The Universal Question

by Megan Elmendorf 

The universal question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” came up as I was teaching my senior religion class. It was expressed by a second generation Adventist and not (as one might expect) from one of the international students. A follow-up question was then asked by a born-again Christian, “And why do good things happen to bad people?” In response, we discussed once more the great controversy, and then the discussion turned to such biblical truths as those found in Matthew 5:44-46 and 2 Peter 3:9, homing in on the fact that the God we serve is a relational God—a God who, as Creator of both the “good” and the “bad,” seeks that both may know Him and that both may have equal opportunity for salvation (Romans 3:21-24).

This question mulling in the minds of my students of “Why, God?” is also connected to another concept. The faulty idea of good deeds resulting in good treatment from the “powers that be”—and the converse for bad deeds—has been around long before the Romantic writers of the 19th century touted it in their plot devices. In fact, this idea was supported and expressed by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to their friend Job (Job 4, 8, 20). They presented the idea that God was seeking retribution from Job because of Job’s sins. This “retribution theology” is dangerous, however, not only because it is not Scriptural but also because it in essence diminishes God from who and what He is (as He explains in His lengthy and mighty response to Job in Job 38-41). It reduces Him to no better than a pagan god or goddess who is petulant and utterly changeable. This is far from the reality of God (Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17).

As we read, Job wrestles with the accusations of his friends just as he wrestles with his own questions, seeking evidence to back up what, up until his trials, he had believed about the character of his God. In chapter after chapter, we see Job cursing the day of his birth, saying he is just in his suit against his God, despairing of ever seeing an end to his tribulations as there seems to be no mediator, and expressing his desire that there indeed be “a God” to whom he could plead. His belief and faith waxes and wanes through the story just as ours might (and does) through the days of plenty and days of want. He questions God’s motives for creating him in the first place, then defends God to his friends when they maintain that God is punishing him. Then, when God answers Job (and his misguided friends) in the ending chapters of the story, we see another vital truth, and that is: God does not need our attempts at vindication and instead vindicates us where we stand (should we accept Him).

In looking at God’s answer to Job (the longest recording of God speaking directly to a man in the Bible), it is interesting to note that in all His dialogue with Job, God mentions Himself less than He mentions Job. Yes, He is a bit sarcastic in His questions to Job (my personal favorites are found in Job 38-39), but it is still important to note that God put Job at the center of His focus. He does mention Himself, of course, but the subject of His discussion is Job. He thus shows himself to be a creation-centered Creator (a relational God).

Job, in contrast, in his first response to God in Chapter 40, features himself as the primary subject and he only mentions God once. By the end of God’s follow-up (the “mic drop” of God’s discourse, as my students describe it), Job’s focus seems to have changed. He still appears to be (as we all are) a self-centered creation, but there is a key difference in his responses. Yes, he still mentions himself more than he mentions God but only marginally so and, where he had once spoken as if his problems and his pain were too great for God to heal, at the end he admits his fallibility and his need for salvation (and his understanding of where that salvation comes from).

Job has moved from what psychologists refer to as bottom-up processing, in which perceptions of reality start at the stimulus, the sensory input, thus making perceptions “data driven” from what is directly before him and into the brain in one direction only (bottom-up). He’s moved from only seeing what is directly in front of him to, in a fashion, seeing things through top-down processing. Job formulates the reality of his life, creating his perceptions using prior knowledge (in this case his relationship with God) to make sense of current events (his dialogue with his Creator). He takes in the data of the sensory input, he sees his trials and tribulations, but he now reflects upon the provisions and mightiness of his Creator and thus lives on in hope. Job has begun to move from the pleading question of “Why, God” to the difficult one that takes faith and a clinging to hope of “What for, God?”

As we move in and out of the routine of our days, having mountaintop experiences of faith and troughs of adversity, may we remember Job and his questions. May we too ask “What for?” when trials arrive.

 

Megan Elmendorf works as an educator and mission coordinator at Hawaiian Mission Academy on the island of Oahu. Originally from Tennessee and her home church of McDonald Road SDA church, she has resided in Hawaii for two years after serving seven years abroad in East Asia as a missionary. 

 

2018-10-29T14:27:07-07:00October 31st, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” October 26, 2018 Episode 222

30th Annual Student Leadership Conference at Leoni Meadows

Student leaders from academies across the Pacific Union gathered the last weekend of September for the 30th annual Student Leadership Conference at Leoni Meadows Camp in Grizzly Flats, California. The group of over 200 students spent three days focused on team-building, fellowshipping with students from other schools, and learning about servant leadership from guest speaker Aren Rennacker, youth pastor at the Calimesa Seventh-day Adventist Church. Rennacker spent the weekend sharing with young people how impactful leadership comes out of the overflow of a relationship with God. “When you are given the opportunity of authority or greater power, the response Jesus calls us to is to serve those with less power,” he said. “Servant leadership must come out of first abiding with God and being filled with God so that we then can overflow out into serving others.” To Rennacker, what matters most is the relationships leaders can develop, and he encouraged the young people to start with their relationship with God.

Learn more at: https://www.facebook.com/pg/PacificUnionSDA/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1880494705363335

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All God’s People is a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference. The program features fast and easy-to-digest news and inspiration from the diverse congregations of Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah, where people are doing exciting things to further the Gospel. The videos are hosted by Connie Vandeman Jeffery. New episodes are available each Friday.

2018-10-26T02:57:12-07:00October 26th, 2018|All Gods People|

The Gospel of the Disappointment

by Ray Tetz 

Every year, October 22 marks a teachable moment for those of us who have lived in hope of something that hasn’t yet happened—and that we may have begun to doubt ever will.

The day is, of course, the anniversary of what we Adventists call “The Great Disappointment.” According to their interpretation of prophecy, early Adventists were fully expecting Jesus to return on this date in 1844. To call His failure to appear as expected a “disappointment” is perhaps a grave understatement. More accurate names might be “The Great Annihilation of Hope” or “The Great Theological Mistake Big Enough to End the Whole Discussion” or “The Great Challenge That If It Doesn’t Break You Will Make You Stronger.”

And yet, as great as this disappointment might have been for those living through it, two fundamental challenges faced by first century Christians were much, much more disappointing.

The first extraordinary disappointment was the execution of Jesus Christ. Their beloved leader was killed. Dead.Pretty hard to come back from that.  (Cue the resurrection and the restoration of hope.) The second disappointment, the same one later faced by the early Adventists, was that after the miracle of His resurrection and ascent into heaven, Jesus didn’t come back. Even though He had promised that He would. And even though His followers—and this is important—were doing everything they could to cause Him to return. Their actions seemed to changenothing.

For some, this disappointing set of circumstances meant cutting their losses, bailing out of the faith, and never looking back. But for those persuaded that Jesus was unlike anyone they had ever encountered before and utterly worth following no matter what, abandoning the faith simply wasn’t an option. So they tried to make some sense of their disappointment.

The various apostles and writers of the New Testament dealt with disappointment differently.

For Mark, writing nearest to the death of Christ, it was an opportunity to understand the dynamic of the messianic secret and to embrace the mystery of this extraordinary and unprecedented occurrence: God with us. Matthew focused on the importance of followers living lives that were so enthused with Christ that they became Christ to the world and had the same impact on those whose lives they touched as Christ had had on theirs. For Luke, disappointment created the opportunity to search for meaning in history and the ultimate redemption of humankind. Paul, who was not one of the Twelve, saw the paradox of the gospel: Jesus’ death was a part of God’s mysterious plan; the weakest moment is actually the strongest; through His death, not His life, He has saved the world. For Peter, it was coming to a profound understanding of God’s true purpose. Peter’s emphasis is my favorite and is demonstrated through what the New Testament calls the bride of Christ (the church), for which Peter had special responsibility. Finally, John resolved his dissonance and disappointment in the personal search for meaning in the knowledge of Jesus Himself, creating a framework through which those who believe in Jesus were to present His claims of Lordship, and His gracious love, to the world in which they live.

What was then the original “Great Disappointment” can be seen as transformational. It brought about a defining spiritual moment in the lives of individuals who had to confront their disappointment and make something meaningful from it. We can draw lessons for our own lives from the positive way the diverse individuals who were with Jesus—not just the disciples but all those who followed Him as the One in whom they had placed all of their hopes—dealt with their despair.

Mark and Martha both call us to embrace the unknown circumstances of our journeys as disciples. Matthew and the woman at the well call us to exemplify the gracious character of Christ in our own lives. Luke and Mary the mother of Jesus ask us to look beyond the present moment to the horizon of our hopes, treasuring in our hearts that which is unattained but not unknown. Paul and Mary Magdalene call us to treasure the mystery of salvation in our hearts, valuing the upside-down-ness of a world in which the weakest are actually the strongest and the shadow of death is vanquished not by the sword but by the unquenchable, passionate light of love, however small its flicker might sometimes be. Peter calls us to be the church of Christ’s imagination—the bride who waits with patience and fidelity. And John, the beloved, reminds us that our life in Christ announces His saving grace to the whole world—even those who are experiencing disappointment and disillusionment.

So while October 22 is not a celebration, it’s not exactly a disappointment either. Call it a milestone. The journey of hope continues.

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.

 

 

2018-10-19T09:44:49-07:00October 22nd, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” October 19, 2018 Episode 221

Church in Page, Arizona Receives Beautification Award

There’s a burning bush in Page, Arizona. Right on the corner of South Lake Powell Boulevard and Coppermine Road. You might not recognize it immediately as a burning bush, because it is disguised as an Adventist church. The site of the All Nations Adventist Church was once not very attractive, an irritation to the city and an embarrassment the people who worship there. But that was before an intensive campaign to beautify and create an attractive place that would reflect God’s love.

Lead by Pastor James Crosby and his wife, Nancy, over the last couple years the weeds have disappeared and new trees, a vegetable and flower garden, and a shade and picnic area have sprung up in their place, making it one of the most improved areas in Page. It’s become a place that attracts attention to what God is doing—like a burning bush!

Read more about this wonderful story at: https://lakepowellchronicle.com/article/page-all-nations-church-receives-community-beautification-award

Association of Adventist Women to Host Interfaith Conference on Sexual Abuse

The Association of Adventist Women is the oldest, continuously operating organization of Adventist women. Founded in 1982, it is much appreciated and valued for its advocacy for women in church leadership, recognition of the achievements of Adventist women around the globe, and its annual conferences which engage our communities in thoughtful and important discussions impacting women and all of us.

The 2018 AAW Conference is called “Unveiling: Women, Faith, and Sexual Abuse.” It will be a conversation across several faith traditions about a topic that has affected and continues to affect women of faith.

Learn more about this upcoming event at: http://www.associationofadventistwomen.com/conferences?fbclid=IwAR1o1qCHKP7yHdHJ2uJDrPW9jzJ7SJGdVio3v_uVKqNxXDRGfncEckotSM4

Follow the conversation on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/655196598199351/?active_tab=discussion

The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage — New from Oak & Acorn Publishing

Dr. Valentine knows his church history—and he makes it come alive in his classroom, his writing, and in the conversation we had a few weeks back about his book, “The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage.”

This new book from Oak & Acorn Publishing is available on Amazon and AdventSource.

Visit here learn more: https://www.amazon.com/Struggle-Prophetic-Heritage-publications-1930-1939/dp/1986909352io3v_uVKqNxXDRGfncEckotSM4

2018-10-19T16:28:37-07:00October 19th, 2018|All Gods People|

After the Vote

by William G. Johnsson

Sunday afternoon, delegates to the 2018 Annual Council cast their votes on the proposal to discipline “non-compliant” units of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Despite all the words in the proposal and speeches on the floor, the real target was the ordination of women ministers, with the Pacific Union and Columbia Union in the crosshairs for punitive action. The General Conference was and remains determined to bring these two unions to heel.

Look at the trajectory of the past three Annual Councils:

2016: The GC introduced a proposal focused on punishing non-compliant unions. It failed to get a majority vote.

2017: A modified, more stringent proposal along the same lines was brought to the floor. It likewise failed.

2018: The latest proposal came packaged with a large, complicated procedure, supported by survey data of a dubious nature. But the original intent to force the Pacific and Columbia Unions to submit, although obscured in a fog of words, remained. The proposal passed handily.

I am disappointed but not surprised—and certainly not discouraged. Here’s why.

Disappointed because I believe strongly that what was voted marks a radical departure from the Adventism of Ellen White and the founders of our movement, from our Protestant heritage, and from the life and teachings of Jesus. It will ultimately shatter the unity of the SDA church—ironically, in the name of unity.

Not surprised because the decision to bring the proposal to the floor virtually guaranteed the vote.

During the week preceding the Annual Council, Division and General Conference Officers (GCDO), as they customarily do, met to consider agenda items. This meeting of the top leadership of the global church functions in important ways like the U.S. Senate, where accumulated wisdom and careful deliberation are meant to be the hallmark.

When GCDO met and voted, these leaders split down the middle on the non-compliance proposal. The margin in favor of going forward was razor thin.

The proposal should have died right there—it should have been withdrawn. We are a churchnot a political organization that acts on the slimmest of majorities.

The GC leadership forged ahead anyway. Did they figure that, although the “Senate” was split down the middle, the “House” (the much larger GC Committee) could be counted on to deliver the vote?

The composition of the GC Committee has undergone a sharp transformation. It has become weighted toward the global South over against the North. This is because each new union voted in at a GC Session gets a seat on the GC Committee. And the new unions nowadays come overwhelmingly from the developing world.

The outcome in Battle Creek was entirely predictable.

But not discouraged. How could I be when the head of the Church isn’t someone in Silver Spring? Jesus is Head of the Church, and He will bring a good result in spite of the present disappointment.

How can I be so confident? You can’t hold back the dawn.History is on the side of justice and equality.

I am proud of Elder Ricardo Graham and his fellow officers. I am proud of Elder Dave Weigley and his fellow officers. They stand on the right side of history.

I stand with them.

“The stream of Adventism is fed by the teardrops of the Great Disappointment,” writes Alex Bryan in “Primal Adventism: Jesus at the Beginning” (For the One: Voices from the One Project, a sermon originally preached at the One Project).

Bryan is correct: disappointment is in our DNA.

Out of the disappointment of October 22, 1844, arose our church, which, in spite of all its flaws, is still a wonderful family to belong to.

And out of the disappointment of October 14, 2018, will arise the new, just Adventism of the Lord’s devising.

 

 

2018-10-17T16:27:25-07:00October 17th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” October 12, 2018 Episode 220

Join us this week for a conversation with both Pastor Ricardo Graham and Dr. George Knight as they share what is on their hearts during “such a time as this.” Also included this week—a report of the Southeastern California Conference Constituency Session.

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Southeastern California Conference gathers for Constituency Session

On Sunday, October 7, the La Sierra University church was the location for the 2018 Southeastern California Constituency Session. There are 177 churches and companies in Southeastern, with nearly 70,000 members. They were represented by some 600 delegates from across the five counties that make up the largest conference in the North American Division.

As is the custom and organizational structure for Seventh-day Adventists, on Sunday they came together to elect officers, listen to reports, act on recommendations, and put the work of God on a firm footing for the next five years. During the session, 75% of delegates voted their approval of the way in which Elder Sandy Roberts has been leading the church in Southeastern California by returning her to the office of President for another term. All the remaining personnel recommended by the Nominating Committee were voted in, each by more than 90% of the delegates. This included reelecting Jonathan Park, secretary, and Verlon Strauss, Treasurer—and the other Conference leadership.

You can read about the meeting and other actions taken on the SECC session on their website. Link below!

https://secc.adventistfaith.org/news_entries/8417

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All God’s People is a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference. The program features fast and easy-to-digest news and inspiration from the diverse congregations of Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah, where people are doing exciting things to further the Gospel. The videos are hosted by Connie Vandeman Jeffery. New episodes are available each Friday.

2018-10-12T13:49:29-07:00October 12th, 2018|All Gods People|

Things Too Wonderful for Me to Know

by Bert Williams 

“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” –Garth Brooks

            I know people who believe they have routine, intimate encounters with God. I am not referring to a rewarding devotional life. They believe God makes personal contact with them in a decisive, unmistakable—even audible or physical—way. I do believe such experiences exist, but to be honest, in my 66 years I can identify only two such events in my own life. For me, they are very rare.

            One afternoon I was driving near Port Hardy, British Columbia, where I pastored thelocal Adventist church. I was hearing an odd repetitive scraping noise that sounded like it was coming from the left front wheel of my Ford van. I’m no mechanic, but I decided to investigate.

            I rolled to a stop on the flat gravel shoulder. I decided to jack upthe van in order to get a better view of what was going on underneath. The jack was a mechanical scissor jack designed to go under the frame—one of those contrivances with a long-handled crank. As I cranked, the van rose, the weight came off the suspension, and the wheel sagged. Finally, the van reached a height where the tire was suspended off the ground, leaving well over a foot of space between the top of the wheel well and the top of the tire. That was plenty of room for me to stick my head in for a look

I checked the jack. It appeared secure under the frame and solid on the hard ground. Fully intending to stick my head inside the wheel well, I inexplicably pulled back instead of moving forward. At that moment the van’s frame slipped off the jack. With a metallic clang, the jack flew several feet, skidding across the gravel. The van bounced onto the ground. The space where my head would have been was compressed to nearly nothing in an instant. If I had followed through on my inspection plan, my skull would have been split wide open. I could not possibly have survived.

As I stood there in a cold sweat, I imagined the scenario of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer walking up to the front door of our house and explaining to my wife, as she held our baby in her arms, how sorry he was about what had happened to her husband. Instead, I was safe—weak-kneed but whole—and immensely thankful. I do not doubt that I was actively saved that day from certain death.

What I do not know is why these miraculous interventions don’t happen more often. Why, for example, didn’t God keep my mom from being distracted and turning left into an oncoming truck? She died from internal injuries within hours. Why was her life not spared? She had two teenage kids who needed her godly wisdom and guidance. But suddenly she was gone.

The simple reality is that God’s involvement with our planet is inscrutable. I doubt the wisdom of anyone who claims to understand it. God is involved, I have no doubt, but when and how and under what circumstances? The answers are not forthcoming. Sometimes I find myself aligned with Job: “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me” (Job 30:20, NIV).

But here is another question: Would getting answers to our questions be a good thing?

In Job’s case, God did finally answer:“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:2-3).

And God proceeds with a series of startling questions for Job:

Does the rain have a father? (38:28)

Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (38:35)

Do you give the horse its strength? (39:19)

Does the eagle soar at your command? (39:27)

The cross examination stretches on for three long chapters. In the middle of the grilling, Job interrupts God:“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (40:4).

But God is far from finished: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (40:8). And God turns to sarcasm:“Do you have an arm like God’s,and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath” (40:9-11).

In the course of the verbal onslaught, God asks Job the ultimate question: “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” (41:11).

And finally, Job is able to inject a few more words: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3). It’s a good response, and finally God has finished—except for turning His disregard toward Job’s accusers, and then restoring Job’s good life.

Job lived another 140 years, surrounded by four generations of offspring, finally dying “old and full of years.” But notice this: God never did answer Job’s questions. God simply said, in effect: Job, how I choose to run the universe is just none of your business.

And for believers, among whom I count myself, that is the only possible response to finite humans from infinite God.

 

Bert Williams retired in 2018 after serving for 13 years as editorial director of Christian Record Services for the Blind. He has served as a church pastor, a high school Bible and music teacher, and a reporter and editor for a small town weekly newspaper. Bert and his wife, Donna, live near their two kids and four grandkids in San Mateo, CA. They are members of the Palo Alto Adventist Church.

 

 

2018-10-08T13:13:47-07:00October 10th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” October 5, 2018 Episode 219

Northern California Conference Gathers for Constituency Session

On Sunday, September 30, Lodi Fairmont church was the location for the 2018 Northern California Constituency Session. Some 600 delegates from across Northern California from the churches in Northern California came together to elect officers, listen to reports, act on recommendations, and put the work of God on a firm footing for the next four years.

The delegates at the Northern California session elected Marc Woodson, current NCC executive secretary, to be president. They also elected Jose Marin, current Arizona Conference executive secretary and ministerial/evangelism director, to be executive secretary, and they reelected John Rasmussen, NCC treasurer. They also voted all the NCC department directors and the three NCC ethnic coordinators return to office. You can read about the meeting and other actions taken on the NCC session by clicking the link below.

Watch the Constituency video: https://www.facebook.com/NorCalAdventistsinAction/videos/311246326342970/

Learn more: http://https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Special-Constituency-Edition-of-Northern-Lights—October-1–2018.html?soid=1121533698906&aid=kSSDg8B1q9g

New from Oak & Acorn Publishing—Bill Johnsson’s New Book, “Authentic Adventism”

For nearly 25 years, Elder Bill Johnsson was a visiting minister to Adventist homes through the pages of the Adventist Review. Now retired in Loma Linda, California, Bill has continued to be a pastoral voice through his writing, including his book “Where are We Headed? Adventism after San Antonio,” that was published last year, and “Authentic Adventism” which has just been released.

With his characteristic grace and care, Dr. Johnsson candidly and personally addresses the issues that concern so many Adventists today, and once again focuses our attention on Jesus Christ, our hope and Savior.

Dr. Johnsson’s books are available from Oak & Acorn Publishing, a joint ministry of the Ministerial Association and Communication & Community Engagement Department of the Pacific Union.

Learn more: https://www.amazon.com/Authentic-Adventism-William-G-Johnsson/dp/1722313617

All God’s People is a weekly program produced by the Pacific Union Conference for Seventh-day Adventists and friends in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. Join us every Friday for information and inspiration.

2019-04-30T20:26:46-07:00October 4th, 2018|All Gods People|