28 Mar


By Dick Stenbakken … The title itself raises red flags.

It is often thought that as Adventists we, along with many other conservative Christians, adhere to theological concepts firmly rooted in biblical truth and practices that are absolute, and do not change. That means (changing) social norms and diversity of opinions (that might challenge prevailing thought) are, at best, as welcome as ants at a picnic. At worst, anathema. But is that true? Or is it an emotional reaction to the never-ending change of life and society?

Any change brings a sense of discomfort and or disequilibrium. For the most part, we are more comfortable with the familiar because, well, it is familiar. True enough, social norms do change. That is the trajectory of history. As an example, many Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives. Not so in New Testament times, and certainly not acceptable in our congregations today. That is a change in social norms that we welcome and gladly follow.

Diversity of thought also brings the challenge of change. Ancient maps told mariners to avoid certain uncharted areas bearing the stern warning: “Here be dragons.” That would certainly not encourage exploration. And, by the way, folks were absolutely certain that the earth was flat. So, if you dared wander too far from the accepted certainty of the times, you just might fall off the edge of the earth, unless the dragons got you first.

Social norms do change. Diversity of thought, even theological thoughts, change. Does that mean there are no fixed points and we, as a church and as individuals, merely “go with the flow” in an unthinking passivity, wringing our hands in distress? Hardly. There are bed-rock realities articulated in the Bible that set out norms and thoughts that don’t change with time or location. Those are like the magnetic north for a compass which holds true, and from which we calibrate and evaluate all other directional values.

Jesus, concluding His parable of the net, says, “… every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 3:52 NIV). Jesus values the “old,” but also the “new” treasures. He is not at all “right or wrong” binary, but inclusively open. He mirrors the Old Testament concept in Proverbs 4:18: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” That contrasts with, “… the way of the wicked is like deep darkness: they do not know what makes them stumble.” The contrast is striking. Truth expands with growing light. Darkness stays static, with no change.

Ellen G. White put it this way: “Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do … It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train young people to be thinkers and not mere reflectors of other people’s thought.” (TEd 12)

The real challenges for us as individuals, as a denomination, or as a congregation, is when we begin to sanctify, solidify, and defend thoughts and norms that are actually opinions and interpretations. We then make hard realities out of our own interpretations and norms rather than from clear scriptural reality. The inevitable outcome is division, fracturing, and judgmentalism. If I am right (and in my own mind I certainly am!) then by sheer definition and contrast, you must be wrong. It’s simple. The next step is obvious: I am not only right but righteous. Meaning you are both wrong and evil. You might well think the same of me. Now, we have a serious problem working or worshiping together.

Binary thinking leads to an “us” and “them” polarity feeding exclusivism and strife. That kind of rigid thinking was what drove the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others to kill Jesus. After all, He broke their norms. He actually healed people on the Sabbath! He touched lepers! He ate with sinners! He spoke to heathen women!

Regarding diversity of thought, Jesus really went off the rails according to the religious leaders of His day. They were looking for a savior to deliver them from Rome. They wanted a king to re-establish the political nation to dominance and past glory. He, on the other hand, was about building a spiritual kingdom and deliverance from sin. He said that His kingdom would be open to everyone, including folks not at all like them. He welcomed all, not just one group. Radical thinking for many in His culture.

The tension between what I want and expect, and what is or could be, goes back to spiritual warfare starting in Genesis, and continues with the eternal tension through the rest of the Bible until that tension and warfare ends in Revelation.

Tension isn’t always bad. In fact, we could not live without tension and pressure. Think of your blood pressure: too much is bad. Too little is bad. If the tension/pressure is within reasonable range, all is well.

When we were at the Seminary, we inherited my aunt’s 1956 Oldsmobile 88. Not exactly my dream car, but it ran well. The suspension system was coil springs on each wheel. Driving it was like being on your couch steering your living room. If you hit a pothole or bump, the coil springs absorbed the shock then gave you a lingering, bouncing, bounding, lurching ride. Think bungee cord. It was entertaining. Ten years ago, I fulfilled a life-long dream and purchased a used Corvette. The ride is exponentially different than the Olds. The Vette will take a corner like the Olds never could. The difference is the tension rod stabilizers at the front and rear of the Vette. When you turn a corner, the inside wheels want to lift off the pavement. The torsion bars twist to keep weight, and tires, on the ground to give more traction and control.

Changing or challenging norms and diversity of thought will create tensions personally and corporately. That is inescapable. However, we can use those changing norms and diversity of thought to help us meet the curves and corners. Tension can be used to stabilize us as we navigate twists and turns of our journey, on the road or in the church.

The early church had tensions over norms and diversity of thought. Look at Paul and Barnabas, or Paul and Peter. In early Adventism, there were long and loud debates over beliefs. The Adventist pioneers were not content with “what is.” They were out-of-the-box thinkers who challenged and changed society and theology. They endorsed a woman to speak, write, and teach theology. They advocated abolition and education for people not like them. They impacted things as diverse as breakfast food, health care, and hospitals. They were bold enough to wrestle and wrangle with new ideas, concepts, and theologies. They were open enough to be surprised by, and adopt, new insights. They were not content with the mental laziness of just going along because “That’s the way we have always done/seen/believed it.”

The question is how we deal with shifting social norms and diversity in thought, here, now, in our life and church. We have options. We could take the binary, black and white thinking with no shades. We could just “go with the flow” and pretend all is well. We could be open and exploratory in thought and discussion. We could rebel and walk away. We could sit together and discuss our differing interpretations and opinions, realizing that they are, after all, interpretations and opinions, not necessarily proven facts. Doing the latter, we might all learn something new.

Perhaps an ancient saying, the attribution of which is debated, can be refreshingly instructive:

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

It’s easy to read. Harder to do. Ah … there’s the creative tension that can keep us open, discussing, loving, accepting, and grounded. Hopefully.

–Dick Stenbakken, Ed.D., retired Army Chaplain (Col.), served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North American Division. With his wife Ardis, he lives in Loveland, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

10 Jan


By Dick Stenbakken — Picture two terrorists speeding across the bleak, dusty landscape trailing a vortex of dust. Suddenly they see a strange aircraft pop up over the horizon. The alert driver sees it first and asks his companion, “What is that strange-looking thing?”

His companion squints through the dusty windshield, concentrating on the small spot just above the horizon. “Oh, that is the A-10 Thunderbolt, sometimes called the Warthog,” he replies. “Warthog? That is a most strange name. So, what do you know about it?” the curious driver asks. “Oh, I know very much about it,” the passenger replies excitedly. “Tell me more,” the driver pleads.

“Well, the plane is built around a massive 30 mm seven-barrel cannon that can fire between 2,100 and 4,200 rounds per minute. It can carry 16,000 pounds of bombs, including anti-armor missiles, cluster bombs, and sidewinder missiles. The pilot is protected by titanium wrap-around armor and the plane can fly even though badly damaged.”

“True? That is really true?” asks the awestruck driver. “Yes, verifiably and actually true, but there is even more,” the passenger replies.

Suddenly the plane seems to be way closer and closing fast on the vehicle and its occupants.

“What are those smoke streaks headed toward us from the plane?” inquires the driver. “Oh. Those are two missiles he has fired.”

“Awesome! Quips the driver. I am glad you know so much about that plane. You have taught me much my friend! I am now enlightened, better informed, and….” The sentence is never finished as the vehicle and terrorists are erased in a blinding flash.

The passenger knew the truth, right down to many details. He was accurate, articulate, and knowledgeable. He was even excited to share the truth about the airplane to an inquisitive friend. However, even though he was dead-on accurate, the truth was only informative. It did not promote any prompt changes, nor did it provide safety.

Unless truth prompts changes, it is merely esoteric information and cerebral data displaying the understanding of the person sharing truth in all of its details. Truth does not function in a vacuum. It must lead to practical application leading to meaningful action. Truth is more than esoteric understanding, as good as that may be. Without application to life and life’s varying challenges, truth can be like a beautiful Christmas tree decoration that is pretty, or even fascinating but has no impact on changing my life.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…. (John 14:6).” When He said that, the ears of the Jewish listeners began to tingle, because the phrase “I AM,” was the formal name of YHWH, the Supreme God of the universe. Jesus identified Himself as both the ultimate Truth, and as God incarnate. They got it. It was as obvious as a Warthog bearing down on you out of the blue.

Even Jesus’ statement of ultimate truth was in vain unless it led to belief, acceptance, and action. It is no different for us today.

It is too easy to mouth the phrase, “We have the truth!” The immediate (often inner) response is, “So what?” Has that truth made a change in my life, my thinking, my actions? Perhaps a more thoughtful, and humbly prayerful statement might be, “The truth has me.” The latter statement is pregnant with potentially life-changing actions and relationships. Truth applied is what changes people, deepens relationships, builds trust, and works the works of God. Truth applied puts sandals on cerebral assent.

So how do we know “truth” amid the clamor of vying voices saying they alone are true?

Go back to the statement of Jesus in John 14:6. Link it with how He stated, “I AM….” He laid the foundation of the rest of His statement on His relationship with His Father. That ongoing relationship was key to His work and to His being. He said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves (John14:11). “I and the Father are one. (John 10:30). He said again, “…I am in the Father and…the Father is in me (John 14:10). For Jesus, truth is embedded in an ongoing relationship with the Father; it is not some sterile, stand-alone metaphysical proof-text proposition or formula.

The greatest agony Jesus suffered was not from the Roman whip or nails. It was the rasping, gasping cry out of the darkness He could not see beyond when he cried out, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me!” (Matthew 27:46). His emotions told him (as did Satan) that the relationship with the Father was eternally severed. But truth is not based on emotions. Truth is built on a knowing that responds beyond the most crushing emotions. As He was dying, Jesus clung to the truth that his Father had not forsaken him, even in the darkest despair. That is why Jesus could close His life with the trusting words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). That’s truth applied under the most excruciating circumstances.

Jesus knew and demonstrated that truth is not merely subjective. It is based on eternal objectivity that does not change. There is no such thing as, “Well that may be your truth, but it isn’t my truth.” Something is either incontrovertibly and forever true, or it is not.

Would you trust a builder who used a rubber ruler to construct your house? You know, the kind of ruler fishermen sometimes use, where the fish gets larger with every telling. If the builder purchased his lumber by stretching the ruler (to save himself money) when purchasing, then contracted the ruler when building your home, you would have an irreparable mess. As for me and my house, I want a solid steel, unchanging, precise ruler, and an honest builder. Nothing less.

So, how does one know truth from untruth? Jesus set the stage by his relationship with the Father. He knew that God was and is Creator, Sustainer, Protector, Guide, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, Ever Present, Just Judge, Compassionate Listener, and much, much more. Knowing those aspects of God’s character in an ongoing, real relationship allowed Jesus to be Who he was/is as demonstrated in how he lived and what he did. The same will be true of those who build a living, vibrant, ongoing relationship with the Person of God, not just knowing details about Him. Jesus said to some who claim to have done great things in his name, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evil doers!’”

Reflect on those last devastating words: “I never knew you,” and the corollary painful truth, “You never knew Me.” The Greek word for “know” (ginosko) describes an intimate knowledge and relationship way beyond a mere cerebral recognition. To truly know God, and His Son Jesus, is to have a living, ongoing, thriving, life changing relationship with Him. That relationship is the objective yardstick to determine what is, and is not, true. That relational aspect will change everything in life, death, and eternity.

In some ways, the old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” adds clarity. To know Jesus, and the Father, to have a living relationship with them, changes my life’s direction. That relationship with both is what defines life.

And that’s the truth.

–Dick Stenbakken, Ed.D., retired Army Chaplain (Col.), served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North American Division. With his wife Ardis, he lives in Loveland, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

23 Sep


RMCNews with Dick Stenbakken – Farmington, New Mexico … The 150-member Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Farmington, New Mexico was front and center in the local community and surrounding area, September 7 – 11. They were initiators and sponsors of The Wall that Heals, a three-quarter-sized traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Lillian Clopine, church member, got the idea several years ago that sponsoring The Wall That Heals would be a positive way for Adventists to be involved in their community. She, and her husband, Bill, along with members of the Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church, applied to host The Wall That Heals as it traveled across the country. They were elated when the application was approved. The Wall did not travel in 2020, and few new applications were approved for 2021. In November 2020, they received word that they would be one of 37 communities across the United States where The Wall would be displayed in 2021.

The Clopines and the Piñon Hills church enlisted support from a wide range of local individuals and organizations. Jennifer Halphen, a church member and vice-chair of the Host Committee, was deeply involved from the very beginning and led site logistics. Soon, Gary Smouse, owner of the local Chick-fil-A, joined as the second Host Committee vice-chair. His meticulous planning helped bring in an additional Host Sponsor, the Blue Star Mothers of America New Mexico Chapter One.  Many community members and local businesses came forward to provide financial and other support.

“This event was both rewarding and humbling at the same time,” said Lillian Clopine. For her, as the chief organizer,“this event has clearly brought attention and increased visibility to the Piñon Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

As community members, the church, and citizens, they wished to honor the veterans. They also desired “to sponsor an event that would serve the Four Corners in a meaningful way. I believe the Holy Spirit has guided us through this process, and these goals have been achieved,” Clopine added.

The Wall arrived in Durango, Colorado on the afternoon of September 7. An honor guard escort of more than 70 motorcycles assembled to accompany the Wall from Durango to Farmington. Vietnam veterans led the procession, followed by the 53-foot semi, which transportsThe Wall. The rest of the honor guard of motorcycles and vintage vehicles with flying flags, followed. Colorado State Patrol escorted the procession to the border where the New Mexico State Patrol took over the rest of the way to the San Juan College athletic fields in Farmington, where volunteers would assemble the Wall on the following day.

Dr. Dick Stenbakken, Chaplain (Colonel) U. S. Army, Retired, former Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference, and a Vietnam veteran, spoke at the volunteer breakfast held at the Piñon Hills Adventist church on the day of The Wall’s arrival and was also the keynote speaker at the honors ceremony the evening of Thursday, September 9. The breakfast honored the many volunteers who were on site to assist those visiting The Wall for the duration of the event. The San Juan County sheriff’s office provided a 21-gun salute that echoed back from the large Wall following a bagpipe playing taps.

The Thursday evening Honors Ceremony hosted more than 850 people, including presentations by Rear Admiral Bruce Black, State Senator William Sharer, and Chaplain Stenbakken. The opening event closed with a spectacular, low-level helicopter fly-over from Kirtland Airforce Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They had received final approval from the FAA only 24 hours before their scheduled fly-over.

Saturday morning, a special Blessing Ceremony was provided by Navajo Nation representatives with more than 500 attending. The Navajo ceremony included the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance in Navajo, Native American drummers, and a keynote speech by Myron Lizer, Vice President of the Navajo Nation.

Volunteers were at The Wall, even overnight, to help people locate specific names from the more than 58,200 names engraved on the Wall.

For Chaplain Stenbakken, the invitation to participate in the event brought memories from the past. “Being at The Wall was very personal for me,” said Stenbakken. “The name of a young man I met two days into my first pastoral assignment is there – panel 5-E, line 5. We corresponded regularly until he was killed in action. His face, his name, and his memory have never left me. I saw him off at the local airport, and I saw his flag-draped coffin return home to the same airport. When asked about representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church as an Army chaplain, his memory played a large part in my saying yes to that call and career.”

The semi-truck that transports The Wall opens to become a Mobile Education Center, which displays the history of the Vietnam war and the story of The Wall itself.  This Mobile Education Center is a traveling museum with artifacts from the war, items left at The Wall in Washington D.C., and digital displays honoring local Hometown Heroes.

This event was a unique way for the local Seventh-day Adventist church to lead a major community event for the entire Four-Corners region and is a testimony to what can be done with prayer, planning, and hard work. “Several Host Committee members expressed the conviction that they could see God’s hand throughout the process of preparing for this event and its success,” Clopine remarked.

It is estimated that more than 3,000 individuals visited the Wall while it was in Farmington. Local schools were also involved, and nearly 800 students visited and learned about this important part of American history.

Many Vietnam veterans who attended the programs expressed appreciation for being recognized for their service and this remembrance of people they knew whose names are engraved on the black stone of The Wall That Heals. The Wall also serves as a powerful reminder of Christ, who brings ultimate healing.

–RMCNews with Dick Stenbakken Chaplain (Colonel) U. S. Army, Retired, former Director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference, and a Vietnam veteran, photos supplied

23 Jun


By Dick Stenbakken … Knowledge is a wonderful thing. The Bible encourages us to seek God’s knowledge above silver or gold. Knowledge, linked with wisdom, is more valuable than jewels and brings wealth and recognition when rightly used and appreciated (Proverbs 8:10-36).

Knowledge of the Bible, its doctrines and prophecies, is great, but there is something beyond knowledge: the ability to put that knowledge into practical work shoes and gloves to touch the lives of others. Paul’s thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians spells it out well. He says without love, the practical fruit of knowledge, without application of what we know, we are just making noise to no practical end. The results are zero. In fact, our noisy sharing of knowledge might just be irritatingly counterproductive.

The Scriptures challenge us to know. But beyond the cerebral sacrament of knowing, there is the reality of applying what we know to the needs of those around us: the honest, no-strings-attached life that demonstrates belief by unselfish, selfless service.

Jesus lived out what He knew. He touched lepers. He spoke to outcast women. He healed ceremonially unclean women and morally unclean men. He demonstrated His theology by his actions. His was a ministry of presence, an incarnational ministry we are invited to mirror. He ministered to people with a no-strings-attached love. He left the choice of belief up to them. There was no quid quo pro demand or expectation.

I have seen that kind of incarnational ministry, and it is winning and warming (as well as challenging!). Here are some examples:

Joe Martin was selling books when he encountered a man who said he would love to buy the books, but he didn’t even have money for shoes. Sure enough, as Joe looked, the man had no shoes. “What size do you wear?” Joe asked. When the man replied, Joe’s face lit up: “That’s the size I wear too! Here, take my shoes. They will fit you,” he said as he quickly removed his shoes and gave them to the shocked, but appreciative man. Yes, the books were “truth filled,” but Joe’s actions spoke an immediate and more readily understandable truth about God’s love than the printed pages of the books the man couldn’t afford.

Or, consider the woman who was teaching Sabbath School one winter when she saw a family come in dressed in well-worn, but clean clothes without any coats. “Did the children leave their coats in the hallway?” she asked the mother. “Well, no . . . they don’t have any coats,” was the timid response. The teacher smiled and said, “We are going to do something very different for Sabbath School today! Mom, you go to the adult class. We’ll meet you at the church service.” That day, the children’s class met at Target. When they got to the worship service, the children without coats all had new, warm winter coats and boots matched by ear-to-ear smiles. (You can debate the timing if you wish, but Jesus said something about the ox in the ditch on Sabbath. I think this equates.)

During the year I spent in Vietnam, I routinely went on convoys with the troops (remember the ministry of presence . . . incarnational being with people?). The troops started their day at 3 in the morning when their trucks would be loaded. At 7 or 8 they lined up and pulled out to deliver food, water, ammunition, supplies, and fuel to various locations. I was in an open jeep in the middle of the convoy (think “moving target in a shooting gallery”). There were safe (safer hopefully) stopping points where we would pause for lunch before going on to our destination. The drivers were young men with voracious appetites. But I never was on a convoy where I didn’t see many of the soldiers give their lunch, and extra goodies they brought along, to the ragged children who swarmed us like ants when we stopped. Somehow the news media never covered that, but I saw it time and time again.

Consider Greig, a Roman Catholic Army chaplain/priest assigned in the greater Washington, DC, area. His job was to give denominational coverage to multiple Army installations in and around DC. His schedule was brutal. He heard there was a brother priest who had been badly wounded in an Iranian IED blast and was now in Walter Reed Medical Center. He didn’t know the man, but he was a brother, so Greig went to visit him. When he got there, the man’s mother and sisters were in the room. They were haggard by the long vigil they were keeping, and by the serious injuries of their loved one. Greig visited with them, had prayer, then said, “If there is anything I can do for you, here is my home number. Feel free to call.”

When he got home, there was a message on his answering machine. The family was asking him to come sit with their loved one on Saturdays so they could get a break. Would he be willing to do that? Saturday! Saturday was Greig’s only free day. It was, essentially, his Sabbath day of rest.

Greig spent every Saturday for the next three months reading and conversing with a man who was so severely injured that there was no way of knowing if he was even aware someone was in the room with him, let alone comprehending what Greig was reading and saying to him. Greig told me he would read for up to eight hours on those days. He would read until he was so hoarse, he could speak no more.

Consider an adult Sabbath School class who was invited to help a teenager get some clothing that was appropriate for her situation: she barely had the basics. The class took up an impromptu offering, including IOUs for those who didn’t have checks or cash with them: the class raised more than $400 on the spot. Two weeks later, it was proposed that the class start a fund to help people in need and to have funds on hand to meet the needs when they arose. The class voted to do so. That was more than 10 years ago. Since then, there have been no appeals for funds. People just continue to give and meet needs as they emerge. Thus far, gifting has been more than $50,000. Funds have covered food for neighbors in need, payment for heating bills during a winter for an immigrant family, help for mission trips, and more. Recipients don’t need to be members of the church; all they must do is demonstrate a need. No strings. No hooks. Just modeling a willingness to put faith into action and theology into practice.

James, Jesus’ brother, put it well: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV).

It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Esoteric knowledge about the Bible, prophecy, and theology has a place, but meeting needs and modeling the Gospel is always appropriate. Compassionate ministry of presence opens hearts and blesses both the giver and the receiver.

We can be so absorbed in attempting to parse prophetic details that we miss needs and opportunities to bless others right around us. Beliefs that wear boots and gloves to lift others’ burdens bridges the gap between profession and practice.

The poet, Edgar Guest, said it well in “Sermons We See”:

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how
you live.

–Dr. Dick Stenbakken, retired army chaplain (Col.), served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North American Division. He lives with his wife Ardis in Loveland, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jul


By Dick Stenbakken . . . I knew from as far back as I can remember that I was adopted. My parents made it clear that they chose me to be their own. To me, it always seemed somewhat special —an honor— to have been adopted. It didn’t make me any better than anyone, but it created a special bond with my parents.

Paul mentions adoption in his epistles (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). The churches to which he wrote, mentioning adoption, were all Gentile-Roman groups. While there was no practice of adoption among the Jews, the concept of adoption had very special meaning in Roman culture. Romans adopted others as adults, not as children. Adoptions were done to pass on inheritance and continue the family line. It also carried with it the responsibility of the adoptee to not only inherit, but to correctly manage the estate inherited and to bring honor to the new father and family name.

Roman adoption process was a very formalized ritual. On completion, before witnesses, the son now became officially a new person with an entirely new identity.

The new identity was more than a change of name. The adopted son now had full legal rights of inheritance as if he were a natural-born son. All past debits were gone. He was officially related to the new, not the old, family. In Roman law, and in many states today, once someone is adopted, he cannot be disowned by the adopting father. While the Roman father could disinherit a natural-born son, he could never disinherit his adopted son. Adoption was forever. The adoptee could walk away from his new father, but the father could never walk away from his adopted son.

Read that last line again. Let it sink in. No wonder Paul says, “…We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons….” (Romans 8:23 NIV). Our adoption as children of God differs from Roman adoption in that we make the choice to allow our adoption. It isn’t something done to us, it is something in which we actively participate. When we do, we are His—forever. He will not walk away from us. He invites us to be full inheritors of His name and His kingdom. We can leave the past and be a totally new person.

I was a newborn when adopted. I had no say in the process. God gives us a choice, an invitation to be adopted and be fully, freely, finally and forever His. It’s an honor to be adopted— twice.

–Dick Stenbakken, Ed. D. Chaplain (Colonel) U.S. Army, Retired