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Posts Tagged ‘seventh-day adventist’

I began writing here a few years ago, putting out my deepest spiritual angst for the world to see, and I always hoped, could benefit from in some way.  As my need for therapeutic writing (processing) has diminished, I’ve had less to say, and have no intention of trying to contrive content in order to keep a blog going.  This has never been about finding followers or selling anything.  I guess my desire was to reach out – find like minds – offer a warning alarm for anyone seeking to take the detours I’ve taken.   I didn’t come out of an unhealthy religion (twice) just to find a comfortable pew to spend out the rest of my days.  The journey marches on with new challenges, disappointments, and a continued desire for more understanding.  Having been born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist, and now being an ex-Adventist, makes up a part of my identity I can never truly erase.

I thought I’d moved on past this label, and gotten to where I can just be a human.  But you really can’t cut off your formative years.  They mold you for a lifetime in some way or another, a sobering thought as a parent too.  What brought this back to the surface for me was a show I ran across on Netflix called Amish:  Out of Order.   Reality shows have their severe limitations, and I don’t know when it became necessary to format programming as if the target audience was five years old, but the sincerity of the people in this show sharing their experiences  had me in tears myself.  The show centers around an ex-Amish man, Mose Gingerich, who does what he can to help other young Amish people make their transition to the “English” (outside) world.  He offers much counsel, encouragement, and finds ways to bring the ex-Amish together as a family to replace the ones they left behind.

In one episode, the focus turns from the young people to Mose and his own pain he continually carries from past abuse and being cut off from his family when he left.  He goes back to attempt to reconcile and re-spark a relationship with his mother.  His father has passed on.  She won’t let him in the house for fear of what her community elders will do to her.  She can’t even agree to correspond by mail.  She can offer no relationship, because she has been given a choice between her son and her church.  He chooses to forgive those who have hurt him and to pursue a relationship even if there is no response in return.

While Adventists are rarely (but sometimes) this extreme in their shunning of those who leave, the effects of growing up in a church that teaches salvation only within its own membership, creates fear and confusion that only those who have left one can understand.  In this episode an ex-Amish evangelical minister mentioned that suicide is sometimes the preferred option for someone who can’t stay or leave.  I also knew many Adventists who committed suicide.

As I look back on my life, I feel like my entire adult life has been an attempt to grapple spiritually with my original heritage, which has a culture all of its own.  While not as secluded as Amish, and very worldly by comparison (more so now than when I was young), this church has a very distinctive culture of food, religious lingo, and a prophet that dictates nearly every facet of every day life, for those who take her seriously enough to comply.  Adventist churches of my youth were close-knit and in my family where work/church/school all centered around the institution, we had little or no social connections with any non-Adventists.  If we did happen to meet people on the outside, we felt it our responsibility to share our truth with them.  Outsiders were a lesser class of human and seen only as targets for saving.

Since leaving, I have never found any other group that had the same close-knit feeling of community as we had growing up.  (Our Hebrew Roots group came close for a time.)  Sometimes I wonder if I’m not out looking for truth as much as I am looking for that type of spiritual family.  American churches I have been involved with are not like this.  I cannot even imagine the void an ex-Amish person must feel upon leaving.

Going from this closed system into a public school my senior year, I found myself lost in family dysfunction and grasping for my own identity.  I felt like my new social world operated on a set of rules from a secret code somewhere, and I didn’t have any instincts or discernment about who to trust.  I went into college continuing the reckless abandon I had begun the previous year – trying to prove to the world and myself I wasn’t a religious freak.   I didn’t want to think about God, religion, rules, personal safety, or the future.  I wanted to be seen as a wild child just like everyone else, and it’s much easier to fit in with a joint in your hand.

Decades later, I see that the main focus of my adult life has been trying to find a spiritual path and identity.  I can remember shortly before our awakening out of the Hebrew Roots Movement, feeling so thankful I finally had found the truth and wouldn’t have to go through any more transitions.  That’s pretty funny, because I’m still in transition.  I don’t get to rest comfortably in correct knowledge, because the older I get, the less I know.

I don’t have access to cable or satellite television, but this week I was at a friend’s house and decided to check out 3ABN for the fun of old times.  This Adventist television station plays a variety of programs designed to teach the church and also evangelize outsiders.  The current program featured an evangelist we had watched almost 20 years ago.  We used his videos to evangelize the community.  In fact, one of my husband’s employers and now lifelong friends came through this connection as we reached out to our town with the “truth”.   This evangelist, with more grey hair now, paced the stage selling the same rote speech on the Mark of the Beast as we had handed out umpteen years ago.  He now has a more elaborate stage, complete with life-size golden angels and state-of-the-art multimedia technology, but the defining message of the organization marches on:  If you do not keep the 7th day as the Sabbath, and keep it correctly, and instead worship on Sunday as the harlot of Revelation has taught you to do, you will be damned.  At least I can watch it now without the anxiety, only sadness that people are still being led into this.

This month I am going to visit SDA family I love so much, and have learned to put down the sword of aggression toward their faith.  I don’t think they are going to hell, even if they think I might.  I no longer believe I need to save them from what I consider false beliefs.  They are happy.  It’s home for them, and they have contentment in their path.  I envy that at times  – being settled.  I don’t know if I ever will be.  The spiritual truths most precious to me now cross all barriers of sect and culture, so I hope this time around, we have more in common than not.  Because after all, I will always have some Adventist in me too.

 

 

 

 

 

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Yesterday I sat down for lunch with two men who will both be 70 within the next twelve months.  They could not be more different if they had been born on separate planets.  One had lost his way in the drugs and parties of the 70’s.  The other had gone to seminary and doesn’t even know a single Led Zeppelin song.  One worked for over 40 years as a union worker, even through the party life, and lives on an adequate retirement, in a rent house.  The other re-built his life from scratch after divorce and career change left him with nothing.  One watches TV most of the day, the other works his small ranch and plays basketball on a city league with men half his age.  They are my fathers – one by birth, the other through marriage.  Even though my husband and I have been married over 20 years, this was the first time our fathers had ever been together long enough to have a conversation.  My dad is a former SDA pastor, and my father-in-law, former long-time member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong.  Over lunch at this home-cooking diner, they found common ground, and I sat in awe of God’s amazing love and faithfulness to all of us over the last many years.

My father left Adventism  in the 80s during the big upheaval when the truth began to come out about their prophet, Ellen G. White, and prominent leaders began to question the doctrine that had been seen as the founding pillar of the group.  He lost his job for the sake of the gospel, and over other matters, his wife as well.  For a long time I feared he was going to give up on faith altogether.  He never seemed to find a church where things worked out after that, and his questioning began to take directions that frightened me as I began my own life with Christ in my early adult life.  But through all the confusion, he has found Jesus to be the only worthwhile Truth.

After Worldwide Church of God shifted their theological position from Old to New Covenant in the early 90s, through the influence of their leader, Joseph Tkach, my father-in-law also embraced the new path.  On a side note, my father’s mother – also a long time member, did not.  She followed one of the many splinter groups that sprung up after the shift in opposition to the change.  My grandmother passed away seeing grace as too good to be true, and my father-in-law drifted out of fellowship and back into drugs.  As often happens when people let go of the Law-based religion, they feel lost and alone, and overwhelmed at the thought of trying to attend a mainstream church. (His old congregation dwindled and floundered badly.)  If you don’t replace the void with a very real Jesus, you will feel hung out to dry.  Simply changing your mental understanding *about* God, does not always spark a living relationship *with* Him.

After losing his wife two years ago, and surviving massive heart attack, followed by bypass surgery this past year, I saw a huge transformation in my father-in-law.  He stayed with us during his recovery and we really formed a new bond with him.  I saw His spiritual heart had been broken when his physical heart nearly ended his life.

Yesterday he was re-baptized at his new church two blocks from his home.  My father, visiting from another state, attended the service with me.  The significance of the day began to sink in as I sat on the pew, between them.  Two men with long journeys to tell.  And a young whelp of a pastor who had no sense at all of the holy ground he was treading on.  He was in a hurry.  Dunk the new member, rush through the sermon, brush off the old man who puts a hand on his shoulder and tries to tell him how much he reminded him of himself as a young pastor back in 1966, with tears brimming in his eyes.  I believed a good lunch was in order so insisted we sit down for some real fellowship after church.  There two men were able to share and rejoice in what God had done for them, with someone who understood.  I sat mostly quiet (I know, hard to fathom) in awe of what God had orchestrated this day.

Early yesterday morning before getting ready for church, I saw a friend living on the opposite side of our planet had posted a quote by Joseph Tkach on his facebook page.  I took this amazing “coincidence” as  gift from God for the day, and printed it for my father-in-law.

We have always understood grace to be unconditional, an unmerited pardon of our sins. But we tended to think of it as one of the components of salvation that needed to be “stirred into the mix” because we can’t keep the law. We need to see that God’s grace is much more than that.

Grace is not just a spiritual supplement that God provides because we can’t keep his law, like a whiff of oxygen to help a sick person breathe a bit easier. Grace is the love and freedom-producing action of God that reconstitutes humanity into an entirely new creation. It transforms us and gives us a new kind of life – life that no amount of law keeping could sustain. Grace is the environment that allows us, God’s new creation, to not just survive, but to grow and flourish.
Joseph Tkach

Sometimes it takes a long time to see what Grace can do.  It knows that life cannot be forced or coerced before its time.  In our short life spans we find it so hard to endure this slow process, in ourselves and others.  It reminds me of the words in Corinthians, that love bears all things, and believes all things.  I have often been like the young pastor, in a hurry and unable to see the miracles in front of my face, wishing for big things to happen.  But God is at work in every moment,  no matter how hard or dark.  I pray to be more aware of every day of Grace!

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The word “cult” gets tossed around a lot, even by people who belong to them.  Many definitions abound, so it’s easy to pick one that might not include your own group, especially if you don’t meet all the criteria on a particular list.  Various degrees of denial make cult definitions a subjective pursuit.  This week my friends shared two helpful links about cults and abusive groups that are worth your time to check out.

Looking back on my life, I have quite a cult resume.

My husband and I would have never considered ourselves in a cult, or worse yet, the leaders of one, when we were in the Hebrew Roots Movement.  We did not follow any particular teacher, although we had friends who did.  We saw the movement as something God brought together because it wasn’t started or led by any one particular person.  People from many different Christian backgrounds came together under one common bond.  While every group had to muddle through many various points of contention, we had given our minds over to one idea which became the foundation of belief and the basis for our fellowship.  Nearly anything or anyone we recognized as having this same beginning premise, we trusted, and believed.

As this election season has heated up, I have watched this phenomenon in the political realm too, and see the human condition is so very prone to wanting a framework with neat, concise answers. We want talking points, dogmas, and simplified answers to our dissenters.  Go-to catch phrases head off any opponents arguments.  We become emotionally attached to our systems and ideas, take them on as part of our personal identities, and tie them on tightly with our fear and pride.

Seeing the political sides take shape, I realized that cults can gel around an ideology just as easily as a person.  Candidates are playing into the idea, trying to appear as if they are closely aligned with the values of the group they seek to represent.

Once the idea has become concrete, this is where the danger comes in.  Anytime we give up asking questions, listening, and investigating, we are in danger of cult-like thinking.  If we pledge our support for something, and emotionally invest in a “side”, we are much less likely to think objectively about our own camp, be it religious, political, or national.  It doesn’t matter how free of an atmosphere we have to ask questions, if we don’t.

Our religious “cult” was not formed or held together by Jesus, but a list of commands that pointed to Him.  We saw them as Him.  And He came to open the way for so much more than this in our relationship with Him.  What if I, as a wife, viewed my husband as only our marriage license.  I look at the paper every day, frame it so I can hang it on the wall, and make sure I tell everyone I meet about this agreement and what it entitles me to.  Yet, he is standing there wanting to love and be loved.

Cults of any kind are demanding, but Jesus is inviting.  The spiritual difference is life and death.  People who have not experienced the deep, healing love of Christ are trying to fill a need when they follow a cult of any kind, religious or otherwise.  We want belonging, and we want to be right.  It feels safe and warm in a way, yet we never quite “arrive”.  There is always one more bit of knowledge, or a higher degree of compliance to achieve.

If I could zap you through this screen and give you a sense of how much MORE Jesus has for you than the much less you are settling for, while believing you are in the elite crowd of the chosen few, I would.  But I can’t.  I pray the Holy Spirit does reveal this to you even though you probably found this blog looking for information that you agreed with, and this wasn’t it.  I say, just let Him love you.  He died so You could know the depth of His love, and you are running backward to the shadow.  You don’t have to earn His love, or fear a curse.  Just let Him love you.

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I have often said that telling a story is more effective than arguing a point, and this film, Paradise Recovered, demonstrates this to be true.  It shows a young woman who believes in her church as the very voice of God.  She devoutly obeys every teaching, even looking for a part-time job so she can financially support “the work”, in addition to her position as a live-in nanny to her pastor’s family.  As the picture of perfection begins to crumble, she finds a new friendship at work that challenges her to the core.

The depiction of spiritually abusive religion in this movie represents an interesting composite of various cults as well as some mainstream Christian belief and practice.  As I have maintained here repeatedly, the cults do not have a monopoly on legalism. The injured lambs leaving the cults often find the same spiritual illnesses in evangelical churches.  How can doctrinal orthodoxy produce the same fruit as a heretical cult?  Rightly dissected doctrine by itself (whatever that is) doesn’t affect the heart.  It only creates a mind that knows it’s right.   And we all know where that leads.

Fruits of love come from abiding in the vine – a genuine spiritual experience in Jesus.  The only head-knowledge that produces the fruit of love is the mind of Christ.  Jesus didn’t write a list of doctrines, however useful we may find them.  He lived and died for love.  He spoke truth, but drew people to love God and one another as the highest aim.  Much of Christian religion attempts to wash the outside of the cup.

I found the most poignant scene at the beginning of this film.  Esther, the main character, tries to tell the pastor’s little girl a Bible story with the same felt characters I grew up with in Sabbath School.  She tells her the story of the Good Samaritan with the Law as the focus, not love.  (How we teach our children… topic for a different post).  The little girl squirms and says, “I don’t like this story.  I want to hear about baby Moses.”   How many adults have I known, and how long was I also of this opinion?  We would have never admitted it, but our lives and words professed this:  Jesus, we don’t want to hear you.  Let Moses speak to us instead.

Fear, control, performance-focused thinking,  Jesus-plus-something teaching – these all come naturally to us.  To truly believe and ingest the truth about what Jesus has done feels so unnatural.  He defies logic and we like justice that we have something to do with, not the kind that takes us out of the equation.   Freedom can be terrifying as well, as this young woman in the movie finds out.  I identified with her brief return to the confines and security of the church, even after the abusive treatment.  She said, “I miss God.”  She had not yet experienced Him apart from her church culture.  Just as an abused wife may repeatedly return to her husband because she “loves” him, she possibly has not yet known genuine love.

Someone recently commented to me that we should not worry ourselves over hypocrites in any belief system – no matter what it is.   But I find a problem deeper than hypocrisy.  In dysfunctional families, as well as churches, we find the ability to compartmentalize thinking so that opposing ideals do not touch one another and conflict.  To the greater degree we do this in our own lives, as well as in religious communities, we find various forms of insanity.  The goal of mental, spiritual, and emotional health is to integrate truth into every aspect of our hearts and minds.  That truth, is a Person.  He is Jesus.  Knowing Him, abiding in Him, and allowing Him to fill us up with Himself – isn’t the focus of legalistic Christian practice or teaching.  Instead, we become no different than the Pharisees that sought to promote themselves above the Man who would set the people free.

Some may find this movie uncomfortable in some ways, and challenging, but I hope it gives some the courage to be free, in Christ alone.

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First an apology to my email subscribers.  Trying out a new WordPress format and wouldn’t you know, when it says “Post a Photo” it means exactly that. But photos seem easier to upload, so here we go.  Pictures are what I want to share.  I received two things in the mail that really drew a contrast for me today.

Any former SDA who gets these knows exactly what they are and who they are from.  But no one else does.  As usual the church name, website, phone number, and pastor’s name can’t be found.  Inside it says, “Meet Our Speaker”.  There we find a picture of a girl who might be all of 16, who it claims became inspired for evangelism at an intensive Youth evangelistic program.  Internet searches showed her to turn up on a 3ABN show, and a couple of Youtube videos where it seems the child is extremely gifted for music.  Preaching a three week doctrinal series?  I suspect not.  The copy under the headliner refers to her as “a speaker”.. not “THE speaker”.

But even if they practiced total disclosure and honesty – the pictures, as usual, speak volumes more.  This exercise isn’t about picking on a group of people.  It’s about discernment and learning to spot the frauds and cons in life.  They are everywhere.  Ask yourself here what first impressions do these images give and what do you expect to hear?  What motivator are they playing on?  What’s the agenda?

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ImageThis one lists all the major distinctive doctrines necessary to convert people to “the church”, which would include their beliefs on the Sabbath day, hell, what happens when you die (nothing), and the second coming, which is closely tied to the Sabbath and the Mark of the Beast (er.. keeping Sunday as the Sabbath).

Sorry next one is fuzzy.  Too late to re-take the photo.

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Still I have to ask, what IS Life’s Greatest Battle?  This entire brochure implies extreme danger and fear.  You have to know about this battle and how to fight it or all might be lost.  This impression does accurately portray the belief system as a whole, in its historical form.

Then I opened my other mail, one of my favorites for years – a magazine dedicated to raising awareness for the persecuted Church, worldwide.  Do they have an agenda?  Most certainly. Matthew 25, Hebrews 13.  The cult flyer cloaked their identity and Jesus both.  He was a footnote.  When I look at these pictures, all I see is Jesus.

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I think these believers must know, that “Life’s Greatest Battle” is already won.  Yet they are caught in the cross fire over and over in a world that hates the Victor.  Their testimony and witness continues to focus me and my priorities on a regular basis.  They tear away the facade and let the reality of who we are, and who Jesus is, shine out.  What a beautiful picture.

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Yesterday in a book store I skimmed through the introduction to a book by a scholar who had studied himself out of the faith that I claim to believe in.  I did not get so far as to look at his evidence or reasoning, only the description of his journey through many decades of seeking the truth.  I have to admit that it rattled me – just to hear the words of a man with a giant intellect who claims to have walked in my shoes, yet come to decide that it’s not what he once thought it was.

I do not for a minute doubt his sincerity or his desire to know what the truth is.  I have been on a similar journey of my own for years as well.  I know that for Seventh-day Adventists, writings by former members can create many reactions;  fear, “what if”, mental scrambling for that piece of fact that no one can take from them, anger and blind defensiveness.  I found this mental confrontation giving me the same kind of experience, fueled by the fact that I have friends who have succumbed to doubt and fallen away as well.  Do I open that box and see what is inside?  Would I come through the other side victorious or defeated?  What IS my faith based on?  What does it depend on?  What do I ultimately trust IN?  One thing I know for sure is that I cannot base belief or doubt either one on the conclusions of someone else.

This morning I was wrestling with these questions and talking to God.  He’s my dad and I take everything to Him.  I apologized, after all He has revealed and shown to me, and done for me, that I could wonder if there was any validity to the doubts of another human.  I won’t claim this post is what He Himself told me in response (for those who should rightly question that claim), but here is what came to mind, and it reminded me a little of the Parable of the Sower.

I saw three traps that prevent people from really knowing Jesus.  They may overlap, or one may lead to another, but these three became so clear to me.  There are examples of these both in the unbelieving world and in “the church”.

The carnal person never gets beyond his own desires in this world.  Even if he hears the truth, it does not affect his direction, which is to seek his desire for lust, things, or power.  He may even try to use the truth to that end, but in the end, all he wants is what HE wants.

The mystic may not care much for material things, pleasures, or position, but he loves the supernatural.  However, he doesn’t consider that not everything that is spiritual is from a good source.  Lying spirits easily lead him off on a trail to do what the first man does, in a different way; seek happiness in self through discovery, actualization, or improvement through accessing the “higher self”.  Evil is not necessarily something that is ugly, scary, cruel, or sinister.  It’s simply wanting my own way.  It’s rebellion.  Spirits in the church are also teaching people to seek this path in the name of Christ.

The intellectual on the other hand has no time for shallow, worldly pursuits, nor is he silly enough to believe in the reality of the spiritual realm.  Some “believers” may live on knowledge alone and never consider that God is a Living Person who can speak and act in their own sphere beyond the pages of a book.  Neither do they acknowledge the reality of evil spiritual entities.   Eventually, the miracles may seem as legends, the stories allegories, and God Himself becomes a metaphor.  The man is left to worship his own mind.

A Christian can be assaulted from all three sides – his own lower desires, refusing to “discern the spirits”, or trusting his own intellect until someone raises an objection he can’t answer.  What person can keep himself from falling away with these dangerous pitfalls at every step?

Some believe it’s important to constantly warn Christians they can lose their salvation.  While scripture does contain passages that warn us, the Gospel (Good News) focuses on what God has done, not my potential for weakness.  The underlying message of the fear-based approach to faith (fear &  faith don’t mix by the way) is, “You better hang on for your dear life.”  I know the motives of these pleadings are genuine, but I also know that in myself, I can’t trust myself to be strong enough to hang on.  And even if I did – in the end I could say, “Thank you Jesus for saving me, and good thing I held on tight enough to not be pulled away by that tricky satan guy.”  The end of that equation is Jesus saves, but my ability kept me saved.  One thing my faith does NOT rest in, is my own strength or reason.  I am so thankful for His promises to us in that regard.  I get tired of the argument about whether or not I can choose to reject Jesus after He saved me.  I love Him and I trust Him with my life. (Jude 24,25)  I can’t speak for anyone else.  I don’t know of any other Love or ideal I could even begin to follow.  Who have I in Heaven or Earth but Him?

The beauty of Jesus is that He satisfies all three of the areas I have just described.  He gives us our desires, so that in seeking Him, we are fulfilled.  There is a feast in the here and now, amid the pain and trials.  We do not have to wait for heaven to taste of His goodness.  There is a joy, satisfaction, and a peace in walking in His Spirit that  the world never gives.  There is in this world, “no greater joy” than to be in communion with Christ and to be in His service.

His Spirit is real and alive, and active and personal.  He does not leave us orphans!  His Spirit testifies with our own spirit, that we are His children.  Does my little boy doubt who his parents are?  My heavenly Father is just as real.  He has so many ways to communicate to us His love and His direction, if we will listen.  He desires we come to Him as our little children come to us; love, need, trusting dependence for even the smallest of things.

He gives us knowledge of Himself, even if through the veil of human agents (the scribes and the prophets).  People could not believe Jesus was God because he was cloaked in human flesh. Some people cannot believe the Bible is the Word of God because it came through human agents.  Yet on the road to Emmaus, as Jesus opened up the Scriptures for two of His followers, their “hearts burned within them.”  When he opened their eyes, they truly knew Him.  My heart also burns as I read His Word and He opens my eyes to see Him in new ways every day, even as it challenges me.

My faith is IN a living Jesus, and even this is not from myself.  It is a gift.

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Just have to share  a blog post from a great friend and former SDA.  I could write a book contrasting the worldview of Adventism vs. The Gospel but it would not come close to the clarity these pictures demonstrate from the books that she and I both grew up with.

Please visit her most excellent blog:  Images of Judgment

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