Sunday, February 12, 2023

Daddy, UP!

Teaching Kids about God's Love and Prayer isn't hard if you get them involved. Try this!

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

An open letter to the pastors at the 2023 AUC Minister's Meetings

 Dear Pastors,

I write to you as you gather at Avondale for your quinquinial Australian Union Conference ministers meetings.

Two decades ago, on Sabbath morning, I told the children's story at Avondale during the divine service at the minister's meetings. If you were there, perhaps you remember John the Baptist recounting his nightmare about a seven headed dragon. Storytelling was and is my passion.

Over the next ten years, I went through severe faith deconstruction. The apex of which occurred during my time as Associate Editor at Signs Publishing. I went through it alone. I spent many a drive home from Warburton calling to God and waiting for an answer. I even tried the silent treatment and listened for a still small voice. As you might expect, I heard nothing.

There was no one spiritually mature and safe to whom I could talk. My ministerial secretary was perfect and distant, as were all the men at the top. That seemed to be the way to survive. So, I tried. I joined the acting game. 

I didn't want my storytelling to end but there were fewer and fewer topics on which I could preach or write with honesty. I read old scripts, danced old jigs. And in my private time I devoured books by McLaren, Campbell, Rohr and Spong. I needed to find God. I needed to find myself. Both were shadows of who they once were.

January 4, 2013 a brain tumour was safely removed from my auditory nerve. It left me deaf on that side with severe tinnitus but otherwise normal in appearance. My energy levels were massively depleted as the neurosurgeons said they would be. For three months, I took all my sick leave as I couldn't drive and stayed home on doctors orders, to recover.

One year later, to the day, I was removed from ministry permanently. 

So, what happened during that year? The three months of recovery were bliss. Too tired to do much, I laughed with my family and ate every meal at home. I decided to be honest. When asked to go back to work, I would tell them who I really was. I would tell them what I believed and didn't believe. 

When the call came, two churches - one small and one as assistant to a power pastor, I said exactly… nothing. During that year, I rode my motorcycle too fast. Numerous corners nearly took me. I spiralled into spiritual self loathing. One day I told my wife she would leave me if she knew what I really believed. She disagreed vehemently! And then, in my private thoughts, I wondered if I still had the old charm. So I tried. And I failed by succeeding. 

January 4, 2014 I received a phone call from the conference President. We met in a McDonalds birthday party room. Our family had just moved so I could take a full time school chaplaincy role. When the President, General Secretary and power pastor asked me why, I told them everything. All the above but in greater detail. It felt blissful to unload a decade's burden! I talked and talked. The General Secretary commented that I seemed relieved not upset. True. Finally someone was listening and I couldn't be punished for my deconstruction. 

My risk taking could have been partly a result of surviving brain surgery. It happens. But, it was definately a result of my faith deconstruction. The broken me was being unbroken and didn't want to go back into the paddock. I didn't want to sacrifice my new found freedom and honesty to return to the cowardice of the past. And so I bucked at the system's reigns. I took risks. Big ones. And I was fired, guilty as charged. 

I went home with my tail between my legs. I'm grateful I wasn't brave enough to wrap it around my neck as some do. I went home where I was loved into accepting reconciliation. I was forgiven the moment I confessed. I still don't fully understand it. Much as I struggle to understand the cross, even though there is no better place to fall.

I've been told by others that I didn't deserve mercy. Duh. One pastor's wife told me her husband would be on the street after she emasculated him (not her words), should he ever dare! A decade later, she obviously still believes he is perfect as he remains intact. 

A year later, while attempting to share a devotional I was writing on healing, a pastor told me if he were to help me it would send the wrong message. He said he wasn't sure how much time needed to elapse before He could be seen helping me. He didn't want to be unfit for duty in the temple, I guess.

The laity have been kind and accepting, welcoming me into their ranks with inclusive embracing arms. Over all, I've come to realise we teach and preach forgiveness well enough for the people to understand and act. And as I have listened to them over the past decade, even deconstruction is welcomed and expected. The discussion is vibrant.

Unfortunately, pastors are human. Deconstruction is part of maturity. This means, pastors who mature deconstruct and rebuild their faith. The needs for nonjudgmental mentoring, safe policies and empowering procedures for pastors with questions still remain unmet. Room to breathe and a safe place to debrief is desperately needed.

And thus, pastors in deconstruction manifest a variety of unhealthy behaviours. 

In the pulpit: Poor preaching. Flimsy exegesis. Pathetic proofs. Weak point, pound pulpit. 

In the home: Disconnection.  Impossible expectations. Fake smiles. Do as I say, not as I do.

In the heart: Anxiety. Depression. Loneliness. Unbalanced relationship with God. From broken vessels that hold nothing - to - being so heavenly minded you're no earthly good.

I write to you not because I want back in. I'm much safer and healthier out here. I'm a better Christian now that I've come through my rebuilding phase. 

I write to you because keeping our heads in the sand is killing pastors. We loose them to safer professions. We loose them in deconstruction. And, shockingly, we even lose them to death. The Seventh-day Adventist church must stop killing pastors.

While you are gathered this weekend, demand better. Your leaders have titled this gathering "The Empower Ministerial Convention." May it live up to its name. Pastors are deeply loved by God. It's time we started treating them that way.

Yours in Faith,

Dave Edgren

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Why the doctrine of Original Sin is good for nothing

I've lived in two worlds. 

In America, where I grew up, faith was everywhere. Being a Christian nation, I was raised believing we are all desperate sinners in need of saving. Most Americans are taught this worldview. Teaching leads to believing and beliefs lead to action. 

In Australia, where I've lived for the past 30 years, faith is an occasional thing. I asked a state school principal I worked for (as a chaplain) where she got her moral code. She is a multigenerational non-believer. She shrugged and said, "My parents lived a life that was family centred and generous to others. I learned early on that being nice feels better - both now and in the long run - than being mean. And people love people who love people. My partner and I modelled this to our kids. We go beach camping as a family with friends for two weeks every summer. We just love family and friends. Life is better when you love others." 

Currently, horrible floods are inundating thousands of square kilometres of Australia. It's still raging. Entire towns have been decimated, some multiple times. Aussies, who believe in community and mateship, flock to the affected areas and work for free - in their hundreds - to clean up and return the broken communities to their feet. 

There was one act of looting - a man entered a flooded home and took a TV - and it was reported on the news and the rest of Australia shook their heads in disappointment. There's been no more looting. 

Mateship. Community. A fair go. Love for others. If you asked Aussies for a reason as to why they are like this, most wouldn't be able to put it into words. There's a classic Australian film called The Castle in which the husband is always praising his wife and when she says "it came out of a can" or some such rebuttal, he says, "It's how ya do it, Love. It's how ya do it." That is the Aussie Spirit. And that's humanity, I reckon, left alone - without the doctrine of Original Sin tampering with it.

Now, if you took a nation and told their children they were desperate sinners and could never do anything good without God helping them, what would they become like? Well, they might buy lots of guns to protect themselves. They might build family sized bunkers for times of crisis and arm the perimeter to kill the unprepared. They might loot homes and shops when crisis hit to help their own. They might shoot children in their own schools. They'd say, "We're sinners. Hopeless sinners. We have no hope and God has forgotten us." 

Look at what the doctrine of "Original Sin" did to Christianity historically. Created to raise income for the building program of the medieval church, penance was profitable. Teaching people they were born in sin and steeped in it until death resulted in people seeking a solution. And they paid because the clergy told them paying was the way to forgiveness. 

Soldiers in the Crusades came to their priests and confessed sins they were undoubtedly going to commit. "I'm a lowly sinner, Father. I will kill for the king but along with the killing, there will be the raping and pillaging. I don't want to do these things but you know... It's just too much for a sinner to resist. I'll be raping, no doubt. And burning houses full of children, I'm guessing. So, you'd best forgive those acts. You know father, sometimes people hide in big buildings - like churches - so, you'd better forgive me for burning a church or two. I'm but a sinner! Please forgive me, Father." And the priests did. Forgiveness before sin - permission to rape, pillage, destroy and murder entire villages. 

Imagine, if from today forward, the church taught: "You are created in the image of a loving God, and so are your neighbors." How Christlike and loving might we become?

That said, I also do not believe we are able to be sinless. That is the ditch on the other side. "hopeless sinners" on one side and "sinless saints" on the other. And the road in the middle? The road to the Kingdom of God? Jesus. 

His answer to the hopeless sinner: "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life!" 

His answer to the sinless saint: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." 

The road in the middle: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." 

And there's a promise for people on the road and in both ditches, I believe: "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

A poor doctrine of sin results in a weak doctrine of salvation. And, there is nothing weak about the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus!

Monday, March 21, 2022

When God Comes Down

The Tower of Babel and Beyond!

What would you have named this passage?

The title should be: "When God Comes Down!" That's a theme you can track right through the Bible. In fact, you could call it the loom on which the tapestry of salvation history is woven. “When God Comes Down” the Golden Thread is introduced, reintroduced, renewed and reclaimed. God Comes down at the start, the finish and repeatedly throughout human history to re-establish the Golden Thread of Scripture. To show us His glory - to show us that His Glory is His Love. Each time God Comes Down, He comes in all of His glory but humanity interprets His arrival through their muddy lenses. Let's take a look and let God clean our glasses bit by bit as he did in the Old and New Testaments. His presence becomes clearer and clearer, as I hope you will see!
The tower doesn't come down. God does.

As in many other places in scripture, God comes down and people are sent out.

Babel is one of TWO TIMES that God comes down and new languages follow. There’s a HUGE reenactment in the book of ACTS but we will get to that in a bit.

While the “Tower of Babel” story is primarily seen as God Coming Down with a curse to confuse and scatter people by mixing up their languages, it is equally, God Coming Down to remind people of His commission to spread throughout the world and then motivate them to do so by giving them the ability to speak a variety of languages.

This story is the introduction of a great Biblical theme: God is a God of many nations, many languages, and many people. In today’s lingo, God is a multicultural God!

In the Bible, what happens when God Comes down?
As Christians, we have it easy. To describe God all we have to do is look at Jesus. But OT people only had the faith stories handed down to them and the stories their neighbours told of foreign gods. Often the point of OT stories is to establish the difference between Yahweh and other gods rather than drill down into the true nature of Yahweh.

Does the "The Tower of Babel” sound like Jesus? No, not really.

So, what is it?
While it is clearly a testament of God’s judgement, it is also a retort to the Babylonian Creation Story (Enuma Elish).

City: Babylon was built in heaven by the gods as a celestial city. As an expression of pride, Babylon was then placed on Earth. The same phrasing/process of brick-making as in the EE is described in except that rather than the God’s building it “the people said to themselves let us build”. Babylon is a human city, not a godly city. The EE says the Babylonian God Marduk inscribed every brick with his own name. The Isrealite version of the story said, those bricks were made with human hands by people just like us!

Tower: The ziggurat, the step-like tower first erected in Babylon. This artificial mountain became the centre of worship in the city, a temple was built at the top of the tower. EE says its top is in the heavens (Place of Worship - For their God to come down). The isrealite rebuttle says, God did come down. But not to accept worship. He came down to disrupt false worship. He confused the people and sent them to the four corners of the Earth.

Pride: The Babylonians took great pride in their building skills. They boasted: their city was impregnable and ca;;ed their heavenly city, bāb-ili (“the gate of God”).

Humbling Hebrew: Babel (bāḇel) sounds similar to the verb confused (bālal). So Babili became babel - and then Babylon.

Main point of :
Q. “What happens to arrogant people when God shows up?”
A. God humbles them and sends them out.
Just like in the Garden of Eden and multiple other times in the Bible, when humans establish their arrogance and pride God establishes His judgement by humbling them and sending them out with something useful to do.

The builders of Babylon arrogantly imagined they had united the world under their rule. God stops activity in the city and tower by scattering the people across the earth. In its place - later in the same chapter - God calls Abram to start the family of faith through whom the nations would be blessed in God’s time and God’s love rather than by their own arrogance.

OT Golden thread: What happens ‘when God comes down’ in the OT?

God’s People: Israelites - Mountain () LOUD! SCARY! God is terrifying physically, spiritually and emotionally.

God’s Man: Moses - Law () God introduces Himself (Love!) God self-describes as loving, compassionate and generous.

God’s OT Gospel: Isaiah () Much of what was said about God before Jesus came was said best by Isaiah. And the Golden Thread of God Coming Down is no exception.
“ eye has seen any God except you who acts on behalf of the one who waits for him.” And wait they did. After being set free from Babylon there are some 400 years of waiting. Waiting for the Golden Thread to continue. Waiting for God to come down.

NT Golden Thread: What happens when God Comes down in the New Testament? (by the way, it's new!)
Jesus: God Came Down!
Jesus is the best picture of God in the Bible.
Jesus said, “God is Love.” He lived showing it, died declaring it and was raised again proving it once-and-for-all – God is Love!
We humans are really slow to let the true nature of God to sink in. 4000 years between the Garden and the Incarnation. We want an authoritarian taskmaster. But, He's not. GOD IS LIKE JESUS. It wasn’t until after the resurrection and a bit of time to think things through that believers began to understand the Love of God - and even then, it was through a glass darkly!

Pentecost: The Spirit Came Down!
At Pentecost, God underlined the linguistic diversity that He introduced at Babel. Everyone in the crowd was able to understand the disciples speaking in his or her own language. The first miracle that the Holy Spirit did was to make it possible for the story of Jesus to be understood in many languages all at once. The Triune relational God did nor force conformity on his followers by making them all hear his message in one language, He encouraged diversity by allowing them to hear in their own language. From even before the Christian church was called Christian, it was multicultural and multilingual. – Eddie Arthur, Babel, Pentecost and the Blessing of Diversity
The miracle was not in the ears of the hearers, (as some have unaccountably supposed,) but in the mouth of the speakers. And this family praising God together, with the tongues of all the world, was earnest that the whole world should in due time praise God in their various tongues. – John Wesley
Cornelius’ Conversion - 3 level storytelling - One SINGLE point ( & )
Luke writes the story as it happens: An angel visits Cornelius, Peter’s blanket vision, Men to Peter’s door, Peter to Cornelius’ crowd, Peter to Apostles
Both Peter and Cornelius tell their side of the story to each other
Peter repeats the story to the Apostles ()

Why repeat tellings? For the listener/reader to GET IT!
You may be Purified Peter on the rooftop, a secular friend in the house of Cornelius, or a church leader protecting the faith.

Wherever you stand, Luke writes 10 & 11 to declare:
When God comes down, He sends us out. Our mission isn’t to judge the people we encounter as worthy or unworthy but to share the God who embraces all languages, tribes and people and calls every human to give life a fresh start in the waters of baptism. Everything else comes in time - God’s time!

Beyond multilingual and multicultural… God is out to save everyone!
"For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive."
The Gospel was and IS extremely inclusive!

Shocking example of how far God is willing to go with inclusivity:
Philip chases the Eunuch ()


Come back to the desert road with me, to consider what happened next.

The Ethiopian Eunuch climbs back into his chariot, still soaked in the waters of baptism. He leans forward and knocks on the front wall. The driver prods the horses and the journey resumes. As the chariot returns to the rhythmic sway of travel familiar only to the wealthy, the Queen of Ethiopia's Eunuch dries his hands carefully and returns to his place in the scroll of Isaiah. He's found Jesus, the God who forgives sins – what else might he discover?

He begins to read aloud, taking care to pronounce each Hebrew word correctly. Just two short chapters later – a few turns of the scroll – he stutters to a stop. Can this really be here? In the middle of an ancient Scroll? How? It is, clearly, a personal letter written directly to the Eunuch. He reads on, under his breath rather reading aloud, unsure what Isaiah will say next. Moments later, his excitement of discovery too high to keep to himself, He leans forward and knocks on the wall bringing the horses to a stop.

Stepping out of the chariot, the Eunuch takes the scroll and rests it on the side of the driver's bench. "You've got to hear this," he says, "but first I need to tell you everything Philip told me before you saw him Baptise me."

After sharing the gospel of Jesus about the forgiveness of sin and conquering of death, the Eunuch says to the driver, "So, I kept reading and listen to this!"

He looks down at the scroll and reads in a loud voice:

Tightening up the scroll, the Eunuch wipes tears from his eyes and looks up at the driver.

The driver is crying too. "That's about us, isn't it?" The driver says, "I mean, it must be, right?"

And that is what happens When God Comes Down.

Dave Edgren ~ Story: Teller, Author, Trainer ~

BOOK DAVE NOW! Dave Edgren is passionate about creating a values-based storytelling culture. In his engaging and often hilarious way,...