As I opened my digital news, I scanned the expected dire headlines of the latest virulent variant of COVID-19, the political impasse in our national government, and the daily dose of sensational news stories. Arriving at the opinion section, I noticed David Brooks’ column for January 14, 2022: “America is falling apart at the seams.” He begins with a litany of statistics about increased unsafe driving and road deaths, a decline in charitable giving, the skyrocketing acquisition of guns, growing drug addiction, and the worsening behavior of Americans, to name but a few.
After conceding that some social trends have seen improvement, he writes, “But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well—a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.” I expected Brooks to then give his final diagnosis and solution. But instead, he implores, “What…is going on? The short answer: I don’t know.” The column ends, “But there must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this. Over the past several years, and over a wide range of different behaviors, Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways. But why? As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.”
"Christ, His character and work, is the center and circumference of all truth. He is the chain upon which the jewels of doctrine are linked. In Him is found the complete system of truth."
As a Seventh-day Adventist minister, I read those words and am reminded of the high stakes we are living in as citizens of God’s kingdom sojourning upon this sinful and broken world. Yes, David Brooks, there is a “spiritual and moral problem at the core of this.” The message we believe and then carry to our world is ever more crucial to the literal life and death of communities and nation. It leads me to inquire of myself and our Pacific Union Conference family, “So, how are we doing?”
My Bible study over the past several months has me journeying with John’s Gospel. Scholars remind us that the fourth Gospel had a strong evangelistic purpose in telling the Christ saga, aimed squarely at answering the question, “Why Jesus?” John 12:20-23 is an important pivot point in the march of Jesus to the Cross: “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus. But Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified’” (NKJV).
The request of these Greeks has appeared on pulpits throughout my ministry. The little sign was placed by someone in the congregation, admonishing the speaker, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” It’s a great reminder that every sermon must exalt the theme of Christ from beginning to end. In Jesus’ day, it is the arrival of the Greeks and their desire to see Him that serves as the signal to Him that His public ministry must now end and the path to Calvary now unfolds. “That the Son of Man should be glorified” is the language used in John’s Gospel for the revelation of God’s character in the self-surrendering sacrifice of Jesus for all of humanity—Jews and Gentiles. It confirms Jesus’ words just a few verses later, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32, NKJV).
Which brings me back to David Brooks’ column, which ends, “As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.” Seventh-day Adventists concur that this world is a mess. But Seventh-day Adventists also have the Answer. In the evening devotional book for 2022, Our High Calling by Ellen G. White, is this statement in the January 10 reading: “Christ, His character and work, is the center and circumference of all truth. He is the chain upon which the jewels of doctrine are linked. In Him is found the complete system of truth.” This quotation gripped my thoughts as I read and reread these few words. The “center and circumference” and the “jewels of doctrine are linked” as “the complete system of truth.” I marveled and praised God yet again that it is Jesus’ “character and work” that provide the answer to every ill that faces us today.
As we are imbibing first and foremost from the Water of Life, we in turn obtain that living testimony to share with family, friends, coworkers, and community
Because we are merely human beings, Seventh-day Adventists in the Pacific Union are not immune from the divisive influences that pervade our society. Like most people, we see the news shows, listen to commentators, and are often very immersed in the social media that creates an echo chamber for our own viewpoints. The consequence is that we may slowly lose focus on what God values most from us today. There is a hurting, suffering, confused world around us that needs “the complete system of truth” that is found in Jesus’ “character and work.” And, more than this, you and I need a living experience daily with the Savior through Bible study, worship, and prayer. As we are imbibing first and foremost from the Water of Life, we in turn obtain that living testimony to share with family, friends, coworkers, and community.
This year there is a special emphasis on evangelism in our union territory. Additional funds beyond the usual amounts are being distributed from the Pacific Union Conference to each local area. But, as important as funding can be to our efforts, we need something much more—the renewed conviction that we are called to make the difference in the lives of people in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. Sharing our faith-building literature, engaging in practical community service, supporting our pastors and church leaders as they lead in evangelistic outreach, and being involved in our local church schools to support our teachers and students are some of the ways we are uplifting Jesus now.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet describes his calling to ministry, which should resonate with each of us in this time of crisis. After Isaiah saw the Lord “high and lifted up” and heard that his “iniquity is taken away,” the voice of God called, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?” The humbled and awestruck Isaiah responded, “Here am I! Send me.” Can we each answer as Isaiah did that day? I pray that God will impress you to seek His calling in your own heart. God needs us all for the work ahead.
Bradford C. Newton is the president of the Pacific Union Conference.