It sounds so official, so formal: The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
And six months ago, when I accepted the invitation to conduct the annual Week of Spiritual Emphasis there, it seemed, well, unreal. I heard my mouth say yes. The next week, I received a confirmation letter.
And then I tried to forget about it.
It was on my calendar, right there, March 7-10. But I pretended not to see it. I reminded myself that it was still months and months away. So out of my mind it went.
Until I received the e-mail asking about my theme and titles for the week. They needed them for the posters and the advertising. Posters? Advertising?
So I replied with my theme: The Kingdom of Heaven in Your Life Today. I sent no titles, because, frankly, I didn’t have any yet. As is so often the case in life, six months away rather suddenly turned into six weeks away.
Now that the Week of Spiritual Emphasis is two weeks past, my anxiety and nervousness seem perfectly silly. Because I learned something that I already knew. (Does this ever happen to you? Scarily, it’s an almost daily occurrence with me.) I learned that the men and women who make up the leadership of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist church are just that: men and women.
Just like me.
They hurt. They cry. They laugh. They succeed. They fail. They eat. They go on vacation. They worry about their children. They have bills. They need grace. They love Jesus.
Again, just like me.
So that week I did what I love to do, what comes easiest to me, that is, I told them about Jesus. And you know what? The Spirit came down. He did so in His own inimitable and unmistakable way. He touched hearts, mine perhaps above all. He changed lives. He ministered. He filled our room and our hearts with the presence of Jesus.
Verily, He brought The Kingdom of Heaven into our lives right then, right there.
On the third day there was an international pageant. Everyone was encouraged to come in some kind of national costume. Elder Ted Wilson, the General Conference President, remarked that for Americans that may only be, “jeans and a t-shirt.” I was tempted. But I ended up being supplied with something far better: the flashy garments of an Indian prince. Since I was planning on preaching on Matthew 19 and the rich young ruler, it was perfect (even if the hat was a little uncomfortable).
The pageant itself was a sermon. One thing the General Conference building workers most certainly are not is homogeneous! The costumes were nearly as bright, beautiful, and varied as the people that wore them. There were Russians and Indians, Philippinos and Argentinians, Ghanians and Germans, Mexicans and Australians, and many more besides. Each beautiful. Each different. Each a child of God no more and no less than the other.
As I preached that morning I was deeply moved by the beauty and diversity of it all. The congregation, thus arrayed, looked like a Nathan Greene painting come alive. In other words, perfect.
I did what I felt God had asked me to do. I preached my heart out (see 2 Cor. 5:13, 14). And then I made an altar call. And you know what? Men and Women came forward; people came forward.
People just like me.
Because we all need Jesus. And we all need more of His Kingdom in our lives today.
Nowadays when I hear those words—General Conference—it doesn’t sound so official, so formal, and so distant. Actually, it doesn’t sound that way at all. It sounds nice, lovely even. Because it is what it is: a picture of the world in all its grand and glorious diversity and, thus, of the world church.
My church. Your church. God’s church.
Not the building. But the people there. And the many millions that they represent and serve.
I went to preach, but a sermon was preached to me—a living, breathing, beautiful sermon.
The very best kind.
You can watch the videos here.