My son Joel decided to redecorate his room. He wanted to install shelves and cabinets along two adjoining walls—built around his furniture. I liked his ideas, including the corner cupboard/desk to hold his computer and other treasures.
I’ve watched Joel work on other projects, and have praised his efforts. But I was happy he came to me for help. I didn’t want his room cluttered with misfit scraps of lumber seminailed together and smeared with whatever colorful coatings he could find in our garage. I thought this should be a learning experience, not just a way to save face for our house. I wanted to teach him all I could, so he would know the satisfaction of doing his very best.
We measured the room and talked about the possibilities. We drew it to scale on graph sheets, placed paper cutouts of furniture in various locations, and scrounged the garage for usable lumber. Then we bought what we didn’t have.
Surfacing again, we take in a lungful of life-giving air, and feel the joy of resurrection.
I showed Joel how to do each step, but had him do the lion’s share of the work himself. As my apprentice, he learned to build by building, under the watchful eye of one who’d done work like this before.
The apprenticeship concept fascinates me. We can acquire knowledge of many subjects or trades by going through the motions—under the guidance of someone who’s mastered the technique. God programmed us that way at Creation, and He makes us apprentices in order to teach us Bible truth. Jesus said that we “should do as [He] has done to [us]” (compare John 13:15),* and He often has us do things that might seem strange at first. But as we students follow the Master’s instructions, we learn deep spiritual lessons.
Take baptism, for instance. The Bible uses strong words to highlight its importance. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he weren’t “born of water [baptized] and the Spirit” (John 3:5) he couldn’t be saved. He told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . ” (Matt. 28:19). He even said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Clearly Jesus thought baptism was vital.
But what is baptism? Why is it so important? How does baptism affect our everyday lives?
Important Spiritual Lessons Modern baptism means many things to many people. But the Bible word baptizo describes complete immersion under water. That’s why, when describing our Master’s baptism in the Jordan River, Matthew said Jesus came “up out of the water” (Matt. 3:16) after John baptized him. Philip the evangelist used a similar method, for when he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, the author of Acts said, “both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:38).
Why be completely immersed in water? Here we apprentices learn some important spiritual lessons by following the Master through the physical motions of baptism. Look at just a few.
1. Our willingness to allow another person to lower us under the water reveals submission—outward evidence of our voluntary surrender to God.
2. Total immersion gives us a graphic feeling of God’s act of washing away our sins—like a spiritual bath (see Acts 22:16).
3. While under water, we hold our breath. This symbolic act of dying helps us, in a small way, to imagine the death of Jesus, which made it possible for us to escape eternal death.
4. The act of immersion resembles burial—the aftermath of death. It reminds us that Jesus lay in the tomb, but also shows our desire to bury the sinful past.
5. Surfacing again, we take in a lungful of life-giving air, and feel the joy of resurrection. We rise to “live a new life” (Rom. 6:4).
By baptism we confess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and testify of our death to sin and of our purpose to walk in newness of life. Thus we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior, become His people, and are received as members by His church. Baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ, the forgiveness of our sins, and our reception of the Holy Spirit. It is by immersion in water and is contingent on an affirmation of faith in Jesus and evidence of repentance of sin. It follows instruction in the Holy Scriptures and acceptance of their teachings. (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12, 13; Acts 16:30-33; 22:16; 2:38; Matt. 28:19, 20.)Paul wrote that “having been buried with [Jesus] in baptism [we are] raised with him through [our] faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). Baptism endows us with a new slant on life. Never again will our guilty past mar our joy, for our sins have been flushed out into “the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Our hopes, actions, and language will all improve, for now we’re new creatures; “old things have passed away … [and] all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, NKJV).
The Newness, the Hope Life takes on new meaning. As Christ rose from the dead, so when He comes, we too, at His command, will burst forth from the tomb. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command . . . and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16; see also Matt. 24:30, 31; 1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:53-55). The dread of death dissolves when we’re aware that life will bloom anew on resurrection day.
And God appears different as well. We no longer see Him as a tyrant seeking an excuse to target us when we make mistakes. When we apprentices follow our Master into the waters of baptism, we imagine that we feel a tinge of terror, that death could be forever. But we don’t die. We rise again, and begin to understand the meaning of the most often quoted verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever [including me] believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We no longer have to fear the record of our sinful past; We no longer need to worry if today will be our last; We no longer feel the horror of what comes at judgment’s door; We’ve been washed, and cleansed, to rise and live in Christ forevermore.†
My son still has a lot to learn. He’s bound to make mistakes, ruin a board or two, and slop some paint where it’s not supposed to go. But his blunders will cause him to pay closer attention to my instruction.
And we may find the sailing rough after we’ve been baptized too. But the experience itself has taught us more about Christ than we knew before … and how to completely entrust our lives to Him.
So baptism is more than taking a bath. It’s one of God’s chosen methods of teaching us human apprentices how to “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).
*All Scripture references are taken from the New International Version, unless otherwise specified. †“The New Birth,” by Thurman C. Petty, Jr.
Thurman C. Petty, Jr., the author of 15 books, lives in Burleson, Texas.
As a volunteer night chaplain, I watched an emergency room doctor tying the last knot ofthe many stitches that pulled the flesh together of what had been, just a few moments earlier, a gaping hole. He straightened his back and with eyes still focused on the repaired wound, spoke—as if to himself—the words, “perfect, just perfect.” I later thought, What did he really mean by that? Was it the stitching itself? Or the wound now perfectly closed? Was it the great job he did, or all of the above?
Jesus’ prominent Sermon on the Mount covers three chapters (Matt. 5–7) and focuses initially on the attitudes we should foster, being blessed or happy, regardless of circumstances. We know this first section as the beatitudes. Christ then shifts the attention to our motivations as to why we do what we do. It is our motives, our attitude, what we think, that shapes our actions that ultimately count. Halfway through His sermon, Jesus makes this startling statement in Matt. 5:48: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”1
What Does “Perfect” Mean?
“Perfect,” in the Bible, is expressed in many ways by many translations. Perfect can be blameless, loyal, complete, mature, knowledgeable, patient, loving, and following Him. Perfect describes things such as the law of liberty (James 1:25), sacrifices (Lev. 22:21), or God’s will (Rom. 12:2). Perfection is also often linked to action: the church of Sardis is rebuked because Christ had “not found [their] works perfect” (Rev. 3:2). To the rich young ruler Jesus counsels, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have … and … follow Me” (Matt. 19:21).
With all these uses, what then is “perfect,” or put more colloquially, “how white must the color white be, for perfect whiteness?” Ellen White’s famous quote “As God is perfect in His sphere, so we are to be perfect in ours,”2 may be helpful here and alludes to two different levels of perfection, God’s and humans’.
Experience of Salvation
In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This faith that receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)We know for sure that God at His level is perfect. “He is the Rock, His work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4). We also know that Jesus is perfect, “having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). We definitely recognize that we are not perfect, for our “righteousnesses are like filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). What “perfection in our sphere” must we then have? Jesus gives us a hint in His high-priestly prayer of John 17:23, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” Perfection, then, has two levels, God’s perfect Oneness within the Godhead, and humans’ perfect oneness with Christ.
Objective Perfection: God’s Perfect Oneness
Only Divinity can ever stake claim to this perfect oneness. It is the ultimate perfection. Even though God’s Son clothed Himself with frail humanity, tempted when His human body was at its weakest, still Satan could not place the tiniest wedge between Father and Son. Only Divinity can change rocks into bread. Through obedience to His Father, Jesus refused to use His own Divinity independently of His Father. “In Christ, divinity and humanity were combined. Divinity was not degraded to humanity; divinity held its place, but humanity by being united to divinity, withstood the fiercest test of temptation in the wilderness.”3 “‘He… suffered being tempted,’ suffered in proportion to the perfection of His holiness. But the prince of darkness found nothing in Him; not a single thought or feeling responded to temptation.”4 Jesus had the perfect attitude and oneness toward His Father that motivated Him to resist all temptations.
Subjective Perfection: Our Oneness With Christ
I like the way Ellen White describes our need of atonement. “Man could not atone for man. His sinful, fallen condition would constitute him an imperfect offering, an atoning sacrifice of less value than Adam before his fall. God made man perfect and upright, and after his transgression there could be no sacrifice acceptable to God for him, unless the offering made should in value be superior to man as He was in his state of perfection and innocency.”5
Christ’s pure attitude motivated absolute obedience resulting in a complete Oneness with the Father. That is true perfection. It is that imputed perfection that becomes the only means of our salvation. “This sacrifice was offered for the purpose of restoring man to his original perfection: yea more … to give him an entire transformation of character.”6
The imparted righteousness of Christ is the work He does in us, of changing us into His image, a oneness with Him. This is what being perfect in our sphere truly means. It is to be perfectly one with Him. Our attitudes are changed, motivating obedience in us to reflect Him fully. The image He originally created us to be is reflected by our oneness with Him (see Heb. 5:8, 9). Oneness is not found by subtracting wrongs out of ourselves, for that will leave a vacuum. Rather, by addition we grab everything of Christ we can get a hold of, denying that which shadows His glory. By beholding we become like Him and are changed into His glory. We will not only be His image but will be one with Him.
Scientists have recently discovered a way to make the first 100 percent completely flat and smooth surface on machined and highly polished glass. It is so flat and smooth that when two of these thick sheets of glass are slid one over the other, displacing all the air, the bond between the molecules becomes so great that it is near impossible to separate the two sheets of glass. They are truly one. Jesus’ perfect oneness with the Father through His obedience here on earth becomes our robe of (His) righteousness imputed to us for all of eternity. The righteousness that He wants to impart to us is the perfect oneness we can have through His Spirit’s leading. Obedience motivated by genuine love allows Him daily to grind and polish us until we are so absolutely bonded as one in Him that we will be nearly impossible to separate.
I think that captures something of what the emergency room doctor meant as he finished his stitching job. The wound was closed. The flesh was back together again as it should be. No more tearing apart. No more bleeding. Healing could begin. Perhaps there would not even be a scar—perfect.
1All Scripture references have been taken from the NKJV.
2Ellen G. White, Christian Education, p. 217.
3Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Feb. 18, 1890.
4Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 422.
5Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, p. 9.
6Ellen G. White, Manuscript 49, 1898.
Robert J. Ross, a native of South Africa, is pastoring the Meadow Vista church in the Northern California Conference, U.S.A. He enjoys woodcarving and drawing and his ever-growing family, including six grandchildren.
Why busy moderns (and postmoderns) still need the church
By Chantal J. Klingbeil
Church was a good place for me as a child, maybe a little boring at times, but essentially good. Then my greatly admired junior Sabbath school teacher ran off with another man, after having taught all that good stuff about happy marriages. Over the years I became cynical. The church was not what it should be. The church was full of hypocrites. The church—wait a minute. Who or what is this nameless church? The Seventh-day Adventist Church consists of millions of individual faces. The church consists of bored, active, loving, selfish, sincere, hypocritical, giving, hurting, confused, wise, worn-out, fragile, insensitive, lazy, hardworking, tactful, hopeful, abused, critical, humble individuals. People, every bit as human as I am. Every bit as human as you are. We are the church.
God’s Miracle Throughout History
So what holds together millions of individuals, with different skin colors, different life expectations, different languages, different ideas, different cultures? Nothing short of a miracle! The miracle has a name—Jesus. The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
God has always specialized in the impossible (Matt. 19:26). We can trace our spiritual roots back to an impossible promise given to a childless old man (Gen. 12:1-3). God made the impossible possible and gave Abraham plenty of descendents. He then brought the whole motley bunch out of slavery. The “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) had the Sea of Red open for them, breakfast arrive in front of their tents, water fountains come from rocks. They weren’t perfect: they had moaners, idolaters, thieves, gluttons, and leader-bashers among them. But God quietly set about purifying and cleansing—individually and corporately. God was calling His church to experience His salvation personally and extend the invitation to others (Isa. 56:7). Some responded positively. Some were always talking back to God. God had the final Word—He was called Jesus (John 1:1-3).
In Jesus God began another impossible task. Jesus began training a handful of bickering disciples. Twelve men turned the then-known world upside down for God. Satan tried to stamp out the fledgling church with persecution. God did the impossible. The church went global. Next Satan tried smothering Christ’s vital lifeblood within the church by introducing human teachings. The wildfire of the Reformation called the church back to her true Head. But complacency soon resurfaced. And once again God did the impossible. He called a small group of young people (practically all under the age of 30). He helped them rediscover special truths and gave them gifts and a big job. And that’s where you and I and millions of other Seventh-day Adventists come in. We are part of the miracle God performed through our pioneers.
Metaphor 1: The Body
God has always had His ideals for His church. The Old and New Testaments paint these ideals in metaphoric language. Here are four of my favorites, just to whet our spiritual appetites. The first is the rather obvious metaphor of the church as a body (1 Cor. 12:12-27). I find it particularly relevant, seeing that each of us has invariably caught a finger in a door and felt our stomachs knot as we held the injured finger close and howled in pain. As part of the body of Christ, I am intricately connected to you. Your pain and loss is directly or indirectly my pain and loss. I need to be more sensitive toward you. We need to stick together; for without you I won’t be going anywhere.
Metaphor 2: The Building
The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In continuity with the people of God in Old Testament times, we are called out from the world; and we join together for worship, for fellowship, for instruction in the Word, for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, for service to all mankind, and for the worldwide proclamation of the gospel. The church derives its authority from Christ, who is the incarnate Word, and from the Scriptures, which are the written Word. The church is God’s family; adopted by Him as children, its members live on the basis of the new covenant. The church is the body of Christ, a community of faith of which Christ Himself is the Head. The church is the bride for whom Christ died that He might sanctify and cleanse her. At His return in triumph, He will present her to Himself a glorious church, the faithful of all the ages, the purchase of His blood, not having spot or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish. (Gen. 12:3; Acts 7:38; Eph. 4:11-15; 3:8-11; Matt. 28:19, 20; 16:13-20; 18:18; Eph. 2:19-22; 1:22, 23; 5:23-27; Col. 1:17, 18.)I’ve often thought of churches as being fairly static, stationary buildings, which perhaps get refurbished every 10 years. Paul, however, speaks of the church as being a temple made up of living stones (1 Cor. 3:9-17). In some parts of the world I’ve caught a glimpse of “living” temples. Here the membership greatly outgrows the buildings or the available funds. On first visiting a church you may find 40 members worshipping on a dirt floor with wooden planks for pews and reed mats for walls and roof. Within six months the foundations have been dug and the membership has grown to 60. Three months later, two walls are up and a cement floor has been laid and the membership is up to 70. Six months later the baptistery is in, the other two walls are up and the membership is up to 100. A year later the roof is on, there are wooden benches, and membership has reached 150. Finer finishings will have to wait, however, as the church has by now started a company that worships on a dirt floor with reed mats for walls and extra building funds will have to go into helping the new company. I think Paul is referring to these temples on the move, each wall supporting the other. You and I, as living stones in this church, can become a dynamic landmark for Christ.
Metaphor 3: The Bride
The third metaphor involves a personal confession. I love weddings. There is just something so appealing about all those beautiful flower arrangements. Then there is the bride (2 Cor 11:2); any plain Jane becomes a beauty, arrayed in white, and glowing with happiness. In God’s eyes this church, with all its faults is no plain Jane. You and I become radiantly beautiful as we fall in love with Jesus and get wrapped up in the purity of what He has done for us.
Metaphor 4: The Family
I don’t think I could class being a family as a metaphor. The church isn’t like a family to me; it is my family. Over the past two decades most of my blood family has always been far away; but I have always had family. People who motivated me. People who were excited with me over my little girl’s first words. People who mourned with us over the loss of our first child—not crowds of people, just a few—just my family.
Some years ago my parents had a short layover in Rome, and it being Sabbath, decided to go to church. A woman who spoke English came and translated the service and then insisted on taking my parents home for lunch and showing them around in the afternoon. The hospitality didn’t end there. The woman and her husband vacated their bedroom so my parents could have their bed. At the airport my mother, overwhelmed by the kindness, tried to express her thanks. The woman said with a smile, “It is the least one can do for family.” Family? Yes, you and I are probably complete strangers and yet family (Eph. 3:15).
As I look at the enormous mission this church faces in taking this gospel of the kingdom to all the world, I could feel overwhelmed. As I look into the church, I see us often pulling in different directions. I could feel disillusioned. As I look into my own life, I see broken promises and twisting contradictions. I could feel hopeless. But Jesus has promised “to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind … holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27, NRSV).* I want to stay a part of God’s church. I want to be a part of God’s miracle.
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Chantal J. Klingbeil is a homeschool teacher, homemaker, and author living in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.
From time to time one reads in the popular press that a daily glass of wine helps prevent heart disease. To many people this affirms the common belief that the Bible approves of the moderate use of alcohol. They wonder why Seventh-day Adventists are so strongly opposed to its use. I’m writing to explain why from both a biblical and health perspective.
Wine and Beer in the Old Testament
Several Hebrew and Greek terms referring to wine and beer are used in Scripture. Both positive and negative statements are made about these beverages. Most references about wine in Genesis speak of very negative events—Noah becomes drunk in Genesis 9, Lot’s two daughters practice incest with their father after getting him drunk with wine (Gen. 19), and Jacob deceives Isaac with food and wine (Gen. 27). However, one can also find some positive references such as Numbers 18:12, “All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the Lord, I give them to you.”1 Usually, positive comments about wine appear mostly as a reference to an abundance of the typical food products of Palestine—olive oil, grain, and wine (Deut. 7:13; Jer. 31:12).
Yet negative comments persist: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). Proverbs 23:29-35 provides a striking description of the woes of alcoholism.
What About Jesus and Wine?
Some may respond that this is simply an indictment of the abuse of alcohol. Didn’t Jesus make an abundance of wine at the wedding of Cana (John 2)? Indeed, He made something like 150 gallons (about 600 liters) of wine (Greek oinos) for the festivities. However, like many of the positive statements about wine in the Old Testament, the reference to oinos in this context is within a description of a festival event where an abundance of food and drink highlights a joyous occasion. Furthermore, note the words of the superintendent that sound much like a proverb: “Every person first puts out the good wine and when people have drunk well, the inferior.”2 He then continues tellingly, “You have kept the good wine until now.”
This “proverbial saying” is seen by many as a shrewd insight on the stupefying effect of alcohol. When people first begin to drink they can perceive the wine’s quality. But after they have become drunk, everything seems the same, so why waste good wine on drunk people?3
However, this misses a key element in the passage and misinterprets the significance of food and drink in a festival setting. The key element it bypasses is the fact that the superintendent of the feast could still tell the difference between good and inferior wine. He obviously was not drunk and just as obviously had been drinking what had been served earlier, since he noted the difference. The significance of food and drink in a festival setting was that the abundance was part of the rejoicing. Tied intimately with this was a deep traditional emphasis on hospitality. With such a set of social norms, the placing of the “good wine” before guests at the beginning of the feast would be done to honor them.
We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with the principles of heaven. For the Spirit to re-create in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things which will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well. Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness. (Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 John 2:6; Eph. 5:1-21; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 6:14–7:1; 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:31; Lev. 11:1-47; 3 John 2.)Furthermore, there are instances in Greek literature where oinos is clearly nonalcoholic in nature and thus it is reasonable to believe that, in its context, this is exactly the kind of beverage Jesus provided.4
Is Abstinence a Moral Imperative?
Some may concede that, given these explanations, one could logically support the value of a Christian life devoid of alcoholic beverages. But is it a moral imperative? Several lines of evidence combine to suggest that it is. First, World Health Organization statistics present the heavy toll alcohol produces.5 It accounts for approximately 1.8 million worldwide deaths annually (3.2 percent of total deaths) and 58.3 million disability-adjusted life years (4.0 percent of the total). It accounts for 20 to 30 percent of worldwide deaths from esophageal cancer, liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, homicide, epilepsy, and motor vehicle accidents. Its consumption is on the rise in developing countries with mostly no infrastructure for prevention and treatment of the problems associated with alcohol’s effects. If for no other reason than Christian concern for our neighbors, we have a moral responsibility to preach and teach total abstinence from alcohol.
Being Ready for Christ’s Return
But there is an even more pressing reason to support total abstinence. It is the soon return of Jesus Christ! The New Testament is replete with warnings to stay alert and sober in light of the Lord’s soon return (Luke 21:34-36; 1 Peter 1:13). I call this concept eschatological temperance. In contrast, alcohol puts the mind to sleep! Its use conflicts with Jesus’ instruction to stay alert at all times.
People sometimes ask if this or that Bible command still applies to us today. Often, the question implies that the command does not apply any longer. Rarely do people consider the possibility that some commands may apply to us even more today than in the past. I believe this is the case with abstinence from alcohol. In the ancient Mediterranean world alcoholic beverages existed, but for most people were not available in great abundance. Furthermore, their alcoholic content would not be greater than 10 to 15 percent in the case of wine (only 4 to 6 percent for beer), and wine was usually diluted with one to three parts of water in normal usage.6 The situation is vastly different in today’s world, in which alcohol is much more readily available and at much higher concentrations in distilled spirits (commonly 40 to 60 percent). The WHO statistics tell the sad story of the woe that alcohol has brought and how its dark shadow is spreading across the globe.
I am a Seventh-day Adventist looking for the soon coming of Jesus! In light of this great event, I believe I must keep my mind and body ready and alert for action at all times. I believe I have a responsibility to help my neighbor prepare for our Lord’s return and that a healthful lifestyle is consistent with Scripture and incumbent on the Christian. That’s why I don’t drink alcohol.
6 “Unmixed wine” in Revelation 14:10 would be wine with no water added. In the dramatic warning of Revelation 14 God’s wrath is poured out, unmixed with mercy. For references to wine dilution see David E. Aune, Revelation 6-16, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 52b (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 833.
Nobody needs to feel shy about asking this question. You are not a stranger to the Spirit of God. Chances are, you were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and yes, also the Holy Spirit—a deeply significant action. This trio of names often appears together throughout the New Testament, though not always in the same order or with the same synonyms. Their identity, nature, and mutual relationship have been understood in different ways by Christians throughout the millennia. Most Christians (including Adventists) favor the Trinitarian understanding, according to which none of these names can be equated with another, but all of them share the same divine nature.
Admittedly, this is a difficult subject. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit think, speak, and act always together in the world, since the oneness of God is real. Telling these divine Persons apart from each other, then, requires careful attention to the biblical evidence.
How Did the Spirit Act in the Past?
The Spirit is not merely a power, even though we created beings know and experience Him as power. Jesus Himself reminded us that the name “Spirit” (literally, “breath” or “wind” in the biblical languages) is given to Him because, like a powerful wind, He is invisible but effective (John 3:8). In the beginning, this power manifested itself as “the Wind of God,” as some translate Gen. 1:2.1The dove hovering upon the face of the water at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:16) reminds us that, at the beginning of Christian life, the same Power creates and enlightens again, for “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).2
Scripture presents the Spirit of God as a moral power within the human conscience (Gen. 6:3) in order to “convict the world of guilt in regards to sin” (John 16:8). Subsequently, He appears as an intelligent power enabling the wisdom of righteous people such as Joseph (Gen. 41:38).
Pharaoh noticed this power, just as the people of Israel did when Saul was transformed “into a different person” (1 Sam. 10:6-11).
A very important Old Testament passage dealing with the concept of the Trinity can be found in Isaiah 63. In order to save Israel (verses 7, 8), God, “our Father” (verse 16), sent the “Angel of His presence” (verse 9) who often speaks as God Himself in the Old Testament. Tragically, the people to be redeemed, rebelled against their Savior and “grieved His Holy Spirit” (verse 10). In consequence, the prophets envisioned a future day, in messianic times, when a new covenant would be completed, with a new spirit in new hearts (Eze. 11:19, 20; Jer. 31:31-33).
These times were inaugurated with the “overshadowing” of Mary by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), which enabled her—being a virgin—to conceive a “holy being.” This special birth differed from the Spirit “filling” a merely human baby, such as His cousin John (Luke 1:15), for a particular life mission. John foretold a future immersion in the Spirit (Matt. 3:11), which Jesus explained as the new birth from the Spirit (John 1:13; 3:5-8), fostering an inner “new self” while the old decreases in power (Col. 3:10, 11). This presence is the “indwelling” of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9, NKJV). It is a permanent gift of God that makes us His daughters and sons and so heirs of eternal life (Rom. 8:11, 17; 1 John 3:1, 2). It is never denied to those who seek it sincerely (Luke 11:13).
God the eternal Spirit was active with the Father and the Son in Creation, incarnation, and redemption. He inspired the writers of Scripture. He filled Christ’s life with power. He draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond He renews and transforms into the image of God. Sent by the Father and the Son to be always with His children, He extends spiritual gifts to the church, empowers it to bear witness to Christ, and in harmony with the Scriptures leads it into all truth. (Gen. 1:1, 2; Luke 1:35; 4:18; Acts 10:38; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:11, 12; Acts 1:8; John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7-13).This same Spirit also gives gifts that are diverse (1 Cor. 12:7-11) and are given to specific members (verses 27-31) “just as He determines” (verse 11). Their purpose is to enable specific actions within the concerted total mission of the church as an organic whole, namely, the body of Christ.
The mission of the church is greatly advanced by the “fullness” of the Spirit, which leads to renewed enthusiasm and boldness in Christian witnessing (Acts 4:29; Eph. 6:18-20). While the indwelling is permanent, the fullness of the Spirit must be sought repeatedly through prayer (Acts 4:31) and other inspirational forms of worship (Eph. 5:18, 19).
How Does the Spirit Support Christians Today?
As a believer, you are probably aware that the Spirit, in His moral-power capacity, awakens your conscience thr-ough God’s revealed will, the law (Ps. 40:8), which the Spirit revealed in the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21), the Word that led you to Christ (John 5:39, 40). He is your Paraclete, or divine Supporter (John 14:16, 26).
Less well assimilated is the fact that the Spirit enables each believer to be an intelligent part of the ecclesia, the ancient term for “assembly,” which is somewhat obscured by translating it “church.” None should feel relegated to a class of mere “lay people,” let alone an “audience” that simply sits in the pews. The Spirit of Christ empowers all believers gathering in His name to act with authority (Matt. 18:19, 20). This should lead them to take their assembly duties very seriously, both in disciplining erring members (verses 15-20) and in the selection and support of leaders (Acts 6:2-5).
After Christ there is no longer any separation between priestly and “lay” tribes. God’s people today are composed entirely of priests and priestesses (1 Peter 2:4, 5), whose anointing took place during their baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and, yes, the Holy Spirit. As such, you and I can participate in the task that defines all priesthood: to represent before God our fellow human beings who are in search of forgiveness, sympathizing with them in the awareness of our own weakness, inviting them into God’s presence, and interceding for them accordingly (Heb. 5:1, 2). While continuing to pray for the fullness of the Spirit, we should never forget that we already possess the “anointing from the Holy One” (1 John 2:20).
1 See Gordon J. Wenham, ‑ Biblical Commentary 1 (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1987), pp. 16, 17.
In a Berlin park the security guard challenged a scruffy figure slouching on a park bench: “Who are you?”
The scruff was the philosopher Schopenhauer, and he sadly replied, “I wish to God I knew.”
Secular thought doesn’t help us much with understanding our identity. “The universe is nothing but a collection of atoms in motion, human beings are simply machines for propagating DNA,” says atheist professor Richard Dawkins, straying outside his specialty area of biology.1
Funny, I feel I’m more than just a machine.
“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells,” said Francis Crick of DNA fame.2 No more? But our deepest intuitions go beyond our bodies. We feel we matter. We look for purpose in our lives. We love soul-deep. We dream of afterlife—even people who have been told that they don’t have a spirit.
The Bible describes being human in a way that makes sense of our experience. Here is a quick summary:
1.You Are Wanted
You are no accident. God made you for relationships and enjoyment—yours and His (Rev. 4:11). Love and joy—what better reason for God to make everything? “In [God’s] presence is fullness of joy; … [and] pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).
2.You Are Multilayered
You are not a soul trapped in a weak body; you’re a whole person. Like the compound terms in a German car manual, you are a bodymindspirit. You can thinkfeelsense that truth if you learn to listen to the FatherSonSpirit of God.
Your body is created good. Your senses were designed for pleasure and relationship. Contrary to Dark Ages church dogma and Plato, your sexuality is God-given, intended for love and joy in marriage—and for creating people, a Godlike power. Both male and female are in the “image of God” (Gen. 1:27). We needn’t feel guilty about bodily love, but only for selfish, loveless attitudes and the actions they produce.
So develop every aspect of yourself: “Jesus grew in wisdom [mind] and stature [body], and in favor with God [spiritual] and men [social]” (Luke 2:52, NIV).
3.You Are Free
The all-powerful God is such a generous Sovereign that He leaves space for you to have a free will. God likes your individuality—He could have made you a remote-controlled cyborg, but would have seen in your dull eyes that you did not love Him freely or cooperate intelligently. So He gave you freedom, and a status just below heavenly beings (Ps. 8:5).
God is in ultimate control of what will happen to the universe, but cannot be blamed for what people do with their free will. He chooses to limit evil at times (Job 2:1-10), and is such a good strategist that His overall plans will succeed whatever you or I individually do. Your choices matter. Life is not just a video game that can be reset at the end without real damage. You can hurt yourself and others, even with eternal consequences.
I am free, but I am not free. I am naturally enslaved to my misguided grabs for happiness, my ignorance, selfishness, and brokenness. Only when God’s Spirit reaches my mind—like oil penetrating a rusty lock—can my will really operate. Then I’m free to control myself, to say no to parts of myself (a great feeling), and to be most myself.
Nature of Man
Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else. When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position under God. The image of God in them was marred, and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:7; Ps. 8:4-8; Acts 17:24-28; Gen. 3; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-17; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; Ps. 51:10; 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 20; Gen. 2:15.)Because the bad news is …
4.You Are Faulty
We can try to suppress this with alcohol or fame or busyness, but don’t we all have moments of humbling clarity when we see selfishness and foolish choices?
Look at us, rushing through our work, wired for electronic entertainment but disconnected from the human next to us, disconnected from nature and our bodies—and even from our own feelings and consciences at times. How well have we done in caring for the natural world (Gen. 2:15)? And we can be closed to God, barely missing the company of the most interesting Being. We are relationally dead in the presence of the great Life-giver.
We love to blame our parents for our weaknesses. We vow to do better, only to find ourselves flawed, discovering our faults in our children. Fallenness runs through the entire human family (Ps. 51:5), right back to the first parents.
I have an inner shabbiness no designer clothes can cover. I need kindness, and regular, heavy-duty cycles in God’s big gospel washing machine.
If I understand this, I will not demand perfection from people. I may even find grace for my wife, children, friends, workmates—even enemies?—the same grace I need.
At least it’s not just me that’s fallen; it’s all of creation (Rom. 8:19-23). Jesus died to restoreeverything that is broken—DNA, ecology, cosmology …
5.You Are Mortal
You can rage against the dying of the light, curse at the sky because you were not healed, but eventually everyone dies—until Jesus returns. You have about 3,400 weekends, total. But this can sober us and drive us urgently toward wisdom (Ps. 90:12; Eccl. 7:2).
There’s one upside to human mortality: nobody will spend an eternity in hell, writhing in pain as flames lick their body, screaming in regret and agony forever. What would that achieve? Wouldn’t that make God morally worse than brutal dictators, whose victims screamed only for hours rather than centuries? The Bible gives two options: one, “the wages of sin is death”—not eternal life in torment. The second option is “eternal life in Christ Jesus”—and that’s a “gift of God,” which means I don’t naturally have immortality (Rom. 6:23).
If I reject God, I will be ashes (Mal. 4:3).
6.You Are Loved—And Called
Jesus died for you to restore a relationship broken by rebellion (2 Cor. 5:19), and because of the “joy that was set before Him”—eternity with you (Heb. 12:2). The goal is relationship and joy again. Why does He want us to serve people and teach the gospel? So they can know His love and joy forever.
Jesus became human and died to take our guilt and repair all of us. We are everything to Him, and He wants to “forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). That is the most important idea I have ever heard, so perhaps you’d please read this short paragraph again until it sinks in.
“Check out the love God has lavished on us, calling us His children! … What will we be in the future? That’s beyond us now, but we do know that, when He appears, we will be like Him … ” (1 John 3:1, 2, paraphrase by author).
“Who are you? Who, who?”
Thank God—we know.
1BBC Christmas Lectures Study Guide (London: BBC, 1991), quoted in John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion, 2009), p. 56.
2 Quoted in Lennox, p. 55.
Grenville Kent is producer/presenter of the Big Questions outreach films for the Australian Union of Seventh-day Adventists, and enjoys ministering to young people. He lectures in Old Testament at Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia.
Wonderful experiences in my life will eventually fade. But the word of God remains.
By Sylvia Renz
Ilove reading! Ever since I understood that the little black marks on the white paper told colorful stories, I’ve been keen on everything printed. I read adverts, labels on food products, cereal boxes, magazines, and books—even instruction manuals.
For my seventh birthday I was given my first Bible. I loved that little book. Now I was no longer dependent on a grown-up to find out whether or not Daniel survived the lion’s den or how David got the better of Goliath! Now I could read these stories for myself. Ruth and Esther, Joseph and David were the stars of my childhood. They “belonged” to the family so much so that if Moses were to walk through the kitchen door I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid; rather, I would have calmly set an extra plate at the table for him.
More Than a Story Collection
Later I came to understand that the Bible was more than simply an exciting story collection. It gave advice and encouragement, and put its finger on the problem. It showed me which way to go when I saw no way out (2 Tim. 3:16), and, above all, it was here that I met Jesus Christ introducing me to my heavenly Father (John 5:39; 14:6, 9).
God communicates His plans, His will, and the way He works through the Bible. Pious feelings carry about as much weight as a melting ice sheet. Wonderful experiences in my faith life will eventually fade and become as brittle as the rose in last year’s birthday bouquet. But the Word of God remains.
The Bible bridges the beginnings of human history right to us, postmoderns (Gen. 1:27; 2:18; Matt. 19:4-6; Rev. 19:6-9). It shows us God’s plan of salvation, interwoven with our own lives. The Bible lets us in on God’s thoughts, His style, and His wishes (2 Peter 3:9). Foreign cultures come closer to us, as we read of people in far-off times who loved, suffered, experienced joy or cheated, took revenge or forgave injustice.
From their victories and mistakes we learn how it is done and what we could do better. We can test their goals and values and perhaps incorporate them into our lives. Through daily contact with Scripture we will be transformed (Ps. 1:1, 2; 119:1-11).
In the mirror of biblical reality we see many ideas for what they are—crumbling lies (Heb. 4:12). Here are some: “Everyone must love me,” “I must make everyone happy,” “I am worth nothing,” “I am always right,” “I am better than you.” Many lead a miserable life, caged in by rules and conventions made by others. However, when we discover in the Bible what God really wants, the iron chains that hold our thoughts captive fall. We are free! We are saved! “The truth will set you free,” said Jesus (John 8:32, NIV)—and He meant it.
I recently got to know a single-minded businessman who realized, through Bible study, that his worth was not dependent on his achievements. Listen to what he wrote: “Since I realized this, I feel so much more at peace. I don’t have to prove anymore to anyone how good I am. I can also handle failure. There isn’t any guarantee that everything should work out perfectly for me. The Bible greats also had their share of misfortunes. And did they immediately give up? Did they doubt God’s love? I learn so much through the Bible. I don’t want to forfeit my time with my Bible for anything. Since I began spending time with my Bible I have new courage. I used to often contemplate suicide. But now I believe that I have been given a second chance. The Bible has become so precious to me that I am prepared to give anything for it.”
The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.)I am amazed when I hear his story. Do I share the same experience? Of course, I value the Bible; after all, I’ve grown up with it, and all the precious promises it contains. But would I really be prepared to risk my life for it like the ancient Waldenses? And is the time I spend daily with my Bible really the highlight of my day? Or do I often have to fight the “I know this all already” syndrome?
It is really a strange contradiction. A part of me is as excited about Bible reading as someone discovering a treasure cave. Another part of me wants to turn on the computer first thing in the morning and catch up on my e-mails. Often it is already mid-morning before I realize that I haven’t made time for some uninterrupted time with my Bible. I know that there is so much more to having time with God than a half-awake prayer first thing in the morning and a quickly mumbled prayer over lunch. I am ashamed to admit it but sometimes I have to force myself to read my Bible.
The Bible and I—And You
Am I overfed? Have I absorbed too many theories and left the practice far behind? Perhaps a single verse that speaks to me is worth a thousand words that I may be able to repeat from memory with beautiful intonation. Do my own stubborn plans create a background noise that keeps me from really listening to God’s Word? Perhaps it’s the guilty memory of a harsh interchange that I had with someone yesterday that is stopping me from concentrating. Of course, there is the still small voice of the Holy Spirit that wants to speak to me from the open book and may be interfering with my own selfish reading agendas. Then there is also the painful memory of an injustice that I have suffered that can well up and interfere. Or perhaps it is my fears: What about my children’s future? Will our church be able to cope with its internal tensions? How will we manage financially on our pension? These are all walls that can block out the Word. I read but don’t comprehend a thing. I pray and my prayer rises no higher than the ceiling, or so it seems.
Yet our heavenly Father sees all and understands us. He wants to help us remove these blockades. He wants to give us daily, fresh gifts in His Word. Only when we hungrily take this daily bread will this void be filled—when we eat it with a thankful heart, when we “chew” it well. God’s Word loses its appeal only when we handle it as a theory rather than allowing it to transform us from the inside out; when my memory slots are full, or when His Word gets stuck in my mind and doesn’t make it to my heart and into my hand. Perhaps the truest path to finding the joy in Scripture is to pray “Lord, give me a thirst for the Bible and let Your Word take root in me. Help me put into practice what I know; let me become more like You.”
Sylvia Renz works for the German Voice of Prophecy in Alsbach-Hähnlein, Germany. She is an accomplished author and has published numerous books for children and adults.
Marriage is hard work! Standing in the open doorway of a train at Sydney Central Station, I looked at the pile of luggage, and then glanced at my watch. Why was my wife taking so long to purchase a bottle of water? She had been gone for ages and I was becoming anxious about the time of departure. Did I need to offload our luggage and wait for the next train? Had she tripped and fallen? Did she need my help? Ah … there she was. With a sigh of relief we found seats, piled our bags around us, and wished each other happy anniversary—our thirty-fourth—and contemplated our journey.
5 Languages of Apology
♦ Expressing REGRET “I am sorry” ♦ Accepting RESPONSIBILITY “I was wrong ♦ Making RESTITUTION “What can I do to make it right?” ♦ Genuinely REPENTING “I’ll try not to do that again” ♦ Requesting FORGIVENESS “Will you please forgive me?”Following our courtship as penniless college students, Carol taught as a student missionary in Samoa for 12 months (in the days of snail mail). We married the next year with just $50 between us, and honeymooned in a tent at a national park. We were in love, and when David said to one of his professors at the wedding, “It seems like a dream,” the professor wryly replied, “You’ll wake up one day.”
Maybe this comment reflects the pain experienced by families today. But why should we be surprised? If Satan’s intention has been to malign the character of God, and if family was God’s idea, then it is understandable that Satan would conduct an all-out attack on the one institution that makes possible “the well-being of society, the success of the church, [and] the prosperity of the nation.”1
Marriage, Genesis, and Fall
Begun in an ideal setting, with two perfect people, marriage was to be a relationship of mutual companionship, joy, and continuous development—with the Creator as coach and consultant. But Lucifer also saw the tremendous potential of the family. He has relentlessly tried to destroy the effectiveness of families in each successive generation.
With the exit of perfect peace and harmony, family histories have been lived out in combat conditions. The great cosmic controversy between Christ and Satan, between good and evil, plays out its finale not only in earth’s history but also behind the closed doors of today’s families.
Josh and Sally are casualties in this battle. Their 18-year-old marriage is tired and wearing thin. The “for better or worse” is definitely feeling “worse.” Minor irritations have become major showdowns. Josh is becoming more disillusioned with his job. The promotions have not eventuated, and he feels he is being sucked into a dark tunnel with no escape route.
Sally is looking for a change in pace too. Trying to balance her roles as wife, mother, homemaker, and executive is taking its toll on her midlife years. Meanwhile, teenagers Andy and Brett are facing struggles with their peers, frustration at school, uncertainty about their future, pornography addiction, and disinterest in the church. They feel lost and disconnected from their parents.
Not too promising a picture. Yet in the Bible we see God moving remarkably among dysfunctional families. In the midst of family disputes, despair, deception, rape, and murder, we also see the possibilities of restoration, grace, and redemption. Indeed, God’s intention was that all the families of the earth might be blessed through Abraham’s extended family (Gen. 12:3). It was the covenant agreement between God and His people that became the focus of hope in the most desperate of times.
Covenant is not based on human effort (or failure) but on God’s faithfulness. His faithfulness extends to families today. Jesus linked the new covenant to forgiveness at the Last Supper. The cup symbolized His spilled blood providing forgiveness and reconciliation. And in families torn apart by irreconcilable differences, grace and forgiveness become indispensible. Not just from God but from each other.
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 partners 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, marriage partners who fully commit themselves to each other in Christ 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. 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 disciplinarian, ever tender and caring, who wants them to become members of His body, the family of God. Increasing family closeness is one of the earmarks of the final gospel message. (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:3-9; John 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:21-33; Matt. 5:31, 32; Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10, 11; Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-4; Deut. 6:5-9; Prov. 22:6; Mal. 4:5, 6.)Parents often ask how children in the same family can be so different. Vive la difference! “It is in the order of God that persons of varied temperament should associate together.”2 Learning to appreciate differences within the family prepares us for getting along with all kinds of people in the wider community.
Because of our unique differences, God shows His love to us in many different ways. He delights to spend time with us and gives us His focused attention (Matt. 6:26; Rev. 3:20), He gives good gifts (Matt. 7:11; Rom. 6:23; James 1:17), and His acts of service include humility and the ultimate sacrifice of His life (Phil. 2:3-11). We are told that He is “touched” with the feelings of our infirmities (Isa. 53; Heb. 4:15), and His words of affirmation inspire us (1 Peter 2:9).
Speaking the Right Language
Many have found the five “love languages”3 helpful in discovering the best ways to give and receive love. More recently, Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas have identified The Five Languages of Apology,4 which relate to communication patterns in families, communities, schools, the workplace, and international politics. When one has been hurt by another, appropriate acknowledgment of that wrong is necessary in order for healing and recovery to begin.
In two years of research they found that different people require different types of apology. Merely saying “sorry” may sound insincere to some people, and insufficient to bind the wounds. Some need to hear a person accept responsibility for their actions; others need to hear how a repetition of this problem will be avoided in the future.
In the Bible we have a classic example of these different languages of apology being used to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Abigail’s strenuous efforts to shower on David a number of different lang-uages of apology certainly resulted in a number of unexpected and far- reaching benefits (see 1 Sam. 25).
Enjoying the Journey—Together
Marriage is hard work. But marriage can also be profoundly satisfying. What if I had acted on my sudden immature impulses of ending our marriage when my own selfish inclinations were challenged in the early years of our marriage? What an unspeakable loss that would have been to us. Two sons, their young families, mission service, and a flood of irreplaceable memories remind us of a deeply satisfying journey with the God who is faithful even when we are not.
The journey has been neither static nor predictable. Everything has changed along the way: the road, the vehicle, the landscape, the weather, fellow travelers, and even the determination (and energy levels) to keep going.
In the midst of changing circumstances, surroundings, and neighbors, God’s people have always found their source of strength and security in the faithfulness of God. The God who is there, who doesn’t change—the same yesterday, today, and forever—is always there for us.
1 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assn., 1952), p. 15.
Every year Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druzes visit a cave, traditionally identified as Elijah’s, nestled on Mount Carmel, to pray for special favors and make vows to God. Nowadays many have reduced religious life to prayers and vows in a shrine or chapel, being indifferent to living the message found in God’s Word. In contrast, the Bible tells of a remnant, that is, a minority of believers who keep God’s instructions, including the Ten Commandments, and trust in the prophetic word or Spirit of Prophecy (Rev. 12:17; 19:10; 2 Peter 1:19), which, Adventists believe, has been manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White.
As a way of looking back into the future, the Old Testament narratives of King Ahab, Obadiah, and the widow of Zarephath help us, through contrast and comparison, to get a glimpse of the character of the end-time remnant of God.
Transgression of the Indivisible Truth The admonition “Trust in the Lord your God and you will be upheld, and trust in His prophets and succeed” suggests that the Word of God and the prophetic word constitute one indivisible truth (2 Chron. 20:5-20).1 In the case of Ahab and his people, this truth somehow was ignored. Scripture says that the people (including the king) transgressed the “commandments of the Lord,”2 and rejected Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 19:10, 14; 16:30; 18:18; 21:20, 22, 25). They worshipped Baal, even going to the extreme of building a temple for him in Samaria and making standing (wooden/stone) images of him (1 Kings 16:31-33; 18:22, 24; 2 Kings 10:26, 27). Most likely they profaned the Sabbath as well. When trying to gain control of Naboth’s vineyard, the king, the elders, and the townsmen took God’s name in vain, embraced covetousness, and engaged in false witness, murder, and theft (1 Kings 21:8-16, 19). Even more troublesome, Ahab considered Elijah a troublemaker and personal enemy, often opposing his mission (1 Kings 19:1; 18:17; cf. 21:20; 22:17, 29). In our everyday interpersonal relationships, how often do we become victims of our own ideas and ambitions and resist living the commandments? How do we relate to the counsel of God’s prophet(s)?
Veneration of the Complacency Cult One may wonder why the Baal cult was so attractive for Ahab and his people. In the ancient world Baal was the Canaanite storm god and the lord of the sky, who provided rain and fertility. He was also the warrior who fought against Yam (the sea god) and Mot (the god of death). That he was worshipped in lieu of the Lord in Israel demonstrates that people believed that he possessed similar power to that of God or even more. The Baal cult demanded vows of libations and animal sacrifices as well as prayers. In turn it offered the worshipper “moral freedom,” a licentious life. This explains why Ahab served Baal and thus did evil before the Lord (1 Kings 21:20, 25). The outcome of this apostasy was severe drought and famine that reached even to Zarephath (1 Kings 17:1, 7; 18:2, 18). It seems that Baal is still around today, though dressed in new garments and bearing the name of science, technology, or the entertainment industry. If it meets my needs, if it provides a sense of belonging and security, it must work—and God’s commandments and His prophetic message may sound awkward or old-fashioned! Have you also experienced the superficiality and emptiness of modernity’s cult?
The Remnant and Its Mission
The universal church is composed of all who truly believe in Christ, but in the last days, a time of widespread apostasy, a remnant has been called out to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. This remnant announces the arrival of the judgment hour, proclaims salvation through Christ, and heralds the approach of His second advent. This proclamation is symbolized by the three angels of Revelation 14; it coincides with the work of judgment in heaven and results in a work of repentance and reform on earth. Every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. (Rev. 12:17; 14:6-12; 18:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jude 3, 14; 1 Peter 1:16-19; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Rev. 21:1-14.)Living of the Indivisible Truth When the majority had opted for a self-centered living after Baal, the Lord preserved a faithful remnant. He “caused to remain in Israel 7,000, all whose knees did not bow to Baal and all whose mouths did not kiss him” (1 Kings 19:18). Among them was Obadiah, the steward of Ahab’s palace. He revered the Lord greatly from his youth and trusted in his prophet (1 Kings 18:3, 7, 8, 12, 16). Even risking his own life, “when Jezebel was killing the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and provided them with food and water” (1 Kings 18:4; see also verse 13). In the same way, a non-Israelite widow along with her household, including a number of relatives and servants, worshipped the Lord (1 Kings 17:15, 17). They lived in the Phoenician city-state of Zarephath, close to Sidon (in modern Lebanon), under the government of Jezebel’s father, King Ethbaal (1 Kings 16:31; 17:9).3 Consistent with the meaning of the king’s name, Baal was the national god of Zarephath. In spite of the religious status quo, the widow courageously chose to serve the Lord (verse 9). Accordingly, her household’s needs of food and water, safety, love, and esteem were amply met when elsewhere there was only despair (verses 15, 16). The Zarephathian woman was not a neophyte. She long believed in God and was familiar with the view of divine retributive justice. Before Elijah she confessed: “The Lord is living” (1 Kings 17:1, 12); and faced with the sudden death of her child, she said: “You have come to me to recall my iniquity” (1 Kings 17:18; cf. Ps. 109:14; Isa. 64:8; Jer. 14:10; Hosea 8:13; 9:9).
Whereas Ahab and his people transgressed the Ten Commandments, this remnant lived faithfully serving others. The stories of the Zarephathian woman and Obadiah in particular are sandwiched within the Ahab narrative (1 Kings 16:28-22:40) to contrast the true character of living faith with the emptiness of pagan religiosity in a time of theological polarization, natural catastrophes, and political unrest—somehow this list sounds very familiar! In a word, they prefigure the individuals who characterize the end-time remnant.
By living the commandments of God and having confidence in the prophetic word, we too find security, comfort, and guidance in life. The worship of “Baal,” disguised in whatever form of idolatry, may be alluring, but soon becomes a self-destructive choice. Our mission is to live and proclaim divine truth. “At all times and in all places” “God’s denominated people are to take a firm stand under the banner of truth.”4 This is a call to a faithful remnant!
1 All translations from Scripture in this article are the authors’ own. 2 The compound “the commandments of the Lord” appears six times as the object of obedience for the possession of the land (1 Chron. 28:8), as transgressed (1 Sam. 13:13; 2 Kings 17:19; 2 Chron. 24:20) or abandoned (1 Kings 18:18; 2 Kings 17:16) by the kings and the people. 3 Ironically, Ethbaal’s name means “with Baal.” 4 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, p. 246.
Richard W. Medina and his wife, Rubia, are graduate students at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel. Richard studies Semitic languages, and Rubia pursues Islamic and Middle Eastern studies.
The Rest of Your Life Planning for the real tomorrow
By Lael Caesar
May 21, 2011, at 6:00 p.m., the world refused to end—a dramatic nonevent that leaves plenty of room for new predictors, as well as repeat offenders.*
Seventh-day Adventists, taught and shaped by the events of 1830-1861, and who have not forgotten the way the Lord has led in our history, still have something to teach, specifically, to fellow Christians. One truth for everyone about last “Mayday” is that we all still have to plan for our tomorrow.
Its events will all be either trivial, or important, or essential. Life’s trivial distractions (ice-cream flavors and key-chain styles) and its urgencies (commuter schedules, final wedding preparations, or the desperation of gifts for people we forgot, who remembered us at Christmas) may indeed matter. But beyond trivia, and beyond even the tyranny of the urgent, there is the indispensable. It’s what Jesus wants us to focus on when He asks us to weigh the loss of our soul (Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:36). Christianity is not fairy-tale oblivion. It means studying the futures market, thinking about tomorrows, and securing yours now.
End-time Counsel Tragically, some intelligent Christian thought has reduced the essential to the trivial. We have read Jesus’ advice on preparation and reduced it to academic amusement with little and big numbers. Answering His disciples’ query about their beloved Jerusalem, Jesus got an early word in about how people in 2011 could secure their tomorrow. This is because for Him secure futures are always an essential matter. He repeatedly promises a great tomorrow, and even today, for everyone who will choose Him today: “everlasting life” (John 3:16), “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10), “a hundredfold now in this time”—with persecutions—“and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30).
But what we mostly remember Jesus saying about preparation for tomorrow is that there will be celestial signs, and earthly distress, and religious fraud, and frightened people as proof that His coming is near (Matt. 24:5-14, 29; Luke 21:25, 26). Some insist that in accordance with these predictions, earth’s natural disasters are increasing in number as we approach the end of time. Meanwhile, others dismiss any claim that either pattern or reason can be found in the madness of the elements that batter our lives and our globe.
To judge by all this, Jesus’ purpose in giving His advice about tomorrow was to draw His children into little games of addition and subtraction, counting earthquakes by number, intensity, and distribution, to prove there were 10 big enough ones today versus nine and a half tomorrow! Those 20,000 Japanese tsunami deaths win out over 300 Tennessee tornado victims. This awkward Christian quarrel about the significance, number, and intensity of tsunamis, hurricanes, and bomb-dropping might well lead to, or be based on, the idea that God or Christians gain from disputing the relative violence of ancient and modern disaster, or the relative cruelty of ancient Assyrians and modern Saddams, Hitlers, and Stalins. It is unlikely, though, that Jesus meant for these calculator games to be any part of our planning for tomorrow. Or that Bible study along with newspaper reading was designed to inspire argument over how many more or less died or are really supposed to die, how much starvation, pedophilia, or racketeering is necessary before Jesus can come back.
Christ-focused Endgame Second Coming of Christ
The second coming of Christ is the blessed hope of the church, the grand climax of the gospel. The Savior’s coming will be literal, personal, visible, and worldwide. When He returns, the righteous dead will be resurrected, and together with the righteous living will be glorified and taken to heaven, but the unrighteous will die. The almost complete fulfillment of most lines of prophecy, together with the present condition of the world, indicates that Christ’s coming is imminent. The time of that event has not been revealed, and we are therefore exhorted to be ready at all times. (Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; Matt. 24:14; Rev. 1:7; Matt. 24:43, 44; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:8; Rev. 14:14-20; 19:11-21; Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 1 Thess. 5:1-6.)Instead, Jesus’ words point to misery around and within us as ubiquitous proof of our thoroughly desperate human situation. They offer compelling evidence of the pathetic finitude of humanity and nature outside of Him. Jesus’ point is to have us embrace His uniqueness as humanity’s only hope. For He is the only one who can actually secure our tomorrow. We are finite; He is infinite. We are puny; He is awesome. We are desperate; He is our help in time of trouble. We are nothing; He is everything. And He says to us, “My children, let Me secure your tomorrow. Whenever you look around, not only in the year 2011, but always, not only always, but more than ever with the passing of time and the fulfillment of time prophecies, when you see the confusion in nature, the panic of the nations before all the things that are coming to pass—physical things, political things, religious things, military things, economic things—‘when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near’[Luke 21:28].” So lift up the trumpet and loud let it ring, Jesus is coming again! That is our tomorrow; that is our hope; that is our best investment; that is our security.
This is just what Jesus had Paul and John say centuries before the fulfillment of Daniel’s 2300-day prediction (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 22:6-10). Prophetic fulfillment does not suddenly make it right to look up to Jesus and away from self. Rather, predictive prophecy demonstrates to honest observers the absolutely unimprovable reliability of the word of the God whose hand holds times and seasons, whose eye sees the end from the beginning, whose heart cares infinitely about my yesterdays, your todays, and everyone’s tomorrows. We were always supposed to look up to Him and away from ourselves. “Your tomorrow is Me,” He says. “Your heart must not worry while others fail for fear; you believe in God, believe I am trustworthy. Make sure you secure your tomorrow now, during the ‘day of salvation’ [2 Cor. 6:2]. I alone, no one and nothing beside, can provide that salvation [Isa. 43:11]. And I am coming back to receive you to Myself so we may always be together!”
All analysis of Jesus’ end-time sermons in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 must acknowledge this overall relation between His predictions of natural, economic, political, and spiritual disaster, and the climactic event of His second coming. Jesus is not recommending numerical trivia about recent and ancient chaos as an intelligent pastime for pleasant or stormy Sabbath afternoons. Instead, the One who cast the shame of our past into the depths of the sea wants us securing our future and urging everyone else to secure theirs, by investing in Him for now, for tomorrow, and forever. It’s so much more meaningful and productive than haggling over how many didn’t and did die from Satan’s latest madness. And so essential to the rest of all our lives.