Thirteen by 16.5 feet (four by five meters). Enough space to grow a small garden. The size of an average bedroom in the United States. The total living space per person in Dhaka, Bangladesh—the world’s most densely crowded metropolitan region.
Subtract all the commercial spaces, industrial buildings, government structures, streets and sidewalks, garbage dumps, and marshy regions, and the typical Dhaka resident has just about as much total living space as a body lying on the ground would occupy. “All are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Eccl. 3:20).
The sheer number of persons living in the great cities of the world—now estimated to be more than 3.7 billion—guarantees that the concentration of life apparent there will only accelerate. Millions of persons each year leave rural regions and move toward cities, driven by hunger, war, disease, and economic instability. They share the forlorn hope that life’s pain will somehow be reduced if they experience it with others in a grand community.
The cities of this planet have become a great historical experiment in “life, concentrated”—a previously unknown social phenomenon for which there are no evident rules or guidelines, and for which there can be no prophecy of peace and success. Life, concentrated, means that all of life’s experiences—pain, sin, brokenness, discouragement, and violence—will also be intensified and magnified. It’s not for nothing that all the dreamers of the world have placed their nirvanas and utopias on far-distant, undiscovered islands or planets. No one expects good to emerge from cities.
But the church of Jesus is always called to inhabit the real world—not utopia. Dream as we should of a “city . . . whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10), we are called just now to serve the billions who live in metropolises anything but ideal. Life, concentrated, must rapidly become mission, concentrated, for this church—a mission lived out in truth shared, food given, water carried, clothes provided, and friendship offered.
As you read this month’s special collection of articles focused on the church’s worldwide initiative called “Mission to the Cities,” pray for a heart made warm with the compassion of Jesus.
She was one of the most successful women I’ve known, but she rarely had money to put a full tank of fuel in the car or adequate food on her table.
She had a bright, inquiring mind, but many of those to whom she ministered never grasped her skill with words or playfulness with language.
Her thought could penetrate the deep things of God, exploring texts and prophecies with clarity and force. But it is love, not logic, she is still remembered for.
I can’t forget the sight of Judy walking slowly toward her aging car each Sabbath after worship services. Usually alone, she would eat cold sandwiches and fruit, pausing only long enough to collect her thoughts before the afternoon of ministry ahead of her.
Ten miles and 30 minutes away she would begin her every-Sabbath-afternoon routine. In winter it meant clearing snow off the cracked sidewalk that led to the tiny sanctuary, and lighting the oil-burning stove; in summer, opening the windows and chasing out the wasps. By 3:00 a round of visits had begun, picking up the elderly and unsteady in her car, helping them up the steep stairs.
Judy was the chorister. Judy was the Sabbath school teacher. Judy was the preacher three weeks out of four, off-duty only when an ordained pastor—like me—would come. And then, of course, she took each member back home when Sabbath services were done.
Month in, month out; year in, year out, this saint redrew my picture of success. Her name will never grace a large endowment for the poor, for she was frequently among them. Her thought will never be collected in a book of wisdom for the ages, for it was, like her Savior, mostly stories that she told. Success for Judy was faithfulness, a patient following of Jesus amid the poor, the elderly, the marginalized. I honor her, as do the dozens whom she blessed.
As you read this month’s cover meditation on success, remember to affirm those whom heaven applauds—like Judy.
It is the question behind every other question a believer asks. While others interrogate the wind to understand the meaning of life or the reasons human beings suffer, those who have the faith of Jesus return to this simple query more frequently than any other. Because we have made belonging to Jesus the central commitment of our lives, we want to know:
What am I called to do for my life’s work? Whom should I marry? Should I pursue more education? Where does God want me to use the gifts He has given me?
And then there are the many times—perhaps weekly, even daily—when the imperative of being aligned with God’s will requires answers deeper than the surface-level thinking that too often dominates our days.
What is the best way to spend this Sabbath? How much should I give to advance the mission of my church? With whom should I share my testimony today?
The Lord we serve has promised to make Himself known to us, both for the foundational decisions that undergird our lives as believers, and for the smaller choices that order our days. His Word assures us, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (Isa. 30:21, NKJV).
Like Elijah, who ultimately heard the voice of God, not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but “in the sound of quiet stillness” (as some of the best translations of 1 Kings 19:12 put it), the quieting of our lives prepares us for both hearing and accepting what the Spirit wants to tell us.
As you read this month’s moving cover story by associate editor Gerald Klingbeil of how he heard the call of Jesus in his own life, pray that your own life will be readied for the answers you are seeking.
The record says that there were only 20 of them on that Thursday morning 150 years ago—all men, and all Americans. Almost all the delegates were ministers: just two were identified as laypersons.
Among the 20 were three who would apostatize and depart the church within a decade. Three others would go on to serve at least a single one-year term as president of the organization they created. Two would serve as editors of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now the Adventist Review), the sister journal of Adventist World. Virtually all of them would struggle with finances, both personally and in the church they founded.
While the church structure they established not only survived but thrived, almost every other fact of its existence has changed. Men are now a minority, accounting for less than 40 percent of the church’s membership, and Americans, just 6 percent. Ministers and all other employees taken together amount to less than 2 percent of members. The annual value of tithes and offerings contributed by church members exceeds US$1 billion, with multiples of that value in church buildings, hospitals, schools, and mission equipment.
Though several “state conferences” had existed before the May 21, 1863 meeting, Seventh-day Adventists both at the time and in succeeding generations have pointed to that Thursday as the birthday of the church that now circles the globe. It operates in more than 200 countries, counts more than 17 million baptized believers, and supports the world’s largest Protestant educational, medical, and publishing systems. Millions of others count themselves as part of that worldwide movement as family or friends of those holding membership.
“The influence of this meeting cannot fail to be good,” wrote 31-year old Uriah Smith, elected secretary (second officer) of the General Conference, just five days after the meeting. His careful prediction now seems too modest: God has so blessed the Seventh-day Adventist Church that more persons are now joining the Church each day than were baptized on the Biblical day of Pentecost.
As you read the stories of God’s leading in this month’s special edition of Advent-ist World, be reminded of how God can take small things—a widow’s jar of meal; five smooth stones from a brook; or five loaves and two fish—and do unimaginably great things.
There’s a reason I began every Bible study series with the doctrine of creation,” the retired pastor said, a slow smile spreading across his weathered face.
“If a man cannot believe in the truth as taught in Genesis, he will never make it even half the way to Revelation. If there isn’t in his heart a willingness to acknowledge the authority of Jesus as Creator, he won’t have a willingness to let his life be shaped by Jesus as Lord. Our doctrine of salvation, our doctrine of the Sabbath, our doctrine of the Second Coming–all of them grow from a truth once planted in Eden. Accepting the Bible teaching about creation is one of the best indicators that a man or a woman will go on to know and love the fullness of God’s truth.”
The wisdom of that experienced shepherd still echoes in my life and ministry.
And it is re-lived thousands of times every week as Adventist teachers, pastors, Bible workers, and congregational leaders faithfully identify the vital links between our beliefs about origins and our beliefs about the end time. God’s truth is never offered to us as a menu, from which we can pick and choose the way we select salads or main dishes in a restaurant. We either partake of the whole meal that Jesus offers, or else we ultimately walk away from His great banquet table.
In this issue of Adventist World we highlight unique and compelling Adventist testimonies to the truth as found in Genesis. Though working in Korea, the United States, and Panama, they share a common mission. Each is focused on catching the attention of hurried, anxious men and women with the good news of a Lord who once made all things good, and Who still does all things well.
As you read this month’s edition, pray for the witness that these and many other ministries give to the vital truth of God’s creative work and power.
It is in the nature of a remnant people to think of itself as small, outnumbered, and apart. That’s what remnants are.
And while the 17 million members of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church are certainly only a small percentage of a global population of 7 billion people, our movement is no longer small among global Christian faiths.
Few Christian denominations share the international connectedness in faith, organization, and mission that Adventists do: almost none operate in more than 200 nations, as Adventists do. Our educational and health-care systems are the largest Protestant networks of their kind, touching millions of lives with Christ-centered teaching and healing. Millions of persons who are nowhere listed as baptized members of the church already count themselves as Seventh-day Adventists—perhaps those “sheep from other folds” whom Jesus said would hear His voice.
It should not surprise us then to discover that faithful Seventh-day Adventists are now beginning to emerge in high-profile positions in the arts, in media, in government, and in sports. Jesus has His faithful ones in every kind of honest endeavor—working to promote justice, feed His little ones, sing His praises on the public stage, and show the world the benefits of the healthy Adventist lifestyle.
This month’s cover feature about Abel Kirui, the Adventist marathon runner who won silver at the 2012 London Olympics, is just one illustration of dozens of similar stories that could be written. Excellence endures—it goes the distance. And when it is done in the name of Jesus and as a witness to His kingdom, the world takes notice.
As you read this edition of Adventist World, pray for those whom Jesus is calling to stand in the public square—or run through it! In the heart of every one of His faithful remnant burns a desire to grow His kingdom and hasten His coming.
And who knows? The next story of excellence may very well be the one that the Spirit is even now writing through your life.
Let me admit it: I love the dark, brooding majesty of cathedrals, where everything human seems small and muted. But I don’t want my church to ever build a cathedral.
As a tourist, I have visited dozens of the world’s great cathedrals. Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran—even Crystal—these buildings share an immensity of scale that both impresses and distresses me. Even as I admire the “flying buttresses” and vaulted ceilings, my pastor’s heart begins to count the cost of all my eyes take in.
For cathedrals—or similarly large church building projects—are statements about theology and mission as well as architecture. Church historians remind us that the age of building cathedrals coincided with the era of least missionary activity in Christian history. The building—massive, visually impressive—was supposed to attract the wayward and the lost, not seek them. And after taxing millions of laypersons to construct them, there was precious little money left to spread the gospel, and few willing to do so.
As one of the most rapidly growing Christian faiths on the planet, the Seventh-day Adventist Church builds churches—lots of them—each year. Through the genius of Maranatha International’s “One-Day Church” program, and the dedicated labor of volunteers, hundreds of new church buildings go up each year. They give us shade in summer from the unrelenting Saharan sun. They give us shelter and warmth from the piercing winds of Alberta or Ukraine. They shield us from rain in dense tropical climates, and offer a place to worship God together when snow lies deep at the door.
But churches are chiefly places where believers gather to talk a common faith, to bear each other’s burdens, to offer heartfelt adoration to Jesus, and to learn how to more effectively carry the good news—so that other churches will be built in other places, till He comes. It’s all about worship and mission.
As you read this month’s cover story, pray for the eyes to see your church building as the Lord sees it—a storehouse of faith, through faith, by faith, and for even more faith.
“The longest journey of the Christian life is the distance from the head to the hand.”
We are, by definition, men and women of good intentions and goodwill. Our covenant with Jesus as Lord and with His end-time church testifies to our sincere desire to believe the truths of the Bible and live the lifestyle of the Savior. We made these commitments first at baptism, and through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, many times since then.
But how do good intentions become good deeds? How does my belief in the truth of the seventh-day Sabbath become a life renewed by the joy and rest of the seventh-day Sabbath? How does my belief that God hears all sincere prayer become a daily habit of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication?
The answer, of course, is practice. Every time we hear and obey the command of Christ, our confidence in Him is strengthened, and our grasp of His Word is deepened. There are months—maybe even years—during which our practice is imperfect, sporadic, or halfhearted. We fall short of our intention to live as Jesus lived and care as Jesus cared. But this does not mean that incomplete deeds of kindness have no value, or that God cannot use our half-baked bread.
In heaven’s economy, no act of kindness is ever wasted. The cup of cold water offered in Jesus’ name still serves the kingdom, even when we could do more. The children we clothe, the widows we feed, and the wells we dig are real enough; and the practicing we do confirms in us our pledge to “be like Jesus” for His little ones.
As you read this month’s cover feature about the international ministry of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), pray for the chance to practice the kindness once shown to you. Let God’s gift of grace to you become God’s gift of graciousness through you.
Imagine for a moment that all of your relationships with fellow Adventists were suddenly erased, leaving no residue of memory or comfort.
Imagine that no familiar smiles greeted you at church, no one spoke your name, and no one put an arm around your shoulder with affection.
Imagine that no one invited you to share a meal, or asked about your family, or laughed with you at life’s little oddities.
You are now beginning to see the church as the newly baptized sometimes see it—a formidable structure of vital truth but thin relationships, a “fellowship” organized around high ideals and even higher expectations, but one their hearts find difficult to love. Little wonder, then, that a painfully large number of those who follow Jesus into the waters of baptism are somewhere else within a year—convinced of truth, but missing the human warmth that makes church more than doctrine.
Now try this experiment.
Imagine for a moment that you are standing at the doorway of your church, standing where Jesus would stand, wrapping all whom God is calling into the warmth of His embrace.
Imagine giving your name—and your heart—to “strangers,” asking them to share a meal in your home, listening to their stories of how grace conquers pain.
Imagine introducing them to your friends, opening doors that someone once opened for you, building networks of both prayer and playfulness.
This month’s cover feature opens up one of Adventism’s most challenging dilemmas—how to welcome and hold the many whom the Spirit is moving into this end-time remnant faith. Like me, you’ll probably wince a bit as you read, for this is one place we still are falling far short of the Savior’s expectations for His people.
And if you’re one of those who didn’t find the companionship you needed on the first try, give us at least one more chance to get it right. We’ve already imagined doing a much better job of welcoming you next time we see you.
It’s the only line I can still remember of the first mission story I ever had to tell at church. When I was 10, my fourth-grade teacher somehow cajoled me into memorizing and then telling the mission story from the Mission Quarterly, and—terrors!—presenting it to the Sabbath school members in the large congregation she attended.
As best I can recall, Sergio was a small and very ill boy from Brazil, who desperately needed medical help from a church-run clinic. And try as I may, I still can’t recall how the mission story turned out. All I have left of it is that rather ominous-sounding fragment: “But Sergio did not improve.”
Needless to say, I’ve thought a great deal about Sergio over the years. Each time I meet a Sergio in my travels around the world—and there are many—I ask myself, “Could this be him? Is this the boy from the mission story 40 years ago whose health was heading the wrong direction?”
I’m not the only one for whom the mission stories of this worldwide movement have been greatly influential. As you’ll learn from this month’s cover feature, “100 Years of Mission Giving,” millions of Seventh-day Adventists around the globe have for 100 years been finding inspiration, motivation, and worthy projects to support in the mission stories told with such color and skill. The thirteenth Sabbath offering—long a treasured opportunity to push forward the mission of the church—has built schools and churches and seminaries and publishing houses—and hospitals, maybe even the one where Sergio sought help.
Pray as you read this month’s edition of Adventist World. Pray for a heart that still seeks to know how the mission story will finally come out, and for a heart made generous by grace. By the grace of God, and because you continue to care, Sergio will yet improve.