My brothers and sisters in Christ, as president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, it gives me great confidence to know that this church is in God’s hands. He is its Founder, Leader, Captain, General, and its true Head. He has continually guided this movement in the past, is daily sustaining it in the present, and will powerfully lead it into the future. Our Creator, Redeemer, and coming King is the church’s only hope for today, tomorrow, and forever. He has providentially raised this church up for a unique mission, and it will not fail in rising to the destiny for which Christ created it.
Seventh-day Adventists are a prophetic movement with an urgent prophetic calling. We’re not just merely another denomination on the landscape of religious movements. We are a divine end-time movement with an end-time purpose, an end-time message, and an end-time mission for the entire world. The church is God’s church.
This does not mean that the church does not have its challenges. It does. And I will frankly discuss some of these with you today, but in the midst of these challenges the Holy Spirit is working powerfully, and the ultimate triumph of the church is certain.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This church is not some human, man-made, bureaucratic organization as some would have us believe. According to the Savior’s own words, He has built His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
In I Corinthians 12, the church is the body of Christ. In Ephesians 5, the church is the bride of Christ. In I Peter 2, the church is the household of Christ. In I Peter 2:9, the apostle proclaims that the people of God are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.”
God’s prophetic messenger to the remnant, Ellen White, put it this way: “The church is God’s fortress, His city of refuge, which He holds in a revolted world. Any betrayal of the church is treachery to Him who has bought mankind through the blood of His only-begotten Son….He has sent forth His angels to minister to His church, and the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against His people” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 11).
Christ holds His church in His hands. It is His fortress, His city of refuge on a planet in rebellion. It is a light in the darkness, a beacon in the night, and a shining light on the dimly lit pathway ahead. Ellen White continues in Acts of the Apostles, with these reassuring words: “Through centuries of persecution, conflict, and darkness, God has sustained His church. Not one cloud has fallen upon it that He has not prepared for; not one opposing force has risen to counterwork His work, that He has not foreseen. All has taken place as He predicted. He has not left His church forsaken, but has traced in prophetic declarations what would occur, and that which His Spirit inspired the prophets to foretell has been brought about. All His purposes will be fulfilled. His law is linked with His throne, and no power of evil can destroy it. Truth is inspired and guarded by God; and it will triumph over all opposition” (p. 11).
Christ and His church will triumph at last. Jesus has never lost a battle with Satan yet. On the cross He triumphed over the principalities and powers of hell. You and I are on the winning side, as that old hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” written in 1864 by Sabine Baring-Gould, so powerfully puts it:
“Crowns and thrones have perished,
Kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus
Constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never
‘Gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise,
That can never fail.”
All the demons of hell cannot, will not, defeat God’s purposes for His church. Christ’s church will triumph at last. His truth will shine brighter and grow stronger until Revelation’s prediction in the 18th chapter that “the earth will be filled with the glory of God” will be gloriously fulfilled.
The American poet, James Russell Lowell, stated an eternal truth when he penned these words in 1844, the exact date for the birth of the Advent movement. They are as true today as when he penned them decades ago, entitled, “The Present Crisis.” It goes as follows:
“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood
For the good or evil side….
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne.—
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.”
In these climactic hours of earth’s history, we see evidence around the world that God’s truth is triumphing over the powers of evil. We see clear indications that Christ is leading His church on from victory to victory. Let me share with you some amazing facts. In 1863, the year the Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized, there was one Seventh-day Adventist for every 356,000 people in the world. Today there is one Seventh-day Adventist for just under every 400 people in the world. It took this church 107 years to reach its first million members. Today we baptize one million people every year. We have nearly 25 million people attending our 70,000-plus churches all over the world, in over 200 countries. God is at work! The Holy Spirit is moving in some remarkable ways.
You see, revival is our greatest and most urgent need. The last few years we’ve been emphasizing revival, reformation, and mission. By revival we mean a daily spiritual awakening in the hearts and minds of each one of us. By reformation we mean a deepening spiritual commitment to do God’s will, and the daily alignment of our lives in everything we do, to please Jesus. Reformation occurs when we surrender our will to His will each and every day. He then gives us an understanding of what His mission is for us as individuals and as a church. Then, we commit ourselves to pleasing Him in every aspect of our lives in fulfilling that mission.
Does the Seventh-day Adventist Church need a revival and reformation? Is all this emphasis on revival and reformation simply another denominational program? God’s messenger to the remnant, Ellen White, leaves no doubt in our minds when she declares, “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work. There must be earnest effort to obtain the blessing of the Lord, not because God is not willing to bestow His blessing upon us, but because we are unprepared to receive it. Our heavenly Father is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, than are earthly parents to give good gifts to their children. But it is our work, by confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer, to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to grant us His blessing. A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer” (Selected Messages, book I, p. 121). What a magnificent quotation! Revival is not only needed in the church today; It is our greatest and most urgent need in every aspect, and we are told to seek this first.
May I open my heart to you today? Without divine, supernatural power, God’s work will not be finished in our lives, and it certainly will not be finished in this world. We are simply no match for the forces of evil. As the president of the General Conference, I long for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in my own life. And I long more than anything else for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in all of His fullness for the finishing of God’s work on this earth, so that Jesus can come—the great hope. The greatest need of the church today is not more programs; it’s not more finances, not more institutions, not more media ministries or publishing houses, as important as all these things are. Our greatest need, our most urgent need, our most pressing need, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah the prophet states, “’Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
Will you join me, and other Seventh-day Adventist leaders and members from around the world in humbling our hearts before God in earnest prayer, seeking for the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Will you join us in crying out to God for heaven’s fullness? Will you seek God with us in your division, union, conference, mission, local field offices, and in your churches around the world? Will you petition God in prayer bands, with your families, in your homes, and with other church members in your local church, so that every church can become a house of prayer? God is calling us to a deeper commitment in these critical hours of earth’s history. This is no time to just be playing at church. This is a time for an all-out, total, complete dedication to Christ and His message.
Revival takes place when we spend time with God in prayer and in Bible study. This is precisely the reason the church has launched the 7-7-7 Prayer Initiative, encouraging Seventh-day Adventists worldwide to unite in prayer seven days a week at 7 in the morning and 7 in the evening. Hundreds of thousands of Seventh-day Adventists are participating in this prayer experience and are being renewed.
< p>One of our General Conference leaders was recently traveling in the country of Indonesia. He was being brought to an appointment by one of the local conference denominational drivers. It was 7 p.m. in the evening, and the alarm on the driver’s watch went off. The driver calmly said, “We’ll have to pull off the road now. It’s 7 p.m., and we must join Adventists all over the world who are now praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
Lay people around the world are uniting with church leaders to seek God in prayer and study His word. Hundreds of thousands more are participating in Revived by His Word, a daily Bible study program to lead the church through the entire Bible by the General Conference Session in San Antonio in 2015. Church leaders in Brazil reported that so many people were tweeting on the Internet about their Bible study experience through Revived by His Word, chapter by chapter, daily devotionals, that the number of tweets ranked third in the entire nation of Brazil! This included tweets for any subject including the most popular television programs, movies, sports events, and secular musical performances. God is at work in the Seventh-day Adventist Church!
Revival is taking place in many places. The Holy Spirit is being poured out on groups of young people who are seeking God in prayer, studying His Word, and witnessing to the glory of His name. I am so encouraged when I see young people totally committed to the cause of Christ.
Revival and reformation leads us to witnessing, and reformation always leads to witnessing and evangelism. There can be no genuine revival without a renewed passion for soul winning. When God does something in us, He will do something through us. When God does something for us, it is because God wants to do something with us. You see, like Peter, we too declare, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” as is related in Acts 4:20. With the apostle Paul we proclaim in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” And with the apostle John we cry out, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (I John 1:3).
You know, all great revival and reformation movements in history have been accompanied by great periods of evangelism and outreach. This was true not only in the New Testament time, but also in the sixteenth century Reformation with Martin Luther and the other reformers, such as John Wesley and George Whitefield who led revivals in England. This was true also with the great Advent Awakening in North America and subsequently in the early history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Without revival and reformation, our witnessing activities will be powerless. Evangelism without revival produces meager results. Hearts are touched and lives are changed by the Holy Spirit’s power alone—not our power. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. The messenger to the remnant makes it plain: “The Lord has said that His work is to be done, ‘not by might nor by power; but by My Spirit.’ The work of God is to be carried on to completion by the cooperation of divine and human agencies.
Those who are self-sufficient may be apparently active in the work of God, but if they are prayerless, their activity is of no avail. Could they look into the censer of the angel that stands at the golden altar before the rainbow-circled throne, they would see that the merit of Jesus must be mingled with our prayers and efforts, or they are as worthless as was the offering of Cain. If we could see all the activity of human instrumentality, as it appears before God, we would see that only the work accomplished by much prayer, which is sanctified by the merit of Christ, will stand the test of the judgment” (Review and Herald, July 4, 1893).
When revival and reformation do not find expression in witnessing, they soon degenerate into mere sentimental talk and eventually die out altogether. This is why there is a renewed emphasis on evangelism in the church today. Every member is a wonderful missionary, a witness for the Most High, and has been called by God to share their faith.
The church has launched Mission to the Cities as a major emphasis in reaching the millions of people in about 650 of the world’s largest cities. This last year I had the privilege of conducting a major evangelistic series in New York City. The Revelation of Hope series that I conducted was one of about 400 evangelistic meetings held in the greater New York area as part of a comprehensive evangelistic approach to reach New York City for Christ. Pastors, evangelists, and administrators from around the world converged on New York City, and along with local administrators, preached the Word of God. Pastors and lay people made a significant impact for Jesus Christ, through His power. This comprehensive approach included equipping hundreds of lay people to witness in harmony with their God-given gifts: Health outreach, youth ministries, Bible services, Bible study outreach, literature distribution, lay evangelism, friendship evangelism, and public evangelistic meetings. As a result of these massive efforts, over 4,000 people have been baptized already.
Millions all over the world . . . long for genuine, authentic Christianity.
Cities around the world are in the midst of a similar event in their particular locality and are having similar results. God is on the move in cities like London, Tokyo, Manila, Moscow, New York, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Indianapolis, Kinshasa, Lagos, Luanda, Sydney, Paris, Mumbai, Cairo, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, and many, many more. Tens of thousands are being baptized, and this is just the beginning. At our recent annual council here at our world headquarters, delegates voted a document on world evangelism to establish or strengthen an Adventist presence in over 500 cities with a population of 1 million or more with little or no Seventh-day Adventist presence. Most of these cities are in the 10/40 window. Many of them do not allow any form of overt witnessing or public evangelistic meetings. The challenge to reach the people in these cities is immense. But our God is bigger than the challenge and loves the people in these cities more than we can imagine! Our hearts are breaking over the millions in these cities who do not know Christ and His truth for earth’s last hour. We are planning to establish hundreds of centers of influence including reading rooms, health centers, vegetarian cafeterias, community centers, and multiple types of other outreach opportunities in the hardest to reach places.
Combined with Mission to the Cities, we will launch a comprehensive health ministry, modeled after the ministry of Christ. We are encouraging every church to reach out in ministries of love to meet the needs of their communities in Jesus’ name. Our Week of Prayer readings for 2014 will feature articles on “Christ’s Method Alone.” The missionary book for the year 2015 will focus on wholistic health; and also in 2015, every Seventh-day Adventist church and institution will be encouraged to offer the gift of health to their community in a special Health Week.
God is doing so much in this church that at times it just overwhelms me. There is too much to mention in the short time that we have together. One of the projects that indicate God’s mighty moving is the Great Controversy Project. We set a goal of distributing 50 million copies, and a faith goal of 100 million. But through His power, through God’s intervention, we have distributed—you have distributed—over 140 million copies of The Great Controversy in various versions. Praise God for this incredible expansion of God’s work through The Great Controversy, which Ellen White indicated was the book she wished circulated more than any other book that she had written. The
se books are being read by multiple millions and making such a difference! There is so much to be encouraged about.
But as a church, we are facing some enormous challenges. Here are four that definitely concern me, and I’m certainly not suggesting that these spiritual maladies and challenges affect every church member. But they are serious enough to warrant concern. I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s admonition to the elders of the Ephesian church when he proclaimed, “I kept back nothing that was helpful to you.” And then he added, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20). As pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist believers worldwide, my love for the church and faithfulness to His Word compels me to share some of my concerns.
Here are four great concerns for the church today, and we could add additional ones, but let’s examine and carefully look at these four:
These items concern me. Let me address them, one at a time, and explain what I mean.
First, it is very important to realize that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is much more than just another denomination. According to Revelation 10, it was born of God out of the disappointment of 1844, just as the New Testament church was born out of the disappointment of the cross in A.D. 31. In both instances, the followers of Christ misunderstood prophecy and were bitterly disappointed about those disappointing situations. But out of those disappointments, God providentially raised up a divine movement of destiny to impact the world. According to Revelation 12:17, God’s last-day people would be characterized by, first of all, keeping God’s commandments; and secondly, having the testimony of Jesus, which the angel identifies in Revelation 19:10 as the gift of prophecy.
According to Revelation 14:6-12, God’s end-time church would: a) proclaim the message of the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels and the second coming of Christ; and b) would be calling “every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” to worship their Creator by keeping His Sabbath. There is no other religious movement in the world that fits this pattern. There is no other church or denomination that meets the criteria of Revelation 10, Revelation 12, and Revelation 14.
Now, here is precisely my concern. Too many of our pastors and members either have failed to recognize, or have forgotten, the divine prophetic calling God has given us as a church. There’s a growing tendency to minimize our differences with other denominations. In some Seventh-day Adventist churches, the messages from the pulpit are little different than the typical Protestant church. Much of this comes from the neutralization of the Bible as God’s Word. It is so important that we base our beliefs on the Word of God, using the historical, biblical method of studying the scriptures, and approaching prophetic understanding from the historicist perspective. God’s Word must be foundational to our belief, faith, and practical living. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth if we will study, pray, and listen to God’s voice. This will help us strongly establish our Seventh-day Adventist identity.
The lack of Adventist identity has even led some to doubt the literal seven-day Creation week, denying a worldwide flood, and reducing the Sabbath to merely a rest from stress, rather than a last-day sign of connection with the Creator and Redeemer Himself. There are some who would like to reinterpret the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation to fit a more contemporary mold. They see the historic interpretation of prophecy as a relic of 19th century thinking.
I’m reminded of Ellen White’s clear statement, “The whole of the gospel is embraced in the third angel’s message, and in all our work the truth is to be presented as it is in Jesus. . . . Let nothing lessen the force of the truth for this time. The third angel’s message must do its work of separating from the churches a people who will take their stand on the platform of eternal truth. Our message is a life and death message, and we must let it appear as it is—the great power of God. We are to present it in all its telling force. Then the Lord will make it effectual” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 1, p. 58).
You see, we have a life-and-death message to present to the world. Seventh-day Adventists have been raised up, like Noah, to prepare the world for its final hours. We’ve been raised up like John the Baptist to prepare the world for the coming of our Lord. We must never forget who we are and why we are here. We cannot, must not, will not degenerate into one of hundreds of religious movements with little end-time focus and no clear reason for existence. I am absolutely confident that, guided by Jesus Christ and faithful to our prophetic heritage, this Advent movement will triumph at last.
I appeal to you with all of my heart: Be faithful to the call that God has given you as a Seventh-day Adventist. Embrace this message in its fullness and, filled with the Holy Spirit, go out to share it with the world.
This leads me to my second overwhelming concern: The growing influence of worldliness in our churches is alarming. Jesus stated it well when He prayed, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil” (John 17:17). The apostle John added, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; for all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father, but of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever.” What beautiful verses from 1 John 2:15-17.
The church has always faced the danger of losing its perspective and compromising in loyalty to Christ through a growing tendency to allow the world to shape its thinking. The closer we get to the end of time, the more the devil will redouble his efforts in this area. I’m concerned about the almost overwhelming tide of worldliness that is sweeping into some of our churches. Standards that were once cherished by Seventh-day Adventists in the areas of diet and dress, recreation and amusement, and Sabbath-keeping, are fast becoming things of the past. When members are adorned like the world, dress like the world, love the world’s entertainment, listen to this world’s music, and are captivated by its Hollywood productions, genuine spirituality erodes, and the devil makes inroads into the soul. When the Adventist health message, which so many honest-hearted people in the world are embracing, is made of none effect, or considered to be legalism or fanaticism, rather than a glorious gift from a loving Creator, something is tragically wrong.
Let me just add that in reality we do not get to heaven by what we eat, or by how we perhaps show ourselves to be religious. We have salvation through the power and the blood of Jesus Christ. But once Christ comes into our lives and works in us in a powerful way, giving us justification, the same power brings sanctification, which helps us to then have the mind of Christ. Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” You see, we are ambassadors for Christ, as II Corinthians 5:20 says. We are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, as Matthew, chapter 5, tells us. Jesus says, “Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Millions all over the world are looking for something different from what they have. Deep within, they are tired of the aching to satisfy their heart’s desires through the things of this world. They long for genuine, authentic Christianity. We will never reach them by compromising our standards, heavenly standards, to come down to their level. We must lift up the standard. This is no time to flirt with the devil’s dress, diet, amusement, and worldly influences. This is the time to hold the standard high for the world to see. Christ living in our lives, and dwelling in our hearts, makes a dramatic difference in how we live.
And this leads me to another concern: The danger of disunity. In John 17, Jesus prayed for the unity of His church. One of the devil’s intentional strategies is to attack this unity. He knows that if the church is not u
nified, it will not effectively accomplish its mission. With prophetic insight, Ellen White gave us this divinely inspired counsel as follows: “Unity is the strength of the church. Satan knows this, and he employs his whole force to bring in dissension. He desires to see a lack of harmony among the members of the church of God. Greater attention should be given to the subject of unity” (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 159). This beautiful quotation is extremely insightful regarding the devil’s tactics. It pulls the curtain aside and reveals his strategies. The evil one uses all of his forces to bring in dissention and conflict to neutralize the soul-winning efforts of God’s people.
This is a time for administrators, pastors, and members to unite in Christ under the banner of His truth, to preach His message to the world. God has given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church a divinely inspired church organization, and mutual agreements called Church Policies, which under the guidance of the Holy Spirit are part of what helps to hold us together as a worldwide family. To discard or ignore these mutual agreements violates a sacred trust and creates unnecessary discord. I pray that every one of us will lay aside our personal opinions for the good of the body of Christ, and that we will, together, march forward to the kingdom of God.
And here is the last of my major concerns: The increased spiritual apathy and complacency prevalent in many leaders and church members’ lives, and I have to include my own. There seems to be a spiritual paralysis in many Adventist members’ lives. We have to examine our lives to make sure that God is working in us in a vital way—and I speak to myself, as well. Recent surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of church members believe the doctrinal essentials of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They really do not greatly question the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, but there is a growing complacency about sharing their faith. There is apathy about witnessing. They believe, but are simply not very involved in the mission of the church. They’re part of the culture of the uninvolved, rather than the culture of the involved. There is no fire in their bones! There is little passion for sharing their faith in Jesus Christ. There’s no urgency in their souls.
My brothers and sisters, without active involvement in the service of Christ, we will not grow spiritually. The prophet of God could not make it clearer than this when saying, “The very life of the church depends upon her faithfulness in fulfilling the Lord’s commission. To neglect this work is surely to invite spiritual feebleness and decay. Where there is no active labor for others, love wanes, and faith grows dim.” What a powerful quotation from The Desire of Ages, page 825. Involvement is the answer to apathy. As the prophet of God says, “Where there is no active labor for others, love wanes, and faith grows dim.”
Now, if you want to be spiritually alive, get involved! If you want a vibrant prayer life, get involved! If you want to appreciate the Word of God more, get involved! If you want to have a deeper love for others, get involved! If you want to see souls won to Jesus, get involved! If you want to see Jesus come soon, get involved! John the hundreds of thousands of Seventh-day Adventist leaders and members around the world who are actively involved in the mission of the church. God wants to use you and me to proclaim his end-time prophetic truth to every corner of the globe, and especially the enormous metropolitan centers of the world, through Mission to the Cities, utilizing every form of comprehensive urban evangelism, including comprehensive health ministry and many other methods.
The task is great, but God is in control and leading His people. Does the church have challenges? It certainly does; but I see evidence of the Holy Spirit powerfully moving among His people. I see evidence of the Holy Spirit doing some special, exciting activity right now, in His church. I see the evidence of the Holy Spirit preparing a people for the coming of Jesus and our Lord’s soon return.
Brothers and sisters, I appeal to you, as I appeal to my own heart, to make a full, complete, total consecration to Christ. I appeal to you to embrace the prophetic calling that Jesus has given to this church, His remnant church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a church that is on the march in the Advent movement. I appeal to you to lift the standard high in your own life. I appeal to you to become actively involved in witnessing for your Lord, as we anticipate Christ’s soon second coming. Will you make this commitment right now, as we pray together?
Our Father in heaven, we come to You at this very moment, recognizing that history is meeting at this time in such a dynamic way to show us that prophetic utterances in Daniel and Revelation and the book of Matthew and elsewhere in the Bible are bringing us to a time of decisiveness just before Jesus’ coming. And so, Lord, help us to be completely connected with You. Help us to lean upon You every day. Help us in our study of Your Word, in the study of the Spirit of Prophecy, in our prayer life. And, Lord, just use all of these wonderful connections with You to then help us to share this faith, to become involved in many activities in our local church and around the world, to bring the Three Angels Messages and the fourth angel’s message of Revelation 18 to the forefront, and to the minds and the hearts of people all over the world. Lord, I pray Your blessing on every church member, young and old, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Be with those who are attending our churches who may not yet be members. Be with those who are interested in the truth of the Bible. And help us, Lord, to reach out to everyone through Mission to the Cities and mission to the rural areas, using every method possible. Lord, send the Holy Spirit upon us. Send the latter rain, so that truly we will be part of that last great Advent movement that proclaims this message to bring glory to God throughout the earth. Thank You for hearing us, and for the promise of Your soon coming, in Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.