A friend of mine tells the story of the time when he was on a train filled with other academy students, returning home for a term break. It was one of those trains where the carriages comprised individual compartments, called “dog boxes” in Australian parlance. Students, being students, were making the most of these dog boxes after a term of enforced “do not touch!”
For some reason my friend found himself alone, and the guard, feeling a bit sorry for him, started up a conversation. Naturally the conversation turned to Seventh-day Adventists and what they did and did not do. After listening to my friend’s explanation the guard exclaimed, “You Adventists are weird. You don’t drink! You don’t smoke! You don’t play footy on Saturday! You don’t bet on the races! But judging by the behaviour of this mob (referring to the other students on the train), you sure do know how to smooch!”
And that is how many people do see Adventists (and Christians) – the Don’t people. When I think back over our Sabbath School discussion forums over the past fifteen or so years1, it seems that we spend a lot of time talking about restrictive behaviour. While I do not deny the need for Don’ts, we could benefit from thinking seriously about how we sound when we dwell on the negatives.
It seems that the experience of some Seventh-day Adventists is a bit like walking in a park full of beautiful flowers, splendid trees, peaceful waters and restful lawns, while all the time thinking about avoiding stepping into a pile of dog poo! Admittedly a single step in a dog poo is likely to flavor the rest of our day and it is something to be avoided, but the purpose of visiting the park is not to avoid dog poo but to enjoy the beauty and peace of the park.
There is a text that comes to mind:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Phil. 4:8
This does not mean that we ignore the dog poo, but it does mean that we need to get a perspective on things. If we fill our conversation about avoiding sin, we have little time left to talk about the gift of grace from God.
The Gospel is good news and it is worth exploring ways to emphasize its positives. We need to celebrate 2 our Christianity in a way that makes it attractive to others. We can do this without compromising our standards.
For instance, too often our discussions about Sabbath keeping are about what we can or cannot do. Food preparation, travel, guarding the edges, whether to have sex or not – you know how the discussion goes. How much better our conversation would go if we could talk about what we do on Sabbath? There are so many good positive things that we can do on Sabbath, that, if we discussed and promoted them, would leave little time for the Don’ts. Maybe a lot of you would not get too excited by a Sabbath afternoon spent watching an Osprey catch a fish and eat it, but for a couple of us keen bird watchers, such an experience is both enjoyable and appropriate. I’m sure you could give many different examples. (Why not share them in the Comments section?)
When we talk about food, how much of our conversation is about what we cannot eat? I have great respect for the CHIP program3. In New Zealand recently Seventh-day Adventists involved in CHIP, have taken the initiative of promoting good healthy food. The food that they are promoting looks good, tastes great, and it is good for you. I have to give credit to my sister for some of this. When I was a kid I thought she was stupid. Now she can produce these amazing creative food ideas that it is worth the plane ticket back to New Zealand (and even playing roulette with the Christchurch earthquakes) to taste her delicious food. This is inspiring stuff, and even I have taken up the challenge to explore new tastes and food presentations. We do not need to be negative and restrictive about our diet. There are so many good healthy tastes to explore and develop.
Let us resolve to creatively enjoy our Christian experience in 2012. Positive Christianity is much more attractive than negative Christianity.
I would be delighted to hear from you about your positive experiences with the Lord as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian.
This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24 NKJV