I’m often viewed as the disruptive one in the room. Maybe it’s how I’m wired or how I’m bent—I’m sure my friends could give you opinions on that either way. I love ideas, and I love ones that disrupt the status quo. If it has always worked and it’s not broken—I ask why we haven’t tried enough new methods to find a better one.
Over the past two years we have seen the status quo disrupted whether we wanted it or not. I’ve heard many describe a new level of ministry, connecting with people in entirely new ways.
Adventist Review Ministries has taken a very intentional approach to engaging with people in more ways and on more channels than ever in the past few years. As we say: content is king! And today more people than ever engage with the content of our ministry on social media— specifically on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—rather than in print. That’s quite the change from decades in the past.
There’s a variety of reasons for that. The big- gest is that no matter what channel or medium or preference, members today can find content that is still inspiring and thought-provoking from the Adventist Review Ministries team.
You may be wondering what kind of content garners the most attention and engagement. With hundreds of stories and commentaries and features and videos and podcasts over the past year, what rises to the top? The sweet spot seems to be current events and prophecy: where do current events fit in the time line or journey as our movement awaits the second coming of Jesus? Anytime a piece of content gets close to that intersection, there’s a significant rise in engagement across all platforms. A piece that spurs the question “Does this event taking place in the world have significance in the stream of prophecy?” is going to get read and shared across many channels.
Some content isn’t just engaged with only one time, either. At times a piece may be seen on social media, and, given that you have only a minute or two, you see the headline and subhead and think, That’s an article I think I would like. So you save it or email it to yourself, and read it at home when you have more time. There are still myriad new ways to engage with content.
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Would the word “community” qualify as a word that doesn’t mean what we think it means? If you’re around young whippersnappers these days, you know that even “bad” can be used to describe something good. Words are powerful, as long as we know what they mean.
Jesus wants to show His friend, His disciple John, what the church would look like just before His return. Unfortunately for those of us it describes, Jesus holds nothing back. “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17, NLT).*
In our modern vernacular, the word “bougie” or “boujee” is very apropos in this moment.
Why do I say that? If we use Jesus’ words as a springboard, could it be possible that the things we flaunt, glory in, and celebrate are not the real essence of who we are?
Bougie actually has a centuries-long history, going all the way back to revolutionary France, before it spun off into variations of the slang word we know today.
So bougie, boujee, and bourgie all stem from bourgeoisie, a French word that simply means “middle class.” Today we use it to describe those we know are in one condition, yet act better than they are in reality. Laodicea is the 2,000-year-old term that means pretty much the same thing.
What if we took a real close look at all our accoutrements and asked what things are leading us to build stronger relationships—truly mingling—truly getting all our members involved in outreach?
For me, community looks like what our little church is doing in northwest rural Georgia. Based on the stats I see, we are like most churches in North America, and by most, I mean the churches scattered around the suburbs and rural communities. Those churches have 100 or fewer members, and often don’t have paid staff to handle all the church responsibilities.
Our church started a tradition: we prize time together outside the church sanctuary. As with Jesus and His disciples, we often find our most enjoyable moments around the dinner table.
We make time for all to meet at one church member’s home for a social that’s not just for us but also for our friends and family who may not be members of our church. Recent social distancing has forced us to take a hiatus, but it has become our tradition over the past year. We go all out; it’s an event. We have lots of food, we sing songs, we read Scripture, and we just get to know each other.
When we aren’t doing this at someone’s home, we enjoy meals after church. (By the way, some people come just for those. They don’t have to listen to me preach to get admission to the best potluck in town.)
In these moments, when we eat our fill with chips and guacamole, real conversation takes place, real community.
It’s not our fancy sanctuary; it’s not our bougie marketing; it’s not our Laodicean suits and ties. We put all those away and just enjoy time with each other, mingling with each other, getting involved in each other’s lives one bite at a time.
As many of us haven’t been able to be inside the church sanctuary for the past few months, I don’t hear people say, “I can’t wait to sit in a pew again.” But I do hear, “I can’t wait to fellowship, spend time together, enjoy our meals together again.”
The church is not a machine of information dissemination; it’s a movement created to build relationships and create experiences that are so genuine that the community becomes magnetic and begins to attract more people than one bowl of guacamole can handle.
* 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.
Jarod Thurmon pastors the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Adairsville in Adairsville, Georgia.
You don’t have to look far these days to see headlines declaring that epidemics are a sign of the end of days. In fact, just recently I saw a headline that read, “The Bible predicts more pestilences just before the end of days.”
A pestilence is not a good thing. It’s usually a fatal epidemic disease.
COVID-19 has already been fatal for thousands, but does it qualify as a pestilence of Bible prophecy? If it does, how does that change how you react to it? If it doesn’t, how does that affect our view of it?
Looking at events around us and wondering what they mean is nothing new. We read that after a Savior was promised to Adam and Eve, after they understood that He would be one of their descendants, they kept believing that son after son might be the One.
Noah had no early signs to validate his message of a coming storm. Nor do we know of any historical sign given to Sodom. So, is it signs we need for faith, or is there something more?
Scripture tells us, “Surely the Sovereign Lord God does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). He doesn’t have to be so generous with information. He isn’t compelled to keep us informed.
Is it our fear or our faith that’s increasing?
But in line with His amazing and beautiful character, God our counselor and friend does reveal things to us beforehand, and even explains why: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (John 14:29). And: “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am” (John 13:19).
God goes out of His way to reassure us in moments of perplexity that He hasn’t forgotten us, that He loves us, and that the trial or perplexity we’re going through hasn’t caught Him off guard.
One moment that the pioneers of the Advent movement saw as a sign of fulfilled prophecy was the Dark Day, May 19, 1780—a day on which, at 9:00 a.m., birds went back to their roosts and cows to their stalls, believing the sun had set for the day. Many of the citizenry thought it had to be a sign of the apocalypse and hurried to churches to confess and pray. Others concluded that if their world was about to end, they would make the most of their last moments on earth and celebrate in the nearest bar. As Congregationist clergyman Timothy Dwight wrote: “A very general opinion prevailed that the day of judgment was at hand.”
Today, more than two centuries later, scientists committed to naturalistic explanations about everything suggest that forest fires causing dense smoke everywhere blocked out the heavens. But the faith of many remained firm in the conviction that it was nothing other than a sign of the end.
Seventh-day Adventists have been known to search vigilantly for evidences of the fulfillment of prophecy. Those of the Millerite movement saw in the moments around the Dark Day a clear fulfillment of Jesus’ words: “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light’” (Matt. 24:29). Looking at their own time in context of the previous half century of history, they saw equal prophetic value in the rest of this verse: not only would “the moon . . . not give its light,” but “the stars will fall from the sky” (verse 29). Seventh-day Adventists, as the Millerites before them—the movement from whom they emerged—believe that this last sign was fulfilled in November 1833 with an event that matched the prediction of Scripture: they saw the stars fall from heaven.1 Looking at signs and identifying their fulfillment in prophecy is nothing new for Christians, especially Seventh-day Adventists.
I hope what I say next won’t rattle anyone . . . too much.
What’s the connection between any or all of these signs and your faith in Jesus? How do you align May 19, 1780, with November 13, 1833, and October 22, 1844? The last of those events didn’t happen just as Millerite believers had thought it would. For many, it shook their faith so much that they threw out all trust in biblical prophecy.
My question: Where does our faith find its foundation? If it’s in the events of prophecy, could it be possible that when some predicted event ends up being seen differently or finds another explanation, our faith would be so shaken that we lose our grasp on all the promises we hold confidently? What’s the balance between some esteemed interpretation of biblical prophecy and the more sure word of prophecy, “something completely reliable,” to which “you will do well to pay attention,” recognizing that it’s “a light shining in a dark place,” a light God has given us for guidance right up to the glorious moment when “the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19)? Could I conceivably be stuck with an explanation that actually came about by some individual’s or group’s “own interpretation of things” (verse 20)? William Miller and others were convinced that the seven last plagues had occurred in the past, before 1844. I wonder how a new understanding that those events were yet future affected their faith.
Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake us, but are we growing in Him, in peace and joy every day? Is it our fear or our faith that’s increasing? If the former, we should ask if we’re planted on the rock or on the sandy opinions of humanity.
A recent global church survey found that a growing contingent of our movement doesn’t believe that the imminent second coming of Jesus is closer than 20 years out. But I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to recognize that this planet and its fragile systems are in need of a Savior, and sooner rather than later.
I remember when my dad died a few years ago. The pain was so great that I just wanted the world to be over and to escape the hurt and sorrow I was going through. I realized then that my faith was built for imminence but not for sustainability. I was ready—or so I thought—for Jesus to come in days, months, maybe a year or so. But as I look back, I realize my faith was not sustainable to last decades.
What God has in store for those who love Him is beyond our greatest imaginations. But how many of us live in fear and can run the race just a little longer before we burn out, stress out, or die out? What systems of faith do we have in place so that if Jesus’ return was still 30 years away, we would have a sustainable, joyous experience and relationship with Him that would last, grow, and thrive as the world around us seems to crumble?
Please hear me clearly: I believe the systems of this planet are breaking and won’t last much longer. I don’t want to be shocked out of my wits because some event marked “final” all over it takes place earlier than I thought it should. And I suspect you wouldn’t want that either! We’ve been given more than enough light to know we’ve been living on borrowed time for decades. According to Jesus, fulfilled prophecy is a sign (Matt. 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29). The prophetic “signs” that depend on chronology have all been fulfilled. It now seems that pretty much all that’s needed is a trigger—a black swan event—that no one has been looking for; something that will take us all by surprise. And though the prophetic calendars have run their course and believers are attentively proclaiming His soon return, His coming will still involve a significant element of surprise (Luke 21:34).
“It is in a crisis that character is revealed.”2 The virgins all thought themselves prepared until it was too late. “So now, a sudden and unlooked-for calamity, something that brings the soul face to
face with death, will show whether there is any real faith in the promises of God. . . . The great final test comes at the close of human probation, when it will be too late for the soul’s need to be supplied.”3 And if those four patient angels who hold the winds of environmental and political destruction in their hands continue to hold for the same reason they’ve held for decades—until God’s servants are all sealed (Rev. 7:3)—then we should be living a life that can withstand the storms of life and that doesn’t need signs to confirm it.
Jared Thurmon is director of marketing for Adventist Review Ministries.
There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”—Victor Hugo.
I love ideas, especially disruptive ones. In a world more and more automated, streamlined, and similar, I find the common ingredient of success in many industries to be that of contrarianism.
Some shy away from standing out in this world. Society’s anthem shouts, “Blend in; do what everyone else is doing, saying, drinking, wearing, vaping, watching.”
No business today succeeds just by going with the flow and doing what others have done or are doing.
To give a better idea as to why contrarian thinking is so important, consider these facts: 87 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are no longer on the list today. What was once a 75-year life expectancy for a Fortune 500 company is now projected to be 15 years or less.
I don’t think that the longevity of Seventh-day Adventists is linked exclusively to a healthful diet.
Look at some of the most prominent brands in the world today.
Uber is a huge player in the transportation sector, yet it is not built on owning any vehicles. Airbnb is the heavyweight in the lodging/hotel space, yet it owns no hotels or real estate. Netflix envisioned a world in which DVDs were no longer needed and now is the king of content-streaming platforms.
The best idea around in these days of constant go, go, go, is a “new” holiday in our calendar every . . . single . . . week. We need one day each week in which we unplug from the digital matrix and plug into the real world. Before I say more about this special holiday, allow me to explain two options for living life to the fullest.
The first option is to believe in evolution and the idea that the Cambrian explosion formed the foundation of all life. Motto: survival of the fittest. The answer: perspiration.
But if our worldview begins with nothing and ends with a planet flourishing with life and highly complex ecosystems six days later, all at the voice and hands of a personal God, then we have a different foundation on which to build. Inspiration is the answer.
We find the idea of Sabbath at the very beginning of the story of the earth and humanity per the account in the book of Genesis.
In the hustle and bustle of this world, Sabbath—the seventh day of the week—is a helpful reminder to disconnect from the noise and reconnect with God. It is a reminder to cease from our work and let God continue to work. It is a reminder to be still and know that God is God.
I don’t think that the longevity of Seventh-day Adventists is linked exclusively to a healthful diet. The Sabbath is a lot more interconnected than we give it credit. Think about it: in an average 70-year life span, Adventists have taken a holiday every seven days. That equates to 10 years less wear and tear of mind, body, and soul. Who wouldn’t like to live seven to 10 years longer?
It’s an idea whose time has come!
Jared Thurmon is liaison for strategic partnerships at Adventist Review Ministries.
Your mom and I can’t wait to meet you. We chose your name for a few reasons. We wanted a biblical name, and we wanted it to be short and start with an A. So we thought of Ava: it is a short form of the word “chava,” which means “life” or “living one,” and is the Hebrew form of Eve, the most beautiful woman who ever lived.
We waited a long time to have you join us. For many years we didn’t feel we were in a place where you could grow up with all of the advantages that we wanted for you. Now we finally feel that we are in that good place. You will grow up with us on a farm, where you can play with animals and grow your own food. We wanted you to grow up in a place like so many have in history—among the hills and chirping birds; enjoying cool breezes with the responsibility of caring for creatures that depend on you.
Ava, I’m looking forward to teaching you how to get the most out of life. We were created to love, not only to be loved. I want to show you that the law of life is embedded into everything around us. Trees breathe what we exhale and absorb all the impurities so that they can give us fresh air in turn. As you learn from nature, you may start to recognize things that aren’t right in the world around you. You will quickly see that there are two ways of thinking that compete with each other in the world: love and selfishness. Ava, always choose love.
We humans have been on this earth for only a few millenia. Though popular culture, media, and public education may tell you that you came from a monkey and have no purpose, don’t believe that. You came from the hand of God, and you’re destined to live forever some day!
Your mom and I believe that we humans were created by Jesus. There was a big battle in the universe, and heaven’s family was broken. But then Jesus became one of us and redeemed us. He is now our representative, friend, and ambassador in heaven. He has promised that one day soon He will return to save those who want to be saved. Ava, even if your mom and I sleep in the dust before this great event, the good news is that He has promised to give life again to all who believe in Him. He is on your side, so don’t ever be afraid.
Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is your friend. He will never leave you; never betray you; never stop loving you.
Ava, you need to know that the world you will grow up in will be very different from the world I grew up in. And the world I grew up in was very different from the one your grandparents grew up in.
Humanity has become very confused on many issues. I can’t even predict what life will be like just a few years from now, say, on your fifth birthday. Life was intended to be simple. We were created to live in the midst of a garden eating delicious fruit, playing with our friends, running with lions and hippos, and never being sick or sad.
But Ava, the world is a different place today. Selfishness is believed to be the better way by many in the world, and because of that, bad things happen. There may be times when you feel alone, and you hurt. Some think the answer to those feelings is drugs or alcohol, but it’s not, so stay away from both. Some think the answer to the meaning of life is survival of the fittest, fastest, thinnest, prettiest, or richest. But Ava, don’t be tricked into thinking that any of that truly matters.
Don’t ever forget you were created for something special; you are destined for greatness. You will one day soar with eagles, eat exotic fruits on other planets, and laugh with friends while visiting them in other galaxies. You will run and not get tired. You will play and not get hurt.
Ava, you’re entering a world that tells girls they must look a certain way in order to be liked. The world will try to make you think there is only one way for others to like you. Don’t fall for this deception. The world will present unkind ideas about how boys and girls should interact. I pray I can show you the best example of how a boy is supposed to treat a girl by how you see me treat your mom. There is no excuse for anyone ever to yell at you, or touch you in any way that makes you uncomfortable. Never feel ashamed for believing that your body is beautiful and sacred, and that everyone should respect you as much as you respect yourself.
Ava, I’m going to teach you to respect yourself. I’m going to teach you how to be self-sufficient, to be temperate, to be a great saleswoman, and how to give an amazing presentation. I want to teach you how to influence people, run a company, think strategically, and make a profit. But those are secondary to teaching you how to be kind, candid, generous, patient, and loving. So I pray you will have the courtesy of Rebekah, the candor of Abigail, and the courage of Esther.
But Ava, there will be times you let yourself down or are let down by others. Don’t despair; we all make mistakes. Just get back up and try again. Failure is your friend, not your enemy. Never be afraid of trying and failing.
Ava, keep your eyes on Jesus. He is not who the world says He is. He is your friend. He will never leave you; never betray you; never stop loving you. When you get impatient, look to His patience. When you get discouraged, look to His courage. When you get fearful, look to His fearlessness. When you feel weak, rely on His strength.
You’re going to be tempted to look in all directions but His. But Ava, I promise: if you turn your eyes upon Jesus and look into His wonderful face, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and His amazing grace.
I love you.
(The guy who, if Jesus doesn’t return by that time, will be your boyfriend for the next 18 years, or until I approve of your next boyfriend.)
Jared Thurmon is liaison for strategic partnerships with Adventist Review Ministries.
Imagine a designer planning the creation of a new species. Someone walks up and asks, “Will you be giving these creatures laws or principles to live by?”
If survival is hoped for, sustainable laws must be put in place to keep these creatures alive.
Now imagine that the creatures begin playing god and begin creating new creatures with the ability to learn and adapt. I’m talking about robots, or machines, also known as artificial intelligence (AI).
Since more of us have experience with growing children than designing our own robots, do humans need laws as they grow? Do they need laws when they turn 16? You’re likely to think of reasons laws for a 16-year-old may protect rather than hurt.
In many research labs around the world the question is becoming more and more serious: Do machines with artificial general intelligence (AGI) and deep learning capabilities need laws?
Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and others seem to think that AI could be humanity’s greatest threat. The reason? With unlimited abilities to adapt, machines could become destructive, see humanity as disposable, and eventually take over the planet.
These fears are fueling debates about what code of ethics or laws should govern AI. More than 50 years ago Isaac Asimov developed his famous three laws of robotics, a code of ethics to ensure friendly robot/AI behavior.
Parents teach their children the rule of not running out in traffic, not touching a hot stove. Laws are often good, not bad. Just as humans were given laws to live by, so robots, to learn and adapt, are best governed by laws as well.
What laws were given to govern humans?
Anyone who has read the Bible would find some interesting similarities between robots and humans.
Notice the similarities between Jesus’ summary of the law and Asimov’s three laws of robotics:
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Or: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Luke 10:27). Loving God never conflicts with loving our neighbors. In fact, it inspires such love.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). Asimov may have been onto something. Do no harm, but also don’t allow harm to be done through inaction.
As we enter this new era of machine learning, and concerns arise about codes of ethics for artificial intelligence, it may help inform these new designers why laws like Asimov’s, and particularly those beautiful eternal principles of Jesus, are so important.
Jared Thurmon is strategic partnerships liaison for Adventist Review Ministries.
Ahhh . . . holy matrimony. Who doesn’t love a good love story?
Vows of “till death do us part” . . . “thee I do wed” . . . “in sickness and in health.” Pronouncements that “what God has joined together let no man put asunder.” “It is with great pleasure that I present to you the happy couple: they were two, but now they are one—business and religion.”
Yes, you read that right.
“You have felt that business is business, religion is religion, but I tell you that these cannot be divorced. If you seek God with the whole heart, He will be found of you; but, said Christ, ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’ You are not to put asunder that which God has joined—business and religion”1
Consider also this provocative statement by Seventh-day Adventist Church cofounder Ellen White: “Religion and business are not two separate things: they are one.”2
There’s a reason that marriage language is used by Ellen White to describe the relationship between these two often antagonistic entities.
Is it possible that these two powerful forces in our culture and faith have been denied to each other for far too long? Is it time for the Seventh-day Adventist movement to bless their union, encourage their “romance,” and embrace them in our communities with open arms?
If these two, business and religion, were real flesh-and-blood characters, we could quickly complete the sketch of the prospective couple. Business is often viewed as a “cad”—inconsiderate, selfish, greedy, and shrewd, and only out to take care of himself. He gets up early, comes home late, and is nowhere to be seen most weekends. He lives unto himself.
Religion is frequently seen as admiring her image in the cultural mirror. She puts on regalia; she is preoccupied with public perception. But there’s just something essentially incomplete about her. After all, she typically appears in public only on the weekends. She is believed by many to be concerned only with her own issues and causes.
But what if there is a God-ordained connection between these two of which we have been unaware?
Imagine for a moment a world in which these two are united: a world in which the golden rule is the mission statement of every organization. A world in which faith in a better tomorrow is the anthem of both business and religion. What would that look like? What questions would be asked in those boardrooms?
Rather than posing the classic marketer’s obsession—“How do we convince customers that they need our product?”—company directors would analyze the real-life needs of potential customers. Are they sleeping well? What does their morning routine look like? Do they have kids? Are they satisfied with the rhythms of life? How does our product or service really bless and enrich the lives of customers? If we were in their shoes—living on Pleasant Street in Maple Grove—what would we want this organization to be doing for us?”
You sense how differently the world might move if these were the questions being asked in large organizations, both commercial and faith-based. And perhaps you sigh for a world that you are certain can never be. But it is already true that striking innovation and “benevolent” disruption in corporate culture today is emerging from boardrooms in which such questions are being asked—and answered—about the real lives of real people: “What are their real needs? What are the problems—as they see them—that we can solve?”
What would happen if an organization—a Fortune 500 company or a large, faith-based entity—formally adopted Jesus’ “golden rule” as its mission statement? What trickle-down effects would such a profound expression of other-centeredness have on how they chose initiatives and products to develop for their respective “markets,” how they provided services, managed employees, worked for supervisors, held each other accountable, and sought to balance work and life so as to yield in lives of joy and peace?
Truth is, unless we inhabit a solar-powered cabin in northern Montana, grow all our own food, and are completely “off the grid” and self-sustaining, each of us is integrally connected to the world of business. And this is the glory of business: it necessitates that we be dependent on each other and not isolated, self-absorbed beings. We either work within an organization as an employee or serve in it as a leader or founder, and we consume the products of a hundred other businesses. Our faith in God and our belief in Scripture doesn’t insulate us from six-days-a-week contact with the world of transactions, business interactions, and even commercial dealing. This is an honest obedience to the biblical instruction “Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”
And let it be said: this is not an 87 percent diversion from the chief purpose of our lives. The holy work of caring for and tending the “garden” is a role assigned by God to human beings even before the entrance of sin into this planet. Work—and the business that flows from work—is not incompatible with the purposes for which God designed us; for God intended that our six days’ labor flow naturally into a day in which we were reminded of His creative power and sustaining care.
Interestingly enough, a growing shelf of business-oriented publications is beginning to explore the essential interconnectedness between the worlds of work and what we can only call “spiritual values.”
While I personally compare all truth to my own “true north”—the Word of God and the inspired writings found in the Spirit of Prophecy—I also read at least a dozen business books each year. And I am noticing an unmistakable trend: In a remarkable turn from the classic corporate philosophy of amassing wealth in a competitive marketplace in which “dog eats dog,” and only the economically fittest survive, these authors (and the companies paying attention to them) are clearly seeing the void that the world needs filled. They are asking questions that require essentially spiritual solutions: “How do we establish organizations on the basis of sustainability, and even trust?” “How do we bring high-quality service to customers?” “How do we increase employee satisfaction, health, and loyalty?”
As a committed Seventh-day Adventist, trained for business and immersed in the marketplace, where business and ministry meet, I can’t help being inspired by the growing number of businesses reorganizing themselves on essentially “religious” or faith-based principles—principles that derive from Scriptural teachings—that are sustainable and even selfless at their core.
Solomon said that there are two great joys in life: enjoying your food and being satisfied in your work (Eccl. 2:24; 3:22). Sadly, however, only 44 percent of Americans report that they are completely satisfied at work.3 But If God gave us work for our good and wanted us to find great satisfaction and fulfillment in it, how can we find ways to experience a growing harmony—a “relationship” if you will—in which business and religion live happily together?
A growing shelf of business-oriented publications is exploring the interconnectedness between the worlds of work and what we can only call “spiritual values.”
Most Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, spend an average of about three hours a week directly involved in their “religious” lives. And millions of believers invest intense time and focus on the specifics of that 1.8 percent of their week debating worship styles, musical offerings, content of sermons, even the color of the sanctuary carpet. How much more valuable would it be if we considered how to bring the principles of God’s kingdom into the world of business life, in which we typically invest between 40 and 60 hours each week?
A common premise of both business and religion is a willingness to take what the uninitiated call “risk.” A small business owner invests in a strategic location—before any return—where her product can be seen and appreciated by thousands of customers. A consecrated pastor moves his family into a community with no Adventist presence, believing—in faith—that building relationships and providing compassionate neighborliness will result in planting a church to the glory of God. Faith in a better tomorrow drives both religion and business to believe that taking a risk is worth the potential reward.
This essential willingness to invest in what is not yet seen saturates the teaching of the Bible. Scripture tells us, “Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both” (Eccl. 11:6, NLT).4 Venture capitalists are willing to invest in 10 ventures on average in hopes that just one out of those 10 will be a success that will far outweigh any losses in the others.
Conversely, inspiration critiques the habit of not exercising our God-given capacity to trust that a good God wants to do good things for His people, both in worship on Sabbath morning and in their place of business throughout the week. Malachi quotes the Father as saying, “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10, ESV).5
Ellen White similarly counseled, “There is a fearfulness to venture out and to run risks in this great work, fearing that the expenditure of means would not bring returns. What if means are used and yet we cannot see that souls have been saved by it? What if there is a dead loss of a portion of our means? Better work and keep at work than to do nothing. You know not which shall prosper, this or that.”6
Speaking to the inclination to bury talents God has given in the ground, she wrote, “Many become inefficient by evading responsibilities for fear of failure.”7
The genius of the gospel that Seventh-day Adventists believe—and the driving force behind the amazing growth of this movement from a tiny band of dispirited believers to a world-circling fellowship of nearly 20 million—is a commitment to respond to a risk-taking God with a life of reaching and stretching beyond the ordinary.
“Remember that Christ risked all,” Ellen White reminded us. “For our redemption, heaven itself was imperiled.”8
“Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal.”9
Yet Jesus said “Yes” to the greatest risk in the history of the universe. Hallelujah!
Can a movement worshipping such a risk-taking Saviour content itself with pulling in its stakes, investing only in safe causes, planning for only what it can reasonably fund, or trusting and engaging with only those it can put on the payroll?
Ellen White observed: “Some have no idea of running any risk or venturing anything themselves. But somebody must venture; someone must run risks in this cause.”10
If, as Ellen White tried to teach us more than a century ago, business and religion are synonymous, how would a movement engaged with that truth reimagine its mission in light of the climactic events now unfolding in our world? How would it place increased value on businesspersons who understood and operated their companies as ministries—helping to prepare a people to meet the Lord?
One of the most attractive characteristics an organization can possess is a culture of candor.
As a young entrepreneur for the past 10 years, I have been in the heart of the very experience I’m trying to describe. With God’s blessing, I’ve been involved in helping launch and grow a number of exciting ventures. From assisted living development to a plant-based food company, juice bars, an agricultural research project, a digital therapeutics venture, and a nonprofit dedicated to educating communities on how to live healthfully (each sustained by its own commercial success in providing services or selling a product), all of which extend the mission of this movement that I believe in with all my heart.
What’s more, I’ve discovered a large—and growing—network of similarly inclined young Adventists whose creativity and passion have brought them commercial success and who are eager to discover how they can align their organizations with the church they love. What they want— what they need—is the encouragement and embrace of a movement that can reimagine the relationship between faith and commercial sustainability, between religion and business.
The business culture roundly applauds risk-taking entrepreneurs who didn’t allow themselves to be stopped by the shape of things as they were: Steve Jobs at Apple; Bill Gates at Microsoft; Richard Branson at Virgin Airlines; Elon Musk at Tesla; Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Why do we know these names? Because each one has made a direct impact on our lives in innovative communication products, software, transportation, and consumer goods. What’s the common characteristic among these very diverse and highly independent individuals? They believed in an idea and dedicated their lives to making it become a reality. They had faith that the world would be better: communicate better, compute more quickly, travel more easily, conserve more resources, and contribute to general happiness. Though it may not have been of a religious kind, “by faith” they ventured out to make it happen.
Is our church “culture” ready to do the same?
Have you heard of the secretive cell networks who so disrupted the established religious monopolies of late medieval Europe?
Their reputation and influence has for centuries reverberated around the globe. They believed in freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and free enterprise. They were humble businessmen and businesswomen with an undying passion for Jesus, even when they lost their lives because of their faith in Him. Because of their radical beliefs, they were denounced as enemies of the state, fundamentalists, traitors, even terrorists.
Historians tell us they established cell groups all over Europe. Suspicious governments were quick to inform citizens that “if you see something, say something.”
But of these “renegades” we read in The Great Controversy: “To have made known the object of their mission would have ensured its defeat; therefore they carefully concealed their real character. Every minister possessed a knowledge of some trade or profession, and the missionaries prosecuted their work under cover of a secular calling. Usually they chose that of merchant or peddler. ‘They carried silks, jewelry, and other articles, at that time not easily purchasable save at distant marts; and they were welcomed as merchants where they would have been spurned as missionaries.’—[J. A.]Wylie, [The History of Protestantism], b. 1, ch. 7.
“All the while their hearts were uplifted to God for wisdom to present a treasure more precious than gold or gems. They secretly carried about with them copies of the Bible, in whole or in part; and whenever an opportunity was presented, they called the attention of their customers to these manuscripts. Often an interest to read God’s Word was thus awakened, and some portion was gladly left with those who desired to receive it”11
Today many in the Protestant world honor these brave Waldensian Christians. In an age when almost no one dared to challenge the hegemony of Rome over faith, government, and business, they were some of the earliest of those who would later become famous as “Protestants,” including, in some quarters, a devotion to the seventh-day Sabbath of Scripture. They were exquisitely conscious of the risk, but understood intuitively that they served a risk-taking Saviour who calls each one to “take up your cross and follow Me.” Fascinatingly, they were welcomed in the business world, where they would have been rejected as missionaries, allowing them unusual access to spread the truths they were discovering in the Word of God.
Their experiences from centuries ago—and their effectiveness—have inspired leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to begin imagining and supporting new “Waldensian missionaries” in various regions of the world where spreading the gospel is difficult or officially prohibited. Most will enter regions in which they will work as businesspersons producing products, providing services, holding positions in government and industry. But each will do so knowing that there is a greater purpose for their work—for their ministry—than putting bread upon the table or building up a tidy bank account.
Six months ago I wrote an online column for this magazine about attending the Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) convention in Louisville, Kentucky. I listened, transfixed, as a brave Adventist leader working in a difficult region invited any of the 6,000 attendees at the convention to consider serving as “Waldensian Adventists.” Hours later I reported that “As the leader brought his talk to a close, he made an appeal for those willing to commit themselves to the difficult and even dangerous work in his difficult and dangerous region. No music was played to pull on the heartstrings. He didn’t use emotional language, nor was his delivery unusually dynamic. It was clear, concise—and compelling. His phrasing reminded me of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s supposed advertisement declaring his bold voyage to the frozen southern wilderness of Antarctica: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.’ . . .
“Tears streamed down my face as I watched these fearless young men and women—sons and daughters—pour down the aisles to the front of the massive meeting hall. Like Christian and Hopeful near the end of their journey toward the Celestial City in John Bunyan’s beautiful allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, the speaker reminded them that, yes, the river that lies between us and the heavenly city is raging. But it’s not our duty to discern a way across. We’re simply called to step forward in faith.”12
I sincerely applaud the innovative efforts of church leaders who are even now imagining and building networks of support that move past our traditional divide between business and religion. But surely it will take more than the concentrated focus of a few dozen senior church executives to launch the new style of “working ministry” that sustains itself in the marketplace and contributes its profits to the spread of the gospel.
What if local congregations offered incentive seed funds—$500, $2,500, $10,000—to young Adventist entrepreneurs with well-structured multiyear business plans who contracted to return to that congregation a guaranteed percentage of profits after the start-up phase? Wouldn’t this kind of risk-taking be worth it?
What if conference and union conference headquarters carefully selected “Waldensian missionaries” who would enter “dark counties” (and cities) with sought-after goods and services, establishing the nucleus of an Adventist congregation that didn’t need continuing pastoral care or conference resources? What if the church plants resulting from such risk-taking were self-sustaining, contributing their tithes to the Lord’s storehouse and funding the local outreach of the newly established churches?
What if three—or five, or better yet, seven—major new “business ministries” in each world division were offered serious start-up funding to create the “centers of influence” that naturally attract consumers, then friends, then guests at worship, and finally baptized believers who embrace the three angels’ messages?
One of the most attractive characteristics an organization can possess is a culture of candor. Candor—sometimes better known as honesty or truth telling—is often the most hidden trait in both commercial and faith-based systems. Candor and open communication in a spirit of love are key qualities to any relationship; but especially vital to any organization that seeks to do more than build a brand or keep stockholders satisfied. Truth telling—safe, candid communication—must be part of the DNA of any ultimately successful enterprise, church, or business.
Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar Entertainment and author of Creativity, Inc., describes the role of candor in an organization. He set up a tight- knit group of passionate, creative individuals who meet often and make up what Pixar calls “The Braintrust.”
“Candor isn’t cruel. It does not destroy. On the contrary, any successful feedback system is built on empathy, on the idea that we are all in this together, that we understand your pain because we’ve experienced it ourselves. The need to stroke one’s own ego, to get the credit we feel we deserve—we strive to check those impulses at the door. The Braintrust is fueled by the idea that every note we give is in the service of a common goal: Supporting and helping each other.“13
We might imagine that Catmull had been reading the apostle Paul: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8, NKJV).14
Does your religion have room for candor? Are you free to be honest? Do you have individuals in your life who exhibit grace to you and make a safe place to share ideas, concerns, frustrations, joy, and sadness?
This principle more than any other could spark the new ministry and business relationships that have so much potential to reshape the Adventist future, to change it from a carefully monitored system where all funding must flow from a central source to one in which the money that fuels the movement is potentially home-grown, sustainable, and locally distributed. Surrounded by a secular culture that teaches us to fear the “other,” we have grown wary of each other, even of brothers and sisters in the faith. Too many of us fail to trust and thus to love one another. And the direct consequence of our wariness is that Spirit-in
spired ideas—ministries, Waldensian businesses, commercially successful business that could sustain congregations and extend their mission reach—die on the vine.
I believe we are on the verge of a grand and heaven-ordained “disruption” in the Adventist movement. It will be a time that hundreds—thousands—of dedicated men and women will answer the call to open sustainable businesses in our large cities around the globe with the sole desire of living out and revealing the principles of our faith for all the world to witness. Our congregations are on the verge of a great revival, a revival in faith and in each other; in hope that takes risks; and in love that welcomes and embraces all honest souls.
It may not have been the match that we saw coming, nor a relationship we thought could flourish. But it may be for such a time as this that we celebrate the marriage of religion and business.
[If this article has resonated with you, I would love to hear from you - @thurmon or [email protected] - Also, this isn't just theory, join us as we discuss what this looks like now and in the future at our upcoming event - Fruition - in Phoenix, AZ on August 3-4. It precedes ASi, so join us for both. For more information, go to http://www.fruitionlab.org to register.]
Jared Thurmon is the marketing director/strategic partnerships liaison for Adventist Review.
I had the pleasure of reaching out to a few pastors who have each ministered to me personally. They represent some of the remarkable diversity that the world Seventh-day Adventist Church has to offer. Starting new churches and outreach efforts is all part of our church’s global evangelistic focus with its special focus on large metropolitan areas.
Associate pastor for the Atlanta North Seventh-day Adventist Church
More than 10,000 people in metro Atlanta experience homelessness on any given night, with more than 40 percent being women and children. An estimated 755,400 people in metro Atlanta and north Georgia turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed their families each year. Atlanta is also ranked the number one hub for sexual slavery in America: as many as 100 and 200 girls are sold into slavery in Atlanta every month.
My church is actively involved in the following projects:
We sponsor refugees from the Friends of Refugees Providing Education and Empowerment (FREE) organization. We sponsor 25 children with school uniforms and everyday clothing. In addition to these students sponsored, we provide monthly/quarterly food, furniture, book, and clothing donations to refugee families in Clarkston, Georgia, who participate in this program.
We support the community assistance center (CAC) in Sandy Springs, Georgia, with monetary donations, food drives, toiletry drives, toy drives, and service projects.
Our community service department reviews and approves requests for financial assistance from church and community members daily. These financial requests include grocery gift cards, repairs, rent, utility bills, bank statements, tax forms, day care, etc.
We serve Atlanta through the Compassion 100K campaign with monthly service projects benefiting existing organizations that help homelessness, hunger, human trafficking, and health.
There has been a shift in ministering from community-belonging to fighting for a cause. The church is more involved in getting out and serving the community. Instead of waiting for them to come to us, we go to them. Now we are making ourselves more visible in the community, getting involved in community runs, fund-raisers, community parades, and being more available on the compassion side.
Love is at the center of the Adventist message of Jesus’ soon return and the proclamation of the three angels’ messages. My Adventist identity embodies this message of love that was perfectly exemplified through the ministry of Jesus.
When people see God’s character of love in me, when I am asked who and what church I represent, I proudly share that I am a Seventh-day Adventist. It is then that the conversation begins. As Ellen G. White says: “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. To know God is to love Him.”1
Public evangelism, known for the traditional four- to six-week evangelism series, now places new emphasis on one-week reaping series with various service projects and community seminars throughout the year. Public evangelism is still very alive and is more community service-oriented. The more we serve, the more people are interested in being part of our faith community. Our church does very well with health seminars. They are the feeders to our evangelistic meetings.
Revelation 12:11 speaks of Christ’s followers being known by their testimony. Personal testimony is very powerful. Never think that you need to be someone else to do the ministry God has intended for you to do. God created you for a unique purpose, and only you can fulfill that mission.
Our goal is to strengthen our members by getting them involved. This is combined with our goal as a congregation to learn the immediate needs of our community.
Senior pastor of the North Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church
As an adult convert to Adventism who was born in a large city (Los Angeles), I have a passion for those who receive government assistance, be it financial or medical. I grew up on government assistance myself. There is a language native to those planted and grown in the impoverished neighborhoods of America’s metropolitan areas; people from those areas understand it. It is the language of need. I am all too familiar with that language; therefore my heart beats to introduce people who are where I’m from to the One who taught me the language of faith.
We are just a short walk from Temple University. We have some exciting plans to minister to its students in the coming year. We believe strongly in the potential of young minds, such as the pioneers who started this movement. We hold to the promise that the Spirit of Prophecy says that the message will once again come with power to the cities of the East.
Because many of the churches in our cities have existed there for so long, we behave as if we’ve turned every stone when it comes to outreach. We feel we’ve done and achieved everything we’ve needed to do. All we need to do now is make sure our doors stay open. Unfortunately, sometimes we want the doors to stay open only for us.
The most important thing we have to do is create mission and vision statements and core values that inform an outreach strategy. When we don’t know what our mission/vision/core values are it prevents us from adequately developing outreach strategies because we haven’t put in place the core values necessary for the church to rally around. It’s great to set up sessions to teach members how to knock on doors and pass out tracts, but if they don’t know
why they are knocking on doors and passing out tracts, it won’t have an effect. The church’s mission, vision, and core values help members understand why they need to do outreach.
As pastors, we love the Ellen White statement in The Ministry of Healing and focus on page 143: “Christ’s method alone.” But a quote on page 19 says, “Jesus devoted more time to healing the sick than to preaching.”2 Our denomination saw its most explosive growth when it was meeting the needs of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. Integral to our church’s body is its “right arm”: a health message that meets people’s physical needs. We are one of a few Christian denominations that emphasize health and wholeness as much as we do eschatology.
In cities such as Philadelphia, where the poverty ratio is one of the highest in America, where poor dietary choices are the most easily accessible and affordable, it’s important for us to remember our message of health and wholeness.
Public evangelism is not just about preparing people for the hereafter, but also preparing them to prosper in the here and now (3 John 2).
Philadelphia needs free dental and medical clinics that will help build a culture of good health care in the inner city. Philadelphia needs resources to teach its youth how to interface with community officials. Philadelphians need to know where to get jobs, and where to get grants for school and starting small businesses.
We need to use the most meaningful language possible. We need to invest in the most meaningful efforts possible. Doing that may involve shifting how we categorize our efforts. Evangelism can sometimes seem to be a Band-Aid on a deep wound. What we need is discipleship: a necessary operation to make sure that the wound doesn’t bleed out. Discipleship involves more than a one-time public evangelistic campaign. Discipleship is inviting people into your life. Jesus didn’t shut people up in school buildings. Jesus invited people to do life with Him.
Senior pastor of the Glenville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland has a lot of challenges economically and socially. A lot of family brokenness, poverty, recidivism, kids raising kids, human trafficking, and other urban ills. Yet all these challenges present opportunities for our church to meet needs and make a difference in people’s lives. People here are hungry for love. Loving people and meeting their needs is our opportunity.
Ministry to children is the easiest. Children want to experience the overt message of the gospel.
The hardest is ministering to their parents and families who are more into success, money, and upward mobility, the American dream. They seem to have no room for God. So we pray for a crisis that will open their hearts to God.
Ministry to families by way of children. We are currently in the process of adopting three schools (two public, one private) where we take after-school and in-school programs to kids.
We just sold the building we occupied for 60 years and are right now preparing to redevelop a former Kmart building we purchased. New features will include a family community center, a café, gymnasium, cross-fit gym, high school virtual leadership academy, media center, and more. We are even considering a food truck specializing in fresh juice smoothies, etc., to help fund our inner city initiatives.
We actually have a program called “GO SABBATH” every fourth Sabbath. We go into communities and connect with the community through prayer and assessment, seeking to understand what the unique needs are and how we can meet them. We also hold community educational engagement events. This event doubles as a big needs assessment drive.
The difference in the past was that you were in a sense competing against other Christian belief systems. But now many families in the urban areas have no religious affiliation and are totally unchurched, so you’re starting from ground zero.
For us, our 52 Sabbath services serve as our primary public evangelism strategy. We seek for each Sabbath to have the energy, excellence, and inspirational music and preaching that a traditional meeting would have once a year.
Constantly create outreach activities and serve the needs of the community. Seek to do a few things well instead of a bunch of things poorly or in a mediocre way. Create an environment of praying for the community.
Jared Thurmon is strategic partnerships liason and director of marketing for Adventist Review.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:1-4, NRSV).1
And yet the Keeper of Israel was asleep, His chest rising and falling gently with the rhythm of the waves.
Bone-tired, barely able to lift His hand in one more blessing or bring healing to another sightless eye, Jesus had willed Himself to meet the hundreds who had waited hours for His touch. Now, “virtue had gone out of him” (Mark 5:20, KJV) as quickly as the sun slipped down behind the purple hills. His humanity sank into the brief oblivion of sleep while others steered the fishing boat. His Father would keep Israel tonight.
But the hills were full of eyes, not all of them human. Somewhere off to the east, behind the tombs where madmen roamed and pigs still browsed the evening grass, supernatural beings studied every movement of the wooden boat, each oar stroke in the placid lake, each kiss of wind that filled the billowing sail.
Lucifer and his legion found the evening peace detestable. Hearts that thrive on chaos cannot bear the calm of grace. And when the eastbound sailing boat approached the deeper fishing grounds, the adversary at last upset the heavy silence.
“We have an opportunity,” he growled, and fallen angels leaped to implement his strategy. “If we disturb the peace, excite the wind, bring on a storm the likes of which this lake has never seen, we can put that boat and all within it in the coldest depths of Galilee.”
The malevolence was deadly and undying. It had always been the devil’s purpose to bring his greatest rival to an end before Jesus could accomplish human rescue. “The prince of evil exerted all his power and cunning to destroy Jesus; for he saw that the Savior’s mercy and love, His compassion and pitying tenderness, were representing to the world the character of God.” 2
The prince of the powers of the air had more than breezes up his sleeve. “He has studied the secrets of the laboratories of nature, and he uses all his power to control the elements as far as God allows.” 3 An updraft here, a forming cloud there; a fiendishly fortunate conjunction of topography, cool night, and dropping atmospheric pressure presented Lucifer with what must have seemed his finest chance to end the Savior’s life. It made no difference to the devil that a dozen dull disciples and those in many trailing boats would meet their end as well. Destructiveness is casual in its counting.
And so the storm began, first with the nearly imperceptible changes in wind direction and the steadily increasing headwind that made the man at the tiller tack his way across the lake—first north, then south—intent on keeping full wind in the sail. Across the hilltops of Gennesaret the evening mist was braided into one, then 20, then 200 clouds, until a swirling mass of lethal wind was concentrated, amplified, and targeted on tiny boats five miles away. Whatever in the roiling night could be used for Satan’s purposes was used. The pent-up fury of millennia blew cold and hot, then hotter still, until a cyclone worthy of some distant delta blew down with bitter, blasting force.
We know the story well—too well. All unconcerned, the followers of Jesus had missed the signs that something big was just about to happen. Wrapped in the false security of sameness and short-sightedness, the twelve had missed the warnings from the One. They were more certain of themselves than they had any right to be, and counted peace with every oar beat. They dropped their guard when guard was just the thing they needed.
What signs were there of an approaching storm? None they could see or feel or smell: no omens in the sky, or gray-green funnels bearing down upon them. “For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4, RSV).4 They had not yet imagined that they and the One they followed were at the center of a crisis bigger than their lake, their livelihoods, or even their lives. They had missed the clear significance of all that Jesus had been trying to tell them, thinking that the controversies with priests and elders—and each other—were all that truly mattered.
But there was—there is—a controversy larger than we know. Even now the mist is rising, swirling on the peaks of so-called everyday events. The updrafts of false rhetoric; the chill of underpressurized economies; the swirling fog of politics as usual; the heat of blood bespattered on the paving stones by this day’s suicide bombing in—where was it now?—these are the makings of a storm. These are the warnings, often undetected, that nothing is as it appears. “For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman” (1 Thess. 5:3, NKJV).5
How do storms start? The meteorologist at the Weather Channel headquarters in Atlanta allowed for all the variables.
“Here are some things you should know about storms,” he said patiently, as though used to dealing with those naive about his science. “The worst storms in the world are in the United States and Bangladesh”—ironically, two countries with polar opposite economies, great disparities in wealth, and even greater differences in their ability to recover from catastrophes. America’s worst storm—Katrina, in 2005—took 1,464 lives. The November 1970 Bholo cyclone claimed more than 500,000 in Bangladesh’s flooded delta.
Apparently—to those who know—the planet is one vast, substantial storm—still forming, formed, re-forming, and deforming. There is no moment with no “weather,” for even days of sun and gentle breezes are precursors of storms a half world away. All moments of apparent lull are truly just the calm before the ceaseless rhythm of approaching storms.
But what, specifically, is the sequence of a storm, and what would be the first sign of its coming? Would it be clouds piling up in the distance, or wind swaying in the tops of the mulberry trees?
And what of so-called folk signs, such as the seeming silence of the birds, cows unexpectedly lying down in midday, or Grandma’s famous achy joints? How much do storms result from changed humidity, as deserts and rain forests each offer their “push” and “pull”? Or is dropping barometric pressure the clearest sign of change?
“It really depends on where you are in the world,” the meteorologist offered noncommittally. “Almost simultaneously, changes begin to occur—in air pressure, clouds, and the winds.” The belief in a predictable and typically sequential pattern is apparently as unreliable as—well, the weather.
“Almost simultaneously, changes begin to occur.” Those who count on some unvarying unfolding of storm signs will quickly find themselves mistaken, for it is the confluence of conditions, not the sequence, that takes even experienced weather watchers off guard. Expecting nature to warn us of its plans to wreak havoc with the landscape or our lives is the surest way to get it wrong, and to be unprepared for the crisis soon to break upon our heads.
And so it is with rapidly unfolding political, economic, and environmental events that signal our old world is headed for anything but “business as usual.” The great crisis predicted in Bible prophecy and underscored in the Spirit of Prophecy will likely not pace itself to match our time lines and our charts, elaborate though they be. Since it is the devil’s delight to catch humanity unprepared and sweep so many off to everlasting loss, should we, in fact, expect the final movements to be measured, temperate, and easy to describe? No; in fact, “the agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones.” 6
“Satan works through the elements also to garner his harvest of unprepared souls. . . . In accidents and calamities by sea and by land, in great conflagrations, in fierce tornadoes and terrific hailstorms, in tempests, floods, cyclones, tidal waves, and earthquakes, in every place and in a thousand forms, Satan is exercising his power. He sweeps away the ripening harvest, and famine and distress follow. He imparts to the air a deadly taint, and thousands perish by the pestilence. These visitations are to become more and more frequent and disastrous.” 7
The experience of the followers of William Miller who formed the nucleus of the Seventh-day Adventist Church more than 150 years ago reminds us how easily even the devout can be mistaken when they assume that their grasp of Bible prophecy—and its fulfillment in their age—is complete and error-free. Only in the aftermath of their Great Disappointment of October 1844 did they come to grasp that while the Bible’s 2,300-year prophecy was true, their initial interpretation of that prophecy was fallible and shortsighted. So again in our own age, those who confidently assert that some political event, earthquake, or outbreak of war is the ironclad indicator of a “date certain” for Jesus’ second coming will almost certainly experience both the public embarrassment of being wrong and the private anguish of unmet expectation.
The timeless truths of Bible prophecy will yet have their great fulfillment: “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18, NKJV). But the fulfillment of those inspired words is all about the affirmation of God’s truthfulness, not a confirmation of the accuracy of His followers. Far better to say as William Miller himself concluded: “I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light.—And that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see HIM for whom my soul yearns.”8
The hair-raising storm described in Mark 4 reminds us of life lessons once learned by those who weathered the storm in a sinkable boat. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11, NKJV).
First among these is the value of attentiveness. While some believers, admittedly, grow hypervigilant—connecting dots between every papal itinerary or Supreme Court ruling and their understanding of events that will precede Christ’s coming—the greater danger is the assumption of global continuity and sameness, and that nothing world-changing can happen in, say, less than five years.
Jesus Himself rebuked the most far-seeing leaders of His society for their lack of attentiveness to the great events He had inaugurated. Consumed with dailyness and busyness, they missed the warnings of the storm about to break upon their heads: “He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red”; and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times’ ” (Matt. 16:2, 3, NKJV).
Preoccupation with everyday life similarly persuaded the residents of the antediluvian world—who had never witnessed a storm—that the idea of the crisis Noah preached was unfounded and unprecedented. But for all but Noah and the members of his immediate family, probation closed upon the world under pink sky and glorious sunset. This is a warning to us upon whom the ends of the world have come that an unwarranted confidence in peace and safety is itself a sign of the times.
As we write this, national economies that were the boast of the stock markets in New York, London, and Tokyo just 12 months ago are teetering on the edge of disaster. Some currencies have floated; others have drowned. Prices for the fuel that fuels our world have plunged by more than half, but even so, so-called recoveries are proving tepid at best. Rapidly shifting political and military alliances have made many national borders mere lines in the sand as mass movements of displaced peoples overwhelm the infrastructures of the past. Tribalism, once thought a relic of the past century, has found new power in Asia, Africa, Europe, and even the Americas, as the current political season well illustrates.
While there is nothing wrong with loving peace and purple sunsets, we ought never to make the mistake of assuming that nothing will change in the night, or that smooth sailing can be expected. Attentiveness requires the sober interplay of both facts and faith—all with the goal of being unsurprised by what will surely shock the heedless world about us. The apostle Paul encourages just such watchfulness: “But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day” (1 Thess. 5:4, 5, NRSV).
At least as important as attentiveness is the value of togetherness—of faithfulness—in staying close to Jesus. Those whom John describes in Revelation as among the redeemed “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev. 14:4)—including into the boat, even when that seems ill-advised by pundits or popularity.
In Mark’s account of the storm on the lake, we find the disciples frantically bailing water and rowing, in part because they didn’t grasp the power of the One with whom they sailed. Most of the men in the boat that night were skillful fishermen, with long years of experience in all kinds of weather on that very lake. But nothing in their experience had prepared them for the violence and the drama of those moments. They were convinced that they were going down to the bottom of that lake to rest forever among all the fish they were used to catching. Meanwhile, Jesus lay blissfully asleep in the stern of the boat, completely unaware of all the commotion and the panic all around Him.
It’s enough to say that they were furious with Him. Because they were having an emergency in their lives, they assumed that He should be having an emergency in His life. And when He continued to sleep while they continued to panic, they finally woke Him and told Him off in good Galilean fashion: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38).
Those were harsh words to be saying to Jesus. For months He had shown His deep affection for them by countless acts of generosity and thoughtfulness. He had patiently tried to teach them about God when their minds were full of earth. He had rescued them when they got themselves in dangerous and embarrassing situations. He had settled their incessant squabbling with each other about who was going to end up in the top place, and given them the first truly noble work that any of them had ever done.
And now, here they were, accusing Jesus of not caring enough about them. They were blasting Him because in the middle of a storm they thought impossible, He was sleeping the sleep of the imperturbable.
You know the story well. When Jesus finished calming the storm—and it must have taken Him all of three seconds—He turned to them and reminded them again of how little they understood the rhythms of His life. “Why are you so afraid?” He asked them. “Do you still have no faith?” (verse 40).
If they had been in step with Jesus; if they had been in harmony with Jesus; if they had been living their lives by the rhythm of His life, they would have known that nothing bad could happen to them unless Jesus allowed it to happen.
Had they fully valued the privilege of being in the company of Jesus, they would have known that the safest place in the entire universe at that moment in time was actually in that sinking boat in the middle of the sea of Galilee, because Jesus was in it.
And how is it with you as you read this? Are you anxious today? Are you fearful, clamoring for God to do something, to fix something, to intervene somehow in your life or in the lives of those you love? Does it seem to you sometimes that Jesus must be asleep, that He isn’t listening to all your urgent, impassioned prayers? Do you find yourself frequently on the verge of “telling God off”—telling Him how uncaring He seems, how uninterested He seems in the emergencies and crises of your everyday life?
If any or all of those things are true of you, then it’s time to stop at least long enough to ask yourself if it is really a disciple’s life you are living. Does your life move to the rhythms of Jesus’ life? Do you enjoy being alone with Jesus each day? Do you regularly create time for your family, for your friends, for worship, for “renewing experiences”? Are you living your life by the rhythms of Jesus, or are you dancing frantically to the rapid beat of our secular and restless generation?
Jesus, the great Rabbi of your life, says to you today what He once said to His restless and frightened disciples: “Come unto Me, . . . and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28, NKJV). Do you hear Him today? Can you quiet your racing heart and your frazzled nerves long enough to really hear His invitation?
Can you put aside—put out of your head—the never-ending to-do lists of life? Can you set these aside long enough to hear the voice of Him who loves you with an everlasting love?
“I will give you rest,” Jesus says, “and not only rest in your bed at night, when you can sleep like a child with a clear conscience, but I’ll give you rest in the middle of all the rushing, frantic world around you. I’ll walk lonely roads with you, and hold you when the boat appears to wallow. I’ll talk quietly to you when everyone else in your life is yelling at you or barking orders at you. I’ll heal you from that awful sickness that makes you think you must take everything in your own hands and struggle with and make it work.”
“I’ll teach you how to sleep on stormy nights, and how to find real peace in the midst of all the crash of thunder.
More than a century ago Ellen White looked down through time and saw our day—and our night. “A storm is coming, relentless in its fury,” she wrote. “Are we prepared to meet it? We need not say: The perils of the last days are soon to come upon us. Already they have come.” 9
The storm just ahead is neither mythical nor avoidable. It may yet surprise us, as the storm on Galilee surprised Jesus’ disciples, with its awfulness and power. All that can be shaken will be shaken. We should get accustomed to the howling of the wind and the groaning of the planking underneath our feet. All that seems secure just now will prove illusory: “Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Rev. 16.20, NKJV).
But we are never left alone, or to the mercy of the waves. He who began this great work—in this remnant movement and in our lives—will fulfill His promise and bring it to completion. That One standing in the stern, raising His hands over the chaos and quieting our hearts—“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17, RSV).
“Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.”10
Having grown up in this faith community as a fifth generation Seventh-day Adventist, it seems I have always lived with the pronouncement, “Jesus is coming soon.” And so when asked today if I still believe in that imminence, I choose to respond as the apostles did: “The end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7); “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:12); “‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay’” (Hebrews 10:37). Add to these confessions of imminence the declaration of our Lord Himself, woven into the Bible’s last prayer, and what other stance is there for an Adventist to embrace? “‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).
Yes, but were those ancient texts ever intended to teach that Christ is returning really soon? Having officiated at the funerals of young men and women not even in their prime of life—cut down by the tragedy of an unexpected death—it is my pastoral sense that the Spirit of God, who inspired the spirit of imminence in the New Testament, in fact does intend for His message to be taken quite literally: “Live in daily expectation that Christ is coming soon—for your last breath is one breath away from your first breath at the return of Jesus.”
This is a portion of the full response to our questions on where we are in the stream of prophecy. To read the entire response, go to www.AdventistReview.org
In spite of many false alarms it still bears repeating that Jesus emphatically stated nobody knows the day or the hour of His return. Nevertheless, He did give us a number of signs so we could know when it’s coming was near. Based on virtually every metric of prophecy I for one absolutely believe the Lord’s coming is soon.
Mounting violence, check. The increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, check. Plunging morals and cold hearts, check. Mankind destroying the earth, check. Not to mention the dramatic rise of Pope Francis’ popularity and power combined with his repeated calls for a religious unity.
But I still think many people may have some confused concepts regarding what things will look like in the world just before the close of probation. They often picture something like fire and brimstone belching from the earth as entire cities are swallowed and demon possessed mobs rampaging around the planet searching for the saints who are hiding in the hills.
Jesus paints a somewhat different picture of life going on with some semblance of normality. Jesus said, “…the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). For the world it comes “as a thief” when all are crying “peace, peace”. This means He is not going to wait until the very last days are obvious and the world seems ready to drop off a precipice or collide with a wall. Everybody would expect it then.
This is a portion of the full response to our questions on where we are in the stream of prophecy. To read the entire response, go to www.AdventistReview.org
Jared Thurmon coordinates marketing and is the strategic partnerships liaison for Adventist Review. Bill Knott is editor and executive publisher of Adventist Review.