A Year with COTA

Leading up to GYC: Before Men and Angels, it seemed more than fitting to embark on a year-long project to read the Conflict of the Ages (COTA) series. Hence, back in January 2013, the time when all resolutions were made, I began reading Patriarchs and Prophets with others who made the same commitment. And as group efforts usually go in the 21st century, a Facebook group was born.cota

The COTA series is a treasure chest of truth and wisdom. Here are the few gems that I personally gleaned from reading the series this year:

1. God’s Concern for Man

Unlike the Hellenistic gods of mythology, the God of the Bible does not dwell in the lonely splendor of heaven aloof from our history. He is deeply concerned with humanity and is affected by our acts, our prayers. Our predicament is His predicament. Our sin grieves Him and our faith gladdens Him. His thoughts are about the world. In fact, it’s a wonder that God has time for the unfallen worlds given His preoccupation with humanity. God’s divine pathos towards humanity is a Biblical fact.

For thus says the high and lofty One

Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy:

I dwell in the high and holy place,

And also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit,

To revive the spirit of the humble,

To revive the heart of the contrite.  Isaiah 57:15

2. The True Witness of History

“The Bible is not man’s theology but God’s anthropology.” – A. J. Heschel

God is the true witness of human history, thus His Word testifies most truthfully about the plight of men and nations. The Bible records the fall of its celebrated heroes. The wisest man in Israel and all the super stars of the Bible, save Jesus Christ, fell. The evil kings in Judah and Israel outnumbered the righteous ones, and the righteous ones were faulty. Yet one thing remained constant through the passing kings and kingdoms: God’s law. His Word survived periods of history when it seemed like no one abided by its precepts. The trend of the time never changed God’s testimony about His people. To this day, we hold the testimony that they “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Evil does not become good when everyone does evil, because God holds the standard of justice and righteousness. God’s law never changed and it never will. God’s Word is infinitely more trustworthy than the most trusted man.

3. The Way God Sees Things

“The apostasy of Israel was an evil more dreadful than all the multiplied horrors of famine. God was seeking to free the people from their delusion and lead them to understand their accountability to the One to whom they owed their life and all things. He was trying to help them to recover their lost faith, and He must needs brings upon them great affliction.” Prophets and Kings, p. 127.

This is one of the most shocking quotes to me. The horrors of famine in the Old Testament were horrendous, to say the least. Yet in God’s estimation, infidelity to Him was even more horrendous. We are callous to apostasy, injustice, and cruelty of man. Infidelity to God’s Word is society’s norm, and we think it a light thing to disobey God. Yet in God’s eyes, sin is exceedingly sinful, and He would rather sacrifice something physical to achieve something eternal.

4. The Education of the Universe

“God could employ only such means as were consistent with truth and righteousness. Satan could use what God could not—flattery and deceit. He had sought to falsify the word of God and had misrepresented His plan of government, claiming that God was not just in imposing laws upon the angels; that in requiring submission and obedience from His creatures, He was seeking merely the exaltation of Himself.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 42.

Satan accuses God of injustice and self-exaltation, and the apparatus of evil is more diverse than the apparatus of goodness. Satan makes claims that falsify God’s word. He makes statements that contradict what God says. As a result:

“It was therefore necessary to demonstrate before the inhabitants of heaven, and of all the worlds, that God’s government is just, His law perfect. Satan had made it appear that he himself was seeking to promote the good of the universe. The true character of the usurper and his real object must be understood by all. He must have time to manifest himself by his wicked works.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 42.

In the face of Satan’s accusations, God takes it upon Himself to demonstrate, by words and action, over a long period of time, the falsity of His opponent. Out of all the options to handle rebellion (e.g., ignoring it, quieting it, taking a hands-off approach and letting everyone figure out who’s right), God chose the one option where He ultimately paid for Satan’s rebellion and the sin of mankind. In fact, God is wooing His own creation to believe Him, convincing men and angels that His government is just, His law perfect.

Such is the humility of God. Who is before men and angels? God is.

5. The Humility of Christ/Why Jonah was Angry

Jesus commissioned the disciples to begin their work in Jerusalem. We’ve commonly spiritualized Jerusalem as our homes, the place directly surrounding us. But the reason why Jerusalem became the disciples’ first work was not necessarily geographical or by convenience. It was tilled ground. It was also the home of those who just killed the Son of God.

“You have been witnesses of My life of sacrifice in behalf of the world, He said to them. You have seen My labors for Israel. And although My people would not come to Me that they might have life, although priests and rulers have done unto Me as they listed, although they have rejected Me, they shall have still another opportunity of accepting the Son of God. You have seen that all who come to Me confessing their sins, I freely receive. Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. To you, My disciples, I commit this message of mercy. It is to be given to both Jews and Gentiles—to Israel, first, and then to all nations, tongues, and peoples.” Acts of the Apostles, p. 27.

How can you reject God more than killing Jesus? Yet to these people the first Gospel mercies were shown. Jesus gave them another opportunity to repent, and if they did, regardless of what they did, He would accept them gladly. What humility was Christ’s. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” – that prayer was real and God really answered it.

God’s goodness and longsuffering is beyond comprehension. But He also demanded this same compassion from His disciples, those who would work for Him, even if they could not comprehend it. Jonah was angry because God was good, but the disciples, transformed by the Spirit, obeyed. Jerusalem then, who just rejected Christ in the most visible way, became the home of the first Christian church.

“There are in our world many who are nearer the kingdom of God than we suppose.” Acts of the Apostles, p.140.

6. Beware of Prosperity

The godliest kings of Israel and Judah fell not during adversity, but during times of prosperity.

“Affliction and adversity may cause sorrow, but it is prosperity that is most dangerous to spiritual life. Unless the human subject is in constant submission to the will of God, unless he is sanctified by the truth, prosperity will surely arouse the natural inclination to presumption.” Prophets and Kings, p. 60.

It’s time to rearrange our prayers.

7. Finishing Is Harder Than Starting

Reading the series was an object lesson in itself. The second half of the year was much harder than the first half, when there was much excitement in the novelty of the commitment. Even now as I am writing this post, I’m still catching up on my reading. What a striking object lesson for last-day living.

(I’m done now. This was written last month =] )

Reflections from others in the Conflict of the Ages in One Year Facebook group.

My favorite so far is the “Desire of Ages.” Christ truly lived a selfless life. All Christ had: His royalty, authority, power – He gave up, so to be the “Emmanuel” with mankind. And being with us, Jesus took up, poverty, ridicule, and snares. He did it all for us. From the beginning to the end of His life on earth was not of self, but the subjects He came to save.

One of my favorite quotations is from the chapter entitled “Calvary” (p. 751):

“Men may exercise power over His human body. They may pierce the holy temples with the crown of thorns. They may strip from Him His raiment, and quarrel over its division. But they cannot rob Him of His power to forgive sins. In dying He bears testimony to His own divinity and to the glory of the Father. His ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, neither His arm shortened that it cannot save. It is His royal right to save unto the uttermost all who come unto Go by Him.” – Johnny Loi

My favorite is also “Desire of Ages”. Christ’s perfect character was revealed to me and beholding Him has been sweet. My prayer life has been changed – instead of seeking His hands, I’m reminded to seek His face and see who He really is. I’ve been reading Isaiah 53 along with DA and I can say that I am more in awe of Him now than ever.

“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones” (DA p. 83)

“When we see Jesus, a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, working to save the lost, slighted, scorned, derided, driven from city to city till His mission was accomplished; when we behold Him in Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood, and on the cross dying in agony,—when we see this, self will no longer clamor to be recognized. Looking unto Jesus, we shall be ashamed of our coldness, our lethargy, our self-seeking. We shall be willing to be anything or nothing, so that we may do heart service for the Master. We shall rejoice to bear the cross after Jesus, to endure trial, shame, or persecution for His dear sake” (DA p. 439-440) – Katherine Elia

GYC 2012: What I Could Give

I’ve been an attendee. I’ve been a volunteer. Now I reflect on another role: a seminar presenter.

But before that, some other highlights from GYC:

Star struck… by Dr. Hasel | Adam Ramdin’s Sabbath sermon – simply awesome | David Shin’s last evening devotion – de-romanticizing revolution | Sam Bonello’s plenary session – Sam and Katie have got to live one of the most interesting lives in present-day Adventism | Team Revolution’s 5k | Networking with Adventist engineers.

1. Size Matters

I had never in my life felt so short as when I stood in front of a long and full room for my first seminar. Some 230+ people came, most likely because of Adam Ramdin’s—with whom I co-presented the seminar—fantastic sermon earlier that day (but they saw me instead, ha!). Perhaps also, the topic of the seminar—Knowing and Living God’s Will for My Life—simply scratched where it itched, especially for this teenagers-to-young-adults age group.

I felt a little overwhelmed during the first session, since I imagined there would only be a few rows of people. I prepared materials for that audience size, which was what I was used to with ANEW or other ministry events. It ended up being more serious than I thought it would be, and upon reflection that day, I had to change certain things for the 2nd and 3rd seminars to make them more conversational.

I couldn’t really articulate why, but basically with the size of the audience and the layout of the room, I, as a speaker, needed to adjust the content of my presentation, delivery, posture, and voice, to engage the audience effectively (measured somewhat by gut feeling). I don’t think I could’ve realized that had I not been in this situation. Lesson learned.

offering

2. A Piece of Me

I was debating whether or not to include a personal life experience for the last seminar to illustrate a point. I did, and I think it helped make the point. I learned that as a speaker, it wasn’t enough to present materials; I had to give something of myself to the presentation.

The personal touch, the personal signature, is something that makes a presentation different because it is person A who gives it instead of person B. It’s not a matter of originality or of the vanity of being different, but it’s a matter of God’s individualized calling: there’s a reason why God calls A for a specific task.

The giving of oneself is a hard thing to do. It takes vulnerability, a little courage, and lots of prayer. But ministry is about being vulnerable, and I love this quote:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it… Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 190.

3. Give What You Can Give

I’m not a seasoned speaker. I didn’t have much material that I could pull out from to talk about following God’s will. In fact I had never spoken on the subject before. Preparing a 3-part seminar was already a stretch, and I recycled some materials too.

It’s hard to answer the question, How did the seminars go? I honestly don’t know. I hope they helped some. I hope that the seminars provided a venue where the Holy Spirit could speak to people. It was not so much what I said, but how the Holy Spirit made application to the hearts.

Coming out of the last seminar, I had this thought: I gave what I could give. It’s up to God what He would do with it, but I offered these presentations as my offering to Him.

How To Have the Most Fun at GYC

Or at least, my take on it.

When I first started coming to GYC, I would remember every message, every speaker, and every conviction felt during each session. I would even remember who sang which special music for which evening. I learned so many new things, heard so many fresh thoughts that I had never heard before. My hungry and ignorant soul needed those sermons.

volunteers

But if you’re like me and will be attending your n-th GYC conference this year, you may have more difficulty in remembering the messages you heard in previous GYCs. It takes me a few minutes now to distinguish between GYC 2008 and 2009, and I honestly can’t remember what happened in 2010. The conferences, plenary sessions, and workshops blend together in this one big blob of memory where I picture multitudes of people entering and exiting the auditorium.

If that is so, I want to suggest that listening to 7 sermons straight each day may not be your greatest need in coming to GYC. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come, though. I’d like to submit that your greatest need may be to serve others at the conference and volunteer.

Early this year I wrote about my volunteering experience at GYC 2011, about how much fun it was. As a result, I couldn’t attend most of the sessions and seminars, and I remember almost nothing from last year. But I assure you, I was spiritually fed and refreshed.

If you have never volunteered at GYC, here’s my attempt to canvass you to do it this year.

First, you get to work with people who are like-minded and passionately determined to give the best for God. The resonance in thought, feeling, and mission is at a level you will rarely see elsewhere (and if you’re in a secular environment – never). As a result, the kind of synergy in teamwork that takes place is simply invigorating.

Second, you get to be involved in a short-term project that will very likely end well, and with low chance of interpersonal conflicts because everyone is so nice. Even if there’s conflict, the prevailing custom is to be Christ-like. Basically, a happy ending is guaranteed and you will gain that rewarding feeling from a job well done.

Third, you get to appreciate the complicated orchestra that is GYC. The details that go into actualizing an event for 7000 people are simply astounding, and not one person involved in the project has superpowers. Have you thought about what goes into moving 7000 people from the auditorium to the dining hall without confusion? GYC happens because of individual contributions from young men and women whose lives have been touched by the Gospel. And THAT is simply amazing.

Fourth, you get to see how God covers glitches. Because there are so many pieces that need to come together, mistakes happen. And you get to practice that Christian love and humility you hear about in the seminars, because it may be that God covers some of the glitches through you. What about practicing patience during complaints when registration is down? These things do happen, because we’re imperfect human beings in an imperfect world.

The machinery that makes the conference happen is not faultless, but it so happens that God’s grace is enough to cover our–yes, all 7000 of us–shortcomings and weaknesses.

You may get sore leg muscles from running back and forth delivering water bottles. Or you may get blisters from rushing to print handouts for speakers. But there’s a storehouse of blessings that will not be unlocked until you are engaged in service.

“in our life here, earthly, sin-restricted though it is, the greatest joy and the highest education are in service” (Education, p. 309)

So, volunteer! Just remember to do stretches each night and that blisters heal. But that joy of service will do something more lasting to your soul. See you in Seattle!

Email volunteers@gycweb.org

GYC 2011: Volunteerism!

GYC 2011: Volunteerism!

GYC 2011 in Houston, Texas was my eighth GYC, and I think it was the one at which I had the most fun. What made this GYC drastically different than any of its predecessors? This time around, instead of attending the conference, I was volunteering. I’ve volunteered in the past, but not to the extent that I would miss most of the meetings and seminars. This time, I really volunteered. And I don’t remember ever being so refreshed returning from a GYC conference.

My favorite part about volunteering at GYC was the part where I could work together with like-minded young people, with my favorite people in the world. I’d do any project with these ones. And not only I could work together with them, I could work together with them physically in one place. There’s nothing that can replace the synergy of a team other than being together. And the team that made up the Presidential Hospitality Department (PHD) at GYC 2011 was top notch! I’ve never seen such seamless and efficient execution of both planned and unplanned tasks.

Since I’m located in a place far away from most of my spiritual peers, this ability of working in a team is something I highly crave. It boosts my mood and quality of my work when I can do them with people. It is even a source of spiritual struggle when this doesn’t happen. In fact, this was the case the last few months of 2011. I was simply tired, not of working, but of working alone.

With that background, volunteering for PHD fulfilled perfectly my spiritual need. I needed to work more than I needed to sit in sermons or seminars. Being involved in service is the practical aspect of spirituality and it is equally (if not more) important than the theoretical. In fact, this practicality suited my day-to-day existence. Being in a working cycle, where I cannot rely on protracted amount of vacation time anymore, I can’t rely on breaks to get spiritually charged. I need to learn to find spiritual refreshments during the intense demands at work.

Most times, at least for me, when I think of spiritual needs, I think of the need to be fed through prayer, Bible studies, sitting in seminars or sermons, or being spiritually nursed by older and wiser mentors. And when I think of service, I think of it as a less important and optional aspect of my spiritual life, because in this case I am on the giving end instead of the receiving end.

I’d like to submit that service is a spiritual need. Working, getting physically tired from running around doing errands, taking care of other people – all of these are spiritual feedings. I experienced it first hand this GYC – gaining more refreshment by giving.

So, for all GYC attendees out there, I highly recommend volunteering at GYC, or anywhere, as a matter of fact. Volunteer at church, in the local communities, and engage in service. You need it!