As Seventh-day Adventists we are people with a mission; we are people with a purpose. And what a privilege it is to be called by God to join Him in His amazing mission and purpose in these last days of earth’s history.
In the past few months we have seen how quickly world events can change. Almost overnight, as it were, world economies were hit hard, community and business life almost shut down, and of course we’ve also seen terrible loss in human life.
This has brought many challenges to our world church—to our institutions, to our mission activities, to our local churches, and to our church members. At every level we’ve had to make some very hard decisions regarding funding and personnel.
But the good news is that we serve a risen Savior, and He’s in the world today. Despite the uncertainty and fear surrounding us, God is still leading His church. And we know that we can look forward with confidence and certainty to the future.
The words of the prophet Joel were written many centuries ago in different circumstances, but in some ways, they were under very similar circumstances. In the earlier part of his prophecy Joel describes a shocking picture of a land in mourning from locust attack and plague—animals groaning and in pain, rivers drying up and farmers in despair. He says, “Surely joy has withered away” (Joel 1:12). It’s a poignant picture of terrible suffering. But then in chapter 2:21 we read these words of hope: “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things” (Joel 2:21).
Today in 2020 we can also cast away fear and be glad and rejoice, because we know the Lord will again do great things as we see prophecy being fulfilled and Christ’s second coming approaching.
There is a sense in this text that not only will God do great things in the future, but He is doing wonderful things right now! And I want to assure you today that, under His guidance, God’s church is moving forward, and the Lord continues to do is doing great things again.
We praise God for tremendous advances in mission to the cities, in comprehensive health ministry and evangelism, in entering new areas of the globe, in reaching new people groups. We see hundreds of thousands of church members joyfully involved in Total Member Involvement. We see a renewed commitment among church members to Revival and Reformation. We see the church coming together with a strong focus on mission.
As we move forward as a church to implement the Key Objectives of the Reach the World: I Will Go Strategic Plan, we must do so in deep humility and in utter reliance on the Holy Spirit.
Ellen White tell us: “[The church] was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.”—AA 9. She adds: “It is essential to labor with order, following an organized plan and a definite object.”—EV 94.
This means that successfully conducting our God-given mission requires careful, prayerful, planning. As our church mobilizes its resources for Total Member Involvement, it’s important for us to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us in wise planning and implementation.
Throughout Scripture we see how important planning is to God:
A. God is a God of purpose and order.
* It is with good reason that we refer to the Plan of Salvation.
* A large section of Exodus, chapters 25-40, are taken up with the meticulous details of God’s plans for building the tabernacle.
* In Genesis 6:8-22, we see that Noah implemented a specific and detailed plan from God on how to build the ark.
* In Luke 14: 28-32, Jesus tells two stories that illustrate the importance of planning, The first story is of a builder who needs to sit down and figure out the cost before he starts. The second story is of a king, who needs to sit down and calculate whether he has sufficient soldiers to successfully go into battle.
Some may say, “Pastor Wilson, laying plans for the future shows a lack of faith in the nearness of Jesus’ Second Coming. We don’t have time for lengthy research and working out ‘objectives’ and measuring ‘Key Performance Indicators,’ KPIs, and all that sort of thing. They’re just a distraction from our mission. Let’s just go and do it.”
While I can sympathize with the mission passion behind that thought, we’ve clearly been instructed to “occupy” until Jesus comes as indicated in Luke 19:13. “Occupying” must be done with urgency, but it must also be done prayerfully, carefully, and in an organized way. Gospel Workers, page 416, says, “There must be far more personal responsibility, far more thinking and planning, far more mental power brought into the labor put forth for the Master.”
In that marvelous Spirit of Prophecy compilation of Last Day Events, it says on page 76, “Christ declared that when He comes some of His waiting people will be engaged in business transactions. Some will be sowing in the field, others reaping and gathering in the harvest, and others grinding at the mill. It is not God’s will that His elect shall abandon life’s duties and responsibilities and give themselves up to idle contemplation, living in a religious dream.”
And if there’s anything that will stop us from living in an unrealistic “religious dream” it’s the hard data demanded by strategic planning—data that helps us understand where we currently are as a church on key issues, and where we should be!
The closeness of Christ’s coming should make it all the more imperative to mobilize our resources as efficiently and as productively as possible.
B. The Holy Spirit must be central
The church’s Reach the World: I Will Go Strategic Plan clearly acknowledges the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to look prayerfully at the document—and you can easily read it online. Please copy down and access the address on your screen.
You will discover in the document that in addition to the 10 Strategic Objectives, there is a final category: “Holy Spirit Objectives: To be defined as the Holy Spirit leads.”
Not only does the Holy Spirit guide us in making plans, He sometimes leads us to adapt or change our plans according to changing circumstances and His will.
We can clearly see this happening in the life of the apostle Paul. For example, for a long time he hoped and planned to visit the church in Rome. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that despite all his hopes and plans to visit, “I also have been much hindered from coming to you” (Romans 15:22). The “hindrance” he experienced was largely the work of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, Luke says that although Paul and his companions were planning to preach in Asia, at that time the Holy Spirit prevented them from doing so (Acts 16:6).
As a church we must be agile and adaptive, ready to answer God’s call to put aside our plans and move in whatever directions He might call us.
As we look at how we as a church move forward in the direction, He calls us, I believe the story of Nehemiah the cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes has key lessons for us all.
NEHEMIAH THE PLANNER
Ellen White writes in Christian Service, page 177: “There is need of Nehemiahs in the church today,—not men who can pray and preach only, but men whose prayers and sermons are braced with firm and eager purpose. The course pursued by this Hebrew patriot in the accomplishment of his plans is one that should still be adopted by ministers and leading men. When they have laid their plans, they should present them to the church in such a manner as to win their interest and cooperation. Let the people understand the plans and share in the work, and they will have a personal interest in its prosperity. The success attending Nehemiah’s efforts shows what prayer, faith, and wise, energetic action will accomplish. Living faith will prompt to energetic action.”
Let’s look at the key steps in Nehemiah’s strategic plan:
Steps in Nehemiah’s Strategic Plan
1. Do the Research, Collect the Data.
A. Questioned Hanai and other men about the situation in Jerusalem and he learned of the trauma the remaining Jews were facing back in Judah, and about the broken city walls (Nehemiah 1:2-3).
B. Later personally inspected the walls (Nehemiah 2:13-15).
Over the past few years, surveys have been conducted that shine a light on many challenges and areas of need we face as a church. Challenges and areas of need that we must address if we are to be the church that God has called us to be, and if we are to successfully complete the mission, He has given us. Nehemiah’s story shows us the way forward for addressing such challenges.
2. Pray for the Situation. Nehemiah first prayed to God for guidance in how to deal with the situation he faced (Nehemiah 1:4-10), and he prayed again immediately before he made his request to the king (Nehemiah 2:4).
Prayer must be the foundation of any programs or plans we make. We must be a praying church. Certainly, we are called to make plans. But we should never presume to make them in our own wisdom. Any skills, cleverness, or education we might bring to the table are worth nothing without God’s guidance and blessing.
3. Set the Goal: Restore the honor of Jerusalem and the honor of the God of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah had a clear understanding of his goal: to restore Jerusalem’s honor and, in doing so, to restore the honor of the God of Jerusalem. His goal was so much more than merely rebuilding city walls. Just as Nehemiah clearly understood his goal, we too must clearly understand our goal and purpose as Seventh-day Adventists.
The ultimate goal of I Will Go is reflected in the Seventh-day Adventist’s official mission statement: “Make disciples of Jesus Christ who live as His loving witnesses and proclaim to all people the everlasting gospel of the Three Angels’ Messages in preparation for His soon return.”
4. Take Action Steps to Achieve the Goal.
Having gained a clear understanding of his goal, Nehemiah then took steps to achieve that goal. The Bible clearly outlines these action steps.
A. Prayed again (Nehemiah 2:4).
B. Requested the king’s permission to return and rebuild (Nehemiah 2:4, 5).
C. Requested and received resources from the king—letters of royal support, timber from the king’s forest (Nehemiah 2:7, 8).
D. “. . . humbled himself before God, giving Him the glory due unto His name”—3 BC 1136.
E. Trusted God’s faithfulness. “God had been faithful to His threatenings when His people separated from Him; He had scattered them abroad among the nations, according to His Word. And Nehemiah found in this very fact an assurance that He would be equally faithful in fulfilling His promises.”—3BC 1136.
F. Recruited leaders (Nehemiah 2:17).
G. Started building (Nehemiah 2:18-Nehemiah 4).
H. Helped the poor by cancelling debt and stopped the charging of interest (Nehemiah 5:9-13).
I. Helped Ezra reinstate the law of Moses (Nehemiah 8).
J. Ended marriages of Jewish men with pagan wives (Nehemiah 13:23–31).
5. I Will Go Action Steps.
Spiritual Objective 2
Just as Nehemiah took several significant action steps toward his goal, the I Will Go plan breaks down our Strategic Goal as a church into 10 Key Objectives. It also lists numerous Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs), which help us measure how we are doing in taking key action steps toward the goal.
Because of time, we can only examine a few Key Objectives this morning. The first one I want to look at is Spiritual Objective 2, one of the three Key Spiritual Objectives. It says: “To increase accession, retention, reclamation, and participation of children, youth, and young adults.” Surveys shows that far too many of our precious young people are leaving the church. Of course, just one young person leaving is too many. This objective is a call to reach, keep, and reclaim them. Let’s listen to the testimony of Pastor Kirk Thomas, director of the Personal Ministries and Sabbath School Departments as well as of missions and evangelism for the British Union Conference.
Ellen White in Christ’s Object Lessons page 191, reminds us, “If the lost sheep is not brought back to the fold, it wanders until it perishes. And many souls go down to ruin for want of a hand stretched out to save.”
Mission Objective 1
One of the key ways to retain our young people, and keep them connected to the church, is to involve them in service and mission through initiatives such as One Year in Mission and Adventist Volunteer Services. That is why Total Member Involvement is so important.
This directly links to the first Mission Objective of I Will Go: “To revive the concept of worldwide mission and sacrifice for mission as a way of life involving not only pastors, but every church member, young and old, in the joy of witnessing for Christ and making disciples.”
Let’s visit some young One Year in Mission volunteers working in an urban center of influence in Santiago Chile.
I cannot emphasize enough the vital importance of getting involved in service and mission. This is as vital to our spiritual lives as exercise is to our physical lives. Ellen White told a fascinating story.
Spiritual Objective 1
On a bitter winter day, a man was chilled by the cold. He collapsed in the snow, ready to die. But as he lay in the snow, he heard the moans of a nearby fellow traveler. Instinctively he felt compelled to help him. He reached out and began chafing rubbing the man’s frozen limbs, trying to restore life. Mrs. White writes:
“He chafed the ice-clad limbs of the unfortunate man, and, after considerable effort, raised him to his feet; and as he could not stand, he bore him in sympathizing arms through the very drifts he had thought he could never succeed in getting through alone. And when he had borne his fellow traveler to a place of safety, the truth flashed home to him that in saving his neighbor he had saved himself also.”—4T 319, 320.
By ministering to his neighbor, he kept the blood flowing in his own veins, and revived himself.
In Steps to Christ Mrs. White writes: “The only way to grow in grace is to be disinterestedly doing the very work which Christ has enjoined upon us–to engage, to the extent of our ability, in helping and blessing those who need the help we can give them.”—SC 80. Total Member Involvement is an important way to grow in grace!
Many years ago, the wise man summarized it well: “Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25, NIV).
The first Spiritual Objective in the I Will Go plan is “To disciple individuals and families into spirit-filled lives.” And service and mission are at the core of becoming a disciple. We talk about the vital importance of revival and reformation for mission—and that is so true! But as Mrs. White’s story of the man in a snowstorm points out, it is a profound spiritual truth that revival and reformation also comes through mission.
Spirit-filled lives do not happen by accident. “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’” (Matthew 16:24). We need to cultivate our spiritual life. We need to immerse ourselves in His word. We need to take time for prayer. Again, in Steps to Christ, “make every effort to keep open the communion between Jesus and your own soul.”—SC 98.
In Ministry of Healing Mrs. White adds, “By prayer, by the study of His word, by faith in His abiding presence, the weakest of human beings may live in contact with the living Christ, and He will hold them by a hand that will never let go.”—MH 182.
As individuals and as families, being discipled into spirit-filled lives involves several dimensions of commitment. It involves being engaged in service and mission. It involves spending time in prayer and Bible study—listening to and talking to God, worshiping Him. It means the “opening of the heart to God as to a friend.”—SC 93.
This takes time. It takes place in corporate worship at church and in prayer meetings and in small groups. It takes place in daily family worship. And it must take place in time that we individually spend with God in prayer and reading His word.
But it must take place—if we are to grow into Spirit-filled lives as His disciples.
One of our highest privileges and responsibilities we have been given is to spiritually nurture our families—developing habits of daily worship, engaging in service for others, cultivating a Christian home.
This all connects to Spiritual Objective 3: To help youth and young adults place God first and exemplify a biblical worldview.
How do we do this? Sabbath school and church worship services obviously play a major role. So do Seventh-day Adventist schools—and I would urge every Adventist family who can possibly do so, to enroll their children in a Seventh-day Adventist school.
But the most important place to build a biblical worldview is in the home—through family worship, through modeling personal devotional habits, through counseling and mentoring our children. And let’s not forget the power of God’s second book—nature. Ellen White writes, “Children should be encouraged to search out in nature the objects that illustrate Bible teachings.”—CG 46.
Here’s a beautiful story of how the hobby of bee-keeping reinforced the biblical principles of tithing and caring for others for a 10-year-old boy in Australia
6. Focus on the Goal
One of the most common mistakes in strategic planning is to confuse action steps with the goal. It would be easy to assume, for example, that Nehemiah’s goal was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, as we have seen, rebuilding the walls was just one action step toward the goal of restoring the honor of Jerusalem and the honor of the God of Jerusalem.
Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church has the largest unified Protestant school system in the world. But we don’t run schools just because we like to run schools. Operating schools is not the goal of our church. We believe that educating the whole person is of vital importance, and schools are an action step to our larger goal of making disciples who demonstrate God’s love and who in turn make disciples.
We operate hundreds of hospitals, but we don’t operate them just because we like running businesses. We run hospitals because we love people and are committed to Christ’s Method of Ministry. We operate hospitals as a wholistic action step toward our goal of making disciples who demonstrate God’s love and who in turn make disciples.
7. Build Upon the Rock
Our Reach the World: I Will Go Strategic Plan will only be as strong as its foundation. If the foundation is our ideas and plans, what we just dream up in committees, it will crumble into a heap.
Jesus tells a story in Matthew 7:24-27 of the wise and foolish builders. The foolish builder builds his house on sand. Then the rain falls, floods rise, the wind blows. And the house? “Great was its fall” (verse 27).
But the wise man builds his house on the rock. He faces the same rain, the same floods, the same wind. But his house? “It did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (verse 25).
And what is the Rock? Jesus and His teachings.
All our resources……All our programs and projects…….All our initiatives. …….All our plans…….All must be based firmly, anchored strongly, to Jesus the Rock.
As Ellen White writes: “The church is built upon Christ as its foundation.”—DA 414.
The Reach the World: I Will Go initiative recognizes that with the foundation of Jesus the Rock, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are fully empowered to Go! And what motivates us? Again, Ellen White tells us: “Love must be the principle of action. Love is the underlying principle of God’s government in heaven and earth . . .”— COL 49.
Jesus says, “ By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). And as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “The love of God compels us.”
Many grew up hearing stories of Fernando and Ana Stahl, pioneer Seventh-day Adventist missionaries to South America. Among other things the Stahls established clinics, schools, and chapels all around lake Titicaca in the Peruvian Andes. When they later moved to minister in the Amazon region, one of their guides was a Campa Indian, by the name of Catosho Machari.
In the 1970s Peruvian evangelist Alejandro Bullón tracked down Catosho, who was still living in the area where the Stahl’s served. Elder Bullón writes: “I found him seated before a small fire inside his hut. ‘I want you to tell me about Stahl,’ I said to him. ‘You were his guide.’ He looked up and blinked like he was trying to recall the memories . . . . Quickly his eyes became watery and two tears rolled down the wrinkles that time had carved in his cheeks. Silence. I felt a lump in my throat for having disturbed the peace of that old man. But his voice, shaking with emotion and years, rescued me from my plight.
“‘HE LOVED US,’ he said. Three words. Only three. But they expressed everything Stahl meant to the Campas.” (From A Land of Hope: The Growth of the SDA Church in South America, by Floyd Greenleaf.)
What a beautiful testimony to a Christian life and witness. What a wonderful way to be remembered. And what stronger motivation could there be for everything outlined in the I Will Go plan?
In the early 1920s, the Seventh-day Adventist Church faced a crisis. Exciting new opportunities for work were opening up around the world. However, after World War I, the world was in an economic slump, and the budget at the Church’s world headquarters was a quarter of a million dollars short. Missionaries were at risk of having to be recalled.
The denomination had planned carefully and moved prayerfully before sending missionaries around the world—which was a huge financial commitment. But nobody could have predicted the economic downturn that occurred.
The problem headed the agenda of the 1922 General Conference Autumn Council. The delegates met and prayed. Finally, they adopted a plan to ask church members to sacrifice a week’s wage in a special offering. Despite the depressed financial climate, the church’s 208,771 members rallied, and gave a third of a million dollars—the average gift per church member in North America equaled six days wages. The crisis was averted through the sacrificial giving of our dedicated church members. We still have dedicated church members and we still have crises……and we still have financial mission needs!
Five months ago, most of us had never even heard of COVID-19. None of us could have anticipated the devastation to global economies and, most importantly, human lives. With our prophetic understanding of the end times, none of us should be surprised that something such as this could happen. But as God has led us in our past, we know that He will continue to lead us into the future. Our task and our privilege is to keep building our house upon the Rock, until that wonderful day when He returns.
As we come closer and closer to that climatic day when Jesus returns, I appeal to you to respond to His call by saying, I WILL GO—-Proclaim the Three Angels’ Messages; I WILL GO Make Disciples; I WILL GO Be His Witness; I WILL GO Share God’s Word; I WILL GO Proclaim His Second Coming! I will make the “Reach the World—I Will Go Strategic Plan” my own plan under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
By God’s grace, I WILL GO because I love Christ, His Word, His three angels’ messages, and I want to see Him come quickly!
JESUS IS COMING! GET INVOLVED!
Wherever you are and in whatever setting you find yourself right now, God is calling to be part of His last-day message to a world crying for eternal answers. God is counting on you! Are you willing to Go? If you are, right where you are, please repeat with me the words I WILL GO on the count of three……one, two, three: I WILL GO! May God use you mightily in sharing His Word through you as we look forward to Christ’s soon second coming! Maranatha! Amen!