We stepped off the airplane and into a new world. A strange new world. As young missionaries, Gerald and I had arrived in Peru starry-eyed but with no cross-cultural training. We were eager and ready to connect, learn, and explore, but we quickly realized that we faced some serious challenges. First, there was the language barrier. Neither of us spoke a word of Spanish. We were on a large university campus, but there were very few English speakers and no one from our cultural background.
Weeks of flashcards and clumsy hand-waving attempts at communication slowly bore results, and we were learning to communicate, but somehow we hadn’t really arrived yet. We could speak and understand most of what was going on around us, but we felt as if we hadn’t made a connection with those we were working with. It was as though there was an invisible wall that kept people aloof. They were polite and courteous but reserved. We just didn’t know how to bridge the gap. We tried to be friendly. We invited people to our home to eat with us. Although they seemed to enjoy our company, we were never asked back in return. It seemed like a one-way street.
I remember one public holiday when Gerald and I worked in our small garden as we were respectfully greeted by people walking by, carrying delicious smelling dishes on their way to celebrate with friends and families. No invitation came for us. We went through difficult isolated months as we struggled with depression. We continually prayed for a way to connect.
And then finally we had some good news. After six years of marriage, I was finally pregnant.
We were so excited. On a campus news travels fast, and soon everyone knew of our good news. Not that we minded—we were just so delighted. And then around the fourth month, early on a Sabbath morning in December, I went into labor. I was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. We lost the baby. It was heartbreaking. Far away from family or any support group, we were really hurting.
A few days later I met a little old bent-over lady who lived with her children on campus. She didn’t speak any English, and yet she took one look at my tear-swollen eyes and came and took me in her arms and held me. Loss doesn’t need a translation. The pain of loss had united us. We had arrived. People opened their hearts to us. People hadn’t meant to be mean; they just didn’t understand us. We learned later that they didn’t invite us because they weren’t sure what kind of food we would enjoy and if we would feel comfortable eating with them in their homes. But our loss was something that really united us. Everyone knew pain and knew loss. Hurt is something universal. People around us knew what it was like to love and lose. In a strange sense the baby we lost became a bridge. We are grateful that God in His goodness has given us three beautiful, healthy children, but at this time of year I am always drawn back to the memory of loss, pain, and also connection and a loving embrace.
Now is the time we hear in the Christmas carols and the Nativity scenes all about the arrival of another little Baby—a truly amazing Child. This is the great mystery that we celebrate. God becoming a human being. I imagine that the distance between Planet Earth and heaven with its innumerable galaxies circling around it is a lot farther than the airplane flight that took us to Peru. What a mind-boggling mystery, what a miracle, this tiny little Baby that Mary held. Shepherds and Wise Men came to marvel over this Living Bridge. This was God’s way of healing the great divide between us and Him.
And in a very real way God’s giving also involved pain and loss right from the start. There were no cultural misunderstandings when Herod sent his soldiers to murder all the newborns in Bethlehem. From the moment of His arrival, Satan engaged in an outright war to kill Jesus. And yet this fragile bridge would prove to be so strong that even after 2,000 years nothing can break it.
I love the way Paul put it in his letter to the Romans: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow— not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39, NLT).* Absolutely nothing because God loves us. He loves us so much that He became one with us.
So as I look at Nativity sets and hear the echoes of “Away in a Manger,” I remember the pain of our loss that brought us close to our Peruvian family with ties that haven’t been broken in all the years since. There are still people living in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes whom I consider family. I know that we could ask for and receive help and support at any moment. That’s how it is with family. And once again I am drawn to the great sacrifice of the Godhead, the unimaginable pain involved in that Gift that heals all of our hurts. I am reminded that God gave His only begotten Son to be our Living Bridge.
* Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The house had just disappeared.
I couldn’t believe it. It was literally gone. My husband, Gerald, and I had often spoken about the little white house bordering on the park route we walked almost every Sunday morning. Then one day, after having been away for a few weeks, we realized that the house was gone—a little house, nestled in the middle of a grassy lot. Yes, it was just a little house and it needed some repair, but still it looked cozy.
We walked over to take a closer look. All that was left of the little house was a small driveway and a mailbox—nothing more. The demolition crew had worked quickly and thoroughly. Within a few weeks the grass had grown over the spot where the little house had stood.
Somehow, I felt sad. I wondered about the people who had worked hard to pay for that house. I imagined that it must have been someone’s dream house. I thought of all the spare time they had spent painting and repairing over the years. I thought of the many hours they had spent cutting the lawn. I wondered if they had sometimes lain awake in that little house worrying about paying the rent. Now there was nothing to show for all that investment of time, emotional energy, and money.
The disappearance of the little house made me sad because I identify with the little house or the people inside. I work, I worry, I invest time and energy, then I wonder what will last. I’d like to leave more than a grassy spot.
Really leaving something that will last seems hard to do. Our schooling is for the most part preparation for the world of yesterday and not tomorrow. Things change so quickly.
Countries considered peaceful and stable can quickly erupt in riots, civil war, even genocide. Ideologies that have dominated the political landscape for decades can change overnight. A virus can leave the whole world reeling.
Countries considered peaceful and stable can quickly erupt in riots, civil war, even genocide.
I’m reminded of Baruch. He also lived in a world that was about to turn upside down and inside out. His country, Judah, found itself a pawn in the power game for world supremacy between Egypt and Babylon. As much as they would have liked to forge their own path and do their own independent thing, they were constantly being forced to take sides.
I can identify with Baruch. There are many similarities between his world and ours. We are all collectively and individually caught up in the cosmic conflict between God and Satan. In the end, there will be no neutral ground. Through the prophecies of Jeremiah, faithfully copied down and distributed by Baruch, God clearly told His people and the larger world which side to invest in. For nearly 50 years God sent detailed messages through Jeremiah, foretelling what the consequences would be for their choice of allegiance. We have much more than 50 years of prophecy to look back on. God has given us in the Bible a prophetic picture of what our future will hold, depending on where we put our priorities.
What did this all mean for Baruch as he tried to build a life for himself?
Baruch, a talented man with good connections, made his choice for God and tried to support God’s cause by being Jeremiah’s scribe. Under the promising reforms of King Josiah, he probably hoped that he could be part of something big, make an impact on his world, and leave a lasting legacy. All around him people were striving to get ahead in life. Baruch, with his good education, may have dreamed of a distinguished career at the royal court that would bring with it a beautiful home and a high standard of living.
Soon enough, however, Baruch came to the realization that his career choice was not the dream job he had hoped for. Baruch found himself hiding as the angry ruling class turned on him and blamed him for Jeremiah’s messages (Jer. 43:2, 3).
We live in a materialistic world. We know the pressure to be more and have more. It’s easy to carry that mindset over to our spiritual lives. We begin to measure our life worth, our legacy, and even God’s favor by looking at what we have and what we can do rather than who we are. Following God doesn’t always mean that we find the perfect spouse, have a wonderful, meaningful job, and lead a sunny life that all will call “blessed.” Perhaps we all need moments like Baruch’s to bring a sense of perspective to our lives.
When the king of Babylon finally came and put Jerusalem under siege, all that people were living for suddenly became inconsequential. Of what consequence was a good career in court as Jerusalem suffered an 18-month famine? The great walls would be breached. Soon their city would be a pile of rubble. The beautifully furnished homes that had been the envy of the neighborhood would be nothing but ransacked, burnt shells. The Temple that the people regarded as their security would be destroyed. The important positions that everyone desperately wanted would soon be the most dangerous.
Until that day came, Baruch had to live by faith with an eye to the future, even as the wicked were living around him in apparent prosperity. Perhaps God’s special message to Baruch is also a message to me when I feel discouraged: “ ‘And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,’ says the Lord. ‘But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go’ ” (Jer. 45:5, NKJV).*
Baruch learned to see his everyday life in the light of Judah’s end-time. Rather than seeking great things for himself, he made his legacy by finding and fulfilling his own small duty in supporting the larger purposes of God.
Perhaps today would be a good moment to rethink the investment portfolio of my life. Am I investing in eternity? Am I laying up for myself treasures in heaven by investing in those around me today?
*Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Chantal J. Klingbeil serves as an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate.
A very useful expression has recently taken social media by storm. “Don’t judge me” is a wonderful hashtag for that picture of you with a tub of ice cream and a spoon. This expression seems to hold the power to elicit approval over any action, because anyone who posts or comments anything other than absolute support will be judging.
Many recent surveys show that Millennials are more likely than the general population to reject organized Christian faith, and more than 60 percent point to Christianity as being too judgmental as one of the reasons for their exodus.1 Judging and judgment seem to touch a raw nerve.
Perhaps part of the popularity of the expression “Don’t judge me” is the unspoken meanings that come along with it. It’s a good stand-in for a whole array of painful expressions: “Please don’t think less of me”; “Don’t think that I’m a bad person”; “Please accept me”; “Please love me.”
Just imagine our world without any judgment. Everyone could be free to do what they wanted to. We could wear whatever we wanted, wherever we wanted, without raising any eyebrows. We could eat and drink whatever we wanted, and wouldn’t have to feel guilty about our Starbucks cup in certain company. Most important, we would feel confident everywhere we went, and could be certain that we would hear nothing but positive expressions coming our way. And, of course, we could sleep peacefully every night, and never have to worry about whether we are good enough. No fearsome thoughts of a final judgment would haunt us.
But even if we did manage to stay absolutely nonjudgmental and even support everyone’s efforts in everything, there would still be consequences. In other words, no matter all the likes and affirmative comments on social media, our tub of ice cream will still have calories.
And that’s where judgment comes in. We live by making decisions, i.e., judging. We have to make a judgment call each morning about what we’re going to wear. We make judgments about what we eat, what we listen to, when it is safe to cross the road.
While we are called to investigate and examine everything in our quest to find and apply truth, we are not called to condemn others.
Our imaginary world free of judgment is just that—an imaginary world.
Take, for instance, a recent social media campaign calling for an end to body shaming, which sounds really good, except that it may have made things worse for many on social media.
The campaign began with a beauty blogger photographed without makeup, revealing her acne and encouraging others to accept themselves, flaws and all. Under the hashtag #DontJudgeChallenge others then began posting photos or videos of themselves with drawn-on unibrows, acne, or other physical features that are often mocked. Then they wiped off their “flaws” to reveal their picture-perfect, beautifully made-up selves underneath. Instead of helping to end body shaming the campaign served to reinforce the notion that you have to be perfect to be loved, or at least to get some likes.2
The Bible has some fairly strong statements on judging. Jesus Himself said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matt. 7:1, 2).3
Ellen White expands on this theme of judging others when she wrote: “Consider Christ’s pity for man. He knows just how they were born; He knows just how they were surrounded in childhood. You don’t know what temptations came with their birth. You don’t know the condition of their parents. Put away all judgment.”4
This injunction is pretty tough to follow. If we were to judge ourselves half as critically as we judge others the results wouldn’t be pretty. Much better not to judge at all, and let everyone do their own thing, right?
While it is absolutely true that we should not be critical or judgmental of others because we really don’t have the ability to make correct judgments on motive and circumstance, the Bible also encourages us, even commands us, to judge. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
So how do we both judge and not judge?
Unlike current thinking in our present culture of moral relativism, we really do live in a world of absolutes. Just as there are physical laws that govern tangible processes around us and produce measurable results when broken (e.g., jumping out of an airplane without a parachute), so there is right and wrong, good and evil (jumping from a plane without a parachute is not a good thing).
In order to survive physically as well as spiritually we have to make informed judgments. We have to observe well and carefully our own motives, thought processes, and actions and make moral calls. We must never let cultural trends replace the authority of God’s Word for making judgment calls between right and wrong and forming moral opinions.
Ah, but there’s the challenge! While we are called to investigate and examine everything in our quest to find and apply truth, we are not called to condemn others. God is the only true judge, and only He can judge humanity (Rev. 20:12). So how does this relate to the “Don’t judge me” movement?
Imagine that you are having dinner with your friend and you notice that your friend has some green salad stuck between her front teeth. What kind of friend would you be if you let her go off to her job interview like that? Would you be judging her if you told her about the salad?
It may be awkward, or even a little uncomfortable, to point out the salad, but if you really cared about her, you would take the risk. The relationship makes all the difference. You would not be pointing this out to make yourself look better, or to appease your own guilty conscience— you would be doing this only out of a desire for her happiness.
Only in the context of an unselfish love for others can we point out actions and behaviors that may well inhibit their eternal happiness.
Most often when someone says “Don’t judge me” their conscience is already at work, and they feel a sense of guilt and alienation that they are trying to drown out with a plea for affirmation.
We all have different ways of running, but in the end we know instinctively that there is no place to hide. There will be a calling to accounts. There will be a final judgment.
Strangely enough, part of the good news of the “everlasting gospel” is that “the hour of His judgment has come” (Rev. 14:7). How can judgment be good news?
Judgment can be good news if we know the Judge and we know the verdict. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1).
If we truly understand that the Judge is completely on our side, and we know that He was prepared to die rather than live without us, then we can face judgment without fear. While we are not trying to gloss over the enormity of our sin and guilt that separate us from a holy God, in faith we have claimed His gift. We have died to the old sinful life and our lives are now “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
The final judgment, rather than exposing to all our pitiful state, will be the public affirmation that we are loved and accepted, no matter where we come from, no matter what our flaws and deficiencies, no matter the mess of unwise choices and destructive decisions.
When we are truly in love with our Ju
dge and Advocate, when we know what the verdict will be, rather than saying “Don’t judge me,” we will eagerly say, “Please, judge me.”
Chantal J. Klingbeil serves as an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference. In her work she focuses on children, youth, and young adults.
For many of us who have grown up with great stories of our church founders, the beginnings of Adventism seem blurred into unreal, mythic proportions. Living your faith in everyday life seemed to be easier back then, but was it really?
Early Adventists did not live in a vacuum. Life was filled with many social changes and thorny political issues. Things were changing rapidly. The United States was moving fast from a farm-based, rural society to an industrial, urban-centered society. These changes came with nasty side effects. Urbanization brought congestion, poverty, and pollution.
Then there was the slavery question that was tearing at the fabric of the nation. This was followed by women’s rights, temperance, and race relations, all controversial topics that were discussed in newspapers and fought over in the streets; topics that made or broke political careers, and even found their way into Adventist churches, schools, and pulpits.
So how did early Adventists engage with the issues of their day? Some became passionate advocates for different causes, while many others tried to ignore what was going on and concentrate exclusively on in-house Adventist issues. Others, such as Ellen White, chose another route.
Even a cursory reading of Ellen White’s books, letters, and diaries shows that she was aware of and engaged in current issues. She was a strong supporter of the temperance movement,1 and very vocal about the abolition of slavery.2 She was not afraid to disturb the status quo and make a stand in these causes that were stirring the nation and dividing communities in the nineteenth century.
While she spoke and wrote about these issues, she did not wholeheartedly endorse or support everything these reforms advocated. Many women involved in the temperance and abolition movements went on to fight for the right of women to vote. Surprisingly, Ellen White did not endorse or use her influence to promote the women’s suffrage movement. Although she herself had broken the mold by preaching and speaking in public, and though she encouraged and affirmed women in their work for God, she did not embrace this seemingly important cause. Why?3
Ellen White used causes to further God’s agenda and never let herself be used by a cause to further its agendas. The Great Controversy theme was always at the back of her mind. For her, this theme was so much more than a theory, or a way of organizing her writings. It helped her to identify the areas in her society in which she could choose sides and promote God’s agenda.
Her understanding of humanity’s creation in the image of God with the freedom of choice made her vocal in her support of slaves being freed and having the freedom to choose their own eternal destiny.4 She believed that alcohol destroyed people and deprived them of their freedom of choice, so she supported the temperance movement. As far as women’s suffrage went, she personally supported the treatment of women as equals but she saw no reason to spend her time, effort, and personal influence in a cause that would not directly build God’s kingdom.5
Even though times have changed, her writings show a timeless relevance in finding our way through the maze of being involved in the issues of our communities and country without letting causes force us to take on agendas that are not kingdom-building.
Chantal J. Klingbeil serves as an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference.
Love is in the air around Valentine’s Day. Red hearts, plentiful chocolate, and attractive and creative cards are the day’s staple. Our journeys into love, however, go beyond chocolates and cards. Here are two surprising journeys into love. Wherever you are in your relationships, enjoy God’s great love story today.
I was 24 when I met the love of my life. Over the years, like any teenager and young adult, I had dated a number of girls. I was healthy, reasonably good-looking, sporty, played guitar in a Christian band that had toured Europe for eight years and had recorded a number of albums. Yet somehow I often wondered if there was a special woman waiting for me—somewhere.
Some years earlier I had started to pray about this important area of my life. After God called me to prepare for ministry, I told Him that I needed Him to help me find the “right one.” As a child of divorce, I wanted to avoid the pain and hurt that divorces bring. I also asked some of my spiritual mentors to pray for my future wife.
Then I moved from Europe to South Africa. I had planned to finish my theology degree at Helderberg College, located close to Capetown. With my girlfriend studying in Germany, I was in for a long-distance relationship, in a pre-e-mail, pre-text, pre-Facetime and pre-Skype era. I wrote my letters faithfully and celebrated every week when I got another one from Germany. We had both saved money so that my girlfriend could come to South Africa during our winter break (June-July in the Southern Hemisphere). Excitedly I traveled nearly 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) from Capetown to Johannesburg to surprise her at the airport.
Then it happened. As soon as I saw her coming toward me, I knew that she was
not the one. I had never felt anything like this and struggled to understand this emotion. I was not usually prone to emotional ups and downs. Yet it felt as if somebody had just flipped a switch. It was extremely painful for both of us as we talked about our feelings and sought help from pastors, counselors, and friends.
By the time she finally left South Africa, gloom had settled all around me.
There was no one for me; the dating game was just too painful. The next months were dark, full of work, and no social life.
Then one day I decided to reenter life. That’s when I saw, for the first time, Chantal, my future wife. I had known her for more than six months, and we had often spoken. However, only then did I really
see her. There was no lightning flash or divine voice. Rather, we enjoyed many good conversations, shared study times, precious walks, and other group activities.
We officially started dating on a date that is rife with meaning for Adventists, October 23, the day after the Great Disappointment. For us, however, it was a new beginning following a number of disappointments. Thirteen months later we got married and began a lifelong journey of growth and discovery. Some months ago we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. What would I do without the love of my life?
My roommate found me in bed with the covers drawn over my head in the middle of a beautiful sunny day. My boyfriend had just broken up with me, and I was devastated. As my roommate tried to console me over a large jar of mixed nuts I vowed that I was through. This dating game just wasn’t for me. In the aftermath of the painful breakup I did something strange: I gave my romance life (or lack thereof) to God.
I had been rather susceptible to the unstated college pressure of needing to have a boyfriend. Everyone seemed to be in a relationship. But after this latest heartbreak I realized that I just didn’t want to be a part of this extremely painful game anymore. I decided on a new strategy: Whenever someone caught my eye or I felt vaguely attracted to someone, I would pray about him. I would not try to get his attention in any way; I’d just pray.
I found this strange strategy amazingly effective. Again and again, whenever I began praying about some eligible young man, within the space of two to three weeks he would have a girlfriend, and it wouldn’t be me. Now, this exact model of looking for Mr. Right is definitely not the only way to go about things, and I would not recommend this “do nothing and pray” method to everyone, but it did work for me.
I found myself looking more carefully at my “guy selections.” More than once I instinctively knew that I couldn’t pray for any attachment to certain popular men. And, strangely, as I left this part of my life in God’s capable hands it took the pressure off. Instead of being out there looking for my soul mate, I could focus more on becoming the person that God wanted me to be, with or without a man.
Then, when Gerald did arrive, there were no fireworks. I mean, he was a nice enough person and all, but he did have a girlfriend in Germany, and to be honest, I was praying about someone else at the time. We were just friends, with no agendas or schemes. Quietly the friendship grew, until one day I realized with a start that this was someone I really did want to pray about. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Relationships are very complex. This does not change in marriage. They require constant fine-tuning and conscious attention and commitment. Here are a number of insights we have learned about love, life, and relationships as we look back at a quarter century of marriage. In fact, having three female teenagers at home has made these insights even more relevant.
Aim high: Don’t let current culture tell you that love means instant gratification. It pays to wait and find the person God has made for you to love. By the way, looks aren’t everything, and beauty is more than skin-deep. Don’t let advertizers determine your sense of beauty.
Don’t get discouraged: When you see dysfunctional relationships around you, don’t give up on God’s ideal for love. His grace is sufficient to overcome any mess we may have created. When we make mistakes, His compassionate and transformational grace can shine even more.
Keep talking: Love’s ability to make us swoon is wonderful. However, love goes beyond emotions and requires constant care—and conversation. Growth usually happens when we listen to and talk with one another.
Be willing to cross canyons: In our cross-cultural marriage (bringing together German and South African cultures, prejudices, stereotypes, likes, and dislikes) we often find it necessary to go the extra mile in order to understand each other.
Keep God in the center: If God is not in the center of a relationship, somebody or something else will be. Things, other people, our egos, or even our children all can make a run for the center. If God has already occupied this sweet spot, we are ready for true growth with one another.
Chantal J. Klingbeil serves as an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference. Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review and enjoys walking, talking, and team-working with the love of his life.