From the Cross to Pentecost |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

“A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of our needs.   To seek this should be our first work” (Review and Herald, March 23, 1887). 

After a winter in which we learned what a polar vortex is and feels like, the longer days and moderate temperatures we’re currently experiencing could not be more welcome. If you’re like me, you’re happy that spring, the season of rebirth and renewal, has officially arrived. Some trees are already budding, as life returns to warm our bodies and encourage our spirits.

Spring is the season of rebirth. In a few days, Christians worldwide will commemorate and celebrate the most significant event in Christianity—the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The event shapes and drives all that we say, do, and are. The apostle Paul reminds us that if Christ had not risen from the grave, our preaching would be in vain and our faith would be futile (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Restoration and revival are two concepts that go together, and it is not coincidental that the resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred in the spring. This spring, the Lake Region Conference is launching a revival/renewal initiative called “From the Cross to Pentecost” that will conclude with a Fall Harvest. During the month of April, and more particularly the week of April 7-13, churches have been challenged to engage in the kind of intense prayer and supplication that the believers did prior to their experience at Pentecost (Acts 1:12-14). We’re told that “as the disciples waited for the fulfillment of the promise, they humbled their hearts in true repentance and confessed their unbelief” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 35). The path to Pentecost must be paved with prayer and supplication.

Were the churches of the Lake Region Conference to seek revival and reformation in unity, I believe that the Spirit that fell upon the disciples in the Upper Room will descend upon us.  Such seeking will include the prayerful study of God’s word and a commitment to use the experience of the Latter Rain in Christ-centered evangelism that will add to the church daily “such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47; 3:1-10).

“From the Cross to Pentecost” is intended to bind us together and to usher in an era of Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered innovative evangelism. It is designed to bring purpose and energy to our efforts to grow God’s church with disciples who passionately share Jesus with others. This initiative has been embraced and endorsed by our pastors, who are excited that God is about to do a new thing in our churches.

My favorite Christian writer predicts, “Before the final visitation of God’s judgments upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times.  The Spirit and the power of God will be poured out upon His children” (The Great Controversy, p. 464). The promise awaits fulfillment, and our attitude and actions will determine how soon and in what measure it is fulfilled. Thank you for joining us in our journey “From the Cross to Pentecost.”

R. Clifford Jones



A Tribute to Women |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

Chicago is about to make history again, this time in a positive way. The next mayor of America’s third largest city will be a woman. Residents of the Windy City will vote in a runoff election on April 2 to place either Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle in the mayor’s chair that is being vacated by Rahm Emanuel, who decided not to seek reelection. Both women are African American, meaning that an African American woman will be Chicago’s next mayor.

The idea of a woman in leadership was foreign until recently. Indeed, in this country women were only permitted to vote approximately 100 years ago.   Today, however, women are in corporate offices, government mansions, board rooms, and mayoral suites around the world. Women have proven that, when given the same privileges and opportunities as men, they can perform just as skillfully and competently. Be that as it may, women are still treated as second-class citizens in disturbingly large numbers around the world, and they are openly and wantonly discriminated against in many places.

Women of color are particularly prone to experience discrimination, and it has been asserted that the only social role in the United States more challenging than that of an African American woman is that of an African American man. Stereotyped as promiscuous and highly sexualized, black women continue to be miscast as disposal commodities whose value is solely derived from their subservient status and service.

The truth is that women of color have shown that they are people of strength and endurance who have adapted and recreated themselves throughout their sojourn in the west.  Black women have survived and thrived due to their innovation and ingenuity. They have provided their men and children with support and leadership in trying times and dire straits, and African American history would ring hollow were black women to be expunged from the record.

For the Christian, Jesus is the example as to how women should be treated. When Jesus lived on earth, women were regarded and treated as property. They had little, if any, rights, existing in silence and shame on the margins of society. Jesus struck a blow to how the society of His day felt about women by speaking with and touching them in public, keeping company with them, including and partnering with them in ministry, and empowering them for service (Luke 8:45-55; Luke 10:38-42; John 4:1-30).  Not to be overlooked is the fact that women were the first to behold and proclaim Jesus as the risen Lord (John 20:1-18).

Women are the unsung heroes of the church and society. Like the biblical characters Mary and Martha, women are using the enrichment they receive at the feet of Jesus to share the good news of salvation with sensitivity and passion. Women are indispensable to the optimal impact of the church, significantly contributing to its efficiency and effectiveness in untold and unmeasured ways.

As you may or may not know, March is Women’s History Month. Let’s affirm the women in our homes, congregations, and communities. Better yet, let’s treat them with equality and dignity.

R. Clifford Jones



From Foe to Friend |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. . . . Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. . . . Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Has it ever occurred to you that Valentine’s Day is smack in the middle of Black History Month? Is that a coincidence? What does love have to do with Black History? Do they go together, or are they mutually exclusive? Given what people of color have experienced in this country, can we love those who have oppressed and discriminated against us?

The history of people of African descent in the west is a saga of struggle and challenge in which de jure slavery gave way to de facto slavery, and today the African American experience in the United States of America provides proof that race is still a dominant force in this country that boasts that all people are created equal. Racism, subtle and stubborn, is a reality in America. Racial profiling, the killing of unarmed African Americans by police, and the demonization of America’s first African American president, etc, show that, as far as race is concerned, it is far from morning in America. The night of oppression and discrimination is resisting the dawn.

Throughout their existence in this country, African Americans have generally responded to their treatment by the dominant culture through accommodation or protest.  During the Civil Rights era, Malcolm X espoused violent protest, believing that African Americans should resist and fight back against their oppressors. “By any means necessary” was his mantra. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the other hand, embraced the ethic of non-violent protest, believing that the old Hammurabic principle of an eye for an eye would lead to broad blindness.

In his best-selling book, Strength to Love, Dr. King lifts up love as the dynamic and catalyst needed for racial healing and reconciliation. The venerable drum major for peace and justice believed that loving those who wronged you is a categorical imperative. For Dr. King, the road to the kingdom is the road of reconciliation, with love holding the cobblestones of that road together. Such love is impossible apart from forgiveness and an intentional determination to transform one’s enemy into one’s friend.

The human instinct is to render tit for tat, to trade barbs, and to fight back. Yet, in His inaugural Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged His followers to love even those who do not have their best interests at heart (Matt. 5:38-48). Dr. King, whose grip on Christianity was firm, took the admonition of Jesus seriously, attesting, “Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security. . . . Jesus started an empire that was built on love, and even to this day millions die for him” (Strength to Love, p. 55).

Preaching in 1967 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. intoned, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” In the end, such love is what will usher in the Kingdom of God. Such love will turn the darkness into light and will transform an enemy into a friend.

R. Clifford Jones



Let Justice Roll Down |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

For its 2018 Word of the Year, Mirriam-Webster selected “justice,” the choice of the iconic dictionary driven in part by the number of times the word was googled during the year. Without question, the concept of justice was on the radar of many Americans in 2018, with many of them unsure as to what justice really is or looks like. The befuddlement of Americans regarding the meaning of justice was partially triggered by court decisions they were sure amounted to a miscarriage of justice and charges of obstruction of justice that were leveled against the president of the United States.

Those who believe in the God of the Judeo-Christian ethic are seldom at a loss concerning the concept of justice. Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament will show that justice is rooted in the very nature of God (Deut. 32:4) and that God requires His people to practice justice (Isa. 1:17; Isa. 58:5-10; Amos 5:21-24; Prov. 21:3). To practice justice is to reflect God’s nature, and to act unjustly is to incur the disfavor of God.   Unfortunately, as in Isaiah’s day, justice is woefully lacking in contemporary society (Isa. 59:14), a reality that offends Jesus, who said “Woe to you, teachers of the law, and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23).

For Jesus, justice meant confronting the principalities and powers that sought to dehumanize and disenfranchise God’s people.   Jesus hobnobbed with the rejects of society, and sought the company of the powerless and marginalized (Luke 15:1-2; John 4:1-30; Mark 10:13-16). He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a chariot, and was crucified as a common criminal on a cross, all because of His deep abhorrence of injustice (John 12:12-15; 19:17-24). His death was a miscarriage of justice.

Whether it’s economic justice, criminal justice, environmental justice, racial justice, or social justice, Christians are challenged to do justly (Micah 6:8). Pursuing justice is a personal and social responsibility. It means that we seek to rectify the inequities in society, viewing our attempts as a mandate and not an option that we may embrace or shun. Yet, because pursuing justice inevitably leads to conflict with the powers that be, many do not stand in the gap and speak truth to power. Courage and commitment are two critical characteristics of those who are serious about standing in solidarity with the oppressed.

The pursuit of justice was high on the agenda of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we commemorate this month. Dr. King had much to say about the injustices that polluted the culture of his day and made a mockery of society’s quest to inaugurate a new day of diversity and inclusion. King challenged us to speak up for the voiceless and to stand up for those crippled and shackled by structures that seek to deny people their God-given rights. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King stated.

As we commemorate and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us acknowledge that now, more than ever, justice is painfully in short supply in our society. More importantly, let us engage in acts that promote and demonstrate justice. Verbally condemning injustice will not suffice. Remember that, as Dr. King believed, the real measure of a person is not where he or she stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands in times of challenge and controversy.

“Let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24, RSV).

R. Clifford Jones



Fit to Serve – Church and Community! |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

Happy New Year! The start of a year is a wonderful, precious time. Who does not appreciate this time of year, with its offers of new opportunities and possibilities? At this time, we have the opportunity to begin anew, to reposition ourselves, doing so with fresh hope and optimism as well as with determination and resolution. At this time, we may shrug off the failures and shortcomings of the past year, believing that we shall prevail, triumph, and succeed in the new year.

 The administrators of the Lake Region Conference are delighted to join me in wishing you success in all your undertakings in 2019. We pray that you experience health, happiness, and heaven’s abundant blessings in 2019. Our prayer is that you continue to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who came to earth so that we may experience life to its fullest, and wishes that we prosper and be in good health (John 10:10; 3 John 2).

As you may or may not be aware, we have declared 2019 to be the Year of Health and Community Engagement, a focus that aligns with a couple of our core values—witness and wholeness. Jesus wants His followers to be not just recipients but conduits of the health, healing and happiness that Adam and Eve experienced before they fell. As He did, Jesus wants us to mingle with the people, have sympathy for them, meet their needs, and win their confidence before calling on them to follow Jesus (MH129).   Yet, we ourselves must embody the laws of health if we are to be powerful witnesses for Jesus Christ. In other words, we must be FIT TO SERVE!

A few years ago, my wife gave me a Fitbit for my birthday. I’m happy to report that I’ve made good use of the device, which is a powerful motivator. The pursuit of wholeness, however, also involves a healthy diet, adequate rest, the elimination or reduction of stress, a positive outlook on life, ample amounts of sunshine and water, a network of social relationships, and a deep, meaningful relationship with God.  We have been called to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, and to shun all harmful and hurtful practices (Rom. 12: 1; 1 Cor. 10:31).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus did more healing than preaching, empowering His disciples to do the same and demonstrating for us what mission and ministry should look like. “As ye go, preach, saying The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.   Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils, freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:7, 8). Dr. Luke writes, “The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people . . . Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed” (Acts 5:12, 16).

Won’t you resolve to be more health conscious during 2019? In this day and age of escalating medical costs, it makes sense that we pay attention to our health. There is much truth in the statement that health is wealth, and that a healthy life is the best way to live. More importantly, a healthy witness is a powerful witness for Jesus Christ. Now more than ever, we need to focus on eliminating the disparities in health that plague our communities. We owe it to our children and future generations to be as healthy and happy as possible. Abundant blessings on you as you aspire to be fit to serve your church and community in 2019!

Happy New Year!!

R. Clifford Jones



R. Clifford Jones

What are you afraid of? Insects? Animals? Poverty? Joblessness? Failure? Commitment? The future?   Are you scared of the dark? Does the thought of death alarm you?

Fear is one of the most crippling emotions. It was the emotion that gripped Adam and Eve in the wake of their disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Pressed as to why he and Eve had run and hid from God, Adam replied, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:9-10).

There is much in our world today for which we may be fearful. Terrorism, war, natural disasters, and economic uncertainty are some of the realities that unnerve us, prompting us to knit our brows and seek relief on the psychiatrist’s couch or from the medicine cabinet. From childhood to adulthood, human beings are prone to suffer from fear.

The Bible is full of hope for those who are paralyzed, immobilized, or victimized by fear. In fact, it has been noted that there are 365 “Fear not” passages in Scripture, one for every day of the year. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ triggered the admonition, “Fear not,” a few times.

The old priest, Zacharias, heard the words when he was told that his wife would conceive and bear a son. “But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13). The virgin Mary had to be encouraged similarly. “And the angel said unto her, Fear Not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS” (Luke 1:30-31). As Joseph pondered the fact and meaning of Mary’s pregnancy, an angel appeared to him in a dream saying, “Fear not” (Matt. 1:20). Lowly shepherds in the field received the same command. “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Over and over in the narrative of the birth of our Lord, we hear God saying, “Fear not,” an admonition that God still speaks today. Isn’t it comforting and encouraging to know that God always speaks a word of courage and comfort to those caught in the clutches of fear? The injunction soothes the soul and uplifts the spirit, and is tantamount to Jesus’ command, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39).

This holiday season, resolve to slay the dragon or giant of fear in your life. Conquer the fear that is holding you back from being all that God wants you to be.  Overcome the fear that is preventing you from enjoying life. Remember, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).

The officers of the Lake Region Conference are happy to join me in wishing you a season of goodwill and cheer that is free from fear and anxiety.

Happy Holidays!!

R. Clifford Jones


Honoring a Pioneer/Leader of the Regional Work |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

From their inception in 1944, Regional Conferences have been led by God-fearing men of steel and stamina, which is not surprising given the circumstances that led to the establishment of Regional Conferences, as well as their mission and ministry. Elder Fredrick N. Crowe was among the first leaders of Regional Conferences, serving with vision and devotion during a period of change and challenge.

A feisty, faithful servant-leader, Fred Crowe was the first Secretary-Treasurer of the first Regional Conference (Lake Region).   He was an eye-witness to history, and was instrumental in the purchase of the property in Cassopolis, Michigan, that became Camp Wagner. At the dedication of the Welcome Center at Camp Wagner named in his honor in 2016, Elder Crowe regaled us with stories of the journey that led to the procurement of the 200-acre property. He recounted how race played a significant role in the journey, and how doggedness, determination, and a firm belief that God was leading were the qualities that carried the day.

Elder Crowe embodied values we hold near and dear, values like hard work, honesty, and integrity. He was committed to service and the Seventh-day Adventist church, which he served with devotion and distinction during times of struggle and stress. He exuded a quiet strength and depth of character that is uncommon today, and was the epitome of balance and purpose. Ever willing to accept God’s word and eager to do God’s will, Elder Crowe served wherever the need was greatest and most acute. His was an unwavering commitment to the Regional work. Listening to him recount the struggles of people of color in the Seventh-day Adventist church was at once sobering and inspiring.

God blessed Fredrick N. Crowe with not three score and ten years, but five score and four.   He achieved that which few do. He became a centenarian, living beyond the 100-year mark. His faculties were fully functional until the end, his intellect keen and incisive.

Elder Crowe loved God, sought to be His child, and at 104 years was ready to lay down the burdens of this life and fall asleep in Jesus to await His call. In that great getting up morning, I’m sure that Elder Fred Crowe will fare well.

The Lake Region Conference was happy to name the Welcome Center at Camp Wagner in honor of Elder Fredrick N. Crowe.   His legacy is enshrined not only on the plaque beside the front door of the building but, more importantly, in our hearts.   Fredrick N. Crowe embodied the values that are core and central to us—word, worship, wholeness, and witness.

The funeral services for Elder Fredrick N. Crowe will take place on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, at the Riverside Chapel SDA Church, 800 Youngs Lane, Nashville, Tennessee. The pre-past and viewing will run from 5:30-6:30 p.m., with the service proper beginnig at 7:00 p.m.

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13).

R. Clifford Jones


Regional Conference Presidents meet with General Conference President Ted Wilson

Regional Conference Presidents Meet with General Conference President Elder Ted Wilson |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

Dear Friends:

Warmest Christian and Holiday Greetings.

History was made on Wednesday, November 28, 2018, when Regional Conference Presidents met with Elder Ted Wilson, President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in his office at the church’s World Headquarters. Convened to address and clarify statements made by Wilson in his sermon at Annual Council in October, the meeting covered an array of other critical issues related to ministry in the African American community in the North American Division, as well as in the broader community. The conversation was open and frank, characterized by civility and courtesy, and lasted for almost four hours. It ended with prayer for the General Conference President, who seemed genuinely concerned and engaged throughout the afternoon.

What was accomplished at the historic gathering? Elder Ted Wilson promised to attend the next meeting of the Black Caucus, stated that the elimination of Regional Conferences was not on his agenda, stressed that what he said about social justice and worship in his Battle Creek sermon were not intended to disparage the African American community, and admitted that much of what he said had been “lost in translation.” He promised to examine and explore how the number of African Americans at the General Conference may be increased, expressed appreciation for African American mission and ministry, solicited help and partnership for outreach efforts in Indianapolis leading up to and during the General Conference Session in 2020, and promised to keep the conversation with African American leadership going.

As a participant in the meeting, I feel that the time was well spent. I was happy to represent the Lake Region Conference, the first Regional Conference to be voted into existence, and look forward to the ongoing dialogue promised by the President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

For a full synopsis of the meeting, please consult the website of the Office for Regional Conference Ministry.
Thank you for your concerns and prayers, and may God continue to bless us as we seek to finish the work so that Jesus may come.


R. Clifford Jones



General Conference President Clarifies Social Justice Remarks |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

Elder Ted N. C. Wilson succeeded in getting a conversation among African Americans going with a couple of statements in his Annual Council sermon of Sabbath, October 13, 2018. In the sermon that was delivered in historic Battle Creek, Michigan, Wilson bemoaned current worship trends, claiming that they did not align with the worship practices of the early pioneers, and he frowned upon the tendency of some to overemphasize social justice issues while downplaying biblical truth.

I have heard from constituents and colleagues in ministry regarding the sermon, their emotions spanning the spectrum from confusion to anger. The General Conference president has been indicted for everything from ignorance to insensitivity.

On Tuesday, October 16, Elder Wilson sought to clarify what he said about social justice in his Sabbath sermon, telling the assembled delegates that he was all for social justice that was couched or pursued in the context of the gospel.   A couple of African American pastors at the Annual Council went to the microphone to express appreciation for Wilson’s clarification, and the Office for Regional Conference Ministry issued a statement on the matter.

Social justice is a broad term that covers a spectrum of issues. Gender equity is a justice issue, as is caring for creation (environment justice) and being kind to the foreigner and stranger. Our urban communities are inhabited by millions caught in the clutches of poverty and exploitation. Relieving the pain and anxiety of people living on the margins or the underside of society is ministry that God finds acceptable (Isa. 1:17; 61:1-4).

The Holy Scriptures clearly show that God has always sided with the oppressed. Justice issues are core and central in Old Testament theology, with God often reminding Israel of their condition before their miraculous deliverance (Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:34; Deut.10:19). Amos, Isaiah and Micah inform us that worship that is not grounded in justice is unacceptable to God (Micah 6:1-8; Isa. 58; Amos 5:21-24).

God’s unmistakable identification with and advocacy on behalf of the oppressed continues in the New Testament, where God’s Son, Jesus Christ, begins His public ministry by quoting Isaiah (Luke 4:16; Isa. 61:1-4). Christ’s ministry was one of standing in solidarity with the least and the lost, the have-nots and despised, and the neglected and rejected. He interacted with women and children, liberating both from a life in which they had little, if any, rights, and in touching the sick, Jesus upended religious traditions that were a burden to the suffering (Mark 10:13-16; John 4:1-30).

Jesus drove home His deep appreciation for have-nots by saying that in the Great Assize at the end of the ages, the basis of the separation of the sheep from the goats will be the benevolence shown to the rejects of society (Matt. 25: 31-40). Our Lord’s reminder shows that social ministry and the gospel stand together or fall apart. Those who champion social justice causes are demonstrating a healthy understanding of what the gospel is all about, and are truly serving and living in the tradition of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will make all things new when He returns. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).R. Clifford Jones



In Appreciation of Our Pastors |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones“And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15).

Have you ever wondered what being a pastor is really like? What is an average day in the life of a pastor? Do pastors even have such a thing as an average day? Many people believe that pastors have it easy, that, beyond preaching, pastors lead a life of leisure and laxity. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Pastoral ministry is one of the toughest vocations there is. Pastors wear several hats, all at once. They are leaders, managers, administrators, worship leaders, preachers, counselors, and shepherds, to name some of the more common roles they play. In one week, sometimes in one day, a pastor will prepare a sermon, pray for a terminally ill person in the hospital, counsel with a family in distress, meet with a political or civic leader, chair a board, and review a budget. Little wonder some pastors burn out so quickly, leaving the ministry in frustration for less demanding occupations. Adding to their frustration are the expectations of the saints, many of whom think their pastor is superman or superwoman endowed with supernatural strength and stamina.

One reason pastors express for leaving ministry is lack of appreciation. Members, colleagues, leaders, and even their families often fail to demonstrate gratitude for their service, taking them for granted. Ministry may be a divine calling, but pastors are human beings who need affirmation. They need to hear a word of encouragement or an expression of support.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month and in the Adventist Church Oct. 13 is Pastor Appreciation Day. During this month you have an opportunity to affirm and appreciate your pastor, which is in keeping with the admonition of the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17). How may you affirm your pastor? How may you celebrate your pastor’s work? How may you honor your pastor’s contributions and commitment? How may you pay tribute to your pastor’s dedication? What can you do to encourage your pastor?

You may let your pastor know that you’re praying for him or her. Beyond praying for your pastor, send him or her an encouraging note or card. Let your pastor know that his or her ministry matters, and that they’re making a difference.   Volunteer your services; be willing to do, not just talk. Commit to being a part of the solution. Be as copious with compliments as you are with constructive criticisms.

Pastoring is a sobering, sublime responsibility, especially in times like these. God promised His people that He would give them pastors with hearts like His, pastors who will lead their congregations in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2), pastors who, as good undershepherds, will feed and not fleece their flock (Eze. 34:1-31). I believe that the Lake Region Conference is blessed with such pastors, and I am deeply grateful for each one of them. I encourage you to remember your pastor during Pastor Appreciation Month, demonstrating your appreciation in some tangible way. Thank you for what you will do to encourage and affirm your pastor.

Your partner in mission and ministry,

R. Clifford Jones


Stop the Violence! |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford JonesIf I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it several times. African American males are less likely than their counterparts from other racial and ethnic groups to live beyond their 30th birthday. More disturbing still, it is alleged that an appreciable number of those who succeed to live past 30 do so because they are incarcerated. To say that the outlook is not bright for young African American males in this country is not to be pessimistic or pathological, or to be hyperbolic or overreactive.

Sad to say, gun violence and black-on-black crime are two of the causes for the brevity of the lives of young African American males. Wanton gun violence continues to plague our inner cities. Innocent lives continue to be indiscriminately snuffed out, leaving in their trail unbearable pain and unspeakable sorrow. Black-on-black crime continues to stalk our communities, accounting for a disproportionate number of the black lives that are prematurely cut short. The statistics are stark and sobering. Jolting may be a more apt term.

Carvell Goodlow became a statistic of gun violence and black-on-black crime on Sunday, September 16, 2018, when he was gunned down in a senseless act of violence. Yet, from what little we know about the events in Huntsville, AL, during that weekend, Carvell Goodlow was not gunned down during the commitment of a robbery or a drug deal gone awry.  Oh no. He was felled by an act of violence that has become disturbingly pervasive in our community.

Goodlow had fled the crime-ridden streets of his native Detroit for the safety and sanity of the streets of Huntsville, AL.  He was a young African American male who was bent on disproving the stereotype that young black men are trigger-happy gangsters woefully lacking an appreciation for life. And isn’t it ironic that Goodlow would succumb to the very type of violence from which he was fleeing back home in Detroit?

A sophomore at Oakwood University, Carvell was a promising student in the prime of his life. He leaves to mourn his untimely passing, a loving family and an affirming community. Both groups are in tatters. Spiritually and emotionally, his family and schoolmates are groping about in the supernatural darkness, desperately seeking for that which can make sense of the incredibly senseless. They are asking, “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Rev. 6:10).

It is high time that we stop the violence that is decimating African American communities across our nation. It is high time that we act in ways that demonstrate that we value human life. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked after the senseless slaughter of his brother Abel (Gen. 4:9). It is high time that we answer in the affirmative with convincing words and compelling action.

Young African American males do value human life. They are moral beings who yearn to belong and fit in. They want to know that they make a difference. Like all humankind, they cherish acceptance and affirmation.

The Lake Region Conference joins me in expressing deepest condolences and sympathies to the Goodlow family on the untimely passing of Carvell Goodlow. Please know that we are partners in your grief and sorrow, and are united with you in faith and hope. We pray that the unexpected passing of Carvell will cause us all to pause and reflect on life, as well as the needs and challenges of our community, particularly those affecting our youth and young adults.

May the promise of the blessed hope strengthen and sustain us all during this difficult time and in the days ahead. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

R. Clifford Jones



Remembering a Legend |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford JonesOne of the most powerful and moving evangelistic sermons I’ve ever heard was preached by Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr. Reflecting depth and breath, the sermon appealed to my head as well as to my heart. Had I not been a Seventh-day Adventist, I would have given my heart to Jesus that Sabbath morning. I went home not just enthralled but transformed as a result of the Christ-centered, Spirit-drenched exposition of the biblical message by Dr. Willis.

A legend is someone known for doing something reasonably, if not extremely well, and a legacy is something handed down from one generation to another. Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr. is a legend whose legacy will be enshrined in our hearts for years to come. And what is the legacy of this gallant warrior and soldier of the cross? His is a legacy of sacrifice, soul winning, stewardship, and solidarity. His is a legacy of unswerving commitment to Christ and selfless service to His church.

Like the Philip of the Early Christian Church, Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr. was an evangelist who was blessed with four prophesying daughters—and a preaching son for good measure. His wife was his lifelong partner in the home and in the church, in mission as well as in ministry. Indeed, their marriage was a ministry that instructed and inspired. Dr. Willis and his devoted wife Edith were the quintessential and consummate ministerial couple, a dynamic duo that God used to prove that marriages in this day and age may not just survive, but thrive.

In a time of ambivalence and uncertainty about the future of public evangelism, his was a clear, compelling voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Isa. 40:3; Mark 1:3). Uncompromising and unbending, Dr. Willis preached the everlasting gospel in the context of Rev. 14:6-12 with power and conviction, calling men and women to repentance and to Jesus Christ. Part of a vanishing genre of evangelists who apologetically proclaim the distinctive truths of Adventism, he preached as one who really believed that Jesus would come before he died. The tone of his voice reflected his passion and his energy in the pulpit was palpable.

For 27 years he battled the condition that ultimately felled him, the soldier in him refusing to succumb without a fight. He kept coming back, each time more determined to slog on. A man of prayer and devotion, he never failed to look to the hills, from whence his strength and help emanated (Psalm 121). He was sustained by a litany of miracles that provided convincing proof that God was on his side.

That one day soon he will hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” is beyond dispute (Matt. 25:23). He was a Christian soldier who died with his proverbial boots on. He successfully and admirably fleshed out several important roles with aplomb—husband, father, grandfather, preacher, pastor, evangelist, brother, and friend. He was a servant of God and a friend to humankind, a gentleman of decency and integrity who spoke his mind, and even when he disagreed with you he was never, ever disagreeable.

The Lake Region Conference joins me in honoring the memory and legacy of Dr. Philip C. Willis Sr., who served with devotion and distinction. He sleeps in Jesus, awaiting the call of the life giver. Paul affirms that “the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).   “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

R. Clifford Jones



You Are Amazing! |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, mothers-to-be, and mothers-in-Israel of the Lake Region Conference. As people worldwide pause to remember and celebrate their mothers this weekend, I wish to let our mothers know that they are deeply loved and appreciated.

Ellen G. White has a lot to say about mothers. In the chapter entitled “The Mother” in her classic book, The Ministry of Healing, White reminds mothers that they should begin to prepare children for life on this earth before the children are born. She cites Jochebed, the mother of Moses; Hannah, the mother of Samuel; and Elizabeth, the mother of John, the Baptist; as shining examples of mothers who invested in their children before they actually entered the world.

Motherhood is a priceless, sacred responsibility that is little understood and appreciated. Yet no other responsibility rivals it in importance.   In fact, White says that angels could not ask for a higher mission that that of motherhood, which is a responsibility that spans into eternity.

Many of the positive, enduring images I have of my childhood have to do with my mother. She was a God-fearing woman who fiercely loved her children, often denying herself so that we could have. My mother was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church when she was carrying me in her womb, and she believed I became a pastor because of the Bible studies she received in preparation for baptism. She was a prayer warrior who seasoned her admonitions to my siblings and me with promises from Scripture, and her faith and courage continue to inspire us today, years after her death.

The mother of my children has taken over where my own mother left off. I’m happy to say that my wife is also a woman of boundless faith and optimism.   She is a mother of deep spirituality who exemplifies the values she teaches and honors. Her love for God and people are refreshing, as is her passion for sharing with others the blessings of God.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” The sentiment expressed by the former United States president powerfully captures the central role mothers play in the lives of their children. The power of motherhood cannot be overestimated.

And so, Happy Mother’s Day once more to the mothers, the mothers-to-be, and the mothers-in-Israel of the Lake Region Conference. May God’s richest blessings continue to attend you as you seek to influence your children for now and eternity. Please remember that, to a great degree, the moral temperature and tone of every society depends on mothers, which makes you, amazing!

Continued blessings and success in all you do!

R. Clifford Jones



Teachers Care |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

When you review your educational journey, does a particular teacher come to mind?   Maybe you were a failing, floundering student who was rescued by a teacher’s belief in you. Or perhaps you were thinking of giving up when a teacher talked you into pressing on.  Maybe you were confused about a career choice and a teacher’s counsel helped steer you into a worthwhile vocation. Or perhaps you were struggling in your faith development when a teacher’s listening ear and heartfelt prayer helped to steady you. Maybe you were excelling in the classroom and a teacher’s mentorship caused you to rise higher and accomplish more.

It is difficult to overestimate the impact teachers make. After parents, teachers exert the most profound and protracted influence on children, and, given that some parents are absent from their children’s lives, the impact of teachers on these individuals tend to be more significant and telling. Teachers are often the first models and examples of steadiness and dependability.

Studies have confirmed that teachers play a critical role in the development and success of students.  Teachers do more than simply transmit information and share knowledge. When it comes to student success, the characteristics of the teacher trump facilities, financial affordability, and even curriculum. Over and over, people have stated that their teachers were the single most important factor in their successful pursuit of a diploma or degree. In other words, were it not for their teachers, many would not have made it.

Why do people become teachers? Certainly, not for the salary, as teachers do not earn that much. The low pay of teachers is well documented. It is not for the hours, as teachers work long hours that extend well beyond the classroom. It is not for the accolades, as teachers often suffer abuse and misunderstanding that betray society’s low estimate of them. I believe that people embrace the teaching profession because they genuinely care. The joy of seeing students grow in knowledge and faith development is what causes people to become and remain teachers. Truly, Christian teachers care!

We can never thank teachers enough for what they do and for pouring so much into our lives. Teachers are the reason so many succeed. We are indebted to our teachers and need to honor and celebrate them for the special work they do. They have earned and deserve our gratitude.

During this Teacher Appreciation Week let us take a moment or two to help make a teacher know that he or she is special. Let us thank a teacher for the significant roles he or she plays in society. The time and energy that teachers invest in their work continue to shape and transform lives for now and eternity, and it is because of the selfless service of our teachers that Adventist Education continues to provide a distinct advantage.

The Lake Region Conference wishes to thank you, teachers, for what you do and, more importantly, who you are! We deeply appreciate each of you. Continued blessings and success in your ministry.


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Adventist Christian Education Needs Your Help! |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

Dear Friend of Adventist Education

Warmest Christian greetings in the precious and powerful name of our Lord, who desires that all our children should be taught of Him (Isa. 54:13).

The Lake Region Conference (LRC) takes seriously our Lord’s desire to have His children learn of Him. Yet we are acutely aware that providing quality Adventist education calls for an expenditure of funds that are often lacking or in short supply. As a result, each year scores of parents and guardians make the painful decision not to send their children to our schools. Simply put, they just can’t afford it.

I believe that we should do everything we possibly can to ensure that every child desirous of attending a Seventh-day Adventist school in the Lake Region Conference is able to do so. Lack of finances should NOT be the reason a child fails to register or withdraws from one of our schools.

To help provide financial scholarships to those in need, we are attempting to raise $300,000 on April 21, 2018. The plan is for 15,000 friends of Adventist education to contribute a minimum of $20 on or before that date. I believe that the plan is reasonable and doable, as $20 does not even represent the cost of a meal for two at most fast food restaurants.

The above graphic shows how the funds will be distributed. Twenty-five percent of all proceeds collected will be used as a base for future funding and scholarships, awarded through an application process. The remaining seventy-five percent will be divided equally among our eight schools for tuition assistance. Please prayerfully consider partnering with us in this worthwhile investment in our children.

Thank you for being one of the thousands who will make the dream of a child come true. Your tax-deductible gift will go a long way in keeping a child in church school, where he or she will receive an education for now and eternity. Remember, Adventist education does provide children with a distinct advantage!

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We are Moving! |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

We rejoice to announce that we are getting ready to move into our new office building, located at 19860 South LaGrange Road, Mokena, Illinois. We anticipate moving into the new office building around the end of March, a little later than our earlier projections. The delay was triggered by some contingencies we encountered that required modifications to the approved building plans.

On Monday, February 12, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Mokena approved the modifications, clearing the way for the completion of the renovations.A grand opening of the building is being planned for the end of April. Please be on the lookout for an announcement and invitation to the event.

You are welcome to be present for the grand opening and to visit at any time. A new building provides opportunity for us to remember that we are a spiritual building whose foundation is Jesus Christ. And we should never forget that buildings are not intended to be monuments to human achievement or objects of pride, but facilitators of mission.

We praise God for providing us with this property. The building will help us to better meet your needs, as well as to witness more effectively to our region. Although we intend to minimize, if not eliminate, inconveniences during the transition period, we wish to apologize for any that may occur.Thank you for your continued partnership in mission and ministry.

Your support of our vision means a lot. May God continue to abundantly bless us as we unite in spreading the good news of a soon-coming Savior and Lord throughout the Lake Region Conference territory.

R. Clifford Jones



Slights, Slurs & Stereotypes |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The words are etched in stone on the Statue of Liberty, which stands in New York harbor welcoming, if not beckoning, immigrants from around the world. A monument to the hopes and aspirations of millions who have made America a true land of immigrants and New York City a veritable melting pot, the iconic Statue of Liberty is infinitely more than an American tourist attraction. It is a symbol of values like opportunity and inclusion, principles that formed and shaped the United States of America.

Yet, is it true that the words “the wretched refuse” are among those inscribed on the Statue? Those two words are perilously close to a phrase purportedly uttered by the President of the United States recently. In case you missed it, during a meeting to discuss immigration reform policy at the White House, Donald Trump allegedly called a few nations with predominantly black populations an expletive I will not repeat. The term the controversial president used is beyond colorful or salty. Having to do with excrement, the president’s vulgar, vile metaphor provoked a firestorm and furor near and far, with many condemning the president as a racist unfit to occupy the White House.

Where are you from? Is the place of your origin looked down on, and are people from your country stereotyped as undesirables? If so, be encouraged, because Jesus hailed from Nazareth, a place so despicable that when Philip informed Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah and that the Messiah was from Nazareth, Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). Undoubtedly, the practice of stereotyping everybody from a particular place as the same is not a recent one.

Scripture makes it plain that Jesus was from a deplorable place. To begin with, Jesus was born in a stable because, ostensibly, there was no room for Him in the inns of Bethlehem (Luke 2:7). Animals were the first living creatures to behold Jesus, and among the things He first inhaled was the stench of the stable. Shortly after His birth, the parents of Jesus fled with Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of the government, making Jesus and His family refugees (Matt. 2:13-14). Later, the family of Jesus returned to Nazareth of Galilee, a region with a mixed population of lowlifes and a reputation that was anything but stellar (Matt. 2:22-23).

Throughout His life and ministry on earth, Jesus was identified as being from Nazareth (Mark 1:23-24; Mark 10:47), and the inscription on His cross identified Him as such (John 19:19). He was crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem on a dung heap, where all kinds of salacious and sordid activities took place.   Without a doubt, Christ understands the plight of those who hail from over the proverbial tracks, the slums and ghettos of the world.

In coming to this earth, Jesus lived on the one dark, benighted spot in the entire universe (Desire of Ages, 26). Planet earth, not just one country or region, is a dark blot in God’s otherwise glorious creation. Thus, every human being is from a terrible place, period.

Scripture is clear as to how foreigners ought to be treated. Israel was encouraged to be kind to foreigners and aliens (Ex. 22:21; Zech. 7:9-10). For the Christian, “I was a stranger and you took me in” is more than inspiring language (Matt. 25:35). The implicit admonition of Jesus amounts to a litmus test for those claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ.

During Black History Month, let us not forget that it was people from Africa who built this country, and that immigrants from the countries disparaged by President Donald Trump are achieving the proverbial American dream in disproportionately higher numbers than those from other places. Better still, during Black History Month let us resolve to treat all people with dignity and respect, regardless of where they come from.

R. Clifford Jones



Saved 2 Serve |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES

R. Clifford Jones

Happy New Year! The officers of the Lake Region Conference (LRC) are happy to join me in extending warm wishes for a healthy and Spirit-filled year to each of you. We wish that 2018 will be a year of growth and gains for you and those you love and cherish.

The Lake Region Conference has declared that 2018 will be the Year of Adventist Youth and Young Adults. Why? Because our youth and young adults are a treasured resource the Seventh-day Adventist Church cannot afford to lose. Today, when a large percentage of youth and young adults view organized religion with suspicion, the admonition of the apostle Paul is needed. “Let no one despise thy youth” (1 Tim. 4:12). The words of my favorite Christian writer are also needed. “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior might be carried to the whole world! How soon might the end come. . . (Education, p. 271).

Saved 2 Serve is the theme chosen for the Year of Youth and Young Adults. The theme neatly captures and powerfully conveys two central concepts—salvation and service—that form and shape the life of the Christian. Saved by grace through faith, Christians view a life of service as the natural outgrowth of an encounter with Jesus Christ. Engendering change and enriching communities are the byproducts of an encounter with Christ.

Elder Jason North, Director of Youth and Young Adults Ministries for the Lake Region Conference, believes that in 2018 our young people will, like Esther, realize that they have come to the kingdom for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). He is optimistic that our youth will “fulfill their God-given mission of service to Christ, for Christ, and in Christ.” Further, Pastor North believes that the youth and young adults of the Lake Region Conference are a wonderful group passionate about Jesus Christ and anxious to engage in mission and ministry for Him.

Did you know that one of the last visions Adventist pioneer Ellen White had was about young people? In it, she wished that the young would understand the true meaning of justification by faith, and she admonished adults “to encourage the young ever to keep the preciousness and grace of God highly exalted.” White longed for the day when the minds of the youth would be “impressed and molded by the sanctifying truth of God,” a desire that LRC leaders have and that aligns well with the aim of our Strategic Plan—Christ Alone!

We are committed to doing all we can to see our youth and young adults experience a deepening of their spirituality and growth in their discipleship. Reaching, Reclaiming and Restoring youth are priorities for us. We long to see our young people play a central role in advancing the kingdom of God in our communities, and will redouble our efforts to that end in 2018. We intend to show our youth that they are valued partners in mission and ministry.

R. Clifford Jones




R. Clifford Jones

Among the many themes associated with the Christmas story is that of light. The holiday season is a festival of lights, from Christmas trees twinkling to menorahs flickering, and it is far from coincidental that Christmas occurs around the shortest days and longest nights of the year, making the need for the comfort of light all the more acute. The lights of the holiday season are beacons of joy and hope to young and old alike, dispelling the darkness of despair and depression that often overwhelm people around the end of the year.

The agnostic Bertram Russell once remarked that human life is a long trek through the night. Long before he expressed that sentiment, the prophet Isaiah said, “See, darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isa. 60:2). Few will deny that as technologically advanced and scientifically sophisticated as 21st century civilization is, our world is still enshrouded in darkness. Humankind of the early 21st century continues to grope about, lost and confused, in a darkness more dense and stubborn than a million nights.

The reality that darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the people is ironic given that light was the first thing that God created (Gen. 1:1-3). Light, like a unifying thread, is a theme that runs through the Bible, which itself is viewed as light (Psalm 119:105, 130). Isaiah writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isa. 9:2), continuing, “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isa. 58:10).

Not surprisingly, light shows up early in the New Testament as a symbol of truth. The gospel writer John states that the role of John the Baptist was that of testifying concerning the “true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:1-9). Who was John talking about? Jesus Himself declared, “I am the light of the world.   Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). As He healed a man who had been born blind, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Jesus predicted that an aversion to light would characterize human life just prior to His second coming. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of the light because their deeds are evil . . . Everyone who does evil hates the light . . . But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light” (John 3:19-21).

Those who are walking in the light enjoy sweet, wholesome relationships with others. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and we do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

Called out of darkness into God’s wonderful, marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), Christians wholeheartedly embrace the call of Jesus Christ to be the lights of the world.   Once in darkness, we are now the lights of the world, and expected to live as children of the light (Eph. 5:8-9; 1 Thess. 5:5). That is certainly what the apostle Paul did as he sought to be a light to the gentiles (Acts 26:12-18).

In the chapter entitled “Light Through Darkness” in the classic book, The Great Controversy, my favorite Christian writer says that light was intended to dispel the darkness of hopelessness, despair, and sin. If ever the words spoken by God at creation are needed, it is now. “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). Jesus admonishes, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).

During this season of lights, I wish to encourage you to let your light shine. Please brighten the corner where you are. Go light the world. Dark and lost, our world needs the light of love and hope. Where there is hate, let us ignite forgiveness. Where there is error, let us ignite truth. Where there is war, let us ignite peace.   Where there is retaliation, let us ignite reconciliation.

Of the New Jerusalem the apostle John writes, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light” (Rev. 21:23-24). John continues, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord will give them light” (Rev. 22:5).

What a promise! What a future to which we may look forward! But until then, let us light the world. Until then, let us light the darkness. Until then, let our lights shine before others that they may see our good deeds and glorify God in heaven.

Season’s Greetings!

R. Clifford Jones




R. Clifford Jones

Without question, there is a certain irony to what took place at the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5, and at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a couple of years ago. In both instances, barbaric acts of violence invaded church buildings to which innocent people had gone to worship and study God’s word.

There was a time when a sanctuary was a safe haven, a place of refuge from the setbacks and struggles of life. Churches were viewed as oases of hope and blessings in deserts of despair and sin, as places where one was sure to encounter God in worship and praise. Church buildings were sacred places and spaces.

The indiscriminate massacre of people gathered to study the Bible at Emanuel AME Church and for worship at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church calls into question the historic and traditional view of church buildings as safe havens. Moreover, the fact that the Texas gunman, who slaughtered 26 and wounded over 20, was embroiled in a domestic dispute that may have been the motive for the carnage does not eradicate the danger that now seems to hang ominously over houses of worship. That sanctuaries are places of safety to which people may flee in times of trouble is a proposition that is easily challenged these days.

How should we relate to the indisputable fact that when people gather in a church building these days a gunman may open fire on them for no apparent reason?   Has the time arrived for metal detectors in church buildings? Should congregants be allowed to come to church armed? Should pastors pack a Bible in one pocket and a firearm in the next?

Some gun advocates have noted that the Texas gunman was allegedly shot by an alert neighbor, who recognized what was happening, grabbed his rifle, and began shooting at the assailant. When the gunman sped off, the neighbor hailed a motorist and, together, they pursued the fleeing, wounded gunman, who ostensibly took his life after running off the road in an adjoining county. President Donald Trump believes that more people would have died had it not been for the quick action of the neighbor, who was exercising his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

Wasting no time to exploit an opportunity, the Michigan Senate, a few days after the massacre in Sutherland Springs, passed legislation to allow guns on school premises and in churches. Not surprisingly, Sutherland Springs has fueled the debate about gun control.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that guns and other weapons contribute to violence.   Guns are intended to harm, if not kill. In rebuking Peter who tried to defend Him with his sword, Jesus stated that those who use violent weapons should expect to die by violent means (Matt. 26:52). Admittedly, many in the general population argue that it is people who kill, not guns. These opponents of gun control contend that those who desire to purchase firearms should be better screened so that guns are kept out of the hands of those who should never have access to them, such as the mentally impaired and criminals.

The murder of innocent churchgoers in Texas and South Carolina also brings into sharp focus an issue that has perplexed cynics as well as believers for years.   Why does God allow evil?   Why is there evil in our world? Almost half of those killed in Sutherland Springs were children, the most vulnerable and helpless demographic of our population. Why didn’t God protect those children? Why didn’t God blow out the tire of the gunman before he got to the church, as a latecomer who escaped the massacre believed happened to her? Why did God allow this heinous, monstrous act that wiped out eight people from one family to occur?

Theologians have a word that captures the struggle for answers as to why a benevolent, almighty God allows people to suffer—theodicy. Yet the search for answers to the problem of pain is beyond the purview of this short reflection.   Suffice it to say that God is no masochist who lacks the power or will to control what happens in our world. Also, we must not forget that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are God’s ways our ways (Isa. 55:8-9).

Even as we search about in the supernatural darkness for answers and meaning to the tragic events in Texas and South Carolina, there are some practical steps that churches may, and should, take to increase the safety of church buildings. Following are just a few:

Have a plan. It may seem like a no-brainer, but having a well-thought-out plan of action will assuage the worry and concern of worshippers and help in the event of an incident.

Communicate your plan, making sure that it is understood and accepted.

Get to know law enforcement personnel in your community. Be sure to receive input and buy-in from them regarding your plan of action.

Acquaint worshippers with the layout of your church building. Be particular in pointing out the exits and safe zones.

Ushers and hosts should be trained to be on the lookout for unfamiliar worshippers behaving strangely.

If possible, have people patrol the outside of your building when service is in session.

Check with your insurer to ascertain what will and will not be covered.

Finally, live joyfully and without fear (Phil. 4:4-7). The possibility of violence invading your sanctuary should not steal your joy, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). In the end, Christians are people who know this world is not their home and long for life in a restored world in which evil will be no more (Rev. 21:4-5, 8, 27).

R. Clifford Jones