What Wondrous Love Is This?

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” – 1 John 3:1 (NIV)

“Pastor, this was the most powerful and meaningful communion service I have ever experienced!” one person said. “The best and most beautiful service I have ever been to!” said another with tears in her eyes. Like this and similar were the comments I got while visiting with church members as they were leaving on a communion Sabbath not too long ago. And I couldn’t agree more. During the service I had moments where I had to pause from preaching for a second, just to control my emotions and not to start crying out loud. Which, in hindsight and given the content of the message, would not have been a problematic thing to do. But alas, I am still very European in that regard.

Being from Austria it is not typical for us to show a lot of emotion in public. Especially not in church or worship settings. I believe this is why many European Christians are fascinated with guest speakers from the U.S. American preachers move around on the platform, they use their voice dynamically and express emotions so much more than their European counterparts, which makes the message they present much more real compared to the dryer style of preaching one is usually exposed to in the Old World.

I had presented this communion sermon two times before already in other churches I pastored. The reactions were always the same: members in tears, using superlatives in expressing how moved they were by the service. And every time I myself was surprised how powerful this message is. Especially because it was purposefully not preached in a very dynamic, “American” way.
I did not want any fluff or human method to enhance a message that needs no enhancing. I wanted the content through the work of the Holy Spirit to speak for itself with as little human distraction as possible.

So what was the message about?
First off, I did not write a single word of that sermon myself.

Communion is a ritual and so it can easily become a “following-the-motions” thing. In order to focus the attention on the deeper meaning of what we were remembering and celebrating, I chose to simply curate inspired words and read them out loud to the congregation who followed along every word on the screen.
The sermon was simply a reading of selected Bible passages and Spirit of Prophecy quotes chronologically arranged to tell the narrative of the last hours and moments of Jesus’ life. From Gethsemane to Calvary, with a special focus on Christ’s personal experience as the sins of the world were put on Him and how they killed our lovely Jesus in the anguish of the second death.
No illustration stories, no fancy introductions, not even moving around on stage or extravagant use of intonation. Just a reading of the most remarkable moments in history.

Have you ever wondered what this often-quoted statement of Ellen White would practically looks like?:

“It would be well to spend a thoughtful hour each day reviewing the life of Christ from the manger to Calvary. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination vividly grasp each scene, especially the closing ones of his earthly life.” – Gospel Workers pp. 92, 246

One time I heard how Roger Morneau, a former demon-worshiper turned Seventh-day Adventist, talked about how blessed he was as he daily contemplated upon a memorized passage from Matthew 27, which tells the story of Christ’s death.

As Christians the cross and the events that surround it are very familiar to us. Sometimes they seem too familiar and so Ellen White’s appeal to contemplate upon it daily is more or less ignored. I am the first to admit it. Because, … what is there more to know? The sins of the world were laid upon Jesus, He suffered, He died, He was resurrected, now we can be saved. Done.

For the longest time I was satisfied with this simple five point summary. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t necessarily treat God’s incredible sacrifice of love lightly, but I simply did not realize how life-changing beholding the cross truly can be, and what depth of God’s love there is to experience in the study of the science of salvation!

In order to grow personally we need to remain in an intentional mindset, never settling for what we have or what is comfortable and familiar. While habits and rituals are not always intrinsically bad, they can easily prohibit us from growth.
This is particularly true when it comes to seeing, understanding, feeling, and experiencing the transformative love of God.

For me, continually and intentionally beholding and studying the cross has changed my life and Christian walk.
When I see what my sin has done to Jesus – how every single one of my failings pierce His heart with the darkness of the second death;
when I behold the Perfect, Holy and Pure Lawgiver and King of the Universe selflessly giving up His life for broken, filthy, unworthy me, separated from the Father because of my sin;
when I hear Him being mocked by bystanders and then my own voice chime in;
when I realize that here justice and mercy kiss, God’s character is vindicated, and the grandest and most marvelous expression of divine love is revealed in the most shameful yet most glorious moment of all universal history, … I can not but fall on my knees in shame, joy, thanksgiving, praise, humility, awe, wonder, and self-surrender, and join in with the hymn writers in exclaiming:

“Amazing love! how can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
“What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?”

Even as I am writing this I am having a hard time not breaking down crying.

At the cross, in the light of the matchless charms of Jesus – the most powerful and wonderful manifestation of God’s love – all sin and temptation is stripped of its sugar coating and appeal. Here divine love penetrates my sin-cursed and darkened heart, breaking through with rays of light and love, which awakens a supernatural love where before only pride and selfishness was to be found.

Beholding, studying, and believing this reality of God’s ultimate love will transform your life! It daily wakes me up to the realization of how there is nothing righteous in me, and how much I need my lovely Jesus day-by-day and moment-by-moment. When tempted to sin, one closer look at the cross is enough for sin to lose its appeal.
God’s love as revealed in the uplifted Jesus truly draws me to Him, motivates and empowers me to overcome. For it is in looking at the cross that I am realizing the joy of and my need to surrender all.

Then, self is lost in the ocean of God’s love and the Holy Spirit can enter and work out victory in me. He establishes a great circuit of love, He binds my heart to God’s heart and transforms me into Christ-likeness. This is the great mystery and miracle of salvation!

When you experience God’s divine love, your life will never be the same! His love as seen on the cross needs no fluff, no human methods to make it look or sound more appealing. It speaks for itself. And it comes with divine power.

Behold the cross daily, read the inspired words, believe and apply them, let the Holy Spirit illuminate your heart and mind with the reality of the highest and grandest love of the universe. Let the intentional exposure to God’s love – Christ’s life and death for you – awaken a supernatural love in you for God and others. Let it lead you to complete self-surrender, an abhorrence of sin, and a firm reliance on Christ’s righteousness alone to accomplish the work of salvation for and in you.

“By thus contemplating his teachings and sufferings, and the infinite sacrifice made by him for the redemption of the race, we may strengthen our faith, quicken our love, and become more deeply imbued with the spirit which sustained our Savior. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and faith at the foot of the cross…. Everything noble and generous in man will respond to the contemplation of Christ upon the cross.” – Gospel Workers pp. 92, 246

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” – Isaiah 54:10 (NIV)

 

Jonathan Walter
Generation. Youth. Christ.
Vice President of Missions

GYC Beyond 12 – How to Reach Out to Refugees & Immigrants

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are currently over 22 million refugees around the world. Of course, this number doesn’t include the many individuals who simply migrate to a new country for other considerations. Many refugees and immigrants come to America and other developed countries every year. As Adventist Christians, how can we reach out to these people groups and make a difference? In this episode of the GYC Beyond Podcast, Esther Louw discusses this challenge with David Skau. A young person with a passion for mission, both overseas and in America, David Skau is currently working for the organization, Reach the World Next Door. Listen in to discover ways you can reach out to refugees and immigrants in your local community.

Faithful to the End

In order to be faithful to the end, we need to first establish where faithfulness begins. What drives us to be driven and true to a calling to the very end and even though we may waiver from time to time, to never give up? It starts small – when we are faithful in going to church, when we are faithful, in our prayer life, faithful in giving tithes and offerings, faithful in our devotions, faithful in doing our jobs, faithful in our schooling. We don’t set out to be faithful to God all of a sudden, it takes time and effort on our part. We begin building our faithfulness to God when we are faithful in the everyday choices and actions of life. But we really cement our devotion to God and being faithful to Him when we stick with maintaining a personal friendship with Him. Why? Because when have a personal connection with God, He is our friend – a person who we want to spend time with and talk to. It’s like growing a garden – it’s not enough to order your seeds, till the ground, add fertilizer and then plant the seeds. You must water, cultivate and inspect your garden daily in order for you to get a harvest at the end of the season. The days become long, the temperatures rise and it may not be the best feeling to be outside sweating and working hard with seemingly no reward in sight. However, we know that at the end of the season we will reap a bountiful harvest.

Think of the parable of the man who had a vineyard and needed laborers to bring in the harvest. This man went out early in the morning at 6AM and brought back men, then again at 9AM, at Noon, at 3PM and he even went out at 5PM – just one hour before the workday ended and brought in the last group of men to help finish the harvest. At the beginning of the day, the owner promised to pay a fair day’s wage of one denarius to each man who worked for him. He never told the rest of the men he hired throughout the day what he would pay them, only that it would be fair according to the work they did. At the end of the day, starting with the last men, he paid each man one denarius no matter if they had worked the whole day or just one hour. He was faithful to his word. Through countless Bible stories, we see God taking care of those that are faithful to Him. God did not create mankind and then just turn His back on us. He provided a garden with plenty to eat, drink and occupy the time of Adam and Eve. After sin, He provided a way for humanity to be redeemed. Just providing a way for us to be redeemed and to spend eternity with Him would have been enough, but He did not stop there. He continues reaching out asking to be our friend, to have a relationship with us, because He wants to provide us with the best He has to offer – which is eternal life. All we have to do is believe He is true to his Word and hold tight to our faith in Him and He will see us through.

 

Seth Shaffer
Vice President of Communications
Generation. Youth. Christ.

GYC Beyond 11 – How to Experience Revival and Reformation

Ellen White famously said: “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs.” In the last decade, revival and reformation has become a catch-phrase in Adventist circles. Many feel the need for this process to take place. But how do we go about experiencing revival and reformation as the new reality in our lives? In this episode, Janet and Jerry Page join Esther Louw to share about their passion for pursuing a Spirit-filled life. Jerry Page is the secretary fo the General Conference Ministerial Association and ministers to the world church in conjunction with his wife Janet, who is the associate ministerial secretary for Shepherdess International and Prayer Ministries.

GYC Beyond 10 – Why You Should Be Involved in Your Local Church

This week, Esther Louw and Pastor Moise Ratsara have an engaging conversation about how and why young people should be involved in local church endeavors. While not everyone is called to become a missionary overseas, Pastor Ratsara believes every Christian is called to participate in the gospel commission. Pastor Ratsara grew up as a missionary kid in Africa before completing his theology degree at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. Currently a pastor in Michigan Conference as well as the president of GYC, Moise Ratsara shares with us from personal experience.

GYC Beyond 09 – Anthony Bosman – Why Christianity?

In this episode of the GYC Beyond Podcast, Esther Louw and Dr. Anthony Bosman discuss the biblical claims of Christianity and their relevance for young people today. Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, is there one truth, many truths, or no truth? What evidence exists to support an absolute truth in Jesus Christ and how can we share our faith in that truth with others? Dr. Bosman is an assistant professor in mathematics at Andrews University and a recent graduate of Rice University as well as Stanford. Join us as we explore the philosophical claims of biblical religion.

Peace in the Storm

Nervousness and nausea crept once again over my tired frame. My digestive system began to entangle itself into what seemed like the Gordian knot. Every prayer and Bible promise uttered seemed to bounce off the ceiling and come crashing down on my dorm room floor. Downtrodden and distracted by my own emotions, I ventured to my Organic Chemistry final exam, hoping and praying for the best possible outcome.

This experience was nothing new, and definitely not due to the subject matter; more often than I can remember, stress-induced restlessness attacked my mind, and thus spread its influence to the rest of my body. My early college years were tough for me, and whether it was an exam, a chapel talk, or a leadership meeting, I often found myself bombarded with this cloud of emotions, whose origin I could not find. After obtaining some nausea medication from a walk-in clinic (which didn’t help much), I was eventually able to visit my doctor over Christmas break.

Anxiety. Being able to finally pinpoint and name what troubled my brain was simultaneously extremely helpful and disheartening. For my doctor, this meant she could prescribe specific medications to help calm my nerves (which also didn’t help). For me, I could adjust the trajectory of my prayers to hopefully eradicate such fruitless worrying. But how well had such worked in the past? What if I just end up becoming anxious about my anxiety? Was there a long-term solution, or just an unfortunate glimpse into a rather discouraging future?

I don’t share these experiences with you to solicit your pity in any way, shape, or form for that is not my need or desire. This experience of mine serves to provide context. All too often, I find myself resting upon the assumption that everyone around me are just as cool, collected, and care-free as they appear, when in reality, tumultuousness may pervade body, mind, and soul. So, in refusing to make such an assumption, I’d like to leave with you what Jesus left with me, faithfully, every time my anxiety began to bubble over:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27, KJV).

Over-quoted and under-appreciated, this verse meant very little to me in those dark times, for I couldn’t say that I was experiencing what Jesus had promised. But I still chose to cling to it and repeat it day after day. Here, Jesus reminds us that His peace, unlike that of the world, isn’t some temporary relief that He chooses to leave with us intermittently. Additionally, it isn’t tied to His immediate physical presence. The peace Christ offers is a gift, something we can hold and own, something tangible, something that can be seen, felt, and heard. More than this, something about embracing this peace allows trouble and fear to leave the heart, if we let it. But that was my problem, why wasn’t it leaving? How could I let peace dispel the darkness?

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, KJV)

Yet another often-recited text, but this time, new depth and meaning spewed forth, granting the clarity I so desperately needed. All along, I had been kneeling, pleading with outstretched arms for the gift of peace to be bestowed, the cure-all from heaven that would bring the restitution and relief I so desperately desired. But what if peace wasn’t just a gift, but a fruit? What if, instead of an inexhaustible box of peace pills, Jesus left with me the Comforter, the manufacturer and source of such? What if, instead of trying to force peace into my mind, I sought a different solution?

***


Fast forward two years. As I rounded the corner and turned the knob on our classroom door, about to be confronted with yet another stressful exam, a little placard in the hallway caught my eye. It read, “Peace – not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ,” a quote from Sheila Walsh I had definitely heard before. But this time, it took on new meaning. It served as a milestone of how God had led me to His peace, for no longer was I tormented by uncontrollable anxiety, but instead, overwhelmed by peace that could only come from our Savior’s presence.The presence of Jesus, in a more involved and acknowledged way, had dispelled the darkness of anxiety. Sure, not all stories of neurological disorders turn out this way, but if you’re struggles bear resemblance to my own, I encourage you to not underestimate the power of our storm-calming, ever-present help in troublesome times.

Focus is huge for us as Adventists, endeavoring to venture on the straight and narrow, day by day, closer to our heavenly home. But far too often, we’re like Peter and the disciples in the boat, desiring far too much to see the wind and waves die down, and far too little to notice our Savior’s out-stretched arms. We’re quick to notice what peace isn’t taking care of in our lives, and slow to acknowledge the Gift-giver amidst the stormy sea.

So, the question for you and I today is simply this: will we accept?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV).

 

Emory Dent
Vice President of Resources
Generation. Youth. Christ.

GYC Beyond 08 – Adam Ramdin – Discovering Our Christian Heritage

This week, join Esther Louw and Adam Ramdin as they delve into the history of the Protestant Reformation and discover it’s meaning and relevance for our lives today. Adam Ramdin currently serves as the North England Conference Youth Director as well as the director of PEACE, an evangelism training school. Adam is passionate about Christian history and has become known for his involvement with Lineage Journey, a video documentary series covering the Protestant Reformation.

GYC Beyond 07 – Justin Kim – How to Teach an Interesting Sabbath School Lesson

This episode of the GYC Beyond Podcast features Esther Louw and Shauna Chung in conversation with Justin Kim.
Justin Kim is the Editor of Collegiate Quarterly and Assistant Director of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He has previously served as a missionary, pastor, and director of the Public Campus Ministry Department in Michigan and is a co-founder of the GYC movement. In this podcast episode, Justin Kim answers some big questions about how to teach Sabbath School, the components that make up an ideal Sabbath School class, and methods you can implement in your local church that can turn your Sabbath School class into a vibrant outreach endeavor.

Cancer of Comparison

As a young boy on the school playground, I remember standing in line with the other boys whilst the two, often self-appointed, captains would choose their teams. The best players always got picked first and then the average players next. Finally, if you were one of the last it was because you were among the worst players. Even if no one liked you but you could play, you would get picked before the end. No one ever wanted to be the last kid who was picked.

Life is full of circumstances where we are compared with others or where we compare ourselves with other people. I remember when I was a student working in a summer colporteur program a daily question would be, “How many books have you sold?”  Students wouldn’t care about what others had done but there was always that one student who wanted to know what everyone else had sold to find out if he or she was top, or how close they came to the top.

In fitness, two runners might compare their times. How fast can you run 5K? What’s your personal best? In music, how many years have you played that instrument? How many instruments can you play?

In academia, what’s your GPA? What degree do you have? BA? Postgrad? MA or PhD? Did you get a scholarship? Full or partial?

What car do you drive? What year is it? What’s the horsepower? Does it have a leather interior?

On social media we may check how many followers someone else has on Instagram. Is it more than me or fewer? How many likes did they get for that post?

How many views did that video get? If this sermon got more views than that sermon, does that mean it was a better sermon?

In life, we compare almost everything: petrol prices, credit card benefits, which bank is best. Many websites have a function where you can look at various phones, laptops, holiday packages or bank cards and “compare models.”

TripAdvisor has both reviews and a star rating out of 5 for each of the places reviewed. When you are checking which restaurant to go to you may check which restaurant or tourist attraction has the better rating.

Then we also compare ourselves in areas that are more personal.

How pretty is she? Am I better looking? Am I more attractive? Am I taller, slimmer, fitter? Am I more desirable to the opposite sex, physically, than so and so?

Comparison is all around, arguably magnified in recent times. In a world where almost everyone has a social media profile we grow accustomed to managing that profile and ensuring that the world sees a certain side to us that we wish to display. Maintaining our online image is something that many people devote a lot of time to – some even editing their pictures before letting the world see them. People tend to post their best pictures online or post pictures of the highlights of their life – holidays, fun outings, good meals out etc. Very few people post pictures about the normal things of life, the 10,000 ordinary things that we do each day but we forget this when we compare our life with the carefully manicured image that someone chooses to portray to the world

Whilst we live in a world saturated with comparison and it’s not something that we can get away from, we can however live in a way where it does not define our self-worth. Struggling with comparison can often he hardest in our teenage years or when we are in our early to mid 20’s. Partly because life is changing so much and we are constantly being thrust into new environments where we are compared with other straight away, but also because often our identity and sense of who we are is still forming.

This cancer of comparison has plagued humanity since the beginning. The disciples struggled with this as at least one occasion is recorded in the gospels. They asked Jesus who was the greatest. The mother of James and John also asked Jesus if her two sons could be sat in heaven, one on the right side of Jesus and the other on His left. They needed to have preeminence in comparison to the other disciples. Something about them needed to be different.

Our identity can only be fully formed in Christ. When we understand the gospel and we see ourselves as we truly are. When we see that there is no good in us, that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. It’s then that you realize that to compare oneself with another person who also only has filthy rags for righteousness is futile. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that when we are “in Christ” we are a “new creature”. That “old things are passed away and all things are become new.” Let us seek to see ourselves as Christ see’s us. With the value that He places on us. A value that is only seen in the light of the cross – not in likes, follows, possessions and academic achievements.

When you know who you are. When your value and identity is wrapped up in Jesus. When your sense of self-worth is found in the cross of Christ. When you accept what Jesus says about you and not how many likes or comments you got on that most recent picture of yourself online – then you will find true freedom.

Adam Ramdin