As we begin this new year, there is an internal joy and peace knowing the reality that each new year brings us closer to the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What a wonderful hope we have while living in a world that offers no meaningful assurances for the future.
Additionally, as we launch into this new year, I am inspired and challenged by the story recorded in Matthew 8:5–13. As Jesus enters Capernaum, a centurion comes to Him, beseeching on behalf of his servant lying at home paralyzed and sorely tormented, even to the point of death. This request was unique in that a Roman servant was, in reality, a slave. Nonetheless, the relationship between the centurion and his servant was such that he desired full recovery for his servant. “He believed that Jesus could heal him. He had not seen the Savior, but he had heard reports that inspired him with faith” (Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, p.291).
Jesus replied, I will come and heal him (Matthew 8:7 NKJV). What better response could someone receive from Jesus? In our petitions to the loving God that we serve, there are three possible responses: “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” Who among us does not get excited and feel affirmed when God answers our petitions with a firm and unconditional “Yes!”
The centurion responds, Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed (Matthew 8:8 NKJV). The centurion compares the Lord’s position and authority with his own. Christ has authority over any disease. The centurion also was in authority over soldiers. As the centurion had only to command a soldier to go and he went, Christ had only to say to any disease go, and it left.
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! (Matthew 8:10 NKJV). Ellen G. White comments on the faith of the centurion: “The Jews had been instructed from childhood concerning the work of the Messiah. The inspired utterances of patriarchs and prophets and the symbolic teaching of the sacrificial service had been theirs. But they had disregarded the light, and now they saw in Jesus nothing to be desired. But the centurion, born in heathenism, educated in the idolatry of imperial Rome, trained as a soldier, seemingly cut off from spiritual life by his education and surroundings, and still further shut out by the bigotry of the Jews, and by the contempt of his own countrymen for the people of Israel — this man perceived the truth to which the children of Abraham were blinded” (Desire of Ages, p. 294).
Jesus concluded this story with the words, Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you. And his servant was healed that same hour (Matthew 8:13 NKJV).
As the treasurer for the Lake Union Conference, we prepare an annual budget of $10M for mission and ministry for the five conferences within our Union territory: Illinois, Indiana, Lake Region, Michigan and Wisconsin. Each year, our budgets are based on faith and trust in God. Our faith is based on each member returning a faithful tithe and freewill offerings, according to God’s instructions and promised blessings. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10 NKJV).
In our Seventh-day Adventist church structure, the storehouse is the local conference treasury. Consequently, all tithe returned by our members to the local church is forwarded to the local conference treasury for the work of ministry, Bible instruction, and the support of conference administration in the care of the churches and outreach ministries.
Please allow me, on behalf of the Lake Union and your Local Conference administration, to express our sincere appreciation for your financial stewardship during 2018. At the time of this writing, we are waiting at the local conference treasury to receive December 2018 tithe from the local churches. Year-to-date through November 2018 our total tithe received in the Lake Union was $63 million, which represents a 0.86 percent increase over the prior year. As you compare our tithe received through November with our other eight sister Unions, our percentage increase is the lowest. This reality causes us as administrators to pause because mission and ministry across our Union depends on tithe growth year over year. Consequently, I would like to affirm your continued financial stewardship during 2019 as we pledge to do all we can to build up God’s Kingdom in preparation for the soon return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As we go through this new year, what will Jesus marvel about us? Will He marvel about our life of faithful stewardship and full trust in Him? or our lack of faithful stewardship driven by self-interest and dependence upon our own abilities? May we be empowered this new year to give heaven multiple opportunities to marvel at our BOLD faithfulness and full commitment to Jesus Christ.