11 Jan

COMMENTARY — APECHEI, A MESSAGE FOR THE CHURCH

By Doug Inglish — Did you ever read something in the Bible and notice an odd word or phrase? Like most everyone else, I spend the majority of my reading in relatively recent translations, meaning those from the last 150 years or so. But even in that span, language has changed enough to cause certain words or terms to fall on 21st century ears in a way that may be to some degree different than intended by 19th century writers. Read any book by Ellen White (in their early editions) and you will see some examples.

So, naturally, if you read much in the King James Version, you will see many instances where we may get the meaning, but recognize that a modern writer would not have put it quite that way. Usually, we assume we know what was meant, and usually we are correct in that assumption.

Once in a while, though, I get struck by the way a passage is written and wonder if the assumptions I have always had about this particular passage are correct, or if I am missing some nuance that the author intended. It can send me into a study through several translations, the SDA Bible Commentary (and sometimes a couple other commentaries as well), and an observation or two from Ellen White on those verses.

My experience indicates that God’s oversight of how His Word was originally written and His protection of it through various translations is so thorough that the true meaning is there for us, and most of the time, my curiosity ends with me satisfied, knowing that I haven’t missed anything in our modern translations. But a deeper study is often rewarded with deeper understanding, and from time to time, the effort to see through the quirky phrasing yields a wonderful surprise. It is also true that sometimes it yields a previously-unnoticed warning.

Mark 14:41 in the KJV reads, “And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Various other translations render the phrase ‘it is enough’ as in ‘Enough of that’, ‘that’s enough’, or simply, ‘Enough!’ Not really too much difference. But it caught my eye because none of the other Gospels, which all report on this event, indicate that He said this specific thing, no matter how it was translated.

The story is familiar enough. Following what we call the last supper, Jesus and the apostles, minus Judas, have gone to the Mount of Olives. He implores them to pray while going off by Himself to pray alone, knowing that the trial, the cross, and the grave will follow in rapid succession. Three times He returns to find them sleeping, and the last time He returns occurs just as Judas arrives with Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus.

But if you read the passage in Matthew, Jesus’ words to the apostles do not contain anything that corresponds to the phrase ‘It is enough’. Luke is not only missing those words, but he only records once that Jesus returned from prayer and said anything to them. In John’s account, there is not even a mention that the apostles slept while Jesus prayed.

I don’t have a problem with these differences. After all, when John wrote his gospel there were already accounts of the sleeping, and he was less focused on events than on teaching. Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, so his impressive research reports some details that others missed while some things are left out that others included. Matthew’s variation is a minor one. None of that leads me to doubt the reliability of Scripture.

That leaves Mark’s account, which is widely regarded as Peter’s report to Mark of his experiences with Jesus. Perhaps, and this is a reasonable speculation, some of the apostles were not awake enough to catch all of Jesus’ words, but Peter was among those who did. And when he recalled the event, he remembered a word that does not appear in the other accounts: Apechei.

It is a Greek word, and this is its only appearance in the entire Bible. I am not a Greek scholar and those who are can quibble if they wish, but my study on this word relies on sources I trust. Its most accurate translation is indeed the English word ‘enough’, but it isn’t used in quite the way that we use it. Its most common use was to write it across a receipt or an invoice, and it meant that no more money would be exchanged in this transaction. When you paid off a purchase and you wrote apechei across the invoice, you were telling the other party, “That’s all you are going to get”. In similar situations today, we most commonly use the phrase “Paid in Full.”

In light of this, Jesus’ words in Mark take on a new meaning. He is not saying, “That’s sufficient prayer time for you to face what lies ahead”, or even, “That’s enough praying, we have other matters to attend to now”. Those interpretations leave room for the idea that although He had encouraged them to pray instead of sleep, whatever prayer they had done was good enough, because, as we all know, prayer is a powerful thing and a little can do a lot.

Instead, He is using that one word to express His frustration over the time wasted in sleep. A more thorough expression of His meaning would be along the lines of, “It no longer matters how much prayer time you really needed, because whatever time you have spent in prayer is all you are going to get. If it is insufficient, then it is too late to do anything about it. You are not going to get any more.”

Maybe that word stuck with Peter because moments after it was spoken, he tried to kill a man, and hours later he was denying he even knew Jesus. Perhaps when he was weeping bitterly over his decidedly un-Christlike behavior, it rang in his memory because he wished he had spent more time praying and less time sleeping. If he had taken advantage of the time available to pray, his story might have been different. He could have been fortified to stand beside his Lord through anything. Instead he resorted to violence, cowardice, and lies.

I think there is a message here for the church in what is, prophetically, the time of Laodicea. A trial awaits us all, and yet it is so easy to sleep instead of pray. But how any individual is able to perform when everything gets real is closely related to how they use the time available to them for preparation.

  • Apechei is that moment when the starting flag is waved, and there is no more time for the crew to tune the car because the race has begun.
  • Apechei is that moment when the professor drops the final on your desk, and there is no more time to study because the test has begun.
  • Apechei is that moment when the minister says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife”, and there is no more time to date around because the marriage has begun.
  • Apechei was that moment in the garden when Jesus declared, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14:41-42 (NIV).
  • Apechei will be that moment prophesied in Revelation 22:11-12, when Jesus declares, “Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy. Look, I am coming soon!” (NIV).

We, who live in the eleventh hour before that final pronouncement, are no less in need of prayer than the eleven who slept in the garden. The parallels between our situations are striking. Three times Jesus told them to pray, and three times in Revelation 22, He tells us that He is coming soon (verses 7, 12, and 20).

The hour is approaching. Watch and pray, because soon enough, it is apechei.

Doug Inglish is RMC director of planned giving and trust services; photo by UnSplash

04 Jan

WHEN THE WEALTHY GO BEGGING

By Doug Inglish — Typically, when we see people looking for handouts, we presume they are poor. We could have an all-day-long sociological discussion on the causes, whose fault it is, or whether giving to them is appropriate, but none of that would change the underlying assumption that such people are poor. You may have heard an urban legend or two about exceptions, which even if true, would never account for the overwhelming majority who gather at intersections or in front of stores with cardboard signs.

And of course, we read news stories about “corporate welfare,” which would be at the other end of the scale—big companies with millions of dollars in assets who are seeking tax breaks, grants, or donations. In this case, we could have an economic discussion on the nature of capitalism, or a political discussion on whether the government should pick winners and losers, or a host of other issues related to whether the public, through one form or another, should support big companies who pay their top employees many times the median salary of a taxpayer.

In both situations, there are pros and cons to giving support. Fair minded, compassionate, intelligent people can disagree about handouts to street people or write-offs for corporations. But there is probably one thing we would all agree on: If a rich man, who had immediate and unfettered access to all his assets, asked you for a handout, that would be appalling.

I suppose those who just like to argue could conjure up circumstances where it would be appropriate (the diner won’t take his credit card) but notice that I said immediate and unfettered access to all assets. So, sweeping aside any bizarre scenarios, I’m talking about an embarrassingly wealthy person who could easily pay for anything outright, asking you to give him money with no goods or services rendered in exchange. I don’t think any of us would excuse that for a moment.

Why, then, does God ask you for money?

No question that He has the resources: “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10) “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).

Of course, He also has immediate access to His vast wealth. As the angel said to Mary, “ . . . with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). That pretty much covers access, along with a whole lot else.

Does He need your money? There is an interesting pas- sage about that in Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.”

That’s sort of like telling me, “If we need someone for special music, we aren’t going to call on you.” I would never be insulted over that because I have nothing to offer in terms of musical performance. It’s just not in me, and there is no shame in me coming to terms with it and admitting the obvious truth that I don’t have that talent.

Neither is there any shame in any of us admitting that if God was hungry, there is nothing that any of us could do about it. Does God get hungry? Well, that’s a whole other subject, but if He did, why should He tell us? He can do everything, and we can do nothing, so no point in complaining to the wrong people.

In the context of this passage, hunger is a stand-in for needs in general. It’s similar to the familiar line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11). That’s the only part of the prayer that addresses our personal needs, so if we want healing, or housing, or work, or help with a geometry test, it all falls into the general category of “daily bread.” Asking for daily bread is shorthand for requesting help with our personal needs.

Therefore, when God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,” the broader meaning is there is no point in Him asking us for any personal need, because we could never supply it. Heaven is His home, creating and managing the universe, is His job, and everything in the physical world is His possession, so what could you do to meet any of His needs?

Nothing. At all. Ever.

So then, why does He ask for your money? Obviously, it is not to meet the needs of the One who owns it all and wouldn’t tell you if He was hungry. So, if it’s not because He needs your money, then the reason He asks must lie at the other end of the giver-receiver transaction.

He asks for your money because of your needs, not His.

It’s not merely because His cause needs support, or that you will be blessed in return (see Malachi 3:10 on both of those points), although both are true. Rather, it involves the more essential elements of your relationship with Him:

Giving builds trust
Giving recognizes His ownership
Giving declares that you are His
Giving says that you support His cause
Giving teaches you to care about the things He cares about
Giving helps you understand the Giver

Those are all relational matters. They have little to do with needs, which makes sense in a relationship where the only need we can possibly fill for God is the need He has to connect with us.

I used to live in a house with nearly an acre of lawn, and I absolutely loved mowing it. As long as I was on that lawn tractor, I had time to think about anything. I could credibly say that I was accomplishing a necessary task, while at the same time, I was not answering the phone, preparing for a meeting, or addressing an unpleasant matter with an angry person. I was mowing, and I used that time to think about whatever I wanted, not what someone else demanded. It was blissful. The last thing I needed was someone to take that from me.

But at the same time, I had a son who was just about the right age to take on some responsibilities for lawn care. So even though I did not need him in the least to help me mow, I taught him how to do it. I showed him how to maintain the trimmer, the push mower, and the tractor. I let him do each task under my supervision, then on his own. The truth is he didn’t enjoy it at all, and I missed just doing it myself, but I had something more important in mind than the length of the grass. I was teaching him to be a responsible adult, and building a relationship with him by having him work with his dad.

Then came the day that he had his own lawn. He called me up to talk about what he should look for in a mower. He respected my experience and welcomed my opinion because we have a relationship, and it matters to both of us.

God does not need your money any more than I needed Josh to help me with the lawn. But He wants to see you grow to spiritual maturity just as I saw the need for my son to develop the skills he would need in adult life. And God wants a relationship with you, just like I wanted time with my son. He loves His work of creating and maintaining the universe, and He doesn’t need your help to manage any of it. But part of running that universe is having you be a meaningful part of it.

So how does He, who owns everything and wouldn’t tell you if He was hungry, help you, who have nothing and couldn’t do anything for Him, develop into spiritual maturity? How does He grow a relationship with you in which you learn to depend on Him, understand His role in your life and your place in His work, and see the world as He sees it?

In part, He asks for your money. It’s not about His needs. It’s about yours.

Doug Inglish is RMC director of planned giving and trust services. Email him at: [email protected]

22 Oct

COMMENTARY: END OF YEAR PLANNING

By Doug Inglish–Like many of you, I start to think about what kind of gifts I want to give long before birthdays, graduations, or anniversaries arrive. You don’t want to find that the store is closed or that the online supplier is out of stock and be forced to substitute with something that’s not quite what you had in mind.

The same can apply to gifts we give to charity. It’s always easy to drop a check in the mail, but non-cash gifts take some planning. In order to get valuations, receipts, and other necessary elements of a completed gift all lined up before the end of the year, you have to plan ahead.

Non-cash gifts are often wonderful, but they are not always simple. For example, on a gift of real property, at a minimum, there must be an environmental evaluation and possibly even a professional environmental inspection. A title search may have to be done, a value has to be established by a disinterested third party, and deeds have to be prepared and signed. Stock transfers cannot be handled by the local church treasurer. They must be managed by our office during a window of time when we have several days in which banks and financial institutions are not open. Vacation times could mean that an authorized person from our office is unavailable to accept a gift on behalf of the Conference. Charitable IRA rollovers require you and us to work with your custodian, and they may have internal processes that can eat up days. And if you are thinking of donating your interest in a limited partnership, you would have to provide a slew of documents and allow for a lot of legal review.

There are really so many variables that putting everything into a short notice like this is not possible. If you are considering making a non-cash donation, the most prudent decision you can make is to talk to us now and learn what would be involved. We are happy to help, but a phone call on December 31 offering us the cabin in the mountains is not going to result in you making a tax-deductible donation that you can file with your 2020 returns.

Bless you all as you plan for the end of the year, and if you suspect, even a little bit, that we can help, by all means give us a call, and sooner rather than later.

Doug Inglish is RMC director of planned giving and trust services; photo by Unsplash

30 Jul

THE WHALE AND THE WORM

By Doug Inglish … It is inevitable when thinking of the story of Jonah, that our minds immediately envision a whale (I know, the Bible says it was a great fish, so all you marine biologists can fault me here for being technically inaccurate, but for the purposes of this article I am going to call it a whale). God had a message for the wicked city of Nineveh, and a weak-kneed prophet was not going to stop that message from getting all the way to the king. From the vantage point of He who loves every soul to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice, so many people in need of a call to repentance was a whale of a problem. So, He didn’t hesitate to come up with a whale of a solution.

But as you are also no doubt aware, one of the smallest creatures on earth enters the story in the last chapter (If you need a refresher at this point, it only takes about half an hour to read the whole book of Jonah). Jonah, too upset over his prophecy being overruled to rejoice in his successful evangelism, sat sulking in the shade of a leafy vine. But along came a worm to chew through the vine so that it withered away, leaving the prophet even more hot and bothered. As often happens, the Lord spoke to Jonah right at his most ridiculous moment. Since the book was apparently written by Jonah himself, we can conclude that the lesson hit home.

Curious, isn’t it? The whale was the vehicle to get him where he needed to be, so it can surely take partial credit for the conversion of Nineveh. But the whale had no part in the conversion of Jonah. For that, God sent a worm.

The mission to declare salvation to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people is a whale of a task. To carry it out, we need a whale of lot of money, and even then, it needs a whale of a blessing to make it go as far as the ends of the earth. But don’t discount the value of a worm-sized offering.

I did a little research, and it turns out that the worm in the book of Jonah was likely the larvae of an insect weighing around .007 ounces. At the other end of the scale, the blue whale, which is the largest creature that has ever lived (sorry dinosaurs) weighs in at about 330,000 pounds. That’s about the difference I sense between my offering and the task of bringing the gospel to the world.

So how many worms does it take to equal a whale? Not as many as you think. A locust weighs about the same as Jonah’s worm, .007 ounces. But the combined weight of a square kilometer of locusts in a typical swarm is more than twice the weight of a blue whale. Which means that when we all get together, our offerings are equal to the task.

God is equally able to use the whale and the worm to reach those who need to hear His message. And I am truly grateful that there are those among us who can and do give a whale of a lot to the mission. I am equally grateful that I can have a part in it too, even though my means are much closer to the worm than the whale. I am also grateful that a lot of us together can out give even the whales.

–Doug Inglish is RMC director for trust services and planned giving

01 Jul

COMMENTARY: YOU ARE FREE INDEED

By Doug Inglish . . . Sometimes, enough is enough.

My first taste of dormitory life was less than ideal. The building was thoroughly worn out, practically falling down around us, and it was no longer worth fixing. During the first semester of my freshman year, the finishing touches were being applied to a new dorm, which we moved into right after Christmas break. And if you think I was ready to make the change, imagine the senior class who had lived in that dump for three and a half school years!

When enough is enough, sometimes the solution is to move. When the first non-indigenous settlers of North America were arriving–Puritans, Jews, and even Catholics who could not enjoy the freedom of religion we take for granted—had decided that enough was enough, and they came here. When the serfs and peasants from Lisbon, Krakow, and Prague, disallowed by birth from ever owning land, decided that enough was enough, they came here. When whatever monarch happenstance brought to the throne was a little too close in Peking or Constantinople, they came here.

What they found was not perfection. I can relate to that, because the new dorm had an echo, it was a lot further from the cafeteria and gym, and freshmen had to live three to a room built for two, but we were not complaining. By comparison to where we had been living, it was paradise.

So, it was in America. Even after independence, freedom from kings just meant that someone else was in charge, and even when that someone was, We the People, it can be gotten wrong a lot of the time. Before our establishment as a nation and for a century afterward, a portion of the population was dragged here in chains against their will, whatever freedom they previously had, stripped away. When, finally, a war was fought and won to establish that enough was enough when it came to slavery, equality was still an uneven mix of concept and reality.

At least the principles we espouse, though not fully realized, are worthy of aspiration. Many of the nations that we once fled have embraced our ideals and even, to some extent, our form of government. I’ll take this not only over what was left behind, but over pretty much any other version of self-rule, to say nothing of the majority of the globe where the phrase “freedom” is a joke, but nobody’s laughing.

My senior year I found myself in the minority. Most of the residents had never lived in the old dorm, and they failed to appreciate what we had. Minor vandalism began to occur. It didn’t take long for some of us older students to decide enough was enough of that, and though our methods could have used some refinement, our message was clear enough.

It’s happening in our society as well. People are openly questioning whether we should have the right to say what we believe, own property, or even earn a living. Worst of all, the question is no longer whether you can worship as you believe, but if your choice to worship at all is even legitimate. The old concepts of freedom seem quaint to many who never grew up under the oppression of a genuine despot.

Why? Same problem as always. Sinful people in a sinful world.

Monarchy, republic, socialism, dictatorship, anarchy, all suffer from the same fatal disease of being subject to the decisions of flawed humans. As slaves to our own humanity, how can we ever expect to create a free society? It’s not that freedom can’t be achieved; it’s that we can’t be trusted to be in charge of it.

Don’t despair; I suspect you know where I am going with this.

“So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” (John 8:36 NIV).

Because of that truth, the slave girl in Naaman’s household was free. The prisoners with Paul and Silas were free. Starving peasants in Soviet collective farms, tortured academics in Cambodia’s killing fields, and slaves sold in markets in Atlanta–if the Son set them free, they were free indeed.

I’m not peddling pablum here, as is so often done. If Marx referred to religion as “the opioid of the masses” it’s at least in part because that is how it has so often been used. You can’t just see injustice and shrug it off by saying “Well, the Son can make him free.” If that’s my response, I am no better than the person committing the injustice.

So yes, we should do all we can to support freedom, from establishing a nation on the principles of freedom to working against the unjust laws of that very nation. In all of it though, even when you feel the appropriate gratitude of whatever level of freedom you enjoy, keep in mind that it is only the real thing if the Son has made you free. And by all means, let others know about it, too.

Doug Inglish, is RMC director for planned giving and trust services; photo by UnSplash