Doing Better

By Becky De Oliveira

One thing I really love about people is how hard they try. I love the way we all pretty much get up every day and try to do better than we’ve done before. We’re always making up new goals for ourselves—for our health, our parenting, our work, relationships, betterment. Even for our relationship with God—our role as disciples. We want to do better. People announce that they are going to give up sugar or screaming at their kids. They are going to keep in touch with friends more frequently. Be more organized. Take more steps. Read more books. Learn a language. Save money. Read the Bible. Volunteer their time for a good cause.  These are all good things: nothing wrong with any of them. So why does there appear to be an inverse correlation between good goals and what I’ll call “niceness”? When I lived in Berrien Springs, the supermarket contained a natural foods section, and many of my friends and acquaintances used to remark on how interesting it is that the people shopping there always look sick, pinched, and angry.

I’ve pondered the same thing in observing people who spend a lot of time studying the Bible or who manifest other outward signs of spirituality, like paying double tithe or saying really long prayers. Sometimes they’re mean. And sometimes I’m mean—when I decide that keeping toys or clothes off the floor is more important than letting my kids relax in their own home.

I’m not the only one with this problem. My family and I were visiting Disney World in Florida several years ago when the kids were younger, and it rained—a torrential downpour—every day we were there. At the end of each day, we’d pile all our soaked clothes into the bathtub and just leave them there. By the second day, when we’d become veterans at being wet and trying to be cheerful anyway, we overheard another parent, who had apparently not yet embraced this concept, loudly berating his toddler son to stop stepping in puddles. “You’re going to get your shoes wet!” he barked. We fell apart laughing. If you’re in Florida in a downpour and you’re concerned about getting your shoes wet, well, it’s going to be a long day. But, even while laughing, I had sympathy for him. I’ve done similar things. “We’re going to have fun now, whether you like it or not!” It’s very easy to try to achieve one thing and end up with very different results than you’d intended. In fact, it’s hard to do otherwise. Paul’s words to the Romans, “I don’t understand what I’m doing. For I don’t practice what I want to do, but instead do what I hate,” (Romans 7:15, ISV) completely summarizes my life. Is it possible to ever get it right?

Many of us, in our quest for excellence in our personal, professional, and spiritual lives, succumb to various ways of thinking that are harmful to us and to the people we love. They stop us from growing, and they can harm our families and institutions. One that I find interesting is the belief that we must stick to our principles at all times.

Think for a moment about some of the principles that define you as a person. What are they? Would you die on a hill for them? Perhaps you feel that you must. I’ve heard people say they’d sooner be shot than eat a steak. Funniest one I heard was quoted in my Sabbath School class a few years ago. An elderly pastor was quoted as saying, “I’d rather commit adultery than eat pork!” “Who wouldn’t?” was what I said, and there were a few moments of stunned silence before the whole group broke into laughter. But yes, we’re socialized to believe that our principles define us and that breaking them is almost a sin. Or in some cases is indeed a sin. It can even lead to whacked out priorities—like when you profess to be more willing to break one of the ten commandments than to break a dietary rule. Or when anti-abortion activists claim to be such devout defenders of the “right to life” that they’d cheerfully kill doctors who perform abortions in order to defend life.

One of my favorite books—also adapted into an excellent film—is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Its central character and narrator is Mr. Stevens, the longstanding proud and dignified butler of Darlington Hall—a grand English house once owned by the aristocrat Lord Darlington, who was Stevens’ employer until after World War II. Darlington, a Nazi sympathizer, found himself on the wrong side of history and was ostracized by everyone, eventually dying in disgrace. The house was sold to an American—and Stevens has continued his employment in his old age, greatly diminished in his own eyes since he no longer can boast of the dignity his association with a “great man” like Darlington brought.

His state of being is one on which Stevens spends a great deal of time reflecting. What does it mean to be a great butler? he poses rhetorically, developing many thoughts and anecdotes in answer to this question. The question ends up sending him down an endless rabbit hole, because while Stevens is committed—almost to the point of obsession—to dignity and professionalism, these values take on varying definitions throughout the story and often conflict with each other in ways that leave Stevens in a state of almost permanent imbalance as he struggles to redefine his identity in a world that seems to have moved on without him, making his soliloquies about dignity and professionalism seem quaint and irrelevant. The concepts themselves are sometimes mutually exclusive in ways that Stevens seems unable to recognize. This is a man who has sacrificed everything to the abstract concepts of dignity and professionalism. He has failed to connect significantly with any fellow human being. He missed his father’s death, missed a chance for possible happiness with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton, and missed the opportunity to achieve a moral victory by speaking out when Lord Darlington, influenced by Fascist friends, dismissed two Jewish girls from his employ—resulting in their almost certain exile back to Germany and to the gas chambers. Over and over again, Stevens demonstrates that if given the choice between being the kind of person he thinks it is important to be and doing the right thing—particularly for another human being—he’ll stick to his principles, thank you very much.

Principles are good so long as the very first one on the list is being flexible enough to let them go if that is what it takes to be a better person in the moment.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2018-04-27T18:33:13-07:00April 27th, 2018|Blog|

Separation Anxiety

By Delroy Brooks

For the first few years of my ministry, I was a stay-at-home father. As far as possible, I stayed home with our kids. I was home for my son’s first four years and for my daughter’s first three. As a result, I became used to having my kids around me for the most part. We spent idle time together, play time together, work time together. They would accompany me to my office at church. I had a playpen in my office to keep them occupied while I did Bible studies or planned events. They have joined in at denominational meetings and community gatherings.

We spent a lot of time together in those early years. This was a time before school programs and soccer games. Before gymnastics meets and music classes. There were very few times when we weren’t together. Back then, it often took me a few minutes to acclimate to situations where my children weren’t present. This challenge of adjusting to my kids not being around could be called “separation anxiety.”

A few years ago, my wife and I were blessed with the opportunity to travel internationally to Lagos, Nigeria. We were going for two weeks to preach and be involved in medical missions. This would be our first time away from the kids for an extended period of time. During any other traveling prior to this time, one of us was always with them. So we had conversations with the children about it—how long we would be gone and when to expect us home. We made the arrangements for grandma to come and stay with them. We made calendars to count down the days toward our eventual return. Everything was ready.

At last, the morning came when we were going leave. We went through our normal morning routines: worship, breakfast, then drop off at school. I had prepared them for it; mom and I would be gone for a little while, but we would be back. In worship, my son said, “Daddy, I’m going to miss you,” and I responded, “I’m going to miss you too, son.” That morning as I dropped my son off at school and my daughter at preschool, I got that familiar pang in my heart and throat as I said goodbye.

This simple exchange taught me something about God. God was also a stay-at-home Father. He co-mingled with other persons of the Trinity for eternity, then He stepped out into time to create this world that we inhabit. Perfect man became imperfect. Sin had entered in, and now this world would need a Savior.

Can you imagine that conversation? God the Father and His Only Begotten would be separated for a little while, but Jesus would return to work on preparing places for us. The Father must have had a pain in His heart so great. The Son would have said, “Daddy, I’m going to miss you.” And the Father’s response? “I’m going to miss you too, Son.” Although separated from each other, Jesus would take time to spend with His Father in prayer (Matthew 14:22-23). He would hear approval from His Father (Matthew 17:5).

The Bible talks about God being familiar with all of the issues of this life. There is no more familiar emotion or feeling than loss. God understands what we feel when we lose a loved one, or if we have to move away from our family, or when we have to break up a relationship. He knows that feeling all too well. He sent His Son so that we could be made whole again. So that we won’t have to live with that pain always, but that feeling would push us, compel us, drive us to be prepared for Jesus’ return. You see, He’s prepared you for this day, for this moment, and He expects that you will face it like He knows you can. He suffered separation anxiety to make sure that we would never have to be separated again.

Delroy Brooks is senior pastor of the Juniper Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fontana, California. He is married to Dilys Brooks—a campus chaplain at Loma Linda University.

2018-04-19T21:43:51-07:00April 20th, 2018|Blog|

Congratulations to PBE Finalists!

This is a special video message from the All God’s People production team to the 2018 Division Finalists in the Pathfinder Bible Experience (PBE), April 20-22, 2018, Camp Hawthorne, Florida.
We are proud of the 13 teams representing the Pacific Union—and all of those faithful young people who have worked so hard to be a part of this great event.

2018-04-20T15:03:14-07:00April 20th, 2018|All Gods People|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” April 20, 2018 Episode 046

PACIFIC UNION STUDENTS WIN SONSCREEN FILM AWARDS

Students from across the Pacific Union traveled to Baltimore earlier this month to participate in the annual Sonscreen Film Festival, an annual gathering of young Christian filmmakers. This festival has become the destination for up-and-coming Christian filmmakers to share their creative work and network and be nurtured by film professionals.

Winners from the Pacific Union include:
Best Screenplay, “The Chocolate Shop,” Vester Banner III, La Sierra University
Best High School Short, “Ha’awi Aloha,” Kayli Pascal-Martinez, Hawaiian Mission Academy
Best Dramatic Short, “She Isn’t Here,” Michelle Noland, La Sierra University
Jury Selection Award, “Genesis,” Julian Ybarra, Pacific Union College
Honorable Mention Dramatic Short: “The Chocolate Shop,” Vester Banner III, La Sierra University

Congratulations all of the young adult filmmakers from the Pacific Union who competed in the 2018 Sonscreen Film Festival!

See the full list of Sonscreen award winners at: http://www.sonscreen.com/2018-sonscreen-award-winners/

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BITE SIZE TALKS FOOD CONFERENCE

The second annual Bite Size Talks – a faith-based food conference – was held at the Temple City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southern California on Sunday, April 8. This event brings together believers passionate about food, faith, and serving and connecting with their community. The whole day was designed to inspire and equip the next generation—one healthy bite at a time!

Watch for more Bite Size Talk events at: https://www.facebook.com/bitesizetalks/

Learn more about this community bringing faith and food together at: http://www.bitesizetalks.com/

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PACIFIC UNION TEAMS TRAVEL TO PATHFINDER BIBLE EXPERIENCE

Every year, Pathfinder Clubs across the North American Division participate in PBE the Pathfinder Bible Experience—a team challenge that focuses on immersion in the Word of God. Competing in four rounds—Area, Conference, Union, and Division—teams of six club members study and memorize large portions of specific books of the Bible. This year’s PBE books of the Bible are the books of Esther and Daniel.

This Sabbath, 184 teams from across the division have gathered at Camp Hawthorne in Florida for the Division Final. Among the competing teams are 13 teams from the Pacific Union, representing 9 of our churches from 5 of our conferences.

We invite you to join us in praying for this great event—and for the continued success of all those wonderful pathfinders who have worked so hard to reach this milestone. We are so proud of you!

In Esther 4:14, Mordecai asks a question that each of us should consider when we wonder whether the Lord has a ministry and a task for us. The text that our Pathfinders have learned so well asks, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

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All God’s People is taking a “Spring Break” next week but will be back on May 4, 2018. See you then!

2018-04-19T21:52:46-07:00April 19th, 2018|All Gods People|

Beyond the King of the Hill

By Mark Witas

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:1-8, NIV).

Edith Sitwell said, “I have often wished I had time to cultivate humility…But I am too busy thinking about myself.” I can relate. When I was little, my mom would pick my sister and me up from school, and on the way home she would stop at a store and get us an after-school treat. Typically, she’d buy a Snickers bar—one Snickers bar. She’d peel the wrapper, make a fingernail mark as near to the center of the bar as she could, and break it in half. Then she’d hand us each half a chocolate bar.

What do you think happened? We’d whine and complain that the other half of the candy was bigger or that the other half had more peanuts or nougat. Instead of eating our treat, we’d be measuring and arguing and complaining until my mom would reach back, take both of our treats out of our hands and eat them herself. I think this was a clever ploy for my mom to eat candy under the guise of good parenting.

It’s safe to say that my sister and I didn’t exemplify Philippians 2.

What would have happened if, when my mom gave us the candy, I had insisted that my sister go ahead and choose the half she wanted first and then been satisfied with what was left? There would have been a lot more peace in the car, that’s for sure—and my mom wouldn’t have spoiled her dinner with a confiscated Snickers bar.

The point is, I believe that it’s not our nature to be humble and submissive with each other. This is one of those things that we need instruction on and have to be intentional about.  This is because most of us are naturally selfish individuals. It is an unnatural act to humble ourselves and treat others better than we think they deserve.

Yet, the Apostle Paul almost begs the church in Philippi to do the unnatural thing and become a church full of people who treat each other with humility, love, and respect. And he dares to challenge the church to be this way in the middle of a world whose motto is “Look out for Number One!”

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to play a game called King of the Hill. You remember that game? It was a fun game, but also frustrating. Every time I would get up the hill and knock someone off, someone would sneak up behind me and knock me off the hill. The whole point of the game is to knock someone off so that you can be on top. And it’s hard to stay on top longer than a few seconds.

When religious people have to be the king of the hill, things get ugly. Their insatiable need to be right—to have God’s will figured out better than everyone else—gives them an excuse to look down on all those people who don’t have a clear understanding of Scripture, or God’s will, or the Spirit of Prophecy like they do. They baptize their pride in being correct.

Philippians 2 is Paul’s attempt to teach the church what Jesus tried so hard to teach His disciples: that it’s only people with servant attitudes who will represent God’s people accurately here on this earth. Jesus says in John 13:35 that the world will know that we are His disciples because of the love that we show to one another.  If you will notice, Jesus said this right after He finished washing His disciples’ feet—like a servant.

May we, Jesus’ church, learn to truly humble ourselves and follow the Lamb wherever He leads.

Mark Witas is lead teaching pastor at Pacific Union College Church in Angwin, California.

2018-04-13T20:35:30-07:00April 13th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” April 13, 2018 Episode 045

YOUNG PEOPLE EMPOWERED AT WCYC
Nearly 1,000 participants from across North Pacific and Pacific Union conferences came together for the 2018 “EMPOWER” West Coast Youth Conference (WCYC) hosted this spring at the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, Calif.. Over the four days they gathered, young people participated in praise, worship, devotions, workshops, seminars and social activities. The young delegates made the word EMPOWER mean something with the service projects that they took on in the Inland Empire. Delegates fanned out across the community to work together and spread the love of Christ through tangible acts of compassion, following the example of Jesus.

The West Coast Bible Conference exemplified what can happen with young people are Empowered to do something wonderful for the Kingdom of God.

Look for photos of this conference on the WCYC Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/myWCYC/

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MUSIC TEACHER EXPANDS STUDENTS HORIZONS AT ALCA
Some of the most compelling stories we get to tell each week come from people who are using their talents to bless other people. A news crew from Las Vegas CBS Channel 8 recently showed their viewers how Edward Simanton, an Administrator at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, New School of Medicine is contributing to his community as the instrumental music teacher at Abundant Life Christian Academy.

Dr. Simanton, who plays over 30 wind, string and percussion instruments, and has taught music for more than three decades, now spends his lunch hour several days a week providing piano, flute, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, and guitar lessons to community students. His students frequently provide special music selections during morning worship service at the Abundant Life SDA Church.

Watch the news clip on the Nevada-Utah Conference Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/NUCAdventist/videos/?ref=page_internal

Read about what’s happening at ALCA on page 54 of this month’s issue of the Recorder: https://issuu.com/pacificunionrecorder/docs/pages1-71

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DOING JUSTICE – 2018 RELIGIOUS LIBERTY SUMMIT
The North American Religious Liberty Association has a remarkable event coming up in the Inland Empire and Southern California on April 21-22.

Here’s an invitation from the North American Religious Liberty Association:
“This Religious Liberty Summit will be different than our national Summit in that there is no advance registration, and no cost to attend. Come Do Justice with us! On Sunday morning you’ll have the opportunity to learn and train in hands-on grassroots advocacy efforts. Are you ready to Do Christ-Centered Justice? Join us April 27-29!”

Learn more about this summit at: https://www.religiousliberty.info/2018-religious-liberty-summit

Follow NARLA for details of the event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NARLAfreedom/

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Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Psalm 24: 1—“ The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

May we be mindful of how All God’s People have the opportunity to serve our Lord through every moment and every aspect of our lives.

2018-04-13T19:44:12-07:00April 13th, 2018|All Gods People|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” #44 – April 6, 2018

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” Episode 044 – April 6, 2018

NINTH ANNUAL ADVENTIST WESTPOINT

“All God’s People” went on location this week to Long Beach, California, for the ninth annual “Adventist WestPoint,” the premier training event for pastors, chaplains, evangelists, departmental leaders and administrators, students, local church lay leaders, and all church members.

This annual training event brings together an impromptu community of ministry professionals who focus on innovative strategies and training for church growth. Through seminars and workshops, sponsor exhibits, uplifting worship, and challenging messages from Scripture—participants are strengthened in their ministry and calling.

Adventist WestPoint in 2019 will be in Reno, Nevada, April 21-24.

2018-04-06T17:58:43-07:00April 6th, 2018|All Gods People|

As You Do It to the Least

By Becky De Oliveira

The kid is one of my good students. He sits in the second row. He hangs on my every word. He likes to write and participates enthusiastically in class discussions and small group work.

He’s not exactly a kid. Mid-twenties. But age doesn’t matter. They’re all kids to me because I am their teacher. I take my responsibilities seriously and believe they go far beyond covering the material in the syllabus or textbook. What I teach is more than English composition. My job is to help everyone I encounter to discover their potential and value, to figure out who they are meant to be, and to move forward on a life journey that honors their talents and that allows them to make a positive difference through whatever work they do.

This kid is super excited about the first essay due. It’s a narrative—a simple personal story constructed in such a way as to convey meaning. We look at examples and do free-writing exercises. We dissect how different authors approach storytelling. Different ways to begin and end. Structure. Vivid detail. Characterization. The students have a whole class period to “workshop” their essays—read each other’s work and provide constructive feedback. This kid and his group are having a ball the whole time—they’re all the super-engaged kids. They are laughing and poking each other—reading excerpts of each other’s work aloud, delighting in the creative process. This makes me happy and almost makes up for the groups that proceed in half-hearted or even surly silence.

The kid tells me at the end of class that I am going to love his paper. “You’re going to want me to read it in front of the whole class,” he predicts. Students rarely exhibit this level of confidence, especially on the first essay, before they know what kind of grader I am or even enough about my personal tastes to predict what I may or may not love. They’re usually scared I won’t like their work and they hand it in with disclaimers. They wish they’d had more time. They probably could have done better. They aren’t totally sure if this is what I’m looking for, but….

His paper is the last one I grade. It so happens that it appeared that way in the dropbox I set up online for submissions, but I probably would have saved it for last anyway, relishing the prospect of something really interesting after a rather mixed bag of writing. The submission contains a note from the kid that sounds less confident than he had appeared in class. It forewarns me that this paper was hard for him to write. Very hard. “I just wanted you to know.”

As I read, I move through various stages of emotion, none of them particularly good. The writing is OK—nothing that blows up my world, but perfectly competent. It’s the subject matter that begins to ring alarm bells. He’s alluding to things, so I’m not entirely sure what I’m alarmed about. It becomes clear that he was arrested and charged with an offense of some kind, that he spent time in jail, that he appeared before a judge. I’m thinking shoplifting or DUI, maybe getting into a fight—assault? But no. There are other warnings. One important point: After the judgment, he was no longer allowed to see his younger brother.

Deep breath. The essay ends with no resolution, no closure, no explanation. Nothing more than an earnest expression of his desire to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Overcome by curiosity and against my better judgment, I Google his name.

The first six hits are all him. Newspaper articles from a few years ago with his name and photo prominently displayed. He is a registered sex offender with three offenses. They were all against children under the age of ten. Very deep inhale. Why can’t I exhale? I took criminology in college, and my professor told us that in the prison where he also taught criminology, he could always tell the sex offenders. “They want you to like them,” he said.

I am afraid of this kid and what he is capable of. I am afraid that knowing this fact about him requires me to do something—what? I am terrified at the idea that he thinks I’ll want him to read his essay aloud to the whole class—why would I want to turn my classroom into group therapy for sex offenders? There will be kids in my class who have been child victims of predators, and I have their feelings to consider. Did the kids in his workshop group understand what he was writing about? What if he enjoys reliving his experiences and is trying to use my class for this purpose? What if he genuinely needs my help and is asking for it? How will I look at him and talk to him as if things are normal? What if he can see it in my face, the fact that I know? Am I supposed to offer him hope for the future, that his life still has value? I believe that this is true. Do I believe that this is true? Really?

This is where my Christian journey gets rocky. Every. Single. Time. I want to quit my job. I can’t teach. How can I teach? But I have to teach. I have to try. I have a few days to figure out my poker face and lots of hours in which to pray. A door will appear, I tell myself. A door always appears.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2018-04-06T16:28:25-07:00April 6th, 2018|Blog|