Mile High Academy and Local Community Join Together to Honor Student

From a North American Division news story – 19 January 2020 | Mile High Academy (MHA), local Denver, Colorado, churches, and the community have joined together as they honor the life of one of their students who passed away. Mya Pena was killed after she left school on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. A candlelight vigil was held […]

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Mile High Academy and Local Community Join Together to Honor Student

From a North American Division news story – 19 January 2020 | Mile High Academy (MHA), local Denver, Colorado, churches, and the community have joined together as they honor the life of one of their students who passed away. Mya Pena was killed after she left school on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. A candlelight vigil was held […]

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Your Existence Is Political: The Privilege of Neutrality

by Rebecca Brothers  |  16 January 2020  | Last year, I signed up for a class at my church. The class is called “Education for Ministry.” It’s a four-year program coordinated by an Episcopal college, the University of the South. First-year EfM students study the Hebrew Scriptures; second years, the New Testament; third years, Christian […]

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Death of Pastor Andrew Davis — Mourning Loss but Living with Hope

Over 1,500 people from across the British Isles and from as far away as Denmark and America came together to celebrate the memory and loving service given by a young pastor, Andrew Davis, age 38. They were moved by his sudden tragic death following a clot on his lung, and by his leaving behind a courageous young family.

Pastor David Neal, a friend of his father, Pastor Sam Davis, attended the service on Tuesday, January 7, and penned this reflection:

When Pastor Sam Davis was a ministerial student at Newbold College in the early 1980s, he often frequented the gymnasium to play and enjoy a game of five-a-side football with fellow students. Given the then-bare concrete walls and floor, every kick and every bounce of the ball “boomed” as the sound echoed around the room.

Sam and Rowena were the parents of two toddlers, Anthea (aged 3), and Andrew (aged 18 months). Full of hope and optimism about the future, they lived sacrificially in the college’s “married students” accommodation, Binfield Hall. However, they were committed to serving the Lord and His church, and looked forward to graduating, ministerial employment, and settling down as a family. Their future lay ahead, with all the bright optimism any family could reasonably expect. Not least, they recognized that the Lord was traveling with them. The journey took them through various fields of ministry as a district pastor, a youth director, and as President of the South England Conference.


Thirty-seven years later, those gathered in the same college gym on Tuesday, January 7 heard another “boom,” this time created by the beat of the Pathfinder Drum Corps. It was their way of saluting Sam’s son Andrew, also a pastor, mentor and leader, as they preceded his coffin into what has now become a sports hall and multi-purpose meeting venue.

Leading the family was Andrew’s wife, Natasha, and their three young children, Leila, Malachi, and Zoe. The unexpected and sudden death of a loved one causes compounded grief. As Andrew’s sister Anthea described in her eulogy, “The loss of Andrew to his family and community is colossal, and he is most desperately missed.”

Despite the shock of the sudden death, South England Conference President Pastor Emmanuel Osei emphasized in his welcome that the intent of the service was to celebrate and give thanks for Andrew’s life, emphasizing that “the family mourn as those who have a hope.”

Sam and Rowena Davis paying tribute to their son.


As Sam and Rowena Davis gave a tribute to their son, the only reaction of those present was to pray for them. To have to share the story of someone whom they’d loved, nurtured, and sacrificed for was stirring. Naturally, they both shared some cheerful anecdotes about Andrew’s competitive nature, and the fun they had together. Rowena was quick to highlight how Andrew was loved unconditionally. Sam elaborated on this by saying that “God took hold of Andrew, changed him, shaped him, and molded him into what it was to be a husband and dad.” What shone through was that Sam and Andrew were best friends, soulmates. As Sam concluded, he reiterated the context by saying, “When God causes you to down the bitter cup of bereavement, remember that He’s the one holding it to your lips.”

Andrew’s student peer group are now all serving as pastors. Matthew Herel shared on their behalf the educational, professional, and spiritual journey they have been on together, and how Andrew took the lead to make sure that “no man was left behind.”

Andrew’s student peer group comprised Micah Campbell, Vili Costescu, Anthony Fuller, Sam Gungaloo, Matthew Herel and Max McKenzie-Cook.


We do not have space to report on how Andrew was loved by the members he served in Brixton, Colchester, Ipswich, Clacton, and then Newbold College churches, or his active ministry to children and youth. His most recent pastoral appointment was to the Reading district and local church elders Boikie Osupeng and Steve Griffiths both spoke of his vision, enthusiasm, and passion for outreach and evangelism.

Natasha, surrounded by her three children, shared a tribute on a pre-prepared video, sharing how much they loved the one they now miss so much.

Pastor Jonathan Burnett, in his sermon, explained how Andrew was named after the disciple Andrew (the introducer) by his parents. As if in a direct challenge to the forces of evil, he reminded listeners of the devil’s intention to destroy Jesus. “If you think you can destroy a seed by burying him, you are mistaken.” Within minutes of making that statement, the preacher appealed for a response, and two young men responded by committing themselves to prepare to serve in full-time pastoral ministry.

Pastor Jonathan Burnett.


As music went from lament to praise, headed by the Reading Community Gospel Choir, the service ended with the choir singing “Hallelujah” as the coffin and the family departed to the crematorium.

Pastor Andrew Davis has left a legacy of brilliance, excellence, and commitment — to his Lord and Savior, to the church he served, and, by no means least, to his beloved Natasha, Leila, Malachi, and Zoe. Maranatha!


This article was written by David Neal and originally appeared on the TED News Network, the official news service of the Trans-European Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. A fuller version of this report is due to appear in the January 24 Messenger, Official Journal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the UK and Ireland.

Main image: Tribute to late Pastor Andrew Davis. (Photo credit: Michael K. Asare). All images courtesy of the TED.

 

Further Reading:

Death of Pastor Andrew Davis, December 26, 2019 announcement from the South England Conference.

 

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Mile High Academy and Local Community Join Together to Honor Classmate

Highlands Ranch, Colorado… Mile High Academy, local Denver churches and the community have joined together as they honor the life of one of their students who passed away Tuesday, January 14.

“We ask our community to lift up the parents of the student, the Mile High Academy students and staff, our pastors and the counselors in prayer as we continue to grieve together,” said Lonnie Hetterle, RMC Education Superintendent.

On January 15, the following statement was issued by Mile High Academy’s administration:

It is with profound sadness that Mile High Academy confirms the loss of one of our students. Our hearts go out to this family. We want the family to know that they are in our thoughts and prayers. MHA has been working closely with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department as they continue to investigate this tragedy. Mile High Academy will have grief counselors and pastors on hand to help our students, staff and families with this loss. Prayers for our students and staff are appreciated. Thank you for respecting the privacy of our school community at this time.

Ed Barnett, RMC president, visited the school on Wednesday and Thursday. He commented, “Our hearts hurt for the parents and family of our student who is no longer with us. The way the Mile High Academy students, staff and local churches have come together speaks volumes to just how closely connected this community is, especially in times of sadness. We also want to say thank you to the counselors and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department for their assistance during this time. Please continue to pray for all involved.”

A candlelight vigil was held on Thursday, January 16 at Mile High Academy. No memorial information is available at this time. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with funeral and family travel expenses at https://www.gofundme.com/f/mya-pena-funeral-funds. For questions regarding additional ways to support Mile High Academy, please contact Jamie Frain, Mile High Academy’s interim principal, at [email protected] or 303.744.1069.

 

This article was written by Karrie Meyers and originally appeared in the Rocky Mountain Conference newsletter, the RMC NewsNuggets. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image courtesy of the RMC.

 

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Judge Dismisses Retirement Plan Lawsuit Against AdventHealth

A major legal challenge to AdventHealth (formerly Adventist Health System) has been dismissed after a judge threw out a lawsuit by a former AHS employee that claimed the system underfunded its retirement by millions and had breached its duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The Adventist network had argued that it was not […]

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News Briefs For January 16, 2020

News reports from Southern Adventist University, Adventist University of the Philippines, Adventist music, Oakwood University and Voice of Prophecy: According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, an exhibit of rare Bibles from around the world opened this Wednesday on the campus of Southern Adventist University. The From Script to Scripture exhibit contains a Gutenberg Bible, […]

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Dan Weber, NAD Communication Director — Adventist Voices

On this week’s podcast episode, host Alexander Carpenter talks with Dan Weber, director of communication for the North American Division, about why diversity is the future of NAD health, his personal experience with life-changing mission service, and Kings basketball.

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Hermeneutics, Sabbath School Quarterly and Ideological Gamesmanship

In mid-18th century England, education was largely a privilege of the wealthy class. Their children –usually the males – were instructed by private tutors at home. Children of poor factory and farm workers toiled alongside their parents as soon as they demonstrated “industrial” efficacy. Neither parents nor children had the means or use for education. It was in this setting that Robert Raikes, editor of the Gloucester Journal, penned an influential editorial in 1781 supporting a William King’s newly established home Sunday School class. This was ostensibly aimed at educating slum children in what would become the basics: reading, writing, “ciphering” (arithmetic) and instruction in the Bible. King’s, and all future such classes, met on Sundays because that was the only day the factory and farm employers would spare the children, who until now had no resort to any form of education.

Out of these small beginnings lay the kernel that would germinate to become the vaunted British public-school system. A system which would be exported across the British Empire and transform whole nations and the lives of its people, rich and poor. It was from these foundations that the weekly Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Sabbath School Quarterly (SSQ) structure followed: a commitment to empowering instruction in the best traditions of education, albeit narrowly tailored to biblical religion. And having aligned our vision to the Sunday School model, we had to take the commitment seriously. For a while, those charged with the SSQ enterprise took it seriously. But it appears that, in recent years, this commitment has been weakening and the Adult lesson study in particular is steadily evolving into an ideological mouthpiece of the church’s more right-wing leadership who currently control the quarterly’s production.

Here is what I observe of the current maneuverings that implicate the administration in using the SSQ to advance its goals. It concerns the apparent manipulation of the quarterly studies, not as adjunct to, but in place of, mandated theological study. At the 2015 General Conference (GC) in San Antonio, the GC Biblical Research Institute (BRI) was charged, together with the GC leadership, with preparing a new document on Hermeneutics in time to be voted on at the 2020 Indianapolis GC session.

The usual way such assigned studies develop is that, in the intervening years before a GC session, the committees preparing the documents provide periodic updates to designated groups, including Annual Council delegates and even the SDA public. A recent fine example was the process followed by the Theology of Ordination Study Committees (TOSC) prior to the 2015 GC session. In that decidedly hyperactive example, each Division of the world church had its own committee which independently studied the topic and reported its findings. In San Antonio the administration, having learned its lesson from the TOSC experience of how not to relegate “power” to the grassroots in policy making, ensured that the Hermeneutics study would be a tightly controlled affair. This is how the assignment was given to an unenthusiastic BRI.

So far, over the last 54 months, nothing remotely similar to the TOSC process has emerged with the Hermeneutics study. And it isn’t because there hasn’t been a clamor for information. Almost exactly two years ago, at the midpoint of the five-year assignment, I lamented the slow process and lack of transparency in my column Forgotten Homework: The 2020 Study in Hermeneutics. Six months ago in his Spectrum article Can this be Adventism?, former Adventist Forum board chair Charles Scriven described in painful frustration the refusal of the main stakeholders of this project – BRI, GC, Andrews University Seminary – to publicly discussing the study’s status.

I don’t know how else to characterize the way Chuck was treated by these leaders than see an entitled group of administrators eschewing contact with a general laity that does not appear to know its place. But if governance in Adventism purports to be a representative democracy, even vaguely, then the membership is entitled to know what is done in its name. And in an open forum. When a study is commissioned publicly, those bringing it about shouldn’t do so behind closed doors, which so far has been the story.

So we are now in the home stretch of an assignment, given almost five years ago, to craft the church’s position on how to interpret and thus understand scripture. Yet we have no public idea who is writing these positions, or the selection process that qualified them to do so for us. If such notable Adventist Hermeneutics experts like Alden Thompson were not even invited to contribute papers for this assignment, one wonders about the breath of voices crafting this document in our name. Yet the projected posture, based on how Chuck was treated when attempting to ask questions, smacks of co-mingled arrogance and indifference.

But suddenly a eureka moment – and with it the clarifying insight. The intersection between the 2020 second quarter Adult SS lesson study and the 2015 “commissioned” Hermeneutics project. The subject of the 2020 second quarter SSQ is – Hermeneutics. Dr. Frank Hasel of the BRI is rumored to be the principal contributing editor. So do we now finally have an emerging administrative strategy? Is the SS lesson study on Hermeneutics set up to be the substantive replacement for the “commissioned” Hermeneutics study? If so, and I don’t see how to construe this differently, then it stands the whole process on its head.

When Elder David Ripley proposed the Hermeneutics study at the last GC session, it was billed as “our most important need”, the study that would help heal the church’s bitter polarization. Elder Ripley’s motion was adopted presumably because the 1986 Rio Hermeneutics document, currently guiding the church’s understanding of biblical interpretation, is no longer adequate and needs updating. So how do we have a Sabbath School lesson study on this topic before the body designated to work on the new and improved version has even presented its report for ratification? This whole process puts the cart before the horse.

What this infers is that the GC leadership, because it couldn’t be done without their involvement in collaboration with the SSQ production team, is effectively sidestepping the GC session mandated Hermeneutics study in favor of Sabbath School lesson guides on the same subject. The former requires input and vetting by knowledgeable experts; the latter is essentially a principal contributor’s conception, potentially rubber-stamped by a likeminded GC and SS editorial board.

That is how we go from needing a study on the theology of Hermeneutics, because our current one is deemed inadequate, to the global church applying the “recommendations” of a nonexistent study in a full blown SSQ study. All this before we know what our Hermeneutics theology is supposed to be. And before it is voted on. Why then was the Hermeneutics study even embarked on?  Why are we studying Hermeneutics from April through June 2020 just before the Indianapolis GC session? One plausible reason could be that the administration has a preferred Hermeneutics direction which they want to push the delegates into adopting in Indianapolis. And since the people involved with the SSQ study are also connected with the Hermeneutics project, the SS lesson is being used as leverage for votes in Indianapolis. It is a stacking the deck of sorts, a scheme not unlike what the president used in the middle of the TOSC meetings when he abruptly redefined the rules.

The question is not so much why we go through the exercise at GC sessions of voting to have studies if the administration won’t abide by the rules, but why we allow this administration to orchestrate such maneuvers? To resort to this approach is unacceptable.

The SSQ studies are probably the most unifying of all Adventist “institutions”. Go anywhere in the world, on any given Sabbath where Adventists meet, and no matter the setting or language spoken during the SS hour, the subject matter is always the same. Our takes on the topic might differ once class begins, but the subject studied is presented globally. There is nothing else like this in the Adventist subculture, not vesper hours, not “divine” service, because those presentations follow individual scripts. The SS hour is almost at the level of a liturgy within Adventism. That is why it is dangerous for this singularly unifying medium to be tainted by the perception of manipulation for ideological advantage. If members begin to feel that the quarterly lessons are propaganda they will feel used and controlled. Then what has so far been an enviable unifier within the church, will likely polarize us. The GC needs to exercise restraint and keep its hands off of the SSQ.

 

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home. Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/author/matthew-quartey.

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

 

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Kari Paulsen, Wife of Former World Church President Jan Paulsen, Dies at 85

We all need somebody who listens to us at some time or another,” Kari Paulsen told Ministry magazine in 2006, describing how, as the wife of a Seventh-day Adventist Church administrator, she was able to find a personal ministry despite the limitations of chronic illness.

Paulsen, whose phone ministry of calling those who need encouragement was an integral part of her life, passed to her rest January 10, 2020, in Oslo, Norway, at the age of 85. Jan, her husband and the past president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, was at her side.

“Mrs. Paulsen was a very capable person and a strong support for Pastor Paulsen in his life and their ministry together over many decades in different parts of the world,” said Ted N. C. Wilson, current world church president, in a post on his Facebook account.

Rajmund Dabrowski, former communication director for the world church, noted a close bond with the Paulsens: “I felt that they were our second parents,” he told Adventist Review. Having first worked with Jan Paulsen in the Trans-European Division, and then while Jan was General Conference president, Dabrowski noted the family commitment Kari Paulsen had.

“When we were abroad, [they] eased our way of accepting a new area, a new culture, and so forth. These are the kind of memories we will have. It is a tremendous loss to not only the family, but to those who were accepted by them as a family,” Dabrowski said.

Gerry and Verna Karst worked with the Paulsens when the couples were in Silver Spring, Maryland. Gerry served as Paulsen’s assistant and Verna as the headquarters nurse. Both remember Kari Paulsen’s adventurousness.

“She was not above having a little bit of fun,” Gerry Karst recalled, while Verna Karst noted Kari’s deep interest in others.

“Kari was a caring person and was very interested in people. But because of her health issues, she was restricted in what she could do,” Verna Karst said.

Kari Trykkerud was born in a small town near Notodden, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) from Oslo. She grew up during World War II, when Norway was under German occupation. Shortly after the war, Kari underwent surgery — the first performed in Norway — for a heart condition. During her recovery, she promised God she would become a Christian if He helped her get well.

That vow led to a search that ended when an Adventist relative’s pastor offered young Kari a copy of Steps to Christ by Ellen G. White. Following a Voice of Prophecy correspondence course and Bible studies, Kari decided to become a Seventh-day Adventist, even though this caused trouble at home when she refused a traditional Christmas dinner of pork. Infuriated, her father asked Kari to leave home, and the young woman went to live at an aunt’s home.

After secondary school in Norway, Kari went to the church-owned Vejlefjordskolen (Danish Junior College) in Daugård, Denmark, to study theology. Arriving two weeks into the semester, she admitted to being confused during a lecture on biblical dates, not least because of language differences. It so happened that another Norwegian student named Jan Paulsen was sitting next to her and offered to help. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll explain it to you later.”

That remark began a continuing conversation that lasted more than six decades. Friends at first, love grew between them, and the couple married before Jan went to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, to continue his education. Kari soon followed, and the couple learned a new culture along with adjusting to married life. They had three children, all of whom survive her: Laila, Jan Rune, and Rein Andre.

Kari and Jan Paulsen as they appeared early in their relationship. (Photo courtesy of the Paulsen family.)


The couple went to Africa, first to Ghana and then Nigeria, where Jan Paulsen served as president of Adventist College of West Africa, now Babcock University. Mrs. Paulsen’s health problems worsened while in Africa and were to remain with her throughout her life. Returning to Europe, Jan served as president of Newbold College in Binfield, England; secretary and then president of the  Trans-European Division, as a general vice president of the world church, and as General Conference president, a role he assumed in January 1999 and held for 11 years.

“I have experienced quite a lot of illness, and this close proximity to death does something to you and your relationship with the Lord,” Kari told Ministry magazine in 2006. “Somehow you rely more on Him. It’s important to stay close to Him, to pray, to read. It’s kind of a constant reminder that this life might not last that long.”

In 2015, Pacific Press released Against All Odds, Kari Paulsen’s memoir of life as a Christian and her struggle with chronic illness and family tragedy. The book won wide praise from readers.

“Kari Paulsen defined ‘resilience’ for me, and for thousands of believers for whom her challenging life story has been a great encouragement,” said Bill Knott, Adventist Review editor and executive editor. “Her honesty and wit have helped so many of us understand how grace has intersected our own moments of physical pain and disappointment. She reminded us by her words and her example that the Lord always has the last word — and that His word is deep affection for us.”

Tor Tjeransen, communication director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Norway, who has known the Paulsens for more than 50 years, noted Kari Paulsen’s lifelong optimism: “Kari has always kept a very positive attitude toward everything, everything she met in life. The strain on those who are in traveling positions is just enormous. She has always been there, and always very supportive of Jan,” he said.

Kari and Jan Paulsen pose with their two oldest children on the occasion of Pastor Paulsen’s ordination to the gospel ministry. (Photo courtesy of the Paulsen family.)


Funeral services for Kari Paulsen are being planned in Mjøndalen, Norway, on Monday, January 20. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested for donations to be made to the Life Hope orphanage and school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; donations may be sent via PayPal to [email protected].

In a message, Jan Paulsen remarked, “Kari gave often to keep the school alive and would love for it to continue after her departure.”

 

This article was written by Mark A. Kellner for Adventist Review, where it originally appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

Main image: Pastor and Mrs. Paulsen wave farewell at the 2010 General Conference Session. Photo credit: Josef Kissinger. All photos courtesy of Adventist Review.

 

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ADRA Philippines Responds To Taal Volcano Eruption

15 January 2020 | ADRA Philippines reported that it has completed a first round of disaster response assessments in the area surrounding the Taal Volcano in the Batangas province of the Philippines that erupted Sunday afternoon. “Based on our assessments in the evacuation centers and consultation with the MSWDs (Municipal Social Welfare Departments), the urgent […]

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An Interview with Rita Corbett

15 January 2015  | In 2018, Rita Corbett, one of the donors to India’s Hope Center, told us about the difficulties they’d encounterd in trying to gift a million-dollar conference center to one of the missions in India. Recently we followed up with an interview to try to get a sense what has happened. Adventist […]

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In the Philippines, AIIAS Families Are Safe Despite the Close Volcano Eruption

In the Philippines, AIIAS Families Are Safe Despite the Close Volcano Eruption

Leaders keep working on logistics in case evacuation becomes necessary.

By: Bruce Sumendap and Sharnie Love Zamora, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies

Students, faculty, and staff on the campus of the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) are safe during the unexpected eruption of Taal volcano south of Manila, Philippines. 

The volcanic activity increased rapidly on Sunday evening, January 12, 2020, prompting officials to raise the alert level from 2 (moderate level of unrest) to 4 (hazardous eruption imminent) within a matter of hours.

Campus officials are closely monitoring updates and instructions from local authorities. Although the volcano is nearby, AIIAS is approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) outside the 8.5-mile (14-kilometer) radius currently designated as the evacuation zone. The provincial governor canceled classes and work for January 13 and 14. 

 

  • The Taal volcano spews a giant plume of ash and smoke on Sunday, January 12, 2020. In the foreground are student dormitories P and Q on the south side of the AIIAS campus. [Photo: Evan Oberholster]

  • By the morning of Monday, January 13, 2020, a blanket of volcanic ash from Taal volcano’s eruption had covered the AIIAS campus up to 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) thick. [Photo: Laura Sumendap]

  • A vehicle parked in the carport of student dormitory H at AIIAS is covered with volcanic ashfall from the night of January 12, 2020. [Photo: Bruce Sumendap]

“No evacuation has been ordered at this time, but we have an incident team working steadily to assess the situation,” stated AIIAS president Ginger Ketting-Weller in her communications to the campus community on Monday morning. The incident team continues to develop its crisis response strategy, addressing communications, logistics, and the approach to evacuation, should that become a reality. 

The incident team has also been in consultation with Samuel Saw, Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) president, and with local Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) officials.

The once bright-red roofs and lush greenery of AIIAS are covered with gray ash from the volcano eruption, leaders reported. The institution has electrical power and water. Local stores near the campus are in operation.

IT director Miguel Taipe has secured the on-campus internet connection following a brief power outage on Sunday. Campus residents have been advised to monitor their emails, social media group updates, and local media announcements. Masks have been distributed to campus residents as the ashfall has continued, posing possible health hazards, particularly for residents with respiratory problems. 

“We are so grateful for the prayers of people around the world for our safety and protection,” Ketting-Weller said in discussing the situation and the work of the incident team. “We ultimately trust in God, but we also want to do all we can to be wise.”

Taal volcano is just 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) from the AIIAS campus in the province of Cavite. The volcano last erupted in 1977 and had been considered largely dormant; it has been a popular hiking attraction for local residents and tourists.

The original version of this story was posted on the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies news site.


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In Denmark, Testimonial Videos Aim to Reach Out to the Secular Mindset

In Denmark, Testimonial Videos Aim to Reach Out to the Secular Mindset

Personal life-changing stories about faith can help change people, leaders say.

By: Victor Hulbert, Trans-European Division, and Adventist Review

How can Adventist mission touch the lives of people who see religion as part of their culture more than part of their lives?

Denmark has a rich Christian history dating back 1,000 years, and even today, 75 percent of Danes identify with the state church,1 Brian Arly Jacobsen, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and an expert on the sociology of religion, notes that Danish Christians generally see religion as a matter of national rather than religious identity.2 As a result, average church attendance is around a meager 2.7 percent.

Jan-Gunnar Wold, communication director for the Adventist Church in Denmark, is working with his media team to tackle the problem head on. They have made a conscious choice to try and reach the younger generation through videos and social media.

 

  • Emma, one of the young Seventh-day Adventists in Denmark who is hoping to connect with other young people through her personal story of transformation in Jesus Christ. [Photo: Trans-European Division News]

  • In one episode of a new video series, Thomas Müller, president of the Adventist Church in Denmark, discusses the question, “How can you believe in God when there is so much suffering in the world?” [Photo: Trans-European Division News]

“As many young people do not even know Jesus, we felt it was important to promote personal life-changing stories about faith and how others became believers in Jesus,” Wold said.

His theory is that people are interested in people. Even with limited resources and equipment, the communication team decided to publish short videos under the name “Min Historie” (“My Story”) regularly across the church social media pages, including on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

During the Adventist Media academy held in Denmark in September 2019, Wold stated, Tthe statistics for these short videos show that we reach a lot more people than we otherwise would have done.” However, he recognized that this is just a start, adding, “Our prayer is now on how to connect with the viewers and lead them to a better understanding of faith and into church fellowship.”

While such videos are available aplenty in English, few have been made in Danish. The stories recently released include that of a young woman struggling with anxiety issues; a former drug addict and an atheist who is now a passionate Christian; and a teenage atheist who chose to attend an Adventist school and was determined not to be influenced by the worships or Christian values. She got baptized in April 2019.

A second type of video that uses simple apologetics is also being developed to answer the kind of questions non-church-going believers might ask. In one episode, Thomas Müller, president of the Adventist Church in Demark, asks, “How can you believe in God when there is so much suffering in the world?”

Even though all the videos appear on the official church social media pages, youth and church members are encouraged to share them on their own pages and via their local church social media. Youth sharing with youth has a much greater impact than simply pointing to an official church page, leaders said.

To reach a wider audience, a few of these life-changing stories are now being subtitled in English. Leaders said that they hope the influence they are having on secular Danes can be replicated elsewhere.

The videos are available to watch on the Danish “Min Historie” YouTube playlist.

The Adventist Church in Denmark has 2,445 members who seek to share their faith with a population of 5.8 million people.

_______________________

1. Sharanya Sriram, “Religion in Denmark,” Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, JYAN blog, https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/religion-in-denmark.

2. “Religion and Identity,” official website of Denmark, https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/religion.

The original version of this story was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.


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Adventists Vote Campaign to Kick Off with Special Events in Washington DC

15 January 2020 | This is an election year in the United States and a number of Adventist organizations have launched a coalition to encourage Adventists to register and vote. AdventistsVote will launch this weekend with a number of activities open to all who are interested. Thursday at 7 pm the film “Eyes on the […]

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The Image and the Rock

In Adventist traditional biblical story telling, Daniel 2 shows how God can predict the future. My interpretation of this story does not negate that, but suggests that Daniel 2 has additional theological meaning, both for Nebuchadnezzar and for us today.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Forgotten Dream

Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebuchadrezzar 31 times in Jeremiah; Akkadian: Nabû-kudurri-ușur) dreams a dream and then wakes up with it gone from his memory. To us, it’s nothing unusual. We dream dreams now and then that we can’t remember. But for Nebuchadnezzar, this is a religious calamity. Some god, perhaps the dream god dZiqîqu, has sent him a dream, probably predicting his future or some other divine revelation that will greatly affect him or his realm. Possibly it contains a verdict for him. Yet he has forgotten it! How could he negotiate with the great gods of Babylon to mitigate any evil portent it contained if he couldn’t remember it? On the other hand, if the dream predicted a happy outcome, he would surely offend the gods by losing it from memory.

Modern scholars refer to dream divination as the science of oneiromancy. Various Babylonian works relate how the gods (not always just the dream god) gave revelations to human beings through dreams. Perhaps the most well-known story relates how Ea, sent a dream to  Atraḫasis, the Babylonian Noah, in which Ea foretells a flood (to the reed hut in which Atraḫasis slept[1]) that would wipe out humanity and instructs the building of a boat from the reeds of the reed house. By giving Atraḫrasis the gods’ secret of the flood to the reed hut, the one man in it will overhear the instructions and preserve humanity. As part of the practice of divination, a god could send a dream to anyone and sometimes to lower-ranking officers who passed the revelation up to his supervisor who then gave it to the king. To Nebuchadnezzar, since some god has sent the dream directly to him, it must be of utmost significance. He must either somehow remember the dream or get his dream diviners tell him what he dreamed and give its interpretation.

He does the latter only have his scholars respond by asking him to tell them the dream and they will give him the interpretation. Likely frightened and angry, Nebuchadnezzar utters an edict: if they do not tell him the dream and its interpretation, they “will be torn limb from limb” and their houses will “be laid in ruins” (Dan. 2:5, NRSV[2]). Hoping to entice them further, he promises them that if they tell the dream and the interpretation, he will give them great gifts, rewards, and honor. When the diviners once again request the king to tell the dream and they will give the interpretation, the king accuses his scholars of fraud and orders them to tell him the dream so that he knows they haven’t lied to him.

As the last resort, the diviners point out two things: 1) no one on earth can do what the king demands, and 2) no king has ever demanded that their diviners tell what the king has dreamed. They add: “The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals” (2:11).

King Nebuchadnezzar surely knew that his scholars were right, but they had spoken truth to power, and in the king’s fright and desperation, “he flew into a violent rage” and ordered that “all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed” (2:12). Whether “all the wise men of Babylon” meant simply all the diviners, or referred to all of the king’s scholars, which also included astrologers, exorcists, physicians, and lamentation-singers (Parpola XXXIV cited in Lenzi 70), is not clear. The scholars of the king were his closest confidants entrusted with the king’s secrets and to some extent his welfare. To decree their destruction shows the length that power, driven by fear, can go.

At this juncture, the text introduces Daniel, one of the “wise men.” Daniel requests an audience with the king in which he asks for time to give the king the interpretation. After he and his fellow Jewish scholars pray, God gives Daniel the same dream Nebuchadnezzar had.

The Dream Revealed

The dream involved a statue, a very Babylonian object. Selected Assyrians and Babylonians crafted statues to represent the gods to put in their temples; kings also put statues of themselves in various locations (usually in temples standing before the deities) to serve as doubles or substitutes of themselves. These statues represented the king or deity in an ongoing “becoming” manner,  “including name, seed, body, shadow, and so on.” Whatever anyone did to a statue, they did to the god or king in all his aspects (Bahrani 132, 174-183).

In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, as Daniel presents it, the statue is gigantic, extraordinarily brilliant, and frightening. The fact that it represents kings/kingdoms, suggests the divine recognition of the enormous power these kingdoms have over people. The head of gold, of course, represents Nebuchadnezzar, according to Daniel. Interestingly, the Hebrew scholar calls Nebuchadnezzar “king of kings,” a title that the king may well have given himself, since epigraphical evidence shows that his successors used it (Wiseman 41). Further, he states that “the God of heaven had given” to him “the kingdom, the power, the might, and the glory” and has given into his hand human beings, the wild animals, the birds—over which this God has established Nebuchadnezzar as ruler (2:37, 38).

Daniel then proceeds to outline a series of kings/kingdoms that will follow that will seem to be successively more inferior than the previous one. Yet each of the metals that represent a king/kingdom functions some way in terms of power: gold and silver as economic power; bronze as utilitarian power; iron as military and enduring power; clay as scribal and literary power (if one recognizes the role clay played in ancient Babylonia, as the many clay tablets discovered there attest). In light of the role of power that statues of Assyro-Babylonian kings played, it seems that this statue wreaks of power, dominion, and even force.

The Rock

Then, out of a mountain, comes a rock. Ancient Babylonia is not as known for rocks as much as it is for alluvial soil. It is even less known for mountains, since the region of Babylonia is mostly a plain. Palestine has far more rocks and is close enough to mountains for Daniel to be familiar with the Canaanite motif of mountains as the abode of the gods. Since Nebuchadnezzar had been to Jerusalem to besiege it, and likely knew at least dimly about the meaning of mountains in Syria and Canaan, he may have recognized this rock as foreign, or possibly related to Daniel’s God.

This rock is “cut from the mountain not by hands” (2:45). In Aramaic, the word for “cut” has the extended meaning, “divided” (Brown, et al 1086), and the Complete Jewish Version uniquely translates it as “separated itself.” While other translations of this word (that use “cut out,” “chiseled out” or “hewn out”) honor the basic meaning of the verb, they do not reflect its reflexive nature. Whatever this rock does, it does to itself—that is, “cuts itself,” “hews itself,” or “separates itself” from the divine mountain. If separation is intended, it leaves the gods of the mountains and moves on its own; it is otherwise an ordinary rock, except one other extraordinary thing: after striking the image on its feet breaking it to pieces, it grows dynamically into a mountain of its own and fills the whole earth.

The rock is cut out without hands. Some translators (such as the NRSV in v. 34 but not in v. 45) add the word “human” as in “human hands,” but no qualifying word exists in the Aramaic of either verses that would necessitate the sense of human hands (cf. Dan. 5:5 where “human” is so designated by an appropriate word).[3] In both Hebrew and Aramaic, one of the prevalent meanings of the word “hand” is “power.” Despite scholarly contentions to the contrary, I believe that this Rock is deliberately cut out of or separated from earthly deities with no power in terms of divine dominion or force. The only power the Rock exhibits is that of dynamic, creative power to grow and fill the earth. The power that crushed the entire statue was not that of the Rock as it fell from the mountain, landing on the feet of the statue; it was the instability and decadence of the kingdoms themselves that reduced them to powder. Said another way: the Rock was divine, but not like any other deity worshiped throughout the ancient Near East in that it did not use power to coerce, to lord it over people, or to exercise violence against anyone.

What was this dull, brown Rock comprised of? What was the nature of its creative power? More importantly, what would make it possible for this lowly Rock to reveal the real powerlessness of the kingdoms that had tyrannized the world? Would it not be the exercise of love and truth that do not dominate or force anyone?

What else could make this Rock stand forever but its very nature as the kingdom of truth and love exhibited in the life of one like a “Son of Man,” who in Daniel 7 will come to get the eternal kingdom (v.14) and then will in turn give it to His people (v. 27)?

Sources:

Bahrani, Zainab. The Graven Image: Representation in Babylonia and Assyria. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Bottéro, Jean. Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods. Translated by Zainab Bahrani and Marc Van De Mieroop. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Brown, F., Driver, S. R., and Briggs, C. A. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner. Revised by Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob  Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, V: Aramaic. Translated by M. E. J. Richardson. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Lambert, W. G. and A. R. Millard. Atra-ḫasīs: The Babylonian Story of the Flood with The Sumerian Flood Story by M. Civil. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999.

Lenzi, Alan. Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel.

State Archives of Assyria Studies XIX. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2008.

Parpola, Simo, editor. Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars. State Archives of Assyria X. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1993. Reprinted by Eisenbrauns by permission of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 2014.

Wiseman, D. J. Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon. The Schweich Lectures of the British Academy, 1983. New York: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1985.

…………………..

Jean Sheldon is professor of Old Testament at Pacific Union College.

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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[1] Though the story is fragmentary, it is possible to deduce that Ea told the reed hut about the flood since the gods, chiefly Enlil, did not want any human being to know this divine secret.

[2] All citations from the Bible are from the NRSV.

[3] I find the argument in Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament 1888 that the presence of the preposition “with” (be) implies “human” hands to be weakly construed.

 

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Daniel 2: What I/We/You/They Have Not Yet Believed

A friend of mine has been reading ahead. I asked him whether there is anything noticeably new in our approach to the Book of Daniel this quarter. He answered “no” without hesitation. “Most things are presented the way we have always done it,” he said. “God has a calendar and follows it. He brings everything to completion by force in his own time.”

What We Have Always Believed

I have not read enough yet to judge whether my friend’s impression is correct. From what I have seen so far, perhaps he is. We are not studying to discover new things. Daniel is familiar territory, and we like to keep it that way. It could unsettle if we were to change our reading from “what we have always believed” to “where we were wrong” or even to “what we have not yet believed.” If Daniel were a sermon, we prefer one with which we are familiar. Once the pastor reaches the end, we’d like to be able to say: “That was a good sermon. It is what we have always believed.”

The subject this week is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. When Daniel lets him know the content of the dream, he tells him of an extraordinary statue. “The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay,” says Daniel (Dan. 2:32-33). This representation—translated and explained—is understood as a synopsis of world history. The guide in front of me says that “Daniel 2 is not a conditional prophecy . . . It is . . . a definitive prediction of what God foresaw and would actually bring to pass in the future” (SSQ 24). It goes on to the following exposition, here abbreviated to its essence:

1. The head of gold represents Babylon (626–539 B.C.).

2. The chest and arms of silver stand for Media-Persia (539–331 B.C.).

3. The belly and thighs of bronze symbolize Greece (331–168 B.C.).

4. The legs of iron aptly represent Rome (168 B.C.–A.D. 476).

5. The feet partly of iron and partly of clay represent a divided Europe (A.D. 476–second coming of Christ).

For the last point, there is an elaboration that brings it down to our time. “The mixture of iron with clay provides a fitting picture of what happened after the disintegration of the Roman Empire,” says the guide. “Although many attempts have been made to unify Europe, ranging from marriage alliances between royal houses to the present European Union, division and disunity have prevailed and, according to this prophecy, will remain so until God establishes the eternal kingdom” (SSQ 24). “The present European Union,” no less, with a 2500-year-old prediction that the union will fail.

It is imprecise to say that this is what we have always believed, but it is close. The part about the European Union is recent, given that the initiative to create the union began in the 1950s. Message to Brussels: The Bible tells us that your effort to achieve European unity is doomed to fail.

From here on, I wish to make good on the announcement in the headline: “What I/We/You/They Have Not Yet Believed” about the dream in Daniel 2. I’ll go about it incrementally, in three steps.

“There Is a Revealer” (Dan. 2:22, 28, 47)

Daniel 2 has a concentration of know ̶ terms that is unparalleled in the Hebrew Bible. Matters related to knowing are called epistemology, the science of knowledge. Daniel 2 aspires to make a contribution to the subject. The word yāda‘, whether in the form “knowing” or in the form “making known” occurs forty-one times in Daniel, eighteen of which are in Daniel 2. Yāda‘ is on numerous occasions linked with the word gālâ. Both are strong terms for “making known.” The Greek terms for yāda‘ vary, but gālâ is usually translated by apokalypō. If the words in Hebrew or Aramaic are difficult, the word in Greek is not. Apokalyptō means to “reveal.” Apokalypsis, the noun that corresponds to the verb, means “revelation.” For a visual example, think of someone removing the lid from the top of a box to show us what is hidden inside. Apokalypsis is on this logic an unveiling or an uncovering. Knowledge of this kind belongs in a special category. It is knowledge not available by other means.

Let us put this in the context of the king’s dream (Dan. 2:1-45). Nebuchadnezzar knows that he has dreamt. He is accustomed to thinking that dreams communicate messages from a higher power. But he cannot remember his dream (Dan. 2:1-9)! (I don’t think he is pretending). He demands of his advisors not only that they tell him how the dream should be interpreted; he also insists that they retrieve his dream (Dan. 2:9)!

His demand distills the epistemological issue to its essence. Is the dream a window into the king’s mental activity, or is it a form of communication from outside? The king is convinced that only the second alternative is relevant. (This contrasts with Sigmund Freud, who said that all dreams originate in the dreamer and that dreams are a form of wish fulfillment). We must approach this dream from the point of view of theology rather than psychology. If the dream represents a message from God rather than unprovoked human intellectual activity, God is free to share the message with other people than the king. Nebuchadnezzar is on to something when he insists, “Tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation” (Dan. 2:9). He more than hints that his advisors have been playing games in the past (Dan. 2:9).

It is crunch time in Babylon. It is do or die! The experts try to calm down the king and bring him to his senses. “There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands!” they say. “In fact, no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals” (Dan. 2:10-11). Their consternation and fear are intense. Earth has no resource that can meet the king’s demand! No one has ever been this unreasonable. The task is too difficult! Perhaps the gods can do it, if gods exist! Even if gods exist, there is no reason to believe that they communicate with mortals!

The predicament is dire, but it is also an opportunity. They ask for time. They turn to prayer (Dan. 2:14-18). The result confirms Nebuchadnezzar’s conviction that he has received a message. We find ourselves in theological territory—not psychology. The message “made known” to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream is now “made known” to Daniel. “Then the mystery was made known [Gr. apekalypthē (Th)] to Daniel in a vision of the night” (Dan 2:19, translation mine). 

Again and again Daniel 2 hammers it home: there is knowledge to be had that we do not generate ourselves. Discovery is good, but there is knowledge that is not the result of discovery. Research is good, but there is a horizon beyond human research. Philosophy is good, but human thought is not capable of the thoughts made known by revelation. It cannot be said too often.

* he makes known [Gr. apokalyptō] . . . he knows [Gr. ginoskō] (Dan. 2:22)

* you . . . have made known [Gr. seimaino, gnorizo (Th)] . . . you have made known [Gr. gnorizō (Th)] (Dan. 2:23)

*there is a God in heaven who makes known [Gr. apokalyptō] (Dan. 2:28)

We have a genuine “Known-Maker” in the story, a Revealer (Dan 2:20-30). Daniel agrees with the court-appointed experts that no earthly intelligence “can show the king the mystery that the king is asking” (Dan 2:27). But he does not agree that human limitations exhaust the options. Reality obligates him to add that “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Dan. 2:27). Another disclaimer follows for the purpose of circumscribing the human element: the mystery “has not been made known to me because of any wisdom that I have more than any other living being, but in order that the interpretation may be known to the king” (Dan. 2:30). Daniel’s role is modest, but the prospect for “knowing”—the new epistemic horizon—is vast. Daniel explains to King Nebuchadnezzar that “there is a God in heaven who is a revealer [anakalyptōn] of mysteries . . . and the Revealer [ho anakalyptōn] of mysteries” has opened the door to him (Dan. 2:28, 29, LXX). By this logic, revelation is not only something God does but an expression of what God is. Ideas like openness, transparency, and account-giving come to mind. “Making known” is so characteristic of God as to make God the “Known-Maker” [ho anakalyptōn].   

“What Is to Be” (Dan. 2:29)

A Revealer at the source. God is that revealer; God is a Person who reveals. Revelation is the content, and what is it? Daniel proceeds to recount to the king his dream (Dan. 2:31-36) and then its interpretation (2:37-45). He tells the king “what is to be” (Dan. 2:29). People in my faith community, as noted, are accustomed to see the flow of history in broad strokes: head of gold (Babylon), chest of silver (Persia), hips of bronze (Greece), legs of iron (Rome). This is revelation as prediction. The revealing God is in this paradigm a Person who knows history before it happens: he can foretell. What is foretold is fixed; it is what will happen no matter what.  Sovereignty and ability to foretell go hand in hand. Claims to foreknowledge of this kind are bound to impress and have been used to great effect by expositors of Daniel. Imagine—the Roman Empire predicted centuries ahead of time! Imagine—the failure of Napoleon and Hitler predicted two thousand years in advance! Imagine, too, a prediction that the European Union will come to grief!

Foreknowledge at this level lies beyond human capacity and certifies God as God. We can, with predictive prophecy in hand, argue that there is a supernatural reality and use Daniel 2 to poke holes in purely secular conceptions.

Is there more?

If we take time out of the equation, there could be more. Transience is writ large on the image. Nothing lasts. If we let the time-element dominate, it might seem that we need history to teach us this. Can the image, quite apart from history, teach us anything? It can—if we let our eyes run quickly from the splendor of the head of gold to the inauspicious feet of clay. This take on the statue looks for timeless insights apart from knowledge of history. The statue reeks with finitude; it exposes the fleeting nature of greatness; it pictures decline; it exposes the futility of human attempts to establish enduring structures (Dan. 2:31-33, 37-44). Dissolution seems inherent to the human project itself: it is represented as a statue standing on feet of iron and clay.

Feet of clay are not only an element that comes to light in the future, after the Roman Empire. It is evident in the present; it is evident in the life of every human being and every nation; it was evident the day Daniel spoke to Nebuchadnezzar and pointed him to the feet of clay. Gold and silver and bronze are illusions and delusions once we get the feet of clay in focus. “Dust to dust”—this is how we are constituted—this is what Nebuchadnezzar forgot when he set out to Make Babylon Great Again. God “took the dust of the earth,” we read in Genesis (Gen. 2:7). We are earthlings in a literal sense. “You are dust, and to dust shall you return,” God says at a later point (Gen. 3:19). Feet of clay—this is the dust in Nebuchadnezzar’s image. It is not a historical truth only; it is ontologically true. It is an insight into our being, who we are and what we are.

History can facilitate theology, but it can also stand in the way. For insights that we call apocalyptic, knowledge of the future is not the main thing. The main thing is rediscovery of truth. The word in Greek for truth is alētheia. The a- in front of the word has the same function as apo- in apocalyptic. For the latter word, something was covered up that needs to be uncovered and recovered. It is the same with alētheia: something was lost. Northrop Frye says that this conception of truth depicts “the removal of the curtain of forgetfulness from the mind.”

What we have always believed has pitfalls. It can simplify and distort complexities that cut across the lines with which we divide time. The influence of Greek culture, language, and thought preceded Alexander’s conquests in 333 B.C. It outlasted the demise of his empire. We live in the thought world of Hellenism today; it never disappeared; it lives on in our language and conceptions of reality. I love Lord Acton’s pithy example of what the Greeks did to the Romans. In 155 B.C., he says, the Greek philosopher Carneades came to Rome on a lecture tour. Rome was by then politically and militarily in the driver’s seat. Greece was nothing, politically speaking, and Alexander the Great was long gone. Carneades gave two lectures. “On the first day he discoursed of natural justice,” says Lord Acton. “On the next, he denied its existence, arguing that all our notions of good and evil are derived from positive enactment.” The Romans had met their match. “From the time of that memorable display, the genius of the vanquished held its conquerors in thrall.” Do we get it—how the vanquished prevailed over the victor? The first night, Carneades made his audience into Aristotelians, persuading them that right and wrong derive from the laws of nature. The next night he tore it all down, saying that right and wrong are elements of social contract, a Socratic point of view.

I worry that the view of history current in what-we-have-always-believed comes with the risk of simplifying and trivializing history. We don’t know much and—if my worry is warranted—we don’t need to know much. God is sovereign in the affairs of the nations—we don’t need to know more than that. We don’t need to take responsibility for what happens. Brexit is great—it confirms Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Just a few days ago, I came across an article that used the word apocalypse about the state of the humanities in university curricula in the United States. It describes apocalypse in the sense of collapse: the collapse of literature and history in Western culture.[1] If the historical horizon of what-we-have-always-believed comes with the risk of trivializing history, we have apocalypse as revelation aiding and abetting apocalypse as collapse (the collapse of the humanities).

What We Have Not Yet Believed

The high point in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is the heavenly alternative. 

*a stone was cut out, not by hands [lā’ biydayin] (Dan. 2:34)

*a stone was cut out from the mountain not by hands [lā’ biydayin] (Dan. 2:45)

These verses stress how the stone was not cut out. And, yes—the wording justifies the translation that is usually preferred: “a stone was cut out, not by human hands” We must not rush at this point, however. The text does not specify whether the “hands” in question are human or divine (Dan. 2:34, 45). As it is usually read, the difference refers to agency. The absence of “hands” means that God is at work. Unless we say more than this, we could easily be left with the impression that the stone “without hands” is an instrument of violence.

Here is what we have not yet believed: the text contrasts method and agency, not only agency. “Hand” in Hebrew and Aramaic is the symbol for “power.” In the abstract, as symbol, “hand” means “power.” Non-use of “hand” means non-use of “power.” Translators are well aware of this: in Daniel 12:7, “hand” means “power.” If we include this option for the non-use of “hand” in relation to the stone in Daniel 2, we have a contrast of means and not only agency. Let the distinctive feature of God’s action now read: “a stone was cut out—but not by power” (Dan. 2:34, 45).[2]  

A claim to knowledge that does not have a human origin is proclaimed at the highest level of society: the king dreams, but he cannot remember his dream (Dan. 2:1-7). The claim is corroborated not by the king’s belated recollection of his dream but by God revealing the dream to someone other than the king (Dan. 2:14-19)! The dream depicts history and reality (Dan. 2:31-43), chiefly by the feet of clay on which the figure stands (Dan. 2:41-43). This part of the dream is diagnostic and not only predictive. The structure is intrinsically unstable. Feet of iron and clay suggest that the structure will collapse quite apart from anything done to it from without.

But the stone that “was cut from the mountain without hands” (Dan. 2:34, 45) is not an instrument of violence. A principle other than power is at work in history, an elusive principle that is not of this world—and not only because the one who operates it isn’t human. The stone “was cut from the mountain without power.” The divine hand is superior primarily because it represents a different mode of action (Dan. 2:34, 45). The stone is revelatory and redemptive: it exposes the fragility of the human project, and it comes to the rescue by erecting in its place an enduring structure (Dan. 2:44). 

The usual historical reading does not capture how God does it. It is at pains to show that “the stone kingdom comes into existence only after the four main king­doms have fallen and human history has reached the time of the divided kingdoms, represented by the feet and toes of the image” (SSQ 25). Eagerness to protect what-we-have-always-believed blocks the way to what we have not yet believed even though the latter beckons in the word that is used.

If we need apocalyptic insights to know the future, we need it even more to know what God is like. Information about the future is far less the concern of apocalyptic than the revelation of God. Indeed, Revelation as apokalypsis is certified less by predicting future events than by telling us that the kingdom will be established “without hands.”

What I, We, You, and They have not yet believed is the most important message in Daniel 2: “a stone was cut from the mountain without power,” that is, a kingdom established but “not by means of force” (Dan. 2:34, 45).   

Sigve Tonstad is Professor of Theology at Loma Linda University’s School of Religion.        

Photo by Shigeru Aoki on Wikimedia Commons.

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[2] John. J. Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 399; see also Sigve K. Tonstad, “To Fight or Not to Fight: The Sabbath and the Maccabean Revolt,” AUSS 54 (2016), 135-146.

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Voting for the End Times

I have recently been involved in some discussions regarding current events where I have heard a frightening statement (note: this statement is more apt to be found in a Seventh-day Adventist context than traditional evangelical context): If voting for [fill in the blank] brings prophecy to fulfillment and the coming of Jesus sooner, then Im in.” This statement always feels jarring to me when it comes from the mouth of a follower of Jesus. Let me address why.

The end of time is not what we expect.

First, while I understand the sentiment of wanting Jesus to return soon, it lacks a complete understanding of what will happen at the end of time. The end of time will be extremely difficult for a true follower of Jesus. Revelation says:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. —Revelation 7:1 (CSB)

Currently God is holding back the great tribulation. Many of us born and raised in the Christian west have little understanding what it is like to be persecuted and little to no understanding what it means to go through famine and war. We have lived in relative peace with politics our only source of fear of persecution.

To vote for a particular candidate or issue with the hope of bringing about the end of time is out of the character of Christ and completely opposite of the upside down kingdom Jesus came to establish here on the earth.

Where is the love of God in this?

The second reason I find this sentiment unpleasant is if we are fully submitted followers of Jesus we would be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into reflectors of Christs love and character. Peter says in his second letter:

The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. —2 Peter 3:9 (CSB)

If Christ Himself is patient with us, and wants as many as possible to be saved, should we not want that as well? Should we not be praying for more time to reach our neighbors, friends, and family members for Christ?

This is the ultimate indicator of our transformed nature, when we pray with the power of the Holy Spirit that God would give us more time to reach those, through His power, who are still wavering in their decision to follow Jesus or not.

Can we control God?

Third, this statement reveals our belief that we can control Gods decisions. We cant control Gods decisions or actions. Never have, never will. He acts independently of our demands. Yes, God has changed outcomes based upon prayers (Im thinking Moses convincing God to not destroy the Israelites). But God doesnt cater “to our demands. God says through the prophet Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lords declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:8-9 (CSB)

To even invoke the possibility that we are proud of the fact that we could hasten the coming of God or the end of time by our vote for a particular political candidate is more in line with the pride of Satan than the love and patience of Christ.

Ultimately, we vote for who or what we believe fits our worldview the best. I am in no way intending for this to be an argument to vote for or against a particular candidate. My intention is that we spend more time seeking Christ and His desire for us and the world, and less about our desire to escape this world for the next.

Christ wasn’t about escapism. Christ was about establishing His kingdom ethics here and now in each of our hearts.

 

Nick Jones is a husband and father. He currently serves as a pastor in the Oregon Conference.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

 

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