would later become the state of Rhode Island. For the next two decades, the surrounding New England colonies pressured and harassed, sometimes violently so, Williams and those who took up residence within his borders – all because Williams and his colony promoted “soul liberty” and welcomed people of all stripes and persuasions.

Yet he never relented. In fact, even till his last dying day he never relented. That last dying day came during a time of great poverty, after Native Americans in Rhode Island – many of whom Williams had personally helped for many years – wiped out his home and left him destitute. In a moment of sympathy, his old arch-nemesis Massachusetts offered to lift his banishment if he agreed not to disseminate or vent “any of his different opinions.”

But even to the end, instead of surrendering his convictions, he chose poverty.

It’s no wonder that, of Roger Williams, John M. Barry writes: “Roger Williams never conformed – not even as a child, for even his father had persecuted him for his beliefs as a young boy. Yet for all his conviction, for all his commitment to his own way, it was not certainty he had clung to much of his life. . . . As he had told [John] Winthrop so many years before, I desire not to sleep in security and dream of a nest which no hand can reach” (p. 345).

And such could be said of all of history’s great men. They didn’t stay on the sidelines, privately holding their convictions. They followed them to their logical conclusion, staring straight into the face of danger and putting it all on the line if that’s what it took.

It deserves mentioning, however, that these men didn’t themselves go courting persecution for persecution’s sake. They didn’t intentionally look for trouble. Their goal was not simply to try to incite people.

Their goal was to relentlessly pursue their convictions, come what may.

Neither did they stand on the periphery of society as outsiders or outcasts, unable to gain an audience. They didn’t simply shoot arrows from the outside, trying to pick people or ideas off. They used tact and got into the trenches with people, trying to capitalize – for the sake of their ideals – on the relationships they had cultivated. Again, Barry writes of Williams that when he interacted with his foes from Massachusetts, he was “subtle, charming, gracious, and yet determined” (p. 369).

All this inspires me with the idea that a life free from adversity and risk is not a life worth living. People who play it safe don’t make a difference. They may make a living, perhaps even make a name for themselves, but they don’t make much of an eternal difference.

It somewhat reminds me of what C. S. Lewis wrote about tithes and offerings – which he called “charities.” “If our charities,” he wrote in Mere Christianity, “do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small” (p. 86). And if our convictions and ideas don’t challenge and disquiet the status quo – and as long as we’re this side of heaven there will be a status quo to challenge – then perhaps they’re also too small.

Indeed, people who merely flirt with ideas from ivory towers or quiet, idyllic pastorates, dispassionately and casually debating philosophical and theological minutiae, may tickle the intellect or the funny bone, but they don’t incite revolutions or revivals.

And that, to me, is no existence at all.

Whatever Happened to the Second Coming?

Second ComingThis morning, as I was playing with my kids, I decided to ask the old “where do you want to live when you grow up?” question. Mind you, my kids are almost-six, four, and 13 months.

Nevertheless, without hesitation, they blurted out, “Florida!” Being a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander, I felt somewhat like a failure, though I did feel a little comforted when they added that it was because their cousins, Calleigh, Aubree, and Brady, live there. (In her defense, Winslow, the 13-month-old, pleaded the fifth – and I could tell by the twinkle in her eye that she just wants to live with Mommy and Daddy for the rest of her life.)

After sharing with the kids that they should really want to live wherever Jesus wants them to live, I then paused and asked, “But do you know where you should really want to live when you grow up?”

With innocent curiosity they asked me where – to which I simply responded, “Heaven.”

I didn’t say it to be cute. I didn’t say it as a rote catechetic obligation.

I said it because every part of my brain wants to mean it.

And I said it because, as I added a few minutes later, we should want Jesus to return soon because He’s terribly sad right now not only about being apart from us, but also about all the pain and suffering that hurts Him on a deep emotional level as He witnesses the misery that continues to characterize this planet.

Yet here’s the reality: we don’t talk much about the Second Coming these days. Indeed, the Second Coming is seemingly only the hope of those with white hair or cancer – at least within Western Adventism. By and large, we feel pretty content with being on this planet. We plan for the future as though we assume we are going to be here a long time – only to then some day die after that. We don’t preach with any sort of urgency. We, as Adventists, adopt the evangelistic methodologies of non-Adventists (i.e., people who don’t believe Christ’s Second Coming is imminent – as the name “Adventist” implies), as though people who don’t sense the urgency of Christ’s return could somehow teach something about evangelism to those of us who do. We even invite them to speak at our conferences. (I’m not against interfacing with, listening to, or reading non-Adventists, per se; I just wonder how people who are ignorant of the three angels’ messages could really contribute much to a body that has been called to herald those three angels’ messages.)

And we argue about topics that may or may not have any bearing on whether Christ’s return happens sooner rather than later.

I don’t write this to be critical. I’m as guilty as the next person. In fact, just a few months ago, when I was in Florida, my very outspoken Aunt (whom I love dearly) put me on the spot in front of my whole family by asking me how many times I had preached on the Second Coming in 2014. I embarrassingly said zero. (She’s an octogenarian, by the way.)

But what happened to our prophetic urgency? What happened to the deep longing that the early apostles and the early Adventists felt that produced a yearning in their soul to see Jesus – and soon?

Perhaps we’re too content pursuing the “American dream,” which has seemingly usurped the “Adventist dream” of living to see Jesus return – and doing all we can to increase the likelihood of that happening.

Two caveats are in order, though.

First, when I say that we don’t talk much about the Second Coming anymore, I’m not necessarily talking about the requisite sermons, books, or articles about the “signs of the times.” We seem to have plenty of those still. And they have, perhaps, been the reason why we have been jaded about talking more about the Second Coming.

In other words, though I firmly believe in the importance of these prophetic signs, I also recognize that there is only so many times we can cry “wolf.”

Secondly, what I am urging is not a sort of Christian or Adventist “escapism” where we think the whole goal of Christianity is simply for God to be able to get us off this lousy planet – which He’s going to burn up anyway. I don’t speak of the Second Coming as some type of alternative to caring for the planet or the people on it.

What I’m talking about is the deep yearning of soul to be with Jesus – literally, in person.

I’m not talking about trying to escape this world so that we can slide down giraffe’s necks. I’m not talking about trying to get out of this world as a way to ignore and escape the suffering all around us.

I’m talking about feeling on a visceral level the desire for Christ to return for Him, not for His stuff. (The apostles were somehow able to experience this urgency, even though they lived at least two thousand years before Christ’s second Advent.)

Even more to the point, I’m talking about having a deep longing for His return for His sake.

After all, if we understand Christianity as a relational experience, and we truly believe God is a relational Person, we would thus have to recognize that, as a relational Being, God longs to be with us.

In fact, the cross demonstrates as much. If God was willing to give up His Son for the sake of our eternal life, doesn’t it stand to reason that He would want to retrieve the possession that He purchased with His Son’s blood as soon as He could?

Despite our many attempts to rationalize away the delay in the Second Coming by pointing out that a day is as a thousand years to God, time does matter to Him. The yearning I feel to be reunited with my wife and kids when I am away from them merely for a weekend (as I was last weekend) is but a drop in the bucket compared to the yearning that God feels about being with us, in person.

Similarly, as a relational Being, isn’t it clear that every time a child is hurt or a wife is abused God feels it on a deep emotional level? If we thus truly love God as much as we many times claim to, wouldn’t we thus want to do all we could to hasten His return as a way to bring an end to the pain that resides in His heart?

Ellen White makes this very point in her classic book Education:

Those who think of the result of hastening or hindering the gospel think of it in relation to themselves and to the world. Few think of its relation to God. Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ’s agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him. (p. 263).

Perhaps even more fascinating, for the 1893 General Conference, she had these words delivered to the attendees (she was living in Australia at the time), betraying just how burdened she was by the topic. Almost uneasy about putting it in these terms, she nevertheless wrote, “All heaven, if I may use the expression, is impatiently waiting for men to co-operate with the divine agencies in working for the salvation of souls” (General Conference Daily Bulletin, January 28, 1893, emphasis added).

Where we sense no urgency, content with bolstering our 401(k), heaven actually gets “impatient.”

And it’s no wonder: the angels, who love their God, long to see His pain, frustration, and agony cease. They’ve watched Him for the last 6000 years agonize over the sin that Has infected this universe. They’ve seen the rebellion of Lucifer, the fall of Adam and Eve. They’ve seen the genocide, the holocaust, the atrocities of war. Most significantly, they’ve seen the cross as the culmination of the sin project, heart-broken over the pain that has pierced the heart of Him whom they adore. And, like Peter, I’m sure they are tempted to pick up their swords and fight if it could somehow hasten the obliteration of the pain in the heart of their God.

What about us?

What if we, as Adventists, somehow recaptured the Adventist vision of Christ’s soon return?

It starts, of course, with encountering the love of that Christ as seen on Calvary. When we go to the cross and see the logical conclusion to what our present existence produces – death to God Himself – it will stir our hearts to the point that we will want to do all we can to hasten the end of God’s misery and woe.

In other words, encountering Christ’s First Coming in all its beauty, depth, and agony will propel us forward to do all we can to usher in His Second Coming.

So let’s go to the cross, you and I, so that Christ might soon come to us.

(If you’re at all interested in reading more extended thoughts on this topic, you may want to check out my first book, Waiting at the AltarOr if you simply want further inspiration, check out a song that always inspires and reorients me. It’s William Miller’s words after the Great Disappointment set to music, sung by Reggie Smith and accompanied by a choir with which I used to sing [Andrews University Singers]).

This is James.

IMG_3527I’m inspired by James every time I talk with him – and it’s not just because he is bald like me.

Through a series of very unexpected and somewhat unfortunate events, he started coming to our church about ten months ago. For the last four months or so we’ve been studying the Bible together.

And I’m quite sure he drew the short end of the stick.

There is no way – absolutely no way – that he is learning half as much, or being half as blessed, as I am by our time together. So in that regard, I feel sorry for him.

But let me tell you about him: James used to be a drug-dealer in Bangor. Everything he did was to satiate his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Life was only about himself.

Then something happened. He was arrested and found himself in jail. That was all it took. “Going to jail was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he told me last night. It was right there, in a little cell in Bangor, Maine, where he hit rock bottom. He realized his life needed to change. He realized he needed to be freed.

That one night in jail is all it took.

For the next six months, as he lived in a homeless shelter, he did a hard detox – which he said was actually pretty easy compared to getting over the real root of his addictions. Getting rid of the emotional and psychological demons was another thing altogether. It took going to AA and joining up with other support groups to help him deal with those demons.

And then one night it happened, like someone turned a light on. He decided to stay in a hotel room for a week in an attempt to finally break free from the addictions. As he sat in that lonely hotel room, reading his AA book, something clicked: his past was his past. It didn’t need to be his present. He didn’t have to hang on to it anymore. He didn’t have to carry the weight of his history anymore.

Since his past didn’t need to be his present, he didn’t need to medicate himself in the present anymore in order to drown out the cries of his past.

And with the weight of his past off his shoulders, it was as though someone turned a light switch on and deleted his craving for drugs and alcohol. It no longer enslaved him. His taste for it was gone, never to return.

He has been clean ever since.

As awesome as this is, though, what inspires me even more is his new craving to help deliver people from the life he onced lived. It’s an all-consuming passion of his. He now works at the homeless shelter that once housed him as well as a soup kitchen.

What excites him the most is traveling the streets of downtown Bangor in a canteen truck, setting up shop a couple times a month and bringing food directly to the demographic that he used to be a part of. I’ve been with him on this mission and his compassion and excitement for these people are contagious. James is normally a pretty quiet guy, but when he gets with these people and hands them chilli or a sandwich, he lights right up. He cares for them, invests in them, wants to help them live a better life.

It’s inspiring.

He’s also inspired me in other ways. He doesn’t own much – not even his own teeth – but he says he’s never been happier. He’s also thankful for his past because it helps him better relate to and sympathize with those he’s now trying to reach. And just last week, after I backed into my neighbor’s car and I had to call James to let him know we would have to cancel our Bible study, he said to me, “Hey, just remember: you can’t change the past. What’s happened has happened. Don’t let it own you.”

Whether fully understood or not, James knows – and more importantly, lives – the Gospel. And his burden to reach the down-and-outers of Bangor – a city that, though fairly small, has big-city problems with lots of drugs and homelessness – inspires me to be a better person and a better pastor.

And I can’t help but wonder how many Jameses there are in Bangor and in the world who are one night in jail away from finally being free.

Will we be there to point them to the One who can bring freedom?

James’s story reminds me of something I read just yesterday from another “AA” book – Acts of the Apostles – which I have just started reading again: “The church,” Ellen White writes, “is the theater of [God’s] grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts” (p. 12).

What a thought! And what a reflection of James’s story. He’s been transformed – and now he wants nothing more than to be a conduit through which God’s grace can transform others’ hearts.

As we were about to end our Bible study last night, he shared a simple thought with me that often seems cliche but in his mouth seemed profound. “I figure that if I can touch just one person,” he said, “then I can change the world.”

That’s what it’s all about.

“Making Bargains With God”

As I wrote just a few minutes ago in my last post, I came across this brief, two-paragraph article from E. J. Waggoner when looking for another article that was included in the compilation Living by Faith.

This is from The Present Truth, March 9, 1893.

Be blessed!

“If God will forgive me for this, I will never do it again,” is an expression often heard. No doubt those who say so have a feeling of pity for the poor, benighted souls who do penance, and offer money in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins, totally unconscious that they themselves are doing the same thing; for to say that we will not do a certain thing again if God will forgive us for this offence, is to try to bribe God,-to buy His favour.

“God says: “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Isaiah 43:25. God is rich in mercy, and He forgives us because of “His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.” Ephesians 2:4, 5. But to try to make a bargain with God, that we shall receive His forgiveness in return for some good that we shall do, is to try to deprive the coveted forgiveness of all the quality of mercy. If God should agree to such a bargain, there would be no gratitude on the part of the man. He would feel that God had simply given him what he deserved, and had blessed him because he was so good that He could not consistently do otherwise. Thus the man would be confirmed in sin. Since God has provided so full and free a salvation, how much better to receive forgiveness upon His own terms, and trust Him to keep us from repetitions of it.”


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