In April 2015 I decided to ride my bicycle across the United States. I knew that attempting such a thing would require a tremendous amount of training, as well as a significant reallocation of my time. I was 54 years old when I decided to fulfill this long-held ambition, but at 227 pounds I was far from a picture of athletic health; I would have to do some serious training.
My first hurdle was getting my wife, Dee, to agree to the idea. I knew it would be difficult. First was the cost, which I figured to be about $6,000. Then was the fact she would become a “ride widow” for the next year as I trained whenever possible. Also, we’d have to forgo vacations for me to save up vacation time, simultaneously putting aside money needed for the trip. On top of that, in my absence she’d be alone in managing the house, our animals, and attending to the care and complex schedule of our son Nathan, who has Down syndrome. Finally, she’d have to do all this while continuing her work as a night-shift nurse.
I did my best to craft a compelling pitch, emphasizing the health benefits that would come from making what I had begun to call The Ride. I sat down with Dee and began to explain what I wanted to do. By the fourth or fifth sentence of my pitch I knew it wasn’t going well. She listened silently, then made a cool (not to say cold) exploration of the details and many implications of The Ride. Finally, she said she’d think about it, but it didn’t look good. For that reason, I was all the more surprised when, a few days later, she agreed: I could go on the The Ride.
Not until after The Ride did I find out that she gave me permission only because she was pretty sure I’d never do it. Giving me permission meant she wouldn’t be in the position of denying me my dream.
After getting Dee’s permission, I told my son Beniah, a sophomore at Andrews University, about my plans. I expected him to cheer me on. Instead he surprised me by saying he wanted to come along. He said it had to be in May since he had plans for the rest of the summer. I was elated. Not only had The Ride become a father-and-son event, but the date had also been set in stone. I could build my training schedule around it.
I launched into a flurry of research and planning. What route? What bike? What clothing? What equipment? We’d be going “unsupported,” which is to say there would be no chase vehicle or camper following us. I could save up a month of vacation time, which meant the ride would have to be a fast one. We couldn’t camp (the weight of all the extra equipment would really slow us down), so we’d have to stay in hotels at night. What about the Midwest, where hotels can be spaced quite far apart? Then there was food. We’d burn somewhere in the range of 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day. How would we eat? More to the point, how would we eat on a budget?
As I became immersed in details I couldn’t help comparing the thought and energy I was putting into The Ride with the thought and energy I put into my personal ministry. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that it was not a flattering comparison.
I firmly believe that the Adventist Church has been entrusted with a critical message. I believe each member has a responsibility to spread this message. So why wasn’t I approaching my personal ministry with the energy and thought I was putting into The Ride? It’s an important question, a question that goes well beyond me. In fact, it’s a question that can be put to almost every Adventist: Why do we allow so many other things in our lives to be more important than the ministry entrusted to us by God?
The more I thought about this question, the more I saw it as a twofold problem. After years of thought and observation, I’m beginning to see that we are afraid—embarrassed, if you will—to be different. While we have a distinct message, we may shrink from delivering it, because we hesitate to be different. More precisely, we want the approval of the world, and we understand we can’t get that while delivering a message of radical reformation. It seems we are, to some degree, embarrassed or ashamed of the gospel (see Rom. 1:16).
The other part of this twofold problem is that we allow ourselves to see witnessing as a complex challenge, something that needs extensive preparation, planning, training, and equipment. We don’t witness because we have not completed our preparation; and we don’t prepare because it seems too big, too time-consuming. We perceive that vigorous witnessing requires a change in lifestyle.
While thinking about the challenges faced by our church, I continued to plan for The Ride. Planning didn’t go well. There were so many variables, so many questions to answer: How best to start training? What should my training targets and time line be? What medical supplies are essential to have along? What saddle (seat) is the best, considering I will be in it 10 to 12 hours a day?
I decided to talk things over with my friend Peter Wannemacher. Peter lives one of the most interesting lives imaginable. For instance, when he took his son, Josiah, to a Pathfinder retreat, he decided to walk the 75 miles to the retreat, camping in the woods at the side of the road (in Maine, where we live, there are endless woods at the side of almost every road). From that trek Peter and Josiah have a multitude of stories, including a run-in with a firm yet sympathetic police officer. Peter is a cyclist too. He has ridden across the United States, from California to Florida.
My head was swimming from trying to engage in planning a complex endeavor, and, without trying to, Peter gave me an answer that fit both my questions about the ride and my questions about personal ministry in our church.
“Just start pedaling,” he said. I waited expectantly for more. After a few moments Peter leaned forward and said, “Just . . . start . . . pedaling.” He went on to explain that it’s easy to get so involved in the uncertainties of planning that the actual ride never starts. Beyond that, he explained, all the abundant advice on bikes, routes, equipment, and food strategies starts being understandable only when you actually begin to do it. Only by beginning to do it can you sort out which advice about which equipment and strategies fit best.
My mind immediately made the connection between his advice and personal ministries in our church. The best way to become an effective witness is just to start witnessing. If we do that, we will begin to see tremendous value in the many tools, training materials, and equipment that are available. Further, we will be able to hone in on which materials and tools are best suited to our needs. And using them will lead to another round of learning and refinement of practice. In short, we begin by beginning, and that leads to knowledge, experience, and wisdom.
Some may say, “But wait, what about depending on the Holy Spirit? Your model sounds like it promotes self-reliance.”
This is a reasonable criticism, and I answer it two ways: First, I take it as a given that every one of us is seeking God’s guidance and asking the Spirit to go ahead of us. To that I will add that God cannot steer us if we are not moving. We have to start. We begin by beginning. After that beginning, we progress until, eventually, we have achieved through Christ a change so great it can be described only as a lifestyle change.
I took Peter’s advice and began to train by just taking my bike out and riding it. Progress came slowly. The more experienced I became at long bike rides, the better I was able to navigate the dizzying array of equipment, routes, and advice.
Beniah and I began our father-and-son ride across the United States at Bay Center, Washington, on May 1, 2016, by dipping our rear tires in the Pacific Ocean. That first day we rode 128 miles to Randle, Washington, climbing into the Cascades and glimpsing Mount St. Helens along the way. It was a brutal first day, but I had trained for it (Beniah, young and athletic, hardly needed training and outrode me the entire trip).
We crossed Washington, then we crossed Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene bicycle trail (an amazing trail I highly recommend to any cyclist). We endured Montana with its shoulderless roads, extreme speed limits, endless hills, and relentless headwinds. We gleefully rode the shoulder of Interstate 94 in North Dakota, making excellent time on that well-engineered road (yes, it is legal there, as it also is in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and several other Western states). We got to Milwaukee and crossed Lake Michigan on a ferry (in order to avoid the Greater Chicago area), then crossed Michigan, followed the edge of Lake Erie through Ohio and Pennsylvania, and crossed New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire before entering Maine. We rode hard six days a week, averaging 125 miles a day. A great deal happened on the trip, including several direct answers to prayer.
By the time we got to Maine, we had seen a great deal of the United States. But no landscape was as beautiful as the Androscoggin River valley between Bethel and Hanover, Maine. At this point we were less than an hour from home, and I was delighted—no, overwhelmed and overcome with emotion—when I first spotted Dee, who had driven out and was eagerly waiting by the side of the road to greet us. What an enthusiastic and joyous reunion we had after a month apart!
That reunion was a hint of what is waiting for us when Christ returns and claims us. When Dee and I embraced at the side of the road, she told me how proud she was of me for sticking it out and actually doing the ride. I glowed at hearing her words.
Reflecting on that later, I made the connection between our personal ministry efforts now and hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” when we are united with Christ (Matt. 25:21).
Here’s the thing: Had I not “just started pedaling,” it is likely that I never would have ridden across the U.S., making Dee proud of me. Likewise, if we don’t “just start pedaling” with our witnessing, will we hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
While Beniah and I made it home, we had one more day of riding to reach the Atlantic and complete our coast-to-coast ride. On June 1, 2016, Beniah and I completed that last leg, ending at Camden, Maine, and dipping our front tires in the Atlantic Ocean. Our ride totaled some 3,500 miles, and through all that pedaling I lost 35 pounds. For the last 60 miles of the ride we were accompanied by my friends Norman Medina of Camden, and Bob Cundiff, Northern New England Conference president. It was an amazing journey, and we celebrated it with a banquet at Dr. Medina’s home.
But it’s the end of my journey on earth that I’m really looking forward to. I’ll celebrate it at a banquet table in heaven. There I want to look around me at the people I introduced to Christ and know that the journey was a fruitful one. Is that what you want?
If so, just start pedaling.
Scott Christiansen is communication director and evangelism coordinator of the Northern New England Conference.
God created the earth in elegant perfection. Each of the awesome and massive individual natural systems created to sustain life on earth combined to form one amazingly complex yet perfect earth system. Our atmosphere and hydrosphere, our climate system, our soil system, and all the others joined in one seamless whole. It was flawless and balanced in its integrated perfection that when God looked at everything He had made, He called it “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
It was so beautiful and amazing that angels sang and the “sons of God” shouted for joy (see Job 38:7). It was so good that its perfection, its complexity, its nurturing design, and the peaceful harmony of every living thing on it together formed a partial reflection of the character of God.
Today the world is a very different place. By mere observation we know there is no harmony among the living things on it, but only selfishness, fear, and conflict. We are reliably informed that there is also no elegant perfection; the natural systems that God created to sustain life on earth—our oceanic, atmospheric, freshwater, climate, and soil systems—are all reported in scientific study after study to be in steep and accelerating decay.
In place of the relatively stable and predictable climate the earth had as little as 50 years ago, we today have a far more chaotic and hostile climate. So hostile and chaotic that a number of individual scientists have recently proclaimed, essentially, “the end of normal,” saying that we have entered a new era of remarkable instability and profound impacts on human society.1 Looking ahead, some normally staid scientists say they “can’t sleep at night” for fear of what is coming on the world (Luke 21:26) and cite the underlying trends behind current tremendous increases in storms, fires, droughts, hunger, disease, and conflict.2
So what’s going on here? If scientists are anywhere near correct in their measurements and projections, then it can be fairly said that the world, which reflected the character of God at Creation, is increasingly reflecting the character of Satan as time winds down. And if something that big is actually happening, wouldn’t we find it predicted in both Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy? Or is, as some assert, the data fraudulent, the result of a global scheme to manipulate data?
To answer these important questions, let’s go to Scripture and look at the framework that dominates and defines all earthly events: the war between Christ and Satan. Sin is at the heart of this crisis called the great controversy, first in Satan’s rebellion in heaven, then transplanted to earth when humans disobeyed their loving Creator.
Romans 5:12 and 6:23 tell us that the consequence of sin is death. Another effect of the entrance of sin is that humanity’s dominion of earth was usurped by Satan, and that Satan is the “god” of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Finally, we see in Romans 8:21, 22 that the consequence of sin is not limited to humanity; in fact, “all of creation” suffers from sin. Many texts in the Old Testament support this view (cf. Isa. 24:20; 51:6; Jer. 12:4; and Hosea 4:1-3). Thus we find that not only does sin have an effect on nature, but we can reasonably conclude that the effect of sin on the earth is cumulative.
Death is the ultimate curse and consequence of sin that affects our entire planet. Even when we recite Christianity’s most quoted text, John 3:16, we tend to hear “people” instead of “world.” God loved His entire creation, and with His Son put in place a plan to restore not part of it, but all of it.
It’s clear that earth itself has felt the impact of sin. Let’s follow that thread a little further. We know from Scripture that humanity will grow more sinful as time winds down (Matt. 24:37), and we can see the fulfillment of prophecy in humanity’s increasing love of sin. But can we see a parallel increasing impact of sin on the earth? And, of critical importance, does it have prophetic implications?
The answer is a “yes” and an “emphatically yes.” Further, the implications of the decay of the earth itself are of particular interest to Adventists because some of this decay will be blamed on Sabbathkeepers and will likely trigger demands for a single day of worship. So perhaps the real question is, can we see these religious restrictions on the horizon?
Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24 and 25 begins with a straightforward question by the disciples. “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3).
Jesus’ answer paints a picture of an earth where sin is rampant and human love has grown cold (verse 12). His response is also recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21, and the fullest sense of His response can be gained by reading all three chapters. In addition to sin-filled humanity, Christ also describes a more general state of crisis on earth, where conflict, famine, disease, and significant disruptions in the natural world are everywhere. His description can increasingly be applied to our world today.
Today security experts understand that shortages of fundamental resources such as food or water or fuel rapidly lead to conflict between states and between people groups (cf. Matt. 24:7). We also understand that food and water shortages rapidly lead to an explosion of disease. People who study these things increasingly appreciate that the disruptions we see right now in the earth’s natural systems are leading to truly significant disruptions in human society, including massive increases in droughts, floods, and disasters of all kinds. In fact, we have seen an almost tripling of natural disasters since 1980, a rapid increase that continues to accelerate.3
It seems that what Jesus said would come has started to arrive. Scripture’s testimony seems to be straightforward. But what about Ellen White?
A crucial passage in Testimonies for the Church offers more insights. “The restraining Spirit of God is even now being withdrawn from the world. Hurricanes, storms, tempests, fire and flood, disasters by sea and land, follow each other in quick succession. Science seeks to explain all these. The signs thickening around us, telling of the near approach of the Son of God, are attributed to any other than the true cause. Men cannot discern the sentinel angels restraining the four winds that they shall not blow until the servants of God are sealed; but when God shall bid His angels loose the winds, there will be such a scene of strife as no pen can picture.”4
In the accelerating increase of natural disasters it seems we are seeing the literal and direct fulfillment of “the signs thickening around us.” We are also seeing quite a bit of “science seeks to explain all these.” That’s worth repeating: we seem to be seeing, right now, what Ellen White described would be happening just before Christ’s return. The fact that the whole world is increasingly paying attention to unprecedented disruptions in our environment presents an ideal opportunity to present cause and effect within the great controversy context and the plan of salvation. Many will listen to such a message that would not listen otherwise.
Ellen White referenced disasters and extreme disruptions in the natural world in many places in her writings.
A crucial Ellen White statement, found in the June 28, 1904, issue of The Southern Watchman, identifies disasters and disruptions in the natural world as the trigger for a societal and legislative demand for preserving the sacredness of Sunday: “Men in responsible positions will not only ignore and despise the Sabbath themselves, but from the sacred desk will urge upon the people the observance of the first day of the week, pleading traditions and custom in behalf of this man-made institution. They will point to calamities on land and sea—to the storms of wind, the floods, the earthquakes, the destruction by fire—as judgments indicating God’s displeasure because Sunday is not sacredly observed. These calamities will increase more and more, one disaster will follow close upon the heels of another; and those who make void the law of God will point to the few who are keeping the Sabbath of the fourth commandment as the ones who are bringing wrath upon the world.”
The chain is striking: rebellion against God leads to death in both humanity and nature. People and nature increasingly reflect Satan’s character. This results in storms, earthquakes, and disasters. The exponential increase in these very disasters leads to a call for Sunday observance, and blame for the continuance of these disasters is placed on Sabbathkeepers. Of this whole chain, all that is lacking is a mechanism that links the health of the environment with Sunday observance. Except that we may not lack this connection; it seems to be quietly inching into place.5
Scientists who can’t sleep at night for fear of what is coming on the world are right: we have come to the end of “normal.” We are living in a time when we can see prophecy being fulfilled. So here is the critical question: Is our sense of urgency and our willingness to loudly and fearlessly proclaim Christ’s soon coming matched with the moment of history in which we find ourselves? If “normal” was being sleepy servants of God, then by all means, let’s have an end to normal.
Scott Christiansen serves as communication and trust services director of the Northern New England Conference.