October 9, 2016

‘Remembering God's Plan’

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the sermon that Adventist Church leader Ted N.C. Wilson gave at the 2016 Annual Council in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Oct. 8, 2016. Read report about the sermon here.

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET on Oct. 8 with five testimonies

Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.”

Memory is a wonderful thing. God created the potential to remember information and catalog it for future use. We can remember dates, places, events, people’s faces, names, facts, and God’s Word.

However, even the best of us forget now and then. As we get older, the recall slows down a bit.

Apparently, God knew that we would forget so He admonished us in His Word to “remember.” The most notable instance is the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. A close second is to “remember your Creator in your youth.” God wants us to remember that He is in charge and that in our youth, as we attend school, He is able to take charge of our lives. We are to remember God’s educational model, remember your Seventh-day Adventist education, remember the Christian teachers who taught you, remember the Bible truths you absorbed, and remember that life is precious making good use of it through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Israelites kept forgetting God’s leading and blessing. After crossing through the Red Sea and heading into the Sinai Desert, they became embroiled in a quick case of amnesia. Exodus 16 explains when they came to the desert Wilderness of Sin, they complained about the lack of food and in verse 3 uttered the strange words, “‘Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full!’”

They forgot how God led them through the Red Sea, how He had just turned bitter water to sweet at Marah. Our memories are very short. God had just told them in Exodus 15:26: “‘If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.’” With that promise, they should have known that God would provide as He then did with manna. How soon we forget.

Patriarchs and Prophets, pages 292-293, explains: “Had they possessed faith in Him, in view of all that He had wrought for them, they would cheerfully have borne inconvenience, privation, and even real suffering; but they were unwilling to trust the Lord any further than they could witness the continual evidences of His power. They forgot their bitter service in Egypt. They forgot the goodness and power of God displayed in their behalf in their deliverance from bondage. They forgot how their children had been spared when the destroying angel slew all the first-born of Egypt. They forgot the grand exhibition of divine power at the Red Sea. They forgot that while they had crossed safely in the path that had been opened for them, the armies of the enemies, attempting to follow them, had been overwhelmed by the waters of the sea.”

It says they forgot, they forgot, they forgot. Let’s never forget God’s merciful hand moving in His Advent movement and in giving us God’s precious educational model. Let’s never forget to lean completely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our work for Adventist education.

Continuing in Patriarchs and Prophets, we are told, “The history of the wilderness life of Israel was chronicled for the benefit of the Israel of God to the close of time.”

So, let’s remember to fully use God’s instructions for His educational model found in the Holy Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy. Don’t forget where God has led us and what He wants to do in the future for Adventist education. For those of you who have gone to Adventist schools, remember what God has done for you in placing you where you are today as a leader. Don’t forget. It’s too easy to forget.

Forgetting God and His leading seems to be a constant problem for us as leaders, at times, if we are looking to ourselves and the world instead of leaning completely on Jesus. Unless we are constantly placing ourselves in the hands of God and maintaining a strong relationship with Christ, we will forget Him and His precious educational model. We lean on our own understanding too much. We begin to think we are advanced enough in our own wisdom that we don’t need to remember God’s model. Success in life and even in church activities seems to cloud our minds into forgetting God and His leading in our lives. That’s why God said to remember your Creator in the days of your youth — and let’s keep remembering Him!

Uzziah’s Strange Amnesia

2 Chronicles 26 records a strange case of amnesia. Uzziah was only 16 when he became king of Judah and he reigned for 52 years. 2 Chronicles 26:4 says, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” Verse 5 asserts that “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.” What a lesson for us as leaders in Seventh-day Adventist education and in the church in general today. If we seek the Lord in all we do, He will prosper His church with the great mission task of proclaiming the three angels’ messages.

Verses 6 through 8 say Uzziah had victory over the Philistines, Arabians, Meunites, and Ammonites and that his fame spread far. Subsequent verses detail his strength: towers built, wells dug, farmers employed, an army of 375,000 that fought with “mighty power” with efficient battle gear, and war machines that shot arrows and large stones. Verse 15 adds, “So his fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong.”

Remember what verse 5 said: “As long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.”

Our Seventh-day Adventist educational system has grown from a small beginning in Battle Creek to a worldwide system of 5,705 elementary schools, 2,336 secondary schools, 54 worker training schools, 114 colleges and universities, six medical schools, and legions of well-trained, bright, dedicated teachers and professors.

We’ve become the largest Protestant educational system in the world. Our consecrated educators have become proficient in many different disciplines. The world has taken notice. Thousands of students apply for admission to many of our schools, enlarging our enrollments in various parts of the world. Our schools have produced thousands of professionals in many areas of study. Millions of dollars are involved in Seventh-day Adventist education, coming from appropriations, tuition, grants, and donations. We have become strong. God has blessed us as long as we sought Him and His educational model.

But what happened to Uzziah? 2 Chronicles 26:16 proclaims a warning for each of us to stay humble and rely on God for all things. “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.”

Azariah, the priest, went into the temple after him reminding him that it was not his duty to burn incense but only that of the priests. Azariah said, in verse 18: “Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the Lord God.” King Uzziah had forgotten who gave him the power to become strong. He had taken the glory to himself and even had the ungodly boldness to take on a role that he was not authorized to perform. He forgot God’s rules and regulations. He forgot to give God the glory and took upon himself the power to create his own rules. He forgot God’s model.

Upon hearing the reproof of the priest, verse 19 says: “Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead.” The king who had done right in the sight of the Lord and prospered because of his connection with God became so sure of himself and so filled with self that he left God’s pathway and God’s model to exalt himself and in so doing received God’s penalty. He was not supposed to be inside the temple because he was not a priest, and now with leprosy prominently visible on his forehead, the priests threw him out of the temple. Verse 20 adds, “Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the Lord had struck him.” Verse 21 says he was a leper until his death.

If only Uzziah would have remembered where he came from, how he got there, and had given God the glory with humble respect, he could have continued to be described at the end of chapter 26 as he was at the beginning of the chapter: “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord.”

Have Adventist Educators Forgot?

In our work as church and institutional administrators, have we become so successful at times, so filled with our own accomplishments and the trappings of honor around us, that we have not remembered the Creator in the days of our youth? Have we built “towers” and large institutions and researched so many new ways of accomplishing our goals that we have forgotten God’s model for education?

Yes, there are many who are wholly consecrated to their tasks. But at times have we fallen to the false understanding that we are where we are because of our own intellectual prowess? Have we become so strong in our academic pursuits that we have failed to listen to the Master Teacher’s model for education? Have we at times felt so competent in our own right as to outline the future of Seventh-day Adventist education without consulting the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy? Have we taken the “censer” in our own hands, feeling that we have “arrived” and are more capable of determining the educational direction of our institutions than a simple “Thus saith the Lord” from the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy? Have we allowed outside, non-biblical intellectual influences to shape our vision of the future rather than looking to the Lord, the Master Educator, and saying, “Be Thou My Vision?”

As board chairs, as institutional presidents, as board members, as faculty, as staff, and as church members, have we allowed our memory to slip and forgotten to consult God’s model for the future? As with Uzziah, have we become strong with our hearts lifted up in self-pride and self-determination so that we are headed to destruction? Have we personally and corporately seen God’s hand move in ways that would rebuke us with “leprosy” because we have forgotten God’s simple, straightforward educational model?

I want to honor so many of my teachers and professors — earnest, dedicated teachers — my dear mother being one of them. Teachers who understood the need to lean on Christ, the Master Teacher, at all times. I could list the names, just as you could, of many God-fearing, humble Seventh-day Adventist teachers from elementary, secondary, college, and graduate schools who made a long-lasting impression on my life. Today, I honor them and praise God for them! If that has been your experience, can you say, “Amen?”

We praise the Lord for the faithful teachers who have blessed us and brought us here today and for those who are currently teaching thousands of young people in our global Adventist school system.

Never lose that humble dependence on God for His direction and His model. Never think you are better than God and His holy instructions. In our educational work according to God’s model, we are not to seek for self-willed independence, for academic freedom that pulls us away from the elevated and sacred responsibility to train students as part of God’s great final proclamation of biblical truth and prophetic understanding. We are to resist any efforts to employ higher criticism and the historical-critical method in our teaching and relation to the Bible which only alienates us from God and exalts self instead of Jesus.

In the classrooms, we are to lift up Christ, His Word, His righteousness, His sanctuary service, His saving power in the great controversy, His three angels’ messages, His creative power of a six-day recent creation, His health message, His last-day mission to the world, and His soon Second Coming. We are to challenge students to allow revival and reformation to be the dynamic foundation of their lives in their relationship to God. We want them to be part of Mission to the Cities and Comprehensive Health Ministry. Let them focus on Christ and His righteousness and faithfulness to God and His Word. Let them be part of Total Member Involvement under the leading of the Holy Spirit so they can actively participate in the last warning to the world. Jesus is coming soon!

Powerful Goal for Teachers

Education, pages 29-30, gives a powerful goal: “The true teacher is not satisfied with second-rate work. He is not satisfied with directing his students to a standard lower than the highest which it is possible for them to attain. He cannot be content with imparting to them only technical knowledge, with making them merely clever accountants, skillful artisans, successful tradesmen. It is his ambition to inspire them with principles of truth, obedience, honor, integrity, and purity — principles that will make them a positive force for the stability and uplifting of society. He desires them, above all else to learn life’s great lesson of unselfish service. These principles become a living power to shape the character, through the acquaintance of the soul with Christ, through an acceptance of His wisdom as the guide, His power as the strength, of heart and life. This union formed, the student has found the Source of wisdom.”

The world is in the process of neutralizing the Bible and biblical truth. Next year, we will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation when Bible-believing, God-fearing people said that the only rule of faith was the Bible alone and that we believe in salvation by grace alone — our trust and faith in the righteousness of Christ which He offers to us. Since that time, millions of people through the ages have turned to the simple and yet, profound, pure Word of God as the foundation of our faith pointing us to the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

Seventh-day Adventists pastors, teachers, administrators, and church members, let us stand firmly for the heavenly principles that guided the Protestant Reformation almost 500 years ago. These are the biblical principles that will guide us into the last days of Earth’s history and give us strength for the proclamation of Christ and His prophetic truths. Don’t forget what God has done for His church and His people. As much of the religious world mixes truth and error and turns back to tradition, emotionalism, and ecumenism, stand firm for the powerful Word of God! Do not allow the neutralization or deconstruction of truth to find any entrance into our schools, churches or into your personal life.

A few months ago, I was on an unusual trip in Israel with a number of senior church leaders to reflect on God’s leading in His church throughout the ages, in our lives today, and to gain strength and vision for the critical times ahead when men’s and women’s faith will be tried in the fire. Only through complete dependence on God and total confidence in God’s Holy Word will we be able to stand secure. Two men led our trip — Mark Finley and Michael Hasel. We were blessed by the spiritual lessons we learned. Dr. Michael Hasel is an archeologist and professor at Southern Adventist University. I heard Dr. Hasel share vital information about the current attempts in the deconstruction of Scripture, attempts to neutralize God’s Holy Word.

Dr. Hasel, shared with us these unusual attempts and how that will affect the vital work of those engaged in educating our young people in the foundation of all true education which is an understanding of God.

(Michael Hasel begins his testimony)

Hasel: It was a privilege to travel through Israel just a few months ago, and it’s a part of the world I spend a great deal of time in. It’s not a glorious work; my life is in ruins! [Laughter]. It’s a wonderful experience because you can see history come to life and you’re also able to see prophecy fulfilled. We’ve been talking about Uzziah this morning. During my first time in Israel I got to see evidence of the great earthquake that took place during the days of Uzziah.

For the last two centuries, as our church has grown, the adversary has not been idle. The Bible and biblical authority has faced an unprecedented onslaught with the rise of modernism and postmodernism in the Western world. Since the French Cultural Revolution a new philosophy has sought to abolish the institution of the church and with it the Bible, the Living Word of God. In its place, philosophers established autonomous reason with its spirit of criticism and doubt, human experience with its emphasis on the present as the interpreter of the past, and philosophical naturalism asserting that humanity should operate without any reference to the working of God.

In 1844, just when our founders had experienced the Great Disappointment, the popular book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published anonymously by Richard Chambers and openly promoted the concept of evolution. That same year Charles Darwin completed his initial manuscript On the Origin of Species. The result is that evolutionary thinking has found its way into most disciplines. But Chambers and Darwin did not write their influential works in a vacuum.

Biblical scholars had begun deconstructing the Bible by redating its contents and denying the very fabric of its history. The unique nature of the Bible as a work constituted in history was removed. Today postmodern literary approaches have divorced the Bible from history and relegated it to the interpretations of the shifting sands of culture. Earlier in the Age of Enlightenment, Moses was rejected as the author of the first five books of the Bible. In the 1970s, Abraham and the patriarchs were described as myth, in the 1980s scholars turned to the event of the exodus. In the 1990s postmodern scholars moved to the reigns of David and Solomon. This is the battle that still rages today in the scholarly world.

As the Bible has been rewritten, and its history deconstructed, predictive prophecy was deemed impossible. Because the Bible began to be studied merely as literature and because these scholars came to believe that God did not inspire its writers through direct revelation, biblical writers could not predict the future. Both history and prophecy were removed and reduced to metaphor and idealistic interpretations. The Prophetic Word – which gave rise to the Reformation and gave its identity to our Remnant church has been reinterpreted today, leaving Adventists as almost the only church to still teach the books of Daniel and Revelation from a Historicist perspective.

In my library I have a book of 600 pages titled The Dying of the Light. It documents how the great universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded by Protestant Reformers and were bastions of Biblical education and the Historicist interpretation of prophecy. Its early presidents wrote volumes on prophecy and the soon coming of Jesus. But today all vestiges of that history is gone.

Society and our church has been beaten and battered by modernism and its challenges to the truths found in the Bible, but today, we are no closer to the promised utopia of modernist thinking. We have witnessed the greatest World Wars in human history that have left 60 million to 80 million dead on the battlefield and in the homes and streets of Europe’s greatest cities. We see the spread of diseases and epidemics that modern science has not been able to end and cure (AIDS, malaria, ebola, cancer, heart disease). Our society has become apathetic towards any truth claims, disillusioned with the promises of the past.

Will we survive the moral, social, political, and religious deconstruction surrounding us? How do we counteract that influence as a church? How do we accomplish revival and reformation in our schools? Our students are desperately searching for mission, for purpose, for meaning in a broken world, but there has been a growing disconnect between the mission and message of the Bible and its prophetic message that gave us that meaning and mission. How are we to instill this identity to a generation that will be empowered to finish the work?

Let us turn to Scripture. In 1 Peter 2:1-6: “Desire the pure milk of the Word, Coming to Him as to a living stone ... you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus is the chief cornerstone. And for Jesus, the Bible was the foundation.

As an archeologist I spend much of my time in Jerusalem. In two weeks I will be there again. There in the Old City is the Temple Mount, the location where the temple once stood. It is the largest structure of its kind ever built in the Roman Empire, six times larger in its footprint than the coliseum in Rome. On the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount is the cornerstone, placed there over 2,000 years ago. It is an enormous stone weighing between 80 and 100 tons. The entire building project that Herod started and that stretched over a period of almost a century, rests on the alignment of that one Cornerstone.

And so I ask my brothers and sisters who make up the living stones of this Spiritual House, how are we aligning ourselves with the Living Word of God today? Are our schools, which are training this generation of young people to finish the work aligned in mission today? Are we aligned with Jesus, the chief cornerstone?

I have a dream, a dream that our entire educational curriculum will be based on a biblical foundation. That our courses in psychology, in history, in biology, in business, in literature be taught from a foundation of biblical thinking and world view. That we do more than simply have a prayer in the beginning of class and then repeat the thoughts of Freud, Darwin, and tickle down economics. That our students be are not only trained for Harvard, but for heaven.

I have a dream that our students are saturated in the word of God not in 12 hours of a 130 hour university education, but that in every class they encounter the Living Word on our campuses. That they leaving our campuses not more confused about life than when they came, but with a greater sense of our mission, and a zeal for the work that God has called each of us to do in these closing moments of Earth’s history.

I have a dream that our young people when they leave our campuses not only accept the Word, but that one year, five, years, and 10 years after they leave our institutions they are those living stones, that obey and live by the Word.

I have a dream that we will educate as Seventh-day Adventists. Our name describes a people who believe and teach the entirety of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The Seventh-day in our name points back to Jesus, who was the Word at the beginning, “All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). We are a movement called to uphold Jesus and His creation in six literal days. Jesus said, “For if you believed Moses, you believed Me; for He wrote about Me” (John 5:46).

The word Adventist in our name points forward to a prophetic voice called for this time to proclaim the three angels' messages. We are a movement that proclaims the words of Jesus “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7).

I have a dream that the words of Ellen G. White in The Great Controversy, page 595 be fulfilled today: “But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority — not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain “Thus saith the Lord” in its support.”

(Michael Hasel ends his testimony)

Wilson: Thank you so much, Dr. Hasel, for the insights shared that will help us to make the Bible our rule of faith as we depend wholly on Jesus and His Word for the mission ahead. This is reinforced in Education, page 30, “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one, for in education, as in redemption, ‘other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’”

Basis of Educational Model

Remember the educational model outlined in God’s Holy Word and the Spirit of Prophecy. God spoke through Ellen White to provide instruction to His Advent movement. The Spirit of Prophecy is one of God’s greatest gifts to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Don’t forget to listen to God’s prophets in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Unfortunately, there are those who would think they don’t need the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, that somehow we have now arrived at a higher level of understanding than what those heavenly instructors can give us.

Let me tell you with all humility and conviction, the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy are as valid today as they were when they were written! God’s truth is never old-fashioned. It is relevant today and will be relevant until Jesus comes. You cannot outdo or outgrow God’s precious truth in His Word and His instructions through the Spirit of Prophecy! But there are efforts to neutralize the Spirit of Prophecy and its instructions for our activities on many fronts including education. Don’t forget. Remember God’s educational model.

Dwain Esmond is an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate. He is a longtime friend and colleague who is a vibrant young leader in God’s work. Dwain, share with us the precious understanding of how the Spirit of Prophecy is a vital part of instructing our Seventh-day Adventist system of education, but also how there are efforts to attempt to neutralize those precious messages.

(Dwain Esmond begins his testimony)

Esmond: I’ve often wondered what did I get from an Adventist education? I’ve wondered whether or not it was worth my time, being a product of that education. I must tell you that my life changed drastically because of something my father did — he gave me two books from his library: Mind, Character, and Personality, Volumes 1 and 2 for my high school graduation. To pry anything lose from his library was special!

And I read in that volume where it says that as an educating power, the Bible is without equal. I read about how the BibleI increased the power of the mind to take in the education I was being given. I found out what I had gotten in that education when I got to graduate school and I had a professor — a skeptic from the South.

He would ask me, “Mr. Edmond do you believe in the Bible? Yes, I said.”

“Can you love your enemy?”

“No, sir.”

“But isn’t that in the Bible? You should actually love your enemy?”

“ Yes.”

“Are you fooling with me?”

“No, sir. Except Christ be in us, we can do absolutely nothing.”

I want you to know today that Ellen White builds upon scriptures like this on education — Isaiah 54:13.

“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.”

I want you to know today, and you’ve heard this already: “True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. ... It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.”

But I want you to know that our understanding of education from the Spirit of Prophecy has painted a target on our back! The enemy of our souls isn’t excited about what is happening during this time. He is bothered that we would dare shore up this education. He will come with verocity and intensity to make of non effect counsel from Ellen White. In my estimation I am not so worried about attacks from the outside, but from the inside. I think the greatest attack is being aimed at the family and the Spirit of Prophecy in the family.

“Upon all parents there rests the obligation of giving physical, mental, and spiritual instruction. It should be the object of every parent to secure to his child a well-balanced, symmetrical character. This is a work of no small magnitude and importance — a work requiring earnest thought and prayer no less than patient, persevering effort.” (Child Guidance, page 17).

This is a work, education within the family structure. This is a work of no small matter or importance. But as the family becomes more consumed with the concerns and cares of this life, the family altar breaks down. Then we begin to define education as the world defines it — just focusing on [worldly things]. That’s not God’s plan for us.

Satan also goes to church. When was the last time you heard a sermon on the philosophy of Seventh-day Adventist Christian education in the local church? Why are our pulpits so quiet about this great resource in the church.

The devil also goes to school, and specifically, he attacks the Spirit of Prophecy in school. His objective is that our young people never meet Christ.

“Through Christ had been communicated every ray of divine light that had ever reached our fallen world. It was He who had spoken through everyone that throughout the ages had declared God’s word to man. Of Him all the excellences manifest in the earth’s greatest and noblest souls were reflections” (Education, page 73).

If people never meet Jesus, they remain in darkness. There is a focus on the subject matter, and not the subject who matters most!

In the U.S. right now, everyone is taking about science education. I don’t know about a scientist or technologist better than God — Who continues to govern this planet! I don’t know a better mathematician than God. The objective of the enemy is that Word who reveals Him is never taught.

Ellen White says, “It is by the perusal of the Bible that the mind is strengthened, refined, and elevated. If there were not another book in the wide world, the word of God, lived out through the grace of Christ, would make man perfect in this world, with a character fitted for the future, immortal life. Those who study the word, taking it in faith as the truth, and receiving it into the character, will be complete in Him who is all and in all” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, page 445).

She says we would be complete in Him!

“There will be a hatred kindled against the testimonies which is satanic. The workings of Satan will be to unsettle the faith of the churches in them for this reason. Satan cannot have so clear a track to bring in his deceptions and bind up souls in his delusions if the warnings and reproofs and counsels of the Spirit of God are heeded” (Letter 40, 1890).

I can also tell you about a flood — it’s online. Just Google Ellen White, and the flood will find you — the flood of misinformation. Disinformation is brought out everyday online about Ellen White. We feel this tension very closely and are working proactively about that.

But I’m more concerned about the rot that’s on the inside. I’m concerned not just about defense. If we stay true to what God has given us — “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19).

I have one more slide: “Heaven is a school; its field of study, the universe; its teacher, the Infinite One. A branch of this school was established in Eden; and, the plan of redemption accomplished, education will again be taken up in the Eden school” (Education, page 301).

The Spirit of Prophecy is for this life. May God help us to lift up His standard and get it back to the schools.

(Dwain Esmond ends his testimony)

Wilson: Dwain, thank you so much for your beautiful testimony showing God’s intentions to guide us in Seventh-day Adventist education in these last days of Earth’s history.

Seventh-day Adventist education is one of the vital keys to the advancement of God’s great Advent movement and proclamation of prophetic messages. Christ and His Word are to be central in all that Adventist education accomplishes.

In Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students, page 453, we are counseled that: “Christ is the center of all true doctrine. All true religion is found in His word and in nature. He is the One in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered; and the teacher who learns from Him finds a safe anchorage.”

Adventist education stands at the center of imparting urgency to students and faculty as we understand the weighty subjects to be shared through education and then to the world. Counsels on Education, page 128, tell us, “The third angel’s message, the great testing truth for this time, is to be taught in all our institutions. God designs that through them this special warming shall be given, and bright beams of light shall shine to the world. Time is short. The perils of the last days are upon us, and we should watch and pray, and study and heed the lessons that are given us in the books of Daniel and the Revelation.”

This precious work in Adventist education is to prepare God’s people for His last-day proclamation and living for Christ. Counsels on Education, page 129, says, “The great, grand work of bringing out a people who will have Christ-like characters, and who will be able to stand in the day of the Lord, is to be accomplished.”

Let us trust our young people to accomplish great things for the Lord through His power. Education, page 290, says “Lead the youth to feel that they are trusted, and there are few who will not seek to prove themselves worthy of the trust.”

We must never forget the great objective of Adventist education is developing character so that God can speak through His people. Education, page 225, tell us: “True education does not ignore the value of scientific knowledge of literary acquirements; but above information it values power; above power, goodness; above intellectual acquirements, character. The world does not so much need men of great intellect as of noble character. … Character building is the most important work ever entrusted to human beings; and never before was its diligent study so important as now.”

Ted N.C. Wilson, left, interviewing Bonnie Iversen as Paul Negrete and Velino Salazar look on. (Melody Mason)

Case of San Gabriel Academy

Let me tell you about an Adventist institution that is doing great things in developing character in students and instilling them with a great desire to be part of God’s last-day Advent movement. Many months ago, I received an email from a long-time schoolmate and good friend, Bonnie Iversen. Bonnie and I went to Takoma Academy together, sang in the chorale, played clarinets in the band. She played the bass clarinet. And we were both involved in student government.

Bonnie, currently the director of development at San Gabriel Academy in the Southern California Conference, asked me if I would come to speak to the students. My schedule was very full but I finally worked out a time in February of this year after a board meeting at Loma Linda University. Interestingly, I had attended part of the third grade at San Gabriel Academy after our family returned from mission service in Egypt. So going to San Gabriel Academy was kind of like a “home-coming.”

Nancy and I were overwhelmed by what we found: a school of 500 students from kindergarten through secondary school, a vibrant and happy faculty with a mission, students with a purpose in life and a mission focus. We had a delightful time with faculty and students on that Friday night in February. On Sabbath, we had a combined worship service at the White Memorial Church in Los Angeles focusing on Adventist education with about 1,200 people in attendance coming from many schools in the Southern California Conference. I was so impressed and grateful to the Lord.

At that meeting, we unveiled the first large replica of Nathan Green’s painting of the Second Coming to be given to an academy. You can see that painting in the General Conference atrium. Hart Research Institute is providing beautiful reproductions to every academy that wishes one in the North American Division. San Gabriel Academy was the first to receive one. I left that weekend with San Gabriel Academy and the other schools praising God for what was happening.

Now let me introduce you to three special people who help to make all of that happen in the Southern California Conference:

Paul Negrete is principal of San Gabriel Academy. Bonnie Iversen is director of development. Pastor Velino Salazar is the president of the Southern California Conference.

(Ted Wilson begins interviews with Paul Negrete, Bonnie Iversen, and Velino Salazar)

Wilson: In February, when I visited San Gabriel Academy, I was so impressed with the spiritual and mission focus of the school, administration, faculty and students. Why is there such a mission focus at the academy, how did it come about, and what does the book ‘Education’ have to do with it?

Negrete: Well, I think in the U.S., our education system is being challenged. We began to look as a team how we can improve our educational system. We focused on our four competencies and what differentiates us from other schools. It was really looking into the book Education that makes us different. We studied Education and what that would look like in the classroom, and a revamping began to take place. This year we’re sitting down with teachers and documenting the principles and how they align with what we’re trying to accomplish. As an outsider who came, I saw the results of that incredible study of Education.

Wilson: Paul, I’m so proud of you and your team! Bonnie, you and I are products of Seventh-day Adventist education having gone to school together right here in Maryland at Takoma Academy. You thought of going into law and then God changed your direction to teaching in Adventist education.And you’ve never been the same again and have made a profound impact on hundreds of students. How long have you been in this work and why do you have such a passion for nurturing students within Adventist education to help them love the Lord and His mission?

Iversen: I had such a good time at Takoma Academy, and it was such a wonderful experience. I felt I wanted to teach and make that happen for other students as well. I did teach for a little bit, but I didn’t realize what a battle Satan and Christ were having over me. And I thought to pursue law. That was for me, not for God.

During my second year of a four year program at Southwestern School of Law, I couldn’t shake the feeling of missing the classroom. I decided to get my resume ready. I took my resume and made it more educational for a teaching job. It was a Tuesday early in August. I knew I couldn’t get a job then, but maybe for next year.

On Wednesday I got a call from San Gabriel Academy. It shows me that when we take a step out in faith, He [God] starts working. Tuesday, I prepared my resume. Wednesday, I received a call for my resume. On Thursday, I got the call, “Would you come and meet with me on Monday?” Thursday I interviewed with the committee and then 30 minutes after arriving home, I got the offer. I took quite a pay cut. But, God kept working with me. He never gave up. Sometimes it was through the memory of my mom and dad, what they had told me. So I did it and I’ve made it through thousands of days since. God happened to call me to a school whose model is Education for Eternity. When I realized the responsibility that we all have for our young people. When I realized how passionate God is about them, he instilled in me a passion for my students. I feel blessed to continue the work that God has me do. I love what I do. That’s why, at my age, I’m still doing it and will do it as long as I can.

Wilson: I left San Gabriel Academy with volumes of things that are produced explaining why San Gabriel Academy is leading the way in so many ways telling people, you need to put your child in Adventist education.

Velino Salazar, you and I attended that wonderful conference-wide educational rally at the White Memorial Church on Sabbath, Feb 27, 2016. I was so impressed with the dedication of the representatives from the conference and schools attending and their students as they focused on Seventh-day Adventist education and the mission of the church in the Los Angeles area. Why is the Southern California Conference so committed to Seventh-day Adventist education?”

Salazar: I could respond easily: simple — we want to take our children to heaven with us. When Moses said, we are not leaving without our sons and daughters. In a more elaborated response—we couldn’t believe the education we have as Seventh-day Adventists, we have to prepare to serve in this life and also in the life to come. Intentionally, five or six decades ago, plans were made.

Every single church would have a constituent school. All churches must support Christian education. An intentional decision. This is an opportunity for the pastors and teachers to form school boards and sit and plan together. This ownership, the sense of ownership came up. Another decision is that we consider the educators as ministers. They are in front of the students, talking and praying. Every day. Sometimes when the student has a problem, they go to the teachers. We have committed teachers.

Another decision that was intentional was to make these teachers delegates to constistuency sessions. They could participate in all of the decision making processes.

This is part of what we do. And of course as officers we participate on the boards. We want to cross the pearly gates with our children when the Lord comes.

(Ted Wilson ends interviews with Paul Negrete, Bonnie Iversen, and Velino Salazar)

Wilson: What a privilege to see what God is doing through dedicated Seventh-day Adventist educators in metropolitan Los Angeles to inspire young people to love Jesus, serve Him in Total Member Involvement and be part of the last-day proclamation of the three angels’ messages. Praise God for what all of you are doing for Adventist education!

Fellow leaders in administration and education, God has a great plan for His biblical and Spirit of Prophecy model of education. God intends to use His schools to be a witness of what He can do to change lives, to inspire young people to proclaim His Word and to make a huge difference in the destiny of millions of people.

This church and its educational system are not destined to simply become one church among many in the patchwork of denominations. No, this is a unique movement with a unique message on a unique mission led by the Captain of the Hosts, Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher. The Seventh-day Adventist Church will not be neutralized and its educational system taken over by secular influences if we will humbly submit to the Lord and remember His biblical and Spirit of Prophecy counsels. We are not to blend with the world but to shine with heavenly distinction as we proclaim Christ and His distinctive Christ-centered biblical doctrines. Don’t forget God’s eternal instructions for Adventist education in the Bible, in the book Education, and in other Spirit of Prophecy writings. Don’t worry about criticism and attacks against you personally if you are following God’s leading and His Word. Be strong and stay the course against all odds. God is on your side. Lean completely on Him in all things. This is what I try to do personally as I face issues and challenges. In God’s hands you are safe as you proclaim and promote God’s incredible educational principles and His model for Seventh-day Adventist education. Be defenders and enactors of God’s sacred educational plans for the “schools of the prophets” throughout your conferences, unions, and divisions. God’s church is depending on your personal commitment and the truth you hold in your hands. Be strong and realize the Lord has power over everything you face.

Visit to David and Goliath

On that recent trip to Israel with Mark Finley and Michael Hasel, we stopped on a mountaintop to overlook the Valley of Elah. You remember it as the place where Israel was confronted with the Philistine army and Goliath. That story is a favorite of all children and has great implications for adults.

As we looked down on the valley, Michael described the possible line-up of Israelites on one ridge and the Philistines on a facing ridge. The valley was between them where David met Goliath. It brought the story alive as we imagined the scene that unfolds in 1 Samuel 17. David, the young student taught by God as he shepherded the flocks. David, who learned to trust in God with a simple faith, faced Goliath who represented all that humanism and paganism could offer. Goliath, who defied the army of Israel and in essence the God of heaven. Goliath represents all that the devil will throw against you as Seventh-day Adventist educators and administrators. But fear not, God has a plan and it is a simple one: uphold Bible truth, heed the counsel from the Spirit of Prophecy, and in so doing fulfill His model for education.

You will recall that David chose five smooth stones from the brook in the Valley of Elah. I hold in my hand a stone from that brook. When we finished looking at the valley from the mountaintop, we urged Michael to let us go to the valley and seek some stones from that brook. Nancy and I collected some and will be placing them in small boxes for each of our 10 grandchildren as reminders to them of God’s great power in simply following His instructions.

David met Goliath with those great words of faith found in 1 Samuel 17:45-47: “Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.’”

You well know the ending of that story and the complete victory of Israel over the Philistines because a young student of the Lord believed His Word and God performed a miracle to His glory just as He will do for you in Adventist education as you follow God’s amazing instructions in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.

A “Stone” for You

I want to put something in your hands: a “stone” that can help to destroy the “Goliaths” facing you. A “stone” that represents the real power that can give you victory over worldly influences and propel your schools to victory all through the blood and grace of Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher. I want you to have a new copy of the book Education, one of the most valuable “stones” you will ever possess in your work that is a complement to the educational instructions in God’s Holy Word. Many of you already have your own copy of Education, and that is good. However, the fresh reading of this book under the leading of the Holy Spirit turned around San Gabriel Academy, and it will reinforce your pathway toward heavenly instruction in your life and in your school. I hope you read it. I’m reading my personal copy. Take that copy in your hands now. We have one for everyone here, and some in Spanish as needed.

The principles in this book, if read carefully and prayerfully, can change your life and the direction of your institution. God’s instructions in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy will help prepare this generation for Christ’s soon coming. The second coming of Christ is the greatest culmination of the Seventh-day Adventist educational process, when men and women from all over this globe will be prepared, through the grace of Christ, to meet Him.

One of these days very soon, we will look up and see a small, dark cloud about half the size of a man’s hand. It will get larger and brighter. All of heaven poured out for this climactic event. Right in the middle of that cloud will be the One we have waited for, our Savior and Lord, the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ. We’ll look up and say, “This is the God we have waited for,” and Christ will look down and say, “Well done, good and faithful servants in Adventist education, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

We will join Him in the air with all those who have been blessed by Adventist education and many more to be with Him forever all through His grace and righteousness as we head to the eternal classroom of heaven, learning throughout eternity from the Master Teacher Himself.

Today will you commit yourself to God’s great plans for Seventh-day Adventist education to use you in preparing young people and their characters to meet Jesus in the air? Are you willing to redouble your efforts to remember God’s incredible and amazing biblical and Spirit of Prophecy instructions for Adventist education and give Him all the glory? If so, would you stand with me in commitment to Christ and His plans for Seventh-day Adventist education? Please hold your copy of Education high as we pledge ourselves in prayer to not follow our plans but God’s plans alone for Adventist education.