#2- Desire of Ages/Messiah

The second most influential book in my life has been Ellen G. White’s (1827-1915) Desire of Ages and Jerry D. Thomas’ amazing paraphrase of that book, Messiah. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND BOTH. Thomas has done a masterful job paraphrasing White’s classic. He is sorely missed since his untimely death March 15, 2019. His crisp writing was the envy of many of us would-be Adventist writers.

These books have shaped my deep worship of Christ. Understanding his amazing birth, life, ministry, teachings, sayings, trail, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension has given me an anchor for my spiritual development. When I am too legalistic I hear the soft rebuke White reminds us Jesus gave to John, James and Judas. It helps me lighten-up on the nastiness I have to others and change my attitude on trying to strive for God’s acceptance. Instead I live in the acceptance and healing he brings to me and to others around me. When I am too hedonistic, distracted by the lust if the eyes, pride of life, and the drive of the flesh–SELFISHNESS– I hear the call of Christ, through the pages of Thomas’ Messiah, to be receive power and be healed. It motivates me to return to Christ and not go back into my life of sin. These books help me put on Christ, flee stupid lusts and evil desires and to follow him more closely and experience the abundant life more fully (John 10:10).

I want to be more like Jesus. Think more like him. Act more like him. Serve more like him. Teach more like him. To endure conflict, persecution and hardship more like him. And To be ready to experience his great smile: Well done though good and faithful servant.

These books make him real to me. The help me stay close to him.

You can get the Desire of Ages as part of apps that provide all Ellen White’s writings as phone or desktop apps. See The White Estate digital download page at https://whiteestate.org/resources/apps/ or directly download for Google app or Apple app

There is also a google app for the Desire of Ages book

We use the Messiah book in many of our SDA school K-12 bible curriculum because of its readability. The Desire of Ages is popular in our colleges and universities. These resources have been made available in many languages all over the world.

Thanks you Ellen and Jerry for keeping the Messiah’s story vividly alive and staying biblical in your presentation of his perfect divine and human life.

Duane’s Top Ten Books

I have been reading books for about 50 years. The next few posts review the most influential books in my life. This list has shifted over time as I have added new readings. I will spend more time on my top 20 and then just giver shorter reviews or lists after that.

Today is my Number 1: the Bible.

While I had small bibles as a child, my mom bought me a “real” bible in the mid- 1970s. It was a genuine leather KJV Thomas Chain Reference bible. As you see from the picture, it was hefty. It had the greatest notes, concordance, listings, and maps. I think it was given me sometime around 6th grade as that was my turning point when I started to really have questions and want to know stuff. Mr. Yoshikawa, my amazing public school 6th grade teacher, had sparked my interest to study things FOR MYSELF. I started being interested in “right and wrong” and felt I had to study to figure things out. Since church was the place I had been going all along, it made since that it had the “stuff” (the documents and ideas) that could help me. So I started to read on my own.

I think the sermon on the mount was my first major highlighting and reading section. At least, it seemed like that was it, because by 8th grade public school graduation that was the passage I spoke on (our small public school allowed anyone to say something. Little did they or my family or even I realize I would speak about Matthew 5!).

The Sermon was my AHA understanding where I realized how “otherwordly” the values of the bible really were. It pulled me in to reading more and more. By 16, Isaiah became my go to book. That is where I felt my first call when reading Is 43:10-12. I felt called to be a witness and servant.

The bible took me to another world and presented an anxient history that fascinated me.

While my mom read to us boys all the time, this was when I started to read for myself. And read I did.

Sometime in high school I would start reading it more than all my homework combined (this was often because I didn’t do a lot of homework well). While I had been a devoted basketball player and spent hours a day practicing in Jr. High and the first part of High school, by my junior year, bible related reading displaced much of my deep devotion to basketball.

I would tape poems I liked inside the front and back covers. I especially loved the rhythm and rhymes of Helen Steiner Rice’s poems. They are still in my bible.

I still believe this is the best single book of all time. I believe everyone should read it.

After the KJV, I started reading more of the Amplified Bible as its multiple word choices gave me more meaning. Then I used an NIV or NKJV. Now I use the NASB with some “free” reading in the The Message bible.

And the internet has made www.biblegateway.com my daily destination for finding material to use in my writing.

Thanks mom for getting me into reading and thanks for this KJV bible.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, KJV).

God, thank you for inspiring other writers to write down what they were learning from you and about the world. Thank you for preserving this through time and wars and persecutions. May your WORD continue for ever in this world and in my heart!

Series: Doing a Christian Ethic of Love from a Bible full of Bloodshed.

When I present my services as a Christian ethicist, I immediately feel several insufficiencies. My lack of love meter twitches in my mind as lower than desired: Why even talk about a love ethic, when I am so far from this ethic in my life practices? My resolution is to admit to myself I am low, and that I have not arrived and but that I am confident God will help me as “He’s still working on me.” I figure trying to do more ethics will show that and that talking about what I aspire to might help me keep aspiring to it.

The other twitch that automatically click’s in is more deep and disturbing: Why does the book I base this love ethic on—the Bible—seem so devoid of love. Only the most naïve Christian would deny this Holy Book doesn’t have a lot of unholy stories. Hate and killing are everywhere, even among God’s people and apparently even inspired and promoted by God himself. We will try to address this over the next couple of posts in our

Today we dismiss some possible short-cuts to developing a love ethic and then take up the task of offering some possible solutions in later blogs.

Some find it is best to dispense with the Bible altogether in building a good ethic. They base their eithic on other material: like neuroscience or philosophy or, in the case of the social scientist Haidt–on an social analysis of the evolutionary intuitive values that seem well developed in our social species. And most of these author’s I read about seem to have developed a good ethic that grows pretty good lives. My take away, is that there is a lot of evidence out there upon which to build some good ethics. This makes sense to me as a Bible-reader. Proverbs 8 suggests this is the case when God purposely wired into the physical and social world principles of ethics. There is a natural law that makes moral law clearer (see Romans 1:20).

But if we want a theological ethic, and believe keeping ethics and all our moral impulses close to the Maker is a safer place to do ethics, then the Bible, somehow, needs to be involved in the process.

One solution some Christians have is to cherry pick a few scriptures and mix them with Guidepost and Reader’s Digest goodwill stories to build a slogan focused Christian love ethic. And this works for the most part. Most of God’s revelation is clear we are to keep loving. Seeing reminders of love and calls to do good on sofa pillows and picture frames and posters with sayings can go a long way to keep us on track in a love ethic. I even bought a small saying to put on my work bench when I work on projects for myself and others: “You can’t make everyone happy, you are not pizza.” I know it helps me with boundary maintenance, something crucial for real love to flourish. But I wonder how deep my ethic will be anchored if this is its only strengthening resource. They may be like strings on my fingers reminding me of my commitment, but I need deep strategies and understandings to guide a more sophisticated judgment process.

A more sophisticated approach by some Christian’s eager to do ethics from scripture is to “unhinge” the New Testament from the Old Testament. That cuts down on the killing fields one has to tiptoe around. Andy Stanley’s promotes this approach. He often reminds people that the 10 commandments of the OLD were replaced by One commandment of the New Testament, and living in the resurrection creates a whole different ethic. Stanley is one of my favorite Christian speakers and I highly recommend people listen to him but I disagree with him on this point. In fact, when we you get to the last chapter of the New Testament, Revelation, the killing fields are back—and with a global vengeance. Scholars tell us there are about 300 Old Testament references in that book suggesting that even John the Beloved, who had more Jesus time than anyone else, still seems to pull the Old back into the New.

I doubt Christianity makes sense without its Jewish roots. It is too easily Hellenized or made a superficial “love” ethic if it is not kept part of God’s panoramic work of redemption which gets a special message when he works through his chosen people.  Here special revelation adds meaning to general revelation all have access to. The privileged arguments of “His people,” both in the Old and New, bring a richer glue to doing ethics. Our ethics and our God-worship can get distorted without the rich connection to the WHOLE of scripture and the WHOLE of God’s work to reveal himself in direct revelation and in general. The resurrection is an especially amazing special revelation and the amazing event with the Cross the New Testament promotes repeadedly. But it is part of a larger story. Doing away with the Old Testament can rob us of figuring out that larger story.

A more melancholy task awaits us who want to stay grounded in scripture in figuring out the good life. It require us to sift through its painful stories with our eyes on God’s eyes. It is to ask Him constantly how this passage should teach us about his loving redemptive ethic he most wants for the human race. It puts the Bible back into the Holy Spirits tool box of His work on our sanctification.  

Over the next several blogs, we will try to do this more melancholy task.

Prayer: God, help us in our moral journey. Hold our hands least we stray into legalism or licentiousness and away from your loving path.

Christian Influence

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt 5:16

This is probably the best single call to… leadership, self-development, vocation, Christian living, Christian influence and the abundant life.

Coupled with the Great Commission at the end of Matthew, this passage leaves no doubt what Jesus’ desire for our lives is. He wants us to live, work, and minister in amazing ways that will make people feel blessed and where they will take notice, experience great joy, and want to just praise God for having encountered our “good works.”

I don’t know where you are at in your struggles or successes, but the highest high and the lowest low is equalized framed as potentially linked to this call to “shine.” This simple call to “Let your light shine” is a call to be SHINING ANYWHERE.

Ellen White writes ”
” Jesus does not bid the Christian to strive to shine, but just to let his light shine in clear and distinct rays to the world. Do not blanket your light. Do not sinfully withhold your light. Do not let the mist and fog and malaria of the world put out your light. Do not hide it under a bed or under a bushel, but set it on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house…. God bids you shine, penetrating the moral darkness of the world.” Our High Calling 297.3

Here is the call to authenticity, genuine ministry, and also a call to duty–because implied in this quote is the call to buck against the debilitating trends and moral disease that threatens your light. It is to live on the side of “YOUR” light.


This is what makes Christianity counter-cultural. It has both the call to natural, fluid, native ability and authenticity, but also a call to work, a new kind of effort. In the previous verses before this call to shine is the call to work as seen in vs 14 and 15:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Mt 5: 14, 15).

Cities take work to build. They also take more work to maintain, to keep healthy. So what. It is a necessary labor. This call to shine as a city on a hill is a call to remember that on a cold night a wavering stranger or a returning daughter or son, down the distant valley, sagging with a wayfarer’s heart, will see the city, and rejoice. Even before they get there, their hope fills up with this vision of a place for food, shelter, conversation and love.

So the call to Christian influence–whatever form that influence takes–is a call to so live and so work that others are ministered to so deeply and blessed so well that they can’t help but thank God and praise him.

Good works and effort doesn’t have to be legalistic. It can be a simple settling in to our call–our purpose–our light. YOUR LIGHT.

We are all called as Christians to have influence, to be the ones who live well and in the process sweeten, or rescue, or heal, or inspire, or share the burden of….another. People will be thankful to God for your good works.

The call to Christian influence includes the call to lead. As Maxwell reminded the world: “Leadership is influence. Nothing more and nothing less.” My Caveat is that focusing on leadership may be took restrictive for the magnanimous plans of God. We are called to influence regardless of how that happens. I would suggest if leadership was a circle in a VENN diagram, it would be an overlapping smaller circle to the larger circle of Christian influence. Sometimes influence happens even more when you are a good follower–as a department administrative assistant taught me so well.

The cool thing about “Let Your Light So Shine” is that it is soooo adaptable to multiple situations. You can lead and have influence. You can follow and have influence. You can be quiet and have influence. You can speak up and have influence. You can wash cars and have influence. You can do brain surgery and have influence. You can even be hated, persecuted, mistreated and even crucified… and still have amazing influence.

In fact, that is the point of Jesus. Shine. Just shine–regardless of what you face and where you face it–and you are going to turn hearts toward Him. In fact, sometimes the way we manage our suffering is what brings such a sweetness in our own lives that it becomes a soothing smell to others.

That is how I felt today when reading about a faithful Catholic mother near Dallas Texas who, for decades, took care of her fully paralyzed son. Ann McClamrock let her light shine from her small Dallas house. After losing her first husband to cancer, her second husband and her had to learn how take care of their 17 year-old son who had a tragic football injury in the 1970s. She was told to put the son in a care facility but she brought him home and ministered to him for decades. Then she lost her second husband and her son by a previous marriage. But despite those blows she kep ministering to her bed-ridden son.

I see the light of Jesus shining strong through this women. AMAZING. READ one version of the story here.

So, the invitation to Christians to shine is a universal call. Like the Great Commission to “go into all the world,” the call to shine is global imperative… and a great way to live a life.

God: Help the reader of this message know the hill they are to shine from and stand where their light needs to be placed.

Risk: Nothing Ventured-Nothing Gained

A recent post on my favorite blog–Institute for Faith, Work and Economics,– corresponded with my morning devotion. I thought I would share ideas from both.

Tim Hoerr’s post on Why Worship Involves Risk shows how it takes initiative and risk to worship God. He spells Faith, R-I-S-K.

He uses Matthew 28:16-17 to make his point: “Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.”

Tim goes on to connect this “faith risk” ability beyond just acts of verbal and “church” worship to all our activities of daily love and giving. ” We can do this faith engaged risk all week long as we step forward into the kingdom principles that make for radical living. “Each person’s opportunity to risk will look very different from those around him or her. And each day’s opportunity to risk may look different from yesterday’s.”

This brought back my grandmothers classic reminder to us: “Nothing ventured, Nothing gained.” She said that to remind us to be willing to take risks and changes in life. We have to take risks for things to happen in life. This is true for us in many areas: spiritual, physical, financial and relational . You need to take risks….in asking that friend out on a date….. In asking someone for a raise to better provide for your family…… in investing in that company you believe in…..or investing in yourself…or the hardest yet, investing in that person that no one recognizes what you recognize–their potential!

That is the stuff of faith…an this blog reminded me of that truth.

Now to my devotion.

I was reading John 20. This is when Jesus shows himself after his resurrection to his followers. I got into the text this time as Peter. “Getting into the text” is when you pretend you are one of the participants try to walk through the experience from their vantage point. That includes thinking through their life story (his call, his walking on water, his denial, etc….). It is godly imagination trying to find new meanings.

Over the last 40 years of reading John 20, I have mostly walked in John’s sandals as I felt young like him. Then later, through a deeply challenging period in my life I was Mary–overwhelmed with grieve, dog-paddling with sorrow, running from more than seven demons. But in my mid-50s, I am feeling more like Peter, older, slower, and not as emotionally intense and mostly just plugging away. So, during this reading, I entered the text as Peter complete with all my regrets, aging muscles and a history of poor risk taking.

So, with a slower pace I strolled through this passage. I had a deeper question of something I have noticed for years. Jesus visited Mary before he visited John and Peter. Suddendly my academic question,”Why did the angels and Jesus meet the woman Mary first and not the men John and Peter at the tomb Sunday morning?” to a deeper questions: “Jesus, why do you show up for Mary and other women faster than you do for Peter and John and us men?” to a more emotional question: “what about us men, we are struggling too and need reassurance.”

When I get exacerbated by a text or a feeling or a confusion or sensing rejection, I have learned to calm my nerves and go back to God 101. God loves everyone. He shows partiality to now one. He does whatever he does because he loves to love on all who will receive that love. Then I force myself to come up with 10 possible “redemptive” explanations for what is happening. It is a very effective technique and I really do come up with fascinating ideas.

So I came up with a over a dozen explanations this time. Then I put on my evaluation hat (judgment) and I weed through to find the top candidates. I dismissed half as obvious poor explanations, like Jesus was gender biased or he was getting back at Peter and John because they ran away Friday night. Instead I came up with more redemptive explanations for Jesus’ actions.

  1. “She went first to the tomb. “The early bird gets the worm.” He was merely responding to her great initiative.
  2. She was mourning a lottttttt. “Blessed are those who mourn because they will be comforted.” She needed comfort the most. He gave it to her first.
  3. She risked a lot before Christ’s death. She was the biggest share holder and was entitled to payout of the first dividends
  4. She obeyed faster. When she saw something, she acted on it. He knew she would follow through immediately while the “men” thought it over and “worked” it out in committees.
  5. She talked more. If you want to get out word of a resurrection, she was the one to spill the beans too. Telling her meant telling the world. People listened to her: she not only shared honestly with transparency and emotions but she probably was attractive.
  6. Individuals run faster by themselves. They can maneuver social situations faster. Pairing, marriage, and doing teams blunt risk taking because doubts arise in conversations. (I dismiss this observation as in reality the best way to confirm news is by more than one witness. Mary’s message is responded to but not always taken seriously because it needed to be confirmed).
  7. She was a clingy personality. Desperate for affection. He needed to meet her needs for closure on that affection.

Several of these make sense and could work together to help explain why Mary and not John and Peter get Jesus extra special visit that morning. But I think the combination that makes most sense is High Risk and High Need. Risk–you could lose a lot or maybe all of it is Mary’s middle name. She showed she was all in that night she washed his feet with her hair and gave up her salary rich perfume for his annointing. She needed to worship Him. Her risk was born of her need and her need made her willing to risk.

The men would eventually get to this deep realization in their own way. Those disciples who keep following (unlike the ones of John 6) eventually come to that bridge of all in as a combination of High Risk and High Need. Its the place of a risking faith.

Which leads me to the ultimate risk of faith, not only with God, but in all relationships. One of the hardest things….to invest in others, especially children or youth is a struggle as you do not know the possibility of “returns” on your emotional, financial, spiritual, social and intellectual investment. But when Mary turns to Jesus and says Rabonni, which means teacher, the gap between risk and reality was closed.

It is what all teachers wait to see. The ultimate ROI. Mary was a good student. Jesus’ sacrifice was not in vane.

Maybe that morning was not just about meeting Mary’s need for a savior and her “right” to see her investment was worth it. Maybe it was for Jesus to see his risk was already paying off.

Hmmmm. Next time, I need to read John 20 from Jesus vantage point.

He Saw My Potential

He knew I had a heart for him. He saw my potential.

He knew that I would listen to his crazy ideas about “blessed are the poor” and “turn the other check.” He saw my potential.

He knew I would eventually see the 10 commandments as a gift from him to me and not as a demand of him from me. He saw my potential.

He knew, like the disciples He called, that despite our running away, we would eventually return and confirm his belief in his ability to lead us: “my sheep hear my voice and they will follow me.” He saw my potential.

He would spend thousands and thousands of dollars to train me and to educate me and to give me pastors and teachers and bosses and sermons and books and friends and families to give me resources for my personal growth. He saw my potential.

He would give me love, truth, visions of rapture, assignments of grief, tedious work, glorious victories, and smashing failures…. all because He saw my potential.

He saw not only my potential for Good.

But He also saw my deep potential for doing massive Evil.

So He intervened, to prevent the worse and create some good.

What an amazing God! No wonder Mary called him Rabboni!

What else can you say to a person who has done so much to save you from yourself and to give you a taste of His glory?

You bow in humility and gratitude. You say thank you. You ask him, “what now?” And when He says simply to pay it forward and join the joy of His salvation initiative, you say “sounds good.”

Lead Jesus. I choose to follow!! I see your potential.

Following Jesus: What to do with the 10 Commandments?

Andy Stanley is one of my favorite authors, youtube preachers and DVD study creators. He is an amazing communicator. He has lead me to a better experience of God, to love my family and others in a deeper way, and to see that Jesus is even better than my dreams imagined.

Pastor Stanley has always had his detractors, and recently more of them because of his apparent dismissal of the Bible and the 10 commandments.

On the Bible issue, his comments appear to have been striving to get his congregation to move beyond a “the Bible says” approach to sharing their faith with others. He believes a fresher approach is needed with post-Christian America. Focusing on the events and experiences that deeply shaped the founding identity of the Christian community, mainly the Resurrection of Jesus, and our experience of our faith in accepting these witnesses, can have a powerful impact on unbelievers or disbelievers.

I agree that we can find more effective ways to reach others that walks back from Bible idolatry or bible-banging to get our point across. Sharing, counseling or convincing others of “the need” for faith takes a deep encounter with the Person of Christ who we can put faith in. I accept his pastoral challenge. Thanks. (Later, I will offer a caveat that might help him and his detractors find a more common ground for conversation).

On the second issue, the 10 commandments, Andy’s move to “unhitch” ourselves more from the Old Testament and embrace the “new” covenant which moved Christianity past the “old” covenant is a little more difficult for me to see as a safe place to go.

He is not too keen on the Ten commandments arguing God replaced them with One commandment, the commandment to Love!

He makes a strong case, has some good insights, but misses the opportunity to find a more integrative understanding of the God of the Old and the New and how that brings us to the God of the Now.

Yes, Jesus is the Word incarnate, showing the face of God better than texts or saints or angels. that is the point of Hebrews 1-3. But to dismiss or even marginalize the Old Testament, Judiasm and the 10 commandments seems to throw the baby out with the bath water. It seems to suggest God wasn’t trying to say something to all of us through the Law and the Prophets. Did he not have a plan back then? Hebrews 11 seems excited to extend us a list of people to follow, and if you notice, most of those we read about in the Old Testament. What are we to learn in our Christian walk from Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Ruth, Esther and others.

Failure to grasp the continuity of the Old Testament and New Testament and to see God working always on the same basic game plan, it to miss a robust view of God’s work of restoration and redemption.

My faith community, Seventh-day Adventist, has helped me try to find this continuity and that itself has given a unique path into the mind and heart and strategy of God. The sanctuary services, detailed in the Old Testament, has been especially useful for providing a big picture of his work. Revelation and Hebrews confirms that big picture continues into the New Testament. It culminates in a wonderful game plan of grace and restoration, but also God’s dealing with evil and those who cling to it, most notably Satan.

This unhitching of Christianity from the Old Testament makes it vulnerable to certain infections, most notably a sentimental love unconnected with the work of reconciliation and understanding of value commitments (named well in the 10 commandments). It also opens it up to a Gnosticism that seeks knowledge without a thorough training from God and the two witnesses (Revelation 11), which I see as the Old and New Testament periods, as documented in the full Bible.

And the view that the 10 commandments aren’t crucial to Christianity shows a distortion of much of the New Testament statements referring to aspects of that law and to the work of God to write his law of love, which includes all his good laws, on our hearts.

As a Seventh-day Adventist, I especially think Andy needs a deeper study of the Sanctuary, Sabbath and maybe something about the healthful living principles of the Old Testament.

Now, I will be the first to admit that on these OT teachings, I got mired in legalism and would confess many in my denomination have. But many others have found a deep grace and love in these old but amazing teachings.

I think Jesus, in love, invited me to rest always in him and I also believe that includes the privilege of Seventh-day Sabbath observance. I think he taught us the Sanctuary system in the Old Testament, so we might trace better his multifaceted ministry as creator, law giver, lamb, priest, advocate, and judge.

Which leads me to my final invitation to Andy, to his detractors, and myself. I think we would all agree Jesus loves others and wants a lifegiving encounter with them. It seems, from the Old Testament, he is creative in how he can make that happen and I believe he uses various experiences and words on a page or in our experiences to draw us closer to himself AND to His community of disciples.

So getting people closer to Jesus is our shared goal. As they come closer to him, they come closer to each other, and in that process see new aspects of Jesus through the experience others have of him.

This was the adjudication process of having the benefit of 2-3 witnesses. Without that fullness, we individually get distorted. This fundamental Christian growth strategy I discovered both in my life, but also in the Old Testament teaching of 2-3 witnesses, and in the realization that God engaged in such “judgment” that is through (compare PS 82, Daniel 2, 7-9; Revelation).

If I am tracing Jesus well in my walk with him and my reading of scripture, he has moved into yet another redemptive function: the Judgment Hour spoken of in Revelation 14.

While Andy, has isolated one of the biggest events, the resurrection, Acts 17 reminds us that this was part of a larger plan to bring all things under judgment by the Man God appointed, mainly Christ. The Old Testament sanctuary system, which plays out strongly Revelation and Hebrews and in the legal-judicial themes of John invites us to a deep appreciation of the thoroughness of God’s love, not only in his redemption of us individually, but of the whole order.

The Holy Spirit and Jesus are teaming up to continue the encounters and I would hope we can let him use the Bible to guide his followers in understanding more of the invisible attributes of his system and his work.

The disciplines on the road to Emaus got a Bible study instead of a first hand account of the resurrection by the only one who ever went through it completely of his own volition. Even Jesus at the Resurrection seems to value a scriptural pursuit of truth. It didn’t end there, there is also the encountering moment. But it seems that witnesses–not only ours but others–is crucial in the faith development process. Which is why we need the witness of the Old Testament and especially the 10 commandments. They help us encounter Jesus in more reliable ways.

Many experiences, testimonies, events or encounters can teach us about Jesus. What does the Creation tell us? The Flood? The cross? The giving of the Law at Sinai? Christ move into his priestly ministry in heaven (Hebrews)? The judgment hour of Revelation 14?

Andy, I would suggest add to the conversation but also let others share what they have found valuable in their walk with God.

Yes, you see correctly the power of the resurrection. But I see in his discussion with Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ resurrection that it is about His person, Jesus, and where he is, events can happen that bring more love.

One of those was at Sinai. Another will be at the judgment hour.

Which brings me to my agreement with Andy. Matthew 25 is the Yom Kippur of the New Testament. It is where Jesus states what will be the deciding aspects of his work of judgment. And it seems to be the one commandment law of love.

Prayer: God, help me to love like you!!! I know that will fulfill all your expectations for me and my desire to follow you. This will not be an abandonment of what you have said in the past but a crescendo of law and love combing.

Following Well or Eventually

There is one social competency more difficult than leadership. That is the ability to follow well.

It takes deep intellectual and emotional preparation and skills to follow well.

A friend told me one time that if a person thinks they are leading, and they turn around and no one is following them, then they are not leading. They are merely out for a stroll.

That is tough truth for those of us who try to lead but painfully realize few are following!!!!

However, it is even more of a painful truth to those of us who claim to follow well we are missing are cues to do.

Scripture has much to teach us about both these areas.

First, Jesus was and remains a leader of indisputable skill. But he is also an amazing follower. There were times that Jesus had crowds pressing around him 2000 years ago and in 2018 those crowds have swelled to hundreds of millions strong. He is a LEADER!!! But he was foremost a follower and even when leading this kept him sustained in a journey that often found no one following him.

Some other observations:

Second, right after the full affirmation of Jesus at his baptism, he followed the Spirit into the wilderness…alone…. He had been fully affirmed by both John (behold the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world) and God (this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased). This gave him leader authority. But then he followed another authority. This confirmation of his role as leader still required following.

Third, there were times, when Jesus stepped out on a journey when no one followed him. To the casual observer this could be used to question if he was really a good leader. This got especially painful on his leadership to the cross. That type of leadership thins out the crowds. I am sure Satan (the complete opposite of a good follower by the way), used this fact to mock Jesus about his poor leadership PRECISELY when he was leading the best. “Where are your followers now?” was the insinuating words rolling off the lips of Satan and the angry Roman and Jewish leaders like puss out of acorrupted hearts.

Fourth, Jesus prepared us to follow well by warning us we would not always follow well at the current time or pace he needed us to.

In John 13, Simon Peter asked Jesus: “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Fifth, tucked away in this conversation is hope for us who have not learned to follow well. He gave Peter a hope: “but you will follow later.” In another scene, Jesus shows his confidence as a leader to keep leading despite the temporary thinning of the crowd, when he prophecies:  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27-28). He looks past the pain of dying alone to a futuristic reality is that millions would catch on to his style of leadership.

In conclusion, Jesus lead well because he followed well and kept following. This is the obvious message of the Garden of Gethsemane, backed up by his action on Calgary. When he said, “not my will but thine be done” he was in the excruciating pain of following. He was also in the glorious work of leading.

One of the best questions to ask when hiring a leader is have them tell you about their experiences of following. Hopefully, like Peter, they can talk about times they missed their cue or couldn’t stomach the humiliation or the pressure or the pain required of a true follower as well as tell about times they followed and that made them lead well.

I end with four invitations on the journey to follow well:

  1. See God’s hand in his use of the “other” leader: Are you able to identify how God is using the person you are trying to follow, even or especially if that person is making serious mistakes? I am not talking about blind obedience or naivety (#4 addresses that). But it is fostering a deep picture of how God might be piecing together your redemption and that of others in the messiness of your following well. When Judah lay in ruin and God used King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and his friends had to come to a view that God was still working. Finding his finger and the pulse of God and a whisper of His activity is your difficult castration takes some complex skill of following well.
  2. See what is unique in the “other.” Even bad leaders get to power by some unique gift or skill that we can see as evidence of their unique gifts. Celebrating that uniqueness, even when other aspects are not working well in the leader, is about following well.
  3. See what they can teach you. Following is primarily about learning well. Tracing God’s use of the leader and the unique aspect of their skills can open you up to find something in the leader worth emulating and learning from. Is that leader a good dresser? Is that leader agile in using social media? I am not supportive of one national leader right now in my world, but I do admire the fact he doesn’t drink alcohol. If everyone in the U.S. followed THIS ONE EXAMPLE of that leader, the US would be a wonderfully better place. Following looks for the positive in the other and seeks to learn from it.
  4. See with sober judgment. Following well requires sober judgment–keeping yourself an independent thinker that weighs facts and evidence to make creative decisions. What about this leaders actions will hurt him and his followers? Be willing, like Daniel’s friends, to show you follow well by not obeying bad commands. That is a deeper loyalty even to hot headed leader.

God, help us to follow like Jesus did.


Individuality and Mutuality in Christian Leadership

Within our Adventist educational community, one Ellen White often quoted passage is Education p. 17:

Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator– individuality, power to think and to do. The men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character. It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought. Instead of confining their study to that which men have said or written, let students be directed to the sources of truth, to the vast fields opened for research in nature and revelation. Let them contemplate the great facts of duty and destiny, and the mind will expand and strengthen.

I believe this passage has inspired and shaped many students and teachers.

As students, it has reminded us that we can create like God, and take initiative like he does. It has inspired us to embrace our God given power to do new things and lead.

As teachers, it has reminded us to nurture individuality in our students–to resist the temptation to ONLY create “one-size-fits-all” cooky cutter approaches to learning and promote only one type of outcome or “one mold” program standards. It has challenged us to be flexible with the uniqueness and individual needs of others and to use that to help each individual student find their vision, voice, and vocation. It has inspired some of us to be more quiet so that our dominant personality and strong beliefs won’t overshadow the emerging voice of our children or students. It has helped us search for “their agenda” instead of only bringing our agenda to the classroom, conversation or school.

I have failed many times in applying this passage–both as a student and a teacher and now as a leader. At times, I have been too compliant and didn’t express my own individuality. At other times, I have suppressed the individuality of others around me with my own strong emotions or mindset or opinions or vision. At times, as a leader, I have flip-flopped between being too passive and too aggressive and continue to search for ways to be less of both on the way to better individuality.

Individuality is not easy to keep active in fulfilling the three noble outcomes she listed: bearing responsibilities, leading enterprise, and influencing character

Within this passage are three hints on how to keep individuality on track to these good goals.

Those three hints are in the words or phrases: a) image of God, b) duty and c) destiny.

Image of God. As a community that believes in the Trinity–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–it should not be surprising that individuality operates within community. When God created the heavens and the earth, it three beings were operating as one: individual creativity within a community of mutuality.

The one example of a distorted individuality without mutuality is in Isaiah 14:

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
 “But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit. (Isaiah 14: 12-15, NIV)

This type of individuality “weakens” nations, and we correctly associate it with Satanic leadership.

The type of individuality that strengthens communities–families, offices, organizations, and nations–operates within a genuine mutuality that actual promotes individuality.

That individuality-mutuality dynamic circulates around the two other hints in this passage: duty and destiny.

Duty and Destiny: These are two strong purpose words. Purpose is crucial in both understanding individuality and mutuality and in blending them on the way to something better.

Duty suggests a context of strong principles of right and wrong guiding, even dictating a direction for individuality to go. The second is destiny, which suggests an outcome or final point pulling individuality forward. This second word-destiny-suggests a direction of flow toward an ideal outcome.

Both of those branches of purpose are not merely fostered individuality but within community. Communities foster a sense of right and wrong, social expectations and even obligations that frame duty. Individuals then capture those in their unique dynamic and often take those principles to a new dimension. They arise from the community, are captured within the mind and heart of the individual and then used to even reform the community.

And community need also becomes a driving picture for an individual to see their destiny. They see their place as filling a gap within their community.

Leadership requires individuality to function, but if that individuality does not function within community Satanic leadership is not far behind. If that leadership is only community and does not have individuality and its creativity, then that community will eventually get stuck and die.

One event that shows this powerful dynamic of divine leadership–individuality and mutuality perfectly manifest–in bearing responsibility, leading enterprise and influencing character is at the Cross

Two passages show this:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42, KJV.

Here Jesus, the ultimately creative individual, is submitting to the Father in his work of duty and destiny to save the human race. He shrinks for bearing such a huge responsibility. It is an overwhelming call to influence character. It is creating a radically new enterprise: the Christian movement.

He submits (mutuality) and individually leads.

But what is often missed is the mutuality of the Father, who is also acting individually. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16, NIV.

God the Father is also submitted to the Son as both individually and sacrificially respond to the purpose of their act: community.

And who is that community: you and I. They are leading by sacrificing for us.

There is no greater love than this.

There is no greater manifestation of individuality than this.

There is not greater testimony to mutuality than this.

This is the Way of God that Christian leadership seeks to emulate.

Prayer: God help each of us to find our individuality and mutuality within this divine community of leadership. Forgive us for our laziness that avoids the call of individuality. Forgive us for our abuse of community that has suppressed individuality in others. Help us to emulate your image.



Grace & Truth: What Does God do with Bad Goat Leaders

There are millions of leaders in the world. Not all of them do us good.

Last week, one of these leaders was sentenced to up to 175 years for sexually abusing girls. This sentence was based on 7 counts but over 265 identified victims came forth. It is believed many more were likely abused that did not come forth.

Dr. Nassar worked for Michigan State University and the USA Gymnastics association.  As a physician, he was responsible for ensuring that gymnasts kept healthy. In stead he sexually abused them. As the victims came forward, they detailed abuses related to child pornography and digital penetration and other abuses.

One victim spoke truth to power:

“It takes a monster to sexually assault a child,” she said. “But it takes a monster backed by ego, experience and power, fueled by multiple institutions, to sexually assault a child in front of their own mother.”

Another anonymous statement was read :

“Larry you might not remember me but I certainly remember you,” ……“You ― Larry Nassar ― used and abused my body for years for your own sexual gratification. … MSU, I’m looking at you too. Lou Anna I know you resigned but you owe me and the other survivors one hell of an apology.”  (See the link above).

This type of leadership Zechariah warned about. It would dominant many institutions, not just MSU, but even the church. Paul warned us it would become more common just before Jesus would return (2 Timothy 3:1-8, NASB)

And both Zechariah and Paul promised a Good Shepherd who would act to remove such leadership:

“Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul also was weary of me.” (Zech 11: 8). 

And then the chapter ends with the solemn reminder:

“Woe to the worthless shepherd
Who leaves the flock!
A sword will be on his arm
And on his right eye!
His arm will be totally withered
And his right eye will be blind.” (Zech 11:17, NASB)

Back in Zechariah 10 he unveils the contrast between this abusive shepherd leadership and true leadership:

For the teraphim speak iniquity,
And the diviners see lying visions
And tell false dreams;
They comfort in vain.
Therefore the people wander like sheep,
They are afflicted, because there is no shepherd.
 “My anger is kindled against the shepherds,
And I will punish the male goats;
For the Lord of hosts has visited His flock, the house of Judah,
And will make them like His majestic horse in battle”
(10:2,3: NASB )

The NIV removes the nuanced “male goats” to say simply:
    “and I will punish the leaders” 
And the reason for the punishment relates to the central purpose of leadership: “for the Lord Almighty will care for his flock” (NIV vs 3)

God takes seriously the care of his flock.

That is why he promises a good judgment that will do its work of both grace and justice together:

All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:32-46).

So God tells us plainly that he takes very seriously the care of his sheep. He will reward those who do give good care. He will punish those who do not .

All institutions and leaders should be on notice. This is the God who runs this place.

This is why, by his wonderful grace, we want as a church and as Christian leaders to stay close to the Good Shepherd and live like he has asked us to. He has grace to do that. This is especially true for those of use who work with children and youth. We want to train and mentor leaders to be able to hear the words of God promised in this passage and receive that reward as shepherds following the only Good Shepherd.

That is the word from God.

That is His goal for all of us.

This is what I want for myself.

That is what I work for as an expert in moral leadership teaching school leaders.

This is what I want from my Andrews University.

In the next posts, I take up the challenge of when we, like Dr. Nassar face our falling.

Because Christianity isn’t only a story about morality. It is NOT a moralistic club. It is a hospital for sinners that promotes the moral ideal of God even as it deals with sickness that inhabits ALL of us. Dr. Nassar did evil. But that same evil is in all of us and it is only be the proper application of his grace that we find ourselves on the sheep side of the final judgment.

This is the challenge of a robust grace morality. How do you have justice as Dr. Nassar experienced in the court and yet have a place for forgiveness.

This is the tough stuff of Christian morality.

I think we find solutions in Jesus’ work with Peter and Judas….

How can you shepherd if you are one of the sheep?

The Lord is My Shepherd, sang David. He sang it well. He knew its truth.

All sheep know the truth. We know our fragility (at least we should). We can’t see very far. We get tired easily. We suffer raging diseases. We are easily tempted to wander after whatever glitters. And when we get lost we can’t find our way back without a shepherd.

We are needy.

My wife’s new favorite song “In Need” says it well. We are…..

“In need of grace, in need of love, in need of mercy raining down from high above, in need of strength, in need of peace….”

“In need of Christ, the perfect Lamb”

The song ends plainly: “I am in need.”

Hardly the words of a champion. No great nation here strutting its claims to power. No great football team barking out its superiority over its opponents. No mighty conqueror claiming its prowess.

Just a bunch of sheep in need!!!

What are we to make of this mighty army called Christianity?

Its just a bunch of sheep following a Lamb? Is that crazy or what?

A “sheep army” isn’t much of a threat to anyone….or is it.

And if that wasn’t enough of a mystery, it appears the army seeks needy sheep to be leaders.

In the book of John, the last book written, records one of the last calls of Christ on earth. He turns to Peter and many others: “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17).

How is a man ravaged by fear and guilt suppose to speak with conviction on forgiveness to others?

How is a man full of sexual drives supposed to safely shepherd the flock without abusing the sheep?

How is a women fighting depression suppose to encourage her lambs?

How is a mentally feeble teen supposed to navigate his way to lead others into “battle”?

Wouldn’t it be better if we hired some angels to do this important work?

They have more experience, less misdirected passion, more positivity, and better training. They don’t have to sleep or take naps, get hungry or taking potty breaks. They can rise above the fragility of flesh and bone realities. Couldn’t we get a lot more done?

But maybe that is the point. Maybe sheep were called to shepherd because they could identify with needs and work to meet those needs.

There is nothing like a thirsty shepherd to cultivate a deep conviction that the sheep need to be lead by still waters.

There is nothing like a shepherd who has been attached by a wolf to know that sheep would like protection from wolves.

Maybe that is why Jesus, the Lamb, is the leader most to be trusted and why he calls sheep to be trained by him to shepherd. It is a better design for true leadership. He works not to remove us from the feelings of need but to keep us near them so we could lead better.

Jesus prefers the embedded and even the disabled leader to the confident strutting one because it keeps the leader a learner instead of puffed up as a person more interested in being a champion boasting greatness then a quiet shepherd nursing the sheep’s sore feet.

Away with the wicked Satanic view of false leadership. When leaders are more focused on their fame as leaders they have lost sight of the sheep!!!

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” (Heb 4:15). Though he NEVER EVER sinned, he felt the pain of being a sheep. In fact, he was the lamb, a specially sheep with the difficult task of being the sacrifice.

“My sheep here my voice, and they follow me” was his bold claim as he walked alone to the cross. (John 10:27).

And the true sheep followed.

Then he calls those sheep to be shepherds, because their more sheep to serve.

“Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17).

In the next few posts, I will be outlining what it means to be a leader in the Christian tradition, a sheep-shepherd model.

I recommend reading these passages:

Psalms 23

Zechariah 10, 11

1 Peter 5

Prayer: Jesus: We are in need of you. Help us hear the need of others and respond to those in need in the strength you can provide us.

Diversity in Moral Leadership

Not all leaders look the same. Some are quiet. Some are loud. Some plug away at their tasks and draw interested and committed followers by their steadiness. Others use charisma to move crowds to action, using a splash of personality and an exciting clear vision to set a better direction for a group.

In our article on diversity in moral leadership, Janet Ledesma, Mordekai Ongo and I argue that the Old Testament roles of Priest, Prophet, King and Judge present various approaches to moral leadership.  Each type of approach has its own strong moral drive and standard and also potential moral blind spots, weaknesses and bad results for the community.

The Priest is more relational, positioned close to the people, looking for reconciliation. They try to keep alive the relational touch of God in peoples lives and help keep them attentive to the divine presence in the world. Sadly, they sometimes settle for compromise and even excusing their sins and those of others (as with Aaron and Eli) in a misguided desire for “false peace.”

The Prophet is more idealistic, positioned more toward hearing God’s will, looking for fidelity, faithfulness, obedience, and compliance. But these bony-finger leaders can get feisty (Elijah killed all the false prophets. He was right in doing so but was this the righteous way?) and even nasty (as with Jonah’ attitude toward Ninevah and the Elder Brother’s attitude toward his Prodigal Brother). The ideal without a buffering relationship leads to self-righteousness and even justifies killings that by Jesus’ later standard would be considered murder.

The King is driven by the pragmatic and the need for cooperative and coordinated behavior. If that means force has be used so be it. Better a few get hurt than the whole system grumble. If he (or she) has to accumulate more and more authority to preserve the order, so be it.  The Pax Romana shows how this moral model works. Kings, like prophets, want obedience, but usually to the status quo or even better to their vision, whims and mood. King’s don’t score well on moral leadership in scripture nor in history. I view kings as a necessary evil since 1 Samuel 8 poor decision to bring them into Israel. I see this as an evil slowly unwound by the destruction of Jerusalem in the 5th Century BC and further undone by the Christian approach to leadership Jesus practice. Sadly, as  once again taken into captivity (see Luther’s Babylonian Captivity and the accompanying commentary).

The Judge is my ideal moral leader. They hear the witness of multiple voices–the Priest’s concern about relationships between God and Man, the Prophet’s concern about ideals–God’s and morals, and the King’s pragmatic concern about “it working.” Then they adjudicate between those for a better solution.

I have blogged about this several times, trying to invite us to see morality and moral impulses as distributed through humans and human communities. My essential argument is we need ways to hear these multiple moral voices and leadership styles to create more effective decisions and outcomes.

See my attempt to value the prophetic moral role but also show that it is NOT the only moral voice needed:  Jeremiah’s strong prophetic moral leadership that showed the irritation of prophets.   See the call for more moral leadership in the world and the need to see the moral diversity needed for that moral leadership.

While reading Erik Erickson’s biography of Young Man Luther, I also saw how Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego can also be useful heuristic of seeing the source of moral diversity in our world and actually in our own minds.  The prophet’s role is mirrored in his focus on the Superego, the drive of conscience (that maps to God or human expectations). The King links to the Ego, where we are driven to achieve, succeed and reach goals we dream about accomplishing. The Priestly is connected loosely to the ID and the drive of “flesh” with its appetites and impulses and social drives.

So in a true sense, we each have three main drives please God and others, please our needs and wants, and reach significance and outcomes in our work. But ultimately we need a judge–to use wisdom and higher order thinking–to adjudicate between these to discern the best path. Not all physical and social drives (ID) should be fulfilled, our conscience can be wrong, and the ideal and expectations of God and others (Superego) more tormenting than useful. Finally, and the need to set and reach and push through to goals (Ego) gives society accomplishments useful for life.

This summer I got another heuristic for seeing diversity in moral leadership. We had Vijay Govindarajan on campus speaking about his book the Three Box Solution.

Box 1 is about increasing performance. This is focused on synergies, efficiency, and performance.

Box 3 is about innovating creatively for the future. This is about breaking free of the current mindset to find new directions for action and new ways of accomplishing old goals, and even finding new goals.

Box 2 is about letting go of elements of practice that are detrimental to either Box 1 or Box 3 work. Its ending, trashing, starting over, repurposing.

He argues that executives need to spend equal time in each of the three boxes. My experience is leaders themselves tend to be more likely to live in one box more than other because of personality or what aspect (Superego, Id, Ego) has been the most dominant in their lives or by the way social and work demands have formed and shaped them.

I see the need to have three types of leaders on each team or main decision-making group: those who are attentive to details and processes that increase performance; those willing to risk and venture out with hunches, and finally those willing to close down (hatchet leaders) what is not working and get rid of sacred cow and sacred cow worshipers.

(I am still processing the moral variation at work in each Box).

I hope this helps you think about you and your leadership and the leadership of the people around you, even the ones who irritate you the most.

Ultimately, the gospels present Jesus as the whole Leader–Prophet, Priest, King and Judge. The rest of us must learn to live in our fragmentation–looking to Him as the True Leader, and to those around us that bring aspects of His leadership to blend with our own fragmented leading.




Judges, Kings and A Better Leadership Plan

1 Samuel 8 tells us when the Israelite’s asked for a good king it displeased Samuel and God.

God’s advised Samuel how to respond: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”Why? (NIV, v 7-9).

Rejecting God! Wow. That is a pretty serious diagnosis. They just asked for a good king. Why so harsh?

How could it be bad to want a good leader? They didn’t want a bad one! They just wanted a good one to lead them against the warring nations. That seems like something every nation, organization or family would want!!! ….A better leader.

I work in a department of leadership. We take thousands of dollars from individuals as they hope we can help them become better leaders in their homes, churches, schools, and nations.

Yes, they have big expectations. And at times I wonder how successful we are. And we are constantly looking for better ways to do our work. And I can’t speak for my colleagues but I constantly feel inadequate as leader and in helping them. TOTALLY INADEQUATE. I know first hand that our goal is outrageous.

But I have never believed it was evil goal. Paul even tells young Timothy to improve his leadership and reminds him that “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1, NIV).

What does 1 Sam 8 have to teach us about leadership, rejecting God, and wanting a king to make our nations great again?

I found a partial answer to this issue when comparing three charts from my Andrews University Study Bible. One chart showed the period of the judges, and the enemies of each period as well the estimated time of oppression and peace.

Then it gave the kings in Judah and Israel and the good times (read good kings) and bad time (read bad kings).

I haven’t done a verse by verse analysis of these charts but I have summed up the tables. The calculations are clear. In 200 years of Israel, there was ONLY good king that was labeled Right and Evil. The rest were evil. Not Good.

Yes, Judah did better. They “lasted” about 350 years and had several kings who were right (four), some who were mixed right and evil (four), but the rest evil (12).

The period of the judges was over 400 years, with 111 years of oppression but 290 years of peace.

The bottom line analysis: they did better with a judges approach than a king approach.

Why? What made the difference.  Judges ends with this announcement: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25.

Most people use this passage to dismiss the loosey-goosey subjectivism where people make their own feeble  judgment about issues and make crazy decisions with crazy times resulting.

But the craziness seems to come when we give up our private right of judgment and let a king or other leader tell us what is right and wrong instead of trying to figure out ourselves.

So, the kings was not the best choice, and the period of judges wasn’t the idea either. What was needed was something better.

I believe that is what Samuel and God was working on. Their plan—really it was Gods, and Samuel was its chief reformer–was to create a school system that was growing the LEADERSHIP of everyone.

Wanting a king wasn’t in the plan. What God wanted to create was distributed leadership across the whole kingdom.

This is what I see in reading between the lines about the role of the Schools of the Prophet (established by Samuel and returned to the kingdom during Elijah/Elisha’s time once the “king” disaster worked its way out of the peoples blood stream).

For more on these Schools of the Prophets read the key versesthis biblical analysis, or Ellen White’s very thorough explanation.

The request for a king suggested idolatry, a desire to go back to Egypt, to go back to a system with more flaws than perks. God knew this. That was why he was leading them to something better than looking for the next great leader. He, through Samuel, was leading them to a development of a culture of leadership.

Big difference. The former shirks responsibility, puts the mind in neutral, and creates “mindless” followers on one extreme or “rebellious” schisms on the other.

Better than getting a good leader in an organization, nation, God had a more effective plan. That plan was to develop each persons “JUDGEMENT” and then connect them in a COMMON SCHOOL.

This would have developed a nation of judges, instead of the stupid idea of a singular leader, however good that leader may be.

Do we still believe that system will work? I do.

Thats why, even as a very inadequate leader, I work in a department of LEADERSHIP, bringing the hope we all can develop to our full potential and thus strengthen the homes, churches, and organizations….and nations we serve.

“No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their own lives, expressing themselves fully. When the expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely–all your skills, gifts, and energies–in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming,”–Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader, expanded edition 2003, p. 104

We are in the business of the Schools of the Prophet. We develop people who will find this work of God in their minds and lives. Then as they pursue that, we will be a stronger nation… much better than Israel and Judah were. Even better than the times of judges.

I can see why that dreadful day recorded in 1 Samuel 8 was sooooooo bad!!!!!

Sorry God. Can you forgive us and heal us of that nasty “king thing” desire?

Moral Development: Plan A and Plan B

God is the source of all good. He creates moral reality because morality emanates from his character. He is love and justice, he is regal and humble, and as such he defines the ideal.

But interestingly, that which he is he has shared with us, through the natural world and through relationships. Those who believe he created the world believe the Godhead made us in his image and likeness (Gen 1:26-28). We were designed and destined to be loving and just, regal and humble…just like him.

That was the original plan, plan A. Create man and woman. Put them in a great place. Watch them show to the universe the self-sacrificing love to each other like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do for each other. God made us co-creators of this wonderful world.

Proverbs 3 and 8 speak to the prestine reality and help me connect the dots of our life to the original “moral” creation:

Proverbs 3:

1 My son, do not forget my teaching,
But let your heart keep my commandments….
Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good repute
In the sight of God and man. ” (NASB)

As we align to that kindness and truth that make up wisdom, we gain a lot, not only of material goods but social (“in the sight of…man”) and spiritually (“in the sight of God”)

Then Solomon journey’s back in his mind to the beginning of all this moral beauty:

19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth,
By understanding He established the heavens.
20 By His knowledge the deeps were broken up
And the skies drip with dew.
21 My son, let them not vanish from your sight;
Keep sound wisdom and discretion,
22 So they will be life to your soul
And adornment to your neck. (NASB, added emphasis)

God splashed himself on a palette, that splash seems to have been called wisdom. It was a way to show His influence on nature and humans. He emptied himself to make that reality and then that created the space and place where Adam and Eve would be able to experience what it was to be a creative being in community with another. Glorious creative self-emptying. We were made in that image.  But to make sure the distant reality wasn’t so distance, God knelt to craft Adam and Eve and breathed in them Breath of Life.

Genesis 3 tells us an intruding element got into this beautiful Edenic experience. Satan was irritated by God’s show of great sacrifice. He wanted God to be above others, Lording it over them…. or at least that is what he really wanted to do. Satan’s egotistical spirit couldn’t handle the surrender, self-emptying community that is what it means to be divine–hree in one– or human, two in one. Satan hated God and hated us, made in God’s image.

Eve was deceived and Adam gave in. The moral color scheme was blurred. Satan’s colors entered the moral universey.

But the residuals of God’s moral fingerprints are still everywhere.

When life is lived with love and justice, mercy and truth, it goes well and it shows shadows of the original plan. It shows the original design and God’s power to make it happen.

Yes, the original plan trickles through. Plan A appeals to us as it is in there.

Prov 8

1 Does not wisdom call,
And understanding lift up her voice?
On top of the heights beside the way,
Where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
Beside the gates, at the opening to the city,
At the entrance of the doors, she cries out:
“To you, O men, I call,
And my voice is to the sons of men.
“O naive ones, understand prudence;
And, O fools, understand wisdom.
“Listen, for I will speak noble things;
And the opening of my lips will reveal right things.”

We see residuals everywhere that we should live well. We should live the way of Christ.

God wants that life for us all: Perfect love. Perfect justice. Perfect humility–deep listing to others.

But alas–its not natural anymore. It doesn’t flow easily into our lives.

The world and our human nature have deteriorated into distorted views of moral reality. “For everything in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16).

But underneath all the painful distortion, Plan A shows itself:

Micah 6:8: But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.”

But Plan A is NO longer an option that we can see or even desire let alone attain. Sin has to be dealt with in a definitive way.

Adam could imagine the Garden he left and what life was like in Plan A. He could “see” it on the other side of the flaming swords. But there was not way back.  Plan A is at best the ideal, but now it is not a path. The only path back is the provisions of God in Christ–the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

Cain tried to get back to the garden without the Lamb. It was an attempt to get back to Plan A with one’s own works. But he didn’t see his way was really creating a Plan C. It didn’t make him better. It made him angrier. He killed Abel.

Plan C won’t work. If you try to piece together enough moral fabric to build a Plan A you end up with Plan C–a works religion that makes you even more dangerous. It becomes a horrible distortion of moral righteousness that harbors deep resentment. It is the Pharisaical way. It kills the joy. It kills love, and it kills the real story, that Christ would be the deliverer and that only in trust in him would we survive.

So if Plan A won’t work anymore by itself, and Plan C makes things worse. We need to get back to Plan B.

Micah 7:8-10 “Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is a light for me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness. Then my enemy will see, And shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” (NASB)

Or 1 John 1: 9, puts it even more directly: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Luther was right: Sept Theses on Disputation #40. “We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds. This in opposition to the philosophers. 41.

Then he went on to jettison the Greek approach to goodness: “#41. Virtually the entire Ethics of Aristotle is the worst enemy of grace. This in opposition to the scholastics.”

By grace we are saved and that is not by Plan C but Plan B— HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS SEEN IN OUR FORGIVENESS AS SINNERS.

I claim the promise:

“Now to Him who is able to keep DUANE from stumbling, and to make DUANE stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy,  to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24, 25, NIV).

Prayer: I accept with Paul, that I am a chief of sinners. I can not live this life which you want from me and which I now want but can’t obtain. I accept your grace and see that your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisee in that you reconcile with your righteousness. With Luther, I protest the self-righteous morality that masquerades as a solution and accept the core teaching of Christianity that Plan C–by my own works–will only make a worse mess. I accept Plan B–the Lamb as sacrifice and seek Christ and God to judge me according to their new plan.

Cultivating A Good Protest!!!


The 500 Year Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Have you got excited about the celebrations sweeping through our campuses, nations and world?

I have!!!

Our local community in Berrien Springs has been alive with amazing conferences. The Seminary took up deeply theological issues earlier last in October.  The local Village SDA Church just finished great presentations on pastoral themes. The Department of Politics and History are currently (Nov 2) giving a blend of theology, liberty, musicology and socio-historical analysis related to the Reformation.

My friend Nick Miller has been very helpful helping me understand the importance of the Reformation to my own spiritual community and development. His books linking Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. and religions liberty and Adventism to the Reformation are outstanding. You should buy them.

Adventists cultivate a strong story connecting ourselves to the Reformation. See notes of a 2016 conference on this.

Last month, Nick reminded us from a video from Wittenberg about the importance of the 95 Theses.

So I didn’t want my School of Education to be left out of all these celebrations.

So I posted my own theses on our School’s doors….and walls. (I knew I had to go the extra mile because people were just passing through the glass doors unaware of the only piece of paper posted on them. This “posting” stuff is not as successful nor dramatic as I thought. We are a distracted generation!).

I have to admit. I am not expecting much from my 97 theses I posted. I plan to take them down soon.

Yes. I said 97. I picked 97 not to have more than Luther’s 95 but to match his 97 Theses from September 1517.

They touched my heart more profoundly, even though the 95 are the ones that lit the world on fire.

Luther wrote 97 theses challenged the Scholasticism that he felt permeated and had putrefied university life in the middle ages. He wanted reform. He wanted Augustinian grace and Paul’s gospel to get back into the lifeblood of his university. I love his 97 Theses even more than the 95 because it shows the theological engine that kept the Reformation going, and also gives me traction on keeping my ethics on track with my view of the gospel.

See a Ryan Reeves youtube explanation of these two theses. He targets the 97 about 19 minutes in. I consider his youtube videos on the Reformation and church history to be some of the best) 

My favorite one in the 97 is #40: “We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds. This in opposition to the philosophers.”

I have been struggling with writing my ethics book, to be titled A Good Tree, precisely because I don’t want another legalistic book banging people over the head with what they should do.  “Mere moralists” Luther calls these do gooders. I love ethics, but it can’t be a god, at least not a good god.  I fear Christian Ethics has often distorted the central and radical message of Christianity: Christ as our sufficiency, both as a moral foundation and ethical builder, but also as a great friend and a true savior.

Luther’s 97 helped me see better a path forward.

So, when writing my 97, I wanted to focus on my field of education, faith in education and moral education.

First, writing 97 lines of thinking is not that easy. I had to borrow from Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., Ellen White, and even Morris Venden (my go to pastor-writer on things related to Jesus and ethics).

I left a lot of blank theses for others to write their own ideas. Nobody has.

What is happening? Where have all the good protests gone?

I hope to start working on my 95 soon, so maybe they will be more earth shaking….

Disputation Against Traditional Education & Schooling

November 1, 2017, Andrews University.

More Choice less Uniformity in Schooling

  1. One size teaching rarely fits the needs of learners.
  2. Teaching that customizes learning to the life and work of a learner empowers learners and liberates teachers.
  3. One size curriculum rarely fits anyone’s needs—neither schools, teachers, learners, nor employers.
  4. Learners can handle choices…give them more, and then hold them accountable for THEIR choices!!!
  5. One size education NEVER WORKS.
  6. Many accrediting bodies are bringing too much heavy-handed elitism and snobbery into their work, at times pushing more for uniformity than quality. If they don’t improve their approaches to focus on quality in multiple manifestations this will destroy universities, set learning back hundreds of years and push people—learners and teachers—to find better places to do their work to seek knowledge, affirm faith and change the world.
  7. Universities need to be free to be different from each other, allowing variety of approaches and their own approach to creating a community of learning and ultimately serve nations and the world better.
  8. Creating more choices in learning liberates creativity and innovation, which are essential in learning.
  9. Unbridled choice is not the same as liberty and the wise find an ideal balance between choice and truth, duty and joy, my wants and your needs.
  10. Write Your Protest Here about choice in education and schooling here:
  11. Write Your Thesis About choice or university in education and schooling here:

The Centrality of Truth in True Education

  1. Truth is still important in the pursuit of education. Lies and Fake truth abound. Real truth however abounds more and discerning the difference is the purpose of education.
  2. Narratives and stories are vital in the pursuit of truth and can help frame meaning that guides learning. But some stories are better—more accurate and more redemptive. We should follow Paul’s advice “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8.
  3. Truth manifests itself in all colors.
  4. Truth crosses every border and speaks every language.
  5. “A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths.” Martin Luther King, Jr. http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/33E95C33-A9D1-44D9-AB5C-30C932CCC2D6/0/MiddleSchoolText.pdf
  6. “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” Martin Luther King, Jr. http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/33E95C33-A9D1-44D9-AB5C-30C932CCC2D6/0/MiddleSchoolText.pdf
  7. John warns us “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). You have to really cross examine what you think is right, especially when you think it’s the Spirit, because if it is truly the Spirit then tough analysis will make it even more apparent. And if it not, you will save your life from the foolish falsehoods that grip the evil in this world.
  8. Write Your Protest Here about Truth in Education here:
  9. Write Your Thesis About truth in Education and Schooling Here:

Life Education

  1. Life is a great classroom, and educators and learners should use it more to help others grow.
  2. While life is the best classroom, a godly teacher can help a person improve that life experience by making more sense out of it, making it more meaningful and purposeful and working on creating more intentional and better outcomes.
  3. Job-embedded learning works. Schools should fight the tendency to neglect or marginalize this learning.
  4. When individuals have work or jobs they must do, the goals required of their performance draw them toward development. Their work shapes them. The Seventh Commandment starts with work for a reason…. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work…..” Exodus 20:9
  5. Your history is important in your learning…don’t let your teachers leave it out of your learning.
  6. Teachers should help learners figure out how their “life story” can help them in their learning.
  7. God and godly teachers can help you find your calling and finding your calling will make your learning better because it connects you to the life God is working with you to create.
  8. Learners bring rich experiences to each new course or program that needs to be honored and used to maximize learning. How is your institution or program or course doing that?
  9. Write your Educational Thesis about Life influence on Learning Here:
  10. What is your Protest here about the absence of real experience in schooling here:

Teaching and Instruction

  1. YouTube has changed the world of learning. USE IT WISELY!!!
  3. Learning and teaching needs to adapt to the new world of rich world of mobile multimedia.
  4. But sometimes the best way to find a new and innovative idea is to go to the library and read an old dusty book.
  5. Sometimes a generation is blind to its own weaknesses and learning blind spots. That is why we need all generations involved in the teaching and learning process.
  6. Some of the best teachers on this campus don’t have that title. They work in food service, custodial, plants service, grounds, administration, etc.. Get around those teachers, work for and with them. They can teach you amazing stuff.
  7. Write Your Protest Here about Teaching and Learning:
  8. Write Your Thesis Here about Teaching and Learning:

Social Learning

  1. Two are better than one… group learning works!!!
  2. You don’t have to work with what is only in your experience or in your mind. You can listen. You can submit to another person and gain insight—new and better ways of thinking and living, in doing so.
  3. Don’t stay stuck with your own ideas. Seek out people with different ideas, but test to see if they really have your well-being as their concern.
  4. Team projects in school are difficult, face the threat of free loaders, and require “difficult” conversations about boundaries, roles and expectations. But that’s what the world of work and life requires. Why not start learning this important stuff now.
  5. Disagreement doesn’t have to be a barrier to learning and education. In fact, sometimes it is the only path to new discoveries.
  6. How can we all promote better shared dialogue in colleges
  7. Without fighting for peaceful and non-violent faithful dialogue and without staying committed to civil dialogue democracy and learning will die!!!
  8. Write Your Thesis about Learning Here:
  9. Write Your Protest against isolated thinking and solo learning Here:


  1. Training for better service is the point of education. If you are here to just get more money and power in the world, you should rethink your path: “Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” Romans 15: 1, 2 MSSG
  2. Everyone can learn to be a better teacher, a better leader and a better psychologist or we wouldn’t be here!!!
  3. Teaching is a great way to serve the world. Those who teach will be judged more closely by God and because of that, he will give them more resources to support their work. What a great deal? Think about teaching as a career!!!! (You can write theses like these).
  4. Both learners and teachers serve each other in the development process.
  5. Write your Protest here about keeping service central in education:
  6. Write your Theses here about how to keep service central in education:

Faith in Learning

  1. Taking the Holy Spirit out of learning is like taking the breath out of living being…. Eventually the only left is dead!
  2. FAITH MATTERS IN LEARNING—Teachers, don’t steal this important incredient in the life of learners. Learners make your faith part of learning journey and profession.
  3. Taking Christ out of Christian education is like taking figs out of fig newtons. What’s left can’t be called by that name. It is tasteless, joyless, and only marginally nutritious!
  5. Prayer opens hearts and makes us ready to learn. Let Prayer be Offered in Schools.
  6. Talking with God before, during and after the learning prepares us to receive what He is eager to help us learn, helps us process what we find, gives us new ways to understand and empowers us with courage and stamina to apply what we learn.
  7. “I am much afraid that the universities will prove to be the great gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them in the hearts of youth” Martin Luther, http://www.covenantofgrace.com/daubigne_education.htm
  8. “I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount.” Luther http://www.covenantofgrace.com/daubigne_education.htm
  9. “Every institution in which [teachers] are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.” http://www.covenantofgrace.com/daubigne_education.htm
  10. God can teach, he has taught, and he will continue to teach. We are never left alone in our learning and we can look to him for wisdom.
  11. God can teach us ANYTHING he wants. He can help you today. Don’t Worry!! Start thanking him for what he has done and will continue to do for you. “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” Jude 24, 25 KJV
  12. “Above all, the foremost reading for everybody, both in the universities and in the schools, should be Holy Scripture.” Martin Luther, http://www.ccle.org/luther-on-education/
  13. “We do not see this pitiful evil, how today the young people of Christendom languish and perish miserably in our midst for want of the gospel, in which we ought to be giving them constant instruction and training” Martin Luther, http://www.ccle.org/luther-on-education/
  14. “The only reasons to recognize the tremendous challenge in the church and community is not so that we can try to figure out some clever maneuver or exciting entertainment to draw crowds. It is to send us to our knees to pray for spiritual breakthrough in our community and everywhere else. May God deliver us from resorting to man-made gimmicks to do His work” Morris Venden, Salvation by Faith and Your will, p 82.
  15. Write your thesis about faith in learning here:
  16. Write your protest about faith and learning here:

Moral Education

  1. “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” Martin Luther King, Jr. http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/33E95C33-A9D1-44D9-AB5C-30C932CCC2D6/0/MiddleSchoolText.pdf
  2. “Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them….Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless… There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness.” Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 18.
  3. “We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds. This in opposition to the philosophers.” Martin Luther, Thesis 40, Sept 2017, Disputation against Scholastic Theology. https://www.checkluther.com/wp-content/uploads/1517-Disputation-against-Scholastic-Theology.pdf
  4. “Virtually the entire Ethics of Aristotle is the worst enemy of grace. This in opposition to the scholastics.” Martin Luther, Thesis 41, Sept 2017, Disputation against Scholastic Theology. https://www.checkluther.com/wp-content/uploads/1517-Disputation-against-Scholastic-Theology.pdf
  5. “It is by the grace of God that one does not lust or become enraged.” Martin Luther, Thesis 67, Sept 2017, Disputation against Scholastic Theology. https://www.checkluther.com/wp-content/uploads/1517-Disputation-against-Scholastic-Theology.pdf
  6. “Many who call themselves Christians are mere human moralists. They have refused the gift which alone could enable them to honor Christ by representing Him to the world. The work of the Holy Spirit is to them a strange work. They are not doers of the word.” Ellen White, Christ Objects Lessons, p. 315.
  7. “The grace of God, however, makes justice abound through Jesus Christ because it causes one to be pleased with the law.” Martin Luther, Thesis 75, Sept 2017, Disputation against Scholastic Theology. https://www.checkluther.com/wp-content/uploads/1517-Disputation-against-Scholastic-Theology.pdf
  8. Every deed of the law without the grace of God appears good outwardly, but inwardly it is sin. This in opposition to the scholastics.” Martin Luther, Thesis 76, Sept 2017, Disputation against Scholastic Theology. https://www.checkluther.com/wp-content/uploads/1517-Disputation-against-Scholastic-Theology.pdf
  9. John has given us the simple path to moral and spiritual development. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. Jesus is Just in forgiving us and we need to let him take up the heavy task of purifying us. This is not our task. To say so is to make God a liar and put to much confidence in our abilities.
  10. While Micah 6:8 reminds us of the moral expectation of God, “He has told you, O man, what is good;and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” it is Micah 7:9 that gives us the path we will most likely take towards fulfilling the moral heart of God “Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the LORD’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.” Doing right is great and what God wants, but seeing his righteousness brings us to a whole new level of moral reality.
  11. The safest criminal is the one who has been forgiven and deeply understand that. It is the way of the Holy Spirit we all need to gain the moral life he wants to give us.
  12. The most dangerous person in the world is the self-righteous moralist who has not taken hold of the righteousness that is free to him or her.
  13. Write your protest about moral education methods here:
  14. Write your these about moral education methods here:

Educational Reform

  1. “Nothing could be more devilish or disastrous than unreformed universities.” Martin Luther, http://www.ccle.org/luther-on-education/
  2. “The universities, too, need a good, thorough reformation. I must say that, no matter whom it annoys.” Martin Luther http://www.ccle.org/luther-on-education/
  3. ​“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Noble Speech, https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-acceptance_en.html
  4. “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Noble Speech, https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-acceptance_en.html
  5. “Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.  What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness? ” Martin Luther King, Jr. https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2014/05/04/sermon-a-tough-mind-and-a-tender-heart-by-martin-luther-king-jr/
  6. “Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction.  Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts.  One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.” Martin Luther King, Jr. https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2014/05/04/sermon-a-tough-mind-and-a-tender-heart-by-martin-luther-king-jr/
  7. “A third way is open to our quest for freedom, namely nonviolent resistance, which combines tough mindedness and tenderheartedness and avoids the complacency and do-nothingness of the soft minded and the violence and bitterness of the hardhearted.” Martin Luther King, Jr. https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2014/05/04/sermon-a-tough-mind-and-a-tender-heart-by-martin-luther-king-jr/
  8. “We must work passionately and unrelentingly for full stature as citizens, but may it never be said, my friends, that to gain it we used the inferior methods of falsehood, malice, hate, and violence.” Martin Luther King, Jr. https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2014/05/04/sermon-a-tough-mind-and-a-tender-heart-by-martin-luther-king-jr/
  9. “When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the Earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb.  When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man.  But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy.  When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.  When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.” Martin Luther King, Jr. https://thevalueofsparrows.com/2014/05/04/sermon-a-tough-mind-and-a-tender-heart-by-martin-luther-king-jr/
  10. “My dear sirs, if we have to spend such large sums every year on guns, roads, bridges, dams and countless similar items to insure the temporal peace and prosperity of a city, why should not much more be devoted to the poor neglected youth? A city’s best and greatest welfare, safety and strength consist rather in its having many able, learned, wise, honorable and well-educated citizens.” Martin Luther, https://sbs.arizona.edu/news/martin-luther-and-education-reform
  11. “Intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” Martin Luther King, Jr. http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/33E95C33-A9D1-44D9-AB5C-30C932CCC2D6/0/MiddleSchoolText.pdf
  12. “The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living” Martin Luther King, Jr. http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/33E95C33-A9D1-44D9-AB5C-30C932CCC2D6/0/MiddleSchoolText.pdf
  13. Write Your Bible Based Protest Related to Learning here:
  14. What Your Well Thought Out Call for School Reform here:


Fast Moving Fires: Lessons on Sparks and Flames

This last week I watched from a distance over the horizon of media as my beloved California burned. It was sickening.

My wife and I made our first home in Napa. We lived in a little cottage near a grape vineyard. For a young poor couple, patching together income to pay living expenses and tuition, it was a busy time. But… LIVING IN SUCH A BEAUTIFUL PLACE MADE IT A TIME OF JOY.

As their October 2017 fires– the worst in their modern history–burned through trees, homes and lives, we were praying and stay saddened.

I spent over 35 years living in California. It taught me a lot about fires, and floods, and earthquakes.

As a kid, our house flooded, and we had to move. In my 20s and 30s, my wife and I went through two 7+ earthquakes (one in Nor Cal and one in SoCal). After 6.5, things get back quickly.  During one Sierra Nevada trip we came within hundreds of feet of a bad forest fire and saw first hand what others talk about: the roar, like a train, as fire moves through a forest.

The recent N.Y. Times article on the speed of the 2017 California fires shows how fast fire can burn up homes and lives:


This summer of natural disasters–hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and floods–have been bad enough.

Even more concerning has been the power of hate to burn through social relations and lives. The acts of violence in the shooting in Las Vegas and the bombings in Somalia show us how fast hate can burn through neighborhoods and lives faster than anything else.

Ellen White spoke of the speed of this type of hate: “The agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones.  The condition of things in the world shows that troublous times are right upon us. The daily papers are full of indications of a terrible conflict in the near future…. Men possessed of demons are taking the lives of men, women, and little children. Men have become infatuated with vice, and every species of evil prevails.” Testimonies, volume 9, p. 11.

Her fears became reality after her death as throughout the 1900’s, during two world wars, community regimes,  carnages in South East Asia, and the Cold War, we saw how quickly human life can be wasted by bullets, bombs, fueled by hate.

Hate–be it in an individual or in a nation–can develops quickly. First, it sucks away the oxygen of reasonableness, fans a slight into a warfare, talks a doubt and flames it into paranoia and then into over reaction.

Hate can’t think straight!!! What was the purpose of the Las Vegas shooting? It was senseless and meaningless slaughter? It was what we can expect from evil angels, but not from humans who love each other.

This is the agency of evil that should most concern us… not just in others, but in ourselves.

Last year, I remember jumping to conclusions on an event and almost hurting an innocent person. He forgive me for my impetuousness, but in that moment I saw how fast a slight can end up in a fight which can end up burning through social relationships.

While hope in the second coming is the ultimate solution to the tinder box situations of this early, we have the privilege now to spending time with the Water of Life and be a hose of cold water on the flames around us. We have the right to avail ourselves of a righteousness not tied to our good works but to His great works, and let that be the best fire retardant on our minds that prevents fire from jumping from our lives into those of others. Or, as Church Swindoll says, we can be a cool hand on a hot head (his classic line on what Abigail did for David).

We don’t need to Adventist who want to run away from these disasters. We need to support ADRA or other local initiatives. Plus we need to decide not to let Satan’s anger become ours. We should not be escapists-individuals who hide from the needs of others as any type of flame threatens lives. We can bring our experiences with the Prince of Peace and the Water of Life to this raging environment of hate.

For those of us in the U.S. who are called Christians, we can be cool hands on hot heads to keep the current rhetoric from spreading more flames. We can be peacemakers even at the risk of our lives.

God help us as these last movements become even more fast moving!!!!



Individuality in Community: The Lesson of Mutuality

“Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. The men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character” (White, Education, 1903, p. 17).

Individuality is a powerhouse for change. Helping people find and exercise their individuality–their voice– is a crucial aspect of education and human development. Societies who figure this out are healthier, holier and more generative. They create more music and art, diversify their economy and generate lots of good ideas, discussions and great books.

So that is it. End of blog. Go out and do your individuality…..


Men and women who think for themselves and develop their voices not only lead industries, run churches, invent new markets, and become great presidents, they also become excellent dictators, rogue terrorists, and mental hospital patients!

There is something more needed. The creative power of individuality operates within the context of community.

“let US make man in OUR Image” (Gen 1:26).

Community created Individuality. Individuality IS NEVER THE WHOLE STORY. Community helps support that individuality and in my experience keeps it from being distorted, going rogue, destructive, and becoming more harm than good.

Lesson Learned

There have been several periods of painful learning in my life. Eventually, I am thankful for these….eventually.

One period stands out. It was a period of deep social conflict, self-abusive behavior, and long hours of work. Under the strain , I ended up in a mental hospital.

Facing my mental illness was especially hard for me. I make a living using my mind. I guess we all do. But as a university professor, I especially needed clear thinking to teach classes, answer questions, give academic guidance and write journal articles.

So, when I found myself looking up at the hospital ceiling listening to the incoherent shrieking next door, I suddenly became more teachable. “God, how did I end up here?” I wasn’t raising my hand to ask a cute little classroom question. This was a deep, soulful question…a prayer for learning.

I thank God and my loved ones and good professionals they didn’t leave me alone to my own thinking.

Over the next 10 years–it took longer than I had thought–the chaos slowly turned to deeper learning, hope turned into joy, and my “understanding returned to me” (to use King Neb’s great line).

So when I hear the song of individuality, I look to see if behind that solo there is a choir. If not, I get concerned. I figure someone might be headed toward mental illness or worse, success that might end up hurting community and devastating the individuality of others.

Oddly, when I look back on my own difficult learning, I realize my main problem was a distorted view of BOTH individuality and community. I had not developed a deep understanding of my own inadequacy and fallenness. Oddly, counter-intuitively, I also hadn’t simultaneously developed a deep understanding of my infinite value.

I hadn’t figured out my place in community and my value to it. I needed a deeper appreciation and experience of the gospel–God saves me, that is not my job but His. He can’t do that without my permission. That is my job not his. (He doesn’t open the door from the outside, but does give it a vigorous knock -Revelation 3).

I needed a deeper realization I couldn’t please everyone and didn’t need to try to, even as I needed to developed a deep desire to know their needs and even fulfill some of their wishes.

I needed them and they needed me. We were called to a mutual development. We could be reconciled, all up and down the ladder of humanity and divinity.

Oddly, the West gets the power of individuality and the East gets the power of community, but they can’t seem to get the truth they need both those ingredients to be a great society.

The failure of most systems–minds, families, denominations, politics, international relations–is a failure to bring these two together through practices of mutuality.

What I needed was an ability to submit to community–my faith community, my wife, my family, my work– and an equal ability to assert my individuality and frame my expectations of what I needed from community

Mutual respect, mutual dialogue, mutual codependency, and mutual accountability.

Those who think that is impossible or idealistic are rejecting the very NAME of God, the synergy of divinity.

The Trinity–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit– are creative precisely because they are all fully individual and fully unified.

They have their own “kingdom.” We can pray “their will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Our earthly state is fragmented. Whenever community is used to “trump” individuality or individuality “trump” community we don’t see divine mutuality. In fact, “trumping” is the antithesis to mutuality. God the Father never “trumps” the Son. The Father makes knownHis will and the Son chooses to submit to it.

“For God so loved the world he gave…..”

This is initiation. This is individuality. But in and for community.

Can we figure this out?

Can the church lead the way to a better place? Can we catch a vision of this divine dynamic and let God bring it into our homes and churches?

Can we be a light to the world on how this works in a healthy way?

I hope so….

And hope is a powerful thing.

Ask anyone who used to be in a mental hospital just how important hope really is!!!!


Male and Female, In His likeness

The creation story, God creating Mankind in His own image and likeness, is retold often in the Bible. We need to hear it even more often these days as our identity is hid deeply within that story.

In Genesis one we are told, “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule” (vs 26). Again, in case we missed it, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (vs 27).

In chapter two, this simple creation of humans is retold in more slow motion so we won’t miss the detailed intimacy and exchange it involves.

Genesis 2 and other passage, especially in the New Testament, make very clear that humans will be special, different, unique. God is doing more than just commanding humans to be formed, HE IS FORMING THEM WITH HIS HANDS. Not only that, but his hands and mouth are involved in a special double creation. First, He forms out of clay, the body of man, symbolizing more than just a “told” reality, but a “molded” reality. God is not merely “hovering over the surface of the waters,” but he is hovering over and huntched over dirt, the stuff from which Man is formed BUT NOT THE IDENTITY HE WILL GIVE IT.

A slower process yes, but the suggestion is one that leads us to see the role of intimacy, relationship, deliberation, and interaction in creation related to the Image of God. TIME FOR EVEN MORE CREATIVE POWER.

Its slowed down not because of the absence of creativity but because more creative forces are involved. God had finished with the rest of creation in short order but in turning toward human creation, there is a awe and reference. I repeat: There is no less a divine creation than speaking thinks into existence, but even more, evident in special deliberateness.

Yes, it requires the breath of his mouth, for by the Word all things are created (John 1:3, Col 1:16, Heb 11:16), but this is a lingering and dwelling word and then breathing into the mouth of Adam the breath of life “man became a living being” (v. 7).

Now we see a side of creation, once slowed down, in Chapter, that we may have missed in Chapter one. But there is more even to come, more dialogue, interaction, instruction, commands and warnings.

There is an announcement of a position and an assignment, to be in the “garden of Eden to culitvate it and keep it” (vs 15).

And then even more, the drama continues as God announces what eventually has become obvious to Adam in his development, “it is not good for man to be alone” (18).

Out of Adam’s rib Eve, someone “suitable for him,” was FASHIONED.

Some may see this as a second class creation. They are wrong. This is even more delicate of a creation, for God is not only in dialogue as the Trinity (three in one) but he also now in dialogue with Adam and in that communion Eve is formed.

First, this is from God and with him so this is not a co-creation but a full creation of God. But Adam has to be ready and that is the powerful intimacy God shows in this creation.

A cartoon helped me see this point better. It is a picture of two people wanting to get into a showing of the dancing exploits of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. They are debating was the leader. One sites what has become associated with Ginger Rodger, “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” Who had the more amazing part.

Eve brings to Adam’s a new experience of Trinitarian reality of three in one.

Thus the image of God in human kind is set forth in scripture.

The story is amazing. The dance of power and love, the intimacy of God over his creation is set. This is the stuff of the heavens. God created man in His likeness, the social power of his identity given to man and woman.

Those who reject this creation story reject the human story and the elegant status we have in God. Our identity is instead given to monkeys and amoebas. And our destiny is distorted.

What a fabulous origin we have as humans. In the likeness of God.

And yes, the rest of the Bible tells the sad story of how quickly we lost it,

But over and over again, this story of our identity is brought back to us.

After Cain kills his brother Abel, we wonder if the story is correct about our high calling as sons and daughter of God, and then again, the promise is repeated:

“This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness.”

Human choice will distort this identity but God seems destined to bend over us as many times as needed to create us in His image.

That reality being clear in Gethsemane where he willing gives us His place with the Father for us to be back in that intimate relationship of communion and grace.

The Word is Stubborn: I created you in MY Likeness. God is still in dialogue.

Will you not, child of God, accept that identity and participate in your destiny as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).


Investing as a Moral & Social Responsibility

Solomon was one of the most materially successful leaders of all time. Granted, he had a great jump start–very privileged–in that both his earthly father and his heavenly father gave him lots of resources to get him going…stock piles of raw building materials, peaceful borders, and godly wisdom to name three.

His Proverbs are full of good ideas (how to run one’s life) and his Ecclesiastics are full of deep reflections (looking back on life). While the later is tinged with some cynicism and regrets, it still shows a desire to teach others how to live well.

One passage, Eccl 11, especially tells us to think about the moral and practical aspects of investing.

“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth. If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.”

The NIV makes vs 2 especially pop out a little more:

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”

There is some mixed interpretation. It could be to share your food with 7-8 people, or it good be to invest in 7-8 projects.

Actually, both take courage, planning and INVESTING.

Investing is basically supporting something hoping for returns. Its hard to let go of sees, resources, and money to invest in people or ventures. But it is what makes life rich.

We can invest with people or with projects. People can grow to help others and projects can grow to give solutions (and employment) to millions.

The point is to try to think about places and people to invest in. Are you doing that?

What are you investing in? How are you investing? When are you investing? Why are you investing?

There are a lot of cool websites that try to wrestle with the meaning of this passage and you can search them. Bible Hub is always a good place to start exploring “ancient meanings” One interesting place discusses the “cast your bread” symbolism, which some believe was the process of going out on shallow delta flooding times and sowing seed, hoping that when the waters went down, the seed would hit the ground at the perfect time to later sprout…

Of course it was risky…..that is the whole challenge of investing.

Solomon seems to be inviting us to invest in people and/or venture capital work.

In reality both come together in that people create projects and ventures employ people.

I was comparing Solomon’s last speech (Ecclesiastics) to Jesus (the one greater then Solomon) last speech (John 14-17) and what caught me was how much wiser Jesus was in looking at investment as really a call to unity, togetherness, community. He was investing in his church. Solomon had some concern with people, no doubt, but his material focus comes stronger through than in Jesus more “righteousness” (relational) investment, his vision of the future and the big sacrifice he was about to make for his “church.”

In another passage Jesus is more direct:

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

I like stuff. I collect stuff. One of my challenges is to start using all that stuff to bless others…invest in their futures, and in the process invest in mine!!!!

I believe one of the people I support will become like Solomon….I just don’t know which one.

So I better invest widely as a process of investing wisely.

I think that was the point of chapter 11.

Through Sorrow to Joy

There is a lot of learning needed to lead successfully and maybe even more to follow whole-heartily. Doing both well involves moving through sorrow to joy.

Both leading and following operate in a social space where courage, deep commitment and flexibility are needed. One minute you lead and the next you follow, always operating as a servant, driven by a freedom in Christ that makes us slaves of one another (Ephesians 6:6, Colossians 3:24,1 Peter 2:16).

Five lessons I continue to learn about leading and following:

1.    Both have to deal with the Strain of the New. Christian leaders and followers show their true colors as they “endure” the toil and trauma of “start ups.” This takes a different form of courage than most have experience with. They will have to delicately work through self-doubt and confusion and ambiguities. To be able to see a new thing, get traction with new thinking, or follow old patterns into a new logic or a new schema, they will have to find resolve to push through. Trusting new thinking or new ways without being gullible or naive is like walking on a tensions line. Rarely does something new have lots of support nor a huge IPO and NEVER comes with guaranteed success. We may fail, but even being wrong is better than being afraid or pathetically inactive.

My prayer for myself and you is that you can accept the feedback that comes through whispered doubts, negativity, and cautions and avoid two extremes: never listening to those and ONLY hearing them. Listen and learn but, and this is what makes this process so difficult, don’t let that kill your spirit of initiative.

REMEMBER: GOD SEES EVERYTHING!!! HE KNOWS YOUR WORK!!! HE IS PLEASED WITH INITIATIVE!!! Zechariah 4: 10 has been great encouragement to me:

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (The seven lamps represent the eyes of the Lord that search all around the world

2.    Both require us to make choices that may hurt us but benefit others. Christian leaders and followers eventually learn the truth of Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). That is a tough call…isn’t it. A decision to lead and follow well will lead to the need to make sacrifice–time, fame, respect, money, energy, even maybe your life–to help others reach a better place, a grace place, and freedom to live, lead and follow well.

3.    Will be misunderstood. We forget Jesus’ many reminders that the world won’t understand us. Followers and leaders who are doing it the Jesus way will face deep misunderstanding. Followers will be maligned as blind or kiss ups. Leaders will be misunderstood as ambitious, self-serving or fame seeker (and at times they may fall under such Satanic spell, but as they follow Christ, they will be rescued from such stupidity). As confusing as leading and following can be, the real disease of poor understanding is that of the arm-chair spectators who are unwilling to lead or follow and therefor are not learning.

4.  Work through humiliation. Christ was successful especially when he was humiliated and refrained from retaliation. Humiliation is the hard stuff both followers and leaders will experience that spectators will never know. It doesn’t feel good. It never does!!! But we can handle it because Christ’s victory over humiliation HE will GIVE to us who follow him.

So by now you are probably wonder why this blog is so negative.

Here is the punch line. Why go through all this difficult stuff?

Because what grows from it is glorious.

5.  Joy comes through it all.  Hebrews 12:12 put it succinctly:

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We follow and lead through all the difficult stuff because of a vision or joy that sustains us.

If you get discouraged, just remember, don’t be discouraged even about being discouraged!!!! God can even help you through that. You have too much to learn as you seek to lead and follow in ways that serve.

Heed Martina McBride’s good advice:


You can spend your whole life buildin’
Somethin’ from nothin’
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway.
You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anywayChorus….
God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

This world’s gone crazy and it’s hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway

You can love someone with all your heart
For all the right reasons
And in a moment they can choose to walk away
love ’em anywayChorus….
God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anywayYou can pour your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Yeah, sing it anyway
I sing, I dream, I love

Both leading and following requires one to operate in a new social space with more risks, uncertainties, and ambiguities,  but God is great and will never leave us nor forsake us.

The Gift of Voice and Self-Distrust

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” Is 5:21

One of the signs of moral maturity is self-distrust. We have learned we can be wrong, especially when we thing we are right.

But this is where the tension is: Too much distrust will make you fearful of saying anything to anyone, even giving simple directions to someone lost on the road for fear they may make a misguided left turn. We can’t let self-distrust silence us.

But to0 little distrust and you will never stop talking long enough or thinking only your thoughts to let others break into your rumination. We need to be shocked out of our own thinking and the voices of others can help. If you let it be true, your great ideas may not be as good as those of another around you.

Maturity, especially social and emotional maturity, operates in this tension of finding one’s voice and helping others express theirs. Maturity looks for systems that feed voices into a shared perspective, building a choir of expressions into a a vision or mission and direction.

Working at this tension is a work of a lifetime. We have to cultivate and express our voice and hear others at the same time. Steven Covey’s book the 8th Habit (see wiki’s excellent review) takes it even further. It is about finding voice and purpose and helping others also find theirs and in the process the shared voices lift the human condition. It also has been my central observation over the years I lived, worked, and congregated with Adventists in California, Ohio and Michigan. When it is done well, groups prosper. When it isn’t done well, voices and whole groups go missing and the entire community suffers.

I believe that much of the pain and lack of traction in some Adventist schools, churches and communities is a deep distortion in the process of finding voice and giving ear.

How much more would we listen and learn if we deeply believed the “other” had truth we desperately needed. Their minds could rescue us from our own thinking. Each of us bring uniqueness to the social circle. The places we have lived and the experiences combined with our unique personalities will help us see aspects of God, truth, morality and love that others have already seen. We need to share our insights as gifts to each other. We need to be looking for those gifts.

I believe even the young can have a voice. That is probably why, after writing the 8th Habit, Covey spent the remaining years of his life working with children to develop their voices and ability. The Leader in Me is a book and movement based on that belief. 

Part of maturity is knowing when to shut up and when not to. It is to know when your bones are burning with in you and you need to speak… Jeremiah 20:9 “But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

But maturity has taught us that this burning can sometimes be only our own nasty lack of humility and a desire to push our thinking on others.  We have to be careful not to let our distortions splatter over others. That too takes maturity.

Such is the tension of a true disciple of God…a concern about listening and speaking in due season.

A daily walk with God is one way to find that pace. If the first thing in a day is your talking and listening to God inprayer and reading, it is likely to set our conversational pace for other parts of our day.

This is why a third of the moral secrets God wants to share with us, for us to deeply experience is stated in Micah 6:8  “walk humbly with they God.”

“Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life” (Prov 22:4). Walking is not running or sitting. It is moving at a pace between those two no throttle or full throttle experiences. I

My mouth and ears have to learn a pace in conversation with others. When do I speak. When do I shut up. When do I need to really cool down my hot thinking and enjoy the deep learning that comes from a dialogue instead of a one way speaking tour.

There is nothing like humiliation to help us come closer to the truth about the importance of listening to others. Allender in his book, Leading with a Limp, reminds us that cultivating daily humility may be ideal, but for some of us, especially strong-willed leaders, humiliation will be the main route to humilty. (See Daniel 4 to see how well that worked for King Nebuchadnezzar). Humiliation also can get us to the coveted circle of “walking humbly” with God and others. Humiliation too should be seen as a great gift….although an expensive one!!!!

I know relatives and friends who went bankrupt morally, spiritually, socially or spiritually, not mainly because they made a few mistakes or the economy and context went bad on them (although that can be a reason) but because they never learned to listen outside their own head.

I also know individuals in the opposite dungeon. They have never ventured out to resist the traffic of words and conversations to voice their own views for fear they were wrong.

So find your pace with God and then bring that pace into your conversations today. You will have to say something today. And you will have to do twice as much listening.

Deep listening is a stance of… “I am missing something. I know I am. I wonder if you are giving me a piece of the puzzle I most need to see more clearly. I need to really listen. My life depends on this.”

Deep voice is a belief God is working also in my heart and I can bless the group by saying something.

Keep walking!!!

Prayer: God help me to share my experience of you with others to day but even more to be eager to listen and receive the experiences of others.

Burying or Bearing Institutions

I have gone to or worked in schools, colleges and universities for over 45 years.

I have attended church for over 50 years.

I have been in a family for all my life.

These three great social institutions have sustained me, intellectually, spiritually, physically, socially, and financially. They have kept me on the straight and narrow path that is and breeds and leads to eternal life. They have been used by the Holy Spirit “to convict [me] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because [I did] not believe in [Jesus] [as I should have];  and concerning righteousness, because [Jesus went] to the Father and [I] no longer see [Him, but need to];  and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged [and I can now live in that judgment even in a more focused way]” John 16:8-11.

But they are not Jesus. They have done their abuse and hurt. They have fallen short of the ideal.

So I am not deceived. I believe only Jesus is the ultimate spiritual and social experience. Only Jesus will love and live forever. Institutions are like the heavens and earth….solid but not permanent… “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35.

So, as I watch the demise of these three social institutions, ultimately I guess I shouldn’t worry. Jesus will survive.

Look, Jesus warned, even the family he invented would not make the transfer to heaven…..

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Matthew 22:30

So if marriage and family wont make the cut or the “great transition,” how can we anticipate anything else social will make it to the “other” side….

But then wait…….

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Revelation 21:2

It seems the church does make the transition. Not as a denomination, but as a social group presented as a bride, the church.

So, those of us who love the church can rejoice. But should we go back and close out our marriages and bolt the doors to our schools.

Should we stop worrying about bearing up these “difficult” social institutions. Lets instead start planning their funerals. Grab a shovel, lets dig the holes and say our goodbyes.

Like old cars, we know we need to keep using them running and need to make repairs to get them to last, but we should start looking to trade them in….

But for what? Some David Koresh self-crafted cultish communal church? Is that the implications.

So as we go shopping for something better than marriage/family and schools, I think some reference points for us are needed.


Christianity is nothing but a belief in the social. It is a rejection of a ONENESS OF SINGULARITY FOR A ONENESS OF COMMUNITY, ANCHORED IN THE TRINITY.


Godhead–three in one–have always shared their community. But at Galgary a new social paradigm was expressed–not new but made known as new. Jesus’ death was temporary and I don’t think divinity died but something happened. In that moment the trinity–the longest social institution ever–expanded to include us.


The longest running social institution is the Trinity and the church is now part of that and has been commissioned to socialize others into that social experience.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

So, the church is now as permanent as the Trinity…. a pretty powerful thought.

Did I type that loud enough!!!


This is why the church makes the transition to heaven (Rev 20). They are even NOW incorporated into the trinity. Power is shared from the family above to the family on earth–the entire human family.

So, back to the family and school. What about them?

Well, this is where it gets tricky. Healthy families and schools have often been the most effective instrument for BEING and for MAKING THE CHURCH WORK.

So, biblical truth forces me to acknowledge the transitory nature of these two remaining institutions:marriage and school. But changes to these two institutions need to be done within a respect for the permanency evident in “the church” and the Trinity.

I see three functions for the church that the family and school have fostered that must be fostered into the future:

Service: This is the core attribute of the Godhead. They lead by serving. Families have been central means humans minister to its newest members. I fear we have few effective ways to continue such crucial roles.

Mutual Submission in a Spirit of Liberty: Marriage has done more to promote mutual submission and the need for liberty than any other institution (even though Satan has often made it a tool for neither of these two. Satan hates marriage as it was the first and primary tool for showing the trinity).

So if people want to get rid of marriage what do they have to replace it. I don’t see many viable options.

Sacrifice: The trinity opened up to take in another. The Father giving up His Son and the Son giving up his life for the church is probably most mirrored still in families. Families foster sacrifice, or at least the call for it, although few heed the call of family.

So, what do we do with families and schools. Should we abandon them?

A social institution is a social construct. I have reviewed their powerful role in a previous post on authority.

I am not naive….the bible is clear there are only two permanent social institutions–the trinity and the church.

But, family and school have done more to foster the truth of the Trinity and church so I can not now prepare for their death. There may come a time, but until something else fosters service, submission and sacrifice, I am going to go on bearing these in my life even as they have carried me.

Don’t count on my coming to any funeral just yet.


God’s Telling His Story through Yours and Mine

Dan Allender, in his books and youtube videos and traveling/retreat ministry, helps people discover, write and tell their full stories. His work is fascinating and healing.

He encourages people to tap into their life stories to see God’s powerful gospel narrative playing out in their own journey. He argues we don’t do enough to help people capture that story and find in it core aspects of our identity and evidence of HIS. What could your story tell us about the great reservoir of God’s Love?

Knowing and interpreting our stories helps us maximize on God’s truth that comes through our experiences. Experience is a key part of Wesley’s Quadrilateral of Learning/Wisdom/Truth that we often dismiss. Those four–Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience–are all used by the Holy Spirit to teach us.

Allender argues we discover our stories not in a Pollyannish vision of our lives. We find it in how God’s love and truth gets us through the painful moments and our failures.

We in the Leadership Department at Andrews University School of Education help individuals write their narrative to help in their leadership development processes. It helps them see their gifts, skills and abilities and map those with the passions God has cultivated in their lives to craft a vision for their future. Then we customize their learning to help them get there (at least we try!)

I have used this story method in my ethics course to help people discover and isolate the main moral values that they have cultivated in helping them make better decisions and avoid stupid choices.

Allender reminds us NOT to make our stories about telling of a hero creation but about God’s ability to help us through touch issues. If others see us creating false images of ourselves–a Hollywood distortion–then we rob them of the deep beauty of lives that don’t need to be airbrushed. We and them will find hope in God’s ability to help us in all things.

We can face the future because we see God has been with us in the past.

Your story shows what God has done in your life.

This aspect of stories hit home in a subtle ways as I was reading John 11. Its the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Lazarus.

“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” John 11:1-5.

Two powerful truths hit home. First, Lazarus had a family and so have you. How has that family shaped you?

Our stories are intertwined with each others. The parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have made me story so much more than it would be dangling by itself.

Our stories impact others, even when we don’t write them down.

Second, in writing them down we let others gain from our stories. This story John wrote down. It is a great story of hope. This is an ordinary family that represents much of us in the world–a quiet brother, a workaholic sister, and a wandering beauty. But Jesus was in their stories.

But what caught my attention this time was how John inserted a future story to help us re-frame the current story.

Mary had not yet anointed Jesus feet, but the writer in looking back from his stand point many years later could insert that fact into the current story. (The book of John is believed to be the last book of the bible written. In it the aged Apostle John is giving meaning to the past experiences.)

How could we do that more? Find a better meaning from a more recent story to interpret a more earlier experience? Or how could you go back and retell a story you have been sharing but with greater meaning from a later event? or even a future event?

How could we get better at seeing how our future can reframe our present?… Probably by taking the time now to see better how our current experiences and reflection could help us better interpret our past!!!

Prayer: Lord, bless Dan Allender’s ministry of helping people recall, write and tell their stories. May it be a way for them to discover deep truth about themselves and you, and even guide them to see the values they want to use to enrich their decisions.

Him who Justifies the Ungodly

Would you work for a boss who rewarded lazy employees? Would you follow a leader who paid people more after they stole from the company? Would you admire a leader who let people talk bad about him, abuse him, walk all over him and he kept saying loving things back?

This time of year Christians ALL OVER THE WORLD celebrate such a leader, Jesus of Nazareth.

Is it hard to believe people follow such a leader?
Its not the leader we see often taking control of our world.

“Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.”


Having such a leader has become my only hope.

Self-righteous is a chronic disease I suffer from. I have to take daily pills for it.

When it flairs up, I have to fall on this LEADER till I am broken.

I forget periodically who that lazy employee who stole from the boss is….me.

The Holy Spirit has to bring me back to the realization that without such a merciful leaders I would be in a deep mental and spiritual prison.

Jesus presents a stark contrast for all of us who want to lead others.

I guess that is why we need to hang around the cross more and soak in just how radical his leadership really is:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32 (ESV)

Surely Paul got it right: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

I guess the simplest and most appropriate response this time of year, and any time of day is….

“Sorry, Thank You, Lead the Way”

The Love in Ethics

God loves us. One way He showed that love to us is He gave us His Son Jesus (John 3:16) as a propitiation for sins, a mediator of grace and power and a soon coming ruler. What a relief and great gift we can receive!!!

And, God and the Son kept giving us other gifts . They gave us the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 16:7) as a comfort, guide, source of corrective feedback, and a unifier within our diversity.

One of the many gifts graciously provided humans is morality and ethics, an ability and knowledge to know and do right instead of wrong.

It is a sophisticated gift built into the basic fabric of the natural order and human systems (Proverbs 3; 8:22-36).

Yes, sin has distorted our understanding of ethics and our ability to follow what we know is right.

But it is still a gift, a loving gift from a loving Father which wants the best for His children. It is the Captain’s First Mate for helping us keep our boats on course in the raging winds of life.

But ethics as a gift of love has been hard for some to accept, believe and appropriate into their lives.

To some, ethics seems only like a compliance officer policing minutia. This legalizes their lives and they resist the pressure toward compliance. These reject correction, guidance, and direction by running from discipline, patience, natural and social law. They never come under the tutelage of this wise counselor that ethics can become and never secure its life advantages. Without a God and without good, they wander in moral darkness.

There are others, who try to follow the moral order, and see it as a good, but as they interact with morality, soon every detail of the moral order becomes a hammering pressure on their moral conscience. Everything is demanding. Gone is the guiding love of God. All they see is the call of right and wrong. This also drains joy and love and peace out of their lives. The demand of doing good overshadows the good God is doing FOR and IN them. The moral order lacks a Creator God, a creative being that encourages and counsels and comforts through our moral failures. Gone is the Father of Love.

Morality takes the place of a loving God and we know no end to its demands. Morality becomes an exacting God. The moral conscience on steroids is so exacting these individuals become slaves instead of sons and daughters. They don’t embrace their sonship or daughtership with God and see the moral order as something they can co-create with God USING wisdom to improve their lives and the lives of others.

Thus moral guidance, a gift of a loving father, soon becomes intolerable such that they are forced to abandon it and stumble into the first came of those who reject discipline.

Wisdom and ethics make a bad god but a great guide, and what keeps ethics a good guide and not a god is the presence of a Good God. Our relationship with God becomes primary, foundational, and a safety against either extreme in morality.

This is my view and experience.

We can use ethics for good but only as it has a reverse point of grace, which is God’s relational approach to humans.

Knowing and following the moral order can improve our lives and the lives of others but only as that gift is framed as a gift and not a works. This is where I part ways with much of what I read about Catholic views of morality (often framed as a gift we give back to God. That thinking will make legalism or licentiousness better than anything else).

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” (Proverbs 3:13).

The challenge of this gift, of moral wisdom, as these Proverbs note, is that it has to be sought after, wanted, and chosen. The evidence of its existence is there-in our natural and social systems, in our relationships and evident in our experiences. It cries out everywhere. But how do we come to experience without a guiding father to soften its demands at times and increase its demands at other times.

This is the role of the mentoring Godhead. They are the Creators of morality and they can make us co-inventors of the application of that order. They have raised us up to heavenly places, seating us with them. We can misunderstand morality’s cry and often its advice can go unheard, unheeded, and at times dismissed as old-fashioned, legalistic, and liberty killing. We can also overstrains a point and distort our joy and the joy of those around us.

These distortions are part of the curse of Satan–the shadow of deception cast on the path of law and ethics for the believer.

Satan wants to distort our experiences of ethics–either by foisting on people a nasty legalism or dismissing the whole contribution of ethics. He does not want us to be parented by God’s love into a life guided by wisdom.

Ethics is not something we do for God, it is something He does in us and for which we need his continual parenting least we push to hard on the gas or to hard on the break.

How can this gift be more realized in our communities for what it is?

How can Adventists lose their legalism and licentiousness and experience ethics as a part of the gift of grace, an infusion of wisdom, and a lifestyle that promotes life not destroys it? How does God’s judgment hour help us experience this gift in a better way?

Prayer: God help us to see your wisdom and grace and gift in ethics by valuing YOU as OUR FATHER who will guide us through to better results.

Prophets and Prayer: Believing God Interacts with His World

Our contemporary mindset has a hard time conceptualizing and relating to “prophets” or to the”prophetic” gift.

Recently I was reading two individuals who studied Ellen White’s prophetic gift for their dissertations. One used psychological research, specifically psychotherapy, and saw many aspects of Ellen White’s early visions as arising from her deep psyche and libido experiences and early depression. The other, written much earlier, used sociological research to place most of White’s beliefs, insights and writings as social artifacts from her context. Most of what she thought and wrote were a by-product of her religious community, strong male influences and plagiarism.

Both researchers attempted to show White’s prophetic gift had human origins and could be explained through “common” explanations. One took saw her work as an internal projection outward. The other took the social manifestation route in that she merely mirrored her time.

Their arguments make sense to modern readers who seek empirical explanations. We are not comfortable with “transcendent” or “supernatural explanations.” It is just not what we think is a reliable reference point.

It can understand why a psychologist sees “insights” and “revelations” as coming from the psyche of a given person. Their training leads them to see a reservoir of explanations housed there and they have used those to help patients.

The sociologists also has seen the power of social context: the influence of poverty, the social drivers to denominationalism and how context influences ideology.

Both see a truth: religious experience and expression has many psychological and sociological factors involved.

What they miss is the unique finger prints of God in this milieu. they don’t see the role of the supernatural.

Who can? I can’t. I can only accept it based on scriptures and faith.

As I was wrestling with the logic of both these researchers–and they had good points to make–I realized the power of the Book of Daniel in understanding prayer and prophets.

I have been reading Daniel and Revelation again trying to understand what it had to contribute to Adventists, Americans and our modern times. To me, I see how Daniel and Revelation has only lead to pscyhe projections and fanaticism (like David Koresh) or beastly preaching (as George Knight has argued) but I also was finding deep solace in it and wondered why we missed its fundamental truth: God is with us!

What became clear from reading these passages and trying to understand how to respond to these two critics of Ellen White, was the under girding point of the books is that God didn’t leave us alone to our own fears and psyche limitations or to our social storms. The theme is God cares about this ball of clay and will do what he can to communicate to it. The human race to neither left only to their own psyche and libido nor their own social limitations.

Belief in prophets and prophecy is like belief in prayer: it is a fundamental statement not just about epistemology but about God.

Daniel 2 stories that truth:

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. But he couldn’t remember it. He asked the top academics of his time to help out. He was urgent. He wanted answers. They stalled because they needed a dream to work with. But because he couldn’t remember it and the social context had no solutions the vivid truth of transcendence was revealed.

These socially sophisticated and psychologically savvy individuals were worthless at this interface of the unknown. I believe these early psychotherapists, as gifted and talented as they may have been, had a fatal faith limitation.

“The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean. 11 Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”

Belief in prophets and prayer is a rejection of the narrow mindset and demonic lie they articulated: “whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.” This is not just a limited epistemology, but a  direct assault on the caring character of God.

Belief in prophets and prophecy, and prayers and supplication, is fundamentally a belief about God.

He is not so distant from our world that he can’t interact, and so distant in emotion he won’t interact.

So Daniel meet with his friends (social context) and engaged in deep personal examination (psyche) but in the context of prayer, God intervened.

Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven;

Daniel said,

“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,
For wisdom and power belong to Him.
It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to men of understanding.
“It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And the light dwells with Him.”

You have made known to me what we requested of You,
For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”

And what is AMAZING about this passage, is not that Daniel got his prayers answered, but that God had initiated the whole interaction with the KING. God initiated communication with a A PAGAN, PORK EATING, IDOLATRY LOVING, SELF-RIGHTEOUS  KING. And Daniel had the where-with-all to be sensitive to that truth.

Yes, God does make his dwelling with humans.

God so much wants to communicate with humans and their leaders that he stoops very low to share great stuff.

“However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days.”

People who believe in prophets and prayer are an unusually lot. They believe God communicates so as to help his children and they can communicate with Him.

Even the other Chaldeans should have been thankful Daniel and his friends believe in such a good God.


But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind”

Yes, there is a lot of psyche and social stuff flying around in this passage. But there is also a God initiation and God communion aspect of this passage.

I pray Adventists never lose this belief in prayer and the prophetic spirit that breathes such prayers.

Do you still believe God cares? and Initiates? and Responds to Prayer?

That is what it means to be a people of prophecy.

Prayer: God help us have faith when you return.

P.S.  See our official SDA presentation of a belief in prophecy.

P.S.S Dwight Nelson’s many presentations on this topic are very helpful. See his series on Ellen White. His presentation on Jeremiah ranks as one of the best nuanced explanations I have seen on the role of revelation and the psyche of the prophet and how they relate.


American Beastly Leadership (5 of 5)-The Last in Long Series

This post summarizes the main ideas of a long series of 17 posts on Servant vs Beastly Leadership. This concludes a subseries of 5 on American beastly leadership.

Servant leadership I equate with the “Lamb” leadership of Christ.

This has been long series because the topic is vital for current understanding that is confusing bad and good leadership, and between “beastly” vs “godly” approaches to influence.

I have contrasted these two approaches using every approach I could find: scriptural, theological, as well as contemporary research and sociology.

My essential argument is that servant leadership works through the processes of service, mutual submission, sacrifice and sober judgment to create more effective processes and outcomes. It breeds transparency, freedom and social well-being. It helps the marginalized. It gives us itself for the good of others. It is exemplified in Jesus, who perfectly revealed God’s approach.

Beastly leadership foists on others deception, rejects both grace or truth, and uses abusive words and behaviors to deal with disagreement. It doesn’t listen, or if it does, it listens to find something to “pounce” on in the other person. It suppresses dialogue and feeds on the evil appetite growing in many cultures to place leaders above law and morality.

It ultimately convinces itself it is right and then justifies its behaviors to others by lying, falsifying, intimidating and then resorting to eliminating enemies by abusive and murderous action.

Beastly leadership fosters this culture because of a singular pursuit of greatness and desire for fame or fortune.  Beastly leaders creates a “lord-it-over” climate that fosters executive privileges within cultures of corruption because of its lack of shared authority, respect for others, and monarchical or kingly control (see 1 Sam 8).

Servant leadership focuses on the well being of others.

The servant leadership seen in Jesus, demonstrated by Samuel and fostered by many others (Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, etc.) is effective but operates where the conscience (super-ego) is developed and able to counterbalance the id (drive) and ego (goal attaining) aspects of the individual.

Beastly leadership takes root and thrives in places where the law and/or love of God has been rejected. As Isaiah reported:

“But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the LORD” (Is 26:10).

A rejection of grace or truth, either one, creates a vacuum that invites a culture with an appetite for distortion and aggrandizement, showmanship and blitz, instead of humble service. If either grace or truth are absent, spiritual insight, moral maturity, and social and political wisdom quickly atrophy.

I have tried in this series to explain my concern for the weakening state of true moral leadership in our families, churches and nations.

Only when we keep talking about service, mutual submission, voluntary sacrifice, and a belief in an ultimate judgment (both formative and summative), do we create a culture that has safeguards AGAINST beastly leadership and FOR servant leadership.

In the Trinity, we have the ultimate revelation of servant leaders. The relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit creates the submission all need to lead in social groups. The Holy Spirit doesn’t talk about himself, but Jesus. Jesus doesn’t seek his own will but the will of the Father. And the Father so loves the world he gives up his son to be the redeemer of that rebellious world. That is servant leadership!

I believe all individuals, groups and nations face two choices: to serve or to lord it over.

I fear many countries have moved to an abusive view of leadership and are voting for leaders who are “beastly” and not driven by strong moral ideals. They want followers, but not so they can serve them but to bring self-aggrandizement.

Sadly, beastly leaders end up trying to gain their lives and leadership, but lose both, whereas servants who throw themselves into the needs of others gain both life and leadership (Luke 17:33).

Beastly leaders fall for Satan’s great deception to be great, exalted, number ONE. And they become the most deceived of all even as they try to deceive others. It is a terrible mess and the reason why those of us who see this, need to pray that light will shine into their thinking and they will see better how to lead. This pity for deceived leaders need not be passive. In addition to praying we can be active in democracies speaking out against abuse. Beastly leaders buy into and believe a lie, a wrong view of effective leadership (2 Thes 2).

God will hold leaders accountable for their use of resources to serve or hurt others (Ps 82).

As servants and beasts come into contact, the natural difference breeds conflict, and inevitably war. Paul clarified the essence of that war: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph 6:12, KJV).

I believe Revelation 10-14 predicts that war will continue into our time and will force all leaders to a showdown.

I pray we all will be faithful to serve not Lord it over others.

American Beastly Leadership (4 of 5)-#16 in Series

This series has contrasted servant and beastly leadership. The last 3 posts brought Adventism and America into this contrast. The prognosis of Revelation 13 is that America could abandon its role as servant leader. How?

Here, I explore four ways this could happen.

First, they (the US government OR the US people as they are theoretically linked) could reject both the spirit and letter of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. They could abandon their vision of “liberty and justice for all” and abandon the Amendments, specifically the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment is the heart of USA’s identity, freedom and key to its prosperity and empowerment!! It defines USA!!!

These documents have attracted millions to flock to USA shores to find safety, worship and claim their voice.

Adventists have long believed America could abandon this basic right.

The First Amendment is especially a “law” that liberates and differentiates American because it protects minority groups from majority rule. It ensures individuals have a voice against oppressive political and religious regimes, even if they have the majority vote or sympathy. Allowing such voices has kept powers–both governmental or religious–more willing to serve, more responsive to truth, and more accountable to people and principles. Thus this law fosters an engine of accountability AND freedom essential to foster greatness. This is the genius of USA innovation and productivity.

Freedom of worship and voice allows private right of judgment and dialogue, both of which increase moral majority and starves corruption and exults a nation. The deep morality that is fostered is what breeds national maturity (see Gibbs 2014 on Moral Development and Reality).

America could violate this central “law” of liberty in many different ways. They can force a religious dogma or persuasion on everyone. Or the USA government can entangled itself into religious practices or institutions (churches, schools, hospitals) thus sabotaging the ingenuity, inventiveness and godly faithfulness that comes from free religious practices.

For 150 years, Adventists have seen this route as the main way the lamb-like beast of America (prophesied in Revelation 13) could assume more beastly roles.  As a religious minority, we  not only think this could happen but “feel” this could happen. We sense how our Saturday Sabbath keeping behavior could easily become a natural target if Protestants and Catholics allied to enforce Sunday rest. Clifford Goldstein, a lawyer and prolific SDA author, has argued this point well in his 1993 book, Day of the Dragon: How Current Events have set the Stage for America’s Prophetic Transformation. He does a good job of showing how the politically frustrated religious right could get impatient really fast and seize government power to push their religious agenda. We have defended the “wall of separation of church and state” but many Protestants/Catholics have not and we believe this is where beastly rule could start seeping through (this wall) and later become a major break that cause a flood of liberties to be swept away. While Goldstein is worth a read, he makes some predictions related to his time (1990s) that defocus these issues away from key principles. The two principles I think Adventist have correctly focused on are the loss of a wall of seperation and the restriction rights in the First Amendment.

And there are other ways, other then our historical views of this, by which these two principles could be abandoned. First, infringing our freedom of religion is only one way to abandon the First Amendment. It could also be abandoned by a popular uprising or governmental overreach that shuts down the presses, restricts congregating around a religious or an ideological conviction. Plus, a heightened fear of terrorism could motivates people to accept martial law that restricts freedoms.

I addition to this primary way– seepage and flooding through the wall of separation of church and state and loss of other first amendment rights–where beastly leadership can increase in the US.

Here are three other ways that I find hinted at in the Book of Daniel. Revelation 10 said the little Book of Daniel would give power to those who ate it and I think it has helped Adventists see how the lamb-like beast of Revelation 13 could quickly develop.

The second way beastly rule could creep back into the US is through Kingly or “personality” rule. This is basically when the whim of one ruler or one part of government restricts the counterbalancing view of the other. The US hasn’t had a “King” system since the days of our independence. We have representatives rule that restricts any one group from taking over. However, if a U.S. President, or executive branch, or if Congress or the courts take over sole leadership, not only would the central checks and balance system in the U.S. be challenged but representative voice would be loss and beastly rule increase. We see this beastly “personality” leadership in the first beast reviewed in Daniel, Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27, Daniel 2, 3, 4) gives us a picture of what a personality driven leadership does to due process. It throws it away….into the fiery furnace.

The third concern is with the beastly rule grows in a culture of “drunkenness.” Daniel 5 shows us what beastly rule exists when too much wealth, alcohol, pride, aggrandizement, and power accumulates to a few. Beastly leadership overlooks the obvious trends, does not support the marginalized, and develops a “wine of Bablylon” approach to leadership. This is a real possibility for America. If she continues on a debauchery trend, her freedoms will be fogged from within and lead to abusive power plays.

Finally, a fourth way America could turn more beastly, is seen in the government of the Medes and the Persians introduced in Daniel 6. Governmental officials fool Darius into passing a governmental law that he himself could not change. So we see that the “personality” or “kingly” rule is taken out of the system (which is good to an extent) but no  jurisprudence is available for relief from a bad law. In Daniel 6, we see an aging Daniel escape the abusive rule of personality kingdom (Bablylonia with King Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar) only to end up in the abuse of laws that can’t be changed by judicious processes. This could happen in America if we swing from the threat of a “personality” to a cold hearted “policy” rule. Oddly, Nazi Germany had both beastly issues taking place: a strong personality based leadership without opposition and a rigid policy wonk system that abandon due process and jurisprudence.

America could fall into that beastly rut of leadership in many ways.

Next time, we conclude this long series by talking about how to keep servant leadership on the winning approach in America and in Adventism.

American Beastly Leadership (3 of 5) #15 in the Series

In the last 14 posts, I nuanced differences between servant (godly) leadership and beastly (satanic) leadership. The last 2 posts extended that contrast to America and Adventists. I used Revelation 10-14 and Ellen White’s Great Controversy to show how Adventists see a potential showdown between themselves and America over issues of servant leadership (especially religious freedom).

The disturbing question that lingers: how do individuals and groups fight the temptation toward beastly leadership?  How do they stay servants?

Today, I continue to explore ways America could be pulled from service to beastly leadership.

I use “could” because I believe nations, like individuals, can respond to God’s warnings, the warnings of others and repent and change. However, I fear America is drifting to the “lord it over others” approach to leadership. We see tendencies of that in our current president, Donald Trump. Can “he” or can “we” fight that tendency and stay servants in the world?

My friend Nick Miller recently published an op ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer about what makes America truly great.

His point is that the core greatness of America is seen in the founding values evident in Pennsylvania that fostered religious freedom as well as republican and representative governmental structures. This was a change from the church-state and kingly systems of Europe. Representativeness creates a place for voices to be heard. It created a culture and structures that protected freedoms. That is the secret of greatness.

The design of America is great, but we have to support that design by ongoing processes that reform and extend that ideal of liberty and justice for all to more and more people. This is why we are a nation of immigrants. Peoples have wanted to come and be part of such a system of freedoms.

And there is no better way to extend that freedom that through creating services to take care of immigrants, refugees, the poor, the homeless, the orphan, the drug addict, the sex addict, etc. It shows we are servants to other’s needs, just like God has been to us.

Adventists believe America and got behind this ideal of justice and liberty for all.

But our patriotism is not expressed in blind support of all that America has done or is doing. We stand for its ideals. But we have stood against slavery and other injustices tolerated in this country.

Patriotism is evident when a person or group muscles behind the best ideals of that country to help that country be better. I believe Adventism has done that by fostering a high moral road of generosity and good will to all (see Daniel 4, where it suggests the head of nations should also have such a generosity). Corruption and abuse and the hording of resources look like beastly leadership. We have tried instead to foster true moral greatness–a combination of justice and care, right and righteousness–in our nation.

I believe most American Adventists support America ideals expressed in the “Declaration of Independence” which fought for and fostered representative government and justice and liberty for all. We have resisted Catholic tendencies and European penchants for monarchy and hierarchy that squelches human brotherhood and the priesthood of all believers and denies speech and votes from all people. We believe this freedom has been fostered by the Protestant Reformation. That Protestant spirit was sown in the heart of the Declaration and the Constitution.

We believe the more America stays close to its founding ideals, extending justice and liberty to all, especially the marginalized, the better America will be. When she abandons that generous spirit, she will start becoming beastly.

As noted last time, Ellen White, one of Adventist central and founding leaders, was big on America’s ideals. She felt that  “the great truth that “all men are created equal” was central to the fabric of America and Adventist’s could support that.

She and we value the U.S. Constitution that guarantees “the right of self-government” and “freedom of religious faith” that allows individuals to have freedoms, the greatest being the right to “worship God according to the dictates of his conscience.” Central to American greatness is “Republicanism and Protestantism…. fundamental principles of the nation. These principles are the secret of its power and prosperity” (White, Great Controversy, pp. 440-441, added emphasis].

That is why American Adventist have built hundreds of schools, colleges and hospitals in America to support the shared dream of more freedom: freedom from ignorance, freedom from illness. We love the American desire to support freedoms that liberate the human person.

Freedom requires love and service and a healthy understanding of the laws that make for liberty.

By abandoning God’s principles we believe America sets itself up for diminishing freedoms. We must challenge “bad” laws. We want laws for human flourishing not that support America “lording it over” others or that support licentiousness, the worse prison against true freedom.

Adventists were against the practice of slavery. And we are against America’s long oppression of blacks. We are trying to free ourselves from this racism (and we have that disease) so we can be in a better position to help our country free itself from racism.

We have also fought against “false freedoms” that were invitations to bondage. For example, we supported the U.S. Constitutional prohibition against alcohol. We don’t believe people can be free when they are drunk and widespread abuses of alcohol have hurt families and cause wide-spread crime and disease. We have had to change our strategy, but our goal is still the same….bring liberty through health, knowledge and liberating law and principles.

So we have been a people searching for ways to support America’s as a place of law and liberty, order and prosperity. We support laws that support human flourishing and family and child development, liberty, and health and knowledge.

In the next blog, we identify three laws that we believe America will be most tempted to enact that we believe violate not only the American ideal but also God’s “law of liberty” and fulfill the temptation to become just another beastly nation.

American Beastly Leadership (2 of 5)-#14 in Series

In post #13 on “servant” or “beastly” leadership, I used Revelation 10-14 to show the emergence of Adventists and America in prophecy and as agents of servant leadership.

The strongest match was made for Adventists. The identifiers were:  use of the prophecies (and time frames) of Daniel; honoring”new” (renewed) Bible teachings like health, Sabbath, etc.; reasserting the gospel framed within God’s sanctuary ministry; teaching about God’s judgment; rekindling a respect for God’s law; staying committed to God as creator and belief in a worldwide flood. Adventists fostered these beliefs and  became a global missionary movement.

We also identified the new power in the middle of Revelation 13 as the United States. It grew up in a less populated area away from European conflict and formed some lamb-like (Jesus) qualities of liberty. However, it soon became more like the “beasts” of Daniel. It gained global , military and economic influence, and was continually tempted throughout its history toward withholding liberty to all (women, blacks, religious minorities) and would get more and more oppressive.

To some my interpretation may seem nationally and denominationally-centric as I am an American and Adventist. Why would this passage only apply to my people? Couldn’t it apply to other groupos?

Yes, it could in some ways. Prophecy often is about prognosis and not only one group can get the cure or the disease the prophecy refers to. Often prophecy evokes multiple applications. Many Old Testament prophecies used in the OT often were used again in the NT to talk about Jesus and the early church. Some, for example Joel 2–the pouring out of God’s spirits–may have had three applications, before Christ, at the Day of Pentecost and before the end of time.

However, this section of Rev 10-14 does cycle back and forth between the fall of Satan in heaven and the final days of earth history. The war of servant and beast will characterize much of human history. So in that regard, it applies universally to all places the great controversy is waging.

However, given the central reference to time prophecies (1260 days) throughout this section, we see this linked to the unveiling of the little book (Daniel) that happened in American in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the time America and Adventism emerge.

This passage focuses our attention on the war between Christ and Satan as it plays out in America and Adventism.

So, I see four possible scenerios for these two groups responding to Christ and Satan:

  1. America and Adventists both could continue and/or reclaim faithfulness to seek “greatness of service” (Mt 23:11, Lk 22:26).
  2. Adventists could abandon the mission of service while American keeps going as a global servant.
  3. America could abandon its calling to serve while Adventists keeps growing as global servants.
  4. Both America and Adventists could abandon their calling to serve world needs and reject God’s vision of service and become just another church and nation where beastly leadership hurts people.

This post focuses on prognosis #3. I will return to the other possibilities in later posts.

For this prognosis, I turn to Ellen White’s classic chapter “God’s Law Immutable” from her book The Great Controversy. Interestingly, in some versions of this book, this chapter is also labeled as “America in Prophecy.” It is clear why both labels  characterize this chapter. I believe the immutable law of God is the main theme which shows Adventists desire to follow Christ and America is tempted to abandon that law and become the “new” beast.

Please read the online version of her chapter and make your own conclusions before you read mine.

Like Rev 10-14, this chapter speaks more about Adventists than America. After explaining the rise of Adventism, she turns her attention to America.

“What nation of the New World was in 1798 [the time set by Daniel prophecies] rising into power, giving promise of strength and greatness, and attracting the attention of the world? The application of the symbols admit of no question. One nation, and only one, meets the specifications of this prophecy; it points unmistakably to the United States of America. Again and again the thought, almost the exact words, of the sacred writer has been unconsciously employed by the orator and historian in describing the rise and growth of this nation.” She then quotes directly from some of these.

Further, she notes the “Declaration of Independence” focused the nation on “the great truth that “all men are created equal” and endowed with the inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And the Constitution guarantees to the people the right of self-government” and “freedom of religious faith was also granted, every man being permitted to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. Republicanism and Protestantism became the fundamental principles of the nation. These principles are the secret of its power and prosperity. The oppressed and downtrodden throughout Christendom have turned to this land with interest and hope. Millions have sought its shores, and the United States has risen to a place among the most powerful nations of the earth” (pp. 440-441, added emphasis]

Boiling down the main observation of this chapter is that the rise of Adventists as God followers refocusing allpeople on the law, sabbath,  sanctuary, and judgment all framed within the gospel.


This is not to deny that the American has DONE MUCH GOOD SERVICE. But it has also fostered major abuse to various groups (native Americans, slaves, blacks, women, etc.). However, its vision of liberty and justice for all managed to improve, but we see prophecy predict it won’t do that for long.

There is “a development of the spirit of intolerance and persecution that was manifested by the nations represented by the dragon and the leopardlike beast” (442). White sees this power “enforcing some observance which shall be an act of homage to the papacy” and “such action would be directly contrary to the principles of [USA] government, to the genius of its free institutions, to the direct and solemn avowals of the Declaration of Independence and to the Constitution” (442-3).

In other words, she sees the US system, originally as faithful to God’s law to foster freedom of worship moving to enforce worship.

This abandonment of the principles of liberty, law and order distinguishes beasts from servants.

Adventist predict that America, as a superpower, will increasingly be tempted to abandon its original mission.

In an amazing way, the 10 commandments remain a distinguishing characteristic as they can be used to invite America, and all people, to live the 10–the first 4–speak of worship, and the second half speaks of public morality. Adventist’s try to embrace both, a deep respect for freedom of conscience needed on the first four areas and for the need for strict alliance on the last 6,  public morality. This is the two fold nature of God’s law–liberty and order. (we return to this later in discussion Nick Millers work on this).

In the next post, we discuss further, how these things might unfold.


For a useful look at the powerful pull American religious liberty had on religious refuges see the Library of Congress depiction of America as a Religious Refuge in the Seventeenth Century  https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html

I hope we can still be such a place in the 21st century, even for and especially for Muslims.