The editors of Adventist World and Adventist Review have featured this article in the March 2020 issues of both magazines.

Aysha Taryam once wrote: “In politics, the pen is at its heaviest because it is weighed down by the collective responsibility it holds toward its people and their future in the eyes of the world.”1

The statement applies as much to the church as it does to politics. The weight that rests on those responsible for reporting the movement and development of the church is significant. And the weight borne by the church itself to empower responsible journalism within its gates is even greater.

The church, in our case the Seventh-day Adventist Church, has a responsibility—an ethical imperative—to inform its members and communities accurately and consistently, even when the news is less than positive. At the root of this calling is biblical integrity—the courage to acknowledge our shortcomings regardless of political consequences.

Yet within our faith community we sometimes shy away from, even discourage, the dissemination of news that would compromise our shiny organizational facade or challenge leaders’ interests.

There are, however, several compelling reasons we should reconsider such tendencies.


Around the world transparency is among society’s core values. The shift is driven largely by the Millennial generation, now 24-39 years old. Most Millennials require—even demand—transparency from the organizations with which they engage. They grew up with the Web and social media, both of which offer copious amounts of information for analyzing and assessing just about anything. Organizations that don’t offer this level of disclosure are trusted less, or not at all.

Kira Karapetian writes, “It is clear that trust is the new currency of brand loyalty.”2 Applying this to news, we can generally assume that if an organization is honest with bad news, “it is more likely to be trusted with good news.”3


Surveying the landscape of news outlets, it’s apparent that secular news operations are increasingly comfortable with either an implied or overt ideological bias. While objectivity in journalism has always been far from perfect, in the past it was at least deemed worth the effort. Objectivity was the road to credibility. Today’s trend, however,  of highly polarized news outlets unambiguously interweaving reporting with commentary is difficult to reconcile.

News outlets in the wider world of Adventism face the same temptation—to report from an angle. Report mainly controversial and negative news if you’re critical of the church; report mostly triumphalist news if you’re not. Bias engenders neither trust nor credibility. The church and its journalists ought to be above it.


While the Bible isn’t typically viewed as a journalistic work, its authors nevertheless chronicled and reported on the journey of God’s people, beginning with Creation. A single reading confirms that these authors never shied away from giving a full and honest assessment of events.

The biblical record contains the sullied past of many patriarchs—for our benefit. Because of fair and honest accounts, we have both an accurate history of the church and many lessons from which to learn.


In 2011 the Adventist Church released the document “Transparency and Accountability in Financial Reporting.” At its rollout, church administrators explained that the document’s principles transcended finances, and that transparency must be the default position of the Adventist Church in all arenas.

That was a step in the right direction, one that should certainly apply to the church’s commitment to keep its members informed through truly fair and balanced news.

  1. Aysha Taryam is the editor of
    The Gulf Today, an English-language newspaper in the Middle East.
  2. Kira Karapetian, in
    Forbes, Aug. 8, 2017.
  3. Glen Broom and Bey-Ling Sha,
    Effective Public Relations, 11th ed. (2013), p. 253.

Costin Jordache is director of communication and news editor for Adventist Review.

No doubt at some point in your life you have volunteered and freely given your time and life energy to a cause you considered worthy.

But perhaps you’ve never thought about how that act of service benefited you. Normally, serving through volunteering is about the need of another and our willingness to contribute toward it without asking or requiring anything in return.

Yet a host of studies have uncovered an encouraging relationship: there are, it seems, tangible health benefits that come with volunteering and serving others.

Several studies have shown that “those who give support through volunteering experience greater health benefits than those who receive support through these activities.”*

Consider the remarkably similar statement made by Jesus long before social science was a discipline, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Consider this statement made by Jesus long before social science was a discipline.

Research at the University of Michigan has shown an association between service and mortality rate—the rate of death in a population. According to the findings, “mortality was significantly reduced for individuals who reported providing instrumental support to friends, relatives, and neighbors, and individuals who reported providing emotional support to their spouse.”

The benefits extend to mental health as well, researchers at Duke University tell us. The study found “statistically significant, positive relationships between volunteering and lower levels of depression” for people over 65 years old. Meanwhile a study at the University of Calgary found that “people who did volunteer work for at least one hour a week on a regular basis were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than the seniors who didn’t volunteer.”

Why does volunteering lead to health benefits? Among possibilities is a link between voluntary service and having a sense of purpose. “Evidence suggests that volunteering has a positive effect on social psychological factors, such as one’s sense of purpose.”

A recent study showed that having a higher purpose in life led to a lower risk of stroke within a four-year follow-up period. Meanwhile, another study suggests that having a strong sense of purpose might be protective against diabetes, since it might help keep blood sugar levels down.

The list of potential benefits is much longer. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that not everyone is taking advantage of this benefit. Only a third of the population in the U.S. volunteers at all, and of those who do volunteer, 15 percent end up doing 50 percent of the work.

So consider this a collective challenge. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the ways in which we can voluntarily serve the needs of others. Consider also nearby organizations, not the least of which is our local church, and how we can offer ourselves in service.

Whatever we decide to do will be—as it turns out—mutually beneficial.

*Footnotes are cited on the online version of this article.

Costin Jordache is news editor and communication director for Adventist Review Ministries.

I’ve been thinking about a word lately: “incunabula.”

The word is used by historians to refer to a period of time between A.D. 1450-1500, during which the first books were printed following the adoption of the printing press in Europe. “Incunabula” is the plural of the Latin word for “cradle” or “swaddling clothes,” and by extension is used to describe the beginnings or earliest stages of something.

The printing press ushered in an unprecedented era of expanding knowledge. Both religious and scientific communities benefited from this technological marvel, which arguably fueled both the Reformation and the Renaissance.

Yet the earliest adopters of Gutenberg’s innovation could not have been fully aware of the its far-reaching effects. In fact, researcher James Dewar argues “the important effects of the printing press era were not seen clearly for more than 100 years.”1

Thus the Incunabula Period has developed into a concept that goes beyond analyzing the earliest books to studying the implications of any technology. More specifically, it refers to a period of time during which a technology is used without a full understanding of its effects.

With this in mind, I would suggest that we find ourselves in the middle of our own incunabula period.

The rise of the Information Age has dramatically altered the human experience. These abilities have given us personal computers, video games, and the smartphone.

Societies have fully embraced these innovations. Consider Apple, Inc.,  which recently became the first company in history to be valued at more than US$1 trillion. We value technology for many reasons, not the least of which is efficiency. The latest app, box, or online subscription can help us do it faster, better, and with less hassle.

What we don’t know is the full effect that this complete immersion in technology is having on us as a society and as individuals. But we are beginning to understand. An estimated 210 million people worldwide are addicted to the Internet and social media; teens who spend five hours a day on their smartphones are twice as likely to show depressive symptoms;2 and 90 percent of people admit to using a phone while driving, half of them checking social media.3

I am a communication professional who has been immersed in technology for two decades and have used it to build up the kingdom of heaven.

However, technology also has a dark side, no matter how much benefit it brings to society. “We are already seeing unintended consequences in the Information Age that are dominating intended ones, and there are good reasons to expect more in the future,” adds Dewar.

Consider these thoughts an appeal, especially to parents: Don’t believe that technology is inherently beneficial. Take time to consider how technology impacts you and your family. Make necessary adjustments as you move into a digital future carefully and intentionally.

  3. AT&T, 2018

Costin Jordache is news editor and communication director for Adventist Review Ministries.

For many, our Thanksgiving holiday is inextricably tied to the image of Pilgrims dining with Native Americans, feasting on turkey, squash, and corn on the cob. Historically the event took place in 1621 near Plymouth, Massachusetts. Pilgrims gathered with their Native American friends to celebrate—in thanksgiving—that year’s successful harvest.

Some deny that this “first Thanksgiving” has anything to do with our modern celebration. It wasn’t until 1789 that George Washington proclaimed November 26 of that year to be a national day of “thanksgiving and prayer” in honor of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

Regardless of this historical debate, it’s worth considering that Thanksgiving really originated long before the Pilgrims. Arguably, the origins of a formal day of Thanksgiving are surrounded not by turkeys but by camels.

Among their many required offerings and sacrifices, Israelites also engaged in voluntary offerings, acts of worship, and commitment. Among them was the peace offering. The idea was not making peace with God, but of recognizing that peace already existed between God and humanity.

The peace offering was generally preceded by a sin offering and a burnt offering. Blood had been sprinkled, atonement had been made, forgiveness extended, and justification assured. Next was a voluntary offering of gratitude.

Some translators have called this the fellowship offering because it is the only sacrifice of which the one offering it may eat part of it. It involved fellowship because the one offering it would share the offering with the priest and others. Fellowship with God and with others centered on eating together.

One of the types of fellowship offerings is called the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Before the Pilgrims, football games, and  cranberry sauce, a celebration was called the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The description is found in Leviticus 7:11-15.

Several elements in this passage could be the model for our Thanksgiving celebrations. The passage allows me three observations.

The Sacrificial Center

First, the ancient Jewish thanksgiving centered on a sacrifice. The one doing the thanking would sacrifice something precious as a token of thankfulness.

Merely saying thank you, or feeling it, was not enough. A three-minute prayer at the thanksgiving table was not enough. After the sin offering, the justification, the forgiveness of sins, and the successful harvest, celebrants were so moved by the unmerited outpouring of God’s love that they voluntarily wanted to give something valuable back to God. An Israelite family would take an animal of perfect quality (the best they had) and offer it to God as an expression of thanksgiving.

Consider its significance. The offering was valuable; it could have brought a good price at market. The offering was truly a sacrifice.

Question: Is something a sacrifice if we really wouldn’t miss it or if we have plenty of it? Is it a sacrifice if it is average or can be replaced? Is it a sacrifice if we can readily give it away without it affecting us in some way? As we look at our family, our home, our health, our relationships, our job; as we look at the assurance we have of salvation, what sacrifice could we consider putting on the altar of thanksgiving?

We gain deeper insight into that sacrifice by considering another element brought for the fellowship offering—bread.

At first glance we may be tempted to think of bread as common, even cheap. However, to Israelites it was a symbol of God’s provision. “As the mainstay of life, bread came to be a primary metaphor for life and sustenance.”1 Bread was part of the offering of thanksgiving because it represented life itself, and thus, the bringing of one’s life as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

God essentially says, if you want to bring a meaningful sacrifice of thanksgiving, why not start by bringing Me your life; why not bring Me yourself? Some of us may be holding on to a part of our lives that we need to let go: an attitude, a grudge, material items, a destructive habit, or a stubborn perspective. Thanksgiving is a good time to let go of ourselves.

A Complete Celebration

A second observation: the ancient Jewish thanksgiving was a joyous feast—a party, if you will. An Israelite family would bring its offering, but not in a sullen, depressed manner.

In fact, among the items prescribed for the sacrifice of thanksgiving was leavened bread—a bit odd, since normally unleavened bread is associated with sacrifices. Bible commentators have noted that God prescribed leavened bread for the sacrifice of thanksgiving so that “nothing might be wanting to make it a complete and pleasant feast; for unleavened bread was less grateful to the taste.”2

If we thought we had reason in the past to celebrate Thanksgiving, here is another: God wants us to enjoy life to the fullest—even as we remember His grace and provision for us.

Today is the Day

The passage concludes with a verse that instructs the offering of thanksgiving be eaten on the day it is offered. None of it can be left till morning. The food was to be eaten that day; the feast was to be celebrated that day; the thanks was to be given that day; the living was supposed to begin that day.

We are confronted here with God urging us to live life in the present. God knew the temptation for Israelites to save and store, and perhaps even to skip the feast altogether.

It’s equally possible that God knows what we may be thinking—that we’ll get around to living out a celebratory spirit of gratitude when things settle down, when we’re out of school, when the kids are grown, or when we’re out of debt.

Today is the best possible day to embrace gratitude.

A Thanksgiving Challenge

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, consider the following challenges.

First, let us come individually to the altar of thanksgiving, carrying with us a tangible and worthy sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Second, let’s accept God’s gift in return—the gift of a life full of meaning and full of joy. Accept a place at the feast He has prepared for us this Thanksgiving season.

Finally, let’s seize the moment so that our offering of thanksgiving will not sit around until tomorrow. Genuine thanksgiving cannot wait until tomorrow because God is alive and active in our life today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
  2. Matthew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary.

Costin Jordache is news editor and director of communication for Adventist Review Ministries.

Here’s a challenge: Park your car in front of your local church and start walking. Limit yourself to a two-mile radius and note what you see and experience.

Odds are you will discover an intricate network of small businesses, parks, residential areas, schools, and community centers. Within each are people. Both individually and together as a community, people in that two-mile radius struggle with an array of challenges, celebrate life in unique ways, and share similar dreams and aspirations.

Now imagine your local church “adopting” that two-mile radius—visiting every business; getting to know the owners and if possible buying their products and services; knocking on every residential door and simply greeting the people; meeting with community leaders and offering your church building for community events; providing tutoring at the schools.

The challenge is to be present within that two-mile radius until every person, business, and organization not only recognizes the presence of Adventists, but appreciates the value they add to their community.

From a missional perspective, the scenario is somewhat challenging for Adventists. We are commissioned to reach the entire world, the entire country, the entire city—which is both biblical and logical.

Thus we struggle at times with “limiting” mission to a smaller area and applying a relational, community-centered approach to it. Yet a biblical model of mission exists that may be helpful.

Jesus left early Christians with a promise that doubles as a missional model. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Notice the concentric circles that move out like ripples in a pond. Jerusalem is the epicenter, or perhaps the backyard. Judea is the broader area, and Samaria is the neighboring territory. Then—and only then—do we get to “the ends of the earth.”

In other words, effective mission begins in our two-mile radius and ripples out from there.

This is more than just a geographical call to action, and it’s certainly not a grow-your-church-quick scheme. It’s a challenge for Adventists to practice and model the ministry of presence. It involves spending time with people and listening. Most of all, it involves being genuinely interested in people, their unique stories, and their best interests.

Jesus modeled it well. He had unhurried conversation with a woman drawing water from a well, and He attended multiple social events. He met with a Pharisee after dark, and joined two disappointed friends as they walked to Emmaus, allowing them to work out their frustrations and connecting them to a greater reality.

Now it’s our turn. As witnesses of what Jesus has done for others, and for us, we extend His ministry in His way to our communities, to our cities, to our nation, and ultimately to the ends of the earth.

It all begins with a simple walk.

Costin Jordache is director of communication for Adventist Review Ministries and news editor for Adventist Review.

On February 18, 2017, a short video was posted on YouTube accompanied by the hashtag #ItIsTimeAU. Various people appeared on the video, stitching together a message that centered on racial equality on the campus of Andrews University. “It is time for Andrews University to apologize for the systemic racism it has perpetuated on its campus,” began the video that would eventually garner more than 150,000 viral views within a few days. “We put it out there, and that thing blew up, and it just kept going and going and going,” recalls Garrison Hayes, an Andrews student and one of the lead organizers of #ItIsTimeAU.

The video addressed several distinct issues. It emphasized historic grievances, whose memory has not been erased by time, dealing with racial inequity on campus—forced segregation in the cafeteria, among them. The video also addressed the concept of curriculum development, calling for teaching based on more than Eurocentric worldviews. Finally, #ItIsTimeAU addressed ethnic-specific worship styles and their relationship to the dominant style found on campus.

A Familiar Journey

Though the viral video catalyzed what would be an intense period of discussion, it was not the start of the university’s journey toward fully understanding how to embrace and manage the remarkable diversity on its campus. During the past decade the university’s Diversity Council began conceptualizing an administrative-level position that would assist university leaders in meeting diversity-related needs on campus. By 2015 a job description for vice president for Diversity was in place. In addition, the university participated, in late 2016, in an event sponsored by the Lake Union Conference church territory entitled, “A Journey to Healing and Understanding.” As part of her remarks at the event, Andrea Luxton, president of Andrews University, acknowledged racial bias and that the university had not listened well. She offered an apology and clarified the university’s commitment to understanding and addressing the issues at hand.

26 1
Michael T. Nixon was hired as the first vice president for Diversity and Inclusion.

The university now had a decision to make: how to respond appropriately to the #ItIsTimeAU video, which included a one-week response time line. The challenge was, in part, that not everyone resonated with the statements made on the video or with the approach taken. The exchange of comments on social media was mirrored on campus as students struggled to make sense of the moment. Hayes was teaching a course that semester and clearly recalls the tension. "I think that people were feeling all the feelings one would imagine come with that, whether that be fear and remorse, sadness that we even had to do that [the video], as well as anger and disagreement," Hayes shared with Adventist Review.

A Rapid Response

Andrews University decided to respond in two ways. First, the university planned a verbal and video response within a week, during the weekly chapel service at the Pioneer Memorial church (PMC) on campus. The event was streamed live for the benefit of those following developments from a distance. Luxton addressed those in attendance, emphasizing each individual’s story and the healing nature of Christ’s ministry: “When He sees someone hurting, He reaches out to the hurt, and He says: ‘This is my first responsibility: It is to heal.’ ” She then introduced the university’s second response—in video form.

The response video, played at the chapel service and subsequently posted online as #ListenDialogueChange, featured Luxton, along with other administrators and staff, student leaders, and Dwight Nelson, senior pastor of PMC. Together they provided both corporate and individual apologies. Pledges and commitments were also made to engender both the change mentioned in the #ItIsTimeAU video and beyond, including fast-tracking the appointment of a vice president for Diversity. The reaction from students and various constituencies varied from elation, relief, admiration and pride for the road taken by the school, to some who expressed ambivalence as they struggled to understand an experience foreign to them.

A Follow-through Commitment

It has been a year since that memorable moment on the campus of Andrews University. Luxton shared with Adventist Review that much has been done. Diversity training that in the past had been done with graduate students was extended to undergraduate students as well. Similar training was offered to all faculty during a two-day summer intensive. Additional training was organized for senior leaders, including the dean’s council and cabinet members.

Luxton has also continued ongoing dialogue on campus. “Anyone who has reached out to me I have tried to get back to personally to discuss any questions,” she explains—including those who may continue to have mixed feelings on the matter. Recently she was invited to meet with all Andrews residence hall assistants. When Luxton arrived, all of them were wearing T-shirts that said “We will be OK,” the phrase that Luxton used to begin her chapel talk the previous February in PMC.

After a national search process, the university welcomed Michael Nixon to the role of vice president for Diversity and Inclusion. Nixon, an attorney, specializes in the area of civil rights and advocacy, most recently as legal coordinator for the Fair Housing Justice Center in New York City.

26 2 2
Andrews University staff and faculty participate in a town hall on February 21, 2017 to discuss the impact of the #ItIsTimeAU video. Andrea Luxton provided a timeline of the events of the previous two days and answered questions.

Over the past months Nixon has engaged in active listening with students, faculty members, department heads, and in administrative committees in an effort to better understand campus dynamics and where diversity education and inclusion is most needed. According to Nixon, among the things he has discovered is that there are those on campus who have been active in championing the “work of inclusion,” but who needed a more intentional and coordinated way of doing so effectively. “It was really not necessarily reinventing the wheel,” explained Nixon, “but maybe giving the wheel some grease and some oil so that folks can just be empowered to work in the areas that they’ve already been working.” One of Nixon’s first changes was to the name of the university’s Diversity Council, now officially called the Diversity and Inclusion Action Council, giving the group greater clarity of purpose.

The Road Ahead

Luxton is quick to clarify that much still needs to be accomplished, especially in light of new students arriving every semester with new and unique views on the matter. “It’s not like you have a closed container and you solve one thing and then that’s solved forever,” she explains. “It’s a constant need to create an environment of dialogue and openness, and . . . no tolerance to attitudes that demean anybody else.”

Looking down the road, Nixon believes that Andrews University can help to create positive change throughout the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the area of diversity and inclusion. However, he adds that the university has to first create a working model of fully embracing diversity and effectively incorporating a culture of inclusion. “We need to think of how we can model a good format, as opposed to just presenting a good format,” says Nixon.

Along the same lines, Hayes encourages continued dialogue in the area of race and diversity, while discouraging silence on t
he topic. “That’s the exact response that the enemy of our souls, Satan, would have us do,” says Hayes. “He would have us stay away from the issues that actually exist among us instead of allowing God to shine the light into them and to heal those places.”

Finally, for Andrea Luxton, the events of 2017 offer a significant opportunity for growth. “As a result, we now have greater strength to approach those mountains ahead of us,” shared the university president with her campus in February, “because we have faced the realities of our present; we have embraced our great strengths, and sought to understand and apologize for our mistakes.”

Costin Jordache is director of communication for Adventist ReviewMinistries and news editor for Adventist Review.

Imagine a runner rounding the bend into the final lap of the race of his life. His arms and legs move faster and faster, with every muscle in the body engaged. Adrenaline is flowing, sweat is pouring, and his eyes see only one thing in the distance: a thin banner stretched across the track. Countdown to destiny is under way, and every meter seems shorter than the one before. Finally, with only steps to go, the runner lunges forward, every tendon and ligament stretching toward the finish line.

Keep that image in mind.

Metaphors are powerful tools for learning that have the potential to grip the imagination and bring complex concepts to life. Scripture is replete with this sort of conceptual imagery. Old and New Testament authors describe God as a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29), while the wilderness tabernacle served as a life-sized metaphor for the divine plan of salvation. Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10); champions of the kingdom are salt and light (Matt. 5:13, 14); its detractors’ yeast is dangerous (Matt. 16:6)—though yeast may also signify the growth of the kingdom (Matt. 13:33). Metaphors are that flexible.

Metaphors allow us to relate to what is being described. They create a familiarity that quickly constructs meaning. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

The apostle Paul is well known for his useful metaphors. Throughout his letters members of the church become organs of the body, and human bodies become temples housing the Holy Spirit.

Metaphors are powerful tools for learning.

A Memorable Metaphor

Consider this well-known image employed by Paul on several occasions: the intensity of athletic determination. On multiple occasions the prolific writer describes disciples’ journeys in athletic terms. According to Paul, the Christian journey requires more than just passive participation. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training,” he writes. “They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:25, 26).

The metaphor was well understood by Corinthian believers. Corinth, a city in southern Greece with ancient roots, was home to the Isthmian Games. By the time Paul started the Corinthian congregation, the games had been in existence for more than 400 years. Rivaled only by the Olympic Games (held a little more than 100 miles to the west), the Isthmian Games featured a standard diet of athletic contests, including running and boxing.

So why did Paul choose this particular metaphor to describe the life of believers, other than its familiarity to those he was addressing? And what meaning does this ancient imagery have for our lives?

Perhaps a letter written by Paul to another early church congregation can help us understand the meaning of the metaphor and Paul’s reason for using it. Writing to the congregation in Philippi, a city located in modern-day northern Greece, Paul begins chapter 3 of his letter by encouraging these Philippian Christians not to put any confidence in the flesh.

We could interpret this to mean that they were not to put trust in themselves, their accomplishments, their theological knowledge, their abilities, or in having perfectly participated in external faith traditions. Paul then makes the case that if anyone has reasons for such confidence, he could certainly claim bragging rights. After all, he was circumcised on the eighth day, a Hebrew of Hebrews, an outstanding Pharisee, and in legalistic righteousness, faultless.

If anyone had the credentials, it was Paul, the superstar “religious athlete.”

However, those accomplishments, those notable things were not the essence of his life. In fact, Paul comments about his accomplishments: “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (verse 7).

Paul’s Strategic Plan

So what do the lives of successful, confident believers look like? Paul unpacks the idea a bit more. In contrast to his religious résumé, he begins to share with the Philippian Christians the philosophy by which he lives his life.

He confesses that his greatest desire is to know Christ and to experience fully the life that Jesus made possible for him through His death and resurrection, both now and in His eternal kingdom.

Nothing else motivates Paul. Nothing.

Then, to illustrate his commitment to this goal, Paul employs the athletic imagery, as familiar to the Philippians as to the Corinthians. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (verses 3:12-14).

His words are rich with vivid meaning as he reduces his attempt to attain his goal to one approach. “One thing I do,” Paul writes as he explains it in two parts.

First, “I forget what is behind.” This is a powerful concept on the surface, even more powerful beneath the surface. The word used by Paul in the original language is a compound word that lends itself to the idea of being intentionally forgetful; to neglect or to put out of mind. Not many times is this sort of thing encouraged, but in this case it is.

While Paul doesn’t elaborate, context allows us to imagine that when it comes to living his life and prioritizing the factors that govern his life, Paul chose intentionally to forget his accomplishments, accolades, impressive training, model living, and triumphs. He may also have meant that he forgets the sins of his past; the failures that haunted him; the insults hurled at him, or the inadequacies that lived in his past.

Nevertheless, Paul reminds his readers of what they no doubt observed in the ancient games. Top-tier athletes have only one goal in mind, and that goal is ahead of them.

However, this is not where Paul ends the metaphor. “Forgetting what is behind,” he writes, “and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.” In the second half of Paul’s one approach to spiritual life, another interesting word picture develops. “Straining” is more fully understood as stretching or reaching toward, even over, something.

The picture can now be imagined with that same runner, straining toward the goal with body bent forward, hand and foot outstretched, doing everything possible to reach the goal. We’ve all seen it with the help of slow-motion technology: the race won by the runner stretching his neck over the finish line, or the swimmer who takes gold with one final stretch of her fingers.

Applying it to his spiritual life—and by extension to ours—Paul is stretching out, reaching out over his accomplishments, achievements, doubts, fears, inadequacies, and circumstances. With every ounce of energy he stretches over the impossibilities of the past into the possibilities of the future; over the mundane into the exciting; over exhaustion into unexplained energy; over failure and into the future.

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal.”

A Meaningful Choice

Paul chose and refers to this same athletic metaphor multiple times in his letters, perhaps because it most clearly describes the intensity and determination with which he sought to fully experience the life and purpose to which Jesus had called him.

Of course, it may be safe to assume that he also chose the metaphor hoping that the imagery and the meaning behind it would inspire his readers—both then and now—to pursue the purposes of God with equal grit, determination, and intensity, knowing that the results are eternally rewarding.

Costin Jordache is news editor and communication director of Adventist Review Ministries.

One of my favorite Scripture passages is captured in John 6. It had been a rather challenging day for the small band of traveling missionaries, better known as disciples. Originally Jesus had intended the day to be a relaxing retreat, a holiday of sorts for the hardworking evangelistic team that had recently returned from a mission trip. Jesus had sent them out two by two, with no provisions, to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2).

Around the same time, devastating news came that John the Baptist had been executed by Herod Antipas, appointed ruler of Galilee. Matthew records that when Jesus heard about it, He withdrew to a solitary place, inviting His disciples to rest with Him for a while.

The plan would change, though, in response to the gathering crowds that learned of the secret hideaway. Jesus took time that day to meet the needs of those who had come, some 20,000 people, including men, women, and children. Of course, no fellowship lunch had been planned, which first led Jesus to challenge His own disciples to feed everyone, then ended with His demonstration of how a very small resource brought to Him could accomplish a much larger goal.

God shows up. Except that when He does, we sometimes don’t recognize Him.

That day 20,000 people ate five loaves of bread and two fish and were more than satisfied. It was a miracle beyond comprehension, and the crowd realized it. John records that the congregation became so animated by this that they began to put the messianic puzzle together and intended that day to crown Jesus King of Israel, by force if necessary.

Imagine what that moment must have felt like. Exhaustion mixed with excitement, anticipation, and uncertainty.

Only Jesus fully understands the moment. It is not His time nor His mission to wear an earthly crown. So He does the unthinkable: He respectfully declines the offer of a lifetime, then turns to His disciples and instructs them to sail across the Sea of Galilee by themselves. Meanwhile, He dismisses the agitated crowd and retreats to the hill alone (Mark 6:45, 46).

What a tense moment in Scripture. A confused crowd shuffles home, disappointed disciples work the sails to the opposite shore, and Jesus has apparently left the scene.

Lest we think that things couldn’t get worse, John records in his Gospel that as the disciples were sailing, a strong wind began to blow, and the waters became rough (John 6:18). It’s easy enough to read that mild description in the comfort of a warm, dry place. In fact, for years I studied the account of that ancient day without truly understanding the gravity of the moment. That is until one day I was invited to go sailing.

Firsthand Experience

My father-in-law, Michael Sulen, is an avid sailor, and that’s an understatement. His passion for sailing is only slightly bested by his passion for pastoral ministry. His vessel of choice is the catamaran, and he has owned large ones, small ones, and everything in between. Over the years he has bought ones in need of serious TLC and has painstakingly rebuilt them into marvelous watercraft.

One day several years ago he invited me to go sailing along the Pacific coast. It was an intimidating offer because, having observed him in action, I knew that sailing with him was not for the faint of heart. It’s an activity that requires almost constant action, since navigational success comes from a masterful knowledge of how a dozen ropes and several hanging sails capture the wind to provide intentional forward motion.

I was up to it, though, especially knowing that we would not venture out until I had gone through the School of Sulen, becoming a full partner in the sailing experience.

Except that the experience would not go as planned. Once we were out on the water “a strong wind began to blow, and the waters became rough.” So rough, in fact, that the swells were easily four feet high.

I failed to mention a couple things. First, the particular vessel we were on that day was on the small side; and second, it was one of those in need of TLC that had not yet gone through the extreme makeover. Battling the unexpected wind and waves on the largest body of water in the world was bad enough, but I never anticipated what happened next. A loud snap shocked both of us (not a sound anyone wants to hear in those circumstances).

Upon investigation, we realized that the gooseneck that connects the boom to the mast had exploded. That created a scenario in which the sails could easily be torn to shreds. Being a mile from shore with no motor, we were now in a perilous situation.

My father-in-law struggled to create a plan B in the midst of it all. Meanwhile, I was rehearsing the milestones of my life, which I assumed would be over momentarily. After what seemed to me like an eternity, the master sailor made sense of the circumstances and used the crippled sails to capture the wind and get us back to safety.

A Familiar Scene

I have felt compassion for the pain of those disciples ever since. They were already exhausted and confused by the events of the day, now rowing for miles and hours amid the wind and waves in a small vessel, not knowing with any certainty that they would ever reach the shore. And Jesus is nowhere to be found.

I’m sure all of us can relate to this scene to one degree or another. Life at the moment may not be smooth sailing. The waves and wind are beating down. We’ve been rowing and struggling with the sails, but we simply aren’t getting anywhere. Perhaps if we could just rest for a while, enjoy a moment of retreat with Jesus, it would be better. An impossible goal, it seems. Life is increasingly full of the demands of work, the complexities of raising a family, the need to keep finances coming in, and the legitimate needs of other people.

Finally, the circumstances of the world in which we live are uncertain. Political unrest, polarized groups digging in their heels, and voices everywhere calling on God to wear the crown and solve the problems.

We can relate to those disciples. We’re in the middle of a storm. And Jesus is seemingly nowhere to be found.

Yet the scene changes. Mark records that back on shore, Jesus is fully aware of the circumstances, fully aware of their struggle. The author records that as Jesus was sitting on the shore, “he saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (Mark 6:48).

What a tremendous source of hope—to know without a doubt that Jesus sees us; to know that His perception of our need is not defined by our perception of His presence.

But Jesus does more than just see them; more than just watch them with love and compassion from a distance. Before the sun had a chance to rise, Jesus “went out to them, walking on the lake” (verse 48).

It’s a powerful visualization of the Incarnation: God with us, not just for us; God pursuing us, not just longing for us. He “went out to them, walking on the lake.”

A Case of Mistaken Identity

But consider their reaction. As Jesus approaches in the middle of the storm, the disciples don’t recognize Him. They’re so immersed in the moment, so caught up in the storm, that they don’t even recognize Jesus. They assume that they are seeing a ghost.

This, too, is familiar. We pray for help, rescue, or clarity. From the middle of the whirlwind we ask God to intervene, to orchestrate, to lead, and to influence. And God shows up. Except that when He does, we sometimes don’t recognize Him. Perhaps He doesn’t look like we expected Him to, or sound like we imagined Him, or dress and act like we were told He would. Perhaps He simply doesn’t show up when we expected Him. “He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified” (verses 4

Jesus recognizes this tendency in us: our penchant to contain Him in our handmade boxes, built from our preconceived notions and ideas. Jesus knows full well that we have a difficult time perceiving Him in ways outside our experience or imagination.

And here is yet another piece of good news: He doesn’t judge us for it, He simply reaches out His hand and says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (verse 50).

All three of the Gospel writers who chronicle this event emphasize Christ’s compassionate response to fear and doubt: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

A Courageous Decision

Now we get to one of my favorite verses in the Bible. John records that they finally recognized Jesus. “Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading” (John 6:21).

What a remarkable miracle that speaks hope into our circumstances today! Mark adds that in that moment the wind and waves died down as well. The windblown disciples recognize their need and allow the Master Sailor into their boat, He who is undaunted by the broken masts and wind-crippled sails, whose only concern is for the fear-crippled sailors. With only a thought He captures the wind and gets them back to safety.

Yet perhaps the greater miracle was not that the waves and wind were harnessed and tamed, nor that they reached the shore immediately. Perhaps the greater miracle is that they were willing to overcome their fears and preconceived notions and recognize and accept Jesus in a form in which they were not familiar.

Consider, then, these challenges meant for us all. First, begin to look for Jesus to show up in ways that are unfamiliar, foreign, and even frightening; knowing that regardless of our circumstances, regardless of the size of the storm around us, Jesus not only perceives our need, but is already on the way to meet it.

And when we do recognize Him, let’s not hesitate to invite Him into the boat of our lives, our families, our organizations, our plans and strategies.

I’m sure that not a single one of us would ever be disappointed by the results of that decision.

Costin Jordache is news editor and director of communication for Adventist Review Ministries.

Imagine yourself as one of Jesus’ disciples.

Jesus has quietly invited you and the other eleven to a peaceful place to rest and recuperate. It’s been a stressful month considering John the Baptist’s horrific death and the recent mission trip.*

Yet the best-laid plans for rest would never materialize. The locals have overheard, and before long about 20,000 of them have gathered in the sanctuary of solitude.

So much for the retreat.

Jesus, moved by compassion, begins to do what He does best. He teaches, heals, and listens, all day long. Late in the day, you approach Jesus with a reasonable suggestion: send everyone home, or at least to the nearest village for dinner. “I have an even better idea,” Jesus responds. “You feed them.”

I’ve often thought about that moment. Did Jesus really think his disciples could do this?

Consider two realities.

First, Jesus knew that they had something to start with. “How many loaves do you have?” He asked. Regardless of the size of the challenge, Jesus focuses on the resources at hand. It sounds implausible to approach such a large task with such meager means, but it’s also a divine pattern.

Recall the moment in which God speaks to Moses out of a burning bush. Moses is in a similar predicament, asked to do something vastly beyond his perceived ability. Moses panics. God listens patiently, then simply asks, “What’s that in your hand?” It turns out to be a common staff that becomes a powerful sign to Pharaoh that Moses serves no ordinary God.

Now return to the disciples. Jesus knew that they had something in their hand: five loaves and two fish. It wasn’t a lot. But then, neither was a shepherd’s staff.

The idea of beginning by starting small is a powerful concept; however, by itself the initial portion of bread and fish could never have served thousands. There is a second but primary reality that gave Jesus confidence in his followers’ ability to meet the challenge: Jesus knew that His disciples had access to Him.

Jesus never said, “Go figure this out by yourselves.” Rather He said, “Whatever you have in your hand, whatever you find to start with, bring it to Me.” Miracles happen at the intersection of our ability to recognize what we already have and God’s ability to increase its effectiveness supernaturally.

In other words, as you reflect on this story, be encouraged. Don’t let the size of your challenge discourage you. Consider God’s question: What do you have in your hand? What resource, skill, knowledge, relationship, or tool has God already provided? Once you’ve identified it, present it to Him and watch the miracle unfold.

* See Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 John 6, and Exodus 4.

Costin Jordache is communication director and news editor for Adventist Review Ministries.