It was Jesus Himself who charted our course. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever” (John 14:16, KJV). And then in words spoken to the young church just before His ascension into heaven, He “commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me’” (Acts 1:4, NKJV).
What a blessing it is to know that the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit—the Comforter—abides with God’s church forever.
I thought about these verses several times during the Constituency Session of the Pacific Union that has just concluded. As reports on ministries were tendered to the delegates, as the business of the church was transacted, and as the church gathered in worship and praise, we experienced once again the abiding presence of the Comforter, who is always and forever found amongst God’s people and is the Promise of the Father for the church.
Our experience together has reminded me of the witness of Elder W.T. Knox, who served as the first president of the Pacific Union Conference and who later became the General Conference Treasurer.
In 1913, at the 50th anniversary celebration of the General Conference, Knox stood to express his gratitude to God, saying, “The progress of the work…has certainly been far beyond the expectation of His people. He has done more than we in those days asked or thought.… I am so glad that God has gathered out a people from almost every nation, kindred, tribe, and people that today are rejoicing in the third angel’s message. I feel to thank Him for the many ways in which He is making it possible for this people to give this truth to the world” (General Conference Bulletin, vol. 7, May 16, 1913, p. 5).
Adventists in the Pacific Southwest are proud to be a part of the thriving global membership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose membership is made up of some 20 million people living in most of the countries in the world. This diversity is reflected in the membership of the seven conferences that make up the Pacific Union Conference, one of nine unions that make up the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Nearly 55 million individuals live in the five Pacific Southwest states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. There are over 220,000 Adventists in the Pacific Union, worshipping in 806 churches and companies. God’s Word is preached in Adventist churches in approximately 30 different languages every Sabbath.
As the family of God, we are assured of God’s presence in our midst. When we gather in worship or to study together in a video call, the Comforter is with us. When celebrate His love and grace in the weekly cycle of the Sabbath, God’s Spirit accompanies us. When we seek His guidance in Bible study or contemplate the way in which we have been led and blessed, it is the Promise of the Father that we will never be alone.
The Spirit is present in the ministries of our churches. In our classrooms and clinics, in our sanctuaries and schools, and in the hearts and hands of all those who minister in the name of Christ—we are empowered by the Spirit who was promised to His church by Jesus Himself.
This is why the apostle has the audacity to ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 35, 37-39, NIV). We are blessed to know what it means to be safe in the arms of Jesus.
In providing for the future guidance and care of His church, our Lord anticipated the needs of our age. The problems that beset us, the misguided voices of self-sufficiency, the emptiness of lives bereft of values, and the consequences of sin that frame all life on our planet: these issues do not escape the Savior’s attention and care. Jesus knew that in a world that would deny the existence of God, the journey for His followers would not be an easy one. And those closest to Him, the disciples, experienced the harsh reality of a graceless world almost immediately.
The Apostle Peter is the one who calls it out most plaintively. Knowing something about denial, he minces no words in describing it. “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4, NIV).
Our loving Savior anticipated this situation as well, and just as He promised that God’s Spirit will come to us with power and comfort, He also envisions the way in which the crisis will resolve: “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25, NIV).
I believe this statement raises important questions for God’s church today. Are we living in the time that Jesus predicted? Could it be that the promise that “the dead will hear” could mean that even those who now deny and scoff about the existence of God will come to know His grace and salvation? Is there a role for us—as individuals and as an organization? To all those questions, the answer is a resounding YES!
In a time when skeptics abound, when the world is facing great difficulty and turmoil, when each new day brings word of a new crisis—who will be the ones who will carry God’s end time message of salvation? The call comes to us! “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22, NIV).
As He is the Good Shepherd, we are the shepherds of this moment in history. As He is the Prince of Peace, we are those who are witnesses to His lifesaving power. As He is the head, we are His body—His hands, His feet, His heart to save, and His voice to proclaim salvation. We are charged with the most serious of all tasks: sharing the good news of the salvation of humanity, in the strength of the Holy Spirit and the power that our Lord provides.
We seek your grace, O God, as brothers and sisters within your family and in view of your great mercy. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, seeking that we might be pleasing to you, and made holy by you—for this is our true and proper worship.
Grant that we may know you—so that we are not conformed to the pattern of this world, but are transformed by you, in our spirit and in the renewing of our hearts and minds.
(Adapted from Romans 12:1-2)
Bradford C. Newton is the president of the Pacific Union Conference.