If this Covid-19 pandemic has done anything good, it would be the opportunity to be together as a family. Too often, the cares and demands of the world: making a living, the care and upkeep of the physical dwelling, even participation in church activities and responsibilities, have made us unaware of the needs within our own home. As a minister of the gospel, I spend my time tending to the needs of others, so when our ability to freely move about was restricted and I had the opportunity to spend more time with my family, I was able to more clearly see the needs of my own house and my own life.
We hear so many things these days about the end of time, the mark of the beast, the slow erosion of religious liberty, forces in the background manipulating everything in the world; and they cause us concern. But as a Seventh-day Adventist parent, we often hear the words we never want to hear from a child. “Dad. Mom. I already know all this stuff. I’ve heard it my whole life. I get it about love, but this is all over my head and I just want to live my life, hang out with my friends, do and be what I want.”
The first thought is, what did I do wrong? Young people losing or leaving their faith and the church is happening throughout Adventism. God has a message for us. He has a purpose for your life, youth and adult. And we can find that message in one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. Beginning in Judges 13, we find the story of Samson, a young man for whom God had a purpose, but who had his own ideas about how he wanted to live his life. The story of Samson is one both of tragedy and redemption.
Judges 13:1–5 says, “Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.’ ”
Then we see that Manoah and his wife sought the messenger and asked God to send him again so that Manoah might hear the instructions that had earlier been given to his wife regarding their son. He returns and at first they believe He is a prophet, but as the conversation continues, Manoah and his wife realize that the Angel of the Lord who has delivered this message to them is actually the Son of God; that through Him, they have been speaking with God (Judges 13:22). Finally, in Judges 13:24 and 25 we read, “So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him … .”
As a Nazarite, an individual would be consecrated to God and a vow taken to commit himself for a holy purpose. Numbers 6:3, 4 gives us a clear understanding of the life of a Nazarite. It says, “… he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.” The Nazarite was held to a higher standard regarding diet much like Seventh-day Adventists today. Continuing in Numbers 6, “All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body … he shall be holy to the Lord” (verses 5, 6, 8).
Judges 13:5, 6 and Numbers 6:5 confirm, that Samson’s hair was divided into seven locks and was not to be cut, as a Nazarite’s hair was a sign of his consecration to God. The seven locks is a parallel to the seventh-day Sabbath which is a sign of consecration of those who keep it. God’s purpose for Samson was that he would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
So, we find that from the day Samson was born, he was consecrated to the Lord for a holy purpose. He took a vow of commitment to that purpose. He refrained from strong drink and ate according to a specific diet. Also, his hair was never to be cut as a sign of his consecration to God. It is likely that he was reminded daily of his holy purpose, not just by his parents, but by his diet, the length of his hair and by the fact that he could not partake in certain things. He knew he was to deliver his people from the Philistines. A weighty expectation to live with.
As Samson grew, he began to associate with the Philistines and friendships developed. When he became a young man, he was well aware of the Nazarite vow he had taken and the restrictions that accompanied that vow, but he began to look around and the world looked inviting. He began to socialize more with the Philistines when a young woman came to his attention in the city of Timnah whom he determined should become his wife.
Samson went to his parents and said, “ ‘I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife’ ” (Judges 14:2).
His parents’ response, found in verse 3, was, “ ‘Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ And Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she pleases me well.’ ”
“Just as he was entering upon manhood, the time when he must execute his divine mission—the time above all others when he should have been true to God—Samson connected himself with the enemies of Israel. He did not ask whether he could better glorify God when united with the object of his choice, or whether he was placing himself in a position where he could not fulfill the purpose to be accomplished by his life.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 563.
Samson’s only interest was in pleasing himself. “To all who seek first to honor Him, God has promised wisdom; but there is no promise to those who are bent upon self-pleasing.” Ibid.
Though his parents tried to dissuade him, Samson was determined to go his own way, so Manoah and his wife yielded to his wishes and he married the woman from Timnah.
Friends, consider how Samson is an example of what is happening in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today, primarily with our young people. As children of God, we also are called to be separate, consecrated for a holy purpose. 1 John 3:1 tells us, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
In addition, notice what we find in 1 Peter 1:15: “… but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” We have been called to be holy in our conversation and lifestyle. We read further, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Here is a picture of God calling Christians to be separate from the world like the Nazarites of the Old Testament.
Luke 4:18 and 19 tells us what our mission is. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” This is the same message Jesus gave to the apostles in Matthew 28:19 and 20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” This is a God-given commission for His people.
As God’s people, we have been instructed regarding our diet (see Revelation 22:2). We have been given the Sabbath day as a holy day, consecrated and set apart to commune with God (see Ezekiel 20:12). Samson was strong because he did not cut his hair, but his strength was not in his hair, rather in his relationship with and obedience to God. It is the same with the Sabbath. The power is not in the Sabbath, but in our relationship with God and that we obey His commandment to keep the seventh day holy. Our purpose is to love God and love man; and in loving and serving Him, we will desire to love and serve others (see Matthew 22:37–39). Once we know what God has done for us, we will want to share it with others. The more time we spend with Christ, the more feelings and affections we will have for other people.
We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and spirit and when we do this, when He is in our hearts, then His purpose for our lives will become our pleasure. We will seek to fulfill His purpose for our lives. Without Him in our hearts, we will love the things that turn us from His purpose. There are so many things that can and will distract us from doing God’s purpose, if we allow it. This is particularly so for young people.
We preach the three angels’ messages found in Revelation 14:6–12 warning people of the coming judgment. We preach about Babylon and prophecy, the seal of God and the mark of the beast. We raise our children with the Bible. We have camp meetings, Revelation seminars, evangelistic meetings. We live a temperate lifestyle. We keep the Sabbath. We provide biblical instruction to our children and diligently work to raise them to follow and obey the Lord. But even with all of this, everything that is available to them, they do something that seems so contrary to what we would expect.
Let me give you an example. We have all heard the name J. P. Morgan. His father, Junius Spencer Morgan was a financial businessman who learned and trained under the house of Rothschild. His purpose and intention for his son was to make him a better financial investment businessman than he was himself. Did he succeed? Yes, he did. The father was responsible for how the son presented himself. This is a worldly example. How much more then, as Christians, are we responsible for how our children are raised?
We live in a broken world and because of that, there are broken homes, so this may not apply to everyone in the strictest sense. Not all homes have the privilege of having two parents in the household, but in those homes where both parents are present, we need to be diligent that we are taking advantage of the opportunity of being in touch with our children, of connecting with them.
There are Adventist parents who come to the pastor or Sabbath School teacher because they are having trouble with their child and expect the pastor or teacher to fix the problem. The question to be asked is, “What are you, the parents, doing?” Many fathers and mothers place the responsibility of seeing their child converted into the hands of others. Do not depend on others to do the work of training your children in the way that they should go. Follow the example of Manoah and his wife before and after the birth of Samson, be responsible for your own life and relationship with God and bear the responsibility toward your children, with prayer and searching for God’s guidance in their lives as well.
We must heed the guidance provided in The Adventist Home, page 190, “Some parents do not understand their children and are not really acquainted with them. There is often a great distance between parents and children. If the parents would enter more fully into the feelings of their children and draw out what is in their hearts, it would have a beneficial influence upon them.
“The father and the mother should work together in full sympathy with each other. They should make themselves companions to their children.
“Parents should study the best and most successful manner of winning the love and confidence of their children, that they may lead them in the right path. They should reflect the sunshine of love upon the household.”
We must encourage and commend our children. As Adventists, we tend to focus on all the don’ts and when a child does something right, our feeling is, that’s what they were supposed to do. We seem to feel that encouragement and commendation are bad, but notice what it says, “Young children love companionship and can seldom enjoy themselves alone. They yearn for sympathy and tenderness. That which they enjoy they think will please mother also, and it is natural for them to go to her with their little joys and sorrows. The mother should not wound their sensitive hearts by treating with indifference matters that, though trifling to her, are of great importance to them. Her sympathy and approval are precious. An approving glance, a word of encouragement or commendation, will be like sunshine in their hearts, often making the whole day happy.
“Parents should encourage their children to confide in them and unburden to them their heart griefs, their little daily annoyances and trials.
“Kindly instruct them and bind them to your hearts. It is a critical time for children. Influences will be thrown around them to wean them from you which you must counteract. Teach them to make you their confidant. Let them whisper in your ear their trials and joys.
“Children would be saved from many evils if they would be more familiar with their parents. Parents should encourage in their children a disposition to be open and frank with them, to come to them with their difficulties and, when they are perplexed as to what course is right, to lay the matter just as they view it before the parents and ask their advice.” The Adventist Home, 190, 191.
This also requires that the father and mother are connected, individually, with God, and by God’s grace, to each other. Without this, there will only be discord and strife. There are books and many other resources that can be of help. I strongly recommend The Adventist Home.
We must ask ourselves these questions: How much time do I spend praying for my spouse? How much time do I spend praying for my children? How often do I interact with them and ask them how they are feeling, how they are doing? If your response is, “Not enough,” then a change must be made. We must make ourselves available to our children, even be vulnerable. Let them see that you struggle with weakness just as they do.
Do not imagine that there is no help at all from your church family. Older individuals with more life experience and married couples can be guardians and a help to young people. Even the pastor and teacher can help, but the responsibility of the salvation of your children belongs to you.
Following are four reasons that I believe explain why young people are losing and leaving their faith.
- Compromise – Is there compromise in your home? If so, it is likely that as your children grow they will begin to do things they have observed rather than as they were taught. For example, have you violated the edges of the Sabbath by heading to an activity or event that is not acceptable for the Sabbath rest and before the Sabbath hours are completely passed?
- Legalism/Too much head knowledge – We have so much powerful information/doctrine that is stimulating to the mind. The Seventh-day Adventist teachings really grab the intellect. But the danger is that we can fill our young people with so much head knowledge, yet we leave out the Giver and the Teacher of the doctrine. There is nothing wrong with knowledge and doctrine, but if what you teach does not lead your children to a relationship with God that changes the heart and mind, then it is meaningless.
- Turned off by the Church – How often do we observe that God’s people are not perfect? Gossiping, backbiting, church politics, hypocrisy; all these things can simply wear out a person. These may be legitimate reasons to become disillusioned by your church, but they are not real reasons to leave.
- They Just Decide to Leave – This probably surprises us the most, mainly because the general feeling is that if our children do not stay in the faith, we must have done something wrong. Let me ask a question: Can you think of a single case in the history of the world, after sin entered, that there were perfect parents? No, not one. But here is another question: When Lucifer sinned, what did God do wrong? Parents do the best they can. They raise their children to love the Saviour. They encourage them to read the Bible and learn its promises. God gave us all a free will. You can train your children while you can, but when they reach a certain age, they choose for themselves. Too many parents carry the burden that because their children have left the faith, it must be their fault in some way when it is simply that many Adventist young people choose to do as they please.
Let’s look again at Samson. “And he came up and told his father and his mother, and said, ‘I have seen a woman in Timnah … Get her for me, for she pleases me well.’ ” Samson was clear on the purpose God had for him. He had lived his whole life as a Nazarite, but he chose to follow his own desires. He was not considering what would bring glory to God or if he was placing himself in a position where he would be unable to fulfill that purpose.
Maybe you relate to the story of Samson. Maybe you are a parent watching your child potentially throwing his or her life away on frivolous pursuits. Maybe you are a child who is turned off by the church or is just tired of all the knowledge and strictness of the faith. You need to know that it was God’s pleasure to die for you. Hebrews 12:2 says, “… looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” His pleasure was to fulfill His purpose in saving you and me. You, too, can have pleasure in following His purpose for your life.
I am reminded of a song written years ago by Keith Green. He lived a life of rock and roll, but God changed his heart. Maybe this is you.
My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me
But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up
With oil and wine
The oil is You
Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of Your blood
My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me
We must ask the Lord to help us see that doing what is outside His will, will hurt us. But when we do what pleases Him, we will never go wrong.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor Damien Jenkins was raised in a non-religious home, but at the age of 18 was introduced to the Gospel and his life was forever changed. Today he is pastor of the Water of Life Free Seventh-day Adventist church in Hohenwald, TN. He enjoys apologetics, Bible history, expounding on the topic of righteousness by faith and making the Bible simple and easy to understand.