Baxter in Panorama

I just returned from one of my favorite places on earth: Baxter State Park. I spent parts of three days there backpacking with a brother-in-law from each side (my wife’s brother, and then my sister’s husband); and we joined up for part of it with a good friend of ours who’s the father of a friend that my wife grew up with.

Among other things, we hiked Katahdin (Maine’s highest peak) – which was my third time climbing this glorious mountain. The day we summitted Katahdin was a very long day. We hiked about 12 miles and most of it was either up or down some type of peak. By the time we reached the end, we were worn out completely.

In fact, my brother-in-law Duncan, who flew up from Florida, was hoping to follow up our day climbing Katahdin with another full day of backpacking. In the days prior to our trip, I had encouraged him with the idea that we might want to take the flat, easy 8.5-mile trip back to where our car was and call it a trip. But he insisted that there would be none of that. He, after all, went to college in Colorado and no doubt felt that our climbing in the northeast was kind of juvenile. Plus, he’s in very good shape.

Let’s just say that about two-thirds through our 12-mile hike, Duncan all of a sudden said, out of the blue, “I think your original plan to have an easy day tomorrow sounds good.”

Hiking in the northeast is not a cakewalk. I remember one of my seminary professors, Dr. Richard Davidson – who had almost climbed every 14,000 footer in Colorado at the time, tell me that he used to scoff at our mountains in the East. But then he actually climbed one, and realized they were every bit as tough as those in the West.

With all that introduction, I wanted a place to share some of my favorite panoramas that I took along the way with my iPhone. I hope you are blessed by God’s amazing nature via picture, as I was in person! The great outdoors truly are God’s second book.

Without further ado, these pictures will appear in chronological order (you can click on them to see them in a bigger format).

Photo Aug 28, 4 07 38 PM

(This is Basin Pond, along the way to where we camped at Chimney Pond on Thursday evening. Usually Cameron (left) and I go swimming in these cold waters on our return from summitting Katahdin. But since we didn’t return, we had to take our tradition elsewhere.)

Photo Aug 29, 8 19 39 AM

(This is probably my favorite one. Duncan is sitting on the top of Index Rock along the Dudley Trail as we summitted Katahdin on Friday morning.)

Photo Aug 29, 8 41 25 AM

(This is called the “Chimney,” which “bridges” the Dudley Trail with Knife Edge. It’s about a 40-foot notch, with walls one has to both descend and ascend on either side, going straight up and down. When we climbed it, it was like a wind alley, with probably 35-mile/hour gusts whipping through – which is by far the windiest I’d ever experienced on Katahdin.)

(Ascending Knife Edge - a very narrow mile-long trail that drops off dramatically on either side. I was especially cautious on this day with the windgusts what they were.)

(Ascending Knife Edge – a very narrow mile-long trail that drops off dramatically on either side. I was especially cautious on this day with the windgusts what they were.)

(Cameron looks back at Knife Edge, steps away from the summit.)

(Cameron looks back at Knife Edge, steps away from the summit.)

Photo Aug 29, 10 11 30 AM

(This was maybe the coolest part of the trip. Mt. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Thus, everyone you see in this picture – with the exception of Duncan, who’s closest in the picture – had just finished the 2,168-mile long Appalachian Trail. They all started at various times in April. The guy on the far left with the beard was quite emotional when he got to the top. He stooped real low as he looked at the sign and started fighting back tears. He had started on April 7. Though we chatted with a few of them for a little while, I wish I could have heard more of his story. Incidentally, these were the only other persons we saw on the mountain the whole time we were summitting, and we felt quite insecure about our accomplishments in light of theirs.)

Photo Aug 29, 12 22 08 PM

(We took a route neither Cameron nor I had ever done before – nor had Duncan, of course. It seems to be known by various names – North Peaks Trail, Howe’s Peak Trail, and maybe even another one. This is perhaps because the trail had just be re-opened after a decade. Cameron and Duncan didn’t really like it at all, saying it felt like we were on the moon, but the payoff at the end, before it starts the long descent down to Russell Pond, was very nice. You get a great view back towards the North Basin, Hamlin Ridge, and then Katahdin.)

Photo Aug 30, 9 16 05 AM

(This was on our 8.5-mile Sabbath-trek, returning to where we parked. We had to ford a number of streams, including here – which is the Wassataquoik Stream. This little spot quickly became one of my new favorite places in Baxter. You can’t tell from this picture, but the stream curves to the left on the lefthand side of the picture, as well as converging with the South Branch of the Wassataquoik. There is also a single lean-to that sits on the banks of the two streams on the left. I’d love to return there some day! It is just a beautiful setting; and the water was refreshing!

 

Here’s to Harry

As we ate lunch today, it suddenly occurred to me that it was Pastor Harry's (pictured left) last official meal as Director - and perhaps the legendary Eric Badillo's (third from left) as well. I'm glad we got to share it with them!

As we ate lunch today, it suddenly occurred to me that it was Pastor Harry’s (pictured left) last official meal as Director – and perhaps the legendary Eric Badillo’s (third from left) as well. I’m glad we got to share it with them!

We just returned from Camp Lawroweld today after spending three days there for our annual pastors’ retreat. Though I always get sentimental about leaving – it is, after all, my second favorite place on earth – it was especially touching today because of who we were also saying goodbye to – at least in the capacity he was in. After nearly 25 years at the camp, today was Pastor Harry’s Sabnani’s last “official” summer camp duties there as its director.

Simply put, I have been going to Camp Lawroweld in one capacity or another since 1994, and this man has been there just about every time. I owe so much to him.

It all started when I abandoned the summer camp I had been going to in my Conference my whole life, and decided to give Camp Lawroweld – in the backwoods of Maine – a shot for teen camp. I fell in love with it immediately – and it was really the catalyst in my love affair for the three states that make up northern New England (you can read a little more about that here).

A few years later, Pastor Harry graciously hired me to work as a staff member – and for the next seven years, I spent every summer working under him, making memory after memory (and eventually getting together with Camille, who is now my wife). At the end of my seventh summer, after graduating with my bachelor’s degree in Theology and without any pastoring job on the horizon (even though I had sent my resume to every Conference in North America), I was three weeks away from heading back to Andrews University to pursue my MDiv in the Seminary. But I’ll never forget it: Pastor Harry came up to me and asked if I had any interest in pastoring in Vermont. He had been talking with the Conference administration about an opening they had, and had encouraged them to pursue me on it.

A couple days later I was all of a sudden being interviewed for the position, and a day later I had a job, pastoring for the Northern New England Conference – and still do.

So it’s not an understatement to say that Pastor Harry has been one of the biggest influences in my life. I wouldn’t be living in Maine right now, pastoring for the Northern New England Conference, married to the woman I am married to (which he, along with my dad, had the privilege of solemnizing), with the kids that I have, if this man hadn’t given me a chance 16 years ago. But, then again, that’s the man he is – the best quality he has: he’s always eager to give a person a chance, thinking the best of them.

Beyond that, there are so many other memories I look back on with great fondness through the years that I cherish – too many to recount. Whether it was playing guitar alongside him during camp (which, due to his rhythm, was always an adventure!); sitting on his couch in Freeport during Camp Meeting, watching the Red Sox and shooting the breeze; or sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for him to say something unintentionally funny, the mentorship and camaraderie he was always eager to provide has paid eternally-significant dividends.

I, of course, am not the only person he has had a huge impact on. Spending a quarter-century as a Youth Director, and Camp Director, produces a wide wake – and he has been equal to the task.

So I’ll be sad the next time I drive into Camp Lawroweld and I don’t see him perched atop the lodge porch, hunched over the railings, with radio in hand, as he quietly surveys the hallowed camp. It’s a scene that is burned into my mind.

That’s his place.

It’s his camp.

Postscript: It would be remiss of me not to mention another significant person who is also saying goodbye to Camp Lawroweld in an official capacity: Pastor Harry’s wife, Judy, who served as the cook every summer. She wasn’t at pastors’ retreat this week, so I didn’t get to enjoy one “last hurrah” with her, but her impact on the camp and on my life cannot be understated. Thank you both for dedicating so many years to young people.

The Children of Israel and Their “Theology of Fear”

I just finished reading an article entitled “Friends with God? Moses and the Possibility of Covenanted Friendship,” by Dr. Jacqueline E. Lapsley. She serves as associate professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Though the entire article was very good, I sat up in my chair toward the end when she enunciated a perspective that I have never heard articulated – ever – by a non-Adventist (and, in fact, most Adventists do not seem to understand it either). A Presbyterian, Lapsley puts her finger on the undercurrents of what was happening with the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, especially noting the antecedents and aftermath. Instead of summarising what she wrote, I thought I would just share this very poignant and perceptive paragraph (which is long, but stick with it):

Michael Walzer makes the cogent argument that [Israel's] prior servitude inhibits the people from immediately being capable of faithfulness; they must grow into the responsibilities inherent in freedom. It is significant that Moses did not participate in his people’s servitude—his habit of mind was formed in freedom—and as such he is capable of entering into and sustaining a friendship with God over the long term. In the episode of the golden calf, the people’s theology of fear leads them to make an inert god they can get close to without fear when Moses does not immediately descend from the mountain. But Moses’ friendship with God sustains him and his faith, even in the midst of severe testing, when he is caught between God’s demands and the people’s anger and faithlessness. The people, by contrast, view God as frightening and distant, with the result that their faithlessness begins immediately. Their lack of self-assertion renders their relationship with God a one-dimensional “faith” constituted by obedience alone. This “faith” cannot sustain them over the long term. In sum, while we are informed that “never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut 34:10), this singularity may not be because God willed it so but because no one else demonstrated the same kind of habitual interaction, reciprocity, and self-assertion necessary to maintain a divine friendship over the long term (although Elijah comes close). For the church to read Exodus as scripture today, then, there is more reason to identify with Moses than with the people, and more reason to see in his friendship with God a path of faithfulness than in the slavish (dis)obedience of the people.

What caught my eye is that Lapsley recognizes that 1) because of their prior slavery, Israel seemed unable to relate to God appropriately. 2) This resulted in a “theology of fear” (I love that term) which led to the golden calf incident, as well as 3) Israel’s inability to experience a faithful obedience toward God, instead living out an “obedience” that was based on fear (what I would call an “old covenant” experience).

As I said, I have never read any author outside of Seventh-day Adventism who has betrayed a familiarity with this concept, so it’s refreshing to see it articulated.

And, truthfully, we as Adventists need to plumb this concept for all it’s worth as well.

Laboring for the Upper Class

In going through Christ’s Object Lessons again, my reading came to this thought which reveals the importance and necessity of trying to reach those in the upper classes of society. Ellen White says that they are to be the “first” persons we try to reach.

Sadly, the reality is that they are often the last people we pursue – for the precise reasons she gives. It has brought incredible conviction to my heart, and I have been left wondering how I might be able to take an active role in pursuing these people who are “heartsore.”

Read these few paragraphs and ask the Lord how you might be used for Him in this capacity:

Those who belong to the higher ranks of society are to be sought out with tender affection and brotherly regard. Men in business life, in high positions of trust, men with large inventive faculties and scientific insight, men of genius, teachers of the gospel whose minds have not been called to the special truths for this time–these should be the first to hear the call. To them the invitation must be given.

There is a work to be done for the wealthy. They need to be awakened to their responsibility as those entrusted with the gifts of heaven. They need to be reminded that they must give an account to Him who shall judge the living and the dead. The wealthy man needs your labor in the love and fear of God. Too often he trusts in his riches, and feels not his danger. The eyes of his mind need to be attracted to things of enduring value. He needs to recognize the authority of true goodness, which says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls; for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30.

Those who stand high in the world for their education, wealth, or calling, are seldom addressed personally in regard to the interests of the soul. Many Christian workers hesitate to approach these classes. But this should not be. If a man were drowning, we would not stand by and see him perish because he was a lawyer, a merchant, or a judge. If we saw persons rushing over a precipice, we would not hesitate to urge them back, whatever might be their position or calling. Neither should we hesitate to warn men of the peril of the soul.

None should be neglected because of their apparent devotion to worldly things. Many in high social positions are heartsore, and sick of vanity. They are longing for a peace which they have not. In the very highest ranks of society are those who are hungering and thirsting for salvation. Many would receive help if the Lord’s workers would approach them personally, with a kind manner, a heart made tender by the love of Christ.

The success of the gospel message does not depend upon learned speeches, eloquent testimonies, or deep arguments. It depends upon the simplicity of the message and its adaptation to the souls that are hungering for the bread of life. “What shall I do to be saved?”–this is the want of the soul.

Thousands can be reached in the most simple and humble way. The most intellectual, those who are looked upon as the world’s most gifted men and women, are often refreshed by the simple words of one who loves God, and who can speak of that love as naturally as the worldling speaks of the things that interest him most deeply.

Often the words well prepared and studied have but little influence. But the true, honest expression of a son or daughter of God, spoken in natural simplicity, has power to unbolt the door to hearts that have long been closed against Christ and His love.

Let the worker for Christ remember that he is not to labor in his own strength. Let him lay hold of the throne of God with faith in His power to save. Let him wrestle with God in prayer, and then work with all the facilities God has given him. The Holy Spirit is provided as his efficiency. Ministering angels will be by his side to impress hearts.

If the leaders and teachers at Jerusalem had received the truth Christ brought, what a missionary center their city would have been! Backslidden Israel would have been converted. A vast army would have been gathered for the Lord. And how rapidly they could have carried the gospel to all parts of the world. So now, if men of influence and large capacity for usefulness could be won for Christ, then through them what a work could be accomplished in lifting up the fallen, gathering in the outcasts, and spreading far and wide the tidings of salvation. Rapidly the invitation might be given, and the guests be gathered for the Lord’s table (pp. 230-232)

Robin Williams, We Hardly Knew You

Robin William's last Instagram photo, which he posted on July 31. The caption read: "“#tbt and Happy Birthday to Ms. Zelda Rae Williams! Quarter of a century old today but always my baby girl. Happy Birthday @zeldawilliams Love you!”

Robin Williams’s last Instagram photo, which he posted on July 31. The caption read: “#tbt and Happy Birthday to Ms. Zelda Rae Williams! Quarter of a century old today but always my baby girl. Happy Birthday @zeldawilliams Love you!”

Unfortunately, this script is all too familiar: Robin Williams has become the latest “star” whose life ended prematurely, apparently a victim by his own hands. He follows a long line of actors and actresses who – whether through suicide or drug overdose – seemed unable to cope with reality, joining the ranks of recent stars such as Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

But this one really hurts.

This is because – confession time – I used to be addicted to movies (watching and writing scripts for them), and Robin Williams was a favorite. He entertained me in Good Morning, Vietnam, caused me to laugh in Mrs. Doubtfire, inspired me in Dead Poets Society, and gave me a lot to think about – between all the vulgarity – in Good Will Hunting (a favorite in my younger years for many reasons – not least of which because it was set in Boston).

I now, of course, question all the time I devoted to such a medium, wondering about its net effect on my overall development and character – and I certainly wouldn’t make any unqualified recommendations to anyone about any of his movies. But, whether good or bad, these movies – and Robin Williams – are a part of my history.

It is for this reason, and many others, that I am very sad this morning – along with a lot of other people. At face value, Robin Williams seemed like one of the last persons who would be plagued by grave depression, ultimately leading to his own death. He appeared to be a genuinely nice person, who loved to make people laugh – and sometimes cry.

There is a lot of discussion today about depression and suicide. These are important conversations. But what strikes me more than anything else – and this is probably a predictable target coming from someone of my ilk – is the industry to which he belonged. I can’t help but wonder how much that contributed to his beleaguered life and ultimate end.

I remember reading a provocative and stimulating article about a decade ago by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach as he reflected on the Academy Awards. The words were seminal in my own thinking on the entertainment industry, and they still reverberate in my mind. “Arguably, the biggest problem in American culture today is the fact that mere entertainers are its heroes,” Boteach started the article, “There is no precedent in any civilization in the history of the world for entertainers – actors, singers, dancers and directors – to be elevated to the highest positions of prominence in the culture. That’s why none of us can name actors and actresses from ancient Greece or Rome. They weren’t important enough to be remembered.”

The words that resonated with me the most, however, came in the fourth paragraph: “In our time, however, the incredible has happened. The court jester has become the king.”

I wonder what the net effect of all this glorification of the “court jester” has had on the psyche of these Hollywood stars. It’s amazing that any of them escape the throes of major depression – if any of them actually do.

Think about it: they get paid millions of dollars to act like someone they’re not. They are heralded, loved, and praised, not for being themselves, but for being an apparition – the projection of everyone’s fantasy worlds, including their own. They are lauded for pretending to do tremendous acts of bravery and heroism, when it’s all a mirage. They constantly live their lives as someone else – which is probably the point for many of them, utilizing the art as a way of escape. (Let’s face it: TV and movies are a pretty unhealthy form of escapism for all involved – writer, actor, audience.)

We all love to induce laughter, or to bring joy, of course. Seeking to bring levity to someone’s heart can be – I think in theory – a selfless act.

Yet there comes a time for everyone – whether actor or audience – when a person can no longer cope with trying to be someone else; when the pressure to perform – to be entertaining or evocative all the time - leaves one overwhelmed and feeling empty. And confused.

And sometimes – many times – that turns people to some pretty tragic solutions.

I didn’t know Robin Williams personally. The closest I came to knowing him was the time my brother met him in Napa Valley, while the former was attending Pacific Union College (he said he seemed like a genuinely nice guy). I don’t know all the varied and complicated factors – and there were, as always, many – that contributed to his depression and his death. And it’s probably apparent to many of us today that we hardly knew him – the real him – at all.

But I do know that, at the end of the day, Hollywood – and the fame and fortune it brings – wasn’t his saving grace.

I also know – and this is big – that each time I pay my money to the box office, it’s like saying to the court jester, “Again, again, again. Be someone you’re not. That’s how I like you.”

And if I could have somehow told Robin Williams, or today tell Tom Hanks or Will Ferrell or Miley Cyrus, something, it would be, “You don’t have to be Patch Adams or Forrest Gump or Ron Burgundy or Hannah Montana to be of value – or for us to like you. Simply listen to the words of Him who cannot lie, ‘This is My beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.'”

Broken

I went to visit a man in the hospital yesterday whom I had never met. He fell off a ladder last week, breaking every bone in his face – as well as a few others for good measure. When I arrived, his wife quickly shooed me out of his room because they had just gotten him down to sleep. But I wouldn’t have been able to talk with him anyway because he had had a tracheotomy done.

His wife said something that I found interesting, though, as we visited in the hallway for a few minutes. Trying to impress me with the magnitude of his injuries, she said her husband was a completely broken man right now. But then she quickly clarified: “I mean, he’s broken physically, not spiritually.”

I thought it was a strange addendum. No doubt, she wanted to assure me of this latter part because, from what I can tell, her husband does not attend church anywhere.

And yet, it’s a refrain I hear somewhat frequently: people – including me – don’t want to give the impression that they are spiritually broken. We want others to think we are put together spiritually (and otherwise); that we have it all figured out; that we are strong.

But maybe, just maybe, the precise thing God wants of us is the precise thing we try to avoid: brokenness.

I remember thinking the same thing after reading the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the captivating true story of Louie Zamperini, whose plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during World War II. After being adrift at sea for 47 days, he was finally picked up by the Japanese and run through numerous POW camps, where he was treated worse than inhumanely. Without giving the book away (and the forthcoming movie), what I found interesting is how the title seemed to give the impression that Louie persevered because he refused to be broken. Yet the opposite was true: Louie was finally victorious only after he was broken.

This is, after all, what God desperately wants for us. He wants us to be broken – continuously. The reason for this is summed up beautifully by this Martin Luther quote – which a Twitter friend alerted me to today: “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” That quote, to me, is about as profound a quote as you can find. And yet Luther is merely echoing Paul when he recounted to the Corinthians:

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

This is, of course, counterintuitive to our natural human psyche. To be something, we have to be nothing? To be whole, we have to be broken?

So where are we? Do we try to avoid brokenness? Or do we embrace the thing that teaches us complete reliance on God?

Every day – and perhaps every moment – we need to be broken anew so that we can embrace the wholeness that comes only through Christ.

In Support of Corporate Repentance

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(Image credits: My mom, from Dauchua Concentration Camp, Germany)

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).

My brother texted me a story a few minutes ago that was eye-opening. The headline reads, “Adventist Leaders in Germany Apologize for World War I Stance.” The first paragraph summarizes this intriguing concept:

A hundred years after World War I created a split among German Seventh-day Adventists that remains to this day, the church’s two unions in Germany have apologized for the combative stance taken by church leaders during the war and for their treatment of dissidents who left to create the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement.

As I read through the article, it reminded me of another article of a similar nature that I read a few years ago – also in the Adventist Review. That time, on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Adventist churches in both Germany and Austria also apologized for the role they played during the Holocaust in both supporting the Nazi activities during the war, as well as neglecting to protect the Jews and others from genocide.

Two wars, two apologies – decades after the events occurred; in fact, in the case of World War I, it was a full century after the event, with people apologizing for events that occurred before they were even born.

What a beautiful picture of corporate repentance – a concept you need to wrap your mind around if you’ve never encountered it before.

It is, in fact, a biblical concept – and a vital one at that. Throughout Scripture, individuals and groups frequently apologized for sins they themselves had not committed. In some cases, apologies were made on behalf of others from a previous generation. One example of this is found in Nehemiah 9:2, after a remnant had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity. “Then those of Israelite lineage,” Nehemiah records, “separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

Interestingly, according to Ellen White, Jesus Himself repented on others’ behalf: “After Christ had taken the necessary steps in repentance, conversion, and faith in behalf of the human race,” she explains, “He went to John to be baptized of him in Jordan” (General Conference 1901, p. 36). Again, she writes, “Christ came not confessing His own sins; but guilt was imputed to Him as sinner’s substitute. He came not to repent on His own account; but in behalf of the sinner” (Review and Herald, January 21, 1873).

All this turns my attention to another event in the relatively-recent past whose ripple effects across the universe has been even more drastic than both World Wars. In fact, had things gone differently for this event, the bloodshed and heartache of the 20th century never would have happened.

Those who are at all familiar with Seventh-day Adventist history perhaps know what I’m talking about. It’s known simply by its four-digit number: 1888. It was then that the “Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones,” according to Ellen White (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 91). This “most precious message” was destined by God to go to the entire world, announcing and displaying His love in a way that had – and still has – never been witnessed before. It was the “loud cry” message of Revelation 18 that would enlighten the whole world with God’s glory and usher in Christ’s Second Coming.

But something went drastically awry: “The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted,” Ellen White recounted in 1896 “and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world” (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 234). Not only was the light resisted, Christ and His “delegated messengers” were treated with disdain and scorn. The Holy Spirit was “grieved” and “insulted” (Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 468). And on and on these sad descriptors go.

And it leaves me wondering: is there a place to follow the example of our German and Austrian brothers and sisters and acknowledge what “we” have done in resisting, insulting, and grieving the Godhead through the events that happened in 1888 and their aftermath? Is God pouring upon His people the “Spirit of grace and supplication” that He promised through Zechariah, which leads us to look to Christ and mourn and grieve for Him because of how we’ve treated Him?

The Germans and Austrians realize something: they realize that healing can take place only when the “giant elephant” in the room is acknowledged and repented of. They realize that platitudes and warm words mean nothing in the present if hurts from the past are not dealt with – and, similarly, that events of the past are bound to be repeated if they are not confronted.

This is just a simple and humble appeal – first and foremost to myself.

So what do we have to lose when it comes to our corporate denominational history?

It could bring only healing.

And maybe even the Second Coming.

“From glory to glory”

One of my favorite passages in the Bible – which has turned into a promise I claim frequently (pretty much daily) in prayer – is 2 Corinthians 3:18. There, the Apostle Paul says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” It’s the Bible’s way of saying: “By beholding we become changed,” which is a wonderful thought.

But one part of the verse has always perplexed me. What exactly does Paul mean by the phrase “from glory to glory”? How are we being transformed into Christ’s image from “glory to glory”? I always kind of had a vague sense that Paul meant we were going to mature in our Christian walk from one point of victory or maturity to greater victory or maturity. And this makes sense to some degree.

But yesterday, as I was praying this prayer, I became dissatisfied with this explanation. And so I came up with a “novel” idea (not really novel at all, of course): why not study Paul’s usage of the word “glory” in the preceding verses in 2 Corinthians? Ingenius!

As it turns out, it didn’t take long for me to discover what Paul meant. This is because he repeatedly uses the word “glory” in the verses that immediately precede 2 Corinthians 3:18. And the way he uses the word is incredibly enlightening and powerful.

Notice: “But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory [supplied in the English] was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious” (3:7-11).

Don’t miss Paul’s powerful point: He is in the middle of trying to justify His apostleship, saying that he and Timothy are “ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (3:6). He justifies their ministry by comparing and contrasting the two covenants, noting how the old covenant had glory, but the new covenant has much more glory. In light of the glorious truth about the new covenant – whose glory far exceeds the old covenant – he says that “we use great boldness of speech” (v. 12). He then explains that, just as of old, many people have a veil over their hearts when Moses is read, “but the veil is taken away in Christ” (v. 14). To take away this veil so that people can see God in all his glory is Paul’s and Timothy’s ministry. This is why, in 4:1 (right after the passage in question), he says, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.”

The point in all this is that for Paul, being transformed “from glory to glory” has a very specific meaning: it means that as a person encounters Christ, and looks into His face, that person becomes progressively transformed from the glory of the old covenant to the glory of the new covenant. The Old Testament is no longer about death and condemnation, but about liberty (v. 17). A relationship with Christ changes progressively from being about trying to escape death and condemnation (which is an “old covenant” motive), to a relationship based on love (a “new covenant” motive). Instead of the law being about the letter, written on stone as an external standard that we strive to attain, the law becomes about the Spirit, written on our hearts.

Simply put, when the veil is removed from our hearts and we spend time looking at Christ and His love, our lives will be less and less characterized by externally-motivated old covenant behavior, and characterized more and more by a heart-response to the love of God in Christ – to the point that, eventually, we will reach a place of glory where “when obeying Him we shall but be carrying out our own impulses” (The Desire of Ages, p. 668).

And it was to point people to this new covenant – this greater glory – that Paul ministered.

And thus, we are being transformed “from glory to glory,” from the old covenant to the new.

And the Band Played On . . . .

Image: Bangor Daily News

I stumbled into a courtroom today that was hosting a triple-murder trial that has been an ongoing headline-grabber here in Bangor. Since I was looking for another case, I spent only a few minutes listening to the witness who was giving her testimony at the time.

When I got home, however, I found out more information about the case. It has tragedy written all over it.

Nearly two years ago, three 20-somethings were shot and killed and their car was set ablaze and abandoned in a remote parking lot, apparently the victims of a drug-deal gone bad allegedly at the hands of two out-of-staters.

What jumped out at me the most, however, was the the story of one of the victims, Nicolle Lugdon. Only 24 at the time, her life was marred by tragedy from beginning to end. The Bangor Daily News details a little bit of her story (warning: graphic description):

Lugdon overcame tragedy throughout her life, according to previous BDN reports.

When she was just 2 years old, her grandmother Leanna Lugdon and uncle Theodore “Robbie” Lugdon were killed in a house fire in Bangor.

Lugdon’s mother died of a heroin overdose in March 2002. Just five months later, Lugdon’s father, Michael Melendez, killed her grandmother Linda Melendez. Both were heroin addicts and the killing resulted from an argument over drugs.

Nicolle Lugdon was in the house and hiding in a second-floor room with her 2-year-old brother while her father stabbed her grandmother 36 times. Michael Melendez is now serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania, BDN reports state.

“Nikki really had nobody in her life,” said Sutherland, a close friend of Lugdon’s who considered her a sister. “She heard her father kill her grandmother and still came out as one of the happiest people alive.”

Sutherland first met Lugdon when they were 7.

Lugdon spent many of her teenage years in foster care, said Kristina Sprague, who said Lugdon was her best friend.

“When she was living in Fort Kent [with her foster family], she did amazing,” said Sprague, 25, of Bradford. “She was going to college, she was working with disabled children, she tried very hard to be a good person up there, but as soon as she came back down this way, she lost it all.”

Lugdon was using pharmaceutical drugs, heroin and cocaine, both Sprague and Sutherland said.

Lugdon, who had a 2-year-old daughter, lost primary custody of her daughter to the girl’s biological father last October as Lugdon became more and more involved with drugs.

“When she lost her daughter, that’s when she started losing control of things,” Sprague said of Lugdon.

Her drug use changed Lugdon, her friends said.

The word “tragedy” is an understatement – and the person who says she merely got what she deserved in dying a druggie life is not a Christian.

But this is what came home to me as I was reading Nicolle’s story: what am I doing for the Nicolle Lugdons of the world – someone whose upbringing and life circumstances are about as stark a contrast from mine? Sure, I preach my sermons. I write my books. I visit my church members who have cancer. I lead out in Prayer Meeting. I chair Board Meetings.

And when I get home, I kick up my feet and watch the Bruins play in the playoffs, feeling that I deserve a little break after dealing with all the “stress” I encountered throughout my day. After all, being a pastor is a tough job.

Meanwhile, the Nicolle Lugdons of the world go to their graves, with “nobody in their lives.”

Incidentally, I preached a sermon this past week in my continuing series on Hosea that coincides exactly with my experience today. The sermon was called “And the Band Played On” (which you can listen to here). It detailed how Israel was far from God and ignoring the needs of the people all around them, and yet the “band played on,” as though life was just business as usual. God finally had to bring their feasts and celebrations and Sabbaths and parties to an end.

What about us?

Sure, I can humor myself into thinking that raising principled children in the fear of the Lord will go a long way in curbing what ails this world. And it will. But that doesn’t do anything for the people on 1st and 2nd Streets in Bangor, or Nicolle Lugdon, whose life came to an end while looking for a high and a way to escape what plagued her.

All this reminds me of the one of the greatest opening paragraphs in all of literature, written by the eminent Abraham Heschel in his magnum opus The Prophets:

What manner of man is the prophet? A student of philosophy who turns from the discourses of the great metaphysicians to the orations of the prophets may feel as if he were going from the realm of the sublime to an area of trivialities. Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, he is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and affairs of the market place. Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to the slums (p. 3)

And so I again ask the question – and would encourage you to do the same: what am I doing for the Nicolle Lugdons of the world?

What is my church doing?

Corporate Guilt and Corporate Redemption

One of the reasons I love reading the Old Testament in Hebrew is because it forces me to slow down (at least at this point, since I am not yet fluent) and pay closer attention to what the text is saying. When you are more deliberate about every word, you see things you may not otherwise see.

In this case, I was reading Genesis 26 this morning and noticed something I had never noticed before. The very brief context is that Isaac, like his dad, takes refuge in the land of the Philistines because of a famine in the land. And, like his dad, he claims that his beautiful wife is his sister. But the truth comes out, and when King Abimelech discovers it, he is obviously distraught. And his words to Isaac are revealing of the ancient Near Eastern worldview (shared by God’s people). “One of the people might soon have lain with your wife,” Abimelech says, “and you would have brought guilt on us” (v. 10).

The Hebrew is clear: if someone had slept with Rebekah, he would not only have incurred guilt upon himself, but all the people would have also shared in that guilt.

This is because the ancient Near Eastern worldview thought corporately first. The group was the primary point of focus, rather than the individual. The success and failure of the group had greater significance than the success or failure of its individual members. And thus, if one person sinned, everyone sinned (we see this in the story of Achan, of course, in Joshua 7).

What Abimelech goes on to say in verse 11 is just as significant. He thus tells his people that whoever “touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.” This is not simply an attempt to punish an individual for wrongdoing, however; it would have been an act of expiation on behalf of the corporate body. To not punish the individual would have produced a continued guilt on the entire group; so one had to die for the sake of all – a thought we see still in place in the days of Jesus, when Caiaphas encouraged the Jews that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people” (John 18:14). Christ’s death, it was thought, served to expunge the guilt of all of Israel.

There are many implications of this corporate concept – an idea we, who are individualistic, have a hard time wrapping our minds around. Those implications range from how we understand our corporate responsibility toward one another, to how we understand what happened at the cross, to how we experience community together, to how we understand so-called “genocide” or mass destruction in the Old Testament, to how we relate to church discipline, to how we relate to church history. But those implications will have to be explored another day.

But I will point out what Joel Kaminsky has written in his work, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible. It’s food for thought.

Corporate responsibility is . . .  a fundamental theological principle in ancient Israel that God relates not just to autonomous Israelites, but to the nation as a whole. Inasmuch as God relates to the community as a whole, he holds each member of the nation to some level of responsibility for the errors of any other member of that community. (12, 13)

Just as tellingly, Kaminsky posits:

Israel’s fundamental insight into the fact that we are all our ‘brother’s keeper’ could provide a corrective to many of our current philosophical and political tendencies that inform us only of our rights as individuals, but rarely of our responsibilities as members of larger communities” (13-14).

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