On some long ago camping trip to the pine forests of east Texas, my father taught me the mechanics of building a fire. Raised in the woods and meadows of New England, he has a deep respect for the land, and shared with me his delight in the crisp morning air that always welcomes a well-built fire.
I watched in fascination as he gathered twigs and dry grass for the blaze that was soon to be. There was thought and experience behind each movement: the tenting of the combustibles; the gathering of the larger fuel; the attentiveness to wind speed and direction. I knew before the age of 4 that building a sustainable fire requires planning, preparation, and observation.
I think of those long-ago lessons often these days, particularly as I bow in prayer for the success of the revival fires now springing up among God’s people. I am careful not to pray for just any kind of burning. I do not ask the Lord for lightning strikes to set the land ablaze. Charred stumps and burned-over districts testify to the wastefulness of unplanned and unattended blazes. No, instead I plead for sustainable fires that warm and brighten, gathering places from which a watching world draws comfort, light, and encouragement.
Even as a child I grasped the importance of consolidating the combustibles that keep the fire fueled. Stray twigs and bits of straw may flame with momentary brilliance, but soon are spent, a blackened witness to what might have been. Pushed—or better yet, pressed—together, one fiery branch ignites another, and then another, each adding to a blaze so many times the size it might have individually produced.
The principle holds true when revival fires spring up in what Elton Trueblood once called “the incendiary fellowship”—this body of believers God has called into His remnant church. Apart from each other, we may flare with bright but temporary light. But pressed together—consciously collected for the Spirit’s fiery purposes—the personal revival that God is now bringing to hundreds of individuals will soon become that great and general revival for which we’ve all been praying.
“Press together, press together, press together,” Ellen White reminded us more than a century ago. “Do not let Satan cast his hellish shadow between brethren. Press together; in unity there is strength.”1
So step closer to the fire, my friends. Decide to be part of the new Pentecost God is now lighting among His people. The heart you find on fire will surely be your own.
1 Ellen G. White, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 904.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem—Sing for the night is o’er …”
Iwiped the tears from my eyes as the Oakwood University Aeolians punctuated the fifty-ninth General Conference session’s final program with a burst of triumphant confidence. Tens of thousands around me in the darkened Georgia Dome whispered the words that we expect to sing someday, gathered in the City of Light:
“Hosanna in the highest; hosanna forevermore!”
Tomorrow, God willing, we would pack up our belongings, board buses, trains, and airplanes, and return to the thousands of places attendees call “home.” Fortunate ones like me might be there in only a few hours. Others would take days, perhaps even weeks, to complete the circuit that had brought them from halfway ’round the world to Atlanta.
But for tonight—for this last and lingering moment—we stood in our imaginations on that sea that looks like glass, and measured the distance from Atlanta to the New Jerusalem with the short chronology of hope, and with measuring rods marked in meters and yards, not kilometers and miles.
This is what faith does: instructed and assured by the promises of Jesus, it leaps forward to stand—to rejoice—in a reality it does not yet fully see, but which it has already begun to enjoy.
The world outside the Georgia Dome was demonstrably dark: even the headlines of a sunny Sunday morning would tell familiar tales of war and greed, earthquakes and hurricanes, heartbreak in a million private settings. But faith always fixes its eyes on the place where Jesus is, and judges all things—including the massive challenges still facing this remnant people—by the certainty of how it all will end. God’s church needs—requires—moments such as these when our sacred imaginations arc across the interval until Jesus comes, and celebrate the final “It is finished” of our salvation.
In the pages of this edition of Adventist World, we bring you some of the experiences and images that strengthened our faith during the recent General Conference session in Atlanta. As you turn these pages, turn your thoughts to the soon-coming reality of a gathering where the chorus will be measured not in dozens but in millions, and where the joy will never end.
It is too easy to forget them, especially when the world is awash in images of Christmas joy and festivity. We turn from the anguished faces on the newspaper page or the whispered stories we have heard—thirdhand—from “over there.” Hungry for our annual merriment, we look away when their eyes seem too pleading, too insistent, too abandoned.
They are the refugees—by latest count, an estimated 62 million people around the globe—a number equal to almost 1 percent of the world’s population. Their single common denominator is no link of race, ethnicity, age, or economic status: it is, instead, that they have been displaced—by war, by famine, by economic turmoil, by natural disasters, by ideologies bent on hate or “purity.” In an era when mobility is so much prized, they have too much of it. “Home” is always some other place—back there—a day away, a week ago, behind some strands of wire.
We, the ninety and nine who safely lie in the shelter of the fold, do well to remember them as we end another year. We may have little or much, be well-fed or lean, but we at least have “home.” Whether they know Him or own Him, the Bible reminds us that the displaced of this world are the special concern of Jesus. His parents were forced to flee with Him before He was many weeks old. He had, He said, “nowhere to lay His head,” except, perhaps, on the borrowed cushion of a storm-tossed boat. And the peace He wants to bring to those of good will He seeks to give soonest to the “little ones” who have almost never had it.
Somewhere nearby, within a kilometer or a mile of where you live, someone camps beneath a bridge, huddles in a soggy tent, waits for that day when what they think of as luck will turn. Seek them out this Christmas, in the name of the Lord of Displaced Persons, to offer them what He would surely give—a warm meal, a cool drink, a needed embrace. In so doing, you appropriately commemorate the birth of the Lord who offers Himself as the refuge of the homeless and the lost.
Iwoke to the soft clink of a metal chisel striking stone—seven seconds between strikes, I slowly realized. Just beyond the walls of the guesthouse where I was staying, a cheerful laborer was up early this Kenyan Sunday morning. The soft volcanic stone he was expertly shaping with a collection of chisels would soon be carried down the hillside to raise yet another structure.
I wandered outside to watch him closely as he squared a dull-red block with practiced ease. He hummed bits of melodies as he worked, tossing laughter and one-liners to his colleagues. One at a time, an hour per stone, the pieces of the new house were taking shape.
I turned, fascinated, to stare at the building in which I had spent the night. Arriving in the darkness, I had paid no attention to the structure, anxious to find my bed after a long trip. But now I saw more clearly: each of the blocks—1,080 of them, as I counted—had also been shaped by the same steady method. Each stone was beautifully finished, and my awe only increased as I noted how closely each was fitted to its neighbor. This house had been built slowly, patiently, with methods no longer seen in my mass-produced, poured-concrete culture.
The apostle Peter’s remarkable metaphor came quickly to mind: “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5, NRSV).* The extra, on-site lesson was equally unmistakable: it will take time, and shaping, and accommodation, to be joined to my brothers and sisters as part of a spiritual house that the Lord can inhabit. I can’t insist on maintaining my untouched distinctiveness and yet claim to be part of a bearing wall. To be fitted into a structure that brings glory to God requires me to yield to the neighbor and the member beside me—and to this yielding and this humility the gospel continually calls me.
God’s kingdom is being built—sometimes slowly, always steadily—as we are shaped into living stones by the reviving Spirit of the Lord. Pray just now for the part God is calling you to be in the church that brings Him glory.
We lingered in the cafeteria, picking our way through a lunch of potatoes, beans, and fruit. Strangers to each other until moments earlier, we worked at making conversation between mouthfuls of food.
“Do you travel much?” he wanted to know, perhaps hoping some wider window on the world would open to him.
“Yes,” I said with a rueful smile. “Sometimes too much.”
“You are a pastor, right?” I asked. He nodded silently, eyes fixed on his plate. I reached for the inevitable next question that always passes between pastors.
“How many churches are in your district?” I had already mentally made my educated guess: at about 55 years old, he would have one, possibly two mid-sized congregations in the city area he served.
“Twenty-two,” he said softly, still eyeing the beans.
The sharp intake of breath from my side of the table clearly startled him. He looked up, a tired smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
“You have 22 congregations in your district?” I asked incredulously, suddenly ashamed of the times I had lamented serving two or three. “How many members are in your territory?”
“About 4,500,” he murmured.
I sat back in my cafeteria chair, my fork pointing absently to nowhere, amazed by the modesty of a servant of God content with his great burden. As I pressed him further to describe his responsibilities, I saw what I had previously missed: the settled confidence in Christ; the sturdy joy that lit his eyes when he talked of training local elders, baptizing hundreds of new believers every year, organizing new congregations.
Around the world of Adventism, his story is far from unique. The burdens carried by local pastors are immense, broad and deep, complex and never-ending. In ways too numerous to tell, they are the glue holding God’s remnant people together. Our pastors are the indispensable servants to whom we owe far more than we usually admit.
This week, pray for the pastors nearest you. Ask the Father to give them joy in the midst of their work, and not only at the end of it all. Offer a word of encouragement in the name of the One they serve so well.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
An old African-American and Caribbean chorus is floating around the world just now:
Take me to the waters;
Take me to the waters;
Take me to the waters—
To be baptized.
From Ankara to Anchorage and Manaus to Mombasa, it’s an invitation being voiced hundreds of times a day by men and women joining this remnant people of God. In ponds still choked with winter ice, and in muddy jungle rivers where the onlookers sometimes include the crocodiles, nearly 3,000 people a day are sealing a covenant with Jesus and His end-time church through baptism. The gains of Pentecost are repeating every day.
That gentle continuous “splash” you hear around the Adventist world is the sound of someone being immersed every 30 seconds—“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those wet footprints down the aisle of the church were made by one of more than a million new believers who joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the past 12 months.
But how are we doing at welcoming our new brothers and sisters? Are we making room for them at the family table, including them in our “life together”? Do they know that they are precious to the Lord—and to us? When did they last feel a hand of kindness on the shoulder or hear us praying for them? Do they find us quick to forgive, eager to encourage, slow to criticize?
Their needs are not complex, and their hopes not difficult to satisfy. They need what young lives always need: kindness, food, and clothing. Wrap them in the garments of praise. Feed them with the manna you are finding in the Word. Listen to their griefs, their struggles, and their triumphs.
Renew your own baptismal vows by making a covenant with the newest among us. Pledge that you will not let another Sabbath pass without blessing the life of someone who has recently waded in the waters. You have surely come to the kingdom for such a time—and such a task—as this.
In the half-light of a rainy dawn I bend over my glowing laptop screen, eyes welling with grateful tears as I scan the messages that crowd my e-mail in-box.
“Praying for you today.… Lifting you up before the Father.… Asking God to give you His joy and peace this Sabbath.”
The messages of grace and love were sent sometime in the night by friends in South Africa, the Philippines, New Zealand, the Netherlands. Half a world away as we used to measure distance, they interceded for a friend as their kindness raced along the World Wide Web. The hope that once took weeks or months to share now travels at speeds approaching that of prayer.
And I am blessed, in real ways, in real time. The solidarity we share in Christ is deepened, strengthened, undergirded by their digital expressions of faith. I know that my Redeemer lives, in part because He has such caring followers on earth.
Were it not for new technologies that leap the chasms between nations, races, faiths, and languages, we might despair of ever going “into all the world” with the gospel. Uncounted millions will never learn of Jesus’ love if telling it depends only on boats and planes, radio, and even mass distribution journals such as Adventist World. Unless we move assertively toward new media that God has made available, a swelling world population will outgrow our ability to tell “the old, old story” that we have loved so well.
As you read this month’s cover feature, pray for an open heart and a keen imagination. Let the unrestricted, unbound Spirit of the living God point you to the media, the communication technologies by which you can share your faith with those nearby and those you may never physically see until the kingdom.
Your words of hope, once digitized, can penetrate the gated communities, the high-rise apartments where you will never be allowed to go. Your witness via the Web and its amazing variety of audio and video platforms can cross deserts, climb mountains, swim rivers, and touch hearts in ways no other generation of missionaries has ever been able to do.
In the place I live the world is springing back to life with buds and blooms and warming skies. At 39.03 N and 76.53 W, daffodils are leaping up, grass is greening as I write, and winter clothes are being packed away.
Somewhere half a world south, 800 kilometers (480 miles) below Santiago on the Chilean coastline, the sights and sentiments of the season are almost opposite. Though warmed by South Pacific winds, the region near Temuco is moving through its autumn. Wood is being gathered to survive the cold wintry rains of May, June, and July.
Farther still, half a world away, the nearest antipodal (exactly opposite) land mass to where I live is a tiny volcanic island 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) southeast of Réunion called Île Saint-Paul in the Indian Ocean. It has no permanent population. Only antarctic terns and fur seals enjoy the temperate weather and the occasional scientific visitor.
Caught up in the pleasures of my world, it is tempting to forget how different the world looks to those not reveling in flowers, sunshine, and birdsongs. My time of joy may be another’s time of sorrow or anxiety. The hope that floods my heart may not be shared by those uncertain of tomorrow’s meals or hounded by a government unfriendly to their faith.
This magazine is called Adventist World because it seeks, at heart, to make the global family of Adventists aware of one another and of the many things we share in Christ. In these pages you will read of men and women physically far distant from you, but closer in the things that count than persons living on your street or in your town. You will be encouraged by their faith and perseverance; they will learn of your generosity and strength.
All of us will be reminded that we have been called into a conscious community of Christians founded on the unchanging truths of Scripture and committed to preparing people to meet a soon-coming Savior. In these pages you will read the stories of God’s grace and of the church’s witness to a world needing hope. A global family of nearly 17 million baptized members and 25 million in total meets in these pages every month.
“There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11).
Woven into Paul’s great hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13 is a strand of truth we often hurry by in our eagerness to enjoy the apostle’s promise that we shall soon see the Lord “face to face.” Four times in four verses Paul asserts that what we now know is only “in part”—limited, incomplete, not fully comprehending the great reality of either God’s plan or His love.
This isn’t merely a humble affirmation of our creatureliness. No sane Christian really doubts that the mortal can scarcely grasp the notion of immortality, nor the finite understand the infinite. Paul’s reminders of the incompleteness and the partialness of what we know—about the world, about the church, even about one another—underscore how crucial the habit of “charity,” or “love,” is for the church in these “in between times.”
Because I don’t know what it feels like to be a persecuted believer in a totalitarian state, I must ask the Spirit for a love that drives me to my knees to intercede for those whose burdens are truly great and terrible.
Because I don’t know what it is like to wonder, as thousands of believers do each day, from where my next meal will come or if I will find shelter before night, I must pray for a willingness to help fellow Adventists displaced by war, by famine, by natural disasters.
Because I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman in a male-dominated culture, frequently denied a voice in the life of both home and church, I must pray that my church will listen well when godly women plead for the opportunity to use the gifts given them by the Spirit for the spreading of the gospel.
Because I don’t know the bigotry and prejudice still wounding thousands of my fellow believers who sometimes feel excluded by their race, ethnicity, or language, I must pray for a heart to include and empower all who wait for Christ’s appearing.
There is so much we do not know—and cannot know—until what is perfect comes. The gospel’s answer for our ignorance is a love that humbles us before one another and a watching world.
Someday, by the grace of God, I will get to be a part of a vastly popular mass movement.
In all likelihood, however, that probably won’t happen until I stand one day with the millions of white-robed saints pictured in Revelation 7. They gather before the throne and before the Lamb with palm branches in their hands, crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9, 10).
Between now and then, as a disciple of Jesus, I will probably know much more about belonging to a small and sometimes unpopular minority, for the faith of Jesus always passes through the narrow gate. I shouldn’t expect to hear ringing public affirmations of the Bible truths to which I am committed from those who follow other gods or walk the broad highway or put on their Christianity but once a week, and only then for an hour.
It’s certainly easier to write or read these words than to live them, for our hearts hunger for the knowledge that we have joined a popular majority. Sometimes, unconsciously, we even judge the worth of things by how many of our neighbors are choosing what we choose or living as we live.
One hundred fifty years ago a man who had learned the quiet strength of choosing what is right over what is popular wrote lines I have emblazoned on the walls of my life. Persons convicted in their souls of a great truth should “not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”*
Seventh-day Adventists, growing rapidly as a world movement of Christians, still do well to hear these words. Few Adventists are privileged to live where their faith is held in high esteem or celebrated by a majority. Many believers live the loneliness that Moses experienced in the wilderness or the apostle John knew on Patmos.
To them—to you, if you are one of them—I underline the consolation that comes from being true to the Word of God and the leading of the Spirit: “It is enough if they have God on their side.”