October 17, 2007

Peacemakers and Bridge-Builders

2007 1529 page26 capOD DOES NOT WANT His people to live behind castle walls. He does not want us to build a fortress and isolate ourselves from others. We don’t have to abandon our communities in order to be good Adventist Christians. Being holy has nothing to do with living alone on the top of the highest mountain. We must live within the community because we have a message for it. We have a mission to fulfill.
 
Jesus’ ministry on earth lasted 33 years, only 40 days of which were spent alone in the desert. The rest of His time was with people, ordinary people and families. He wanted to meet people—the poor, the rich, the women, the children. He did not isolate Himself. “The true light . . . came into the world,” John said (John 1:9, 19).* “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world,” Jesus prayed in John 17:15-17, “but that You should keep them from the evil one.” Then He said: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).
 
Our Purpose in the World
Jesus said that we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13, 14). We are in the world because God wants us to be in the world. We represent the kingdom of God. We are ambassadors of the King of kings. We have a mission—not to save the world ourselves, but to bring hope and salvation to those who are living in it.
 
We should take advantage of the many ways to fulfill our mission in the world—through preaching or working in practical lines to help others, ever keeping in mind that people are more impressed by our acts than by our words.
 
The Difference It Makes
One day someone asked the Dalai Lama: “Which is the true religion?” His answer was: “The true religion is the one which makes me better!” God wants us to make a difference. And this can be seen in the promises He has made to us.
 
2007 1529 page26In Deuteronomy 26:18 Moses presents God as proclaiming us “His special people.” In Deuteronomy 28:3 Israel is said to be “blessed . . . in the city” and “blessed . . . in the country.” “Blessed shall you be when you come in,” the passage goes on to say, “and blessed shall you be when you go out” (verse 6). “The Lord will open to you His good treasure” (verse 12).
 
The most stimulating promise for us as we live in society comes from Deuteronomy 28:13: “And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath. . . .”
 
Such promises are not simply for our own sake. Rather they’re to help us in our life and witness in our communities. When we accept God’s promises and seek His kingdom as the ultimate goal of our lives, then “the Lord will make [us] 
. . . the head and not the tail; . . . [we] shall be above only, and not be beneath, . . . if [we] heed the commandments of the Lord [our] . . . God.”
God’s promises are for those who believe in Him and who have taken His Word seriously. And those promises could apply to a whole people as well as to individuals.
 
Joseph is a good example on the individual level. He was sold by his brothers to Egyptian traders and eventually ended up in jail in Egypt. But he chose to remain faithful to God’s commandments. And because of that decision, “the Lord was with [him], and he was 
a successful man” (Gen. 39:2). Everywhere—whether in slavery or in prison or in Pharaoh’s palace—Joseph stood before all as an ambassador of the kingdom of God. He’d been taken away from his family and sent to a foreign country. He’d lost everything. But God made him “the head and not the tail.” In time, he became the prime minister of one of the most powerful kingdoms on earth.
 
And we could mention other examples: Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah.
 
Modern Examples
Two persons come to mind when I think about God’s modern ambassadors: James Carlisle (“a man who said no to the Queen of England”) and Bienevido Tejano (“pastor to presidents”). Both good Adventists, neither one had sought to occupy high positions. Their goal was simply to serve God and their fellow citizens and to defend religious freedom. Both came from very modest families; and both were prepared to forfeit high positions and privileges, if it came to that, rather than disobey God.
1. Bienevido Tejano
Bienevido Tejano is the ambassador for the Republic of the Philippines to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. After finishing studies in theology at Mountain View College in Bukidnon, Philippines, he found himself without conference employment as a pastor. Still wanting to work for God, however, he decided to become a colporteur. After a few months, he’d sold so many books and had given so many lectures on health that the church offered him the directorship of the Publishing Department.
 
While serving in that capacity he decided to do something for young prisoner addicts, a totally neglected group, and was also very active in helping the poor. He became so effective 
in these pursuits that the minister of health of the country wanted to meet him. Eventually, the president of the Republic of the Philippines, Fidel Ramos, invited him to be one of his advisers, including him in his presidential entourage.
 
Later, when Joseph Estrada was elected president, he appointed Tejano to be the country’s ambassador to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. And later still, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president, she kept him in his ambassadorial position. I have never forgotten what Pastor Tejano once said to me: “If you want to meet the wealthiest, work for the poorest.”
 
And it reminded me of the words of Scripture: “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered.”
“And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail.”
 
2. James Carlisle
James Carlisle until recently was the governor general (Head of State) for Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, and he became known as “the man who said no to the Queen.”
 
Carlisle had had a successful dental practice and been involved in promoting health education through free consultation for the poor, when one day the former governor general asked him if he would accept the nomination to succeed him. After much prayer, Carlisle agreed to accept the assignment and was formally nominated by the country’s prime minister.
 
2007 1529 page26Queen Elizabeth, who was visiting the Caribbean on \her yacht, invited him aboard to be knighted in an official ceremony. But learning that the event was to be held on a Saturday, our brother sent a respectful letter to the Queen, assuring her that while he continued to be her loyal servant, he also was a servant of God. As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, he wrote, he observed Saturday as the biblical day of rest and, accordingly, would be unable to attend the function.
 
Several local leaders became upset, accusing Carlisle of insulting the Queen. A few days later, however, he received a message from Her Majesty expressing her understanding and respect for his faith. A second invitation was issued, but because of conflict with local elections, he was again unable to attend. Finally, a third invitation came for Carlisle to visit Buckingham Palace on a weekday for the ceremony. When the Queen saw him she said, “At last, I’ve caught up with you!”
 
By holding to his convictions, Carlisle made such an impression that a few months later, when Prince Andrew visited Antigua, the prince was impressed to ask many questions about the Adventist lifestyle.
 
As part of his gubernatorial duties, Sir Carlisle usually has to organize and host many receptions, and from the start decided not to serve any alcohol at these events. This prompted strong opposition, mainly from (of all people) members of the clergy. In another move, instead of attending the National Day celebrations on Sabbath, Carlisle would go to church, causing his critics to begin making moves to remove him from office when his term expired.
But just as he’d not asked to become governor general, just so he did nothing extraordinary to keep his position. Despite all the criticism, he was reappointed to the governorship.
 
More recently, on a visit to China for that country’s fiftieth anniversary, Carlisle asked for and received permission to attend church services on Sabbath at the Adventist church in Beijing, arriving at the place in an official government car, accompanied by a military escort.
 
Carlisle has now served as governor general some 14 years. He has provided strong support for religious freedom, created a positive image for the church, and served as a role model for many of our young people.
 
Bridge-Builders
God made a promise to Abraham when he yet had no sons—a promise that challenged his faith. God made a promise to Israel when they were nothing but a bunch of nomads walking across the desert.
 
But those promises became meaningful for Jesus’ 12 apostles. They were nothing when Jesus ordered them to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” But they accepted the challenge, believing they were not the tail, but the head. They believed, in spite of being so few in number. Said the apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). And in his letter to the Corinthians he wrote: “We have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Cor. 4:13, NIV).
 
Today, we should not be intimidated because we are a minority—and we should not give up on ministry in the community. We should not distance ourselves from the world, cutting off all close relationships with others. No, we’ve been called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. We’ve been called to be a holy nation. We should not be afraid of obstacles—God will take care of them. In our families, in our towns, in our countries, we’ve have been called to be ministers of hope, ministers of reconciliation, peacemakers, bridge-builders.
 
“I will make you the head and not the tail,” God says. “You shall be above only, and not be beneath.” We have been called to be ambassadors for our soon-coming Lord. Ambassadors of the King of kings.
 
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*Unless otherwise noted, texts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
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John Graz is the director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland.
 

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