Soraya Homayouni offered the opening prayer.
Ramon Canals, GC Director of Sabbath School & Personal Ministries, welcomed the attendees to the Sabbath School, reminding them that God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Reconciler of all life, of family relationships, and of the Church as Head of the body. He encouraged the audience to regard the Sabbath School as worship time as well as learning time and invited each attendant to pray (in groups of two) for one person they know has left the church.
Film. Psalm 27:1 (The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?) was illustrated in a real-life story about a lady who was driving back home at night when a car behind her kept flashing the lights. Scared, the lady stopped to ask for help, while the driver following her ran to her car and pulled out a stranger who had intruded. What appeared to be a dangerous person was actually someone trying to save her. Sabbath School is an opportunity for real people with real life stories to share insights and study the Bible together. Sabbath School is a vital organ – it is the heart of the church.
Ted Wilson, GC President, suggested that Sabbath School should not be an option, but a must. He spoke about an evangelistic campaign that he and his wife Nancy held in Calcutta this year as part of his recent custom of holding yearly evangelistic meetings. Calcutta, a heavily-populated city, had three Adventist churches before the campaign but has been growing with these evangelistic efforts. The goal is to have up to fifty churches in Calcutta. President Wilson preached the Word of God, while Nancy shared health insights. Nancy Wilson spoke about the strong impression the eager attendees in Calcutta made upon her and encouraged people to realize that even in their daily walks there are opportunities to share God.
Sikhu Daco welcomed the offerings and shared fresh news from Vienna about a Kenyan man named Eliud Kipchoge who just this day (October 12, 2019) broke a world record by completing for the first time a full marathon in less than two hours. This story reminded her of Romans 10:14-15: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’” While not all of us can go to Calcutta or Vienna, we can help send missionaries with our offerings, she stated.
James Howard, Associate Director of Sabbath School & Personal Ministries, suggested that Sabbath School should also be an opportunity for missionary outreach. “In order for Total Member Involvement to go global, it must go local,” he said. Howard interviewed Chris Holland about The Living Hope church, a community that actively involves members in various ministries. When asked how they prepare the soil, Chris indicated that they connect with the community through intentional ministries, resulting in almost 900 visitors over the past three years. From archaeology seminars to food drives, to health seminars, to community recognition day, to nursing home visitation, the church is actively seeking to connect with the surrounding community. Regarding planting the seeds of God’s word, Holland mentioned that church members are trained to plant Gospel seeds (such as through giving Glow Tracts and Bible study cards) in their daily encounters. The community is active on social media and generally places a strong emphasis on the concept of invitation. Once people get interested, the church cultivates their interest by inviting them to their homes for meals and small groups studies. They also hold evangelistic meetings at least once every two years and 1 to 3 “harvest events” each year, resulting in baptismal requests. Once people are baptized, the nurturing continues through week-to-week mentorship by designated church members. This systematic and intentional process actively involves members and leads to numeric and spiritual growth, as illustrated by the fact that The Living Hope church began three years ago with fifty members and has grown to one hundred seventy-five.
Charles Haugabrooks sang special music.
Hensley Moorooven, Undersecretary of the General Conference, mentioned two objectives of this week’s study: (1) Emphasize … that Nehemiah’s success is “a direct result of his unhurried, soul-searching, and persistent prayer (and fasting), and (2) Encourage the class to emulate the life of prayer and planning of Nehemiah. Moorooven recapitulated the previous lessons about the first and second returning groups. In 537/536 B.C., 70 years after the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11: “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”), Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, gave the decree of return from exile. The first group of approximately 50,000 returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and rebuilt the Temple, which was dedicated in March 515 B.C. When discouragement crept in, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were sent to encourage the people. Yet the Temple services were not operational because those meant to officiate could not live in the city. Therefore, the city had to be rebuilt as well. In 457 B.C., after the decree of Artaxerxes I, the second group of approximately 5,00-6,000 returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra, with the purpose of rebuilding the city and enable the functioning of administration. In 445/444 B.B, under the second decree of Artaxerxes I, the third group returned led by Nehemiah in order to rebuild the city walls.
Jiri Moskala, dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary, suggested that these two books are the Gospels of Ezra and Nehemiah. Yet the books are not primarily about the leaders, but about the Creator God, a personal God who cares and intervenes. History is an important part of understanding the events of Scripture, for theology is “built on historical facts,” said Moskala. Nehemiah was a “man of God, dedicated leader, unselfish governor, God-centered person, concerned about well-being of Jerusalem, …and feared God.” He was a man of the Word, a man of action, and a man of prayer, remarked the speaker. The first prayer of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:5-11) is built in a chiastic structure. First, Nehemiah recalls God’s greatness and mercy (1:5). Then he requests God’s hearing (1:6a), after which he confesses the sins of Israel (1:6b-7). The climax of the structure is Nehemiah’s recollection of God’s promises (1:8-9). Mirroring the confession of sins is the redemption from sin (1:10), followed by another hearing request (1:11a), and finally a declaration of God’s prosperity and mercy, which parallels the introductory affirmations (1:11b). Nehemiah’s continuous prayer lasted for four months, after which God intervened and King Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem. Moskala asked why prayer associated with fasting is so important, and read the following prayer inscribed on a distributed bookmark: “As we study the God-centered, spirit-filled, and Word-oriented lives of Ezra and Nehemiah this quarter, I pray that the Lord will bless you by giving you new insights, inspiring you, touching your heart, transforming your thinking, and enabling you to be also a God-fearing leader, to stir others to follow Him faithfully and enthusiastically,” for this is how Ezra and Nehemiah worked.
Hensley Moorooven organized the audience into groups of four-six to discuss the question asked by Dr. Moskala for a few minutes. The groups shared the following answers:
- “We ought to get rid of self, cleanse of ourselves so that we have a connection with God. … Only when we have emptied ourselves can we have a straight connection with our Lord. Nehemiah was not only thinking about himself, he actually intervened for his people, but first he had to get rid of self, he had to be cleansed before having a connection with God.”
- “It is crucial that fasting goes along with intercessory prayer, and that is a denial of myself for the sake of somebody else. Nehemiah has had on his heart the cause of his people, and in the economy of the Great Controversy to portray the same loving attitude towards others in denying yourself gives God permission to intervene.”
- “Prayer is so important for our constant dependence on God. Nutritionists argue that we become what we eat, and so when we give up food, when we fast, we are acting the same, we are feasting on Christ with a focus on Him, and feeding on His Word, as such we become more like Him.”
- “We referred to Matthew 17 where Jesus cast the demon out of the boy and told His disciples that this does not come out except by prayer and fasting, and our understanding was that Jesus needed to demonstrate to His disciples that the power was His and not theirs… Nehemiah was praying for his people, confessing the sins and all that, but when went to fasting, it was at that moment that he heard the voice of God saying “You are the one, you’re going to go.”
Strategic planning, stated Moorooven in conclusion, was part of the process of rebuilding the Temple and the city, and today, too, it comes with leadership responsibilities in addition to prayer. To this end, he cited Ellen White from 1 Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 1, p. 649:
If we see no necessity for harmonious action, and are disorderly, undisciplined, and disorganized in our course of action, angels, who are thoroughly organized and move in perfect order, cannot work for us successfully. They turn away in grief, for they are not authorized to bless confusion, distraction, and disorganization.
Performing without planning is like an octopus on roller skates, said the speaker, illustrating this on the screen with a picture.