01 Jun

Supporting our schools

By George Crumley

The Apostle tells us in James 1:17 that every good gift comes from our heavenly Father. From the beginning, God designed us to be caretakers of what He has given us (Genesis 2:15). God’s plan for the support of His church on earth, His most precious possession, is the returning of tithes and offerings by those who love Him. He promised to bless us when we are faithful to Him.

One of the primary functions of His church is to teach young people to be lights in a darkening world, to be positive forces for good, and to make a difference in society. It is through our elementary schools, academies, and colleges that this education takes place. It was in these schools that my life and the life of my wife were changed for the better a number of years ago.

As with all things of value, there is a price to pay. Our educational learning centers bear the cost of staff salaries, property insurance, supplies, and utilities. Sharing these costs helps to lighten the financial obligation for families who want more than reading, writing, and arithmetic for their children. My daughter is an elementary teacher in another conference, and I know firsthand of the sacrificial commitment and endless creative energy that our teachers provide to help our young people learn and grow. Parents, local church members, outside donors, and Rocky Mountain Conference members unselfishly invest their money to make Christian education more affordable.

For the year 2017, the Conference set aside roughly $2,220,000 or 13.57 percent of gross tithe for education. This, along with other sources of funding, provides the resources needed to support elementary education, academy education, college education, and educational administration.

Below are a few details on how grades K-16 are funded.

Elementary Education (K–8). Local churches may choose to start their own school or to be part of a group of constituent churches that adopt and financially support a nearby school. The local church budget is one of the primary sources of funding when a church or group of churches decides to support a school. Some churches designate up to 70 percent of their local church budget to help subsidize an elementary school.

The Conference indirectly subsidizes an elementary school by billing the school for roughly 67 percent of salary and benefits for teachers, which means the conference covers around 33 percent of this cost. The majority of that funding comes from the tithe dollar.

Of course, parents or other family members also pay a monthly tuition amount set by the school. Tuition rates can vary based on the school’s geographic location.

Finally, there are other donations processed through the church books or paid directly to the school. These donations are given above and beyond God’s tithe. Local pastors often team up with families to explore ways educational expenses can be shared.

Academy Education (9–12). In the case of our academies, the Conference provides a subsidy that is funded by tithe, Rocky Mountain Conference Advance, and some non-tithe funds. Subsidy dollars provided are around $440,000 per year.

Family members provide tuition payments to the school and many students are able to obtain jobs that provide income to attend academy. Worthy Student Funds are also available for those who meet the criteria the academy has set up. Much of the Worthy Student Funds are provided by outside donations from alumni and church members throughout the conference.

College Education (13–16). The Rocky Mountain Conference sends around 3 percent of tithe to support Union College, our college within the Mid-America Union.

This amounts to around $470,000 per year. Of course, tuition is paid by parents, student loans, student labor, and grants or scholarships. Many donations are given by private individuals who also support the school.

Private education is not inexpensive and it is always a challenge to figure out ways to finance schools within and without the Adventist Church. But the blessing in attending our schools is huge. I have observed many students over the years whose lives have been positively impacted by attending our schools.

Are our schools perfect? No. Do they provide an environment where young lives can be inspired with a mission for God? Indeed they do. I believe our schools can set our young people on a path that will have far-reaching results, not only for themselves, but for society and for the world to come.

–George Crumley is RMC VP for treasury. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jun

On being a daily example of hope

By Ron Price

Have you heard the term “oxymoron?” The official definition I found online at Merriam-Webster is “a combination of contradictory or incongruous words” (such as cruel kind- ness). Some of my personal favorites are “sanitary landfill,” “act naturally,” and “pretty ugly.” My all-time favorite has to be “Microsoft Works,” but that is a topic for another time.

Perhaps the most ludicrous oxymoron I know is “hopeless Christian.” Now please don’t get me wrong. Being a Christian certainly does not guarantee one a smooth and problem-free life. In fact, quite the contrary. In the Gospels, Jesus clearly told us that as His followers we should expect hardships, difficulties, and perilous times. We will experience times when all seems hopeless but we are also told clearly that as believers and followers of the Savior, we can have hope and joy in the midst of unpleasant circumstances and hardships. In Philippians 4:7, we are promised “peace that passes all understanding.”

I believe it starts with being at peace with God. Once you are at peace with God, you can far more easily be at peace with yourself. If the God of the Universe, who knows you better than you know yourself, loves you and considers you to be of such worth that He would send His only Son to die for you, then you have every right to be at peace with your- self. And, once you are at peace with yourself, you can far more easily be at peace with others. This, in turn, will help you to, as Peter says, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

When you are discouraged and hopeless, I can just about guarantee that your focus is on you, your situation, and your own ability (or lack thereof) to get yourself out of that situation. With that being the case, you have every right to be discouraged and hopeless. But therein lies the problem. In Isaiah 26:3, God tells us that He will keep us in perfect peace if our minds are focused on Him. Space limitations forbid me from quoting other similar verses, but take some time to look up Jer. 29:11, Ps. 3:2-6, Ps. 42:11, Isa. 40:31, Rom. 15:13, and so many more.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we should be daily examples of hope and encouragement. We understand the truth about Jesus’ Second (and soon) Coming. We understand the judgment at which God is both our defender and our judge—it’s not really fair, but I won’t complain. We understand that God will mercifully put those who refuse His love to eternal sleep and not supernaturally keep them alive just for the sport of torturing them forever.

Again, while we have ample reason for hope, we far too often fail to maintain it in our day-to-day existence. So let me leave you with a tip that has helped me in the struggle to keep my focus where it needs to be. I have developed several affirmations which I repeat on a regular basis throughout my day. I have set alarms on my cell phone or smartwatch to vibrate every two hours. The vibration reminds me to take a moment away from whatever I am doing and repeat words to the effect of “I am at peace with God, therefore I am at peace with myself, and so I can be at peace with others.” As a businessman, I am often challenged to have goals for the amount of money I want to earn. That does not work for me, but I do have a specific goal for how much money I want to give away this year. Therefore, one of my affirmations is that “I make, manage, and give away large sums of money.”

Another of my favorites is, “I am joyful, uplifting, and calm.” Many who know me would scoff at the “calm” moniker, but it is something I aspire to and affirm in myself.

No one ever said the battle would be easy—at least not in this life where the enemy has the home-field advantage. But I know we will win in the end, and that it is so important for us to follow this counsel from Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”

–Ron Price is a member of the RMC executive committee from Farmington, New Mexico. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jun

Control is an illusion

By Shayne Vincent

“For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11).

For far too long, people have been buying and selling love and approval through the currency of success. We are accustomed to earning acceptance through being “good” or reaching the “top.” We want to know where we stand; we want to fix, to know, to control outcomes. Yet, while success might cloak itself in social fawning and illusions of safety, it is often just a facade for our betrayed inner child.

Trust is terrifying when we are like a dog that was kicked around too much. Rules, structure, hierarchy, achievement, discipline—these all appeal to our brokenness, to our fear; they are forms of salve for the uncertainties of life. The obsession of control is within all of us, flowing from our deepest longings for security and love.

To let go of controllable acts is terrifying because it requires we depend only upon trust, that we’ll be expected to play without having rehearsed, and that we can no longer twist God’s arm until He cries “uncle.” And with a lifetime of betrayal and hardship behind us, our greatest fear is to be “needy.” Our lives are dedicated to avoiding risk, need, and the exposure of our inner vulnerability.

In our fear-laden rush to succeed, we fail to see that there is a place of significance for limitation. That no matter the illusions of our demi-godhood, limitation is a constant; the world remains broken. Therefore, to truly heal, we must embrace the grey turbulence of uncertainty as a normal part of life in a sinful world.

Healing happens when we cast our soul into the fire. The magic of the river of fear purifies the soul. Our pathway to freedom requires us to confront what we have been running from all along . . . the truth. To truly live, to be fully alive, we must be naked before God, and humanity, exposed, vulnerable, needy, [gasp] trusting.

Faith must replace our death grip. Risk must replace walls. Vulnerability must replace resentment. Honesty must replace ego. Wisdom must replace naivety. Action must replace avoidance. Love for others must replace love for things. For in mutual brokenness, we will find acceptance. In embracing one another, we will find the courage to heal. In grace, we will find the certainty of hope.

We must also acknowledge that God is not obligated. Rather, we are the ones who are dependent. And if we’re willing, apparently we are already free, because perfection was only the imaginary goal of an approval addict.  Yet isn’t this the very thing that God was always trying to heal? The broken little kid who only ever wanted love? To know that they do belong? That they have always been a part of God’s family? We have always had something important to offer. We are free to love without secret motives. We are free to rejoice in an unearned redemption. We are free to pursue success without necessity. We are free to just be.

–Shayne Mason Vincent, MSW, is lead pastor for the Casper Wyoming District. Email him at [email protected] or visit his blog: www.baringmysoul.com

01 Jun

Wholly Human

By Nathan Brown

It was a strange place to find something so familiar. It was assigned reading as part of a study program: a Catholic theologian reflecting on his church’s response to the state oppression, torture and disappearances in Chile in the 1970s under the Pinochet regime. Titled Torture and Eucharist,

William Cavanaugh’s study is a fascinating reflection of the role that the dominant theology played in “allowing” such horrors and its inadequate response to the abuses—at least, initially—as well as the growing realization of the need for the church to respond in better and more concrete ways.

However, the theological question raised in Cavanaugh’s study that most caught my attention—of course, because of its familiarity—is the critique of the long-held assumption that had been made by both church and state in Chile that the body was the realm of the state and the soul that of the church. It highlights the significance of the Adventist under- standing of wholism and its rejection of the more common theological assumption—drawn more from Platonic Greek philosophy than biblical foundations—of a duality between body and soul.

Cavanaugh goes some small way toward discounting the body–soul duality: “If we understand the unity of body and soul, we must understand that what is really at stake is not body-power versus soul-power, but competing types of soul/body disciplines, some violent and some peaceful.”1 He argues that this should bring understanding that state control of the body is also control of the soul and, similarly, the church’s ministry to the soul must also have bodily implications.

Not only is this significant for the individual, but it has much broader application for the church as “the body of  Christ.” Human individuality and society are not to be sub-divided into different existential realms but considered as a whole, in which the church—or better, the kingdom of God— is “a contrast society, a counter-performance of the body to that of the state.”2 The kingdom of God is not merely a spiritual reality or entity, but a wholly different way of being.

A Whole Gospel

This has dramatic implications for how we understand the heart of the Gospel, the message of who Jesus is and what He did in His life, death, and resurrection. As we seek to understand the fullness of the Gospel and Jesus—including His becoming human with all that entails—we should reflect back on the brokenness of sin in the fall of humanity, including its physical and social damage. If salvation in and through Jesus is to be complete, it must address all aspects of our lives and all the relationships that have been broken by sin.

This is where a wholistic understanding of human nature—“an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit”3—is valuable. As anyone with experience of violence, abuse or disease will sadly attest, “evil makes no distinction between our bodies and us. How, then, in our call to overcome evil, can we make that distinction?”4 As such, the Gospel must respond to, heal, and restore all aspects of what it means to be human.

Because we are spiritual and physical and intellectual and emotional and social—all at once and together—what Jesus did and does for us, in us, with us, and through us brings healing, restoration, and hope to all these aspects of our lives. Our souls are not disconnected from our bodies; God does not save souls, He saves people. This is why Jesus ministered in the way that He did, and instructed His disciples in this same wholistic ministry (Matthew 10:5–8).

A Whole-Life Response

I recently caught up with an actor friend who is writing a spiritual memoir of her relationship with her body. Her story moves from teen-age eating disorders and self-harm to on-screen nudity and off-screen sexual exploration, then to her conversion, ongoing acting career, and, now, to mother- hood. She asked me about our Adventist belief about bodies and souls—and heard something that felt familiar to her experience. Her finding faith was linked to her learning to better appreciate and respect her body, and vice versa. As we talked, she was enthusiastic about how a wholistic understanding of what it means to be human has so many implications for how we live as people created, loved, and called by God.

This is why the physical and social practices of our faith are as important as those we might consider more spiritual. As Cavanaugh’s book title suggests, communion creates an alternative community to the society around us. It is a physical, social, and even political act that changes us and the relationships with those we celebrate it with. As is foot-washing, kneeling or other physical acts of prayer, singing together, and even the act of gathering itself (Hebrews 10:25).

Our practice of Sabbath is no less physical and social than it is spiritual, which is one of its great strengths and a weekly reminder of who we are. When we stop physically, disconnect ourselves from our everyday routines, and for a day are no longer either slaves or masters (Exodus 20:8–11), we are practicing the reality of the Kingdom of God and are physically and socially recalibrated. Week by week, we practice this reality and, by such practice, it becomes a greater reality (Hebrews 6:11).

In our Adventist tradition, we have expressed this wholism in three key ways that contribute greatly to human flourishing: health, education, and stewardship. By each of these emphases—and the institutions they have built—we have aided the improvement of human beings and their societies. Unfortunately, in our past century, we have been less responsive to the Bible’s call to work directly for justice for others. But this wholistic nature of human beings is one of the rationales for why alleviating bodily suffering, such as poverty, slavery, hunger, imprisonment, displacement, and torture, cannot be disconnected from “saving souls”—if that terminology makes sense any more. Because we are never disembodied souls, the treatment of people’s bodies matters.

An embrace of wholistic humanity also points us toward the greatest hope of resurrection, restoration, and re-creation. We are less interested in floating off one by one as death takes us, even if to a “better” place, and neither are we afraid of everlasting spiritual torment. Instead, we are more deeply engaged with our physical/social/spiritual world—it all matters so much more—and when our current lives come to an end, we await the final defeat of death (1 Corinthians 15:26) and the renewal of all things (Revelation 21:5). This is the largest kind of hope.

From the darkest prisons of 1970s Chile to the glamorous façade of Australian TV screens, our Adventist understanding and practices of wholism help make sense of the best and worst of life in our world. And it prompts the best response to all the people we see hurting around us. This belief matters because it urges that it all matters—and it all will be made new.

–Nathan Brown is a writer and editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia. His recent book is Engage: Faith that Matters. Email him at: [email protected]

References: 1William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1998), p. 197. 2Ibid, page 180. 3Seventh-day Adventist 28 Fundamental Beliefs—“Seven: The Nature of Humanity.” 4Skye Jethani, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017), p. 178.

01 Jun

If you don’t have anything good to say …

By Nigel Abrahams

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). From the very beginning of the universe, words have held immense power. It was through the divine power of God’s words that this world came into perfect existence, and through the evil power of Satan’s words that it began its journey to its current state. Words can build up or tear down, calm a heated argument, or start a revolution. Yet, for all their power, perhaps because of their power, words may be the most misused and overused weapon of all time.

While words have always held great power, they have often been limited in their sphere of influence. The power of the word was felt only by those in close proximity to the speaker. As time continued, words were printed and published, broadcast, and now tweeted and shared to millions around the world in a matter of seconds. It is so easy now to reach millions of people with mean, hateful language while maintaining relative anonymity that many are emboldened to say things they may have been ashamed to say in person. With such great power and such great reach, the potential for damage is enormous.

Sadly, that enormous potential is realized far more often than this world needs. The news is filled almost daily with stories of horrific outcomes that began as bullying or hateful rhetoric. Over and over, the mighty word makes its mark.

For those who follow Christ, this really should be a no-brainer. Christ followers have read James 1:26: “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is use- less.” Christ followers know Jesus Himself said, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:10-11). It is because the world knows Christ followers should be aware of these things that it is so disappointing to find a proclaimed Christ follower speaking words of anger, division, and even hatred. At times, the very name of God is even used to justify these words.

Not long ago, I was part of a conversation discussing Satan’s systematic plan to assassinate the character of God. By convincing the world that even evil actions and outcomes are somehow God’s fault, Satan can paint a picture of God that few would want to see. The most troubling thought from that conversation was the idea that Christians often unwittingly help paint that awful image. Christians, in an attempt to defend righteousness, end up speaking in ways that alien- ate others from God—ways that the very God they’re trying to defend cannot endorse.

Those who claim the name of Christ have the awesome privilege and responsibility of reflecting God’s character to the world. Shouldn’t we capitalize on that opportunity? There are so many negative voices in the world already. Why not have followers of Christ provide a counterpoint, a balance—maybe even tip the scales in favor of peace, unity, and love? Our best defense of God is accurately reflecting who He is; His love, mercy, and kindness. Proclaim His name by letting “the words of [our] mouth . . . be acceptable in [His] sight” (Psalms 19:4).

There’s an old saying that, “If you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing at all.” But there’s a problem with that. Silence in the presence of evil may be just as damaging as the evil itself. For all the damage words can cause, there is still enormous potential for good in words and we have the opportunity to realize that potential. Proverbs 10:20 tells us, “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver.” And Proverbs 15:4 reminds us that, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life.” Our words hold too much power for us to remain silent.

Maybe it’s time to update the old saying. How about, “If you don’t have anything good to say, find something!” The opportunity to make this world a better place and rightly represent God presents itself every day; we can no longer sit silently as those opportunities pass us by.

Our words are a window into our character and a reflection of the God we serve. What have your words been saying about you?

–Nigel Abrahams is a member of LifeSource Adventist Fellowship. He works as an information technology analyst in the financial services industry. Email him at [email protected]

01 Jun

No Creed but the Bible!

By Reinder Bruinsma

Our Adventist forefathers were adamant: “We have no creed but the Bible!” When they joined the Advent movement, the “pioneers” left the church communities of which they had been part. Most of these communities had a “creed” or “confession of faith” that defined their official beliefs. Their main convictions had become codified in documents that often became even more important than the Bible, as they, once and for all, summarized and set in concrete what, in their view, the biblical message was all about.

The early Adventist believers started on a journey of discovery. They found new “truths” and saw things in the Scriptures they had not seen before. They wanted to continue mining biblical truth without being impeded by a rigid body of unchangeable dogma that put an end to genuine Bible study.

It was only when James White, one of the first generation of Adventist leaders and the editor of the earliest denominational journals, received letters from the public, inquiring what Seventh-day Adventist Christians believed, that he reluctantly gave (in 1853) a short list of the main views that by that time had more or less crystalized. The first version of an official statement of Adventist beliefs was adopted in 1872 and consisted of 25 articles. The introduction stated: The intention of this pamphlet is not “to secure uniformity,” but rather “to meet inquiries” and “to remove erroneous impressions.” In other words, producing this summary of Adventist beliefs was a public relations project, a service to the public, and not a prescription of what every church member should believe.

As time went by, Adventists lost their inhibitions with regard to producing doctrinal statements and embarked on a process of ever more precisely formulating a list of doctrines. This eventually resulted in the Twenty-eight Fundamental Beliefs, as recently revised during the 2015 General Conference in San Antonio. Even though the church continues to assert that this list of “fundamentals” is not to be seen as a “creed,” there is every indication that, in actual fact, this document today very much functions as such.


Opinions differ greatly with regard to the development and authority of the Twenty-eight Fundamental Beliefs. On the one hand, many church members feel it is good to define Adventist teachings in as much detail as possible, and they have no doubt that every “true” Adventist ought to fully agree with all aspects of it. Others think this document has become far too detailed and insist that we do not have to agree with all the doctrinal fine print, as long as we accept the core values of the Adventist faith.

This, of course, raises all sorts of questions. The reality is that most church members only have a vague knowledge of many of the “fundamental” beliefs. When large baptisms take place in developing countries, doctrinal instruction has usually been limited. But also in the Western world, a large percentage of our members—either newly baptized or with vintage membership cards—are not familiar with most of “the 28.”

Should that worry us? And should the church insist that all members know and accept all doctrines as they are officially formulated? Or is there space for differences of opinion and for private interpretation as long as one is committed to the basic Christian and the most significant Adventist convictions that are generally seen as the core “truths” of Adventism? But what might constitute a core of Adventist teachings that most members would agree are basic?

An ever-recurring question is whether all doctrines are equally important. Some would maintain that all “truth” is important and we cannot relegate any point of “truth” to the category of “secondary” or “less important.” Others feel that we are all entitled to put our own doctrinal package together and should not be under any pressure from the church or from fellow church members as to what we “must” believe. Still others, like myself, find themselves somewhere in between those two opposing viewpoints.

The Role of Doctrine

A short article like this cannot begin to address the questions I just raised, let alone many other doctrine-related issues. There are, however, a few points that are of crucial significance when we ask what role doctrines play in our spiritual life.

We must realize that doctrines represent an imperfect, human attempt to put into words what goes far beyond our human understanding. Doctrines are never the Absolute Truth, but are expressions of what a faith community has come to believe about God—who He is and what He does for us through His Son and through His Spirit. Christians must accept biblical truth in faith, but this never means they cannot have questions or even doubts. We have been created with brains and must worship God with both our hearts and our minds (Mark 9:24).

As Christians, we will continue to prayerfully probe the divine mysteries and must never think we know all there is to know. We must “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, NLT). This “growth” implies that our views will develop or may even change as our spiritual growth takes place.

Doctrinal truth is important. After all, when we say we believe in God, we naturally want to put into words who this God is, what He does for us, and how He wants us to respond to Him. But doctrines are never a goal in them- selves. They are, as it were, the grammar of faith. Knowledge of grammar is essential if we want to effectively use language. But language is more than grammar. Similarly, doctrines help us to think about our faith and to communicate the content of our faith. But doctrines are not to be confused with faith. They are a tool that we may gratefully use as we go on our journey of faith.

It is important to remind ourselves and others of the fact that we must always go back to the Word and must continue to immerse ourselves in it. We must refuse to think “creedally,” as if our Adventist experience is little more than intellectual assent to a list of “fundamentals.”  Human beings are always tempted to worship idols. Christians may worship the church or the pastor. Adventist Christians may worship their traditions or the Fundamental Beliefs. However, only God is worthy of our worship!

l Faith is more than accepting a list of doctrines. It is first of all a relationship with the One who is the Source of Truth.

What Does It Do for Me?

In John 8:32, Jesus tells His followers that the truth will set them free. In other words, the truth must do something for us. It must change us into better, more balanced, happier, and more fulfilled human beings. As we think about our doctrinal heritage, this one question must be uppermost in our minds: What does it do for me? How does the doctrinal content of my faith help me to become a more faithful follower of my Lord and a more caring neighbor?

If doctrine remains only a matter of mental assent and does not translate into a way of life, we have sadly missed the mark!

–Reinder Bruinsma is theologian, writer, and former church administrator. His recent book is In All Humility. Saying No to Last Generation Theology. He writes from the Netherlands. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jun

We really mean this: thank you!

By Doug Inglish

Sometimes the common courtesies we practice are done almost without thinking. Holding the door for someone carrying a big package is so simple—and so clearly the right thing to do—that failure to do so when the opportunity presents itself is not only considered profoundly rude, but following through is not considered extraordinary. It’s not a random act of kindness, rather, it’s a routine act of civility. It’s just something you do because it’s proper and everybody does it and it’s no big deal. A brief smile and a simple “thank you” from the recipient as they go through the door is reward enough, and easily forgotten since neither party really went out of their way for the other.

I like it that small gestures such as this are common, expected, and appreciated, but there is a downside. The primary currency of expressing gratitude is to say thank you. It covers the little things like holding a door, but it’s also what you say when someone gives you a kidney. Maybe we should invent terms that better indicate the level of our gratitude, but I’m not in charge of the language, so we all have to live with a certain lack of specificity.

I’m dealing with that inability to fully communicate our thanks to you right now. Giving in the Rocky Mountain Conference is at historic levels so far this year. A lot of factors come into play here, such as an improving economy, a quarterly Bible Study Guide that focused attention on stewardship, and the faithfulness of our pastoral team in communicating how giving is tied to mission. I praise the Lord for all of these things, and some others of which I am likely unaware.

But clearly, the biggest factor is the generosity of our members. No other factor that I can even imagine will have any effect whatsoever on giving if individuals do not open their hearts to the Holy Spirit, care about the mission, and follow through with support.

Tithes and offerings are certainly not the yardstick by which we measure the health of our churches or our Conference (although they have sometimes been used that way), but it is undeniable that giving is an indicator of improving health, and it cannot be ignored. So when we see the kind of numbers we are seeing, there is true rejoicing in the evidence of spiritual strength in our membership, rejoicing over what can be accomplished in moving our mission forward, and rejoicing in the certainty that blessings are raining down on faithful servants.

The mission of the church is inseparable from the members of the church, and when you support the mission in such a tangible way, those of us who are most intimately aware of what is happening cannot help but be awestruck at such generosity. When we see the mission advancing as a result, our hearts overflow.

Please understand that when any member of our team says “thank you,” the limitations of our language make it impossible to convey how much we mean it.  

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

01 Jun

Are we afraid of Politics?

By Shawn P. Nowlan

Politics—it’s okay to be involved—in fact, God calls us to involvement sometimes.

Right now, the American political scene is in the middle of an intense intra-family argument where emotions run very high. Sometimes these sorts of moments make us question our long-held assumptions.

One of my heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who in 1933 found himself in a changed land where his prior view of how he (as a Lutheran pastor) should interact with the powers of his homeland had to undergo a radical change.  While I am not suggesting we are in an equally perilous moment, still I see this moment when we as Seventh-day Adventist Christians may find ourselves called to protect our faith by being involved in politics.

And that means addressing head-on one of those semi- unstated truisms that we have in our Seventh-day Adventist family. Somewhere in my Adventist education—from first grade through college—I absorbed the idea that a good Seventh-day Adventist would not get involved in the political process. Yet, I believe on the contrary that both our Christian and our Seventh-day Adventist heritages sometimes call us into the political arena. I think of Jesus confronting the political leaders of His day —driving money changers (who were operating legally and within the law) out of the Temple. And in consequence, the Jewish political leaders of His day deciding that He was becoming such a threat to the political establishment in Jerusalem that they needed to have Him executed by the Romans.

Take as another example Daniel, who was “ten times better” in terms of wisdom and understanding than all his colleagues at the center of politics in his day (Daniel 1:20) and who stayed at the center of political power at the royal court. Even Nehemiah would not have been able to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem if he hadn’t been involved with the Persian royal court.

Or I think of the prophet Nathan confronting David, a king, over his behavior towards Bathsheba and her husband. In fact, many of the history books in the Old Testament —from First Samuel through to Second Kings—are saturated with tales of the political struggle of the nations of Judah and Israel. The books of the prophets—particularly Isaiah, Amos and Micah—are infused with the need for justice and fairness in the political societies of their days. This call from the prophets to work for a fair and just society is one that has not faded.

In our own tradition, the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were firm abolitionists (a political issue that caused the Civil War). James White even encouraged Adventists to vote for Abraham Lincoln, interpreting that vote as a decision against slavery (James White, “The Nation,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, 12 August 1862, p. 84).

In his recent (2018) book, Protest & Progress, Calvin B. Rock presents a long list of issues which occupied our early Adventist pioneers, which would be considered as taking a stand against political and social issues of their day. Ellen G. White “wrote forcefully against slavery and for equality both within and outside the church” (p. 2). John Byington, the first president of the General Conference was an active abolitionist. A.T. Jones, editor in chief of Review & Herald (1897-1901), was a frequent visitor to the “corridors of power” in Washington, D.C., forcefully defending religious liberty and opposing the bill intended to establish a Sunday law in the District of Columbia (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, p. 832).

In a 2005 article available on the Adventist Review website,* we read:

“Confident in the moral and civil rightness of their position, Adventists in the early twentieth century worked wholeheartedly to eliminate alcohol from society by force of law. They used every possible means—voting, lobbying legislators, holding public meetings, and distributing temperance literature—to advance the prohibition cause. . . . The most direct action Adventists could take on behalf of prohibition was to vote, both for state and local prohibition laws and for ‘dry’ (anti-alcohol) elected officials. Adventist leaders strongly urged members to vote for prohibition. ‘It is the duty of every one to vote for the prohibition of the liquor evil whenever and wherever he has the opportunity,’ wrote North American Division president Irwin H. Evans” (“The Liquor Traffic and the Attitude of the Christian,” Signs of the Times, September 1914, p. 4).

In writings by both James White and Irwin Evens, we see Seventh-day Adventists who felt called to engage in political struggle over issues they saw as vital moral issues for society. Both the Bible and our own Seventh-day Adventist tradition call for political engagement—where we keep our faith in mind as we decide what needs to be accomplished in the political realm.

My own experience of the political process led me to the same conclusion. I went to law school. In my post-law school career, I worked (like Daniel, perhaps) in the political system. I have served as committee counsel to a couple of committees at a state legislature where I spent my work days interacting with a broad range of politicians.

The senators I observed up close really did care about doing the right thing, and they wrestled with how new laws would affect the lives of everyone in the state. I saw how a good law change can make life easier for ordinary people. And how what legislators do ends up affecting how all of us live our lives. Particularly when working for the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee, I saw senators wrestling with deciding what laws were needed to make sure ordinary workers would have as worry-free a retirement as possible.

Through the experience from the Adventist tradition and from the Bible, along with my own experience working in political settings, I have learned to rethink the question of involvement with politics. I think the issue is not so much avoiding politics as it is making sure that what we are advocating is consistent with our Seventh-day Adventist Christian view of the world. When I see the examples of Daniel or Nehemiah or of James White, I see people who kept their eye on what was really important, while remaining engaged with the political process of their day.

When deciding whether to get involved, I ask myself: Is this going to improve the lives of my fellow citizens and is this involvement consistent with my faith? If I can answer “yes” to both of these questions, then being involved with politics can be 100 percent consistent with my faith. And I encourage all Seventh-day Adventists to have that same engagement.

In the words of the prophet Micah: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Let’s do this in politics as in the rest of our lives.

–Shawn P. Nowlan is an attorney currently working for the federal government in Denver. He is a member of the Boulder Adventist Church. Email him at: [email protected] *http://archives.adventistreview.org/2004-1504/story1.html)

01 Jun

Steps to Christ Revisited: A Better Life

By Denis Fortin

There are many biographies of well-known people who explain how reading a particular book had a profound effect on their lives and destinies. For Martin Luther, it was his reading of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans that dramatically changed his life and led to his insights into justification by faith. John Wesley recalled that his moment of religious awakening occurred one evening when he happened to enter the chapel of some Moravian friends in London where he listened to someone reading the preface of Luther’s commentary on Romans. Somehow, this was what Wesley needed to hear to revive his faith in God and his hope of salvation. That moment, listening to the reading of a book’s preface, changed his life, gave him hope, and restored his faith.

Adventist pioneer William Miller had a similar experience in the summer of 1816 while reading a sermon to his Baptist congregation. Somehow, what had escaped him for many years, now impressed him profoundly. Through this experience, he became a different man. His spiritual experience started a movement that led to the establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist church and the conversion of a young teenager by the name of Ellen Harmon (later Ellen White).

Through the centuries, many people have experienced similar religious awakenings by reading good books.

For me, this experience came about forty years ago. That little book was the first Adventist book I read. I was sixteen years old. This book was the beginning of a spiritual journey that has lasted four decades. I was a high school student and nominally Catholic, and I had been watching the Seventh-day Adventist Il est écrit (It Is Written) television program on my local station in Quebec City, Canada.

For months, I watched this program as faithfully as I could each Sunday. After one of these broadcasts, I requested a brochure on what the Bible teaches about death and the afterlife. I still have that small pamphlet, the first of a series of Bible study guides from Amazing Facts. Before I received the next pamphlet, a representative from the program came to my home to visit and to answer any questions I had about the Bible. It was a brief visit, but before leaving, Daniel Rebsomen, the pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Quebec City, gave me a paperback edition of a little book with a picture on the cover of Jesus knocking on a door. That’s how I got acquainted with Vers Jésus (Steps to Christ).

Since then, I have reread it many times. It has shaped my understanding of God’s love for me, my salvation in Jesus in spite of my failings, and my need for spiritual growth. For years each morning, I recited White’s suggested prayer: “Take me, O Lord, as wholly Thine. I lay all my plans at Thy feet. Use me today in Thy service. Abide with me, and let all my work be wrought in Thee” (Steps to Christ, p. 70).

Steps to Christ is a Seventh-day Adventist classic that has been translated into well over 150 languages and has been sold or distributed in the millions. It is obvious that Seventh-day Adventists love this little book.

For its 125th anniversary, in 2017, I prepared a special annotated edition of Steps to Christ. This edition was the result of many years of reflection on the content of this deeply spiritual book. In it, Ellen White clarifies and expounds on many essential thoughts regarding God’s plan of salvation for humanity and how people can personally experience this salvation.

This anniversary edition coincided with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which is traditionally considered to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. While White’s and Luther’s documents are far apart in content and intent, Adventists owe much to Luther for their understanding of salvation in Christ through faith, for a focus on the Scriptures as the only source of truth and guidance for spiritual life, and for understanding the love of God for humanity. The Lutheran Reformation is thus also part of our shared spiritual heritage.

No other book by Ellen White has been turned into this kind of annotated copy, making it a groundbreaking publication which I hope will be repeated for her other books. An introduction gives a brief history of the book, discusses the controversy over the preparation of its manuscript, and describes how Ellen White and her assistants prepared and compiled her books from prior publications. I hope this information will be helpful in correcting some misunderstandings and to dissipate some misguided views about her inspiration and the purpose of her books. The introduction also gives a historical and theological summary of Ellen White’s understanding of salvation.

Each of the thirteen chapters has a brief introduction, which includes a list of recommended further reading and a brief description of the antecedents of that chapter. Each chapter also includes some annotations to clarify or expand some of the thoughts expressed in the chapter.

In the appendix, this edition provides something never published before: a list of all known antecedent references to Ellen White’s writings used by Marian Davis to compile this book. As explained in the introduction, Adventists have known for a long time that White’s books published after 1880 are compilations and adaptations, for the most part, of her prior publications, but we never knew much about the extent or the intricacy of this process. The recent electronic publication of all of Ellen White’s published books, articles, and unpublished letters and manuscripts has been an essential tool in this research. And I’m sure more will be done in the future.

Whether one is a long-time admirer or a first-time reader of Ellen White’s Steps to Christ, this edition will give a new look at this classic of Adventist literature.

One of the beautiful aspects of the book is the conversational tone Ellen White uses to reach out to her readers. It’s as if she were speaking to the reader in the living room and making earnest appeals. Here’s one that I love very much on the experience of faith and trust in God’s word to us:

“In like manner, you are a sinner. You cannot atone for your past sins; you cannot change your heart and make your- self holy. But God promises to do all this for you through Christ. You believe that promise. You confess your sins and give yourself to God. You will to serve Him. Just as surely as you do this, God will fulfill His word to you. If you believe the promise—believe that you are forgiven and cleansed—God supplies the fact; you are made whole, just as Christ gave the paralytic power to walk when the man believed that he was healed. It is so if you believe it” (Steps to Christ, p. 51).

–Denis Fortin is professor of historical theology at Andrews University and co-editor of The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jun

Connectedness in Action: Reclaiming lost members

By Carol Bolden

The fact that so many of our youth stop attending church after they graduate from high school is a large concern for parents and church leaders, as well as Rocky Mountain Conference youth director Steve Hamilton. I sat down with him to find out what is being done for the members missing from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“When people talk to me about reclaiming lost members,” said Steve, “one of the most important factors to consider is what ‘missing’ means. If they’re missing from church, are they also missing from our social gatherings, our family interactions? Because, if we aren’t missing them until we notice they’re missing from church, were they really part of our community in the first place?”

Steve identifies the period right after they go missing as a “very awkward” stage. It’s possible that six months or a year could pass before we recognize they’re missing, possibly as a result of running into them at the grocery store or at a community event. Not having engaged with them in any social activity, church is our only reference point, making everyone feel awkward when we say we’re missing them at church. If we don’t know they’re missing until we don’t see them in church, Steve explains, then we don’t have any idea why they’re missing because we haven’t had contact with them. “The greater issue,” he says, “is not that they haven’t been at church for six months, but that they’ve been missing from our lives for six months.” That’s why inviting them back to church is so awkward. “That’s what ‘missing’ really means.”

According to Steve, this entire scenario could play out in a completely different way. Say someone hasn’t attended church for six months, but they are very much a part of our friend group from church. We still go mountain biking together, still see them at car shows, attend festivals together, and eat out with them. In that case, someone could go for years without attending church, yet be connected with the church. In this scenario, you would know if they lost a family member or were going through a rough time because you are in touch with their life. It would be easy, in this setting, to invite them to the Christmas program. You could easily say, “Maybe this is the time to come back and engage in church again.”As Steve points out, “There’s no awkward to that.”

It’s important to establish connection before trying to re-establish church attendance. Steve goes four-wheeling with several guys who no longer attend church, guys who surprised him by stopping by camp after a four-wheeling trip just to say, “Hi!” While touring the camp, he explains, the guys were reliving childhood memories. “This is where I met God as a child,” they said, or, “This is where Mr. So- and-So took us hiking on Saturday afternoons.” These guys remembered being at summer camp. Now their kids go to summer camp, and they’ve contributed in significant ways to the camp.

Connectedness overcomes the feeling of awkward discomfort, a major obstacle when people come back into church attendance.

When he gave a worship talk to RMC office staff weeks ago, Steve Hamilton told the story of his father maintaining a connection with his best friend and classmate from academy even though it took quite a bit of effort. We asked him to re-tell that story.

“My father was best friends with Mike Wilson in academy, but while he was becoming more and more involved with church and God, attending Pacific Union College as a theology major, Mike was moving farther and farther away from God into the secular world of the ’60s and ’70s, encouraged by negative experiences from academy and church,” Steve Hamilton said. “He got involved with drugs and alcohol and, after academy, never came back to church. My father kept in touch with Mike whose family was torn apart by his involvement with controlled substances.”

“As the years passed, Mike was embarrassed to return. Not only had his family been torn apart, but meth had altered his appearance. Still, Steve’s father kept track of him through the years, making a concerted effort to reconnect with him before their 50-year academy reunion, working to build a friendship comfortable enough that Mike could attend the reunion.”

“It worked. Dad and Mike went out to eat together after the reunion and Mike said he really needed to get involved in church again. This was 50 years later. All that time, he was missing from church, but not from my dad’s life, nor from his prayers and efforts.”

One truth Steve learned from watching his dad look out for Mike is that “our love shouldn’t be contingent upon someone walking through the church doors.” Instead, “we should love them because they are loved by their Maker,” he says. Jesus tells us, “Go ye . . . ,” not, “Invite to church.” Seeking and saving shouldn’t be reduced to inviting “that which was lost” to come to church.

Too often, within the church context, people are hurt and, although they once attended, they no longer do—not because no one has invited them, but because they had a negative experience with the church. Steve believes the church needs to learn how to say, “I’m sorry.” We need to recognize that we (the church) bear guilt and to interact with missing members with humility and a willingness to say we are sorry. A dynamic shift happens when we do.

Steve tells the story of a youth pastor from another denomination who had a bad experience with religion and who believes that people don’t usually stop attending church because they don’t want to attend, but because they are hurt. We need to move through that lovingly, he said, in hopes of creating a better experience.

This sounds like Steve is saying that we need to look at missing members in a new way. Indeed he is! He believes that we need to decide where we place our highest value. Is it that people walk through the church door regularly or that we are truly connected with the people around us? Do we value church attendance or do we value connectivity?

“When I value connectedness most,” Steve explains, “they wind up coming to church. Connectedness often equals attendance and involvement with church. Attendance, on the other hand, does not always equal connectedness. Settling in our hearts what we value most is critical.”

After Steve moved to Redding, California, as pastor of the local church, he watched an extreme snowboarding video from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and realized that one of the writers was Donnie Moore from his hometown. Donnie had relatives in the Redding church, but didn’t attend himself, so Steve bought a snowmobile and began riding out of Bass Lake in order to get connected with Donnie. They soon became good friends, with Steve even loaning Donnie his snowmobile so that his wife could go riding with him. Steve doesn’t remember inviting Donnie to church, but he and his wife and kids began attending. He eventually baptized Donnie and Sarah, who are now Pathfinder leaders and help in other ways at the church. Connectedness happened and the whole family came back to church, many of them becoming involved with ministry at Glacier View Ranch.

Recreational ministry brought as many baptisms through his pastoral career as did evangelistic meetings, even though five public outreach events were held each year, including health and prophecy events, introduction to Christianity classes, cooking schools, and overcoming depression seminars. Personal connectedness is key.

–Carol Bolden provides editorial support for the RMC communication department. Email her at: [email protected]