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Highlights: American Union Conference 2019

Prior to the public American Union Conference, the delegates from the four fields composing the American Union met in the Tampa local church Tuesday, December 17, through Thursday, December 19. Elder Morris Lowe from Canada, Secretary/Treasurer of the North American/Caribbean Division, was present to oversee the meetings and conduct the election of new officers for the American Union. A spirit of love and cooperation made the deliberations go smoothly under God’s divine guidance.

Friday, December 20

The conference began at about 5 p.m. with Elder Idel Suarez, Jr., welcoming the participants. Every service, worship, and evangelistic hour had a subject that was taken from a verse in the book of Amos. Furthermore, the conference attendees were divided into three groups–Adults, Youth, and Children–that met in separate locations. The same topic was presented to the three groups simultaneously by different presenters, who adapted the subjects to reach the specific group. The summaries below are from the presentations that blessed the Adult group. We pray that you will also be blessed by these summaries.

Elder Suarez welcomed all of the attendees together in one location (the chapel) and spoke about the question, “Who Was Amos?” Amos 1:1; 7:14, 15. He was a shepherd (or pastor) from Tekoa. He was also a gatherer of sycamore fruit (figs) who was called to be a prophet at a time of great corruption among God’s people. The terrible sins of fornication, incest, witchcraft, violence, sloth, and extortion were prevalent and led to the degradation of society, as well as to national weakness.

Amos was a type of Jesus, who is called the Good Shepherd in John 10:11. Every shepherd defends his sheep and is with them constantly, even at night. In some countries even now the shepherds wrap themselves in sheepskins and stay with their sheep day and night.

In addition, Amos was a prophet, as was Jesus. When He spoke to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, John 4:19 relates that she exclaimed, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet.” Indeed He was. And today He is Priest forever in heaven, ministering with His own blood, for He “bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24. He alone can change a sinner into a saint. The rulers of His day called Him a sinner, and the Scriptures say that He came in “sinful flesh.” Romans 8:3. He took the sin of the world upon Himself and carried it to the cross. That is why everyone has the opportunity to overcome by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ. Everyone was encouraged to go to Jesus.

The Sabbath opening service was presented by Elder Ciro Arevalo with the title “The Law of the Lord.” This service was also given to all of the conference participants at the same time. Sin continued to multiply in Judah, and the people despised God’s law, according to Amos 2:4. The prophet Isaiah described this, and his words sound very much like what is rampant in the world today: “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.” “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.” Isaiah 24:1, 4-6.

The people of that day broke the covenant (the law of the Lord). There are three physical laws that cannot be forgiven without grave consequences: (1) the law of sleep, (2) the law of work, and (3) the law of eating. Haughty people transgress these laws, and the curse devours the earth, as Isaiah 24:20 states: “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it: and it shall fall, and not rise again.” These things are already coming to this world and will soon reach their climax. “A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about. His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people see His glory.” Psalm 97:3-6.

“As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed. They see just where their feet diverged from the path of purity and holiness, just how far pride and rebellion have carried them in the violation of the law of God. The seductive temptations which they encouraged by indulgence in sin, the blessings perverted, the messengers of God despised, the warnings rejected, the waves of mercy beaten back by the stubborn, unrepentant heart–all appear as if written in letters of fire.” –The Great Controversy, p. 666. Jesus is the ark of safety. All who accept the heavenly invitation and come to Him will be granted eternal life.

An evangelistic hour followed dinner. Elder Henry Dering spoke on the subject, “Seek Ye Me, and Ye Shall Live.” Amos 5:4, 6. In the holy Scriptures, there are many calls to seek the Lord so that one may find life. The story was told of a young woman who was the last person to be found alive trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers disaster in 2001. Her life was spared by a miracle as she reached up for help. She was changed by seeking the Lord. She made promises and kept them. Elder Dering asked, “Are you willing to reach up?”

Every person on earth is seeking for something–a good job, education, a companion, money, entertainment, happiness, the meaning to life, the purpose of his own existence, and more. But one is automatically an enemy of God unless he reaches up to Him. It is important to know where we come from and where we are going. Do we want truth? Do we want God? Without Him there is only emptiness, endless seeking, dissatisfaction, and unrest. But Moses’ words to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 4:29 say that God will be found by all who “seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.” That search is inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.” Amos 5:14.

King David committed a chain of terrible sins, but his repentance was deep, true, and heartfelt. God said of him that he was one who “kept My commandments, and who followed Me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in Mine eyes.” 1 Kings 14:8. Martin Luther said, “When I look at myself, I do not see how I can be saved. But when I look at Calvary, I do not see how I can be lost.” Indeed, Jesus said of Himself, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10. In chapter 15, He told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. They all show how earnestly Heaven is searching for everyone. God enlists His people to join Him in the search for and the joy of finding souls to inherit eternal life!

Sabbath, December 21

The Sabbath morning worship, based on Amos 3:7, was presented by Brother Carlos Morales, a naturopathic physician from Puerto Rico. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.” In the last times, there will be many deceivers, apostates, attacks on the family, and things that are commanded contrary to God’s way. But God’s word instructs His people to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1.

Matthew 9:20, 21 tells about the woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years and, in her great desire for healing, touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. We need to follow her example, for she represents the church in history that has given its blood for many years and will continue to do so until Jesus comes. In Him there is hope, and we can trust that He will complete His mission and come soon!

The Teachers’ Meeting was conducted by Elder Uldarico Alejos, After reading Hosea 4:6–“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”–he urged the Sabbath school teachers not to focus on that which is superficial but to delve deeply into the thoughts in each lesson, exercise their minds, research the related subjects, and do their very best every time they teach. Let every teacher and student seek for truth as for hidden treasure. And let the parents set aside time to be sure their children become familiar with the lessons that they are studying.

Brother Sebastian Simancas led the adult Sabbath school after Brother Francisco Figuereo recited a poem. The congregation sang the conference theme song, “Are You Ready for Jesus to Come?” Missionary experiences were given by Elder Victor Talavera, who told how the Lord gave him wisdom to help an infertile couple, and Elder Tzvetan Petkov, who related how enthusiastic believers in Africa are establishing clinics to reach those who are in need of health counseling and the gospel.

The Sabbath school lesson, “The Law Is Like a Mirror,” was taught by Elder Larry Watts in English and by Elder Humberto Ajucum in Spanish. The word for “schoolmaster” in Greek (Galatians 3:24, 25) means a servant who takes children to school and then returns at the end of the day’s classes to take them home. The church is the university of the universe, where the students are taught about Christ and the principles of His holy law, as revealed in His life and illuminated by the Holy Spirit. This is what the children of Israel were to learn in the wilderness school, so they might know what was in their own hearts. in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah,  when God’s law was explained to the people, they had a great desire for reformation. Today God will bring about such a reformation and more when we look to Him.

Elder Morris Lowe presented a health minute, urging everyone present to take advantage of the treasures in the health message for their own blessing and that of others.

The Sabbath sermon was presented by Elder Tzvetan Petkov, President of the General Conference, on the conference theme, “Prepare to Meet Thy God.” Amos 4:12. He began by pointing to the fact that, before significant events in life, such as going to school, marriage, and giving birth, preparation is made, This is far more the case for the second coming of Christ, who urged His hearers, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Matthew 24:44.

It is often the case that one is not fully prepared when an important event occurs, because situations may arise that one cannot really prepare for. Think of children leaving home or one’s no longer being elected to an office. At such times, one encounters a measure of grief and loss. However, this will be much greater when Jesus comes, for everything that we have been familiar with in this world will vanish; we think especially of friends, relatives, children, and even parents who may betray the truth. The Scriptures call the day of Jesus’ coming a day of darkness. How can we prepare for this? Although some have done so, it may not be best for one to stop working, sell everything that he has, and give it to the poor.

Jesus gave some parables concerning this. One was the king’s invitation to the guests to attend his son’s wedding in Matthew 22:4. The guests all gave excuses for not attending, but the real reason was that they did not want to have a loss of some kind, since often such celebrations lasted for many days. Then there is the parable in Matthew 25:6, in which the ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom so they could go to the wedding; but they were not prepared for a delay, having been closely attached to the world and not having the experience necessary to meet something unexpected.

Jesus’ parable of the landlord in Luke 12:36, 38 includes these words: “And ye yourselves be like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately,” so they may sit down with him for the wedding feast. He will come when people do not expect it. In verse 47, Jesus told what would happen if one is not ready for His return: “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Preparation for that greatest of all days is not optional; lack of preparation will mean the loss of salvation. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14, 15 and the example of the thief coming when the goodman of the house did not expect it show what will happen if there is not constant vigilance.

The great enemy looks for weaknesses in everyone’s house of faith and finds ways to distract him; consider the music one listens to, what he reads, and with what his mind and time are occupied. More than a hundred years ago, Sister Ellen G. White wrote: “Christians should be preparing for what is soon to break upon the world as an overwhelming surprise, and this preparation they should make by diligently studying the word of God and striving to conform their lives to its precepts.” –Prophets and Kings, p. 626. One’s spiritual suitcase needs to be packed every day; seek the Lord. If we take our eyes off of Jesus, we will be surprised and lose everything. We cannot be attached to anything in this world. We need to have a clear view of eternity that can be presented to others and also to be ready to leave everything in this world behind at a moment’s notice.

After lunch, Elder Morris Lowe presented the new officers of the American Union, who were elected by the delegates during their meetings three days earlier. All of the groups were present in the cafeteria for this meeting. Elder Lowe thanked the delegates for their work and the harmonious spirit with which it was done. The new officers are as follows:

President: Idel Suarez, Jr.

Vice President: Pablo Hunger

Secretary: Margie Seely

Treasurer: Enid Tapia

Assistant: Lisbeth Hunger

Canvassing Department Leader: Joel Barnedo

Assistant: Francisco Figuereo

Education Department Leader: Lorena Sanchez

Assistant: Linda Suarez

Family Department Leader: Lisbeth Hunger

Good Samaritan Department Leader: Maggie Troncoso

Health Department Leader: Damaris Hunger

Team Members: Erica Murua, Carlos Morales

Missionary Department Leader: Talana Johnson

Assistant: Ana Santos

Multimedia Department Leader: Addin Ajucum

Assistant: Gary Ajucum

Music Department Leader: Larry Watts

Team Members: Mark Barnedo, Jonathan Figuereo, Jeffery Johnson

Youth Department Leader: Mark Barnedo

Assistant: Joami Barnedo

Auditor: Rachel Austria

Finance Committee: Enid Tapia (Treasurer), Douglas Francis, David Cabrera

Literature Committee: Henry Dering, Uldarico Alejos, Barbara Watts

Executive Board: Idel Suarez, Jr., Pablo Hunger, Margie Seely, Enid Tapia, Larry Watts

Full Board: Idel Suarez, Jr., Pablo Hunger, Margie Seely, Enid Tapia, Northeastern Field President (Joel Barnedo), Southeastern Field President (Uldarico Alejos), Western Field President (Larry Watts), Puerto Rican Field President (Humberto Ajucum), Senior Advisor (Henry Dering)

Elder Tzvetan Petkov, President of the General Conference, was called to the front. He read Ephesians 4:1-15. The gifts of administration under the Holy Spirit are “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” After administering the oath of office to the new officers, he prayed and pronounced the blessing on them.

The next two hours were devoted to prayer and praise under the leadership of Brothers Mark Barnedo and Joami Barnedo. Again, all of the groups were together in the cafeteria for this meeting. Several children and their parents were dedicated to the Lord by various ministers. Sisters Margie Seely and Manuela Di Franca told about the activities and programs of the General Conference Education Department. Students from two schools and the online school (Orion Christian Academy), families, and church choirs gave joy to all through their musical presentations and praise. Elder Henry Dering, who will retire In January 2020, was presented with a plaque in appreciation of his years of service as a minister. He encouraged everyone to use his or her abilities to share the gospel with those he meets.

Elder Uldarico Alejos gave the Sabbath closing service under the title “The Dark Day.”  He told what he experienced on a Sunday as a young man when a devastating earthquake struck where he was, wiping out an entire town. Seventy thousand people died. That night people came together to listen to God’s word. When there is a solar eclipse or something out of the ordinary, everything feels strange, even to the animals, and the world tends to feel panic.

On May 19, 1780, the event known as the “Dark Day” occurred in the eastern United States. The sacred Scriptures prophesied this event, and through it God showed that He will shake the earth. Human beings may think that the world is under their control, but it is not. Rebellion against the Creator will have its consequences; and when that occurs, brave men will cry like children, as related in Revelation 6:15, 16. We were also reminded of the fateful night when the angel of the Lord went from door to door in Egypt and God’s judgments fell on those who rejected Him. God can change day to night; and, night to day.

The Lord has given numerous favors to everyone in this world, but dark nights will come. When the patriarch Jacob was informed that his son Joseph was gone, his grief was so overwhelming that he thought he would go to the grave because of the pain; but God did not leave him, and the day came that gave him light. In another example, amid the storm on the sea, it looked like the apostle Paul and everyone on board the ship would be swallowed by the depths, but an angel told the Lord’s servant, “Fear not, Paul.” Acts 27:24. Let God’s promises sustain everyone who loves and fears Him.

After dinner, Elder Morris Lowe presented the topic “Hate the Evil, and Love the Good.” Amos 5:14, 15. Lucifer, the covering cherub in heaven, became evil. God had created Him. How was it possible for this to happen? All created beings are free to love God, or not. The Scriptures say that “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19. We see this even in small children.

God gave mankind ten gifts: Life, health, a holy character, companionship, the ability to procreate, dominion, a healthful diet, work, freedom of choice, and a day of rest. But after the adversary tempted Eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man disobeyed and brought great sorrow upon himself and the entire world. Why did Adam do what he did? His immediate thought was that he would lose the stunningly beautiful Eve and could not live without her. But Jesus said that if a person puts anyone else before Him, he is not worthy of Him–of eternal life.

The total depravity of man, described in Isaiah 1:4-6, is not confined to the world but can also enter the church. “The result of the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man’s experience. There is in his nature a bent to evil, a force which, unaided, he cannot resist.” –Education, p. 29. Jeremiah 13:23 tells that man can no more change this condition than an Ethiopian can change his skin or a leopard can change its spots. “It is impossible for man in his own unaided strength to overcome the natural propensities to evil.” –Signs of the Times, April 4, 1895.

Romans 7:18 makes it clear that we commit sin because we are sinners. Christ alone can change that state of the human being when he chooses to accept the gift of salvation that is offered to every person. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9.

Obedience is the fruit of salvation, but salvation is by grace alone. In fact, we instruct people to keep the law, but without Christ that is impossible. “If men would contemplate the love of Christ, displayed in the cross, their faith would be strengthened to appropriate the merits of His shed blood, and they would be cleansed and saved from sin.” –Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pp. 1132, 1133. “… If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. The cross is the only hope for men, angels, and the unfallen worlds.

Time is running out. Let us learn to love through Christ dwelling in our hearts. By hating the evil and loving that which is good, we will obtain the victory over our carnal natures. God be praised!

Sunday, December 22

The high point of the day was the baptism of two young sisters. But first we gathered for the morning worship as Sister Lisbeth Hunger presented the topic of “The New Earth.” Amos 9:13-15. According to chapter 8:11, 12 of Amos, the day will come when there is a famine of hearing God’s word. When that happens, there will be no more possibility to make any change of any kind; the destiny of everyone is decided. Therefore, in the words of the apostle Paul, “To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” Hebrews 3:15.

What are we doing with the messages we hear now? In nature, there are varying physical forces, all of which affect living things and the whole world in one way or another. The strongest is nuclear force; it is what holds everything together. Jesus is that force on both a physical and a spiritual level. He said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drink­eth My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.” John 65:53-56.

Theoretical knowledge is of no value for life. God is the one who creates and sustains it. Therefore, how terrible it is if someone cannot find His word; it is like running out of gas. The story was told of a trip in which several people took turns driving, but no one took responsibility for making sure that there was enough fuel in the gas tank, so they ran out of gas! We need to make sure that we are placing and keeping our lives in Jesus’ hands and be strong to the end. We also need to realize as never before the sinfulness of sin. Do not wait! Make and keep your connection with Jesus now.

After the baptism at the camp swimming pool, Brother Samuel Alejos spoke about Amos 2:6 and 3:15 under the title “Houses of Ivory.” This conference is a good opportunity to look at a few verses from the book of Amos and draw lessons from them. Perversion of justice is corruption, and the verse even says that the people of Amos’ day “sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes”! There was terrible selfishness, luxury, and idolatry. Sadly, there have always been corruption and perversion in societies and nations.

God allows adversity to come to us so we will analyze what we spend our money on. How much do we invest in our own comfort and lifestyle? If we do not have anything left to help our neighbor and bring an offering to God, we may be living in luxury. Are vanity, pride, and fashion–selfishness–behind our choices? Jesus wants to live in us, but we may be trying to point Him to ourselves, justifying ourselves, continually putting energy into that which is temporal, even while other people cannot afford food.

The natural man is self-centered and opinionated; but when a person learns what Jesus wants to teach him, he becomes like the Master, no longer reflecting self but Jesus. If we are not growing, it is because we are centering in ourselves. Applying this practically, how do we approach the meetings where we worship the Lord? That is holy ground, the same as Moses was on when he approached the burning bush (Exodus 3:5) and as Joshua before the Captain of the Lord’s host. Joshua 5:15. When we pray in the meeting, we ask for God’s presence and blessing; but are we keeping the place holy by being on time and keeping silent, as requested?

Consider something else. Although Adventists have been studied in research into diabetes, what do we find at the church potlucks on the Sabbath? Removing from them and from our home meals rich foods and those things that turn to alcohol (sugar and refined things), we will avoid illness and put off aging.

Furthermore, Amos 3:15 says: “And I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord.” What do we do with His blessings? Do we honor Him or ourselves? As stewards of His blessings, we should create channels for His blessings. Look at our clothes, our houses, and our cars. They show whether we are honoring self or God. In business, people measure results. We can measure our own spirituality by seeing where we have been a blessing to others. Let us truly appreciate what the Lord makes of us–the new version of us. Let us put self aside and let Jesus work through us to bless others and especially His church.

After lunch, Brother Wikler Moran and Sister Manuela Di Franca led a testimony hour in which, first, Sister Leila McTavish, from Canada, showed pictures of pioneers of the Reform Movement and shared some stories about them as well as from her travels in Africa. Sister Manuela read an article that she had written, titled “God Will Turn Your Scars into Stars.” Many people and Jesus Himself have gone through traumatic things for the sake of others that left scars, but Jesus turns those scars into stars. And of Jesus’ own scars the Scriptures say: “And His brightness was as the light; He had horns coming out of His hand: and there was the hiding of His power.” Habakkuk 3:4.

Brother Joami Barnedo presented the even­ing worship under the title “The Remnant of God.” Amos 5:3. As the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-7, those whom God uses have something in common: they humble themselves in the sight of Him who is holy, just, and good–morally perfect–and makes all things new.

Amos is one of the twelve minor prophets. In their day, the nation of Israel had become wicked. God sent them many warnings and continually exposed their hypocrisy. They were like actors–acting like they were doing what they were supposed to. And what was that? To be a blessing to others. However, unfortunately, there are still many good actors who deceive people.

In Matthew 28:19, 20, Jesus’ disciples were commanded to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Going requires movement. But many are not interested to know the Lord, and even in the church are those who claim to follow Jesus but are not doing the work or demonstrating the Christlike spirit.

Although they had a great calling with great responsibilities, the people of Amos’ days were rebellious. The prophet spoke of their religious hypocrisy; they attended religious services while abusing the poor and practicing injustice. What about us? Is it our desire to change for Him–to be holy, just, and good and never stop defending Him?

We are called to righteousness–to look for ways to help the poor, to take time to commune with God, to do acts of charity, and to take every opportunity to bless others. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus said: “… Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” We must do better than they, not just knowing what it means to be a true Christian but being righteous and just. In fact, we should be famous for righteousness and generosity!

The last meeting of the day was the evangelistic hour, presented by Elder Larry Watts under the title “Seek the God of Astronomy.” Amos 5:8. Governments today are spending billions of dollars in the attempt to find life somewhere in the universe. Meanwhile Jesus already spent time on this planet and wants to be with us now by His Spirit. We can be secure in the knowledge that the Creator of the universe has everything under His mighty hand. And what a universe it is! Carl Sagan (1934-1996), an astronomer at Cornell University, estimated that the Milky Way contained 1 million stars and that there were 1 million other galaxies in the universe. But since the Hubble Telescope lens was corrected in 1993, the estimate of the number of stars in the Milky Way is 400 billion, and there are at least 400 billion galaxies in the universe! As astronomers continue to study the universe, they discover more and more. For human beings, these numbers are incomprehensible, and so are the distances. Furthermore, it is impossible for physical beings to travel in the universe.

Polaris, the North Star, is known as Jesus’ star. All of the stars that can be seen from earth revolve around that one star suspended in space. The holy Scriptures, especially God’s words in Job 38-41, challenge the human mind to consider the Lifegiver, the infinite Creator, in His works. After Jesus comes and completes His mission in this world, the redeemed will be privileged to learn about the immense universe on every scale from the atom to the largest heavenly body. But meanwhile, the search for God and acceptance of His gift of salvation are the most important things for man. Only spiritual beings will inhabit the new earth, so prayer, Bible study, and sharing heavenly things are what our lives need to be devoted to.

Consider the good news–the three angels’ messages–in three steps: (1) Justification (accepting what God has done without our permission); (2) sanctification (doing what God wants to do through us if we will let Him); and (3) glorification (standing faithful before God’s enemies). This can also be seen in three words–Sit, Walk, and Stand. Sitting is our relationship with God, seen in the first angel’s message–worship the Maker of heaven and earth. Walking is our relationship with the world, seen in the second angel’s message–Babylon is fallen in our eyes, and we are not influenced by it. Standing is our relationship to the enemy, as seen in the third angel’s message–we do not worship the beast or its image.

God speaks to man through nature, revelation, and His providences. When we become one in Jesus and are led by His Spirit, we follow in His footsteps and listen carefully for His still, small voice communicating through our consciences. When every moment of our existence is focused on being thankful to Him, our faith grows. But every time we complain, we kill our faith! So let us listen and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, for as our will cooperates with His will, we become omnipotent. Praise God!

Monday, December 23

The morning worship was conducted by Brother Jonathan Figuereo, under the title, “The Shaking,” based on Amos 9:9: “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” God’s people love truth and die to the world. The Lord will separate the wheat from the tares. This will happen right before the world comes to its end, for the wheat and tares look exactly alike and cannot be separated until the harvest, according to Matthew 13:26. The wheat will be gathered, and the chaff will be burned.

What will bring about the shaking? False theories and deceptions. That is why we must be sure that we are standing on solid ground and that our spiritual house is supported by the pillars of truth. Those who refuse the three angels’ messages and do not love the truth and honor God will be shaken out. The testimony of Jesus contains strong warnings and reproofs. The greatest danger is open rebellion, which is incurable and ends in destruction. “In every religious crisis some fall under temptation. The shaking of God blows away multitudes like dry leaves. Prosperity multiplies a mass of professors. Adversity purges them out of the church. As a class, their spirits are not steadfast with God. They go out from us because they are not of us; for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, many are offended.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 89. Let Christ be exalted in all things, large and small.

“Danger of Worldly Friends” was the subject presented by Elder Douglas Francis. Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Obviously two people cannot walk together unless they are going in the same direction. Friends have the same rights and are balanced. Exactly what is friendship? According to the Urban Web Dictionary, friendship is loving someone with all your being, wanting him to be happy, and sacrificing one’s own interest for him.

What draws people together? Common interest, history, common values, and equality. And what makes a friend worthy of being called that? Commitment to one’s happiness, not asking one to compromise his principles, and having good influence on him. According to Aristotle, there are two types of friendship–that of utility (perhaps financial) and that of pleasure. The relationship of true friendship expects nothing and always seeks to bless the other person.

Proverbs 22:24, 25 urges the wise man’s readers not to have an angry man for a friend, because his influence would make them like him! There can be no harmony between the world and the Christian, for Satan is leading the world to destruction. Furthermore, there is a great difference between an acquaintance and a friend. One must be very careful about whom he confides in, and following the example of Jesus will protect a person from those who would distract him from his life’s mission. Let everyone make it a principle to recognize and partner only with those who are true friends.

Elder Pablo Hunger then presented the topic, “The Repairer of the Breach.” “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.” Amos 9:11. The city of Jerusalem was actually a fortress in the middle of the desert, and the city was surrounded by walls. It represented security, even though it was attacked more than fifty times by different nations and cultures.

Why were there breaches, or holes, in the city’s walls? Because the people trusted more in the walls than they did in God. They rebelled against Him and severed their relationship with Him. They did not appreciate the blessings that He had given them and still wanted to give them. They were more interested in the outward, physical blessings than they were in the supreme gift of salvation!

But what about today? What do God’s people think of Him? Do they cherish the protection with which He surrounds them? Are they grateful for His promises and for the peace and joy that He gives them? One promise is: “Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.” Isaiah 33:20. God wants to separate His people from sin’s dangers, but sadly some do not know whether they want to be inside or outside of spiritual Jerusalem–the church. God sent His Son to repair the damage done to His tabernacle and the city. If one is close to the church but does not receive Heaven’s blessings, he needs to plead with God for both physical and spiritual healing.

Jesus came to earth from heaven’s courts to give redemption to Israel–to those who worship God in spirit and truth. Spiritual Israel is built up by preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, for this was God’s intention from the beginning of the world–to save all mankind. As they pray to the Father through Jesus in the most holy place in heaven, spiritual healing and eternal life will poured upon His people. Let us appreciate His supreme values, His commandments, and His principles so that soon His kingdom will be completed and perfected at Jesus’ coming, when the righteous–the living and the resurrected dead–will be gathered.

“Rap and Worldly Music” was the subject that Sister Margie Seely presented next, based on Amos 5:23; 6:5: “Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.” “That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David.” Everyone likes music; in fact, God designed our minds and bodies for it. A number of points were brought out to show the positive and negative sides of music.

It is man’s feelings and emotions that are primarily affected by music. In the words of Victor Hugo, it “expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Even before a baby is born, he hears the voice of his mother and others and becomes familiar with that which they listen to.

Every event has music associated with it, and this is especially so with worship. Music builds bonds, and sacred music links us with God in a powerful way. “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing.” Psalm 100:2. In addition, music unites and inspires people; think of patriotic songs, state anthems, military music, and school songs.

There are many different types of music and sub-categories as well, and all of them affect us–who we are, what we wear, how we think, and how we feel. In fact, images come to mind from the sounds that we hear. Furthermore, composers influence how their audience feels, especially in movies; and music is used in therapy to relax or stimulate the brain. How sound affects the brain has been identified and is truly marvelous, for music and memory are matched, thus creating deeper meaning. In fact, music can trigger memories going back decades. It is a great blessing how church music triggers very powerful thoughts. Praise God!

What one listens to should be chosen carefully, for some music creates a barrier between man and God; and it is very difficult to overcome the emotions and character traits that are thus created. Let us choose heavenly music–not noise!–to enjoy and to unite us with Heaven.

Elder Joel Barnedo’s subject, given in the afternoon, was “Modern Idolatry.” The Bible tells about the idolatry that surrounded the people of Israel and drew them into evil paths. The Canaanite gods offered nothing to the people, but they were still attracted to and mesmerized by the glitter, ceremony, and sensual indulgence that characterized pagan worship. Openly pagan societies like in India, Japan, China, and the Pacific islands, along with the Catholic religion, have many gods and images–as many as 300 million in the case of India. “And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them.” Psalm 106:36.

Modern idolatry does not always include physical idols, but the thought processes are the same. Consider this: people trust in their own ideas and feelings, depend on their own abilities (which were actually given to them by God), and exalt themselves and their desires above all else. In developed societies, the term “idol” is even used for some of them. Money, position, other people (movie stars, music idols, sports figures, or one’s partner), and the approval of others are all forms of idolatry. But the only approval we need and should seek is that of God. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that are far from Thee shall perish: Thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from Thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Thy works.” Psalm 73:25-28.

Let us put aside every idol and rejoice in the knowledge of the living, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God and the relationship we have with Him. Jesus loves us deeply, and our love for Him will bind us securely to His eternal kingdom.

Evening worship was the last meeting of the day. Presented by Elder Humberto Ajucum, the title was “Righteousness as a Mighty Stream.” Amos 5:24. “… Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” This is what God desires to see in man. Everything that God has done for humanity down through the ages has been to convince and inspire him to repent of evil, to be forgiven, and to reflect the divine character. But mankind tends to the opposite, even in its forms of worship, causing the Lord to grieve, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?” “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.” Isaiah 1:11, 13.

Have we read the Bible many times and yet have no real spiritual experience or connection with God? This is what makes Him grieve! He poured out all heaven and gave the very best that He had to redeem rebellious people. Let us have no part in such hypocrisy! He loves our obedience from the heart: “O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Isaiah 48:18. “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich: and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Revelation 3:18.

Let His righteousness flow through our being, and then everything will be according to His will for the blessing of all of who love Him.

Tuesday, December 24

The morning worship, conducted by Elder Neptali Acevedo, focused on the “Two Covenants” in the apostle Paul’s allegory of Abraham’s wife Sarah and her servant Hagar in Galatians 4:22-26. Hagar, the apostle explained, represented Mount Sinai, which is under bondage; and Sarah represented Jerusalem, which is free.

At his wife’s urging, Abraham fathered a child with Sarah’s servant Hagar, but this was totally contrary to God’s promise to the couple. Humanly speaking, they were far beyond child-bearing age; but God wanted the father of faith to have faith in Him, not use human reasoning and solutions. The Creator is, after all, the Author of all life, and nothing is too hard for Him.

Hagar and her son Ishmael illustrate the covenant that is human and based on man’s actions–human rules. At Mount Sinai, the people promised, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” Exodus 19:8. They accepted the covenant as something that they would comply with by using their own abilities. They failed. In some ways they were successful, especially after the Babylonian captivity and during Solomon’s early reign. But then they began to invent ways to keep themselves outwardly obedient, while spiritually they were corrupt.

By nature, human beings are as barren of righteousness as Sarah was to have a child in her old age. But the new covenant has power that overcomes everything that is humanly impossible. God’s actions and power made Sarah conceive and bear a child without her doing anything different from before. Similarly, man can become obedient to the holy law when Jesus becomes active and powerful in him. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13. God is omnipotent, and the person who willingly receives Him is a blessed instrument in His hands.

Let us accept the new covenant (recognize our barrenness and open our hearts to Him). He will live in us and make us new creatures who trust not in self, but in Jesus. Love for God above all and for our neighbors as ourselves encompasses the new covenant and glorifies Him.

A visit to the Holy Land Experience in Orlando was enjoyed by more than 80 of the conference participants for the better part of the day on Tuesday. Meanwhile, some conference visitors left for their homes.

Those who returned to the camp continued with the program as Elder Pablo Hunger spoke about “The World Like Sodom.” Amos 4:11; 8:9. In Genesis 13:10, Abraham told Lot to choose what land he would occupy, because it was necessary for them to divide their households to accommodate their expanding flocks and herds. Lot chose for himself what appeared to be the best land with the best pastures in the valley of Sodom. Sometimes that which looks the best does not lead in the right direction. Lot ended up in the city of Sodom, originally intending to gain that which was most fruitful and give his family the best of everything.

God’s word says that, in the time before Jesus’ coming, the cities of the world will be like Sodom. The men of that place “were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” What happened to Lot there?

Notice that He was a just and faithful man who was very aware of how corrupt the city’s inhabitants were, for he took the two “men” home to protect them–not knowing that they were angels who had come to save him and his family. Lot was very courageous, for he was determined to defend these “men” who were visiting, even offering his own daughters to the wicked men in place of the angels. Genesis 18:20-32 tells of Abraham’s conversation with the Lord concerning His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with fire. In harmony with divine mercy, the angels took Lot, his wife, and his two daughters away before the cities were destroyed. How hard it was for them to leave their belongings behind! There was a terrible conflict especially in Lot’s wife’s mind and heart as she thought about her house, friends, children, clothing, and all that she left behind! All four of them were warned by the messengers not to look back, but Lot’s wife could not resist. She turned to look back toward the burning city and turned into a pillar of salt.

Scientists have found sulfur in the soil and on top of the ground where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood. The city was destroyed by fire and brimstone, the old English word for sulfur. Amos 4:11 says, “I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” We have been given the privilege of being taken away from the dangers of the cities to a better place, but sometimes we do not fully appreciate or trust God’s infinite wisdom and promises.

We can see that the words of Luke 17:28-30 are true. Christians in cities are especially surrounded by evil. After all, Lot did not go to Sodom and Gomorrah because he wanted his family to be corrupted and destroyed. He was looking for better pastures and opportunities for his family. But, in the end, the priorities that he set destroyed his wife and children. Isaiah 3:9 says that people are very bold–they “declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.” These stories are warnings for everyone today. Where are our hearts? And how often do we make decisions based on our hearts’ attachments to the things of this world? God is merciful to give everyone signs and warnings as He urges us to connect with Him so we will be prepared when He appears in glory!

After dinner, the last meeting was conducted by Elder Idel Suarez, Jr., to conclude this very blessed conference. The officers were elected for a three-year term, so the next American Union Conference will take place in 2022. Meanwhile, let us be about our Father’s business, even though we do not know what tomorrow will bring.

It was a joy to fellowship with fellow believers in such a beautiful setting, to hear inspiring experiences, and to consider topics that impact our lives now as well as our eternal destiny. Opportunities for outreach through literature were presented and taken advantage of by representatives from the churches.

Our heartfelt gratitude is extended to all who had a part in this conference–the American Union Board, planners, presenters, musicians, coordinators, and all who attended. A wonderful spirit of harmony permeated the meetings and times for fellowship. Furthermore, every day delicious, wholesome food was prepared and served with a generous spirit by faithful families. The photographs in these Highlights and on the American Union website (www.sda1888.org) were taken by Brother Addin Ajucum, Elder Larry Watts, and Sisters Jo-Ann Francis and Linda Suarez. More pictures will be available at www.sda1888.org as soon as possible. God be praised for His unfailing love and care over His people! 

–Barbara Watts and Athai Ramirez