The Preaching: Heaven Still on Our Minds (Earth Not So Much)

Heaven is your ultimate home.

Jesus transforms your mood and spirit, even your face.

One thing matters and that is crossing the (“figurative”) Jordan, making the journey—very soon—to heaven.

So said three preachers over the week, the last one Ted Wilson, now eight days into his second term as General Conference president. The General Conference session was turning toward its finish. Heaven was still closer to consciousness than the earth God created and blessed at the beginning.

The “preparation day”—a phrase used both weekends in San Antonio—began with Ron Smith at the podium. The much educated (Oakwood University, Andrews Seminary, two doctorates from two other schools) and widely experienced (pastorates in Los Angeles and New York City, editorship of Message magazine, several administrative posts) president of the Southern Union Conference in North America, took the theme of heaven, our “ultimate home.” Invoking Revelation 21, with its vision of a “‘new heaven and a new earth’” and of a Holy City “coming down out of heaven’” to be God’s “‘dwelling place,’” he made three points.

Heaven, he said, is “real.” Though no human has seen, heard or conceived of what God has prepared for the faithful, heaven is not “fairy tale” but a “real place.” Secondly, heaven is a “roomy place.” Global population is exploding, but, he said invoking Revelation 21:16, the Holy City will accommodate all. Then he declared that heaven is a “restful place”—not a mere “rest stop,” where you recover from fatigue, as when you are driving, but a destination. “You and I don’t belong here,” Smith said, beginning a litany of protests against the evils of the world. “I am sick and tired of this old world”—of its guns, its shootings and its “urban blight,” of its “empty political campaigns” and its “disproportionate wealth.”

He did not want a new “strategic plan” but a “New Jerusalem,” a world “under new management.” As the sermon ended Smith, who is tall and strong-voiced, authoritative and a tad severe, leaned into the microphone and said again: “Heaven, my ultimate home.”

With movement from “preparation day” to Sabbath on Friday evening, Artur Stele, general vice president of the General Conference and director of the church’s Biblical Research Institute, addressed the delegates and ever-larger crowd.

He went straight to scripture, and a part of it that does not focus on heaven. As any one of us may do, the writer of Psalms 42 and 43, he said, feels depressed—feeding on his own “tears,” thinking he is “forgotten” and even “cast off” by God. His mood goes from bad to worse. He wonders why and asks: Where is God? Finally the Psalmist prays for help: “O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me.”

In accented, excellent English, Stele—who was born in Kazakstan and speaks German as well as English and his native Russian—noted that with this prayer the Psalmist’s feelings change, turning toward hope and praise. The keys, he emphasized, are God as source of light and truth. Then, without attending to details of his life and message, he linked the prayer with Jesus: as the Gospel of John asserts, he is God’s “light” and “truth.” Alluding to Psalm 43:5, Stele said that just as God renewed the Psalmist’s spirit, and even, as some Bible versions suggest, his “face,” so God, through Christ, can renew us. Indeed, all our “initiatives” as a church must, he declared, take Jesus as their “goal.”

Stele told no stories until the end, holding the audience with the vigor and conviction in his voice and face. At the end, though, he described the brainwashing he had had to endure under officers in the Soviet military. Only the weak and fearful believe in God, they said repeatedly; you are alone here. But when a unit he was unfamiliar with showed up one day, he saw a face that struck him as different, and the man behind that face saw his and felt the same.

Christ, Stele said, had transformed even their faces. They found one another, and in their friendship they found encouragement to persist in faith. “Our faces told us that we belonged to the same heavenly father,” he said, moving his audience as the sermon ended.

This morning the Alamodome was all but packed, floor to top, except for the end-zone sections behind the platform. Ted Wilson, the Sabbath service preacher, stood tall before some 60,000 Adventists after an admiring (and humorous) introduction by G. T. Ng, one of his vice presidents. Our church is “God’s remnant church,” he said as the sermon began. The “time prophecies” have ended, and although we are “almost home,” we are “still” here, “Laodicean” and needing “humble ourselves.”

He then told the story of Moses’ experience on Mount Nebo, where he saw the Promised Land but (“having sinned that one sin”) learned that he could not go in. Joshua replaced him and heard God’s admonishment to keep the law faithfully. Showing the audience three Bibles—one his grandfather’s, one his father’s and one his own—Wilson asked the church to read it daily, along with “the Spirit of Prophecy.” What these writings say is true—the world was created “recently,” Christ is now ministering in the Most Holy Place—and if we are “sanctified” by their light we will “see wonders.”

“Cross the Jordan! Don’t Retreat!” That was the morning mantra. We can be God’s “landmarks” on earth if take up our mission daily, and go forward without fear. “Evangelism,” he said to clarify, “is the life-blood of the church,” and applause rang out when he remarked that it “is not dead.” Alluding to remarks from Ellen White, he said that when church members unite their efforts those of “the church’s ministers and officers,” the church’s work will be “finished.”

“It’s time to go home. It’s time to cross the Jordan.” Elaborating, he went on: It’s time to “put away differences of opinion,” time to win people over, including those with “special needs,” time to steer clear of “contemporary ideas” about theology or the reading of Scripture, time to look heavenward for the “little black cloud” that will signal our “figurative” crossing of Jordan, our journey through “space” to the heaven where we will be with God “forever.”

As the Sabbath morning service neared its end, Wilson brought listeners to their feet for a commitment prayer, which would “continue,” he said, through a performance of the Lord’s Prayer. Given the focus of the morning and most (but not quite all) of the week, it was almost jarring to hear the soloist’s plea that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Charles Scriven is Board Chair of Adventist Forum, which publishes Spectrum Magazine, and a member of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo Credit: Kenn Dixon

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

It seems that some are not really paying attention to what Jesus was really praying for in that prayer. It has been trivialised by teaching it to children who cannot comprehend it. And those children have grown into adulthood without discovering how magnificent that short, five-line, prayer truly is.

The second line states (in KJ English): Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth … While heaven may be our hope and our glory, it is to this earth that the sons and daughters of God are bringing His kingdom, who are doing His will. This does not happen by those whose heads are in the clouds.

Trust The BEing!


Alarming: “You can’t make this stuff up.”


I have no problem with focusing on heaven, the second coming and the new earth, but we must also live here and now and establish God’s kingdom on earth, as the Lord’s Prayer clearly says. I pray we not become so heavenly minded that were are of no earthly use.


I wonder if the Adventist church has given any consideration to a space investigation, to find heaven? There may be others prepared to join in funding the adventure.


Commendation is in order for the direction the church is going in acknowledging and seeking to minister to individuals with “special needs”. Great initiative. We must support and help them cross the Jordan.


It was NOT LISTED WHAT those “special needs” were. So at least Spectrumites have No Idea what that was talking about.

In situations like this, when speakers talk in “Adventist Jargon” but dont really say anything, it makes everyone excited and happy. And, go back to their hotel rooms with a smile on their faces.
It isnt going to make a lot of sense if the SDA church is not relevant to the 21st Century person. In a situation like that, when thinking about Evangelism, it is Just Good Money Following Bad.


It is Ron Smith, President of the Southern Union, that will have to deal directly with the desire of his constituents for ordination equality. He tried to duck and cover preventing the issue from coming before the constituents at the last meeting with the backing of each conference president and the president of Southern Adventist University. Elder Wilson can choose to visit the places and adoring crowds where he has support for his views. Ron Smith has to go home and deal with the fallout.

I am from the So. Union [Ga-Cumb.]. 2 years ago i asked our Conf President about WO in the So. Union. He said everyone was waiting for President Jackson, who was waiting for SA2015.
Sooooo. SA 2015 is here. It looks like President Jackson, at least from his statement the other day, that he would approve WO in all the NA Unions.
Hopefully Pastor Ron Smith is in accordance with that permission by now.
True, some churches will Fight their Conference officials to not receive one, but that is OK. There are others who will be happy to have an O’d W.
My Macon church would be against it. We dont even have women elders. They do not entertain the thought.

3ABN, Doug, Stephen, and others certainly did a “SNOW Job” on everyone.
Yesterday in Sab. Sch. one lady said 3ABN speaker was even speaking AGAINST the Nicene Creed, that it was “BAD”. I told her that ALL of our 28 Fundamentals are encased in the Nicene Creed if she would just think about it. Every Sunday when I repeat the Nicene Creed I am RENEWING my Baptismal Vows. I miss that on Sabbath at my SDA church.


A friend recently commented on how he wishes that the church could be more “heavenly” like Disneyland, the magical place on earth. He commented that much of our so called preaching about Heaven sounds like we are selling the trip to Disneyland that we long for. But is Disneyland really the closest thing to heaven on earth, and should a church model itself after all that Disneyland has come to achieve? With lots of options, great visuals, a variety of rides, and amazing customer service, it seems like a no brainer, that many would say yes, absolutely. For just as Disneyland seeks to provide a great experience for its guests, wouldn’t a church desire to do the same? But as I sit here in Southern California contemplating that, I would have to say, no! Heaven is so much better than Disneyland!
Let me explain. I do enjoy Disneyland for all that it is, and all that it provides. But, the purpose of disneyland is not the great commission. The purpose of Disneyland is to create revenue for itself, while providing a magical experience for a set time, that will consist of fun, laughter, and imagination to all those who come. And then when the day ends, so does the experience. Heaven is real and church should be as well. Everyone is treated with respect, even Season Ticketholders. To fantasize about unity and oneness is OK as you ride around the ride singing “It’s a Small World After All” (WE Have This Hope) is just fine. But in our SDA church after San Antonio, there are many realities and worlds that that are different and can’t be glued together! That is probably why we will need not eleven days every five years but 1,000 years to sort things out. What we are left with after Disneyland, or 11 days at the GC, are lots of memories, and the desire to experience it all over again (?), perhaps in fifty years! Which means that Disneyland (General Conference in San Antonio) really cannot fulfill us, or sustain us, to the full measure of what we had hoped or were created for. Disneyland/GC is not heavenly! It does not even come close. Heaven, real heaven, will be perfect and fulfilling.


Not sure about the Disneyland analogy but from the outside I am confused as to what was accomplished in the great state of Texas. The SDA church elected Elder Wilson to continue serving as its President. The issue of WO continues to be unsettled in application. Some words were added and some subtracted in the 28 fundamentals. And, several Vice Presidents continued to serve their Divisions. It was discovered that technology can be difficult for some and that milliniums still feel less than wanted.
In short nothing happened that couldn’t have happened for a considerable amount less money. But we do enjoy these little get togethers every five years.

After all is said and done…more is said than done. Always.


A whole church “camp meeting”, Chuck :slight_smile:


He approves, I am sure, but he cannot really facilitate without going directly against the GC vote. Of course, he doesn’t have to stop unions that want to do it either. :wink: :wink: :point_right: :point_right: Know what I mean? Know what I mean?


I like to think of heaven more like a banquet, with Jesus at the table, and the places are filled with gays, lesbians, street people, women pastors, atheists, indigenous people, Blacks, pimps, prostitutes, transgenders, queers, old saints from many denominations, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Jainists, young people with many tattoos, drug dealers, politicians, right-wing fundamentalists, pornographers, college professors, psychiatrists, Hindus, bikers in leathers, priests, failed pastors, high school dropouts, illegal aliens, etc. I can just imagine the stories that will be told of how they found themselves at the table. Some of them may have to take a little time to get to know Jesus, and He might have to tell them how they ended up there. Talk about fellowship.


Excellent reporting!

Although I do agree you. I wish he had listed or at least gave some examples of what he meant by special needs.

Which is why we need more workers who do things and less people telling what needs to be done.

The WO vote was simply stated: The divisons can’t choose for themselves what course to take on whether or not to ordain women. They must go in accordance to whichever Union they are a part of.

The vote was never to decide whether the world church would allow women to be ordained, that’s a whole other issue, which who knows when will be settled.

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lol…yes! It is amazing how people with just a little (or no) direction can come up with creative solutions. The SDA church is full of “Too many Chieftains”. :wink:

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