November 2 Divine Service
On Saturday, November 2, 2019, the North American Division President, Dan Jackson, preached for the Sabbath service during the North American Year-End Meetings. His sermon was based on Isaiah and the promise of comfort and hope given to a people in distress. In light of his retirement next summer, Jackson began his sermon with a few words of appreciation:
The greatest blessing to work in the North American Division has been to work with the people in the house and the people around the division.
To the church he has led for ten years through the ups and downs of dealing with divisive issues, he spoke the following words of encouragement:
I do not believe Seventh-day Adventists in North America need to feel any discomfort with the church. …I am a lifer, and I encourage you to be a lifer, too. Not because of a system, sometimes the system makes you wanna take a long walk … but because of God who called the church into existence through His Son Jesus Christ. I cannot abandon that kind of love.
Jackson grieved the fact that churches spend too much time fighting “about tofu … the nature of Christ, or the Trinity, or women’s ordination, and don’t have a vision for the world around them.” Such places are not churches, but “boxing clubs” that push people away. Jesus needs to be the center, for, without this, any of our teachings will actually turn people off. He spoke about the weakness inherent in human beings and the power of Christ which alone can rescue us from sin.
My name is Dan Jackson. I am a broken human being. Were it not for the grace of a gracious God, I would be on a never-ending downward spiral to spiritual oblivion. … In case you haven’t noticed, you’re just like me. We’re all in it together.
Yet our condition is not hopeless. Our hope is in God’s everlasting love which does not give up on us, said Jackson citing Philippians 1:6:
He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
The preacher drew attention to Isaiah’s depiction of the darkness deepening across Israel in the shadow of the terrifying Assyrian threat. People were filled with anxiety, cursing the king who had betrayed them and the God who they felt had abandoned them:
They will pass through it hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness. (Isaiah 8:21-22)
Drawing a parallel with our time, Jackson noted that anxiety disorder is the most widespread mental illness in the United States, affecting 18.1% of the population (± 40,000,000 people yearly). Isaiah’s description of Israel reminds us of our own condition today. When we are in distress we tend to imagine that God is unaware of our problems so we try to fix them ourselves. In doing so, however, we only worsen them. Human efforts can only “mask the disease,” said Jackson; they cannot fix spiritual problems.
Sometimes we think, well, if we just pray louder, or pray harder, or print more warning documents, so that somehow God will hear, that it will bring our focus and attention to Him and He will hear better.
But this is like the prayer of a child who asks God to take care of everyone, including Himself, lest He be in a mess. “God does need unawareness exercise. … He is not unaware of our circumstances today in the Seventh-day Adventist church,” stated Jackson.
Gloomy as the depiction of Israel’s anxiety may be, Isaiah also points to a solution. In chapter 9 he directs us to the compassion of a God who ensures that “the nation about to be mutilated will again be multiplied; [that] apparent imminent defeat will be turned by God into complete victory.” Ellen White speaks about the church appearing as about to fall under the attacks of Satan, yet she reaffirms its steadiness under God’s leadership. We need to remain positive even when church people don’t always do things right.
Weak and fragile as it may be, the church plays a significant role in our lives and in God’s vision for the world. Speaking about the value of the church in the context of the fire devastation in Paradise (California), Jackson asked: if your local church burned down, would anyone miss it? He further invited the audience to consider the proper relation of the church to the world it seeks to serve:
Is it possible that the world may have more impact on the church than the church is having on the world? Will the modern-day Assyrians conquer God’s cause and God’s people? Are we working in our world in the way that God wants us to?
As current threats to our church, Jackson listed legalism, secularism, materialism, and pluralism. Once again, he drew attention to the only solution to all these problems and threats:
Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Jesus Christ “was, … is, and … ever will be the light of the world and the hope for man’s anxiety and alienation, and the hope for the Seventh-day Adventist church today,” said Jackson. More than material needs and security, Israel needed the light within. Similarly, we need Christ dwelling in us above anything else. He is a counselor who teaches us our need for childlike faith and an open spirit. He is the solution for all of us, a mighty God who alone has the power to withstand the forces of evil supernatural power and to conquer the enemy. Highlighting the issue of legalism in our church, the speaker expressed his conviction that,
it is time … we usher legalism to the back door, kick it in the behind, lock the door, and never let it back in. You will not save yourself, no matter how much tofu you eat, no matter how righteous you think you are, no matter how much Ellen White you can quote. You will not save yourself. Only Jesus. Only He brings redemption full and free.
When we live our lives disconnected from God we experience loneliness and alienation. But Jesus comes into our loneliness as someone who reveals the character of God (John 14:9). “Within the context of modern restlessness comes the Prince of Peace.” We need to listen to the voice of God and come to know Him personally, not through preachers or teachers, but through a personal relationship with God based on the Bible. We run into problems when we forget that and “begin to worship the church, and the rituals of the church, and the writings of the church, and the leaders of the church. That is not the solution … the solution is by coming to know Him the way He is described in Isaiah 9,” reiterated Jackson in the conclusion of his sermon. We are in trouble when we reach towards God with one hand but hold onto religiosity with the other. God needs two-handed believers who put both their hands into the Hand of God.