While pastoring I often had a particular conversation. Someone would want me to read a book, article, or pamphlet, or to watch or listen to a DVD or CD. Usually what they wanted me to consume was a rant against this or that issue, person, church, religion, and so on.
The conversation went something like this. “Pastor, I have something you really need to see.”
Jesus was and still is much loved and respected by the general public.
“Yes, I just read a book that really hits home concerning __________.” (Fill in the blank with any number of topics, such as the pope, music, spiritual formation, etc.).
“Absolutely! Will you read it?”
“It depends. Is it a book that tears down or builds up?”
When I ask people what they know about the sect of the Sadducees, right away they respond, “The Sadducees were the ones who didn’t believe in the resurrection.” Some 2,000 years after the Sadducees disappeared we still know them by what they stood against, because that is their legacy preserved in Scripture. We do not know them for what they stood for, what positive contribution they made, if any.
It’s the same with the Pharisees. They have a negative reputation today, but the Pharisees were a group intent on a noble purpose. They wanted to be holy. Their noble purpose, however, was thwarted by their methodology. They sought their holiness primarily by avoiding evil, which they accomplished by creating rule upon burdensome rule.
Thus Jesus informed them that in concentrating on their minuscule rules they ignored the weightier matters of the law. In other words, they defined themselves not by what they stood for but by what they stood against. Instead, Jesus said, they needed to identify themselves by what they stood for, things such as justice, mercy, faithfulness, and the love of God (see Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42). How differently the Pharisees would be known today if they had made their public attitude one of holding up those standards and only quietly avoiding evil. That’s what Jesus did.
It’s an interesting study to read through the four Gospels and note what Jesus did not spend much time fighting against.
The Sadducees accepted a major doctrinal error concerning the resurrection, and Jesus never even addressed the problem until they brought it to Him. The Pharisees forced oppressive rules on people, but Jesus’ sermons didn’t focus on this except for a couple of instances when they drove Him to it as they worked against Him.
Ellen White tells us that Judas was paying himself from the disciples’ moneybag,* but Jesus never seems to have brought it up. Again and again Jesus passed right over doctrinal, even behavioral issues, choosing instead to work the positive, up-building angle. As a result Jesus was and still is much loved and respected by the general public. Ask people in the streets what they know of Jesus, and it’s more likely that they will mention the good He did rather than the evil He stood against.
If you were to walk down the street asking people what they know of Seventh-day Adventists, what would you hear? Most people, I fear—if they know anything about us at all—would probably reply with something along the lines of: “Adventists are against eating meat.” “Adventists reject the sacredness of Sunday.” “Adventists are against the doctrine of hell.” “Adventists think the pope is the antiChrist.” Whether or not those statements are true, the problem is that we are often known more for what we are against than what we stand for, such as loving one another, the soon return of Jesus, the gift of the Sabbath, living a healthful lifestyle, and so on.
I get the feeling at times that many Seventh-day Adventists consider it a badge of honor to stand boldly against something. I sat at our church fair booth one day in a small town in Minnesota. A man walked up to the booth, read our sign, and said flatly, “Adventists. You are the ones who hate Catholics.”
Although the accusation was untrue, the fact is that Seventh-day Adventists deserve that reputation. I questioned the man specifically to find out if he had attended one of our Revelation seminars. Sure enough, he had. He had walked out of the meetings offended, not because we were lying, but because we were tearing down rather than building up. I congratulated him for walking out on such terms. He was right to do so. It doesn’t matter how true a message is when the takeaway is a feeling of disrespect, unintended as that feeling may be.
I wish I could believe that the incident at the fair was an isolated one, but I’m sorry to say that similar incidents have happened to me on other occasions, too. We deserve our reputation. The reason we deserve it is not because of our message in and of itself, but because of the way we present our message. Whatever our subject, we too often approach it from the point of view of what we are against rather than what we are for.
The question I ask my church is whether we wish to be known by what we are against, or by what we are for.
If we wish to be known by what we stand for, then only one course of action is available to us: we must begin to talk about what we stand for rather than what we stand against, not just in our sermons but in our private conversations as well. God knows what He’s talking about when the Bible says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11). He’s serious about that!
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif., Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 718.
Jeff Scoggins works for Adventist Mission.
I was shown that the recording angel makes a faithful record of every offering dedicated to God and put into the treasury and also of the final result of the means thus bestowed. The eye of God takes cognizance of every farthing devoted to His cause and of the willingness or reluctance of the giver. The motive in giving is also chronicled.
“Those self-sacrificing, consecrated ones who render back to God the things that are His, as He requires of them, will be rewarded according to their works. Even though the means thus consecrated be misapplied, . . . those who made the sacrifice . . . will not lose their reward.”1
An extraordinary river flowed through land and forest in a certain country, a thing of beauty: deep, wide, twisting and turning, reaching every corner of the land, providing life-giving water to plants, animals, trees, and people. It served also as a highway by which boats could travel for trade, business, and communication. But beyond its beauty, depth, or complexity, the river was extraordinary because it had no visible source.
The single reason this river existed in the land was that once upon a time the inhabitants of the territory recognized the need for a river to water the land. In fact, the Lord of the rain had whispered of this need into their ears. So they had sought him for advice, and been told that if each of them would consistently pour a small portion of the rainwater they collected into the riverbed, they could sustain such a river.
This they did. And they recognized the Lord of the rain also as Lord of the river.
Time passed, as it does. And although the inhabitants of the land were proud of their lush forests and lands, they began pouring less and less of their hard-earned rainwater into the river. The keepers of the river became concerned as the water level dropped. If this continues, they said, the forest and lands will not receive the water they need. When asked why they did not increase their offerings of water in order to maintain the river, the inhabitants of the land offered various explanations:
We do not have enough water for ourselves as it is. We are already giving enough in other ways. The river has plenty of water and doesn’t require our contributions. We shall give, but only token amounts that show our sense of respect. We cannot trust the river to flow where it actually needs to. It is better to direct our own water to the places we feel it should go. Some of the most persuaded spoke vehemently at meetings: we are waiting until we receive a crystal-clear report of exactly how our water is being used. Truth be told, many believed, deep down, that giving to the river was no longer urgent.
The one and only reason this river existed in the land was because, once upon a time, the inhabitants of the territory recognized the need for a river to water the land.
One day, a delegation decided to take their issues to the Lord of the river.
“We are concerned about contributing to the river,” they said.
“Why?” asked the Lord of the river.
“Well,” they replied, citing their first concern, “because pouring in our buckets of water is like pouring into a black hole. We have no idea where our water goes. Who knows if it gets to the proper place! We have heard tell that sometimes thieves steal from the river. We have even heard that some keepers of the river divert streams to their own gardens.”
The Lord of the river was silent for a few moments. Then he asked quietly, “Do I understand correctly that you think of this life-giving river that waters all this country as a black hole because you cannot identify where ‘your’ water goes?”
The delegation sat in awkward silence, for they immediately understood the ridiculous nature of their complaint. First, a black hole implies greed without return. These are not characteristics of a life-giving river. Second, one simply does not expect to pour a bucket of water into a river and know where one’s particular molecules of water end up.
Unwilling to so meekly concede, they said, “Sure, we cannot know precisely where our individual buckets of water go. But we do know that sometimes the water from the river is misused and diverted for wrong purposes. How can we in good conscience contribute our water to such practices?”
The Lord of the river responded, “You call it your water. Why?”
“Because we work hard to gather it from the rain,” they replied.
“You’re welcome,” replied the Lord of the river. The delegation stared back blankly, so he continued. “You’re welcome that I have given you the blessing of rain and the blessing of being able to work to gather it. I ask again, why do you call it your water?”
Again the delegation sat before him in awkward silence, comprehending that all waters belonged to the Lord of the river and the rain.
“As for your suspicions concerning how the water of the river is used,” he continued, “is not the use of the river my responsibility? If in fact the river is ever misused, which happens less than you suspect, those who do it will be held accountable, for their actions are recorded. Understand, though, that those who refuse to do their part to feed the river will also be accountable, for their actions also are recorded.”
The delegation shifted uncomfortably. Quietly shredding their list of concerns, they finally replied, “Be assured that we do not wish to withhold the waters. But we have experienced great joy in taking buckets of water directly to those who need it. May we contribute that way?”
“Of course you may,” replied the Lord of the river. “Indeed, I hope you will. But ask yourself this: Why do you prefer to give directly rather than adding to the river? Is it not because of the feeling you gain from seeing your water benefiting someone else directly? Could your gift, then, be just a tiny bit selfish? By all means, water beasts or plants or people as you see fit, but do not neglect the river, for parts of the forest of which you know nothing will perish without it.”
A hushed murmur rippled through the delegation. The idea had simply not occurred to them that the river fed parts of the forest unknown and unreached by any but the river itself. They rose and bowed low. “Forgive us,” they said. “We will gladly continue to support the river with the water you entrust to us.”
“I was shown that the recording angel makes a faithful record of every offering. . . .
“Those self-sacrificing, consecrated ones who render back to God the things that are His, . . . will be rewarded. . . . Even though the means thus consecrated be misapplied, . . . those who made the sacrifice . . . will not lose their reward.”2
Jeff Scoggins is planning director for Adventist Mission at the General Conference.
In 1803 United States President Thomas Jefferson asked Captain Meriwether Lewis and his friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark, to travel across the western part of the continent to explore and map the newly acquired Louisiana territory. They were also to seek out the best route for traveling to that side of the continent in order to establish the U.S. claim to the area. Lewis and Clark accepted the assignment.
Unfortunately, they began receiving e-mails from other people and organizations asking if they could carry some mail to people along the way. Other asked them to bring back video footage of the pretty landscapes. Some asked if they could help build a bridge across the Mississippi River, since they needed to cross anyway. Others asked if they could do a special study of the plant life at the same time. Because they wanted to help everyone Lewis and Clark did all they could to assist everyone else’s mission. The end result was that they never managed to complete their exploring, which is why you have never heard of these gentlemen.
Wait, that’s wrong.
Even if Lewis and Clark had been tempted to take up other missions, they refused them in order to accomplish the one mission that Jefferson gave them. Sticking to their mission is why more than 200 years later Lewis and Clark remain household names in the U.S.
It can be difficult to stick to a mission, particularly when Satan badly wants to distract us; which is a problem that Global Mission struggles with continually.
Global Mission was the Seventh-day Adventist version of Lewis and Clark.
Not long after Lewis and Clark completed their expedition, the Adventist movement began. Even children supported the extreme efforts of Adventist pioneers to press into unreached places and people groups so that everyone could hear the great news of Jesus’ soon return. As a result, we rocked the world. Seventh-day Adventism spread at an incredible rate, considering the times.
As we grew, the Adventist movement eventually had to organize. Organization is necessary and good, but it brings with it the real temptation to look more toward the organized institution than toward the organized mission. This is a temptation to which every organization will gravitate unless actively recognized and resisted. Even then we drift.
In 1990 Adventist leaders recognized and decided to do something about the fact that we were not pressing into the frontiers of mission the way we used to. We were yielding to the tendency to concentrate our best efforts on maintaining our institutions more than on our mission. We have been given the mandate to go to every nation, tribe, language, and people bearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it seems this mandate does not drive us the way it used to.
Whereas this mission used to fill every waking thought, now mission might get mentioned at church. Or it might not. Whereas mission used to be a major theme in our Sabbath schools, now it is relegated to passing around an offering envelope, into which a couple of dollar bills might be slipped. Or maybe not.
This is why the office of Global Mission was established. Global Mission was the Seventh-day Adventist response to the realization that we were maintaining more than we were going. Global Mission was the Seventh-day Adventist version of Lewis and Clark. Its mission was to launch us out of an institutional mind-set so that we could continue to press into new territories, new languages, and new people groups with the gospel message.
The way Global Mission was to accomplish this work was and still is through church planting, using local volunteer missionaries called Global Mission pioneers. In addition, recognizing that Global Mission pioneers have extreme challenges reaching certain people groups, church leaders initiated the Global Mission centers with the sole purpose of exploring methods for effectively working among Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and secular and urban groups. Today these centers are actively involved in research, training, and creating models for evangelism to non-Christians.
Soon after Global Mission was established, requests began pouring in, but not necessarily for church planting in unentered groups. While you’re at it, can Global Mission help us build a church building? Can Global Mission help us build a school? Can Global Mission help us renovate our conference office? Can Global Mission help with our evangelistic series?
All of these are worthy projects. But if Global Mission involved itself in all of them, the Seventh-day Adventist Church would still be neglecting the frontiers of mission, overlooking the people who are not hearing from us at all.
So Global Mission consciously chooses to focus on just one thing, and that is being the voice of those who have never even heard of Jesus, or if they have, it is in negative or irrelevant ways. Global Mission responds specifically to their cry to the Adventist Church to “come, tell us the story of Jesus!”
The fact that Global Mission strongly maintains this specific focus means that often we must turn down fantastic project proposals. But if we are going to find ways to reach those whom we as a church are currently unable or unwilling to reach, Global Mission has no choice but to stay true to the task of sending pioneers to unreached peoples, nations, and languages to do the difficult and often dangerous work of raising up new Adventist churches where there currently are none.
Jeff Scoggins is planning director for Adventist Mission.