Outside the Alamo 4: After the Vote – Practicing the Fundamentals

“I don’t care about the 28 fundamentals,” my young adult close friend confided, “as much as I care about how my church treats people.”

Adventist Fundamental Beliefs often appear like the apparition of Jacob Marley, rattling chains and wagging a bony finger. Our beliefs ought to be more like Jesus of Nazareth, arms wide open in a meadow filled with waving sunflowers, beckoning our embrace. At their core, Adventist beliefs should be liberating.

A few years ago, our son, Geoffrey Nelson-Blake, wrote the following:

“This past September, I traveled to a retreat center outside New York City for the opening weekend of an interfaith Community Organizing Residency through Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. Our cohort consisted of 25 new community organizers from across the U.S.: seven Jews, six Muslims, one Buddhist, and 11 Christians (one Adventist—me).

“Entering my room where I would be sleeping for the next three nights, I met my roommate, Rabbi Adam Greenwald, a Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR, a Jewish community in Los Angeles. As we were both situating our suitcases and hanging up our shirts and jackets, Rabbi Adam turned and asked, ‘What's your faith tradition?’

"'Seventh-day Adventist,' I answered. The rabbi raised his eyebrows.

"'Wow, I've never met an Adventist before,' he told me. ‘Can I ask you a question?’

“Oh, boy. What kind of crazy belief or lifestyle choice am I going to have to explain now?

"'Sure, no problem,' I said, keeping my (Rook) cards close to my chest.

“The rabbi leaned forward. ‘Why aren't all Christians Adventists?’

“I just stood there, contemplating his gracious question.

"'I mean,' he continued, ‘how do people breathe without the Sabbath?’ Rabbi Adam smiled and hung up his final shirt.

“It was then that I knew I was in the right place.”

* * * *

My friend John Wagner attempted for about seven years to introduce a 29th Fundamental Belief, entitled, “Biblical Social Responsibility.” Essentially it was based on Micah 6:8: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The paragraph John provided was eventually reduced to one line and inserted this week into Fundamental Belief 11: “Growing in Christ.” Here’s the line: “We are also called to follow Christ’s example by compassionately ministering to the physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of humanity.”

I’m glad it’s there now. But as the Fundamental Beliefs were instituted in 1980, I’m wondering how my church neglected something so essential for so long.

* * * *

Our Fundamental Beliefs should be used as we employ multiplication tables. We don’t go around reciting the fundamentals of mathematics ad nauseam: “Six times six is 36, six times seven is 42 . . .” Knowledge of the tables is best evidenced by application— to figure life out and determine how things actually add up.

In both sports and music, one practices the fundamentals toward the game or performance. Michael Jordan shot 500 jump shots each practice session. Prior to his concerts, legendary pianist Paderewski practiced his scales.

Many years ago, my father watched from the sidelines while I shot baskets at night in an empty gym. I was feeling lazy, enjoying the echoing thud of my dribble and the squeals of my shoes, and I began carelessly, haphazardly flinging the ball at the hoop. My father, a superb basketball coach, observed a few moments before giving advice that made a lasting impression.

“Don’t practice missing,” he said. “You might get good at it.”

What we practice matters. That’s why Jesus left us examples of active learning. For instance, Chuck Scriven told me this week, “I used to feel insecure about foot-washing until I realized that I should make the first gesture. Then everything changed. I became twice blessed.”

* * * *

This week, the Alamodome showcased a mix of eloquence and mutuality, passion and compassion, rancor and shortsightedness. Genial humor and cordiality yielded at times to lining up before microphones like shrieking gulls at a dump. Prayer appeared to be a way of getting my will to be done, in heaven as it is on earth.

However, I am thankful that it was all in plain view. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” He was speaking to transparency in the journalistic enterprise and, in the long view, to the presence of a periscope camera at a General Conference session. A shroud of secrecy is eventually a death shroud, particularly the demise of trust.

* * * *

U. S. President Lyndon Johnson once asked his press secretary, Bill Moyers, to say grace at dinner. Moyers had previously been a Baptist minister. He dutifully bent his head and began to pray.

“Speak up, Bill,” Johnson said.

Moyers replied, “I wasn’t talking to you, Mr. President.”

In communicating, the first consideration should be the question of audience. To whom are we speaking? Have we begun our conversation by listening? Often we are talking to ourselves, providing answers to questions no one is asking.

* * * *

William Wordsworth muses in his poem, “The Tables Turned”:

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—

We murder to dissect.

Trapped in paper and ink, beliefs can be as moribund as specimens pinned to a board. Lacking application, our doctrinal seed encounters no soil, finds no purchase, germinates no growth. Yet through the transforming power of God’s gracious love our bodies turn into incarnational sanctuaries. God engraves His laws of love upon the holy ark of our brains. We move from propositional truth to relational healing.

In doing love, we come to believe it. Jesus proclaims, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). We believe what we do more than we do what we believe. Wherever we invest our time, energies, and money we invest our confidence and faith.

Helping people obtain financial assistance, proper housing, and adequate health care moves pro-life past pre-birth. To care for the environment, our eternal home base; to speak out against racism and the moneyed interests of tobacco; to pray for the pariahs of society; to guard the rights and lift the hopes of the downtrodden; to battle nonviolently and unceasingly for peace—this is to believe. All true Christians are activists.

An incalculable difference exists between words of love on stone and the loving Word in flesh. Love’s clearest manifestation is Jesus, who rebukes His disciples for wanting to rain fire down on enemies; who claims His Father makes the sun shine on the unrighteous; who loves everyone, everywhere; who uses kindness to bring us to repentance (Rom. 2:4); who "desires all to be saved" (1 Tim. 2:4), "not wishing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9).

As I wrote in Searching for a God to Love, “God is more a poet than a police officer. He’s more an acrobat than an accountant, more a midwife than an anesthetist. He values relationships more than rules. He’s more interested in our nearness than our neatness. He desires more to be loved than to be understood.”

Does that reality come through clearly in our 4,200-word Fundamental Beliefs statement? In his Spring 2015 Spectrum article “Fundamental Beliefs: Curse or Blessing?” Rolf J. Pohler allows that any Adventist credo “should be treated as descriptive and informative rather than as prescriptive and normative.”

* * * *

The following brief statement is easier on the memory.

Five Fundamentals of Discipleship

1. Aim (Jesus and joy)

2. Assurance (freedom, hope, and peace)

3. Adventure/Advocacy (love)

4. Authenticity (honesty)

5. Accountability (faithfulness: prayer, time, money, study, social)

We live by grace, in peace, for love, with joy. “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20).

* * * *

Overheard:

“I can’t wait for Jesus to come.”

(Please, wait.)

* * * *

Wednesday was a dismal day. After the vote I felt as if I’d been kicked in the gut by a mule. Then I felt enraged. It would be difficult to more effectively slam the door in the faces of many Adventist young adults. For them and many, many others of us this matter is not a “distraction from mission”—it is our mission: Treat all people on the margins, including females, with basic human dignity. Recognize God’s calling to everyone. Affirm and respect all spiritual gifts. Extend an open hand, not an upraised one; a microphone, not a muzzle.

Yes, I know the arguments from the other side: This is not about respect at all. Women simply have another role to play. Everyone has different gifts. We should trust God’s revealed will. But the bottom-line reality is it’s God’s ordained will that women stay just a little bit second-class.

Well, here’s my bottom line: That is not my God.

* * * *

Fundamental Belief 29 does not pronounce, “Seventh-day Adventists must 100 percent believe every syllable of these Fundamental Beliefs or they cannot be Adventists.” You also won’t find that statement in the prologue. Nope. Not there. This is why we alter our official beliefs every five years: Beliefs must change to stay alive. Otherwise they appear as lively as molasses in the freezer.

In addition, you decide your incubation for belief. No committees can compel your conscience. Paul assures at the end of Romans 8 that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. No General Conference edict will come between you and God. As Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

We don’t have to submit to the exclusive GC version of What an Adventist Is. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” not the GC. (They are not synonyms.) Somehow we must get past believing the church is the General Conference. The church is people who are bound by our shared love for God and for one another. I care more about what my Sabbath School thinks than about what the GC thinks, no matter how long something essential is neglected.

Instead of stopping at the Holiness R Us superstore, we can realize that fellowship takes place not among perfect people but among honest ones. People who profess no allegiance to Christ can exhibit Christian behavior, just as those who claim to be Christian can misbehave in unchristian ways. But what a beautiful congruence takes place when God’s daughters and sons freely respond, “Yes, I will love as Jesus loves,” and actually do it.

* * * *

Language is the fabric of thought and action. I have written before (see here) how much clearer, more ennobling than conservative and liberal are the terms peripheral and central. As a continuing education student of Diversity University, I am learning to cherish what is central over what is peripheral. For example, those people I come in contact with are central—as is the whole of humanity, most of whom I will never meet.

You can self-determine for yourself what is central. You can be an E. G. White Adventist or a Red-Letter Adventist. You can be a guardian Adventist or a seeker Adventist. You can be a Church Manual Adventist or a biblical social justice Adventist. You can be a Netherlands Adventist or a Namibian Adventist. You can be an Advindicate Adventist or a Spectrum Adventist. You can be a headship Adventist or (yes) a women’s ordination Adventist. You choose.

As Barbara Kingsolver notes, “And then if you’re lucky, you’ll find a way to live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides.” That description illustrates the joy of living with defiant optimism.

I have decided not to be a Madventist, a Sadventist, a Dadventist (“because my parents are”), a Fadventist or a Badventist. I am a Radventist—following the radical (literally “to the root”) life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

And I’m not leaving.

#MyChurchToo

* * * *

My friend and former student Melissa Howell is a pastor in the Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento, California. Shortly after the ordination-jurisdiction vote, she posted the following on Facebook.

“What will I do now? . . . I will keep talking to Jesus. I will keep reading my Bible. I will keep baptizing your children. I will keep marrying your sons and daughters. I will keep dedicating your babies. I will keep speaking the hope of Jesus into the lives of His people every single time I am given the opportunity and the honor. I will keep teaching your teenagers and I will keep wrestling with your young adults. I will keep opening the scriptures with you in study, seeking the face of Jesus and begging for His help. I will keep writing books and I will keep telling stories and I will keep encouraging my children to embrace this church I call mine. I will keep standing beside your hospital beds just minutes before you are wheeled into surgery. I will cry with you beside the gravesites of your loved ones . . . In short, no matter what you decide to call me, I know who I am, and I will keep serving those that God has placed in my path.”

* * * *

After the vote Wednesday, I saw a woman outside the Alamodome wearing a sign in bold letters that read SAD. Yes, I thought,that’s exactly how I feel. Then I realized she was from the Southern Asia Division.

* * * *

In the final assessment, the fundamentals ARE about how we treat people. What is more amazing: healing the lame, the blind, the sick, or caring for them with diligence and humility and genuine love, day after day after day? Lorne Sanny, the founder of Navigators, was once asked how you could tell if you were really a servant. He said, “By how you act when you’re treated like one.”

Some fundamentals ought to be spoken in hushed tones—incomprehensible, fathomless. This week I heard about the wedding of two lesbians, where the sweet little grandfather of one said, “I don’t know how I feel about this, but I know how I feel about you.”

Our truest fundamentals are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The accelerating urgency of passing time cannot alter, diminish, or erase those. They are wrapped in the curve of space, the infinite miracle of now.

* * * *

Next and final post: “Surprise, Surprise”

Chris Blake is an associate professor of English and communication at Union College and the author of many books and hundreds of articles. He is a member of the Spectrum General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo Credit: Steven Norman / NAD


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6961
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Beautiful thoughts Chris. Lest we forget:

“Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

@TonyR

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Thanks for bringing my attention to this story Rohan. I have only skimmed through it so far, but this stuck out:

I did not realize it had affected people there so much. And my fears seem to be coming true. Those who voted “no” because they were led to believe it will bring unity, will be in for a shock. I’d even read on other sites that this vote was the vote to bring unity…and I just sat there starring at the screen in utter disbelief that folks actually believe that.

Anyway, thanks again, its getting late and I better call it a night. Looking forward to reading the rest of it tomorrow.

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Very well written–thanks so much for sharing. You appear to have the central concept well covered and applied many ways. Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite bible texts and what I use as my election criteria when voting–even the walking humbly before thy God. I am very happy that the church I now belong to has settled the gender issue a long time ago and finally has affirmed the equality issue! I hope the Adventist church continues to move forward as well.

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The Sacramento New Covenant Church has set a wonderful example.
Yesterday, in a news article it was reported that the 1300 member church has for several years been taking in Muslim refugees from Afghanisan and war-torn Middle East; helping them through all the government red tape, finding housing and furniture, getting their children enrolled in school and during recent Ramadan, prepared dinner for them each night. They are **living ** Christianity not merely inventing new doctrines. What if the many SdA churches in that area had been ready to assist these refugees?

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Magnificent insights, imagery and metaphors. Wow!

Thank you.

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Excellent. Again. No need, this time, for extra characters.

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In my church today the Head Elder at the beginning of the offering appeal mentioned about the vote against women. Said that we have to be true to the Bible.
Quite a few shook their heads up and down.

Well-written commentary, Chris. Micah 6:8 and your final paragraph sum up what those beliefs mean in real life. Thanks for reminding us of the big picture.

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Deeply touched by Melissa’s post and the Navigator quote. I feel renewed. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

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"For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-Galatians 5:14-

Thanks, Chris for another wonderful article.

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Insightful, Wise. Powerful metaphors that go straight to my heart. Full of love. Thank you, Chris.

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Beautiful and inspiring thoughts from both Chris and Melissa. We have much for which to be hopeful and thankful. We can move forward in confidence knowing that our ordainations and authorities are bestowed by God alone or not at all.

We will have unity in the midst of this adversity, not because we have engineered it to be so, but because this is Jesus’ prayer on our behalf. Does God not answer the prayers of his own son?

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Not a word said at my little church today - I think we are too far out in the sticks in Idaho, we are mostly women and we all have to do our parts just to keep our tiny rural group going. No one here is in a hurry to dwindle the membership on purpose.

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Thank you for this article, Chris Blake. I can breathe again.

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nothing was said at my church, either…but i missed sabbath school because i was church pianist and had things to look over…it’s possible it was brought up in sabbath school, actually…

Dear Professor Blake,

Thank you. Thank you for being my professor for one speech class many years ago. Thank you for loving basketball like I do. Thank you for being gracious, encouraging and wise. Thank you for teaching us to think.

Thank you for writing “Searching.” In a period of my life where I felt lost, it gave sanctuary. I’ve talked to somewhere between 10 or 20 people in random conversations over the years who also read it and said the same thing. “That book changed my life.”

Thank you for your incredible piece you’ve just written. Truly, it was perfect. It was inspiring, deep, and gave me the same feeling I had many years ago reading your book.

Thank you for loving Jesus and others as well, and for showing us how.

Sincerely

Matt Gal

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If you had been teaching when I was an English Major in the 60’s, I’d have switched colleges. You have great eyes and a great heart for writing, especially in real time. Thanks so much!

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I thank God for you and for this soothing article.

I am a pastor from Malawi, Africa, SID, having served God in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for 35 years and now clocking 60 years of age.

In connection with the ordination of women debate leading to Wednesday’s vote, I had read and studied thoroughly each and every paper of all those the GC sent to delegates as an exposure to the gist of the biblical arguments in favor and/or in disfavor of the ordination of women.

I read and studied faithfully all the 13 BRCs’ report and saw how out of the 13 divisions, 5 from the renowned fast-statistically-growing great South reason away ordination of women based on headship principles derived from “plain text reading hermeneutics.”

As a Bible scholar, a true Seventh-day Adventist Christian and its ordained pastor in regular standing, in my own right, and before the God that I serve in the unique ways that the Holy Spirit has taught me, I dug deeper into the materials before me, into the Word of God in the Bible and in Spirit of Prophecy, only to find the GC-SUPPORTED Headship theology pagan, unbiblical and non-adventist even if a leader’s ancestral roots had adhered to and/or upheld the same.

So, informed by a deeper and more comprehensive study of each and every document in the delegates portal, I decided right from back home that I would vote YES to an amended motion not to the GC-recommended one; and, I was ready to move the amendment to the question/motion, only to be shocked when the “statesman” prohibited any amendment to that immutable motion that defied rules of order in the very face of every respectful delegate at the renowned GC Session of 2015.

Then, I attempted to raise a point of order only to be found out of order. Lingering in the morning after re-registering to speak to the eternal motion, and filing again in the afternoon for almost 2 hours on the queuing line of potential speakers as a delegate, the strict timed rules of order closed me out again and this time forever never to speak to that everlasting motion because parliamentary rules were of greater value than the value of a non-speaking delegate and/or that of a two-minute-timed-spoken delegate.

In fact, I early perceived and understood that the NO vote was unnecessary. It had no meaning.

The delegates were not aware that they were voting on the locale of authority in the individual divisions deciding on ordination matters, when the framers of the motion knew very well that it was a misleading motion because ordination decisions were and still are the jurisdiction of conferences/fields in consultation with Union Conferences/missions.

Those of us who wished to amend the motion saw such unseens, but as the case now presents itself to us, a motion to amend the immutable immortal motion would be an eternal crime to the “statesmen” of the church, to borrow their own public designations of each other in the GC Session 2015.

The question of whether women should be ordained to ministry or not was avoided and absent in the immutable motion. Why avoid it? The statesman’s technocrats knew very well that there is No Scriptural basis for YES/NO to ordination of women. So the YES/NO question-type of motion was deliberate and politically deceptive as well as spiritually and ecclessiastically hypocritical.

My eyes were fully open to the dark side and deeper levels of the dynamics behind securing of a “triumphant NO vote” although it was to be won on a narrow margin as we finally saw it.

Had the delegates known exactly what issues were Scripturally or unbiblically involved with or in the question of women’s ordination to ministry, the YES vote would have carried the day.

Since I readily discerned the deep secret machinations behind the composition of the nominating committee, which would naturally produce a listing of new officers from mostly the incumbents or their favorites to work together in the next Quenquenium in support of a headship doctrine hidden behind the NO vote from “plain text reading” hermeneutics, unknown in ordinary terms, to majority of delegates, the NO vote was a given and easily predictable.

I hated that NO vote for rubbish heap that covered it and for the wrong motion votes were being put to, but I anticipated it given the underlying dynamics.

Indeed, that NO vote deeply devastated me, not merely for its devaluation, discrimination and marginalization of lady-pastors in the church, but for the “plain text reading” hermeneutics behind popular opposition of women ordination. Those Hermeneutics are a deliberate departure from the 1986 MBSD of this church, Now Being used as principles of biblical interpretation underguirding all the while this unnecessary conflict on ordination of women.

The NO vote disoriented me, not for its being contrary to my intended YES vote, but for that NO vote being founded on and grounded in, as well as supported by a pagan-rooted headship theology adapted by Reformers from the Papacy and adopted by SDA Church Pioneers into our system-to see us in the post-modern era extend that false doctrine as applicable to God the Father in terms of an eternal HEADSHIP of the ALMIGHTY over His eternal SON’s eternal SUBMISSION to the Father, a totally demonic doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1) which threatens to erase the very Fundamental beliefs Laodecia has voted on-that development of which delegates knew nothing or little or wrongly-that is what exasperated me on the NO vote.

The NO vote hit me hard spiritually for the hypocrisy involved in not bringing to light the non-adventist doctrine behind the same NO vote while calling upon the GC Session delegates to vote blindly or blindfolded to the theology, the philosophy, the dogma and the unbiblical rationale behind the NO vote.

Yet the very proponents of the “plain text reading” hermeneutics behind the theologies underlying the rationale for the NO vote were able to amass votes electing them back to offices in order to maintain dictating their understandings from the vantage point of their being another dynamic power or powerful authority under God, above General Conference in Session.

That deep hypocrisy killed me on the voting Wednesday.

It damaged me cruelly to hear statesmen calling upon delegates to put away differences of opinions while they, the statesmen themselves, accrued structural support, denominationally funded support for that matter, by virtue of their privileged positions and the budgets supporting their opinions, when others must put away differences of opinion.

Thus, NO vote did not only bruise me, but it in a major way butchered me mercilessly.

Today, your article is Christ’s medication to me. May the Almighty God of Abraham and Jesus Christ the Great God, Lord and Savior of Isaac’s posterity eternal, richly bless you Chris (am I right, calling you thus?).

By your position as an Radventist, which has been mine ever since my baptism from an Adventist home in 1976 through the Lord’s call to official denominational gospel ministry in August 1980 up until now, Chris, your article is big spiritual boost to me. For that position as an Radventist, the Devil in Adventism, i.e., in church structures, has molested me and attempted to bury me alive.

If I should write a book and disclose all that I have gone through at the hand of those who matter in this church, it would be a multi-billion best seller. Yet that same book would be too incredibly revelatory for the weak in faith to endure the spiritual shock of their lives. That is why I write daily letters in scripted prayers to Jesus rather than complain to human beings, who have neither understood me nor empathized with me as Jesus does over the years of my persecution in the Gospel ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

At one other time I wrote the president of South Eastern Africa Union (SEAU, now Malawi Union): “Even if my bones are crushed and my body smashed into mortar [mud, cement for brickmaking] and these are used to build the walls of Jerusalem, I will still die within the walls of Zion.”

On observing gross antithesis to gospel truth in the way leadership believes and behaves most times, I deduce that sometimes God allows His church to be led by demons (Excessive. - webEd). If this is wrong theology and merely misconceptions of a pessimistic weeping destitute who poses as an unreasonable critic of God’s people, I stand to be corrected.

With your article, the Holy Spirit is healing me now.

In fact, on Wednesday I thought the NO vote would see me back to Malawi without a church and no longer an ordained pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In fact since that Wednesday, I have been sick, indoors in Marriott Rivercenter hotel room 1208, with only two meals since that vote.

Whether I have been fasting or on a hunger strike I cannot explain, but what I know is that I was very angry to see the Bible being abused, delegates being deceived in the hypocritical motion before them, yet being called upon to vote on what they didn’t know and being blindfolded about the non-adventist dogma behind their NO vote.

I hope you can now understand when I call this article of yours God’s balm of Gilead for me. Praise God and thanks a billion. May you continue in the love of God to touch the hearts of His children with your authoring skills.

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Thank-you, Foster!

While an ardent supporter of Chris since resumed to Christ in his “Searching …” I see through you that there are those within Adventism which are not anti-Christ. But are endeared by the Love of God to the salvation of mankind from ignorance and delusion. Praise God for your testimony. May it be repeated abroad forever.

Trust The BEing!

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