Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thanksgiving and Praise

There's a model for prayer called ACTS, which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Suppplication. Adoration: start your prayer with praise for God; Confession: confess your sins to God before proceeding with prayer; Thanksgiving: giving thanks to God for the blessings He has given you; and Supplication: prayer requests for yourself and others. The Supplication part usually gets to be the longest.

I like that model and use it often. What I'd like to comment on today is the difference between Praise and Thanksgiving, because often I've noticed that when we use this prayer model in united prayer, these two categories often run together. We tend to praise God for healing our sister from illness, or praise Him for the rain or sunshine we got, or praise Him for our homes or food or whatever. There is nothing wrong with this. But if you want to take it to a deeper level, you can differentiate between Praise and Thanksgiving.

We give thanks for things we've received from someone else--gifts, blessings from God, etc. It's for things that relate to Me. Praise, however, is showing an expression of adoration to the other person, or God, for what they are, with no relation to what that person (or God) has done for or given Me. For example, if my husband does the dishes or runs an errand for me or gives me a gift, that's Thanksgiving. But if I tell him that he has beautiful eyes, or a lovely smile, or I admire his strength in a certain situation, or just simply look at him and smile, that's Praise. It's all about him, and is completely independent from anything he's done for me or given me.

I've found that it's harder to praise God than to thank Him, which is probably why Thanksgiving and Praise tend to run together in prayers. We mostly know about our own human experience, and who God is in Himself is much harder to comprehend, so we thank and "praise" Him a lot for what He has given us and done for us. We should do that! But if we take the mental effort to try to praise God for something completely independent from what He has done for us (even our salvation!) we find that we have to dig a little deeper.

How can we praise God? The answer is that we have to know as much about His character as possible. We can also take clues from Scripture such as the book of Psalms. We should spend much, much more time than we do in thanksgiving for what He has given us and done for us, but it is also an excellent mental exercise to work on praising Him for who He just is, apart from what we get from Him.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Laywoman Philosopher alert

The title of my blog used to be, "Musings and Excogitations of a Laywoman Philosopher," but I changed it because I thought it was rather pompous sounding (although that was the original intent, in jest). Also, if on the odd chance I decided to use this blog to post other things, say, pictures of the cat, it wouldn't fit. (Violin stuff goes in another blog that I'm working on.) However, once in a while I bring back the laywoman philosopher, just for fun; I have no authority to call myself a philosopher, maybe I should just stick with the laywoman part.

My philosophical topic today is: philosophy. (Am I sounding intelligent yet?) This quarter's Sabbath school lesson is on the Sanctuary, so I spent some time looking at different views of the Atonement. The conclusion I reached is: wow, there are a lot of ideas out there. My philosophy is that there are about as many different philosophies as there are philosophers (or, insert theology instead). Is it possible to write a textbook on philosophies or theologies? As in, "the X model teaches A, B, and C" and so on. Within the group of adherents to the X model, there are hundreds of philosophers who teach A, but not B and C, or A and B but not C, etc.

1. Are you an A-ist?

Here's one question that arose in my mind, as I type away at my stream of consciousness essay: Let's say the textbook, Wikipedia or whatever it is (ok, not Wikipedia, the authors have a tough time being unbiased since they usually write the articles on whatever they agree with) states, "Philosophy A, otherwise known as a twelve-syllable unpronounceable -ism, teaches the following five tenets." (maybe we should shorten it to A-ism, because it has to have an -ism.) Now, if you believe in and agree with the first two but think that the other three are heresy, are you considered an A-ist? Does it depend how vociferously you preach those first two beliefs, or how important you think they are, even if you deny the other three?

Also, if the person accused of being an A-ist because he preaches the first two tenets denies frankly that he is an A-ist ("I am not an A-ist, because I don't preach the last three of the five tenets"), does he have authority to deny his affiliation with A-ism, or can we label him what we want? What would the textbook say? What would you tell your friends about him?

2. Who is my philosopher?

Here's a blatant accusation of society, but it's mine, and my blog: Seems to me that there are approximately 10-15 theologians for every approximately 250,000 church members. The Theologians spend their day thinking up philosophies, or, if you read textbooks, at least quoting other Theologians. The 250,000 other church members drink coffee after Sunday school and talk about the game, and leave the theology for the Theologians. OK, maybe that was a little rude, there are plenty a good number some of the flock who study and think for themselves, so if you are reading this you can feel free to put yourself in the category of the Theologians. (Actually, if you got this far in this blog entry, you probably are.) But you have to admit that it's true that many religious followers are just that, followers, and if they are asked what they believe, they will say, "Well, Pastor C said that--" (or Rabbi M, or Elder H, or whatever. Certainly not limited to Christians, notice how I haven't mentioned Christianity yet, it's just a human thing. "Church members" could also be any religious follower, adherent or whatever.) So: let's hope Pastor C is right, that's all I have to say.

3. But, what's right?

What Is Truth? Maybe that's for another blog essay. This one is getting to heavy as it is. :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Current Events: Harlem Shake

Recently, there has been some kind of controversy surrounding a flash-mob dancing trend that has caught on at universities, including Adventist universities. I saw "somewhat," because most of the opinion seems to lean toward, "it's all in fun, let college kids do what they will, and quit Judging [caps sic] others," and rather less of the other side. (Here is an example and explanation.) Those who may express the other side are immediately shot down as being "uptight," "judgmental," "he who casts the first stone," etc.

Here is my response, if I were to comment:

Let's say, just for the sake of a logical argument, that 50% of Adventists (let's call them "conservatives") believe, from what they have found in Scriptures, not to mention EGW, that this type of worldly behavior is not only inappropriate for a Christian, but could possibly be potentially spiritually dangerous. Let's say that they wish to share with others either one of the following: 1) how righteous and prudish they are and how unholy YOU are, OR 2) they have a desire to actually warn them of potentially spiritually dangerous behavior, because they care. Now, let's say that the other 50% (let's call them "liberals") believe that the previous group needs to take a chill pill.

Now, if there is a 50% chance that Group A is correct, and a 50% chance that Group B is correct, the question is: Is it worth it? Is there a good reason for putting your spiritual life in jeopardy, with those odds? I mean, for more than just "fun" and "that's what kids do"?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ezekiel (not the bread)

Could somebody please do a study on the book of Ezekiel?

I've been reading it again, and I've always been kind of fascinated by the weird symbolism in the book--not just the wheels and dry bones and things, but even the messages to dead kings. Adventists have had their "favorite" prophecy books, namely Daniel and Revelation, but from what I've heard (and I've heard a lot of prophecy sermons), books like Ezekiel and Zechariah have been relatively ignored. But it seems to me that there might just be a lot that we can learn about the Great Controversy from those books. Here are a couple of reasons why I think so.

First of all, we are all pretty familiar with Ezekiel 28 as a symbolic description of Satan's pride and fall. But chapter 38 and 39 are also striking prophecies, dealing with Gog and Magog, and as anyone familiar with Revelation knows, those names are also there in chapter 20, talking about Satan's last attempt to overthrow the God and the Holy City and his final destruction. But whereas Rev. 20 only has four verses about this last battle, the scenario is covered in detail over those two chapters in Ezekiel, ending with a beautiful description of the restoration of God's people to Him and the glorification of God and His judgment (from verse 21 of chapter 39). I'm sure we can learn a lot about the end of the Great Controversy from these chapters.

Going along with that, there are quite a few other messages regarding various kings and kingdoms between chapters 25-32 (Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Egypt etc.) Many of these kingdoms are named in prophecy as important symbols of last-day events (Moab and Ammon in Dan. 11:41, Egypt in Rev. 11:8). And being that these messages are sandwiched between what we know are symbolic passages (the sisters and the cooking pot in ch. 23 and 24, and of course Tyre in ch. 28), I wonder if there is more interesting prophetic symbolism to be found in the messages to these other kings.

Most importantly perhaps, is the deal with the temple described from chapters 40 on. Maybe I'm missing something, but I have not yet heard very many good ideas on what this temple is, or when it's supposed to have been constructed. The problem is, Christians who believe in the pre-Advent millennium have it all figured out. If you do a search on "Ezekiel's temple," you will get all sorts of pages about the Messiah returning at the start of an earthly Millennium and establishing this temple and reigning over a peaceful neo-Jewish kingdom on the peaceful (yet not completely purified) earth--that's about it. This worries me, because it sounds like an excellent setup for the deceptions Satan will bring to the earth in the last days ("...false christs...will rise and show great wonders to deceive..." "all the earth will wonder after the beast..."). But if the pre-Advent Millennium Christians have it all figured out and we don't have a good explanation for what this temple is, how are we going to discuss this with our Evangelical friends?

I've been an Adventist all my life, and have probably read and heard a majority of what can be said about prophecy, and I've never heard a good explanation of the messages of Ezekiel, nor rarely heard it mentioned at all. And I know a lot of fabulous Bible scholars--could someone please do a study on this so we can start to unlock the wonders of this fascinating Old Testament prophet? (Next topic: Zechariah.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I’ve never really understood the term “fundamentalist.” Often it’s used in the context of an insult or attack, as in, “Those crazy fundamentalist wackos are tearing our church apart.” Although I believe in the existence of crazy wackos, I always assumed that the term “fundamentalist” came from the root word “fundamental,” namely “foundation,” which is what an organization is based on, founded on. So that technically means that any given organization was started by its fundamentalist(s). How could the organizer/developer of an organization or institution, or those who uphold the original fundamental beliefs of an organization, tear it apart? Either you agree to and uphold the foundational principles of an organization, or you don’t, and you go find another organization that you do agree with. It’s like walking into a Boy Scouts meeting, sitting down, and saying, “Hi, my name is Bob, and I’m an alcoholic.” You might get befuddled looks until someone kindly points out that the meeting you’re looking for is actually two doors down the hall on the left.

Will anyone hate you if you show up at a Boy Scouts meeting thinking it’s AA? Probably not (unless you’re really creepy). Likewise, will anyone hate you or chase you out with guns drawn if you walk into Best Buy and ask for a pint of strawberries? Probably not likely, either—although if they do, that is indeed reprehensible, no question. No, most likely the employees’ responses would be, “Sorry sir, we don’t sell strawberries in Best Buy, but would you be interested in our latest mp3 player? It has 120 GB! (Or, perhaps you meant you’re looking for a Blackberry? We have the newest version, better features!)” They’d love to have you in their store anyway, especially if you’re likely to walk out with a new laptop, which is worth much more than a pint of strawberries. Likewise, you are not expected to have the entire catalog of Best Buy merchandise memorized before you’re allowed to set foot in the store. However, if you stay and cause a scene in the store or go and write editorials about judgmental, hypocritical, backbiting, fundamentalist employees who refuse to sell a good man his strawberries, then perhaps the store employees might do well to wonder if this man ought to have gone to the grocery store instead.

Now I’m sure there have been plenty of cases where someone unused to American culture might walk into Best Buy thinking it’s a grocery store and innocently ask for strawberries. They don’t intend to cause a stir, they’re just desperately searching for strawberries and have gone into every Victoria’s Secret, Home Depot, and Petsmart on the strip asking for them. And there have been an equal amount of cases where many of the employees of the above stores have ridiculed them, laughed in their faces, made a public spectacle, called the cops, and so on, and the poor strawberry-seeker has had to leave, dejected, ridiculed, strawberry-less, and feeling too ashamed and angry to ever enter any store, even the grocery store just next door. We have no question what ought to happen to those rude employees when the Store Manager or even CEO comes to take account of his employees and their lost sales.

What I’m getting at is this: Rarely (except in cases such as military draft or therapeutic intervention) is anyone forced to join an organization or institution. In almost all cases, people support and join an organization—whether it be the Boy Scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Freemasons, the Democratic Party, or any given religious group—when and if they are made aware of, agree with, and support the organization’s fundamental principles. If they do not, they usually find another organization—perhaps the Girl Scouts, the Republican Party, or a drug cartel—that they do agree with. (There are, of course, various levels of involvement in an organization: AA leaders versus members who squeak by and may relapse soon afterward, church pastors and leaders versus “pew-warmers,” for example.) We also even take the example of a place of employment: if someone is offered a job and Hewlett-Packard and also at Dell and chooses to accept work at one of those institutions, he has agreed contractually to follow its rules and organizational standards, or else lose his job. If he chooses to violate company standards and is consequently fired, does he have a right to be angry at that corporation or its administration for being “judgmental,” “unloving,” or “unforgiving?” An organization (and a church also falls into this category) “sells” a certain “product,” namely, its fundamental principles. If it’s not what you’re looking for, why stay? There are many choices. So, by definition, I would venture to propose, that every member of any organization is a fundamentalist.

But there is one more factor in play in this question. That is, going back to the illustrations above, the question of perception of how the seeker is being treated. In the first example, the strawberry-seeker is standing in Best Buy, feeling unfairly treated because he’s not given his strawberries. Why does he feel this? Were the store employees truly causing him emotional pain, or is that what he perceived? I had a friend who summed it up well when he said something to the effect of, “Sometimes when I feel like a preacher is yelling at me, I realize later that he was not really yelling loudly audibly, but that I was hearing it so loudly in my own ears.” Whether or not that’s true for me is a decision only I can make, often over the course of many painful, heartbroken years of humility.

Monday, July 05, 2010


Lately I've been thinking about people's testimonies. We heard another moving one at church this weekend, from a young man who had been caught in the world of drugs and alcohol and hit rock bottom depression, then finally decided to give God a try, wherein God answered his prayers and rescued him, so he became a Christian. I've been inspired by my fiancee's testimony which was similar; it's hard to believe that he lived that kind of lifestyle in the past, considering what a Christ-like gentleman he is now. I believe with all of my heart that God can transform lives, as in 2 Corinthians 5:17--"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

The problem is that we hear these testimonies a lot, and sometimes it actually makes it difficult for those of us who don't have these stories ourselves. The world makes it seem like we need to have this amazing conversion story from jail or skid row in order to witness to others about what Christ has done for us. Obviously the last thing we ought to do is live the wild life in order to repent and have a testimony to tell, but without that, sometimes it's almost discouraging to think that we don't really have a good story.

My personal testimony is that I've had ups and downs in my spiritual life, and to be honest, they haven't always coincided with my feelings of happiness or depression. There were times when I wandered from daily devotion and didn't think so much about God, and some of those times were lonely and others were quite happy. There have also been times where I've reached out to God and kept close to Him, and some of those times were filled with happiness and others were moments of deep depression. I can't honestly say that I was miserable without God, then at a certain point I repented and gave my life to Him, "and now I am happy all the day," to quote the song (frankly, that's why I don't really like that part of the song that much anyway).

I had been thinking about this a lot lately when I happened to turn to Hebrews 11 this morning. It's such a famous chapter that sometimes it's easy to gloss over if you pretty much have it memorized already. But what struck me was that the champions of faith mentioned in this chapter, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, never really had a fantastic "conversion" testimony. They were simply--faithful.

The verse that struck me the most was Hebrews 11:5 (emphasis mine).
By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found because God had taken him; for before he was taken he had this testimony: that he pleased God.
Wow, Enoch had the best testimony ever: he didn't even have to die, he was that close to God! God just took him to Heaven! And what was his testimony? One simple thing: that he pleased God.

So, for those of us who don't have a great story--or those who do, it doesn't really matter in the end--it's not so important what your story is, your testimony is simply this: Can it be said that you pleased God?

By the way, the next verse defines what it means to please God:
But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

So, the way we please God is to have faith in Him. And according to this verse, the way to have faith in Him is to: 1. believe that He is (exists), and 2. believe that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.

Apparently those two elements are the most powerful testimony in the world.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Thought for the day: on arbitrary laws

Just a little thought I came up with while studying to teach this week's Sabbath school lesson on sin.

Often, people look at the test of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden as an example of the arbitrary laws of God. Laws, they say, ought to be for our protection, and make sense with the laws of nature, and so on, whereas, just simply eating a fruit (not even one that was particularly poisonous) is completely random. Why should they have been forbidden to eat the fruit of one particular random tree? Therefore, God is arbitrary and harsh, and only wants to display tyrannical qualities, etc. 

This leads to the question: Is it fair for a parent to test their child's obedience? We can safely assume that most parents would agree that complete obedience to their word is best for their child, so that they will know that if they yell, "Get out of the street!" their child will immediately respond and obey, not a second too late. Therefore, parents spend most of their children's young lives training them to be obedient to them. But a random test, as random as the seemingly useless tree-test, just to see if they will obey?

Perhaps one answer lies in the context of Adam and Eve's test, compared to the surroundings of every child since. Quite simply, Adam and Eve did not have traffic, and there were no cars to get out of the way of. They had no hot stoves, no swimming pools to drown in, no poison on their shelves, or sharp glass objects to break. In fact, they had no other dangers that God had to train them to stay away from, because it was a perfect sinless paradise. However, parents today have all of those dangers and many more at every corner to use as practical training in obedience. There's no need to think up any arbitrary test of faith or obedience when our children are constantly exposed to dangers all around, whereas God had to think up something to see if His new people would take Him at His word.

Now, after 6,000 years of evil in the world, we know something very clearly that Adam and Eve did not know at the time: if we run too fast in the yard, we could trip on a rock and scrape our knees up real good. But there might just be other dangers beyond our comprehension, dangers only God really knows about, dangers beyond our street and our medicine cabinets and our hot stoves. Those are the dangers we just have to trust God to know about--and again, just take Him at His word.