Never Doubt: God Is in Control
By Ted N. C. Wilson
The following article is adapted from a sermon given during Annual Council on Sabbath, October 13, 2012, and conveys the first portion of that message. A second article in the February 2013 Adventist World will complete the message. Elements of the oral style have been retained.—Editors.
Our passage of Scripture—Matthew 14—presents a powerful and practical message set against the backdrop of a fascinating experience in the life of Christ, His disciples, and His church. This passage also carries strong applications for us today.
Jesus had just received word of the beheading of His cousin and predecessor in ministry, John the Baptist, and needed some time alone. Matthew 14:13 records: “He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.”
Even amid His personal sorrow at the death of John, Jesus’ heart went out to those in need. His mission was ever before Him, as, even during the most difficult times, it must always be before us. Weeping and working with Jesus for the people of the cities must be our passion.
Let’s look at two important interrelated burdens of Jesus in Matthew 14. They relate very much to our experience as His remnant church poised for the proclamation of the loud cry:
Burden 1: Our need for a full understanding of medical missionary work and health reform as an integral part of Mission to the Cities
Burden 2: Our great need for selfless unity in Christ as we proclaim the three angels’ messages.
Christ’s Method Will Give Success
Jesus had wanted a quiet place from the constant demands of the people who sought His presence and the truth He shared. As we seek to minister to others as Jesus did, it is important that we take time to allow the Holy Spirit to repair and rejuvenate our own souls for ministry and service to others.
However, when Jesus sought a quiet place, the people missed Him and asked where He was. Some noticed what direction Jesus had gone and followed Him on land and sea. Thousands gathered from the cities to see Him. In the book The Ministry of Healing we are told of Christ’s method in reaching these people: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen” (p. 143).
How did Christ exhibit this comprehensive health ministry? Ellen White tells us that “interrupted as He was, and robbed of His rest, He was not impatient. He saw a greater necessity demanding His attention as He watched the people coming and still coming” (The Desire of Ages, p. 364).
How sympathetic and caring are we when it comes to giving up our private time to lovingly care for the needs of others? Christ’s ministry must be our ministry.
A Comprehensive Health Ministry
It was my privilege to visit Israel for the first time this last June for the Third International Bible Conference organized by our Biblical Research Institute (see “International Bible Conference Opens in Israel,” available online atwww.adventistworld.org/article/1264/resources/english/issue-2012-1006/ibc-1). During part of the conference we stayed on the Sea of Galilee, not far from where this Matthew 14 event may have taken place. It was thrilling to imagine the setting on those hillsides as Jesus met the needs of people. His heart yearned to help the multitudes find the spiritual and physical healing they needed. He opened before them the comprehensive health ministry in which all of us are called to participate, as it is an integral part of the three angels’ messages.
In 3 John 2 we read: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” As Seventh-day Adventists we believe in the whole person concept of ministering to those around us in a comprehensive way. God, our Creator, was declaring that He wanted us to be revived, reformed, and in full health—physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
Following Christ’s Example
Our magnificent Redeemer wants us to prosper through our relationship with Him and our service to others. While on earth, “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35).
This ministry of Jesus is to be the burden of every Seventh-day Adventist. In every city, Seventh-day Adventists should minister to people, not only from their local churches, but also from centers of influence such as health clinics, vegetarian restaurants, reading rooms, counseling centers, and community service centers. Health lectures, literature evangelism, small-group outreach, door-to-door mission work, innovative media evangelism, and social work that follows Christ’s methods will be effective. Personal and small-group Bible studies, public evangelism, comprehensive health ministry, and a myriad of other creative outreach initiatives still to be developed through the leading of the Holy Spirit should be the hallmark of our work in the cities.
This work will require the involvement of lay members as well as established denominational ministries, including Adventist Community Services, ADRA, Adventist World Radio, Hope Channel, Adventist Book Centers, and many others.
In this vital work of soul-winning in the large cities, God is calling us to reinvigorate the use of a balanced comprehensive health ministry and unite the efforts of our denominational organizations and supporting ministries. In counsel that is still relevant today Ellen White wrote: “Every minister of the gospel should be prepared to do practical medical missionary work. The medical missionary work is to be as closely united with the gospel ministry as the arm is united to the body. . . . In our large cities the medical missionary work must go hand in hand with the gospel ministry. It will open doors for the entrance of truth” (manuscript 117, 1901).
Ellen White counsels us to establish outpost centers or small institutes in the countryside just outside the cities where city workers can live or visit to be refreshed, where a simple health lifestyle center can care for guests who want to learn a new approach to life, and a place where young people can be trained for city evangelism.
We need Holy Spirit-inspired strategic planning by administrators, pastors, and health professionals for every city around the world that will produce the kind of “beehive” of comprehensive evangelistic, health, and community activities Ellen White described taking place in San Francisco around 1906 (see “Buzzing About the Beehive,” available online atwww.adventistreview.org/issue.php?issue=2011-1511&page=18).
Reaching the People of the Largest Cities
This is the type of work to be done in New York City as we plan for a giant evangelistic outreach in 2013. Leaders and evangelists from the General Conference and around the world, along with local pastors, health professionals, and lay members, will participate in approximately 350 evangelistic meetings in the metropolitan area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. My wife, Nancy, and I will hold one of those evangelistic meetings for three weeks in the very location I started my ministry—in the Manhattan Seventh-day Adventist Church on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village.
All this will be preceded and followed by community outreach and comprehensive health ministry to reach New York and many other cities of the world. Pray for this outreach so that by the power of the Holy Spirit this ministry will reach approximately 650 of the world’s largest cities by 2015.
I appeal to each of you, especially young people, to study, plan, pray, and engage in God’s great plans for comprehensive urban evangelism and comprehensive health ministry. He is calling you to be part of His blended team of pastors, health professionals, church workers, and church members to show compassion on those who are weary, scattered, and broken in body and spirit, and to bring them into a relationship with Christ.
Comprehensive health ministry is meeting people’s needs in a practical way that shows them the love of Jesus, whether it is sharing a loaf of whole-wheat bread with a neighbor or treating a patient with Christlike kindness at one of our many technologically advanced Seventh-day Adventist health institutions.
“Medical missionary work has been presented as the entering wedge of present truth,” wrote Ellen White. “It is by this work that hearts are reached, and those once prejudiced are softened and subdued” (letter 110, 1902).
We can show Christ’s love and compassion in turning the local church into a center of life and health. Resource materials produced by health ministries departments and other health entities can be used for practical Christian witnessing—sharing with neighbors the benefits of heaven-inspired health habits, preventive health strategies, and simple, inexpensive home health procedures and interventions. “Every church a community health center” is one of the most inexpensive and effective preventive health-care approaches as we “tell the world” about God’s complete plan of restoring the whole person.
The Loud Cry
Comprehensive health ministry is to play a strong role in the loud cry. Stressing the importance of this work, we read: “The health reform is as closely related to the third angel’s message as the arm to the body; but the arm cannot take the place of the body. The proclamation of the third angel’s message, the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus, is the burden of our work. The message is to be proclaimed with a loud cry, and is to go to the whole world” (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 75).
Seventh-day Adventists are the only ones proclaiming the third angel’s message, and they will proclaim the loud cry. Changes have to take place in us and through us to accomplish this heaven-directed work. The loud cry is going to be given amid a storm of persecution that will have an effect on all of us.
Because of the close working relationship between health reform and the third angel’s message, there is work to be done in personal health before pastors and people will be given the power to proclaim the third angel’s message as the loud cry. “God’s people . . . have a work to do for themselves which they should not leave God to do for them. . . . It is an individual work; one cannot do it for another” (ibid., p. 32).
Leaders and church members, have we become hesitant in strongly proclaiming and decidedly living the clear link between biblical truth and our physical wellbeing? Do we truly believe that God has given unique light to Seventh-day Adventists regarding a healthy lifestyle and charged us to “tell the world”?
Of course, we need wisdom, not fanaticism, in our presentation of the health message. “Health reform, wisely treated, will prove an entering wedge where the truth may follow with marked success. But to present health reform unwisely . . . has served to create prejudice with unbelievers . . . leaving the impression that we are extremists” (Selected Messages, book 3, p. 285). Let us wisely expand the work of this powerful blending of the physical and spiritual ministry—without fanaticism.
The Answer to the Devil’s Deceptions
Comprehensive health ministry—the practical presentation of God’s health principles—is the answer to postmodernism, the New Age movement, mysticism, and pagan philosophies that are part of the last day deceptions of the devil. Do not fall prey to the “strange fire” of mystic belief and practice whether in health or in spiritual life. Stay close to the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and a personal prayer connection with heaven so the Holy Spirit will help you to discern truth and avoid error and extremism.
God is calling us to revival and reformation both spiritually and physically. Participate in “Revived by His Word” as we read at least one chapter a day in the Bible (see revivedbyhisword.org). We are not to be satisfied with only the rich heritage of the Seventh-day Adventist health ministry but to renew our commitment to innovative approaches of health practices, health promotion, and comprehensive health ministry.
I appeal to our pastors and health professionals to unite under the power of the Holy Spirit. I thank God for the wonderful things that are happening in many of our churches, healthcare institutions, schools, and supporting ministries. I appeal to our seminaries and colleges to have health courses for theology majors and all students. Let us realize the power of a united and blended approach since Christ is the origin of all life and health.
“The world needs today what it needed nineteen hundred years ago—a revelation of Christ. A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.