After a fruitful day of thought-provoking presentations and discussions, Seventh-day Adventist leaders attending the Inter-American Division Health Symposium entered the Sabbath hours with a worship service at the regional church headquarters in Miami, Florida, United States, July 28. Dozens of leaders attended in person, as hundreds more from across the region followed the proceedings online.
The evening service included worship music moments and a spiritual message by Lowell Cooper, former general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Cooper invited his audience to think “not about programs, or strategies, or success secrets in ecclesiastical or institutional leadership.” Instead, he called Adventist health leaders to reflect on what feeds the inner life of an individual. Noting that institutions are an extension of human thought and human energy, Cooper explained what should be, according to the Bible, the highest priority in mission for Adventist leaders.
Windows or Mirrors?
There is a tendency in organizations, and perhaps in individuals, as they mature, to replace windows with mirrors, Cooper said. He explained his metaphor: “The very fact of success can capture our attention in ways that divert us from our purpose. We end up looking at ourselves and neglecting the forward and outward evaluation of our surroundings and our trajectories,” he explained.
He continued, “On a personal level, after a few years in a career, there is a reputation to protect, a status to be advanced, and concern about these things can overshadow one’s sense of calling to service.”
Every home needs windows and mirrors, Cooper said as he built on the metaphor. “Both mission contemplation and mission assessment have their place. Perhaps the danger ... is the tendency to lose the right balance.”
In Search of Our Focus
Psychologists distinguish between the focal and marginal in our attention, Cooper went on. “The basic idea is that in the Christian life, God must become our focus, not to the exclusion of other things, but to their proper placement in perspective.” He added, “The danger for us is not that we will altogether reject God, but that we might become so attracted to other priorities and lose connection to the fundamental source of power, wisdom, energy, and insight. We can become so busy in the work of the Lord that we lose contact with the Lord of the work,” he said.
With this in mind, Cooper invited Adventist leaders to reflect on the momentous dialogue between the resurrected Jesus and Peter recorded in John 21. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”
“In asking those questions, Jesus was trying Peter to [get him to] think [about] what his highest priority in mission was.” Cooper said. Jesus didn’t ask him, “Peter, do you know Me?” but instead asked a relational question, Cooper explained. He didn’t ask him if Peter had figured out the 28 fundamental beliefs, about organizational structure, or strategic planning. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. And every time Peter answered, Jesus replied with a commission. “I want you to understand there is a close link between the question and the commission,” said Cooper.
Do You Love Me?
Jesus’ fundamental question “takes us to the depths of inner awareness,” emphasized Cooper, “for the truth of human nature is that we will love something. Everybody worships. And the tragedy and the opportunity are that we become like what we worship.”
Cooper reminded his audience that we live in a global society saturated with messages and appeals to give our allegiance to various ideals and pursuits. “Amid the confusion, we need to find something that serves as the centering point of our lives. It’s the compass by which we operate. [And] he who obeys the compass can enjoy the freedom of the sea; he who ignores the compass is captive of every wind and wave,” Cooper illustrated.
In this question, “Do you love Me?” Jesus “prods our thinking about what occupies the center of our attention. One who truly loves Jesus knows how to experience peace and joy in this world without being captivated by the things of the world,” Cooper said.
Why This Question Is Essential
According to Cooper, it is important that we think carefully about this question, for “it’s possible that we come to God not because we love Him but because we love something else and are seeking His aid in preserving the object of our affections ... In a performance-measuring world, it’s too easy to focus on activity rather than productivity ... It is too easy to transform religion in[to] just a set of beliefs. [But] Jesus called people to be followers, not just believers.”
In that regard, Cooper emphasized, “it is love for Jesus that provides the power for transformation in life until we become like Jesus.” He quoted Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, who wrote, “Christ’s followers have no need to try to shine. If they will behold constantly the life of Christ, they will be changed in mind and heart into the same image. Then they will shine without any superficial attempt.”
Loving Is Serving
In closing his message, Cooper connected a declaration of love for Jesus with its practical implications for the life of His followers. “When we love Jesus, we learn also to love people,” Cooper reminded Adventist leaders. “And the more we think in the words of Jesus, the more we begin to understand that satisfaction in life comes from being emptied rather than being filled. A life of service is not just for the good of others; it pours meaning into our lives.”
It is the reason why the question Jesus asked Peter is fundamental, Cooper emphasized. Because “love for Jesus orients us to the mission of God. Love for Jesus transforms us into being like Jesus. Love for Jesus empowers us to serve humanity in His name. And love for Jesus makes service a privilege.”