The pillow on which I lay my head each night is a wonderful thing—generously long, pleasantly soft, and filled with a synthetic fiber that suitably imitates the feathers plumping my grandfather’s pillow. And while the press of work means that I sometimes don’t spend enough time with my head actually on it, it admirably performs its function, providing me with comfort and support for six or seven hours each night. I like my pillow: indeed, after experiencing the ones offered at some of the hotels I visit in my travels, I could even say I love my pillow.
But I don’t bring it to church with me.
That’s hardly surprising, given that the experience of worshipping with other believers ought to be one in which I find it hard to go to sleep. The environment of faith expects me to be fully and reverently alert. Paul reminds us, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11).
When I meet with other believers—to hear the Word preached, to study Scripture, to pray for revival, to plan for mission—comfort shouldn’t be the chief consideration. I expect my pastor to remind me of the lateness of the hour, that my friends will invite me to stay awake with them and pray, that my heart will be challenged by a repeating call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I expect reminders to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
So it is that I applaud my church—the worldwide fellowship of Seventh-day Adventists—for the initiative called “Connecting With Jesus” featured in this month’s edition. Distributing the heaven-inspired messages found in the Spirit of Prophecy will ready this people for the unprecedented times of stress and difficulty that Scripture predicts will accompany the last days of human history. The ministry of Ellen White expressed in these volumes will call us back to Bible study, to repentance, to a deeper awareness of the power of the indwelling Christ, and to a special urgency in reaching those who haven’t yet connected with Jesus.
The greater comfort for God’s people will be found, not in sleep, but in knowing that they have placed themselves securely in the center of His will.
For Sarah in Zimbabwe, who is asking the Lord to give her a husband to love and care for . . .
For Ivan in Belarus, who is being urged to take an engineering exam on Sabbath . . .
For Migdalia in the Philippines, who is struggling with cancer . . .
The prayer requests—some handwritten, others e-mailed, some newly translated from Spanish, French, Portuguese, or German--move around the circle of the Adventist World staff each Wednesday morning at 8:15. Taken together, they illustrate the round of prayer that rises every morning from Adventists all around the world. Folded slips of paper, envelopes bearing exotic stamps, digitized messages transmitted at the speed of electricity—they all convey the vital heartbeat of believers committed to the task of interceding for each other.
We pause over each one, fingering the connection we feel to those far distant from us, yet joined in common faith. We “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). We sigh at sin and sickness, grieving losses borne by those who write. Our hearts leap within us at news of hope—when evil is pushed back, when Ivan is offered another exam date, when Sarah finds a godly husband.
Each week the number and variety of requests seems to grow, as Adventists around the globe reach out to ask for prayer from those they will not likely meet until we stand upon that sea of glass. Faith imagines what mortal eyes may never see—thousands of others, bent on their knees in homes, in offices, alongside roads. In a world convulsed by plague and pain, the act of praying for believers half a world away is the surest sign that we have joined more than a local congregation. In God’s grace, we belong to a called-out world-wide fellowship whose first allegiance is to the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” the Lord Who stands above every government, every tribe, every economic system. In His name, and to His throne, we bring our weekly prayers and praises, seeking the oneness for which He prayed.
As you read this month’s feature story about the unique ministry of Adventist World, join that world-embracing circle of faith and prayer.
I’ll admit that I was startled when I first considered the idea, for I have always thought of healing as a deeply personal experience. As a pastor for nearly 30 years, I have been a witness to hundreds of very private moments where God’s power healed a broken body, transformed a sinful heart, or restored a wounded marriage. I have told and retold the stories of Jesus’ miracles in dozens of sermons, praying that my hearers would reach out for the grace that still makes hurting people whole, one life at a time.
But what happens when a wounded body is restored or a broken relationship is mended? What happened in the circles and the villages to which those 10 former lepers of whom Luke’s Gospel tells us returned after Jesus healed them? Lives beyond their own were quickly and even dramatically changed. Jobs were resumed; marriages were restored; children were parented; friendships were picked up where they had been left when disease first brought its awful interruption. The ever-widening ripples of change that flowed from that tenfold instant of healing moved on to change families and social structures and villages and nations. And all of this—all this change and transformation—was clearly in the mind of Christ when He spoke the word that made 10 individuals whole.
Seventh-day Adventists have historically been careful about publicly advocating for societal change, for we have seen how quickly the grace and healing intended by the Great Physician can be obscured by picket signs and political maneuvering. What began as a profoundly spiritual quest to connect the lost and broken to Jesus can easily descend into an all-consuming passion for social power and domination. But let’s never mistake the fact that the good news of Jesus, which offers us eternal life, should always make a noticeable difference in the here and now—on street corners and in villages and in every relationship a healed life experiences. The woman who learns to read the Bible acquires economic status and social influence for good because of her new skill. The abusive husband who forsakes his habits of violence and intimidation because his heart has been changed by Jesus becomes a bulwark for righteousness in his business, in his family, in his community, and in his church.
As you read this month’s featured article about the “End It Now” campaign now widening around the world, pray that the healing—and the change—will reach the street where you live.
Three years ago I stood with friends on the excavated hilltop of ancient Laodicea, famed city of the “lukewarm” church. Archaeologists have marked where streets once crisscrossed, where major public buildings rose. But almost nothing today stands above waist high. Laodicea is now mostly a collection of broken pieces of broken pieces—chunks of marble, fragments of columns, bits of timeworn building blocks.
I wandered away from the rest of the tour group, glad for a moment of serenity. But then I turned a corner and felt my breath catch quickly, like when you see something old and familiar in an unexpected place. For there, rising to a height of nearly eight feet, archaeologists had reconstructed an ancient doorway in Laodicea, just where it had fallen centuries ago. All the marble was intact—a giant portal framing brilliant-blue sky.
And I heard the words of Jesus in my heart that day as clearly as if I had been with that long-ago church to which they were once read: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
Welling up in my heart that day came a response to the Lord of change that I have prayed often in the months since then, and that I repeat as I stand on the threshold of a new year: “Yes, Lord, I open the door. Do come in—again and again. No longer stand at the door and knock, like someone uncertain of a welcome. Come in; be at home. Find Your rest. Take charge of the place. Make this heart—make this life—Your dwelling. I open the door. I choose to change.”
As you step into 2010, find words of your own with which to greet the Lord of change. It is His joy to dwell wherever He is welcomed, wherever He is loved, wherever He is obeyed. In this new year, may you discover the “joy of every loving heart”—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
The Future Is Now “Do not prophesy to young men What their someday fame may be.”
The poet’s admonition underscores two of our most frequent errors when engaging Adventist youth and young adults in the mission of this end-time people.
First, we project their years of usefulness into the distant future, at which point, we seem to say, they will then have the skills or attitudes necessary to be productive disciples. The truth is, however, that discipleship is not—nor ever was—an adults-only experience. Describing God’s inclusive family, Ellen White once wrote: “Young though they may be, the youth may be members of the household of faith and have a most precious experience. . . . They may have their hearts drawn out in confidence and love for Jesus, and live for the Savior.1
In many regions of the world Adventism is overwhelmingly a faith of children, youth, and young adults. In some countries even the percentage of baptized members in these categories exceeds 60 percent. And though we have often been slow to both count and incorporate that reality, the urgency of the task given to this church requires that we not postpone for another decade—or another day—the opportunity to involve those under age 30 in every possible level of leadership and service.
Second, and perhaps more problematic, by telling gifted young adults that they are destined for supposedly “high” and important positions of leadership, we undermine the talent and the energy they should be investing in the work immediately before them. Here again, we ought to have been listening to that wise mother and grandmother, Ellen White: “While waiting for some great work in which they may exercise their supposedly great talents, and thus satisfy their ambitious longings, their life passes away. My dear young friends, do the work that lies nearest at hand. Turn your attention to some humble line of effort within your reach.”2
As you hear the voices of the talented young adults who so ably represented their church at the 2010 Atlanta General Conference session, commit yourself to encourage the church’s youth and young adults as the leaders of today. Help create the openings—even if that means stepping aside yourself—through which the gifts given them by the Spirit will dramatically increase the power of our witness.
— Bill Knott
1 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 169. 2 Ellen G. White, Messages to Young People, pp. 148, 149.
The daffodils are exquisitely yellow in my backyard just now, and I am tempted to rhapsodize about the joys of bursting buds and surging sap. But half a world away, those who share my Adventist faith are gathering fuel for the coming winter, harvesting crops, and finding warmer clothing.
I speak and write in English, a hybrid language owing much to French, German, Latin, and a dozen other tongues. But millions who read these words will gather what meaning is conveyed in at least 14 languages I neither read nor understand. In Heaven’s plan, their faith is not dependent on the eccentricities of my mother tongue.
I drive a car to church each Sabbath, and voice complaints about the rising costs of gasoline. But for millions of my brothers and sisters in Christ, the miles between their homes and their places of worship are measured one step at a time across savannahs, through jungles, down crowded urban streets. The fuel they need is found in the fellowship meal they share after the worship service.
I hail from peoples with long roots in England, Italy, and America. But for millions of Seventh-day Adventists, it is difficult to think of these nations without also remembering the follies and the conflicts that have marred their own homeland’s peace and joy.
When we survey the things that could divide us—languages, cultures, national histories, even the cycle of the seasons—it is a wonder from a human point of view that this remnant church exists at all. Many other faiths have not attempted what our Adventism calls us to: they celebrate instead all that is local, unique, particular, or ethnic. But the organizing principle of this movement has never been nor ever will be the commonality of our life experiences. A world-circling faith will find its sole and satisfying center in the Lord who is not known in just one language, in one culture, or in one national identity.
“He himself is before all things,” the apostle Paul wrote centuries ago, “and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:17, 18, NRSV*).
When you pray, invite God’s blessing on fellow believers around this globe who do not look like you, speak like you, eat what you eat, or sing as you sing. Intercede for their faithfulness to the Lord, who is the great One we have in common.
For a woman who was barely five feet tall, she still looms large in my memory.
Her hands clasped together for joyful emphasis, a mischievous grin creasing her time-worn face, Mabel Vreeland defined for me what it means to be a woman in ministry. Unconcerned about recognition and titled roles, she simply did the work of Jesus with a tenacity and a fervor that continues to amaze me now, long years after her death. Barely a month goes by when I do not read or hear of someone who traces their embrace of Adventism to the plucky woman with the distinctive Yankee accent.
Shortly after graduating from an Adventist college in the 1920s, Mabel became a Bible worker for the New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and served that one territory for more than four decades. Through the years of America’s Great Depression, when wages were meager, especially for single women, she labored in every major evangelistic campaign and city in the region, usually arriving to give Bible studies to dozens of interested persons just as the evangelist was completing his meetings. Two of those persons were my grandmother and my mother, whom Mabel guided into Adventism in the mid-1940s.
Eight years later, when Mabel’s red-headed cousin—my father—met and married that young woman whom Mabel had grounded in the Word, the circle of faith became complete. From my earliest memories, her firm handshake, her frequent laughter, and her stories of witness were part of my understandings of ministry. Ministry was what Mabel did—visiting people, opening Scripture with them, talking faith, encouraging them to make good and godly decisions. And when the conference officers could find no male pastor willing to serve the isolated and mountainous northern part of New York State, Mabel for 10 years pastored three churches, conducting youth meetings, preparing men and women for baptism, preaching every Sabbath.
I have no doubt that one day soon she will wear a crown of life, studded with hundreds of stars. But around her and beside her on that sea that looks like glass will be a great multitude—tens of thousands of Adventist women who have built the kingdom of Jesus day by day, opening the Word, serving the sick, teaching the unlettered, calling on sinners to repent and find salvation in Jesus.
To them, He will surely one day say, “Well done, My good and faithful servants.” Just now would be the right time for His church to express its gratitude and to offer its encouragement.
The morning headlines crackle with the pain and pressure of the night: “Debtor Nations Search for Aid.” “Mystery Illness Baffles Experts.” “Revolutions Rock Dictatorships.” The unrelenting facts of war, poverty, and sadness threaten to undo what Jesus wanted us to have: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
How do we speak of abundant life in the presence of great sorrow? Believers want to greet each new day with something of Christ’s confidence. But there’s a cloud upon our sunrise, a tarnish on our joy.
We know too much; we hear too much. Our hearts grow heavy with the news.
And if He left us with no remedy, we would be, as Paul might say, “of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19). To have His heart but no access to His power would leave us always in our tears.
But the same Lord who teaches us to care also teaches us to pray: “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). When we are most tempted to despair, we hear even in painful news a strong, persistent call to prayer. We meet the facts of human woe, not with an airy disregard, but with the deep concern of believers promised that our petitions will be heard and answered. By praying, we align ourselves with the invincible Christ; we express our fundamental agreement with His purposes and His soon-arriving kingdom. What seems our helplessness is, in fact, our greatest claim upon His power.
“Prayer moves the arm of Omnipotence,” Ellen White wrote more than century ago. “He who marshals the stars in order in the heavens, whose word controls the waves of the great deep—the same infinite Creator will work in behalf of His people, if they will call upon Him in faith. He will restrain all the forces of darkness, until the warning is given to the world, and all who will heed it are prepared for His coming.”*
Today, bring all the news before the Lord—interceding for the hungry, pleading for the victims, strengthening the righteous, lifting up the lost. He who came to preach good news invites you to stay in prayer until that morning when the news will be always and only good.
— Bill Knott
* Ellen G. White, in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 14, 1905.
Every message from a friend is welcome, but this one more than most. A brother in Christ, with whom I had long ago served in a pastor/elder team, wrote me six months ago to offer an opportunity no pastor could refuse: Would I come to participate in the rebaptism of his daughter, a woman I had first baptized more than 20 years ago as a teenager?
Her story was painful but familiar: an eager decision for Christ that unwound during her late teens and young adulthood into a life far removed from God. Through the Spirit’s persistence and the powerful support of friends and family, she was now closing the loop that had taken two decades to travel. Excited, nervous, humbled by the grace of God, she had asked if I could return to join her as she once again named Christ her Lord and Savior.
The water in the sanctuary baptistry was unusually warm that January Sabbath, as if in counterpoint to the storm howling just outside the windows of the church. “Blizzard conditions” the weathermen termed it, and the bitter air and piling snowdrifts reminded all of us that good decisions are not always attended by fair sunshine and blue sky. Gratefully, more than the water was warm in that church. I have rarely felt as confident as I did that Sabbath in delivering a believer into the embrace of the body of Christ. If ever a congregation leaned forward toward a baptism, this was it: if ever a lost sheep seemed welcomed by the flock, this was that day. I was a joyful bystander—call it a witness—to a community of Christ intent on making certain that a renewed believer was embraced by a renewed community. Elders, deacons, family, friends gathered around her at the fellowship meal that followed the service, breaking bread with a joy that was heart-breakingly beautiful to behold.
This is how the kingdom grows—one good decision at a time, one heart revived through grace and the graciousness of God’s people. As you read the stories of renewal in this month’s magazine, determine that your church will be a place that welcomes those whom God is calling—or recalling—to Himself.
Twelve years ago, in a moment of tardy recognition, I wrote an editorial for the Adventist Review, sister journal of Adventist World, titled “Your Church Is Too Small.” The editorial—and the title—were not the general complaint they appeared to be: the words were actually aimed at the author—me—for only lately realizing that my understanding of the scope and scale of God’s remnant church had been far too small. It was my vision that had been myopic and restricted, for I had been used to counting only part of what God’s people were really doing to build up His kingdom.
As a pastor and editor for 20 years by then, I had grown accustomed to noticing the mission and activities of what we sometimes glibly describe as “the organized church.” I knew the routines of congregational life—the worship services, witnessing activities, board meetings, and Sabbath schools. I was a product of 18 years of Adventist education—and entirely glad of it. I thought of Adventist witness mostly in terms of what paid employees accomplished through public evangelism, sponsored mission service, and literature produced by church-owned publishing houses.
And then the Lord began to open my eyes to see the real church—the vast and wonderfully diverse collection of Holy Spirit-gifted individuals, supporting ministries, parachurch organizations, lay-sponsored schools, and literature ministries that tirelessly work to spread the three angels’ messages in places no paid employee has yet gone. These are men and women, teens and senior citizens, who have realized that waiting for church funding or the approval of an official committee may actually delay obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:20). They have picked up the tools nearest to them—their vocal talents, their love of children, their skill at baking bread, their joy in Bible study—and turned them into ministries that win hundreds of thousands to the truth each year. Living, working, and witnessing without stable budgets, predictable supplies, or the promise of a retirement pension, they have discovered the irreplaceable joy of answered prayers and daily miracles that keep a ministry solvent.
Keep praying for the “organized church,” my friends; but broaden both your praying and your seeing to include tens of thousands of your brothers and sisters who labor not for money but for love. And when you meet them, let them hear from you what they will one day surely hear from Jesus Himself: “Well done; well done; well done!”