To appreciate Ellen White, you have to read Ellen White.
Coming of Age
The Gift That Kept on Giving
By Dwain N. Esmond
It was the start of my third year at an inner-city high school with all the attending ills—violence, drugs, sexual immorality, etc. My parents knew they had to get me, a wide-eyed 17-year-old with anger-management issues, to a better place.
Pine Forge Academy—an Adventist boarding school in the sleepy hills of Pine Forge, Pennsylvania, United States—was the perfect antidote to the inner city. I was happy to finish high school there, having grown tired of the “drama” from my previous school. But little did I know that something else would have a much greater impact on my life than my new school.
As my father readied our car for the trip to Pine Forge, he gave me a two-volume set of books by Ellen G. White. Regrettably, her writings were too often invoked to address behavior that needed to be quelled; thus the beauty and sweetness of her counsels were lost on me during my early teen years. Nevertheless, I accepted my father’s gift, and off we went.
When I finally opened the two volumes of Mind, Character, and Personality, something happened to me. I saw my academy experience as an opportunity to make some positive changes in my life, to start over. And nothing aided me more in this endeavor than these two books.
As a young man coming of age and baptized in city culture, God, through Ellen White, began to put His finger on the difficult things that held me fast. I grew up in a home in which God was cherished, worship was constant, and church life prized. However, I still began to lose my way.
I wanted desperately to be a good student. God, through His anointed servant, supplied the tools I needed to become a high achiever. During this time in my life I read this: “As an educating power the Bible is without a rival. Nothing will so impart vigor to all the faculties as requiring students to grasp the stupendous truths of revelation. The mind gradually adapts itself to the subjects upon which it is allowed to dwell. . . . If never required to grapple with difficult problems or put to the stretch to comprehend important truths, it will after a time almost lose the power of growth.”1
No chapter in this amazing two-volume compilation impacted me more than chapter 11 of volume 1, “Bible Study and the Mind.” After reading it I studied the Bible with intention and precision. Ellen White’s writings functioned in my young life just as she said they should: a lesser light leading to the greater light of God’s Word.2 Today I love and cherish both, but I am sure I would not appreciate either as much today had my father not given me these books.
Facing the Challenge
Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church faces a stark reality: the number of members who regularly read the inspired counsels of Ellen White is rapidly declining. This is troubling because it means most members are not experiencing the rich trove of blessing contained in these sacred counsels.
But there are other reasons to be alarmed. In a study of more than 8,200 Seventh-day Adventists attending 193 churches throughout North America, researchers Roger L. Dudley and Des Cummings, Jr., reported that “Those who regularly study the writings of Ellen White are also more likely to be stronger Christians in their personal spiritual life and in their witness to their communities than those church members who don’t.”3
What Do We Do Now?
That was in 1982, the year when some of the study’s findings were published in the October issue of Ministry magazine. The intervening years have seen a sharp decline in the number of Seventh-day Adventists who read Ellen White at all, let alone regularly. We are witnessing the advent of a digital/visual generation that reads differently. A recent Pew Research Center study noted that millennials in North America, where the study was based, read more than their over-30 counterparts. “Overall, 88 percent of Americans under 30 read a book in the past year, compared with 79 percent of those age 30 and older. Young adults have caught up to those in their 30s and 40s in e-reading, with 37 percent of adults ages 18-29 reporting that they have read an e-book in the past year.”4
So how might we ignite a love for Ellen White’s writings in twenty-first-century Adventist youth and young adults? Here are two suggestions to start.
Remember that truth—eternal truth—is first and foremost relational. Jesus declared He was truth (John 14:6). Truth then, is a Person to be known. Youth consume more information today through a web of connectedness that we call social media. They depend on others to curate and deliver information that is meaningful to their lives. To reach youth today with the writings of Ellen White, they must be curated and calibrated to meet specific needs in their lives.
For example, instead of recommending that a teen struggling with belief in God read the chapter “What to Do With Doubt,” in the book Steps to Christ, one might select a specific paragraph and record a short video explaining why this information is relevant. The resulting video might then be sent via text message, along with a note of love and acceptance. This process of assigning meaning—contextualization—is critical to sharing truth with today’s youth.
Never underestimate the influence of parents, guardians, and loved ones in sharing truth. It wasn’t lost on me that my father thought my spiritual development important enough to give me a gift that changed my life. I took the books because they came from my father, a man whom I love, respect, and admire. Families are the foundational unit for the dissemination of truth.
God works through all—even those who don’t have parents—who are willing to take interest in the salvation of His youth. When a parent, guardian, or loved one highlights an Ellen White passage and says to their young charge, “I read this today, and it really helped me. Would you mind checking it out and letting me know what you think?” What young person would reject such an offer?
Today I have the distinct honor of working for one of the great institutions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Ellen. G. White Estate. I doubt seriously that I would be here had my parents not introduced me to her writings at an early age. To the degree that our church can support the Adventist family in its mission to fulfill the educational imperative found in Deuteronomy 6, we will have done God’s remnant church—and our youth—a great service.
Dwain N. Esmond, a pastor, author, and editor, is an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate. He and his wife, Kemba, have been married for more than 20 years. Their son, Dwain, Jr., is a budding reader of Ellen White’s writings.
1. Ellen G. White, Mind, Character, and Personality (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1977), vol. 1, p. 91. 2. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 3, p. 30. 3. Roger L. Dudley and Des Cummings, Jr., “Who Reads Ellen White?” Ministry 55, no. 1 (1982): 10-12. 4. Kathryn Zickhur and Lee Rainie, “Younger Americans and Public Libraries,” Pew Research Center, Sept. 10, 2014, http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/09/10/younger-americans-and-public-libraries/
Osteoporosis: A Woman’s Disease Only? We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
A Woman’s Disease Only?
By Peter N. Landless and Allan R. Handysides
I am 64 years old and have been faithfully taking my wife for her annual bone mineral density screening tests. She tells me that men are also at risk for osteoporosis. Is this true? I thought this disease affected only women.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Although bones may appear to be static and unchanging, there is continual production of new bone and breakdown of old bony tissue. This dynamic process is ongoing and keeps the bones strong and healthy. Osteoporosis occurs when bones become more porous and thinner. The density and quality of bones are reduced, and they become more fragile.
Osteoporosis affects not only women but men as well. Individuals at highest risk are Asian and Caucasian women following menopause. Much greater emphasis has been placed on the screening and treatment of women, although there are data to show that men who sustain a hip fracture are two to three times more likely to die within the year following hip fracture than are women. These data havenencouraged the consideration of screening tests for men who have an increased risk for osteoporosis.
It is important to know your risk of developing osteoporosis. This is especially so for men, in whom it is often missed. Age is the most consistent risk factor; another is a history of bone fractures after the age of 50 years. Certain endocrine disorders and conditions add to the risk of osteoporosis, including low levels of testosterone, as do overactive thyroid and parathyroid glands. Inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease (gluten intolerance) may increase the risk of osteoporosis. Prolonged use of corticosteroids can cause thinning of the bones. An additional risk factor for men occurs during treatment for prostate cancer, which often targets the reduction of androgen (e.g., testosterone) hormones. Regular alcohol use adds to the risk of osteoporosis, as does the use of tobacco.
Other markers of increased risk include low body weight and loss of height. This is something we tend to ignore but should not. It is also important to be aware of one’s family history as this in itself may point to increased risk.
In this column we often talk about the importance of exercise and staying healthy. Inactivity is an important risk factor in the development of osteoporosis. Whether it is for the health of the brain, the heart, or even the bones, exercise plays an important role in keeping us healthy and well! It has been stated that exercise is the single most important factor that affects longevity. Maybe we should just do it!
Yes, osteoporosis affects both men and women. Men with risk factors should have regular bone mineral density (BMD) and dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanning. This testing helps to assess risk, as well as the effectiveness of treatment. Additional general preventive measures include taking 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily (green vegetables such as kale and broccoli, low-fat dairy products); 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily; and daily exercise, which includes walking and weight training. Your physician may recommend medications such as bisphosphonates, which slow the breakdown and thinning of the bones.
Be sure to discuss your risk with your health-care providers. They will be able to guide your screening and treatment, if needed.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Sahmyook Medical Center baptizes more than 140 people a year.
By Andrew McChesney
South Korean physician Sungsik Ha didn’t believe in God, even though he had worked for three decades at the Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Seoul.
A chaplain speaking during a funeral service at the Sahmyook Medical Center’s funeral home.
Then one of his in-laws died, and Ha listened to a hospital chaplain lead the funeral service in the hospital’s gleaming marble funeral home. He was deeply moved to hear the chaplain speak about the promise of Jesus’ second coming and the hope of resurrection.
A short time later Ha’s other in-law died, and he again attended a chaplain-led funeral. His heart was touched again by the message of hope. Ha began to read the Bible and, several months later, was baptized into the Adventist Church.
“I worked my whole life as a medical doctor here,” Ha, a stocky man with a kind smile, said in an interview at the Sahmyook Medical Center-Seoul Adventist Hospital, where he now serves as chief medical officer. “The hospital had kind of an irresistible attraction on me,” he said. “I gradually became an Adventist.”
Serving as Jesus’ healing hands—and introducing people to the Savior—has been the mission of the Sahmyook Medical Center, or SYMC, since its origins as a simple cottage clinic established by the first Adventist medical missionary to Korea, Dr. Riley Russell, in 1908.
Today the 426-bed general hospital has a staff of more than 800 people who treat a half million patients a year. The hospital also operates a 120-bed nursing home and the funeral home, a luxurious, two-story facility with private apartments where families stay for three days at a time as they mourn the loss of loved ones. Many families also hear an encouraging message of hope from a hospital chaplain.
To understand how the funeral home works requires an understanding of the Korean National Health Insurance System, which was created in the 1970s. Koreans initially expressed reluctance to subscribe to the insurance plan, prompting the government to set the price at a very low level as it urged people to join. Now nearly every Korean is covered by the insurance plan.
The insurance plan may remain inexpensive, but medical reimbursements from the plan are also small, said Ji Yoon Lee, the Adventist hospital’s associate director of planning. So the authorities gave permits to hospitals to operate funeral homes. Koreans tend to spend a lot of money on funeral services, making the funeral home business highly profitable, Lee said. The Adventist hospital is no exception. “It is the funds from the funeral home that keep the consolidated bottom line profitable,” Lee said.
The funeral home conducts 20 to 30 funerals a week, with Adventists accounting for 14 percent of the services. Families may invite their own cleric to conduct the funeral, but the hospital’s two ordained Adventist pastors and a junior pastor are also available.
“Most of them have no hope after the death of a loved one,” said Yung Han Yoon, the hospital’s chief chaplain. “I share a biblical message of hope as they face death. This is new to them.”
After the funeral, the hospital connects the family with the nearest Adventist church. Among the people who have been baptized through the work of the funeral home is a popular Korean movie actor whose heart was touched by his brother’s funeral, Yoon said. The man also was baptized shortly before his death.
The hospital also has a vibrant chaplaincy service consisting of the three pastors and a full-time deaconess. The four lead more than 140 people to baptism every year, Lee said. In 2014, when Dr. Ha was baptized, the hospital baptized 174 people.
Rick McEdward, the new president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Middle East and North Africa Union (MENA), remembers that as a teen he watched, fascinated, as streams of people disembarked from ships in the Saudi port of Jeddah for the annual hajj.
Rick McEdward, right, riding in a crowded train car on a 2016 trip to India.
More recently McEdward felt a sense of awe as he walked the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, and as he stood high on a hill above Middle East University, gazing at the sprawling metropolis of Beirut, Lebanon. A single dilemma filled his thoughts: How could each of those people be reached with the love of Jesus?
“We have a burden to be a light that shares light. How are we going to be a light?” McEdward said. “We all need to know the glory and love of God in our lives, and I would love to see that displayed in a wonderful way here.”
The question became even more personal for McEdward after he was elected in April as president of the Middle East and North Africa Union, a region that has a half billion people and is one of the most difficult places in the world to share the gospel.
World church leaders elected McEdward to swap positions with Homer Trecartin, who asked to return to the United States for health and family reasons. Trecartin and his wife, Barbara, served from the union’s headquarters located beside Middle East University for the past four years.
McEdward, a longtime church planter, most recently served as director of the Adventist world church’s Global Mission Centers for World Religions and associate director of the Office of Adventist Mission. He is married to Marcia McEdward, the General Conference nurse, and they have two young adult children.
“We are so grateful to Homer and Barbara for their incredible spiritual, administrative, and mission contribution to the work in the MENA area of the world,” said Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church. “We praise God for the advances made and that continue to be made,” Wilson said. “We are grateful that Rick and Marcia have accepted this new and important assignment.”
For McEdward, moving to the Middle East is like returning to the home of his youth, a place filled with warm memories of kind people and a newfound relationship with Jesus.
McEdward, 50, grew up in an Adventist family in Seattle, Washington. But at the age of 12, he moved with his family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where his father landed a job as an X-ray technician at a large military hospital. As far as the family knew, they were the only Adventists in the city. The house that McEdward would call home for the next five years stood on the sandy shores of the Red Sea, where he would see large ships offload Muslims on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. On the shore of the Red Sea he developed a personal relationship with Jesus.
“Part of that was witnessing the generosity of our neighbors who were not from a Christian background,” he said. “They were so loving and so kind to us Americans. That pointed me toward my own selfishness and led me to ask the Lord to deal with it.”
McEdward received his undergraduate degree from Walla Walla College in 1990 and his Master in Divinity from Andrews University three years later. He completed a doctorate in missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2012.
Looking ahead, Trecartin, 60, said Marcia McEdward could play an essential role in the region and urged Rick McEdward to take her along on trips. “Let her understand what you are doing, and she will minister to people you can’t minister to,” he said.
A united, culturally sensitive church. What a blessing and privilege to be part of God’s mission, sharing the good news of Christ’s love and His soon return
The Great Task Before Us
Being a united, culturally sensitive church
By Ted N. C. Wilson
This article is adapted from a sermon given by Pastor Wilson on January 30, 2016, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. Elements of oral style have been retained.—Editors.
What a blessing and privilege to be part of God’s mission, sharing the good news of Christ’s love and His soon return in these last days of earth’s history! But if we don’t go out of our way to come into contact with people, how will they know?
In Luke 15:1, 2 we read, “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to [Jesus] to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ ”
The rabbis were angry and shared their disgust. “This man associates with sinners and even eats with them.” Throughout history, whenever selfish, self-centered interests take control of the heart, various classes have developed: those who have and those who have not; those who are educated and those who didn’t have those advantages; those who are exclusive and those who have no one to speak for them; saints and sinners. Certainly we are all sinners and need to come to the foot of the cross every day, accepting Christ’s robe of righteousness and His transforming power. We are to humble ourselves every day before the Lord. No one is immune from self-seeking and self-centered thinking.
As mission-minded Seventh-day Adventists, let’s learn through the Holy Spirit’s guidance how to use cross-cultural understanding in proclaiming the three angels’ messages of God’s love and Christ’s soon return. Let’s be more sensitive to differing cultures and settings, realizing that the Advent message is the same everywhere, but the method of sharing it can vary greatly. Let’s also be sensitive to local settings so that our behavior doesn’t stand in the way of our important work.
I remember arriving in Moscow to take up my work in the Euro-Asia Division, whistling down the division office hallway. A church official quietly cautioned me that whistling indicated that you were an uneducated person, and some people believed that whistling summoned evil spirits. For three years I had the hardest time not whistling. But I carefully complied, since that behavior could have hurt my ability to influence God’s work positively.
Another lesson I learned in avoiding a misunderstanding was to pray in the proper manner. I was praying one day with my hands behind my back. I was later instructed by the same leader that you always pray with your hands folded in front of you, otherwise you show disrespect to God. I quickly adapted, since it was not a moral issue.
It’s important to humble ourselves and do away with ethnocentric thinking, asking God to help us modify behavior that may inhibit our efforts to lift up Christ. Christocentric thinking must take the place of anything that brings friction and misunderstanding. Let our offices, homes, churches, and interactions be filled with the great themes of the Advent message, with Christ and His righteousness at the center. All our internal and external squabbles and jostling for prominence will sink away when Jesus in His fullness, with all His precious doctrines, ts lifted up.
Doctrine and Belief
In all cultures Christ’s teachings and doctrine are core to what we believe and share. Saying that all we need to do is focus on Jesus and not His doctrines is to accept a superficial manner of belief without the solid substance of Christ’s message. Doctrine and belief emanate from Christ. His fullness and rich breadth of love signifies the enormous field of truth that is Christ. Ellen White observed: “Christ is the center of all true doctrine.”1 Jesus is the rich embodiment of Christ-centered doctrine and belief. Never let anyone suggest that we need to eliminate doctrine to see Christ. Christ and His doctrines go together to produce the Advent message that we proclaim today as a unified, cross-cultural church.
In various places I see detrimental effects of the emerging church movement pushing its way even into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This movement focuses on experiential understanding, and much less on the cognitive, Bible-based beliefs that we hold dear and that are vital for our close relationship with Christ every day.
Be very aware of this subtle effort to diminish biblical, doctrinal belief thus crippling the Seventh-day Adventist message by neutralizing our distinctive message. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s leading in helping us to work cross-culturally in proclaiming the distinctive three angels’ messages and counteracting mystic and emerging church influences.
The Great Task Before Us
The great mission before us as a united, culturally sensitive church is to fully embrace the task God has entrusted to us for these last days. We must never veer away from the truth as it is in Jesus. Everywhere we look, the world seems to be disintegrating. Now is the time to rally in a culturally sensitive way to God’s unique call.
You and I are part of the last proclamation of hope for the world, the culmination of Revelation 14. We are not to hesitate in our final proclamation of this Advent message. Ellen White challenged us: “We are not to cringe and beg pardon of the world for telling them the truth: we should scorn concealment. Unfurl your colors to meet the cause of men and angels. Let it be understood that Seventh-day Adventists can make no compromise.”2
The unfortunate fact is that Seventh-day Adventists in various places are succumbing to “political correctness,” pressure, and conformity to unbiblical moral and social changes, in addition to a neutralizing of precious biblical truths. Let’s stand firm on all God’s truths and principles for personal and church life as we cross-culturally interact with people, pointing them to the One who brings everything into perspective. The Lord’s coming is soon, and we all must follow Christ’s example, making cross-cultural connections with all who will listen. We must socialize with them for mission under the leading of the Holy Spirit. We can’t witness by proxy. We can’t give a personal testimony by remote control. We can’t socialize by using a drone. To make an impact, we must come into contact with people.
Research shows that personal contact, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, is the greatest single factor in bringing people to Christ and our beliefs centered in Him. We need television, radio, Internet, publications, community services, health outreach, and many other ways to draw attention to truth, but it finally comes down to personal interaction and witness.
Seeking the Lost
Christ had a burning desire to see all people saved. He didn’t look with indifference at those who were sinners and outcasts. God asks us to follow His example in seeking the lost, reaching souls with cross-cultural sensitivity and love, and to be active participants in the last proclamation to this world.
As we become closer to our Savior, are we taking on His character of love for others? Are we willing to do anything necessary to seek out those who wander away from truth?
“Every soul whom Christ has rescued is called to work in His name for the saving of the lost,” wrote Ellen White. “When you turn from those who seem unpromising and unattractive, do you realize that you are neglecting the souls for whom Christ is seeking? . . . Angels pity these wandering ones. Angels weep, while human eyes are dry and hearts are closed to pity. . . . O for more of Christ’s spirit, and for less, far less, of self!”3
Our work is to follow Christ’s example in daily interfacing and proactively seeking those who need to hear of God’s grace and power that will change their lives. Whether by telephone, e-mail, letter, personal contact, public meetings, God wants us to socialize with others as Christ did, carefully and prayerfully pointing people to complete Bible truth and a knowledge of Christ’s plan for their redemption, culminating with His soon Second Coming. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to help us socialize in the right way with the right approach, recognizing that we too are all sinners in need of Christ’s saving power.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Christ agonized for you and me. Ellen White described it: “He accepts His baptism of blood, that through Him perishing millions may gain everlasting life. He . . . left the courts of heaven, where all is purity, happiness, and glory, to save the one lost sheep, the one world that has fallen by transgression. And He will not turn from His mission.”4
Christ offers a cross-cultural mission to us today—Total Member Involvement in God’s remnant church, empowered to proclaim the last message of love and warning. Christ went to the cross, died for us, rose for us, is interceding in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary now for us, and will soon return to take us home to heaven.
I can’t wait! Let’s prepare for His soon coming, and let’s prepare others by befriending them for mission.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913), p. 453. 2 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 179. 3 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), pp. 191, 192. 4 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 693.
Slavery was not a social institution established by God.
Creation and the Spirit of God
By Angel Manuel Rodríguez
What is the meaning of the statement: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen. 1:2)?*
This is the first time the Spirit of God is mentioned in the Bible, and it is mentioned in the context of creation. It is difficult to know the significance of the statement you quoted because it is not immediately clarified. To understand it we have only the language and its context. I will examine both.
1. The Spirit [Heb. ruakh, “wind,” “breath”] of God:
Although some have interpreted the phrase “the Spirit of God” here as “the wind of God” or as “a mighty wind,” there is no valid reason for rejecting the traditional rendering. In the Old Testament the Hebrew phrase always means “the Spirit of God.” In Psalm 104:30 the presence of the Spirit during creation is described in personal terms as “your Spirit,” sent by God to operate in the natural world. The Bible does not say much about the role of the Spirit in the divine act of creation. Psalm 104:30 identifies the Spirit as God’s instrument for creation, and for the renewal and preservation of creation. We also know that “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath [ruakh, “wind,” “spirit,” “breath”] of His mouth” (Ps. 33:6; cf. Job 26:13). In this case God creates through the “word” and the “breath/Spirit.” The New Testament identifies the “word” with Christ as the incarnated Word of God (John 1:1-3). Since they are all involved in creation, and creation is a prerogative of God, they are by nature divine.
2. The verb “to hover” (Heb. rakhaph):
The verb rakhaph has been translated by some as “to brood,” implying that the world was a kind of cosmic egg being hatched by the Spirit. This was based on ancient mythological ideas. But the verb does not at all mean “to brood.” It could mean “to tremble” (Jer. 23:9) or “to hover” (Deut. 32:11). In Deuteronomy 32:11 it is used to describe the rapid movement of the eagle as it flies to catch its young that are learning to fly. It conveys the idea of rapid and constant back-and-forth movement. Here it indicates that the Spirit is active within creation itself. It is usually stated in Genesis 1 that God is the transcendental Creator, but the active presence of the Spirit within creation speaks also about an immanent God.
3. The Spirit and creation:
As we look at the immediate and larger biblical context of our passage, we can safely affirm several things. First, since the Spirit of God in Genesis is the same Spirit revealed in the rest of the Scripture, what is said about Him in other places could be helpful in understanding His role in creation. We know that the Spirit enables people by, among other things, developing their potential for the performance of specific tasks. He is directly involved in creation by preserving and developing its potential.
Second, we can also affirm the obvious: namely, that the Spirit was present on the planet before it was organized as a human habitat. So we can safely indicate that the work of the Spirit is related to the work of creation described in what follows in the text. In other words, the Spirit of God is introduced early in the narrative to indicate that His activity is preparative for the work of God during the creation week.
Third, God created the raw materials with a potential that only He could preserve and develop (e.g., Gen. 1:11, 24). The potential of creation does not actualize itself, as theistic evolution suggests. The Word actualizes it in accordance with divine intention. With these comments in mind, allow me a suggestion: The presence of the Spirit within creation—His constant activity/motion expressed by the verb “to hover”—is the means by which the potential of finite creation was preserved and will be activated in combination with the creative Word of God. The Word of God and the Spirit of God worked together in a mysterious way to bring our world into existence.
Daniel’s life is a story of God’s miraculous leading and providential guidance.
Changed Lives Change the World
By Mark A. Finley
It’s difficult to overestimate the influence of individuals who are totally committed to Jesus. Lives changed by the power of God transform the world around them. The apostle Paul certainly did! The power of the living Christ transformed him from a persecuting, religious zealot to an apostle of the cross and a gospel-preaching evangelist. In this month’s lesson we will study the amazing power of amazing grace.
1. What was Saul’s intent as he traveled to Damascus? Read Acts 9:1, 2, carefully and explain his attitude toward Christians.
Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul, was a fierce persecutor of Christians. He took delight in apprehending and imprisoning as many of Christ’s followers as possible. Today’s lesson reveals that God is relentless in pursuing His lost children, and that His grace can change the hardest hearts.
2. Describe Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:3-6. Are all conversions as dramatic as the apostle Paul’s? Compare Paul’s conversion with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:3-8.
Some conversions are dramatic, like the apostle Paul’s. The Holy Spirit works a divine, unexplainable, sudden miracle in their lives. Others are more like Nicodemus’ conversion: The Holy Spirit gently woos them. Gradually they yield to the insistent pleading of the Spirit and surrender their lives to Christ. Whether conversion is sudden or gradual, dramatic or unnoticed, the end result is still the same: a life changed by the power of God.
3. What lessons can we learn from Jesus’ words to Saul in Acts 9:5: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads”?
A goad was a sharp iron rod used to hasten the pace of oxen. The expression “to kick against the goads” may well have been a Greek proverb describing an ox’s discomfort at being constantly prodded. The Holy Spirit may well have been saying to Saul, “It is difficult for you to continually fight against the Spirit’s appeals to your conscience.”
4. Read Acts 9:6, 11, 12, 15-17. Where did Jesus tell Paul to go immediately after his conversion? Why do you think Paul received that instruction?
This is a good example of the Holy Spirit’s leading newly converted believers into contact with Christ’s church for more instruction after their conversion.
5. What did Paul do after his conversion? How does this apply to our lives as followers of Jesus? Read Acts 9:20.
When Jesus changed Paul’s life, Paul longed to share Christ with others. When Christ changes us, we become powerful witnesses of His grace and ambassadors of His love.
6. Explain Paul’s experience in Acts 16:9. Why is this so significant?
One consecrated life changed the world. Paul listened to the voice of the Spirit and planted the first Christian churches in Europe. The apostle’s message went to cities throughout Asia and the European continent.
7. Once Paul was converted, he had a new reason for living and a new passion. Read Acts 28:28-31 and describe the passion of Paul’s life.
When we are transformed by the grace of God, our greatest desire is to witness to others about His love. We cannot be silent. We live for one main purpose: to share God’s message of eternal life and reveal the clarity of His truth and the beauty of His character to others. The apostle Paul changed his world; and we can change the world around us as well. Let’s allow Christ, through His Holy Spirit, to empower us to be world changers today.
The book of Revelation is the focus of a unique approach to outreach. See the Lamb in the Center of Revelation
See the Lamb in the Center of Revelation
By Gerald A. Klingbeil
Imagine you are walking in a large forest. Surrounded by huge trees, you try to find your way through the woods. You see a majestic oak tree; then you recognize a massive fir tree standing next to a slim beech tree; a smaller birch tree is right next to an imposing maple tree. As you look around, you notice more and more trees, and they begin to look very similar. In fact, there comes a moment that you don’t see the forest among all the trees anymore.
THIN AIR: Many of the scenes from ARNION shot in Bolivia were recorded on the Altiplano at 3,400 meters (c. 11,100 feet) above sea level.
You know where I’m going, don’t you? We all face moments when we miss seeing the big picture by concentrating exclusively on the details. We get sidetracked by the particulars and miss the grand perspective.
This very typical human tendency led the team of the Inter-European Media Center (Stimme der Hoffnung) in Alsbach-Hähnlein, Germany, to consider developing a creative approach to the study of the book of Revelation that is relevant for people living in secular cultures. They called it ARNION, Greek for “lamb.” The two faces of the German version of the engaging 10-episode series on Revelation are Judith and Sven Fockner, whose conversation-style segments in the approximately 30-minute programs present the big picture of Revelation as you have never seen it before.
Evangelism can be challenging in those parts of the world where secularism and postmodernism have become the dominant way of looking at life. Whether Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North America, or—increasingly—many of the major urban centers of the world, there is little space for God and the Bible in the public square. The concept of studying the Bible on TV, and, more specifically, the often-challenging book of Revelation, doesn’t excite most people living in these regions.
The question How can we reach secular people who have no idea about the Bible and no notion of the prophetic book of Revelation? was high on the agenda of the Inter-European Media Center team as they thought about creative ways of communicating the gospel and the unique prophetic message of Revelation. ARNION was born out of the realization that postmoderns listen to big-picture narratives, and are intrigued by what is applicable and relevant to their lives. Put some tantalizing video segments shot in various international locations (including Bolivia, South Africa, and Germany) into the mix, and you get an engaging video series that introduces viewers to the center of the Apocalypse—Jesus Christ—and the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan.
One of the key elements of the series is to highlight the personal and existential dimensions of ARNION. Simply put: every episode asks the real question about the relevance of the particular topic from Revelation presented in the episode: What does this address in my personal life?
In episode six, for example, the focus is upon the Lamb found in Revelation 5. In the opening scene we see a man struggling through what appears to be a harsh and unforgiving wilderness. Haunting music communicates desolation. Sven Fockner begins the narrative recalling moments in his past when some of his “clever” comments hurt people around him.
TAKING AIM: Director of photography, Manuel Wildemann, prepares the camera for a scene at the “cementerio de trenes” in Uyuni, Bolivia.
We all recall how we have hurt people around us—consciously or sometimes unconsciously. If God is the Creator of all, then we become guilty when we damage or hurt His creation, Sven reasons as he looks into the camera. Guilt requires outside help, something we often struggle to accept.
As with hurtful comments, we soon realize that guilt cannot be easily remedied. What has been said will always stand. What has been done will always leave an impression and affect other people. Dominoes begin to fall; hurt gets propagated; pain gets duplicated.
As Judith and Sven Fockner talk about the throne room scene of Revelation 4, they are interrupted by flashbacks to the opening scene of someone wandering in the wilderness. Then they turn to Revelation 5 and its focus on a scroll that nobody can open. The solemnity and glory of the throne room scene is replaced by desperation and tears: Who will be able to open the seals that keep the scroll closed? As Judith puts it: John searches for the mighty Lion, and finds a small Lamb. The Lamb is God’s way of dealing with the great rebellion engulfing this planet.
Familiar texts suddenly gain new significance in this interplay of commentary, music, and video sequences that function as visual illustrations. Viewers of the German version of ARNION reacted very positively to the series. “Finally, something that interests me on Hope Channel,” a 17-year-old told the Hope Channel team.
People liked the authenticity and personal nature of the series, as well as the application to real life. Reactions varied from “super, but too short” to “wonderful videography and great illustrations,” even though some felt that the changes from narrative to video sequence were at times distracting. This impression was shared by a number of older viewers, while younger viewers often felt excited and engaged, suggesting that the media has to be tailored to specific audiences if we want to communicate effectively.
A representative of the German Bible Society that had partnered with the Inter-European Media Center by providing a newly designed German Bible translation reported that the format of the episodes was a great hit.
Another viewer wrote this personal note to Sven Fockner: “I am thrilled! . . . I often feel discouraged by many programs offered in our churches; at times I feel provoked; many times just sobered. . . . However, if my church can agree to something like this, if this represents the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I want to stick around.”
Simret Mahary, a pastor in Germany, noted that “camera work, production, music, silence, close-ups of the speakers, and the balance between the two narratives felt in tune and just right.”
We live in an interconnected world. Social media, Hollywood, and instant news updates all connect us globally, whether we reside in Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Berlin, Cairo, or Cape Town. While our cultures and languages may vary, we still sense the basic human need to find answers to our deepest questions. Where do I come from? What’s the purpose of my life? and Where am I going? ring true in most cultures. ARNION is an attempt to address these existential questions and look at them through the lens of the book of Revelation.
Right from the beginning it also included a global perspective. Collaboration became an important guide as scripts were written and video locations were selected. Bolivia, South Africa, and Germany represent vastly different regions; and by anchoring the film scenes in different parts of the world, ARNION became a global project. Funding came from different entities and sources, and contextualization to different cultures has been built into the project.
The results have been impressive, as demonstrated by the increasing number of language adaptations. However, the film scenes did not aim only at an international audience. The unique mix of engaging background music and stunning videography of each episode functioned as an illustration of the key topic and helped the viewers to connect on an emotional and aesthetic level. In fact, says Sven, “these images function as metaphors,” expressing the basic message of each episode.
The Lamb Is the Future
ARNION reminds us that the Lamb must be at the center of everything we do, including also the way we interpret and communicate the message of the book of Revelation. Looking at the big picture of the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan represents a unique way of connecting God’s view of history to our human need for answers to existential questions.
So—with the Lamb.
Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of Adventist World.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s official membership has topped 19 million for the first time, and the number of local churches has doubled worldwide to more than 80,000 in just two decades, according to newly released figures.
Believers being baptized at a mass baptism of 1,000 in Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán in March 2015.
The Adventist Church had 19,126,447 members as of December 31, 2015, a net increase of 647,144 people, or 3.5 percent, from the previous year, the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research said. In another statistical milestone, the church has 81,551 local churches plus 69,909 companies, it said.
“The 2,741 new churches organized in 2015 are the most in any year in our history, surpassing the 2,446 in 2014, which was the previous record year for new local churches,” said David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research. “We passed 40,000 churches only in 1995.”
The growth comes even as the church, founded in 1863 with only 3,500 members, undergoes a comprehensive membership audit to ensure that reported statistics reflect the reality on the ground.
“Praise God for the wonderful growth,” said Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church. “It tells me that even with the appropriate and careful auditing of membership records worldwide that Secretariat has initiated in the last few years, God’s Word is going forward in a marvelous way through the power of the Holy Spirit, and God’s work is expanding.”
G. T. Ng, executive secretary of the Adventist world church, whose Secretariat office initiated the audit, echoed Wilson’s joy about the figures showing church growth. “The rapid church growth is a testament to the promise in 2 Chronicles 20:20: ‘Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper,’ ” he said. “The church has prospered because we have been faithfully following God’s instructions in Matthew 24:14 to evangelize the world.”
The Adventist Church, which is organized into 13 world divisions and two attached fields, saw its fastest growth last year in the West-Central Africa Division, where membership rose 7.6 percent to 683,318 people.
The two divisions with the most net accessions were the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division and the South American Division. In Africa, Zambia saw its membership pass 1 million in 2015, while evangelistic meetings in Zimbabwe led to 30,000 baptisms in May 2015. Part of the South American Division’s growth, meanwhile, came from a program to reclaim former members. Adventist Review reported in April 2015 that 15 percent of South American baptisms were of former members.
But the engine—the lifeblood—of church growth is the opening of new churches, said Gary Krause, who oversees church planting as director of the Office of Adventist Mission. He said he was heartened to see that last year a new church was established every 3.2 hours, in addition to many more groups and companies. “I encourage every church not only to focus on growing their existing church, but to pray and plan on ways to start new groups of believers,” Krause said.
As a young pastor in the U.S. state of Massachusetts, I would sometimes stop by a large and lovely hill on the edge of one of the picturesque New England villages in my sprawling pastoral district. Yes, I had my eye on the property in the wild hope that it might one day come available as a building site for two congregations we were then merging. But more important to me was the massive granite boulder on one edge of the hilltop that bore this weathered historical marker:
George Whitefield Early Methodist Evangelist Preached from this rock October 16, 1740 On his first tour of America
Colonial records indicate that nearly 500 people gathered on the hill above Brookfield to listen to the dramatic, soul-stirring evangelist—no doubt to the chagrin of many of the settled pastors in all the steepled meetinghouses in neighboring villages. Whitefield, like the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, with whom he labored for decades, used decidedly unorthodox methods to share the gospel of Jesus: preaching in fields; proclaiming to farmers; once even speaking to a crowd of more than 30,000 on Boston Common—with no amplification—when the entire population of Boston numbered just half that (15,000).
In the twentieth century, pioneering evangelists such as Billy Graham turned to stadium events also televised to national audiences. Thousands, including me, were stirred to give their hearts to Jesus. Adventist evangelists like Mark Finley and Alejandro Bullo´n have likewise preached to tens of thousands in venues that look nothing like traditional churches.
Each of these successful innovators for the gospel at times faced withering criticism from those who believed that their unconventional methods were incompatible with the message they were preaching. And yet the gospel still triumphs, speaking to new audiences in new ways and with undiminished power.
As you read this month’s cover feature, “Arnion: Seeing the Lamb at the Center of Revelation,” pray for a heart open to support new methods, new approaches, and new “evangelists” as they share the “old, old story” in dramatically fresh and exciting ways.