Our challenge is unavoidable. We’re living in a time when conditions are unstable and unpredictable. If we don’t manage our fears, they’ll manage us. Fear mismanagement can lead to stress, trauma, poor health, toxic relations, and regretful decisions.

What is society feeling fearful about? The 2021 American Fear Index reveals the top 10 fears:1

  1. Loved ones dying 
  2. Loved ones becoming seriously ill 
  3. Mass shootings 
  4. Not having enough money for retirement 
  5. Terrorism
  6. Government corruption 
  7. Becoming terminally ill 
  8. Hate crimes 
  9. High medical bills 
  10. Widespread civil, political, and racial unrest 

Everyone can relate to one or more of these items, plus many more. 

Dimensions of Fear

Depending on your version, Bible references to “fear not,” occur in various iterations some 365 times.2 Fear is one of the Scriptures’ most addressed human dilemmas.

Admittedly, it’s easier to say “Fear not” than to actually not fear. Therefore, it’s essential that believers understand the sequela of fear and how to harness it.

A natural emotional response for humans, fear is not necessarily good nor bad. Fear indicates a threat of potential harm, whether real or perceived. It can be physical, psychological, or spiritual. Popularly, fear is referred to as false evidence appearing real.

While fear, however, is often considered a negative emotion, if managed properly it can serve an important function in keeping us situationally aware, spiritually minded, and socially conscious. Practically speaking, in dangerous situations fear can cause us to be appropriately cautious or to take wise safeguards. Paradoxically, fear is like the surgeon’s knife—it can help or hurt us.

Whether we face fear occasionally or live in a constant state of fear, our response to fear is our choice. We can choose to resist our fears and resolutely select a mindset of faith, hope, and possibility. This choice can be made before the feared event happens or during the fear-causing event. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”3

Fear-Management Tools

How then can we manage fear? In his last letter before death Paul gave Timothy, his protégé, a powerful fear-managing tool: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, NKJV).4 From this passage we derive five practices that will strengthen your fear management.

1.  Christ Companionship: A vital prerequisite to fear management is to enter a genuine relationship with Christ as Lord. In said relationship Jesus gives us the gift of salvation and the promise of protection and guiding providence. Fear mastery starts here.

2.  Can-do Choice: We may choose to exercise our God-given power to say “No” to fear, exercising trust instead, with resolve and resilience.

3.  Composed Confession: The presence of fear creates the opportunity to trust and speak about, to confess our dependence on God regardless of circumstances. Composure is the fruit of Christ’s peace.

4.  Conquering Counsel: Fortification of the mind with spiritual wisdom and diligent follow-through increases as we pray, study, and receive seasoned counsel. In this way we’re strengthened through the Holy Spirit’s power. 

5.  Conquering Confidence: The sine qua non of spiritual conquest is the unswerving commitment to be stalwart regardless of the outcome. This is both a gift from God and the result of experience. It’s Job-like confidence based on the belief that God will ultimately resolve all things: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). 

Undoubtedly, some fear challenges may require external spiritual or professional assistance. But don’t be thrown off by the apparent simplicity of these principles. Through the combination of the human with the divine, these fear-management practices will successfully equip us, if we utilize them. 

To God be the glory.

Delbert W. Baker, Ph.D., is the director of Research and Development for the Office of Regional Conference Ministries/Retirement Plan based in Huntsville, Alabama. 

1 https://www.safehome.org/home-safety/american-fear-study

2 https://heycreativesister.com/365-fear-not-bible-verses/

3 https://www.fdrlibrary.org/eleanor-roosevelt

4 New King James Version.

Not long ago, my wife, Cindy, and I were sitting in the bleachers watching our daughter Summer’s academy volleyball game.  

It was an exciting match. Our team won the first two games, but the opposing team rallied and took the next two. The fifth and final game would crown the winner, and as parents we were getting nervous because our self-worth is tied very closely to how our kids perform in sports (wink, wink).

The fifth game was played to 15, and our girls were losing 10-7. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard a lone scream in the gymnasium. It went like this: 

“I . . . !!!!!!”

What was this noise? Was someone in pain?         

I looked over and discovered the screamer—the normally subdued Mr. Weber, one of our schoolteachers. Mr. Weber had stood alone in the bleachers and yelled “I . . . !!!!!!!” The whole gym fell silent. The players stopped playing. The snow stopped falling outside. 

But Mr. Weber wasn’t done yelling. “I believe . . .” he continued. And immediately we knew what was happening. Weber had chosen this moment to do the “I Believe” chant.  

The “I Believe” chant is a relatively rare occurrence at ballgames, because you’re all alone when you start it. It’s basically just you yelling in a gymnasium. 

“I believe . . .” Mr. Weber yelled. (We repeated after him: “I believe . . .”)

I believe that we . . .”    (“I believe that we . . .”)

Then we all joined together: “I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!”

We fans were all smiles, and so were our players, who were looking up to the stands. One of the players, Leslie, later told me she got chills when she heard Mr. Weber do that.               

Something happened to our girls when they saw their teacher standing up for them.  They came together and rallied and won the match. “I believe that we will win.”

 Now while it might seem like the “I Believe” cheer is all about winning, it really isn’t. The “I Believe” cheer isn’t mainly about winning; it’s about believing. It’s about supporting each other, encouraging each other. 

Why is encouragement so powerful? Because when someone is encouraging you, someone is standing with you. You’re not alone. Even Scripture tells us to encourage one another (see Heb. 10:25).

To our spring 2022 graduates and other young people: If you listen closely, you’ve been hearing the “I Believe” chant throughout your life.

You heard it late at night as you were finishing your science fair project and your mom brought you apple slices and tea. “I believe that we will win.”

You heard it when you came home early—a relationship fell apart and you felt like your whole life was over. As you walked through the door, suddenly the parent and sibling you didn’t have a lot of time for earlier in the day—they were the ones there for you when it mattered most. “I believe that we will win.”  

You heard it when you were nervous at concert performances and big games and special worship services—as the people in your life sat up just a little higher when it was your turn. 

Most amazing of all, God Himself (in whose image we’re made) also sits up just a little higher when you enter His presence. He feels all your joy and sorrow deep in His own heart.

Jesus once said that the biggest celebration in heaven is when a human on earth turns their life around—goes from losing to winning. I once had a college student write these profound lines in her journal: “In our darkest moments,” she wrote, “the angels are in full celebration because they know what’s about to happen.” 

I believe that we will win. Because He has already won. 

Andy Nash ([email protected]) is an Adventist author and speaker who leads Israel study tours for all ages. 

I remember the first time I prayed with other Christians outside the Seventh-day Adventist community. It was about 15 years ago when I joined a small group of guys for breakfast every week in a quaint Vermont town. The first time we prayed together, I experienced a sort of cognitive dissonance about the nature of our fellowship. And embarrassing as it is in retrospect, the question that most acutely pressed upon my conscience, was this: Were we even praying to the same God?

I recalled that experience recently on my first trip to Oxford University for my doctoral studies. It’s a huge institution, and meaningful fellowship is hard to come by. And as an extremely social person, I was craving relational connection. So I found the Oxford Graduate Christian Forum and indulged, making instant friendships that were edifying and refreshing.

It was quite the juxtaposition when, the next day, sitting at the Bodleian Library, combing through nineteenth-century articles from The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (now known as Adventist Review) online, I came across article after article that identified the various non-Adventist churches as “Babylon.” The certainty with which each writer wrote was staggering—perhaps none more so than J. H. Waggoner, who unequivocally declared in 1854 that “Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and the almost innumerable train of other denominations, all stand condemned as unchristian bodies.”1

This sentiment was echoed from another angle in the surprised looks from various Oxford professors who explicitly verbalized to me that I was a “rare bird”—an Adventist who actually stepped outside my bubble and was willing to pursue “ecumenical” conversation and fellowship with other Christians.

I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. I can easily interpret the early Adventist material through a historical lens: many of these writers wrote, after all, in the immediate aftermath of being disfellowshipped from the various Protestant denominations for embracing William Miller’s teachings on the Second Coming. It’s thus only natural that they would be reeling from such experiences.

At the same time, a few decades later, Ellen White softened the Adventist tone toward other Christians when, among other things, she wrote that the “great body of Christ’s true followers”2 resided in the various non-Adventist churches, including in Catholicism, and that Adventist ministers should fellowship and pray with other pastors, whom she called “shepherds of the flock.”3

Similarly, I rejoice that our official Fundamental Beliefs identify the church as “the community of believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour,”4 without limiting it to Adventists. 

So, in theory, it seems that we’ve matured beyond the attitude displayed by the early Adventists.

And yet our practice seems wholly different. Many of us appear scared of pursuing genuine mutual fellowship with other Christians. We fear being corrupted by them or influenced to embrace heretical teachings. We worry about being lured into “Babylon” or lulled into doctrinal compromise.

But these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are, I’ve repeatedly found, seeking to faithfully follow Christ to the best of their knowledge and ability—no less (and often more) than I am. 

I don’t think we need to diminish our belief in the unique calling and teachings of Adventism to pursue mutual fellowship. We might even find that we have something to learn from other Christians—since Adventists have never maintained that we’ve arrived at the terminus of truth with nothing more to learn or discover.

So for my part, I’m deeply thankful that whenever my frequent travels take me to Oxford, I can there enjoy rich Christian fellowship.

Shawn Brace is a pastor and author in Bangor, Maine, whose most recent book, The Table I Long For (Signs Publishing), details his and his church’s recent journey into a mission-centered life. He is also a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, researching nineteenth-century American Christianity.

1 J. H. Waggoner, “Babylon Is Fallen!” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 6, no. 4 (September 5, 1854): 30.

2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Boise, Id.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1939), p. 390.

3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, p. 78.

4 https://www.adventist.org/beliefs/

Excitement and fear battled each other as I experienced feelings similar to those that had overtaken me the day I prepared to go skydiving.

No one would be jumping out of planes today, but the event that was about to take place would be even more life changing. We were on our way to pick up a total stranger, a Ukrainian student who would live with us for the school year. 

This didn’t seem like the kind of thing my introverted family would sign up for, and yet here we were. I reflected on the things my friends had said as they learned of our plans.

“I could never have a non-Adventist live in my home.”

This was what I was most nervous about. How would she respond to our family’s religious culture? Would she embrace our habits, or would keeping our standards be a constant battle?

“This is such a great opportunity to be a witness!”

That statement, too, made me shudder. I’m keenly aware of my own imperfections. What if I were the opposite of a witness, turning her off to the Adventist faith? How would I find that fine line between openly sharing my faith and hitting her over the head with new ideas? 

I determined that my priority would be to show love to her. We would include her in our family’s religious customs; but rather than initiate spiritual conversations, I would wait for her to ask questions. And I would pray.

For seven months she didn’t ask any questions. But when the war in Ukraine started, we had the opportunity to show love in a way we’d never imagined. Our lives turned upside down as we began working with her and her parents to make decisions about her future.

My conversations with her mother naturally took on a more religious tone. And when her mother messaged me at 4:00 a. m. one morning asking me to pray “right now,” my husband and I joined hands to take her country to God in prayer. 

Our host daughter seemed genuinely touched when we expressed a willingness, if necessary, to take care of her beyond what we’d initially signed up for. 

And after months of friendship and prayer she has started asking questions, the kinds of questions I’ve so eagerly been waiting and praying for. 

It may have seemed an odd thing for an introverted family to open their home to a stranger, but we’ve no doubt that God led us to this decision. Introverts may not be excellent at small talk or initiating religious discussions, but one thing introverts excel at is deep, meaningful relationships. By intentionally becoming close friends with someone outside our own faith circle, we’ve opened the door for God to work through us in ways we don’t even yet understand.

Lori Futcher is an editor for the new “Alive in Jesus” Sabbath School curriculum that will be released in the next few years.

My childhood home in Surfside, Florida (yeah, that Surfside), was not militantly atheist, but a more Laodicean strain. Our rare talks about God focused on His rumored existence (or lack thereof). The latter outcome—that He did not exist—was the usual denouement of the few Goldstein family forays into metaphysical theology.

My passionate atheism, however, would at times conceal spasms of cold, hard doubt when I would think that maybe God did exist, a thought that I would immediately push away. I knew that if God existed I was in trouble. Why would a teenage biblical illiterate (I once asked someone, “Was King David Jewish?”) think that? Though not all that “bad,” how fascinating that I would nevertheless feel guilty before a God whom I thought as nothing but a neurological epiphenomenon that hovered over and about the chemicals sparking and pulsating through and between my brain cells. It wasn’t logic that pushed me away from God, but morality—the motive that I’m convinced subconsciously fuels the atheist agenda.

Sure, tsunamis, Nazis, and kids with cancer provide convenient and not utterly unreasonable excuses for atheism. Human evil—buttressed by pseudo-scientific theories that the universe arose out of nothing and that evolution turns lifeless chemicals into conscious beings who create pseudo-scientific theories that the universe arose out of nothing and that evolution turned lifeless chemical into conscious beings—gives people plenty of excuses and justifications to reject what we all fear. We fear having to answer to God for the sleazy things that we might, were it not for God, otherwise get away with.

That thought—of having to answer to God in judgment—scared me as a 19-year-old, and it would scare me today were it not for my only hope in judgment, the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness is “woven in the loom of heaven” and “has in it not one thread of human devising.”1 That righteousness is now mine by faith.

The 1844 sanctuary message, an end-time manifestation of “the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6)2—the foundation upon which the three angels’ messages rest—reveals why there is “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1) now, or especially in the judgment, when we will need the “everlasting gospel” most. The cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14, the same event as the heavenly judgment in Daniel 7 made “in favor of the saints” (Dan. 7:22), is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement ritual (Lev. 16), which itself reveals how we make it through judgment.

Twice in Leviticus 16 God’s people are told to “afflict your souls” (verses 29, 31), which, besides fasting, includes humility, repentance, surrender to God, and love for others (see Ps. 35:13; Ezra 8:21; Isa. 58:3-10). It appears to be a special time of faithfulness and obedience, of soul searching before God because, yes, it is the judgment day.

However faithful, obedient, and victorious God’s people are amid the afflicting of their souls, their faithfulness, obedience, and victories do not get them through judgment.

Despite the afflicting of their souls, the sinfulness of the people is nonetheless assumed. That’s why the sanctuary and the people needed to be cleansed. “So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness” (Lev. 16:16). Because of their uncleanliness, their transgressions, and their sins, the sanctuary was cleansed. However faithful and obedient they were, even on the Day of Atonement they were still sinners in need of blood, Christ’s blood. “For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD” (verse 30).

That’s why, except for the scapegoat (verses 10, 19), the motif of blood appears again and again in the Day of Atonement ritual: blood (verse 3), blood (verse 14), blood (verse 15), blood (verse 18), blood (verse 19), blood (verse 27). Every drop of that blood symbolized the only blood that can atone for and cleanse us from sin, the blood of Jesus. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

As Ellen White writes, though Satan accuses them before God, bringing their sins to God’s attention with exulting, “in their defective characters,”3 Christ defends them, presenting “an effectual plea in behalf of all who by repentance and faith have committed the keeping of their souls to Him. He pleads their cause and vanquishes their accuser by the mighty arguments of Calvary. His perfect obedience to God's law, even unto the death of the cross, has given Him all power in heaven and in earth, and He claims of His Father mercy and reconciliation for guilty man.”4

However faithful, obedient, and victorious God’s people are amid the afflicting of their souls, their faithfulness, obedience, and victories do not get them through judgment. Instead, “we are to rely upon Christ as our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. We cannot answer the charges of Satan against us. Christ alone can make an effectual plea in our behalf. He is able to silence the accuser with arguments founded not upon our merits, but on His own.”5

Judgment is certain. “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccles. 12:14). Every secret thing? I’d be in trouble for what I’ve done in public! No wonder that for me, at 19 and not even sure that God existed, the thought of being judged by Him scared me anyway.  

And it would scare me now, too, were it not for the 1844 Day of Atonement, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. This life-giving truth shows that Christ’s blood, and His blood alone, gets me through the judgment that everyone—even an atheist—fears.

1 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 311.

2 All Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif., Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 470.

4 Ibid., p. 471.

5 Ibid., p. 472.

Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guides and a longtime columnist for Adventist Review. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including 1844 Made Simple.

In my January column I invited readers to join me in a spiritual system shock: reading through the Bible in a month. Granted, this approach shouldn’t be the norm for Bible study; typically, we should walk Scripture verse by verse. But there’s also a time to take flight: to view the big picture of the story of redemption. 

I have no idea how many people took the challenge on their own, but at least 50 people met online nightly to share our experience together on a new Facebook page: Meet at the Text. It was an unforgettable community that formed all over the world. Meeting at 8:00 p.m. eastern time (here in the United States) meant meeting at noon for Australians Rahela and Julie—and meeting at 3:00 a.m. for Malawian Mthusani, who dutifully set his alarm.

Each evening we discussed that day’s reading: often a full-sized book such as Genesis, 1 Kings, or Acts—but sometimes a whole host of short books: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah. 

Our group’s favorite books? Isaiah, John, and (interestingly) Proverbs. My wife, Cindy, joked that reading Proverbs all at once was like eating a whole jar of M&Ms.

Our most challenging book, at least at high speed? Ezekiel. We felt like we were lying on our side for 40 days. 

Our two most joyful moments were Day 23, when we reached the New Testament and Jesus  (everyone was smiling like children); and Day 31, when we reached Revelation and the tree of life once again. 

“I’ve been a Christian my whole life, but I’ve never read the entire Bible,” reflected Julie Hoey. “There were some books I’ve never been anywhere near. Now I have an improved understanding of the story from beginning to end. I definitely want to do it again next January.”

“For several years,” wrote Marge Seifert, “I have read my Bible through in a year, but this experience of reading it in a month has whetted my appetite for more and more. The Bible has come alive; the history is amazing; I’ve been able to see the whole picture! I’ve also gained some terrific friends.”

“I mostly listened via an app,” wrote Lisa Pfeister. “I listened while preparing for work, in the car, after work. No TV or mindless social media scrolling. January was full immersion in the Word of God.”

“I rejoice in the whole journey,” shared John Sweigart, a retired pastor who became one of our looked-to voices. In fact, when I wasn’t available to lead out, John, Rahela, and Brittney carried the torch. That’s what meeting at the text is all about. It’s not about the speaker, it’s about the Scriptures. (Remember that, fellow pastors.)

“I never would have finished if not for the community,” said Sue Hayford, who also shared a new problem: “After a month of every spare minute in the Word, this book addict can’t get interested in anything else.”

Next January we’ll do it again, with a twist: we’ll read the Bible chronologically. For now, it’s back to exploring the rich valleys and plateaus of Scripture, alone anytime or together Tuesday evenings in the Gospel of John. Come join the conversation! 

Andy Nash ([email protected]) is an author and pastor who leads biblical study tours to Israel.  

They’re called flashbulb memories. It’s the recall of something shocking or surprising that creates a strong and seemingly accurate, detailed “snapshot” of a moment in which a consequential, startling, and emotional piece of news was learned. 

I recall a flashbulb memory when I learned about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, while he was standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. 

A native of California, I was attending school at the then West Indies College in Mandeville, Jamaica, now Northern Caribbean University. The 4/4/68 memory is a vivid emotional recall. It will always be with me. I was a teenager, and I remember huddling that night with my siblings and a few other friends, trying to make sense of the tragedy. We sought to find mental footing at a time when the burden of being Black was a weight that King and many others were heroically trying to lessen.

In 2022, we’re still at a time when racism, discrimination, and blatant inequities raise their ugly heads to confront society. There’s a need for reconciliation-and-healing champions now. What can we do to improve relations, conditions, and the climate between peoples and groups? How can we more closely approach the challenge Christ left for us to “love one another” (John 13:34, 35)? What can we do to move outside our comfort zones to confront the demon of selfishness, power holding, and institutional insensitivity?

We are still at a time when racism, discrimination,
and blatant inequities raise their ugly heads to confront society.

While the glare of the 4/4/68 flashbulb memory is still vivid, more immediate is the continuing impact of King’s life and what it means today. Here are three challenging flashbulb applications that we can implement today:

Be Perceptive: Tensions may be inevitable as you seek to change the status quo. King once said: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”1 People, especially leaders, understandably want peace, and they like to claim that. But with the peace they claim, is there objective fairness and an environment of equity?

Be Committed: Reconciliation requires strong, resilient people. The journey to loving equity will take your strength, resolve, and methodical thinking; and it may cost and get you into conflict with the powers that be.

Be Sacrificial: Redemptive suffering holds transformational power. King lived and died understanding that the most important anchor of nonviolent change is the power of undeserved suffering. The advocate for righteous change must be willing to accept retaliation, even violence, if necessary, but they’re determined not to inflict violence or promote hate. They know—bearing in mind the example of Christ—that suffering for a good cause is salvific and has the power to change hearts and minds. 

April 3, the day before the assassination, King gave his final sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. . . . And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”2

Add this hopeful closing to your flashbulb memory.

Delbert W. Baker, Ph.D., is the director of Research and Development for the Office of Regional Conference Ministries/Retirement Plan based in Huntsville, Alabama. 


2 https://www.afscme.org/about/history/mlk/mountaintop

My previous work was in public relations, which means managing the brand perception for an organization. In one particular job, I encountered an individual who made my work extremely difficult by always pushing the line of what was “acceptable.” By this I mean they were very intentional about rocking the boat—and boat-rocking, especially from within an organization, always means intense and uncomfortable work for those of us in PR. 

This individual (and their choices) bothered me; what they were doing wasn’t wrong, but it was creating discomfort and extra work for people doing what I did. When I expressed this frustration to my supervisor, they nodded in understanding, then asked me a simple question that completely and forever changed my perspective: “How do you think we would have felt about working with Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

What my boss was gently pointing out was that not everyone thinks or works the same way. What may seem like opposition and disruption is sometimes just someone working toward the same goal I was but with a very different approach, using their gifts and skills for the common good.

We often call this “following your calling.” 

According to 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, each of us has been given a special and individual gift. In this passage are listed such things as wisdom, faith, healing, preaching, and discernment. In real life each of these gifts manifests in a variety of ways in various fields—parenting, research, management, housekeeping, law, food service, mission work, and countless others. 

This scripture also says we have been given these gifts “for the common good” (verse 7).* 1 Peter 4:10 concurs: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” 

What stands out to me is not just that we each possess different skills and gifts, but that we are to use them to help each other

What stands out to me is not just that we each possess different skills and gifts, but that we are to use them to help each other

As I reflected on what my boss had asked me, I began to see this “troublesome” individual in a new light. They wanted positive change, and so did we. They felt called by God to take up a torch and lead the charge in a specific direction, and so did we. We were just doing it differently. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, approach was vexing to some, and caused discomfort and a lot of work for many. But it was necessary work. I’m learning to appreciate the way others bring their gifts to the table, and to focus on adding my own alongside them. 

“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. . . . The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ . . . God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division . . . but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:18-26).

Becky St. Clair is a freelance writer living in California with her husband and three children. She has a decade of experience in public relations for the church, and currently writes and copy edits for various church entities around the world. 

*All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

During the last few years, and especially since COVID started, I’ve received my fair share of messages that link to videos or articles that claim to reveal “the scary truth they don’t want you to know about COVID” or “the truth about vaccines.” Usually the material is produced by well-meaning people who push back against the mainstream—be that conventional medicine or the media that are trying to promote a certain “narrative.”

My even more well-meaning friends who share the material often say they’ve simply been “doing their own research,” which is a buzz-phrase these days—a badge of honor that communicates a sort of independent thinking that questions the establishment and traditional sources of authority.

This sort of posture, especially prevalent in more conservative forms of Christianity, to a large extent has its origins in the nineteenth century, when most conservative Protestant denominations, including Adventism, began. In the wake of the Revolutionary War in America, and in conjunction with what is known as Scottish common-sense philosophy, Protestants in America embraced this “doing your own research” approach to life and faith. 

Prior to the Revolutionary War, Protestantism, despite its claims to the “priesthood of all believers,” still very much took its cues from the elite, placing a premium on higher learning. Highly educated members of the clergy graduating from Harvard or Yale or Cambridge set the agenda both in the American colonies and back in Europe. 

Everything changed after the Revolutionary War, however. Americans, realizing the power of the democratic spirit, laid siege to all traditional sources of authority, leaving no area of society untouched—especially in the religious realm. Americans vehemently came to oppose traditional forms of religious authority, rejecting creeds, theological education, and church history. “No creed but the Bible” became the mantra, and all one had to do to start a religious movement was have a Bible and the claim to a religious experience.

This became the norm for Protestantism in America. It seeped into our DNA, as new sects and denominations, all claiming to have recovered biblical truths that had been buried for 1,800 years, arose at breakneck speed. The Baptist farmer sitting by candlelight and studying the Bible by himself, uncovering long-hidden truths, epitomizes this era (and was a common story even outside of Adventism). This was the height of “doing your own research” and, along with a bit of charisma, could gain thousands of followers.

This dramatic shift, I would argue, was, and has been, a double-edged sword. Positively, it allowed for spiritual, theological, and biblical freedom that had never been enjoyed before, leading Christians to discover and rediscover truths that had been lost, neglected, or denied. It also took religious “power” out of the hands of the few, empowering all Christians to recognize they need not surrender their convictions or beliefs to any man.

But this all came with a price. It has led too many people to exaggerate their own abilities, encouraging a certain arrogance that maintained that they were, or could be, an expert on everything. It led them to look with great suspicion toward those who might actually know more than they did on a topic because of years of education. It also led to a hyper-individualized approach to faith and life, where a person’s independent opinion was worth more than the collective wisdom of church and society. 

So today, when someone sends me one of those videos encouraging me to “do your own research,” I usually respond the same way: “I am not a scientist, nor will I ever be a scientist, and I have no way of determining if the science that your YouTuber presents is the truth, or whether the science he or she pushes back against is the truth.” 

This is true for many other spheres of life and knowledge as well, about which I know very little—be it auto mechanics, politics, or sixteenth-century Protestantism. I don’t know everything, and there’s no shame in that—and at some point I’ll have to trust the word of experts who’ve spent a lot more time studying these matters than I have.

But that’s just as well, and it seems biblical. We are, according to Paul, a part of a body that has many different parts—each acting according to its gifting and ability (see 1 Cor. 12). 

So yes, it’s fine to do our own research—and I’m not saying we need to naively follow everything anyone ever tells us. But such a pursuit needs to be accompanied by a deep humility that recognizes 1) our finite abilities and wisdom, and 2) that sometimes the reason people have been heralded as experts is because they actually are.

Shawn Brace is a pastor and author in Bangor, Maine, whose most recent book, The Table I Long For (Signs Publishing), details his and his church’s recent journey into a mission-centered life. He is also a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, researching nineteenth-century American Christianity.

She was just 4. My daughter had an ear infection, or something that needed medication. We’d just returned from the pharmacy with the prescription. The pediatrician had asked if my daughter could take pills. While she’d never done it before, I answered, “Sure, why not?” I mean, how hard could it be?

The time came for her to take the small pill. We stood in the kitchen, me on my knees in front of her small face. She listened carefully as I described exactly what she was to do.

I knew that if I didn’t leave the room, I might do something I would really regret.

“Put the medicine way back on your tongue—as far as you can reach. Then drink the water.” I handed her the cup of water as I gave the directions. My husband and her sister gathered around to watch. This was going to be a momentous achievement! We were ready to high-five and congratulate her on how grown-up she was.

In went the pill. Up went the cup. In went the water. And just as fast, out it came as she spit the entire contents of her mouth directly into my face. Shocked, I stood up quickly and reacted even more quickly. “No! You’re supposed to swallow the water with the pill!”

Heavy sigh. I hadn’t added that part to the instructions. My fault. I’ll be clearer. So, again kneeling in front of her, I addressed the solemn little face with the large watchful eyes. This time I was careful to add, “And swallow the water with the pill.”

In went the pill. Up went the cup. In went the water. And out it came, full barrel right in my face. This time I wasn’t as sanguine. I’m sure I raised my voice a notch, reemphasized the directions, and delivered a new pill.

In went the pill. Up went the cup. In went the water. And for a third time, I was completely soaked. You’d have thought I had learned that kneeling in front of her wasn’t the wisest choice. But I had not. Unfortunately, my anger peaked. I yelled something at her and literally stomped out of the room, down the hall, to my bedroom where I slammed the door. It wasn’t my best moment. But I knew that if I didn’t leave the room, I might do something I would really regret. I don’t remember the rest of the evening, but the medicine obviously didn’t get taken. One thing I do remember: I did not apologize.

I walked into the kitchen the next morning to see the pill bottle sitting on the counter. I realized that we were going to have to do it all over again. That’s when I heard a happy voice behind me. “Hi, Mommy!” My daughter emerged around the corner, carrying our large umbrella from the hall closet, just about as big as she was. “I’m ready to take my pill. I thought you might need this,” she said, smiling.

I can’t tell you how small I felt that morning. I was the adult, the one who should have the most understanding, with the best ability to sort through problem situations. In my superior attitude I had lost my temper, demonstrating in the process the worst possible example to a child. In turn, she came in complete forgiveness, a smile lighting up her eyes, bringing something that would help me in the situation. I’ve never been more humbled. Nor have I ever forgotten that moment. I dropped to my knees, embraced her, apologized, then called the doctor. We would need a new prescription—liquid this time, please.

“And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 18:3).

Merle Poirier is operations manager for Adventist Review Ministries.