After a successful and fulfilling 28-year career in the U.S. Navy Dental Corps, Captain David Metzler and his wife Margy retired in 2012 to Fort Myers, Florida. Dr. Metzler still enjoys researching biblical customs and historical events. Dr. David Metzler attended Rio Lindo Adventist Academy as a two-year student (class of 1969) and grew up in Ukiah, CA.
In a time of unpredictability, economic downturn, and civil unrest, what are we as Christians called to do? In his recently released 365-day devotional entitled “A World on Fire,” Dr. Metzler dives deep into the life of the apostle Paul and draws parallels to the foundation of Christianity and today.
(A WORLD ON FIRE -2021 ADULT EVENING DEVOTIONAL, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2020)
Throughout this biography, Dr. Metzler follows Paul from his childhood, through his life-changing moment when he came face to face with God and was blinded, to how he called out newly established Christian churches who were fighting with each other. The book follows the story of the first church and the heart-changing impact of salvation through Jesus in Paul’s life and the lives of countless others who were lit on spiritual fire through the Holy Spirit.
We called up Dr. Metzler to learn more about him, his ministry and what drove him to research and write about Paul’s life to share.
What interested you in the life of Paul and what did you do to prepare for writing this book?
While I was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, I attended a little church and when the pastor was visiting other churches, I was asked to preach. I had helped with Sabbath School but never preached. People encouraged me to because they enjoyed my Sabbath School class as I’d share what I’d learned in my research. This class encouraged me to write a book so I wrote the book “Jesus” combining the four gospels, Desire of Ages, “Christ’s Object Lessons” sequentially. The Review and Herald published this book in 2001.
After that book was published, I was asked to speak at several churches in the North Carolina Conference and camp meetings. I was invited to speak at the Review and Herald Week of Prayer. It was such a great personal experience for me to learn about the life of Christ with the details, customs, and history so I decided to do something similar with the life of Paul. I was transferred overseas to Okinawa, Japan (as a Navy Captain in the Navy Dental Corps). I spent many years researching Paul, his story, his writings, and the complex historical situation he lived under. I spent many Sabbaths writing in Japan, sometimes writing 4-5 days worth of devotions in a sitting.
Tell us about “A World on Fire”.
This book is about the life of Paul, who started his life in Tarsus, now Turkey, a crossroads for trade. Paul grew up in a very devout pharisaical family and witnessed much of the Roman Empire outside of his front door. His father was a tentmaker and although he was Jewish, he had the rarity of Roman citizenship, maybe because of a political favor or maybe he contributed to the Roman empire somehow. Paul was born a Roman citizen, which enabled him to grow up in this melting pot of Tarsus and he was exposed to Roman culture. He speaks in his writings “I have run a good race”, referring to the Olympics and Grecian athletic events. Paul attended the theater, watched dramas, and was exposed to the Greek and Roman gods and the Imperial cult worship of the Emperor.
Paul’s parents were very devout Jews and desired Paul to become more steeped in their religion so they send him to Jerusalem to study under a famous, well-respected Rabbi to learn the ways of the Jews. I felt a kinship with Paul, preparing to be a leader in his culture. Christianity was exploding across the land. Jesus claimed that he was the Messiah and His message grew followers of people, even extreme zealots such as Simon. This “offshoot” religious group was a threat to Judaism. Paul became a premiere persecutor of Christianity. His role was to go out, arrest men, women, and children and take them before the Sanhedrin and prosecute them to punishment or death. To Christians, he had a terrifying reputation.
What is the meaning of the title, “A World on Fire”?
The double meaning of this book is the Holy Spirit which manifested itself as tiny tongues of fire. Paul traveled the world spreading the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. He literally started a theological fire through a small group of believers to the point where he planted churches through Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Cyprus. Everywhere he went, Paul was met with antagonism, violence, anger, violent persecution. He was imprisoned, stoned and left for dead outside of a city.
Through it all, he never ever lost his vigor and sense of mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. He spoke on Mars Hill, a renowned gathering place for the transfer of philosophical thought. He addressed these men and called out their gods. He told them, “You already worship an unknown god,” and he told them that this unknown God is Jesus Christ. He planted seeds that eventually grew into churches. A group of Jews from Jerusalem followed Paul and attempted to infiltrate the churches to cause problems in the churches. These individuals were preaching Jewish ceremony as a path to salvation. Paul wrote against them and told them to look to Jesus not works.
We do the same thing! In order to be a good Adventist, you must be a good Christian too. And there’s a difference between the two. Some people preach that it’s about the rules and regulations. If Paul were alive today, he would say it’s the relationship between you and your Savior.
And now, here we are in 2020. Things have gotten so much worse in the world now. When I was at Rio, we had the Vietnam War, hippie culture, drugs and LSD, Nixon was President, and I really felt like the world was falling apart.
Here we are 50 years later, and we’re still here. Why? Is it because we haven’t taken the Gospel to the whole world? I don’t think so; we have reached out into all of the corners of the world. I think all of the prophecies have been fulfilled. We’re seeing earthquakes, wars, men’s hearts failing, plagues, all of these things that are harbingers. What is going to wake us up and get us all aligned to the same burning desire to go home so we can get out of here?
Tell me about yourself as a student attending Rio. What were you like, what were you involved in?
As a junior, I worked in the library with Miss Morrel and discovered that I liked writing. In my senior year, Ms. Lester asked me to be an attendance officer and I was the only male that worked for her. I was a hall monitor for Dean Church in the dorm and had to control the 2nd floor wing. I occasionally looked the other way so they didn’t put me down the trash chute. I still remember how we’d sit down at the front desk on Sabbath mornings and play the Wedgwood Trio over the sound system with fresh sweet rolls and milk for breakfast.
I look back fondly at my time at Rio. I needed a firm hand and structure. When I was at Rio, I was elected as the student body pastor my senior year. I was in Speech Club and enjoyed standing up in front and speaking to my fellow students. I even won the Northern California Conference Temperance Orations Contest after taking speech class from Mr. Ward. I was the Associate Editor of the school newspaper Rio Currents.
What advice would you give our young people today who might be reading this interview?
My advice is two-fold. First is don’t fixate on one path as the way your life is supposed to go. As a teenager, you think you know where you’re going, what you’ll study. But life isn’t that way. You’ll continually be presented with a series of choices. I’m almost 70 and I look back at the way my life has meandered and I realize there were certain tipping points that were influential after the fact. Don’t try to focus your life in one direction because God might have other plans for you. All along I thought I was going to be a forest ranger and became a dentist instead. I used my speech class, writing, leadership skills learned at Rio later on in my life. God was preparing me for something I couldn’t see in my future. Your life will take unexpected turns.
Ellen White says, “When you look back you wouldn’t want to choose any other way than the way He’s led you.”
As a nature loving young boy from Ukiah, my heart was set on living in the woods with Smoky the Bear. Had I not gone to Loma Linda University, I wouldn’t have met my wife, had my daughters, and had a great Naval career. I compromised and went into dentistry. And I am thankful I did.
My second piece of advice is remain open to other points of view. Don’t isolate yourself in a religious cocoon. Be biblically well grounded, but meet others whose beliefs are different with respect and understanding. Don’t live comfortably, put yourself out there. You have to witness to others about who you are without hostility and barriers. This is what Paul did. He didn’t agree with the culture of the times, but he was able to stand up for what he believed in and attracted people to his message without pushing them away. He was firmly grounded in his faith in Jesus. So should we all be.