This week, our All God’s People team spent time with George R. Knight, an Adventist historian, theologian, and author. In this special interview, Dr. Knight speaks candidly about some of the issues facing the church at this time.
E. Preston Smith —
In Revelation 7:9, John sees a great multitude, which no man could number—of all nations, tongues, and people—standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, clothed with white robes.
John explains in verse 14 that these people had washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. When did the redeemed receive their white robes? Did they wait until the second coming of Jesus? No. These white robes were given to them by faith when they were converted and gave their hearts to Jesus, and so do we receive the robe at conversion. Ellen G. White tells us, “It is in this life that we are to put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness. This is our only opportunity to form characters for the home which Christ has made ready for those who obey His commandments” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 319).
Jesus’ robe of righteousness becomes ours when we give our hearts to Him. That’s why the Bible says that the multitude washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). When people come to Jesus and confess their sins, they are forgiven; they are washing their robes, which have been defiled by sin. Their robes are made white in Jesus’ blood, for He died for all of us.
Zechariah describes the change of our spiritual clothing at conversion to the pure white robe of Christ’s own righteousness. He writes that the angel said, “Take away the filthy garments from him…. Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment” (Zechariah 3:4, KJV). The New International Version says, “I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”
We need to wash our robes daily by prayer and the confession of sin.
Speaking of God’s children in Revelation 3:4, Jesus said, “They shall walk with me in white.” It is the robe of Jesus’ own righteousness. We wear this robe by faith now, but it will be a fact at His second coming. Jesus provides to each believer the robe of His own righteousness by faith, and He will give us a literal white robe when He makes us immortal like Himself.
Jesus’ robe of righteousness is a free gift to every believer.
E. Preston Smith is a retired pastor who worked in Northern California for 20 years.
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in 2018? What did Jesus mean when he said, “I am among you as one who serves.”? How does leadership shape and nurture the church today? In this week’s special episode of All God’s People, Adventist Leaders from around the world provide some useful answers on these questions.
Love. Serve. Lead.
Becky De Oliveira —
For about a year and a half, before our city asked us to suspend operations in favor of a new coordinated entry system, my two boys and I ran a once-a-week homeless shelter in the basement of our church. When I say “ran” I mean primarily that we prepared food for our guests, fed them, made friendly conversation with them, and then waved goodbye before lights out. A local charity provided staff (also homeless people) for check-ins and to limit bad behavior, such as smoking in the bathrooms and fighting. They also brought fresh blankets to spread on the cold linoleum floor, one for each guest—on average about 30–35 each week.
We became fond of our “guys” as we called them (women had a separate venue, although we ended up hosting them for several weeks when their location fell through) and looked forward to seeing them each week. Feeling, as most people do, rather helpless in the face of so many intractable problems, we were always delighted if one of our guys asked us for something we could actually provide. Another helping of lasagna? Sure! A couple of Advil? Right on it!
One of our guys, Ron, was a special favorite, although none of us were ever sure why we felt such affection for him. Half the time he was pleasant enough, but the other half he was, frankly, grouchy—and you never knew which Ron would show up. After hinting about his upcoming birthday for weeks and even noting that his favorite cake was German chocolate, he reacted with sulky disdain when we presented him with a huge slice. “That won’t do much for my diabetes,” he barked. “I’m not supposed to eat sweet stuff.”
But in spite of his shortcomings, Ron also talked to us every week and almost always thanked us, even when he was in a surly mood. He’d ask my boys about school and give us vivid updates on the state of his leg (infected, presumably from diabetes). Given his quality of life, which was not great, I was inclined to be impressed that he managed as much good cheer as he did.
One week, he asked me for a pair of shoes. “I wear a 14. Wide. They need to be New Balance. I’d prefer grey.”
“I’ll get right on it,” I said.
And I fully intended to make this mission a priority—after all, I had a whole week before I would see him again—but somehow it turned out to be one of my more inefficient weeks. Maybe I forgot to put “Buy shoes for Ron” on my to-do list. Whatever the excuse, I’d completely forgotten about the shoes until Ron loomed into view at the serving window to pick up his plate of enchiladas—and asked for the shoes. I smacked my forehead with disgust and began to apologize profusely. “Next week, I promise,” I said, knowing that this was utterly insufficient.
“I can’t wait another week,” Ron snarled. “My feet are about to fall off. I need those shoes now.”
I took a deep breath and said something very foolish: “I’ll get them tonight. You’ll have them before I go home.”
It was the dumbest promise ever. By the time we cleaned up, it was already well after 8:00 p.m. and most of the stores in town were either closed or would be closing soon. Also, the issue of money was not far from my mind. According to Ron’s thinking, I likely had some kind of shoe fund from which to draw for this purchase, but my ministry budget barely covered the food we offered each week. I would be buying these shoes with my own money, and I wanted that to be as little as possible. The size, width, color, and brand requirements had me a little rattled. Even if I could find the exact shoes, what were the chances they’d be offered at a price I wanted to pay?
My oldest son Joshua and I sped toward Nordstrom Rack, the only store I knew that might have what I was looking for at this time of night. “Pray,” I told Joshua, and I was fervently praying too.
Why am I even telling this story? I hate these kinds of stories: A person needs some trivial thing (to find their car keys), and they pray about it earnestly for ten seconds and—presto!—God wakes up and answers. Hallelujah! The Lord is good. All the time. And then there are these other stories, the ones we all know so well, where someone gets very sick and everyone prays for weeks and months but the person gets worse. The person suffers through one invasive procedure after another. They become unrecognizable to those who adore them. More prayers. An anointing. They die anyway.
So maybe I feel a little ashamed that this prayer was answered. On the back wall of Nordstrom Rack, I found four different pairs of shoes that each would have fit the bill. They were all under $50. I grabbed a box, paid, and raced back up the hill where Joshua and I found Ron smoking in the parking lot with a group of his friends. I rolled down my window and handed him the box.
“These are perfect!” he exclaimed. “Becky, you get out of the car. I need to hug you. Thank you so much! You tell everyone at that church of yours thank you. You hooked me up! This other church is always promising to get me stuff, but you guys came through.”
So he hugged me, this giant, hulking, foul-smelling man. (No good deed goes unpunished.)
And I know this story must be annoying to anyone who is facing or has ever faced a God who seems absent and silent when you need Him most, and I realize this could all be nothing more than a grand coincidence that I am attributing to Divine Intervention, but it’s my story. And it’s Ron’s story. And I guess it warms me inside to believe that God might show up for a homeless man who needs a decent pair of shoes and a somewhat scattered woman who needs to feel useful but barely has the wherewithal to even help herself.
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, graphic designer, and doctoral student working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.
Mark Witas —
One of the most disturbing experiences of my 33 years working for the church happened several years ago. I received a phone call from a person who, without emotion, told me that her father was about to pass away and that he was a church member of mine.
I didn’t recognize the name so I asked, “Do I know him?”
“No, he’s not been in church since he was in his twenties. He thinks the whole place is filled with hypocrites.”
I didn’t quite know how to respond to that. So I asked, “Would he like a visit?”
She answered, “I’m not sure.”
“Have you asked him if he’d like a visit?”
“No, I haven’t spoken to my dad in over 10 years. The nursing home just called me, so I thought I’d call you.”
I was kind of stunned. “Do you want me to meet you there?”
“No, I don’t want to see him. I just figured he was one of your church members, so you ought to know.” And she hung up.
I went to visit the elderly man. He was of sound mind, but his body was failing him. After I introduced myself I asked him if he wanted me to try and gather his family around him for some support before he passed away.
“No. Why would I want to see them?”
I asked, “Frank, did something happen that created this breach between you and your family?”
“Not really. We just never really clicked, that’s all.”
Frank let me pray with him and I left my number at the nurse’s station to contact me when he passed. A few days later that I received the call.
I contacted his family that afternoon. I asked, “Would you like me to help arrange some sort of memorial service for your father?”
The answer they gave made me sick: “Why would we do that? Nobody would show up.”
Of course, they did ask the church (that they never attended) for some financial help to bury him. And on his little tiny grave plaque is inscribed his name, birth date, and death date. That’s it. Nothing else. Here lies Frank.
I spent as little time with Frank’s family as I could and found that Frank was a selfish little man who lived a selfish little life. He lived 10 minutes from his family but saw them an average of once a year. And when they did visit, he was sure to criticize and belittle them. Frank, as far as I could tell, lived a meaningless and insignificant life.
When I taught academy Bible, I would give each student a piece of Styrofoam shaped like a tombstone, spray-painted gray. The “stone” was blank. Their assignment was to take a big black marker and write five words that would sum up their life as they looked back on their 99 years. They could choose any five words, but the words that they chose had to represent the kind of life they wanted to look back and see after 99 years. They were not to show anyone else their tombstone. They were to do this in secret and hand them in without anyone else knowing what they had written.
When all the tombstones were handed in, I would take them out to the center of campus, prop them up on the grass, and spread them out like it was an actual cemetery.
Then, during class, we would all go out, like people sometimes do, and see what kinds of lives that particular class wanted to live. We’d also try to guess who wrote what. It was a great exercise in visioning the kinds of lives we wanted to live. Then I’d take them to an actual cemetery to see what was written on other people’s real tombstones.
Here are some words that never appear on tombstones:
- I wish I had spent more time at the office.
- I wish I had spent more money on stuff I kept in storage.
- I wish I had spent less time making the world a better place and more time on things I wanted to do.
- I wish I had watched more TV.
- I had too many friends.
- I should have given less.
- I spent too much time with my children.
- I’m glad I didn’t have a bunch of family surrounding me on my deathbed.
My class inevitably asked me what my five words would be on my tombstone. I chose these: Followed, Risked, Loved, Overjoyed, and Different.
Which five words would you want to describe you on your tombstone? I truly believe that as we follow Jesus, He makes our lives into what we have always dreamed they would be. Let’s strive to live the kinds of lives that will be marked by these more important words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Mark Witas is lead teaching pastor at Pacific Union College Church in Angwin, California.
LIFE ADVENTIST CHURCH OF BERKELEY FELLOWSHIPS OVER PANCAKE BREAKFAST
As a way to welcome back students, welcome newcomers to the community, and strengthen relationships with the neighbors—and as a way to show an openness to anyone looking for a church home—the Life Adventist Church of Berkeley in Berkeley, California, recently hosted a pancake breakfast. The breakfast was hosted in the parking lot next door to the church.
Pastor Ron Pickell and his ministry team have made parking lots, pancakes, and prayer a great combination—and an example of something just about any church could do.
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LOS ANGELES CHURCH TURNS 110
The University SDA Church in Los Angeles just celebrated a very important milestone! It has been 110 years since they were established on August 8, 1908, in Los Angeles, California, with 28 believers, as the Furlong church.
Now known as the University church, Furlong was the first Black Seventh-day Adventist church west of Ohio. In August, Pastor Lawrence Dorsey, the current senior pastor, led out in the 110th Anniversary celebration, as members and friends celebrated how God has blessed them.
University is known as a “mother church” in Los Angeles, since 8 churches sprang from its evangelistic efforts – 54th Street, Normandie, Ephesus, Compton, Smyrna, Berean, L.A. Central, and Miramonte.
A day of powerful preaching, inspiring music, and wonderful testimonies were highlights of the three-day celebration just a few weeks ago. Our congratulations and prayers for God’s richest blessings are going out to University church for 110 years of faithful witness.
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SAN BERNARDINO CHURCH MINISTERS TO HOMELESS COMMUNITY
San Bernardino has a rather large homeless population. To minister to them, a group of lay people devised a program that would not only present them the good news of the Gospel but serve it to them in a tangible way.
Led by Rafael Rojas, a group of some 20 members of the San Bernardino Spanish Church every week distributes a bag with literature and an invitation to come to the church for a meal and free food.
The food is collected from a food bank in downtown Los Angeles, prepared, and made available to anyone in the community. Up to 100 persons who are currently homeless have come to take advantage of this service every week with the average hovering between 60-70 every Sunday.
Pastor Alfonso Valenzuela told us that the program is 100% lay-led and in three years more than 50 people have become members of the church through baptism. What an inspiring program!
Visit the Church Website:
NEW FROM OAK & ACORN PUBLISHING
Dr. Reinder Bruinsma has a new book, published by Oak & Acorn Publishing, called “In All Humility: Saying No to Last Generation Theology.” In this book, Bruinsma leads the readers into a better understanding of how our understanding of the nature of Jesus is shaped by how we think about perfectionism and humility.
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Ray Tetz —
The summer that I turned 10, my grandpa decided I needed a pocketknife. There it was—a folding knife with a brownish handle and a shiny bolster holding it together and stamped with the word “BARLOW.” The knife had two blades—one about three inches long and rather fat and large, and the other quite a bit shorter and thinner. Grandpa explained that the big blade was for cutting things like the twine on a bale of hay, or a piece of rubber out of an old tire tube, or maybe for whittling down a stick to the right size and shape. The smaller blade was for sharpening a pencil, or shaving a matchstick into a peg, or carving initials into a tree.
He showed me how to sharpen the knife with a whetstone—always with the blade pointed away—and cautioned me quite sternly to not use it in any way that might be harmful to myself or somebody else. If he found out I was misusing it, he would take it back.
This was well within his rights, for it had been his knife first—he had carried it in his own pocket for some time. It was just about the greatest treasure I had ever received. The fact that it had been his knife before it was mine made it very special. I carried that knife with me everywhere—even to church—but I tried not to use it much because I didn’t want it taken away, and I sure didn’t want someone bigger deciding that they would like to have it.
I took it to fifth grade and had it in my pocket about a month into the new school year. I hardly ever took it out—perhaps to cut my sandwich once in a while. I was vaguely aware of a prohibition on pocketknives, but since it had never been openly discussed I wasn’t about to bring it up.
Things could have gone on this way for the rest of the year but for the broken speaker that hung over the door to the classroom and connected to the intercom. The principal stood on a chair and pulled the speaker away from the wall to fix it. We were all supposed to be doing math or reading, but of course we just watched him instead.
He quickly diagnosed the problem as a broken wire—a fact that was announced in an offhand way to no one in particular. I can still see him standing on the chair, speaker tipped away from the wall, trying to decide what to do. And then the fateful request: “Raymond” (that’s what they called me back then), “let me have your knife and I can fix this.”
Time suddenly slowed way down. Not only did the rest of the class now know that I was packing a knife, but the principal obviously knew it too. And he had just outed me to my teacher, who I was pretty sure was not in favor of knives in school, not even grandfather-approved Barlows. Not only did the principal know about the knife, but he had asked that I hand it over. I slowly got up and went over to where he was standing, towering over all of us from the great height of his chair, with his hand outstretched for my little knife.
I fished it out of my pocket and took one last look before I handed it up to him, and then just stood there, waiting for the inevitable scolding and confiscation.
He quickly flicked open the little blade, and, in a few seconds, stripped away the rubber from both ends of the broken wire, twisted the two wires together with a flourish, and returned the speaker to the wall. Then he stepped down from the chair, ran his thumb across the edge of the blade, looked at me and said, “That’s a good edge on that blade; I like it when a knife is kept sharpened.” With both hands, he closed it up, leaned forward a little and handed it back, saying quietly, “Probably a good idea to not bring this with you to school.”
I pushed the knife deep into my pocket and returned quickly to my seat, avoiding looking at anyone, especially the teacher, and wondered if I had just witnessed a miracle. I thought of nothing else the rest of the day.
The responsibility that began with the gift of the knife had changed into something akin to trust. That afternoon I had been a part of solving a real-world problem, with just the right tool in my pocket to bring about the solution. Now I had been advised to use my own judgment about my next move: keep carrying the knife every day or leave it at home when I went to school. It was a bit of warning, yes, but it was also an invitation.
It wasn’t the first time someone had trusted me. But it was perhaps the first time that involved something clearly belonging to the adult world. I thought about it a long time, and decided to leave the knife at home—although it was the first thing in my pocket when I returned from school every day. I decided that trust—whatever it meant—was something worth having.
These days I still carry a small Swiss Army-style pocketknife, just in case I need to cut open a bale of hay or carve my initials into a tree. My choice of knives has changed, but my thinking about trust has not.
Trust takes many forms, beginning with your own confidence in your integrity, your intentions, and your life experiences as a means of learning how to make good decisions. It extends to your relationships—all of them—and how you develop the capacity to trust others and build experiences that earn their trust in return. It extends to a culture of honesty in the organizations and communities that you belong to.
Discipleship is essentially a deepened trust in Jesus and His grace in every aspect of life. Being a true and trustworthy disciple means seeking a greater and greater consistency between what you believe and how you live and act out your faith.
To be a part of a community of trust is of great power and value. It is not unlike being presented with an extraordinary gift and then allowed and encouraged to truly use it. Like my old Barlow knife. A summer gift from my grandpa, but really so much more.
Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.
NAD WOMEN CLERGY RETREAT BRINGS OVER 200 TOGETHER
Out of 4,200 professional pastors in the North American Division, around 200 are women. We were so pleased to have the majority of these pastors and chaplains here in the Pacific Union this week, as they gathered for fellowship, seminars, and the chance to be together at the NAD 2018 Women Clergy Retreat.
The event was sponsored by the North American Division Ministerial Department—and here in the Pacific Union, we were eager to participate and demonstrate our support for women in ministry.
Although still a small minority of NAD clergy are female, the number continues to grow every year as congregations, conferences, unions, and other ministries are discovering the benefits that professional women clergy can provide.
Follow Women Clergy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nadwc/
See Photos from the Event: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nadadventist/
NEW CALIFORNIA LABOR LAWS PROVIDE FOR WORKERS CIVIL RIGHTS
Several important laws which recently passed legislature promise to help those filing cases of harassment. The bills will help victims of sexual harassment, as well as Christians who lose their jobs over keeping the Sabbath.
Assembly Bill 1870 increases the time to file a claim for discrimination or harassment from one year to three years.
Senate Bill 1300 has a provision to make managers and supervisors personally liable for harassing and firing employees.
Learn more about these bills, and other important legislation, on the Church State Council website: http://churchstate.org/