“Whosoever will.” That’s what John 3:16 says. Jesus was given to the human race so that whoever would be truly willing to go God’s way need not perish. But while many will claim that they are truly willing, still fallen humans are hard of hearing, especially when God speaks.
Some are willing to hear from Heaven, to consider God’s ways. Others are so sure that they would be uninterested that they are not listening. How many come to mind who claim that they know what Christianity is all about but aren’t prepared to give it a fair hearing today? They think they’ve been there and done that. The same happens within the church. How many do you know who grew up attending Adventist churches, schools, and events, who today claim that they know all about Adventism, reject it, and aren’t interested in hearing more.
For differing reasons, those who have once rejoiced in God’s leading, flee the spiritual battle. Approaching the gates of Canaan, they falter and run back into the wilderness. On the edge of success they turn. They discover themselves far away from what had been their goal. Elijah stood at the center of a mighty spiritual battle, and God triumphed. But soon, strangely, he was fleeing into the wilderness. Even as he fled, God sent his agencies and preserved him, fed him, nurtured. At last Elijah arrives at a cave in Sinai, and God has a question for him:
And, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:9).
Well might God ask this question of some of us here today.
The Passing of the Men That Knew
The church has been here too long. Years ago, she should have accomplished her mission, and in all joy and humility, strode through Heaven’s gates to the shattering decibels of rapturous angel anthems. But the people of God moved too slowly. Opportunities were missed. And today, while creation groans, still they molder in the silence of the graveyard. This planet awaits its release at the manifestation of the sons and daughters of God. But the sons and daughters of God have yet to manifest in any substantial number. Why?
One of the reasons, sometimes the church is hard to work with. We live in an imperfect world. Yet our God calls us to accomplish a mission, one that can only be accomplished via our being parts of a greater whole. Satan knows this and he labors to amplify our every feeling of disappointment, our every sense of discontent. He thinks that if he is successful in atomizing the church, separating its members one from another, he will still prevail in causing the eternal destruction of our souls.
He cannot compel us to make wrong decisions, but he can lead us off into the thicket so that we lose our way. I know that without the support of other Christian believers in present truth, I, as every one of us, am liable to go astray. In my weakness I recognize my need of community.
We need the church. We need each other. We must resist, urgently resist, the tendency toward atomization, separation, go-it-alone-ism. It is when the soldiers of the army travel alone that they are easiest to destroy.
We specialize too much in individuality. Sometimes we are so individualistic that we miss opportunities rather than labor together in the Lord’s vineyard. We have allowed too many who knew this message, and who sacrificed to bring it within our reach, to pass to their graves. They took with them so much that we needed. Now, earth’s billions stand in greater need than ever before, but we must take up the work that remains. God is calling for believers who will lift high the torch all over again. There is still a message to change us, still a Lord to redeem us, still a life to live that through God’s strength will silence evil for eternity.
Room to Grow
God’s plan is not to raise up believers to be mindless robots. On the contrary, He seeks to retrain us. It may take years of education to attain to a PhD (or other D.), but it takes a lifetime to prepare for eternity. And none of us know anyone who is very far ahead on that curve. Each decision we make prepares the way. Learning to be like Jesus is not a random-chance thing. Purposefully we act, daily we choose conversion afresh. We live this way as a personal matter.
Heaven has given us, via the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy writings, enormous resources for finding the way. But each is also given life experience and common sense. All these, with the guidance of the Spirit, are part of our decision-making regime.
In many matters we have been given inspired counsel, and each member as he walks in Christ is granted the freedom to apply that counsel personally. This is not a church that looks over your shoulder and tries to micromanage the life of every member. At the same time, there are Bible standards that we, as a community, have agreed to, behavioral standards that we, as a community, have covenanted to uphold. So we give people space to grow even as we seek to live lives in Christ that will be so attractive to others that they will be won to our Lord and want to grow. Yes, your own experience is crucial not just to yourself, but to your brothers and sisters in Christ and moreso, those who have yet to meet and embrace Him.
We should be careful not to get picky at tangential questions. There are 1000 ways to get distracted at points that won’t help us. The most urgent thing is for each of us individually to find the line, walk it as Christianly, as wisely, as winsomely as possible. Build up this church. Be a light in it where your light is so badly needed. Resist the urge to find fault with minor matters. There are, no doubt, numerous places where the church can reform, needs even, to reform, but if our influence is destroyed through our fighting over minor matters along the way, we will never lead her to reform.
For the good of the church, let us redouble our efforts to be not only right, but kind; not only straight, but wise in how we use personal influence. If our fellow church members see us as being hard and cold, then no matter how right we are or think we are, our influence will be minimal. If things are very bad, nigh on impossible, as far as you can see, where you are, then start this Sabbath.
You can become a reformatory force of one. Ask God to help you stand for truth but to do it with kindness. Ask God for help you find how to let others grow without shaking your finger at them. Take time, as the hymn says, to be holy, and give people time to be holy. You are not the Holy Spirit. Without your having a heart warm to heal others, you will do damage to the very people you profess to want to help. Without a copying of Christ, your representation of truth will be as hard and cold as stone, rather than warm and living like the life of our Messiah. The great controversy is on. Where do you stand?
Two great biographies are being authored. One tells what God like, one tells about Satan. Presently, there are six billion active chapters. That is, every life where choice remains cannot yet be said to be a final draft. You may not consider yourself a writer, but you are. You have a part. You are a witness, your life is a canvas, and you choose what it testifies by aligning yourself morally with God or with Satan. You can write bright chapters or dark ones.
Being part of God’s church means you are one of these authors. Your behavior materially impacts the outcome of the Great Controversy War. Will others see God’s goodness in you?
The Tortoise and the Hare
Some are always looking for the newest program, the latest imagined fast ride home. The latest book, preacher, seminar, event promotion, always has their attention. But where are they when it comes to the steady things? When there is a guest speaker where are they? When there is a special series of meetings or a revival at the church where their membership is, where are they? When it is time for prayer meeting, where are they?
Plainly we’ve been told that the convocations of the church, meaning camp meetings and worship services, also our family worship gatherings, and “all occasions where there is personal labor for souls, are God’s appointed opportunities for giving the early and the latter rain” (Review and Herald, March 2, 1897).
Church is the place where we should be. The meetings of the church are for us. They are intended to have their part in benefitting us by bringing spiritual insight and growth, building us up, not in self-importance but practical godliness. God designs that by working together, side-by-side, we give up our harder edges, becoming kinder, gentler, better people.
We don’t believe that a sermon is just a set of words flying no higher than the mind of the preacher. We believe that God speaks to His people today. Prophecy is not His only medium. The Bible says that He designs to turn the world upside down even through something so feeble as the foolishness of preaching.
We believe two things. First, that a minister of the gospel is an ordinary man like us. He has his own thoughts, desires, challenges, flaws, defects, character things that need change. We believe he is a man, that he can make mistakes, and that he feels, too. He can be encouraged or disheartened, he can take hope and soar to new heights, or be broken by the meanness of others and by disillusionment.
We also believe that the minister, human though he is, has been personally called by God, that godly men, workers of experience, have counseled, labored with, and carefully and with spiritual insight, evaluated such men before confirming their call and ordaining them to represent not only Christ but His church. We believe that a minister is a praying man, that when he opens his mouth to preach, he has been in communion with God and that with the heart of a shepherd he does his best to bring to his flock not a word but the word of God for those hearts that Sabbath day. His words do not come with inspired guarantee, but they do come illumined in a heavenly light. While they partake of the ordinary, they are beyond the ordinary. They are needed words, supernaturally guided, food for the spiritually hungry. Our God will feed His people if they will be fed.
The minister is only a common man but he has responded to an uncommon calling. He could have done many other things, but he couldn’t, because, not knowing the whole cost to himself and to his family, still he seeks to do God’s will. He is maligned and judged, his motives are dissected, his methods critiqued. But he soldiers onward even when there is a silence and when he feels alone. Learn, O church, to treat your ministers well.
Every Sabbath service, every prayer meeting, is an opportunity to store up wheat. None know when famine will come. Today is the day to store up. If you want to be ready for the things that are coming upon this earth, then take advantage of the opportunities that God has placed before you today. When it comes to spiritual things, it is much better to be the tortoise than the hare. Far better to be steady every week, (Daily Devotions, Prayer Meeting, Sabbath, Daily Devotions, Prayer Meeting, Sabbath, Daily Devotions, Prayer Meeting, Sabbath), than to be fitful like the rabbit, jumping at every new thing that comes parading along. Be steady and see if God doesn’t bless. How many have lost their way not only by being too slow to hear something new, but too quick.
The Message That Remains
Yes, did God or didn’t He, give the the Seventh-day Adventist Church a message? But many have grown weary, forgotten their lord, disrespected His truth, grown comfortable in the dryness of their deserts, all while Canaan lay waiting for them.
We can still be messengers of the message God has given. We can still seek to live it and give it and equip others in it as well. Elijah recovered from his strange departure from duty. We can too. Seventh-day Adventists can lay hold of their Bibles. They can study God’s message again. They can take it to heart and He can change their heart.
An experience is available to us today. We can become more steadfast in our Christianity.
Mentone CA SDA 2008-03-24