A Twin Barometer

by Faith Hoyt

I grew up with a twin sister who doubled as a built-in best friend. She was also my built-in barometer for behavior. Whether it was my attitude at home or social interactions at school, I had a gauge for my conduct and so did she. Despite Laura’s claim to the title of “older twin” (by two whole minutes), we were two peas in a pod who instinctively looked to each other for honest feedback. For most character-building experiences, like lessons in generosity, diligence, kindness, and self-control, Laura was right by my side. She was—and still is—the person I trust to tell me and teach me everything.

 

One of the first things I remember learning from Laura was generosity. Our mom tells us how, if given something, Laura would reach out her other hand for one more and then march over to share half with me. I have to admit I didn’t behave as generously. Parental reminders to share were likely emphasized on my behalf. My parents knew it and so did I—Laura had the sharing business down—and I benefitted from her example.

 

In our pre-teen years, my twin barometer taught me the value of being diligent about responsibilities. Take the basic task of cleaning our rooms. Some kids are pretty good about keeping their rooms clean. Then there was Laura, who took it to a whole new level. I liked to tease her that her room felt more like a hospital room than a bedroom. (Incidentally, Laura works as a nurse now.) Despite the teasing, she knew I enjoyed being in her room more than mine. Inspired by Laura’s attention to detail, my room started looking similar to hers.

 

In high school our relationship became less about learning from each other and more about learning things on our own while still occasionally comparing notes. Laura’s personality (the Campaigner) and mine (the Advocate) meant that while we could both get enthusiastic about things, I was the first to step down and look to others for input, while Laura led the charge. It created some tension in our relationship. While we were learning to understand and appreciate our differences, we were also re-learning how to use that barometer of ours. Peer pressure made me want to blend in. It made Laura want to challenge the status quo. I like to think we balanced each other out. We eventually learned to approach our differences carefully, appreciating the things that made us different rather than feeling threatened by them. I know this too has come in handy in life.

 

People sometimes ask me what growing up with a twin is like. I’ll tell them about the times we traded places in school, or the way I’ll randomly text her and discover she is texting me at the same exact moment. There are a million little secret ways that being a twin feels special. What I am most grateful for is the silent way my twin teaches me. Laura is a second pair of eyes to help me self-reflect. My twin barometer shapes the way I learn because she knows what my best self looks like and doesn’t let me settle for less. She bolsters me in the right direction.

 

Now, several years into our careers and living in different states, Laura and I see each other a handful of times a year. At the beginning of this year we started planning for a mid-March visit—a reunion interrupted by the spread of coronavirus and subsequent stay-at-home orders. While we haven’t been able to see each other yet, we’ve stayed closely connected. Phone calls are a sacred time. The stress of a pandemic has drawn us closer—and I know I can lean into my twin barometer whenever I need to re-calibrate. We’re weathering this together. I’m still learning from her too. As a nurse on the front lines, Laura shows me what bravery, compassion, and self-sacrificing love looks like.

 

I sometimes wonder how people get through life without a twin, but then I remember there are other barometers too, like friends. In friendships, we look to each other to listen, be empathetic, and give perspective. We lean into each other for advice or for helping to stay focused on what matters most. We all function as barometers.

 

Perhaps you have a twin and your growing-up years looked similar to mine. Perhaps not. Different though our experiences might have been, I know we have this in common: we’re all still learning—and learning from each other.

 

 

Faith Hoyt is the assistant editor of the Pacific Union Recorder and a communication specialist with the Communication and Community Engagement Department of the Pacific Union. She is pursuing an MBA at La Sierra University.

 

2020-05-30T09:24:59-07:00June 1st, 2020|Living God's Love|

A Conversation with Kenzie

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery
 
My granddaughter is six and loves Kindergarten. Since September, Kenzie’s life has revolved around learning, laughing, playing, discovering a new world of friends, and adoring her teacher. She loves her four-year-old sister Madi and all her cousins with whom she plays in her auntie’s daycare, but school opened her horizons in ways I hadn’t imagined, and she has blossomed into this confident, charming, social, articulate little human with whom I have the most wonderful conversations.
 
Back when school was on, our talks revolved around friends like besties Hazel and Greta and, well, just about everyone in the class. I’d pick her up after class a couple days a week and drop her off at her Auntie’s house on my way back to work, and we’d talk about Barbies, swimming, or plans for a trip to the zoo. And then, there was always “Grandma Friday.” Since both her parents work full time and I’m off on Fridays, I had the privilege of having Fridays with Kenzie from the age of three months. When Madi arrived nearly three years later, I had both girls. Fridays were magical. We had adventures, at their house and later at mine. We’d go on hikes and play Barbies and go to McDonalds for french fries and to the park with the big slides. Grandpa taught the girls English songs and nursery rhymes and played ball with them. Those were the good ole days—and they were only three months ago.
 
March 12 was Kenzie’s last day of “real” school. She played Humpty Dumpty in her class play and dressed like an egg. The class sang songs and acted out Mother Goose rhymes and had snacks with the parents and grandparents afterwards. By the next day, word went out that the school was closed and classes would be online. Her mommy was able to work from home. Her dad had to continue going to work every day at the hospital. Auntie’s daycare shut down, and Kenzie’s life as she knew it was completely changed. She loved being with her mom and Madi all day, and she loved Zoom classes twice a week, but she missed real school.
 
For the first few weeks I didn’t see my son and his family at all, and we live only one mile away. We facetimed and talked on the phone. We sent pictures back and forth. Then, we began to socially distance and see each other outside a couple times a week. I’d go watch the girls swim or sit with them in the backyard at a distance. And we talked. And laughed. And talked some more.
 
It’s difficult to know what children pick up—whether from the news (although, there’s no news on TV in the girls’ house) or from overheard conversations between parents—but I discovered Kenzie had picked up a lot and had great insight. Last week we had a conversation about change.
 
“You know, Grandma, the world is getting very weird,” she stated. “It certainly is,” I agreed, “but ‘weird,’ how?” “Everything is changing,” she said. “I can’t go to school or see my cousins, but I love Zoom class.” I asked her what she missed about actual school and she said, “Everything!” She talked about how change was hard. “I’d like there to be just one thing that wouldn’t change.”
 
“How about Grandma Friday?” I asked. “Maybe that doesn’t need to change.” “Really?” she said. “Will you come here and play with us and take us places every Friday while Mommy works?” I assured her that while I couldn’t spend the entire day with them and take them to the usual places, I would plan to spend time with them, either in person or on the phone, and we’d do crafts and read books and I’d watch them swim and play in the back yard. Kenzie was elated. “Well, that’s one thing that will not change,” she announced. “We can still have Grandma Fridays! Maybe ‘the corona’ isn’t the worst thing!”
 
“That’s so cute,” I said. “The way you said, ‘the corona.’”
 
“Grandma, ‘the corona’ is not cute,” she declared emphatically. And I agreed with her. Then, she ran off to find Madi and tell her about Grandma Fridays being back.
 
Finding one constant in the ever-changing landscape of her life gave Kenzie a moment of joy and caused me to think. What are my constants? There are so many. The unconditional love of my family; the reassuring promises in Scripture; the unchangeable nature of God. The words to “Abide with Me” are going through my mind, especially the second verse:
 
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me

 
Yes, dear Kenzie, there are some things that will never change. Grandma Fridays may change as you get older, but not the love of God.
 
May the peace and promises of our unchangeable God abide with you today.
 

Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.

 

2020-05-29T11:47:45-07:00May 29th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Business is Not as Usual

by Jessyka Dooley

Right off the bat, I’m going to be quite honest about how I’ve been living my life these past few weeks. I am a type A person who is “go! go! go!” until I run out of the mental energy to “go” anywhere else. To be transparent, I feel as if this way of living has been rubbing like sandpaper on my soul. My pendulum swings so forcefully and rapidly that I’m either going at 100 percent or I’m in recovery. Since graduating from college, I have yet to find that sweet spot of balance, somewhere in between doing everything and doing nothing.

There are countless cons resulting from the novel coronavirus; my phone is sure to remind me of that reality every hour. But, my goodness, have I found a pro!

When business was as usual during November 2019, my husband Kiefer and I began listening to audiobooks whenever we were driving in the car together. We had long been anticipating a new book by John Mark Comer, one of our favorite pastors: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Ten minutes into this book we had to hit pause and sit there soaking in the words that rang all too true for both of us. We were hurried, rushed, overwhelmed people—and that kind of life is not the way of Jesus. I would like to say this book shook me enough that I radically began to apply its teachings to my life, but that isn’t what happened, at least not completely. Events still needed to be planned, materials still needed to be created, staff still needed to be hired, spreadsheets still needed data, and I still felt the need to find meaning in what I could do.

Fast forward to March 2020. Business is not as usual. Restaurants are closed, offices are virtual, students are distance learning, and the future is uncertain. Amazingly, this crazy time has forced me to slow down. There is still so much work to be done, but it seems more manageable. My schedule is mine to create. There’s no such thing as being too busy to spend quality time in prayer or to go for a walk.

While all might not be right in the world, I encourage you to find your own silver lining. To reclaim your schedule, your family, your relationship with Jesus, your life! Use the opportunity of minimal distractions to set aside deliberate time with God each day. Make meals that will bless your body, exercise, get some fresh air, have meaningful conversations with your family and friends. Use this time to feel more like a human being. God created you to enjoy life, to create, to be filled with joy and peace!

Someday—I hope soon—COVID-19 will be our history and not our present. Life will gradually return to a new normal. So, what will your new normal be?

I leave you with these words from John Mark Comer:

Should you enlist in the war on hurry, remember what’s at stake. You’re not just fighting for a good life, but for a good soul. So, dear reader and friend, you, like me, must make a decision. Not just when your own fork-in-the-road kind of midlife crisis comes (and it will come), but every day. How will you live? (Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, p. 255).

 

Jessyka Dooley is assistant youth director for ministry for the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in Denver, Colorado.

 

2020-05-19T12:15:13-07:00May 19th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Full of Overcoming

by Brigitta Beam

I read a quote from Helen Keller recently that has been sitting with me ever since: “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”

For the most part I tend to be an optimistic person, so this idea of overcoming is something I already try to practice every day. However, while living through this upheaval that none of us planned for, some days it’s hard to hold onto hope. We are living in a world that is experiencing terrible suffering. Many are separated from loved ones in one way or another. Even churches are not meeting in person but are still coming together as communities in ways we weren’t sure would be possible before life got wild.

But if you look closely, we are making it through this. Together. We are staying home if we can, to help slow the spread of COVID-19. If we are healthy and able to provide help for those who are more at risk from this virus, we do. We are creating beautiful things to give each other a reprieve from the stress with which we are living. We are overcoming in the best ways we know how. It may be in small or big ways, but we are making it through the best we can.

One of the ways I am making it through is by taking a few moments at the end of each day to thank God for the things that give me hope for our future and the little joys that happened during my day. I find some days are harder than others to express these things, but digging deep to find the hope and joy in life helps pull my focus off the not-so-great things that are seemingly out of my control. The hope I have is this: we will overcome. We will make it through this together—maybe a little worse for the wear, but we will make it. And while we will be heavy with the grief of loss and change, we will continue to hope, to find joy in the little things, and to find ways to help each other in big and small ways.

I hold the words of John 1:5 close to my heart, especially in these times: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (NIV).

I will leave you with this prayer from Laura Jean Truman that has been on my heart lately:

“God,
You made us out of dust and joy.
Carve out space in our tired souls for delight.
Surprise us with small holiness: in unexpected silliness, in porch sunsets, in working with our hands, in neighbors.
Sing our dusty, beloved hearts home to You.
Sing us home to joy.

Amen.”

 

Brigitta Beam is a graduate of Union College and the office manager of Boulder Adventist Church.

 

2020-05-10T11:51:36-07:00May 11th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Lessons from El Camino de Santiago

by Kris Knutson

At the end of April 2019, my husband and I embarked on a journey that pilgrims have been taking for a thousand years—the ancient 500-mile pilgrimage called the Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago). We chose the Camino Francés route, starting in Southwestern France, climbing over the Pyrenees mountains, and continuing west to the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It took us 36 days from start to finish. This was by far the most challenging, most amazing adventure I have ever embarked on.

I have to admit that this was not my idea to start with. My husband decided to walk it and, not wanting to miss out on an adventure, I signed on as well. We walked many miles in preparation. Clothing and gear were purchased, with special attention paid to the weight of each item, as we would be carrying everything in our backpacks.

Days consisted of waking early and getting on our way before 7:00 a.m. Meals and rest stops were interspersed with walking to arrive at our destination by mid-afternoon. Once settled in our accommodation, we would head out to explore the town we were in, plan for the next day, and settle in for the night.

We slept in dormitory-style hostels ranging in capacity from four people per room to over 100 in a former monastery. We also stayed sometimes in private rooms and splurged on a couple of hotels. Our walk took us through many small towns and some large cities, into ancient churches, through the plains, up and down mountains, and over streams and rivers. We walked on 1, 000-year-old Roman roads and bridges. We were awed by the beauty of the mountains and forests we walked through. Every day brought new discoveries.

When I compare my Camino journey to my life now during the coronavirus pandemic, there are some similarities. Life on the Camino was simple—walk, eat, prepare for the next day’s walk, sleep, and repeat. Right now, life seems simpler than it used to be. While there is definitely a level of concern involved in the current global health crisis, my life has been simplified to staying home and staying safe. There were days on the Camino that were tough emotionally and physically. There are days at home a year later that are difficult. I still walk, just not as many miles per day! Another similarity is that the weeks of walking the Camino afforded me time to talk to God about my cares and concerns. The last month has, once again, given me a lot of time to converse with God.

Looking back at my Camino journey, I have identified a few valuable lessons.

What is my job for today? People who had walked before us wrote that it helped to consider the weeks of walking as your “job.” Every morning, the job was to walk. I found this helpful, especially when the thought of walking 500 miles was overwhelming. I just had to walk for today!

Our current situations of stay at home and social distancing can be overwhelming. What is your job for today? Or maybe a day is too long—what’s your job for the next hour? Focus on that task. Perhaps it is taking time to care for your own spiritual, emotional, and/or mental health. It could be to call a loved one, to read a book, to fix yourself a good meal, or take a walk after the last Zoom meeting of the day is over. Breaking my day down to one simple job helps me right now. And there are days I do not accomplish any true job—that’s OK, too.

Reach out to someone. People refer to helpers along the way as “Camino angels”—people who help with no expectation of payment or return in kind. It could be as simple as pointing someone in the right direction when they were about to take a wrong turn or sharing first aid items with someone in need. I saw biblical principles of helping others played out every day—an extra knee brace given to another pilgrim or a conversation with a stranger about a tragic loss in your life.

Who can you reach out to today? Maybe you’ve noticed that a friend hasn’t been on social media in a day or two and that’s unlike them—send a message to say you are thinking of them. Or, do you need someone to listen to you today? Reach out to a friend.

The Camino provides! I read about this before we left for our trip, and I have to admit that it grated on me. We were created with the ability to think, to prepare, to critically assess our situation. In my mind that had nothing to do with the Camino providing for me. Yet, on so many occasions, I noticed that deep conversations developed quickly with those I met. People disclosed their deepest sorrows and fears to strangers. I exposed my fears to strangers. We provided listening ears and support for each other. Sometimes it was encouragement about a career change. Or wishes and prayers for peace for a woman walking to deal with the tragic death of a child. Often it was sharing about a serious health or relationship challenge. In the end, the Camino provided what I needed and continues to provide meaning and insight through the experience and through friends met on the way.

As I reflect on this, ultimately, it was God who provided what I needed through my journey on the Camino. And He will provide for us as we walk through this uncertain time.

 

Kris Knutson lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she attends the One Place service on the campus of Andrews University where she recently retired from the Student Success Center.

 

2020-05-01T15:06:05-07:00May 4th, 2020|Living God's Love|

It’s Usually Darker Under a Street Lamp

by Rajmund Dabrowski

Living in Colorado continues to be engaging and full of wonder for me, offering the awe of nature and the discovery that neighbors here are not as aloof as those we’ve encountered in other parts of the world.

We live in a blue-collar neighborhood among nice neighbors. We’ve discovered that a barter economy is well accepted—my wife grows lavender and other fragrant flowers; in exchange, we get jars of honey from two neignbors living next to us.

The neighbor across the street is a down-to-earth woman who often wears a gray T-shirt with “Proud Atheist” written across the front.

One day, I saw Beckie tending her front yard as I was about to mow our lawn. Already knowing her well, I greeted her with, “Hello, atheist!” She looked up and responded with a wide smile and the greeting, “Hello, Christian!”

Since then, we’ve bonded over our philosophical differences, respecting each other’s diversity of worldviews. We’ve talked about her reasons for not believing in God and my belief in the Absolute, who actually loves her too.

Over the years, we’ve talked about politics, saving the bees, and our common disdain for Nazism and hate speech. She and her husband warned us that we should expect snow in April and should not plant vegetables before Mother’s Day. We have exchanged books and discussed ways of making our neighborhood a better place to live. We’ve also argued, exchanging comments that reveal opinions not easily resolved. One day, she commented that she would love to see more Christians who are kind. “You are kind,” she said.

Something in her past took away the Christian light and put her on the road of disbelief. We have a wide terrain to traverse, I believe. If anthing, practicing kindness and living love will move us all closer to the center to which we can always return as children of God.

Life in America, along with many other countries around the world, has changed with the sudden arrival of the coronavirus scourge. What has changed in my neighborhood is that now we talk while keeping a safe distance between us.

A couple of days ago, my wife received a text message from Beckie: “I am going shopping. Is there something I can get you?” Her unsolicited offer gave me pause.

Nothing seems to divide us, I thought to myself. In the era of a common enemy, diverse opinions, opposite worldwiews, cultural differences simply do not matter. What is left is our humanity. We are in this together—believers and unbelievers. We are all in darkness about where this pandemic situation will lead us and when we can start rebuilding what is being lost day after day after day.

If you wonder about my beliefs, I am an irreverent purveyor of hope, and I believe that my convictions are well lit. Being a child of Light, I know the road and where it leads me.

Reflecting on our current predicament, an experience etched in the recesses of my memory came to mind—a situation from my Warsaw childhood. It was evening, and I watched two people looking for a lost object. Our family lived on the second floor of a building that before WWII was a mansion owned by an aristocrat in the city center. I was lucky to have a room with a balcony, and I could watch city life on full display.

These two people were under a lamppost, walking slowly in circles, their heads bent downward, encouraging each other to search more slowly and to be more focused and thorough. “This is where it slipped from my wallet. It’s black and we won’t see it easily,” I heard the woman remark. They were lucky that their loss happened on a well-lit paved street. But it seemed that they were in the dark nonetheless.

A common, comical allegory came to mind, making perfect sense. It’s usually darker under a lamppost.

“Did you lose your keys here?” a policeman is said to have asked an inebriated man. “No, but the light is much better here,” the man answered.

There can be plenty of darkness under the light. In the era of COVID-19, our thoughts can easily push us into a realm of doubt. Is anxiety, along with fear and despair, the fruit of darkness?

Anne Frank offers a thought: “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

When my faith is lived out, I will be blessed unknowingly. One person at a time.

 

Rajmund Dabrowski is director of communication for the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Denver, Colorado.

 

2020-04-26T10:19:35-07:00April 27th, 2020|Living God's Love|

BFFs in Times Like These

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

BFFs (Best Friends Forever)—what would we do without them? For me, whether they live back East or in Las Vegas or in Washington State or right here in my own state, I’m blessed to call a whole lot of women my BFFs. I hope they consider me one of theirs.

I was reminded of the importance of best friends when I received an email from Bonnie last week. She had read a blog I wrote about my mom and a memorable road trip we took when I was 12 (Unto These Hills). In the midst of our state-mandated stay-at-home orders, Bonnie took the time to remind me about our moms’ friendship—Mary Iversen and Nellie Vandeman.

“When you talked about your mom and the trip you took with her, I couldn’t help but remember how much my mom loved her,” she wrote. “I think they coined the term BFF!”

“They were BFFs long before it was an actual thing,” I answered. And I remembered what a great friend my mom was and what a terrific friend Mary was to her. Long before emails and mobile phones and social media, my mom kept in touch with her out-of-state BFFs with long phone calls and multiple pages of single-spaced typewritten letters. She used carbon paper and made copies of each letter to keep for her files.

Mom was a prayer warrior friend long before that was a thing, too. She’d get on the phone and pray with her friends. She started a book club with her friends who lived near us and whose husbands worked at the General Conference with my dad and Bonnie’s dad, J. Orville Iversen.

The women were having so much fun at the book club gatherings that sometimes they invited the men along for a Saturday night get-together that had nothing to do with books. The women brought waffle irons and the men donned aprons and peeled fresh peaches and whipped real cream for homemade peach waffles. And the laughter. There was so much laughter.

I discovered that being a good BFF had a lot to do with sharing food, fun, prayer, and great conversation. In the times we find ourselves living in, we are perhaps feeling isolated from our families—work families, church families, and often our own families. These are the times for all the BFFs to step up and reach out. Maybe we can’t share food, at least for a while. But we can share prayers and great conversation. We can reach out by phone, by text, by social media. We can have a Zoom prayer call and share video messages of love and support.

I’m grateful that Bonnie reminded me of our moms and about being BFFs in times like these.

 

Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.

 

2020-04-17T16:49:46-07:00April 20th, 2020|Living God's Love|

A New Plan—Without a Planner

by Vanessa Alarcon

I am fascinated by planners. When I see a planner display in a store, I am drawn to it. I will grab a planner and evaluate each detail, from the cover to the thickness of the pages—even the font and the precise layout. I like it when the day of the week starts on Sunday, when fifth weeks have their own separate week and aren’t combined with the fourth weeks of the month, just to name a few preferences. One of my friends recently told me she thought about giving me a planner for my birthday because she knows how much I obsess over them. Then she remembered how particular I am about them, and she got me something else instead. I will admit, she was exactly spot on.

My fondness for planning goes beyond scheduling my days; it fully reveals itself in my work as a licensed therapist. One of my favorite interventions in psychotherapy is the worry tree. The process is simple: identify your worry; decide if you can do something about it; if so, plan when and how you will take care of it and let your worry go. If you can’t make a plan for your worry, then just let the worry go. Although I love that approach, I know it doesn’t solve all problems.

On my wedding day, the pastor who presented our homily purchased a planner as a gift for my husband and presented it to him so he can work on his planning skills. A roar of laughter came from our guests. I am certain that half were laughing because they know about my excessive planner tendencies, but the other half were laughing because they know about my husband’s carefree lifestyle and how he cringes at the thought of using a calendar. As the laughing subsided, the pastor placed a gift in my hands. It was a package of correction tape for when “life does not go as planned.” I hate when life doesn’t go as planned, yet it happens so often.

Towards the end of every month, I set aside time to review the upcoming month and the tasks ahead. Truly, this is one of the highlights of my life. So, despite everything going on in the world with COVID-19, I recently opened my calendar for April: it was blank, with the exception of one day. A sticker was placed neatly on Saturday, April 11, with the words “The Spot,” the name of the youth Sabbath School class my husband and I teach. The other calendar days had correction tape over events already cancelled. I reviewed each day, asking myself, “Wait, am I missing something?” Nothing. Just empty days. No plans, except that one Saturday.

I sat there with my empty calendar, realizing my joy had been taken away. What was it that made planning out my month something I looked forward to? What was my reward? I concluded it was my false sense of power—which I have lost. I feel like I have lost control of my entire life, although I know that is not accurate, but it still feels that way. I like to have a plan, and if I don’t, I’d like to know when I can make my own plans again. I seek the sense of security I had before.

My church’s Young Adult group has begun meeting once a week to study the book of Acts. As my pastor put it, at the beginning of the book of Acts, “the disciples’ heads were spinning, and people were looking for answers and leadership.” Jesus had come to earth, taught, healed, suffered a crucifixion, rose from the dead, and would soon ascend to heaven. Jesus was in the process of leaving His disciples, whom He had spent three years guiding. Jesus promised that they would receive the Holy Spirit. The disciples ask, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?” His response was direct: “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business” (Acts 1:6-7, MSG). And if you continue to read through the book—spoiler alert!—you will see the power they received through the Holy Spirit was more powerful than if they’d had some inside knowledge about timing.

So as my planner gets used less and less, and as I continue to forego the unrealistic timelines I usually set for myself, it seems important to look at the way the disciples were led to serve and spread the gospel “to the ends of the world” by merely receiving the Holy Spirit, not a planner.

 

Vanessa Alarcon is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on addiction treatment in Denver, Colorado. She also serves as the Faith Engagement Pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado.

 

2020-04-10T17:15:12-07:00April 13th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Everlastingly

by Ray Tetz

Irenaeus, one of the earliest church fathers, wrote, “What God creates, God loves; and what God loves, God loves everlastingly.” 
 
Now there’s a word you don’t read every day: everlastingly. It is one of those words that carry eternity within it, like permanently, indelibly, perpetually, and forever. It is the absolutely opposite of never. It is not “once upon a time” but “always and forever.” It is for all time.
 
At a moment in our human history unlike anything we have seen in our own time, when everything seems at risk, including our own lives and the lives of the ones we love, I can’t think of anything more reassuring and important than to remember that God’s goodness is never lost, and that love—especially love—lasts forever.
 
And because God’s love goes on everlastingly, it is not obscured by disease and difficulty—it continues to shine brightly on our horizon. God’s everlasting love and all that it means—including grace, faith, compassion, kindness, and generosity—are our anchor points.
 
And not just because we remember a time when they marked our lives; rather, it’s because they are the qualities of divine love that go on everlastingly. Living, guiding values that enliven our lives and will shape our future even as they have shaped our history.
 
I’m pretty sure that this is what the writer of one of the very oldest of the psalms was thinking about when he wrote, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, NIV).
 
Difficulties present themselves. Things we don’t understand and can’t control happen to us. Disease ravages us—sometime subtly and sometimes as a plague—but that is not the end of things; it is not what matters most. “What God creates, God loves; and what God loves, God loves everlastingly.” For all time. Always and forever.
 
Perhaps this is what lays behind these words of wisdom: “There is a time for everything. and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 
a time to be born and a time to die,
 
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 
a time to kill and a time to heal,
 
a time to tear down and a time to build,
 
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
 
a time to mourn and a time to dance”
 
—(Ecclesiastes 3:2-4, NIV).
 
Both the planting and the uprooting, both the tearing down and the building, both the weeping and the laughing that will come after.
 
The Shepherd’s Psalm reminds us of the future we can anticipate with hope: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6, KJV). Goodness and mercy keep on. Our dwelling in the house of the Lord is eternal. 
 
God loves. Everlastingly.
 
 
Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.
 
2020-04-03T09:53:18-07:00April 6th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Pick Up Your Sling

by Mark Witas

The president said something recently that I think a lot of people overlooked. Speaking of the COVID-19 virus, he said, “I don’t think this is something God is doing. I think it’s just something that took the world by surprise.”
 
There are people who, anytime there’s a natural disaster, proclaim that God is punishing the world for whatever sin the religious people decree is the most heinous to them at the time.
 
Jesus witnesses this kind of religion when He passes a blind man and His followers ask Him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2, ESV). In other words, what bad thing did these people do to anger God so much that He would cause this man to be blind?
 
This assumption is so foreign to Jesus that He almost doesn’t respond to it. He basically says, “Hey, stop these kinds of assumptions. This isn’t God bullying people; it’s just an opportunity for us to do good!” And then He heals the man.
 
Indeed, in John 9, instead of trying to root out the theological nuances of good and evil, Jesus turned something bad in the world into an opportunity to heal and shine the light of God’s goodness into the darkened world touched by sin. 
 
So, in the face of a worldwide pandemic, let’s be like Jesus and keep our eye on the ball. Instead of theologizing about the why of the pandemic, it behooves us to ask: What can I do to repair the world? What can I do to heal the world? What can I do to point those in a dark world to the light of Jesus Christ?
 
These are the questions my church and staff have had to wrestle with after our governor ordered that all non-essential gatherings in our state be banned for the foreseeable future. All of a sudden, instead of gathering with 600 people every Sabbath to worship, pray, and dine together, my church staff is wrestling with how we can be effective shepherds to our flock as well as effective purveyors of God’s grace to a darkened world.
 
We are continuing to discuss our options, but to date, here are some of the things we’ve decided to do to in our sphere of influence:
 
1. As a church staff, we have decided to reach out to every member on our books. We are calling each person whose name appear in our directory or who attends our church. We ask how they are doing, how their state of mind is, and if they need anyone from the church to get anything for them. So far, this practice of reaching out has produced countless productive conversations, reunions, and affirmations. It has also led to hard conversations that have needed to happen for years. 
 
2. We ask each person we call to pay it forward and call three more people from the church to connect or reconnect with. 
 
3. We have, by necessity, moved our Wednesday night Bible study and our Sabbath worship services to the living room of the senior pastor (me.) We will be intentional about following safety recommendations—for instance, by not gathering with anyone outside of my household as an example of what we would expect from all responsible church members and citizens. 
 
4. Leading by example, we are encouraging all members who are not immunocompromised to bring good into the world, especially during this time of trial. Each pastor on our staff is choosing a different way to contribute to the kingdom. My choice has been to work with our local food bank to deliver meals to underprivileged shut-ins. Every morning I show up at the food bank; I am handed a list of addresses and, for the rest of the morning, I bring food to hungry people. This, of course, allows me to engage with people in conversation about their circumstances, their view of life and God, and any other needs they may have. My favorite moment was when one recipient discovered that we had included two rolls of toilet paper in one of the food boxes. She grabbed the toilet paper, held it up above her head and danced, singing, “Praise ya Jesus! Praise ya Jesus!” 
 
In the end, this pandemic cannot be our generation’s Goliath, intimidating and mocking us into quiet retreat and submission. This is our time to pick up our sling and a couple of stones and do some good in the world. We must view this as an opportunity to connect with our flock in ways that normal life wouldn’t allow, and to increase God’s kingdom in creative ways that are now open to us. 
 
 
Mark Witas is lead pastor at Sunnyside Adventist Church in Portland, Oregon.
 
2020-03-27T15:02:53-07:00March 30th, 2020|Living God's Love|