Age should not be a barrier when it comes to building Christ’s kingdom....
The Church, the Mission, the Youth
Tweeting, posting, preaching the message
By Pako Mokgwane
Growing up in the village of Serowe, Botswana, taught me the beauty and importance of social relations. Human beings are naturally social. We all exist in community. In this context God gives each of us a mandate: to herald His love and the second advent. Every believer has been apportioned a role to play. Men and women, young and old, lay and clergy have been called to play their personal roles: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. . . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19, 20, NIV).
Clearly, “God did not call His people to make them spectators.”1 Moreover, our involvement is not just for the sake of those to whom we witness. Our labor protects our own souls: “Strength to resist evil is best gained by aggressive service.”2
Every member invited to participate in this aggressive service is enabled to perform their task through their spiritual gifts. What an awesome privilege! God in His grace affords sinners the privilege to labor for the redemption of others in an inimitable way uniquely designed for every individual.
The Holy Spirit gives each believer a special endowment and ability to witness (1 Cor. 12:4, 8-10; Eph. 4:7-11). Each believer has at least one spiritual gift, though some possess more. And all are critical to the synergy and concord of the gospel work. No office is more important than the other. The various offices work like the body, with all its harmonized parts and systems. The eye cannot walk; neither can bones talk. Each part must do its rightful part, since the various systems need each other.
And the metaphor of different parts of the body (eyes, bones, etc.) may be applied just as reasonably to different groups within the church—kids and seniors, juniors, and young adults. For God’s work to be finished, and for all to be saved, all parts must work together with each other.
Social circles present a superb opportunity for the space and activity of mission. God, who has invited all of us to serve, equips us all and gives us all the space and ground we need to follow His directives. Relationships are a natural context for carrying out our gospel mission. Social interaction can be digital and/or physical.
And though electronic communication may seem like something radically new and different, Julia Roy has observed that “social media is the same today as it was yesterday. It’s just now reached a critical mass; it’s just too hard to ignore. You don’t want to be ‘that guy’ or ‘that brand’ who refuses to adapt to change and loses touch with reality.”3 Not everyone will agree with the claim that social media is not new. Some may want to find out the age of Julia Roy.
Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the reality of social media. Rather, we must harness its potential for the supreme cause of evangelism. This means engaging the youth of today with the high-tech savvy that is the natural inheritance of being born in this era characterized by the dynamism of social media. And whereas it has been said that youth aged 16-30 constitute the majority of the church membership, the church is well poised, by engaging their talents, to catalyze our mission work as they lay hold of the legacy of preceding generations. The Youth Department has made its own specific application of the General Conference initiative Total Member Involvement, labeling it as Total Youth Involvement.
During the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, General Conference Secretariat reported that the church loses half the number of believers it baptizes. General Conference secretary G. T. Ng also spoke of an alarming rise in youth attrition. One way to stop this hemorrhage, he said, is to “give young people the keys [to the church].” This initiative of the General Conference responds to the challenge of membership attrition at all levels, particularly among our youth.
It challenges the church at all levels to empower its youth by entrusting them with keys of leadership and mission. It allows Adventist youth to understand better that both their heavenly Father and their earthly church family value their service and ministry. It allows them to feel more fully than ever before that they belong to God’s family and own its mission. With such an understanding, it will not be hard to convince them to realize their God-given purpose.
A Task for All
Saving our church’s youth and fulfilling our church’s mission are not distinct and separate undertakings. Ellen White has spoken of the power of our youth to complete the task God has given us: “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior might be carried to the whole world!”4
We call on our youth to avail themselves for service in that gospel army. Also, we thank God for every local leader, elder, pastor, and member who diligently plays a role in intentionally setting up their local youth for leadership and mission.
As we resolved at our recent World Youth Advisory: “The local church must become the primary target of global youth ministry. Our core function is to resource and build up youth ministry in the local church. Youth ministry is effective only when it is a response to local needs, guided by local convictions in the hands of local people.” The answers to those local needs as provided by local churches will demonstrate to local communities all over the world that the good news of salvation in Jesus is the answer that individuals are seeking for their uniquely personal questions.
We may tweet or text or post those answers to our contacts, and share them through a million apps in the world of social media. Or we may share by means that existed long before Facebook or WhatsApp. The good news of the kingdom will be preached by creative Adventist millennials and by seasoned baby boomers; on phones, laptops, or tablets; on porches or across fences or across the electronic world; in living rooms or chat rooms, sunrooms and dining rooms; in parks and ball fields, swimming pools and community centers, for a witness to all our loved ones, friends, and neighbors. Then the end will come.
Pako Mokgwane is an associate director of Youth Ministries for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
1 K. Kenaope, Grassroots Mobilization (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Tribute Books, 2008), p. 21. 2 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 105. 3 Julia Roy, in P. R. Scott and J. M. Jacka, Auditing Social Media: A Governance Risk and Guide (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2011), p. 85. 4 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 271.
Some people talk about unity; some people live it bearing a powerful witness to others...
Justice for All
By Stefan Höschele
Having grown up in an Adventist family, I have always wondered how some people can claim that the Ten Commandments are “no longer valid.”
No longer valid? What would be the advantage of stealing, having other gods, destroying marriages, making idols, working seven days a week, or giving false testimony? Perhaps I am oversimplifying things a bit, but honestly, I don’t see the point of those who claim that as Christians we are no longer under the law, and that the Decalogue should no longer be the point of reference for our actions.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not a legalist. We cannot earn anything before God by merely following the words written in Exodus 20. And I hate it when some folk think they are the only and final interpreters of how to implement certain biblical stipulations today.
But when you challenge me about the legitimacy and authority of the norms written on the two stone tablets, I will relax. There is simply no good argument against such basic obligations of believers in the Creator. In fact, they are so basic that it’s reasonable to view them as mere minimum requirements when taken at face value. After all, the rich young man could assert, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20). And Jesus did not answer, “Let’s analyze this a bit. Actually you’re wrong.”
For my great-great-grandmother this was the reason to become one of the first Adventists in her region. She reflected a long time on the text that says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). When she realized that the Decalogue is a bare minimum standard of justice to abide by, her decision became crystal clear.
In the country in which I live, law is very important. Don’t ever try to bribe an official to circumvent it; you would be in real trouble! The law is valid for everyone. The reason is quite simple: justice is only justice when it’s justice for all. Not everybody likes the many state laws we have to follow, but when serious conflicts arise, it’s good to know that powerful principles protect human dignity and stipulate citizens’ obligations. God’s commandments, likewise, apply to all people. If fairness were fairness only for some, what kind of justice would that be? Thus the Sabbath command, the centerpiece of the Decalogue, demands that not only Israelites but also foreigners and even animals are to be exempt from work on the seventh day (Ex. 20:10).
This doesn’t mean that everything is well in this world just because the basic principles of the moral code of Exodus 20 are followed. Most societies are far from offering equal opportunities for all citizens. But how would they look like without standards derived from God’s law? Both as members of communities and as Christians, we need a sense of minimum requirements that prevent the worst injustices.
The situation we currently experience in Western Europe illustrates this. In my country alone, about 1 million refugees arrived in 2015. Most of these families mourn the death of family members or friends. Many of them face persecution or threats in their home countries just because they belong to the wrong sect, political party, or family.
What is a fair way of receiving these refugees who come to us with the hope of being treated impartially? What is the Christian attitude we should demonstrate? How can the principle of Sabbath justice be applied in this humanitarian catastrophe? It’s good to remember that the Ten Commandments were given to people who migrated from one country to another. What’s more, Jesus Himself was a refugee in Egypt, and in His famous judgment speeches He said, “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Matt. 25:35).
Jesus truly demonstrated that keeping God’s commandments in the right spirit is much more than simply refraining from murder, theft, or adultery. Instead of stealing, Christians rejoice in voluntary simplicity. Instead of coveting, they share, even with those who differ in faith, such as the many Muslim refugees who now arrive in Europe. And rather than killing, Christians give their lives, even for enemies.
Loving your neighbor isn’t always easy, and you can’t choose all your neighbors. But a minimum standard is valid always and for everyone. Some here in Germany forget this; they want to return to a time several generations ago when there were no foreigners in the country. They fill social networks with hate speech and burn asylum centers. They demand that migrants be shot at the border, all in the name of “protecting the Christian Occident.”
Christ’s logic is the opposite. He translated the prohibitions that are to safeguard society into sacrifice. Do not misuse God’s name: not even for defending your ideas about what a nation should look like. Prefer to be cursed for following Jesus. Do not work on the Sabbath: give one day of rest to everybody, and work six days a week for the kingdom of God to become visible. Do not bear false testimony: speak blessings and words of hope to all, especially those whose lives are in ruins.
Law and love: we need both. One because there is a standard below which no one must fall, the other because Christ showed us the true intention of God’s commandments.
Christ’s logic is the opposite.
He translated the prohibitions that are to safeguard society into sacrifice.
The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Savior. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, and its fruit is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow human beings. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness. (Ex. 20:1-17; Deut. 28:1-14; Ps. 19:7-14; 40:7, 8; Matt. 5:17-20; 22:36-40; John 14:15; 15:7-10; Rom. 8:3, 4; Eph. 2:8-10; Heb. 8:8-10; 1 John 2:3; 5:3; Rev. 12:17; 14:12.)
Stefan Höschele, Ph.D., a former missionary to Algeria and Tanzania, teaches systematic theology and mission studies at Theologische Hochschule Friedensau, Germany.
Some people talk about unity; some people live it bearing a powerful witness to others...
Our Greatest Strength (Number 14)
(Which we often see as a weakness)
By Jordan Stephan
In the center of the lobby of the men’s dormitory at Walla Walla University stands a stone monument with a Bible verse engraved into it: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1, NIV 1984).
Adventists would stand firmly against a congregation that didn’t keep the Sabbath. A church that preached an incorrect view of the state of the dead would cause an uproar. But what about a church that is in disunity? That certainly wouldn’t make headlines on the Adventist Review Web site, or would it? If unity in Christ is a fundamental belief of our church, why are we so indifferent when this unity is challenged?
An African Illustration Few people travel to Africa without taking an opportunity to see the incredible wildlife unique to this part of the world. I’ve had the chance to see many animals while living in Kenya, from regal lions to lumbering rhinos.
Two African animals help make an important point: zebras and ostriches. Undoubtedly, these two animals are not the superstars of African safaris. They’re the animals you delete from your full memory card to make space for more elephant and lion photos. Zebras are little more than pretty donkeys, and it is a proven scientific fact that ostriches aren’t terrifying. But the way these two species interact is remarkable.
Zebras have poor eyesight, but they make up for it with an incredible sense of smell and hearing. Ostriches, on the other hand, have limited hearing and smell, but with their big eyes they have sharp vision. The two animals will often graze in similar areas to help protect each other from predators, relying on the other species for what they lack.
Just as these animals work together using each other’s strengths, so too should we look for strengths in others to strengthen our church as a whole. But does that happen?
If there were a career to be had pointing out flaws in others, many people would bring home a hefty paycheck. (And if you read that and thought of someone in your life, then maybe you would bring home a nice check as well.) In our churches, do we see a certain woman as the one who is best at organizing service projects, or do we see her as the one who leads the worst praise team each month? Does the teenager get encouraged for bringing his friends to church, or do we call him out because those friends have tattoos and earrings? Like film critics and art collectors looking for originals, we are experts at finding imperfections.
What Unifies Us Most Paul makes the best comparison for what church unity should be like in his letter to the Romans. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:4, 5).1
Look at the circle of believers in your home church. We all know those who are gifted to be the legs, willing to go wherever God asks. Others are certainly chosen to be the eyes, blessed with the ability to see people in need. Some are the ears, able to bite their tongues and simply listen, while others still are the hands, able to fix and heal. And we each have that one friend who proudly claims to be the mouth.
Christ-centered unity does not come when churches cultivate same-minded people with a singular gift. Diversity, rather, is what brings healthy, unified growth. What ties us together is often the very thing we think is tearing us apart: differences.
A Question for You Do you think the Seventh-day Adventist Church is unified? Yes or no? Many Seventh-day Adventists, especially from my generation, might say “no.” I myself would even have said no before starting this article. But I recently had a conversation with a Roman Catholic student here at Maxwell Academy that changed my perspective.
After discussing Catholic practices that I find interesting, I was curious to hear what he thought of Adventism. Being at an Adventist school, he is required to study our curriculum and attend our Sabbath services. I asked if there was anything about Adventism that he admired. His answer surprised me: “You guys all seem really close, like a family.”
This conversation served as an eye-opener for me. We can often be oblivious to something about ourselves until someone else points it out. Is it possible that we as a church are more unified than we think we are? The unity of our church has been under attack by some in the past couple years.
The most divisive topics bring with them the most ardent opponents with strong (even extreme) convictions.
I always saw this as a sign of weakness in the church. But this conversation caused me to rethink this stance. If few things are being shaken more violently than our unity, and Satan targets areas where he feels most threatened, then what does that say about our church’s unity? Is it possible that Satan targets our unity because it’s on the brink of being our greatest strength (read John 17:20-23)?
This idea is hard to imagine because we tend to focus on the wrong things. Christian unity is not about agreeing with one another or thinking the same way. We can disagree and still be unified. The point of unity is not to be unified with each other, but rather to be unified in Christ. Ellen White spoke to this when writing about the disciples:
“They would have their tests, their grievances, their differences of opinion; but while Christ was abiding in the heart, there could be no dissension. His love would lead to love for one another; the lessons of the Master would lead to the harmonizing of all differences, bringing the disciples into unity, till they would be of one mind and one judgment. Christ is the great center, and they would approach one another just in proportion as they approached the center.”2
The things that divide us today will soon fade as we look to Christ. That’s true unity, and it can be our church’s greatest strength.
Spiritual gifts go further when we share them with those around us who need our help...
What God Has Joined Together (Number 23)
By Gaspar F. Colón
Jesus is talking to Nicodemus by lamplight one dark night. Jesus explains that the mark of citizenship in His kingdom is a new birth. This new birth is not a birth of the flesh, but a birth of the Spirit. This Spirit (or wind) blows those who are born of the Spirit wherever He chooses (John 3:3-8).
Later, toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus spends time with His disciples to prepare them for the next phase of their ministry, when they will no longer have His physical presence with them. He promises them that they will have another Comforter. This Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will teach them all things. He will remind Jesus’ followers of everything Jesus has said, and give them peace (John 14:15-27).
In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul shares his desire that the members of the body of Christ should not be ignorant of spiritual gifts. He emphasizes, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (verses 4-7, NIV). Simply stated, the Holy Spirit is the administrator of the spiritual gifts in the body of Christ, and each gift is given for the good of that body.
Unwrap the Gifts
Now, what does this mean in practical, everyday life? First, we need to recognize that every Christian is given spiritual gifts. Each of us has a cluster of gifts, with one primary gift and one or two secondary gifts. But although the gifts are given to us as individuals, our spiritual gifts are really given for the church. The Holy Spirit is the administrator of the spiritual gifts, but the local church leadership has a responsibility to match the spiritual gifts of its members to the ministry plan of the church. Each church has the responsibility to depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit in the development of the ministry plan.
Second, regardless of whether our gift is faith, healing, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, communication, or self-sacrificing service; or whether we are called by God and recognized by the church for pastoral, evangelistic, or teaching ministries; our primary motivation for service must be tied to our commitment to Christ and the love that He seeks to pour out through us to others in ministry through our church. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that regardless of the gifts we are given by God, those gifts are useless if the execution of them is not rooted in love.
Third, part of our stewardship responsibility as members of the body of Christ is to cultivate a passion for the discovery and nurture of the spiritual gift granted to us. We should prayerfully reflect on what occupies our thinking most when it comes to the ministry of our church. What issues or needs do we perceive and feel most passionate about? When thinking about our passions for that particular issue or need, how might our spiritual gift(s) be used in the ministry of our church? Some pastors provide a spiritual gifts inventory that you can use to narrow down your spiritual gifts. Fellow members of the church who know you best can share with you what spiritual gifts they perceive as they observe your involvement in the church. Think back on the most memorable “ministry” experiences of your Christian life. What inspired and excited you most? What was happening in your walk with God at the time? What was happening in your church during the time? The result of these reflections will help you to understand better what motivates you and what kind of environment you shine best in.
Fourth, pastors or members of the leadership team of a church must focus on developing a ministry plan that is comprehensive enough to draw out and employ the spiritual gifts of the members of the church. This plan should take into consideration the community the church is called to serve. Assess your community to discover what is already happening. The leadership team needs to discover specific needs in the neighborhood that can focus the church in ministries that make a difference and help to reflect Christ’s method of ministry. Ellen White’s famous quote captures Christ’s ministry method wonderfully: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’?”*
Share the Gifts
Pastor Frank attended a spiritual gifts seminar early in his ministry. He got so excited about the concept and the process that he immediately went back to his church and preached a series of sermons on spiritual gifts. He followed this with an invitation to the members of his church to fill out a spiritual gifts inventory, and followed that up with small group sessions in which the members could verify and experiment with the gifts they had discovered. Members of Pastor Frank’s church got so excited that they came to him, eager to put their spiritual gifts to work. Alas, Pastor Frank was at a loss to employ the gifts of his church members because he hadn’t led his church in the development of a contextualized plan for ministry in the community around the church. Planning for ministry is also a spiritual gift.
Commitment to the Spirit through the Word of God will protect us from many a spiritual peril. It will produce results from God in us, our churches, and our communities. It will transform us into agents in this kingdom of grace used by God to change the world through faith and love. It will allow us to be part of a global effort, administered by the Holy Spirit, to prepare those around us for the kingdom of glory to be ushered in at the second coming of Christ.
*Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 143.
A good marriage isn’t all heaven; it’s only a vehicle for getting there faithfully...
What God Has Joined Together (Number 23)
Dividends of devotion
By Bill And Heather Krick
It was over. “Today I am terminating my selection process!”
A chuckle rippled through the audience as Bill spoke these words of finality 17 years ago as a part of his self-written wedding vows. “What God has joined together” (Mark 10:9) in exclusive commitment that day He also has kept fused with a bond more powerful than the best commercially rated adhesive available.
Research has confirmed the overwhelming benefits of a long-term marriage. A study published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology found that a happy, healthy marriage may benefit a cancer patient even more than chemotherapy. 1
A faithful and stable marriage provides a stronger immune system, more successful recovery from surgery, better pain tolerance, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 2 Interestingly, cohabitation doesn’t provide the same health benefits, nor the same satisfaction.
One study showed that only 36 percent of cohabitating couples said both partners are “very satisfied,” while 57 percent of married couples reported the same. 3
Faithfulness is loyalty, fidelity, allegiance, constancy, dependability, trustworthiness, steadiness. It means being “true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.,” 4 not shirking duty, and putting your spouse first when you don’t feel like it. With a sense of wonder, we just celebrated the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Heather’s parents.
We experienced firsthand what 50 years of marriage contributes to a family. Like a “peg that is fastened in [a] secure place” (Isa. 22:25), their long, stable, happy marriage provides security not only to their children but also to their grandchildren.
God uses a strong and lasting union to strengthen society and witness to others, revealing Himself to humanity. Ellen White observed: “Through . . . the deepest and tenderest earthly ties that human hearts can know, He has sought to reveal Himself to us.” 5
“One well-ordered, well-disciplined family tells more in behalf of Christianity than all the sermons that can be preached.” 6 Such a family silently says: “We’re happy. We are not hankering for something else, not wanting to flit like a butterfly from one flower to the next. We are content with God’s arrangements.”
Society, however, seriously questions this exclusive system and its potential for happiness and success. According to Gallup’s research, more than half (52 percent) of American young adults ages 20-29 say that they see so few good or happy marriages that they question it as a way of life. 7
A Pew Research study revealed that nearly 40 percent of Americans of all ages believe that marriage is becoming obsolete. 8 Legislators in Mexico City even proposed a two-year marriage contract, where spouses would not need to make long-term commitments to faithfulness, but would be able to renew after two years if they felt happy. 9
In her book The Monogamy Myth, noted author Peggy Vaughan states that 60 percent of married men have committed adultery, and 40 percent of women; since there is some overlap, 80 percent of all marriages will be touched by infidelity. 10 Faithfulness seems to be on a journey toward extinction, but it definitely pays off, even in tight circumstances.
Abigail and Nabal: Faithfulness Pays Off
Somehow Nabal, whose name means “foolish” or “senseless,” had married beautiful Abigail, virtuous and wise, whose worth was far above rubies (1 Sam. 25; cf. Prov. 31:10). The primary recorded incident in the married life of this wealthy couple took place while David was fleeing from Saul and heard that Nabal was shearing his sheep.
David and his men had protected Nabal’s shepherds, and he now asked for the favor to be returned in the form of food for his men. Nabal shot back with a rude and selfish reply that infuriated David.
Here Abigail entered the story. Marriage to Nabal could not have been easy, but “little did Abigail realize in her daily ministrations to Nabal that she was developing a clearness of spiritual perception.” 11 Faithful Abigail was in tune with God and ready to do whatever it took to get her husband out of trouble.
Hurriedly she loaded all kinds of choice, already-prepared food onto donkeys and sent her servants ahead to meet David. Upon meeting him herself, she respectfully took the blame for her husband’s behavior, not glossing over the uncomplimentary truth about Nabal, but in fact saving him without his knowledge. David humbly accepted Abigail’s tactful rebuke and gifts, averting disaster.
Faithful marriages bless society through their children. Healthy homes produce emotionally healthy children who become the building blocks of a robust society. According to Ellen White: “The heart of the community, of the church, and of the nation is the household. The well-being of society, the success of the church, the prosperity of the nation, depend upon home influences.” 12 Children from divorced homes face enormous hurdles. Robert Emery, author of The Truth About Children and Divorce, simply says, “They’re devastated.” 13 The benefits of “What God has joined together” extend far beyond the two marriage partners. What if, in this imperfect world, we face a divorce, or find ourselves in less-than-happy relationships, or are single? God’s faithfulness still meets us right where we are. He offers Himself to us, a glorious relationship with Him transcending any other relationship, and helps us through any trouble we may be facing.
Notice these two promises: “For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name” (Isa. 54:5). “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13). Our “selection process” did indeed terminate 17 years ago, but the dividends of devotion continue to enrich and bless our lives daily. Thank You, God, for establishing marriage. We see the benefits of faithfulness in committed families all over the world. Help us to be faithful too.
Marriage and the Family Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship. For the Christian a marriage commitment is to God as well as to the spouse, and should be entered into only between a man and a woman who share a common faith. Mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility are the fabric of this relationship, which is to reflect the love, sanctity, closeness, and permanence of the relationship between Christ and His church. Regarding divorce, Jesus taught that the person who divorces a spouse, except for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. Although some family relationships may fall short of the ideal, a man and a woman who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ through marriage may achieve loving unity through the guidance of the Spirit and the nurture of the church. God blesses the family and intends that its members shall assist each other toward complete maturity. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. Parents are to bring up their children to love and obey the Lord. By their example and their words they are to teach them that Christ is a loving, tender, and caring guide who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God, which embraces both single and married persons. (Gen. 2:18-25; Ex. 20:12; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 5:31, 32; 19:3-9, 12; Mark 10:11, 12; John 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 7:7, 10, 11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; 6:1-4.)
1 http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2013/09/18/JCO.2013.49.6489.abstract 2 www.macleans.ca/society/life/how-marriage-can-save-your-life/ 3 www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/fashion/marriage-seen-through-a-contract-lens.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 4 Dictionary.com 5 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 10. 6 Ellen G. White, Ye Shall Receive Power (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1995), p. 247. 7 www.gallup.com/poll/4552/singles-seek-soul-mates-marriage.aspx 8 www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/11/18/the-decline-of-marriage-and-rise-of-new-families/ 9 www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-15114406. 10 Peggy Vaughan, The Monogamy Myth (New York: William Morrow, 2003). See also David Barash and Judith Lipton, The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People (New York: Henry Holt, 2002). 11 F. D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Asssn., 1954, 1978), vol. 2, p. 574. 12 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 15. 13 www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/fashion/marriage-seen-through-a-contract-lens.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
They set out in small boats, carrying hundreds of people squashed into a space designed for a few dozen. Children, women, men, grandfathers, and grandmothers are all trying to make their way to a better land. They start their journeys in Iraq, Syria, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo, or wherever conflict, hunger, or persecution is part of daily life. They are on their way to Europe and are driven by hope for a better future—or plain survival.
Free at Last (Number 20)
We are saved to celebrate liberation
By Gerald A. Klingbeil
They set out in small boats, carrying hundreds of people squashed into a space designed for a few dozen. Children, women, men, grandfathers, and grandmothers are all trying to make their way to a better land. They start their journeys in Iraq, Syria, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo, or wherever conflict, hunger, or persecution is part of daily life. They are on their way to Europe and are driven by hope for a better future—or plain survival. They risk all in search of rest and freedom.
Their plight speaks to our common struggle for that elusive rest, that sense of belonging, the recognition that we are finally safe and free. When we see the boats battling the sea and overcoming all odds, we are reminded of our own journeys in search of a better place and true rest.
Created for Freedom
That’s when Sabbath becomes part of the story.
Sabbath is a weekly reminder of God’s greatest gift to humanity. In fact, it’s a gift to all creation. The seventh day of the week calls us to remember two key events in human history. First, we recognize that life had a beginning. Scripture tells us that God created this world through His word—and it was (Gen. 1). God invested six days to design and create a breathtaking environment and most wonderful creatures. Creation speaks of a God who loves vibrant colors, mind-boggling shapes, and life itself. “Remember the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:8) connects our hearts and minds to the moment it all began. It wasn’t new theology or new light that Moses happened to include in the foundational expression of God’s character we call the Ten Commandments. It was a reminder of a perfect creation, perfect relationships, and the ability to choose.
Unfortunately, our first parents chose to distrust the Creator with whom they had met on each seventh day of the week. That’s why we need to remember: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (verses 9-11). We rest because He rested. We rest because we marvel at His holiness and His blessings. We rest because we have found creation rest and trust Him to make us whole. We rest because we remember.
There is, however, another important reason given for Sabbath rest. Following 40 years in the wilderness, Israel was finally ready to enter the Promised Land. A new generation stood at the threshold of a completely new life experience. Instead of living in tents, they would build permanent homes. They needed to hear again the expression of God’s explicit will and character. That’s where Deuteronomy 5 comes in. They needed to commit, individually and corporately, to the God who had led their parents out of Egypt. The biblical text of Deuteronomy 5 is very similar to the first proclamation of the Ten Commandments at the foot of Mount Sinai. Yet there is a marked difference, and it is found in the crucial Sabbath command. Instead of “remembering,” the biblical text invites us to “observe” or “guard” (verse 12). Sabbath observance is a conscious decision, not a casual happening.
The greatest surprise, however, can be found in the rationale given to observe the Sabbath. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (verse 15).
The text really makes the implicit explicit and seeks to speak to a new generation. Creation is the foundation of the Sabbath; liberation is its most tangible expression. Every Sabbath thereafter, Israel was to remember humanity’s true condition. We are creatures who were lost but have been found; who were enslaved but have been set free; who were saved by a God who not only shapes humanity with His own hands (Gen. 2:7), but gives them freedom “with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm” (Deut. 26:8).
The Rest of the Story No wonder Satan is so interested in destroying the Sabbath.* Instead of recognizing our created-ness and our need of salvation, he whispers self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, or independence into our ears. The eternal sign of creation and salvation has become the focus of the cosmic battle between good and evil. The past centuries, even millennia, have witnessed often-violent conflicts involving the Sabbath, reminding us that it’s not just another day. Rather, it represents the center of God’s creation care and His salvation action.
And so the conflict continues. Boats carrying desperate people in search of shelter, protection, and freedom continue to put to sea until the day when Jesus finally returns. Evil, pain, destruction, and abuse will remain the most pervasive currency in a sin-sick world where hundreds of millions are constantly on the move to find safety and refuge.
Yet every Sabbath day reminds us that we are His and that this life of drudgery and pain will not continue forever. The One who is always at work for His creation (John 5:17) will one day make an end and welcome us into His ultimate rest (Heb. 4): rest from ourselves, rest from our own feeble attempts at righteousness and holiness, and rest from the anguish and sorrow that seems to be the normal mode of our existence. Then we truly will know His Shabbat-rest. Soon, very soon.
* See, for example, Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), vol. 5, p. 88.
Sabbath The gracious Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Lev. 23:32; Deut. 5:12-15; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Eze. 20:12, 20; Matt. 12:1-12; Mark 1:32; Luke 4:16; Heb. 4:1-11.)
Some time ago a friend and I were reminiscing about our first year in college, when everything seemed so fresh, new, and exciting. There we were, on a huge campus, with hundreds of new people we could meet every day.
Being Grown-up Christians
A Christlike character begins with taking care of ourselves
By Elizabeth Camps
Some time ago a friend and I were reminiscing about our first year in college, when everything seemed so fresh, new, and exciting. There we were, on a huge campus, with hundreds of new people we could meet every day. The possibilities had seemed endless, and we were excited, to say the least.
My friend and I also talked about all the things we experienced for the first time when we came to college. From living in a dorm room with a roommate to cooking our own meals and remembering to do a load of laundry every now and then so we had clean clothes.
Something else was significant. For the first time, we were responsible for ourselves in every way. We were truly on our own; we no longer had Mom and Dad waking us up every morning, making sure we ate regular and healthy meals, and pushing us to go to bed early every night. Now in college, for the first time, we decided when to wake up, when to eat, and when to go to bed. Although we may not have realized it at the time, being completely accountable for oneself is a big responsibility! In the same way that we had full responsibility over ourselves as young adults, God has entrusted us with the full responsibility of taking care of our bodies.
Being Adult Christians
The phrase “Christian behavior” evokes a number of ideas and concepts. We may think about how we should treat and interact with others. We may also think about how we are a reflection of God and the church whenever we interact with those who have never heard the three angels’ messages. Because of this, we often pay careful attention to how we act, and keep in mind to always be a positive influence. But if we take a closer look, we can find that the concept of Christian behavior does not refer only to our relationship with others but also to the way we treat ourselves.
A quick review of the actual wording of fundamental belief 22 is instructive. “We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with biblical principles in all aspects.” In other words, we practice being followers of Jesus in every part of our lives. This involves not just our interaction with others but also the way we dress. We recognize that clothes can transform appearance, but can never change our character.
This Christlike character does not only represent inner beauty; it also involves our own bodies. It seems that God wants us to not only treat others in a Christlike way but also treat ourselves in a Christlike way.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20, we read that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, meaning that Jesus lives in us and is represented to the world through us. We are called to honor God with our bodies.
How better to honor God than by taking care of this temple He has entrusted to us? This means taking care of our basic health needs, such as making sure we get enough sleep every night, eating well, and drinking enough liquids throughout the day. Paul emphasizes the necessity of taking care of our physical needs in 1 Corinthians 10:31, saying, “If you eat or drink, or if you do anything, do it all for the glory of God.”* Eating and drinking has something to do with our walk with Jesus.
Being an Adult Is Hard
When I entered college as a young adult, the last things on my mind were my sleeping and eating habits. In the hustle and bustle of brand-new classes, work, and many new responsibilities, I often forgot about getting to sleep at a reasonable hour. Sometimes I wouldn’t go to bed until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. It was a similar story when it came to my eating habits. I got so caught up with all the busyness of life that I forgot about food and neglected to consciously plan my eating. I just bought or made something that kept me going—quickly.
Even after college, taking care of ourselves is often not our first priority, and it proves to be just as difficult. Our lives become even busier with work projects, families, and church events that keep us occupied. It seems that no matter what stage of life we are in, we have to fight to care for our bodies.
Yet in the midst of all the responsibilities of life, I am drawn to John 14:15: “If you love me,” Jesus tells me, “you will obey my commands.” My motivation for living a Christlike life involving my character, my body, and my mind must be love-driven. If we love God, we will want to honor Him; and God has asked us to honor Him by caring for our bodies. By focusing on God and loving Him, we will have the desire and willingness to care for ourselves.
It’s good to know that God cares about every part of us: the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical. He thinks of even the smallest details for us, and reminds us of it again and again in the Bible, His love letter to us. So when He calls us to live a Christlike life, we must remember that it not only touches those around us—it affects us as well.
Whenever we read the last two pages of Revelation, we sense calmness. John describes the out-of-this-world gleam of precious stones, plants, and houses that are incomparable to anything we know.
In the Beginning God
Acknowledging God’s six-day miracle
By Clinton Wahlen
I used to be firmly convinced that the universe and all life originated through evolutionary processes open to our study. Then I learned that these processes of macroevolution are not open to study, because millions of years would be required to confirm them by scientific observation.
I also knew about the “missing links” (or “transitional forms”) needed to show how human beings descended from such primates as the ape. Then I discovered that there were countless missing links for all kinds of life, not just one.
Finding the Truth
It was a shocking realization to me that evolution was not really a scientific theory at all, because it cannot be tested; that it was simply the metanarrative used by scientists to form hypotheses and theories that can be scientifically tested and confirmed or invalidated.
As I read for the first time the Bible’s account of creation, it was so elegant and believable—even with all our scientific knowledge. Genesis is unique. No other ancient creation story is remotely credible today.
Nevertheless, some Adventists have begun to include evolution into the mix of those first “six days”—and with it, predation, suffering, death, and a creation “week” lasting hundreds of millions of our years—while claiming to believe “all 28 fundamental beliefs.” Thus, clarifying our statement on creation became a top priority.
Editing Fundamental Belief 6
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always read Genesis literally, as a creation in six literal days, not as a description of life evolving over millions of years. Revisions made at the 2015 General Conference session do not change the substance of our beliefs; they only reduce potential misunderstanding by clarifying the first three sentences:
The word “historical” was added. Scripture provides the “authentic account” of God’s creative activity, but we also believe it is historical. Genesis 1 accurately describes what God created on each day and the order in which He created it.
Three ideas were clarified:
Since the Bible indicates that God made other “worlds” besides our own (Heb. 1:2; 11:3) and probably earlier than ours (the Greek word ai?nas refers to unbounded time), the sentence begins by indicating that God created the entire universe first, before the six-day creation. More Bible references were added to support our view (Isa. 45:12, 18; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).
Including the word “recent” affirms that the creation of our world took place a few thousand years ago, not millions of years ago. Genesis 5 and 11, which contain the chronogenealogies that show a recent creation, were incorporated into the list of Bible references to support this addition and the first sentence’s claim that this is a historical account.
Now included is the divine interpretation of Genesis given in the Sabbath commandment (Ex. 20:11), which limits the six days to the creation of our world, with its three habitable spaces and “all that is in them”: “the heavens” (sky), “the earth” (land), and “the sea” (water). Biblical support for these three environments (Rev. 10:6) and for the centrality of the Sabbath and a six-day creation to God’s last-day people (Rev. 14:7) were also added to the reference list.
Words were added to remove any remaining ambiguity and to clarify that we do not believe in a long timescale or evolutionary processes for creation:
God did not just complete His work during creation week—as if much of His creative work on this planet happened even earlier and over a longer period of time—He also “performed” it.
God’s work of creation took place “during six literal days,” thus excluding the possibility that the “six days” were symbolic of thousands or millions of years.
These six days “together with the Sabbath constituted the same unit of time that we call a week today.” The seventh day was an integral part of creation week, not separated from it by a gap of long ages. Also, that first week is not just “like” a week today, but “the same unit of time.”
How Our Editing Has Helped
Some have said that our original statement on creation was fine, and it was—for those who hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis. But since that statement was voted in 1980, an astonishing number of Christians, even some who claim to have a high view of Scripture, now read Genesis very differently, so as to make room for evolutionary processes requiring deep time—millions and even billions of years. These revisions are for such a time as this. They leave no room for doubt about what we believe as Seventh-day Adventists, no room for equivocation, no room for waffling. They never intended to before, and these revisions make that clear.
When, as an atheist, I began reading the Bible, three passages about creation profoundly impressed me.
Isaiah 40:26-28 seemed to be speaking directly to me: “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? . . . Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”* I hadn’t known and hadn’t heard. But once I began to open my eyes and think about it seriously, I discovered the wonder of a world teeming with life best explained by Genesis.
Second Peter 3:3, 4 described my atheism perfectly. I was one of these last-day scoffers. I had, based on uniformitarianism, asked my Christian friends, “Where is the promise of his coming? For . . . all things are continuing as they were from the beginning.” It came as quite a shock to discover that my skeptical thoughts had already been recorded in the Bible!
Revelation 14:6, 7 predicts that faith in the Genesis account of creation and seventh-day Sabbath worship will be at issue in the last days. My heart was won by the amazing love and mercy of a Creator God who saw thousands of years ago the world I would live in today and the evidence I would need to believe in Him. How about you?
God has revealed in Scripture the authentic and historical account of His creative activity. He created the universe, and in a recent six-day creation the Lord made “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” and rested on the seventh day. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of the work He performed and completed during six literal days that together with the Sabbath constituted the same unit of time that we call a week today. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1-2; 5; 11; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Isa. 45:12, 18; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2; 11:3; Rev. 10:6; 14:7.)
*All Bible quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version [ESV], copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Whenever we read the last two pages of Revelation, we sense calmness. John describes the out-of-this-world gleam of precious stones, plants, and houses that are incomparable to anything we know.
At Home With the Lamb
By Judith and Sven Fockner
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. . . . And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful’ ” (Rev. 21:1-5).
Whenever we read the last two pages of Revelation, we sense calmness. John describes the out-of-this-world gleam of precious stones, plants, and houses that are incomparable to anything we know. Everything is stunning, picture-perfect! Then, in two climactic verses, John comes to the very core of the new beginning: “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light” (verses 22, 23).
In the midst of all the glory and the splendor, this description shines out. It touches us more deeply than all the crystal-clear rivers and sapphire-colored palaces. He will be there. Jesus. The Lamb. He will always be there, and never go away. And He will be all we need.
Free From Ourselves Do you know the feeling of having missed out on something or the worry of coming up too short? “No, I want to have that; no one else should get it.” You can see this play out at the entrance of large retail stores just prior to opening when there are special discounts. People queue outside and wait to clinch a bargain. They may appear calm on the outside, but on the inside they have switched to predator mode. They position themselves strategically and watch the store’s entrance. We call it selfishness and laugh about fistfights over an LCD TV. But ultimately, all of us as sinners care only for ourselves.
Recently we were looking for a home. After 10 viewings we finally found something useful and affordable. But suddenly there was this slightly panicky feeling. What if someone would strike before us? We wanted that house—for us. We did not ask if someone else needed it more, or for whom it would be most appropriate. We didn’t care about the other buyers.
Have you experienced something like this? It will be no more. Foremost, of course, because the Lamb cares for us all, and we will lack nothing. Second, and this is really the decisive reason, because the Lamb has freed us from ourselves (Rom. 7:24; John 8:36). He showed us by example that true happiness comes from giving instead of receiving (Mark 10:43-45; Acts 20:35). Finally, we can let go and learn that we no longer have to fight for ourselves. What an awesome sense of freedom that will be! How much strength will suddenly be available to pay attention to one another, to reach out to others, and to care for them!
Free From Futility Have you ever felt like this? You experience something beautiful—sunshine on your skin in early spring, a tasty beverage, some meaningful and stirring music—yet it only reminds you of better times. Somehow it cannot make you happy now; instead it makes you sadder still, because you cannot feel it. Others around you live happily ever after (at least it seems like this), but to you all seems so meaningless. It wasn’t always like this. You can’t remember exactly when it started, but life is not like it used to be. You have been deeply disappointed. Someone has left you. Or you have lost someone. Or something failed. Darkness and anxiety seem to be constant companions. You just know that you suffer more than others in your life. You can find no sense or joy in who you are and what you do.
Does that sound familiar? Here is the good news: You will never feel this way again, because it is an emotional reflex to the senselessness of suffering, a reaction to our separation from God. However, in the new earth we will never be apart from Him—and never be disappointed again. We will never lose someone, and we will miss nothing. We will live united—strong and secure (John 10:10). Life will have meaning. We’ll know where we come from and where we are going. We will finally be home.
Free of Uncertainty Have you ever taken part in a conversation at school or at work, and you actually had no idea what it was all about, but you did not dare to ask? Lightning-fast processes happen in the brain: Huh? What now? H’mm. Should I say something now? Better not—it may be about something fundamental. I don’t want to embarrass myself. I can always google it.
Why is such a situation embarrassing to us? Because we want to make a good impression on others; because we do not want to appear to know less or be able to do less than others. We don’t want to bare it all. We could get hurt. Our self-esteem may suffer. And we are already insecure enough. That’s why we protect ourselves and pretend. When at home, if we hit our head on a door frame, we scream out loud and hold our forehead in pain. Yet at the store, if we happen to run against a glass door, we smile and continue as if nothing happened.
Responses like this will no longer exist. We won’t have to pretend any longer; we won’t have to hide anything. It will no longer be necessary. We’ll know we are accepted and valuable (Isa. 43:1-5). We’ll know it when we see the Lamb (Rom. 5:8). We can just be who God made us to be, without feelings of inferiority.
And suddenly we’ll no longer have to ridicule others to make ourselves feel better. Real intimacy and openness will be possible! The new world will be full of people who accept themselves because they constantly live in the presence of the One who loves them and who died for them.
God’s future awaits: Never fear the dark again; never shout angrily at someone; never again be tempted to do something immoral; never feel awkward and lonely; experience a whole new respect for others. This is the life we were created for—forever. And yes, we will be at home with the Lamb.
Judith and Sven Fockner live and work in Germany, where Sven serves as director of the Hope Institute of Bible Study, located at the Media Center of the Inter-European Division. They have two sons.
In religion—as in love—there is no enduring relationship without admiration.
In Awe of You
True belief begins with a Creator we can look up to
By Marcos Paseggi
In religion—as in love—there is no enduring relationship without admiration. Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of a wife-to-be. You find your fiancé amusing, attractive, and talented. You are positive that sticking to him will substantially improve your prospects in life. People consider him “a good catch.”
Yet, imagine deep down that you despise him. Nobody knows it but you. It may be the condescending way he treats you. Or that he is conceited or snobbish. Or that he has all his priorities wrong. The cause is not important. But the fact is that you despise him. Even when you smile at him and call him “honey.” And there is nothing you can do about it.
Well, chances are your relationship is bound for failure.
Without admiration, love is a sham. You may go through the motions, do “the right thing,” but never reach that stage when love springs up naturally and forcefully.
In church terms, you are part of the faithful few who never miss a church service, or a meeting, or a program. But you are there out of fear, or a sheer sense of duty. You may not be better than a sizable chunk of Jesus’ contemporaries, who in their forced obedience misrepresented “the character of God,” and caused “the world to look upon Him as a tyrant.”
If we truly believe in a God whose utmost desire is “to make His children happy,” there must be a better way of relating to Him. And while there are various avenues, one way would be when we learn to admire the fruits of His workmanship (see Rom. 1:20).
Throughout history a sense of awe before what we cannot fully apprehend has often triggered great inventions, discoveries, and theories. Just think of Galileo or Newton. But without an overarching frame of reference, our best creative efforts, marred by our sin-tinted glasses, may very soon take us adrift from the Creator. We begin to worship pitiable “gods” of our own making.
Consider the ancient Greeks: In deep awe before phenomena they were not able to rationally explain, they created the most intricate universe of revenge-thirsty, lust-driven incestuous gods, a pathetic lookalike of mere human beings who pursue their own twisted ways.
Our worship loyalties are often misdirected and contradictory. Indeed, there is no wisdom in praising “the wisdom of Mother Nature.” And certainly no kindness in celebrating “the kindness of Mother Earth.” Awe in itself is as pointless as trying to quench our thirst by memorizing the properties of water. Without an underlying “metanarrative”—which for Seventh-day Adventists is the great controversy theme—we are bound to eventually conclude that our best efforts are nothing but “utter futility” and “pursuit of wind” (Eccl. 1:2, 14, Tanakh). And once again, we may end up misplacing our awe in fleeting fruits of our own hands.
The Wonder of It All
We live in a time when devotion tends to be too narrow. Our hearts jump at the last technological gadget, while we blindly run past the wonders of the natural world, the amazing workings of our bodies, and the mind-boggling vastness of the universe. Constantly surrounded by miraculous wonders, we resign ourselves to secondhand, lackluster experiences instead.
Have you ever read Matthew 6:29—“Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of [the lilies of the field]”—and thought Jesus was exaggerating a little? Have you ever thought of King Solomon as a wise judge and a clever statesman, while ignoring his description of trees, birds, creeping things, and fish (1 Kings 4:33)? Have you ever considered Ellen G. White’s famous statement—“ ‘God is love’ is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass”—just as a “nice” metaphor?
As “the Sea of Faith” steadily retreats to “the vast drear edges . . . of the world,” those who still dare to voice their trust in an Almighty Creator find themselves too often entangled in apologetics, to the detriment of a proactive approach to God’s workmanship. But as a joyous people who “look for new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13), we are called to reflect on the pristine state of the Creator’s creation and His ongoing care of the natural world as a way of announcing the restoration to come.
Worshipping the Creator
The last book of the Bible seems to zero in on the messages of the three angels (Rev. 14:6-12). Those messages are to be proclaimed by the Lord’s messengers, those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). But even those solemn last warnings are driven by a clear-cut call to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev. 14:7).
This single injunction may be the most important in God’s final call. Because without a primal acknowldgement of a Creator, there is hardly any use in sharing the rest of the messages. Everything else—from the announcement of the judgment to the fall of Babylon to the command not to worship the beast—is mirrored in that first Creation week, when God made everything “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It is to this ideal we must often look back, and even more often point toward.
Reclaiming the Wonder
As we strive to reclaim our battered sense of awe, we may find that in God’s creation, big answers are often found in the simplest pleasures in life. God still draws us to Himself through “the sunshine and the rain,” “the hills and seas and plains.” He does talk to us through “lovely birds,” “delicately tinted flowers,” and “lofty trees.”
So, I invite you to go for a walk in the park, caress your favorite pet, play with a chubby baby, or work in your garden. You could also take some scenic pictures, prepare your favorite natural recipe, or stare at the sunset. As you do it, do not forget to admire the infinite wisdom of the One “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17, NIV), and who, very soon, according to His promise, will “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Then our awe will be eternal.
Marcos Paseggi is a pastor, translator, and author living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.