April 17th, 2014

On April 1 an 8.2 magnitude earthquake erupted in the shallow ocean floor off the coast of northern Chile. It’s was no April Fools prank. The energy force the quake released was the equivalent of over 30 megatons—thirty million tons—of TNT. For comparison, a 1 megaton bomb is capable of destroying 80 square miles. Imagine thirty times that destructive force and reach!

The story of Easter, as told by Matthew in the original Greek, describes a massive temblor that predawn morning: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it” (Matthew 28:2). The words Matthew chose are megas seismos—from whence comes our English transliteration to describe a “mega seismic” event. Interestingly, those same two Greek words describe the “mega seismic” event that marks the end of earth’s history as we know it, immediately preceding the fiery, glorious return of Christ (see Revelation 16:18).

An earthquake when He died, an earthquake when He arose, and an earthquake when He returns—you get the impression that Christ is the Lord of unbridled power, do you not? Power not measured in megatons of weaponry, but given the cosmic war He leads to rescue this rebel planet from its dark and fallen warlord, power measured in the liberated and set-free lives of human beings who cry to Him for rescue.

This Wednesday evening the sanctuary of our campus church was occupied by men, women, young adults and teenagers who gathered together for a special prayer and anointing service. For the past three Sabbaths we have confronted the enemy’s diabolical challenge to the lordship of Christ through demonic addictions. Nobody ever plans to become addicted. The devil’s strategy behind every addiction is to lure us through the tempting bait of pleasure, gratification, appetite, social conformity—we all know (all too well) the can of bait the enemy turns to in order to hook us.

But the profoundly good news that pervaded this sanctuary last Wednesday is the glad tidings that permeate this Easter: “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!” (John 8:36). Couple that promise with this one: “Christ’s death and resurrection have opened before every soul an unlimited source of power from which to draw” (RH 11-5-1901). Unbridled, undiluted, unlimited megas seimos power from the risen Christ straight to you.

Ask for it, ask for Him. And the earth will quake over your deliverance!


April 9th, 2014

It has been a month since the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared off the radar screens of air traffic control. With its 239 passengers and crew missing and presumed dead, its disappearance has become the greatest unsolved mystery in the history of flight.

For the last two weeks air and naval vessels from a cadre of nations have been combing the south Indian Ocean off the western coast of Australia for any sign, any clue at all regarding the missing airliner. Satellite images of out of focus flotsam on the sea have sent search teams scrambling to confirm potential evidence. But thus far no confirmation. No physical evidence that could bring a modicum of comfort or even closure to the families of the missing.

Nothing except an erratic and occasional “ping,” which, authorities say, could possibly be the underwater pulse emitted by an airliner’s black box communication recording devise. But like the satellite images, the recent spate of pings has yet to prove conclusive. And so the world waits and the families pray.

As I have brooded over this unfolding story and—as is characteristic of this blog site—looked for a “connect” between the headlines and life as we live it today, it has occurred to me that in some mysterious sense the underwater pings are a metaphor of the resurrection.

And by that I don’t mean that this airliner full of men, women and children, buried in the depths of the ocean, is a symbol of all the dead who await the resurrection the Bible promises at the end of time. With Easter only a few days away, that promise of hope would certainly be worthy of our reflection.

But rather, could it be those intermittent pings can represent an even more stunning truth? The quiet truth that the Father of the universe, the Creator of this errant planet, itself wildly and erratically far far off its intended divine flight plan—could it be that God Himself hears what no other ear can hear—the faint, intermittent pings emitting from a billion fresh and ancient graves the world over—silent pings that mark the patches of earth and sea under which lie the remains of earth children who sought His salvation?

To our broken hearts what seems so cruelly stolen from us in death is not lost to Him. Because what “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard” is seen and heard by the Christ who yet cries out, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). In vain we search for the one who no longer is in our arms, whose breath we feel upon our cheeks no more—lost and gone, our sobs confess. But on this week before Easter, let every heart remember that what the ear cannot hear He can. Wild and stunning truth more glorious than before, God can hear the “ping of hope.” And our dead are not lost to Him.

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.”


April 3rd, 2014

Poor Mary Barra, the new CEO of General Motors. On Capitol Hill for a grilling by a House subcommittee this week, what could she say? Since February GM has recalled 2.6 million cars because of a faulty ignition switch. As it turns out thirteen deaths are now attributed to the defective switch, “which can cause the engine to cut off in traffic, disabling the power steering, power brakes and air bags and making it difficult to control the vehicle” (South Bend Tribune 4-2-14). Thirteen deaths, 2.6 million automobiles recalled—all because of a small switch. Engineers, according to company records, knew about the defective switch back in 2005 but management concluded that the costs for replacing the switch were not “an acceptable business case” (i.e., it cost too much money). The cost of a replacement switch? 57 cents (plus labor). Thirteen deaths and a 2.6 million vehicle recall later is there anybody that still thinks 57 cents was too much?

I’m amazed at the notion that in the battle over addiction (the theme of our pulpit series this month), the strategy of prayer is so easily dismissed as a two-bit panacea that really can’t handle the big guns of addiction. And yet leave that 57-cent piece out of the equation, and look at the personal mayhem and heartache that have accumulated as a result.

Nobody is suggesting that the simple (but profoundly powerful) act of prayer is all anybody needs to break the back of a life-enslaving addiction (be it drugs, alcohol, sex, nicotine, food, gaming, et al). Mental health professionals recommend an arsenal of strategies and therapies for those who seek to break their addictions—from Twelve Step group therapy to counseling to volunteer community service to medical treatment and more. But it is no coincidence that in the battle against addiction there is amazing unanimity regarding the power of personal prayer or, as the Wall Street Journal put it a few days ago, the power of “frequent involvement in spiritual activities” (3-28-14 A11). So simple, so inexpensive, yet so often dismissed.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:7-8).

So simple, so inexpensive, but so potentially life-altering, life-saving. So in your own private battle with addiction, go ahead, take advantage of the large arsenal available today for healing. But whatever you do, do not omit prayer. To make prayer possible it cost God the most expensive enterprise in the universe. And yet for less than 57 cents, you can turn the key in prayer’s ignition every single day, and put your faith in touch with the only One with power enough to set you free. Forever.


March 26th, 2014

Look—I know how uncomfortable it can be, talking about our own weaknesses. But sometimes, in the life of a family or in this case an institutional family, we need to have that collective conversation. And so when the university contacted us about joining with them in a springtime focus on substance abuse, it made sense for the campus church to do just that.

After all the Student Movement, our campus newspaper, has just run three major articles dealing with substance abuse. And speaking of being uncomfortable talking about our own weaknesses, I applaud Kimberly Schwirzer for being vulnerable and sharing with editor Melodie Roschman the testimony of her own battle with addiction. “‘Just because it’s an Adventist school, doesn’t mean we can pretend that people don’t drink, don’t experiment with drugs, don’t get into trouble,’” Kimberly told the Student Movement. “‘I went to Andrews to get away from party culture,’ she explains, but what she got was ‘loss of control, and addiction’” (Student Movement 2-26-14 p 3).

And she isn’t alone. Not at Andrews University. Not at Andrews Academy. Not at any high school or university in this nation, Seventh-day Adventist or otherwise. There are some who wish we could simply pretend that the grab-bag of addictions prolific in our secular culture (alcohol, drugs, sex, food, et al) doesn’t exist in our faith community—but whom are we fooling, except ourselves? To deny we have a problem only exacerbates the problem and delays any solution.

Which isn’t to suggest that a springtime series of sermons—“The Bondage Breaker: How to Win (and Help Your Friends Win) the Battle of Addiction”—is the elixir to heal our addictions. The truth is, only Jesus can free the captive: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me . . . to let the oppressed go free’” (Luke 4:18 NRSV). Which means: “‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’” (John 8:36 NIV).

But is Jesus too simplistic a solution to our addictions? I don’t think so. Not if the dark world of addictive behavior is the manifestation of an even darker and more desperate war, fought not only within us, but raging invisibly around us. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).

Plain and simple, we need the Bondage Breaker. And in tandem with Him some practical, repeatable actions we can take to personally experience His promised deliverance from our addiction. So take the journey with me—do it for your friends, do it for yourself. And be assured that Pioneer will be a safe, welcoming place for you, no matter your addiction or struggle. Because we’re all in this together. With the One who has already won.


March 6th, 2014

After all the grey and cold and dreary weariness of this interminable winter, how about something to lift your spirits? Thanks to Susan Reimer, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun, I found out about some new research that has identified just what it is that makes us happy. We’ve all known that experiences produce a more lasting happiness than possessions. But which experiences make us the happiest?

Reimer reports on the research of two marketing professors, Amit Bhattacharjee of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Cassie Mogilner of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Their study titled, “Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences,” endeavored “to separate experiences into those two broad categories: extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent), such as the birth of a child or a trip to Hawaii; and ordinary (common and frequent), such as feeling the sun on your face on a summer morning [anybody remember what that was like?] or sharing pizza and a movie with the kids” (SBTribune 3-2-14).

Can you guess what they discovered? I was surprised. “They found that younger people, who view the future as infinite and who are collecting experiences to help define who they are, gain more happiness from extraordinary experiences.” But as we age, these researchers discovered, we “begin to view [our] remaining time as limited” and thus we “get as much happiness from the ordinary experiences that are part of [our] daily lives.” Susan Reimer quotes them: “‘While younger people tend to define happiness in terms of excitement, enthusiasm and high stakes arousal, older people define happiness in terms of calm peacefulness and low states of arousal’” (ibid.).

Reimer summarizes their findings: “We still love thrills as we age. . . . Extraordinary experiences give young and old almost the same amount of happiness. But happiness from ordinary experiences increased as people got older.” And then she quotes from an essay by 93-year-old Roger Angell in a recent New Yorker magazine. And I like the way he puts it: “We’ve outgrown our ambitions. If our wives and husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories and mossy opinions” (ibid.). Oh, I like that—and I’m not even 93!

The aging Wiseman once put it: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). At every stage of the human journey, at every age of our lives, God offers to us an experience that is “beautiful in its time.” What makes you happy at your age may not be what makes me happy at mine. Nonetheless, whatever the age, there is happiness and beauty tucked away in our hearts by the God who turns even the ordinary into “beautiful in its time.” And the grayer we turn, the quieter we become, the more and still more of eternity God keeps pouring into our hearts. Until one day at 33 or 73 or 93, we walk off the stage of time, hand in hand with the Eternal, who through all the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life brought to us the very gift in that very moment we were needing most. What a Friend is this God who ages with us all the way into Eternity!


February 27th, 2014

Have you seen the recent video clips making the rounds? I have. And since this blog is called “The Fourth Watch” (the last watch—3 a.m. to 6 a.m.—in the Roman reckoning of night time) and since this blog’s purpose is to track indicators in the world portending the end of this civilization’s long night and the nearness of Christ’s return—I would like to comment on these forwarded web messages that are circulating.

The forwarded link is to a YouTube recording of Bishop Tony Palmer. (His Anglican affiliation is not clear according to online sources—and he is described at this site as a “personal friend” of Pope Francis.) In the clip Palmer is addressing a recent convocation of evangelical Pentecostal ministers in Texas and makes a passionate appeal for unity between Rome and the Pentecostal movement: “We are living in an incredibly important generation. I believe that God has brought me here to this year’s ministers conference in the spirit of Elijah.” Palmer then describes this Elijah spirit as the spirit of reconciliation that brings back the fathers to the sons and the sons to the fathers (

And then seven minutes into this clip this Protestant bishop brings a personal message from Pope Francis. But in a rather unusual manner, this message is more than a read statement relayed through an emissary. After quoting Jesus’ prayer in John 17, “That they may be one as We are One, Father,” Palmer directs the convention’s attention to the big screen for a seven minute video recording of Pope Francis personally greeting the gathered ministers. I must say it is an amazing piece of personable, warm, collegial greeting from the Pope, given in Italian with English subtitles, apparently filmed (it feels like a home movie) by Bishop Palmer himself, whom the Pope describes, “we’ve been friends for years.” And the message is unmistakably clear. We are separated now because “it is a long road of sins that we all shared in. Who is to blame? We all share the blame. . . . I am nostalgic [yearning], that this separation comes to an end and gives us communion.” At one point appealing to the story of the reunion of Joseph with his brothers in Egypt, Francis declares: “But we have to encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together like Joseph did. These tears will unite us. The tears of love. . . . I thank you profoundly for allowing me to speak the language of the heart. . . . And this is a miracle. The miracle of unity has begun. . . . [God] will complete this miracle of unity. I ask you to bless me, and I bless you.” (If you want to watch the Pope’s message by itself, go to

Is there something sinister in Christian brothers seeking unity in Christ? Hardly. But on the basis of the Apocalypse and the Great Controversy I remember that there is predicted  before the return of Jesus a global unification that will transcend religious and theological lines. A global, ecumenical, political unification championed by Rome and the United States. “The opinion is gaining ground that, after all, we do not differ so widely upon vital points as has been supposed, and that a little concession on our part will bring us into a better understanding with Rome” (Great Controversy 563).

But there is a line Bishop Palmer did not read from Jesus’ prayer for unity: “Sanctify them by Your truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Lasting, meaningful unity in Christ can only be built upon the solid Rock of the Word of God. Which means you and I, whatever our persuasion, must only be persuaded by a “Thus says the Lord.” Unity pursued on any other ground will never be unity. No matter how many home movies are played.


February 20th, 2014

With the winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, nearing their grand finale, you have to admit—the herculean efforts and protracted training endured by these young athletes of the world is astounding. And it’s not like they were suddenly impressed or inspired a year ago to take a shot at the Olympics. These athletes have been locked onto this Olympic dream for years. And even longer than that as fellow Michiganders Meryl Davis and Charlie White have shown us. They were just kids (eight and nine years old) 17 years ago when they began skating together. Their mothers thought it was cute. But nobody fathomed that it was the beginning of 17 years of ceaseless practicing, competing, practicing, competing—all for the sake of their pubescent dream to win an Olympic gold—a long seventeen-year dream that came true this week with their celebrated gold medal for pair figure skating (the first in U.S. Olympic history). Wow!

I’m not suggesting we all drop our what-feels-so-mundane-in-comparison living and embrace the Olympic dream (do they have an Olympics for “old” people?). But if these young athletes are willing to endure the relentless rigors of prolonged and protracted training and pain and practice and retraining and more pain and falling and failing, over and over again for years, what are you and I willing to endure for the sake of Christ’s calling?

One of the Olympian greats of sacred history actually referenced the Olympic games to make a point I hope we don’t soon forget: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown [gold medal] that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV). Like an Olympic athlete, Paul envisioned himself under intense unrelenting spiritual training, with one unshakeable dream—to win the gold. “Run [run, run] in such a way as to get the prize” (v 24).

A rather testosteroned call for our generation, wouldn’t you say? But why not? If the Sochi athletes have poured their lives out for the sake of standing on the Olympic podium, shouldn’t we who are known followers of Jesus be willing to sacrifice what we have—our time, our energy, our resources, our reputation, our careers even—for the sake of standing tall on the podium for Christ? What is it Jesus is calling you to do for Him with your life or what is left of it? Of course being a disciple of His is costly. But wanting it cheap is like a couch potato dreaming of gold. The gold will cost you everything. It did for Jesus on the cross. And it will for you and me if our sights are higher than Sochi.


February 5th, 2014

5,700 feet underground is enough to stir up anybody’s latent claustrophobia. Although I suppose that if you’re used to being that far down and are doing it for a living (as miners do), it’s pretty much old hat to you. Unless, of course, your way back up to the surface has been blocked, as was the case this week with South African miners in the Harmony Gold mine west of Johannesburg. They were digging over a mile underground when apparently a magnitude-2.4 tremor shook a large rock loose, tumbling it into a metal cable, causing a spark that ignited combustible material into an underground fire, trapping eight men in that subterranean dark.

Several years ago in almost the same place in South Africa I descended 742 feet into a gold mine  in a small elevator with other tourists (the certificate of proof is still on my study wall)—and trust me, I was more concerned about getting back up to the surface than enjoying the chilled-air sights of that abandoned mine! I can’t imagine the concerns of these miners this week trapped so much farther down.

Although on this Black History Sabbath, it may not be so difficult to imagine a vast swath of this nation and this world’s populace trapped in the deep shaft of poverty. It is pointless to remonstrate that some of those trapped are bound by circumstances that they themselves have created. Shall we therefore consider them unworthy of our concern, unfit for compassionate intervention or at least acts of unselfish charity? Nonsense.

The fact is that more and more Americans are being trapped by the economic vice that is squeezing more and more of us from the middle class into the lower class, the poorer class. The college educated represent the fasting growing demographic of those now applying for food stamps in this nation. A record one out of 6 Americans is now on food stamps ( Shall we conclude that it really is none of our concern here in the rural St Joseph River valley? Let the inner cities find their own escape from entrapment. Let Congress cut $8 billion from the food stamp program or argue over the entitlement programs (as they did this week). What’s it to such fervent “We have this hope” Adventists like you and me?

Maybe everything. Commenting on Jesus’ familiar words in His final parable about the sheep and the goats and “the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine” (Matthew 25:40 NIV), Desire of Ages makes this startling observation: “[Jesus] represented [the judgment’s] decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering” (637).

Black and white, red or yellow, it doesn’t matter—the unfailing standard in the final judgment will be what we have don

e or neglected to do for Jesus “in the person of the poor and the suffering.” Period.

Which means that all of us gathered today in worship are under the obligation of Christ’s compassion toward us to in turn live out that compassion toward those we clearly know are trapped beneath the surface of this life and can only be set free if we will volunteer, if we will give, if we will reject racial stereotypes for the sake of living out Jesus’ radical love. Right now. Right here. Amen.


January 29th, 2014

You knew it would come to this, didn’t you? You pick up the phone and the cheerful voice on the other end introduces herself as Samantha West. Bright and engaging, she proceeds before you realize it is a soft-sell pitch for insurance. But as she continues, something doesn’t seem quite right. Perhaps it’s the phone connection. Maybe it’s her voice, you wonder. Finally you blurt out, “Are you are a real voice or are you digital?” Her charming laugh in response is winsome. But then when you try to engage her in small talk, she balks. Still curious you ask, “What’s the main ingredient in tomato soup?” She replies she doesn’t understand the question.

Turns out “Samantha West” is “a robot who denies she is a robot,” who “functions much like a remote-controlled car, operated by a real person working at a call center outside the U.S.” (TIME 12/30/13, p. 14). Why “Samantha?” So the thick foreign accents of the overseas callers won’t give themselves away. Instead, these “human puppeteers choose from a series of recorded responses, using West’s voice to hide their accents.” As TIME magazine observes, “she” may very well become the future of telemarketing.

Maybe they borrowed a page from Heaven‘s playbook. After all, isn’t it God’s strategy to use your voice—and not just your voice, but your life, your mannerisms, your very presence—as a representation of the Lord Jesus Himself? So that when people hear you, they are strangely drawn to Him. Jesus pointed out, “‘It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters’” (Matthew 10:25 NIV). Because when you are like Him—when you “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5)—you become a winsome and contagious “sell” for the Master, don’t you?

Which is what Steps to Christ is saying: “The humblest and poorest of the disciples of Jesus can be a blessing to others. They may not realize that they are doing any special good, but by their unconscious influence they may start waves of blessing that will widen and deepen, and the blessed results they may never know until the day of final reward.” “When the love of Christ is enshrined in the heart, like sweet fragrance it cannot be hidden. Its holy influence will be felt by all with whom we come in contact” (83, 77).

So no matter how insignificant you may think yourself to be, when Jesus’ love radiates from your life, you become Heaven’s agent for drawing the people in your world to Christ. Want to know how to be filled up with that love every new day? Click on the “A New Way to Pray” banner at this website ( and discover how to put the radical law—“what you behold you become”—into action in your life. After all, you are no “Samantha West”—you are the friend of God Himself. No wonder He has such confidence in you!


January 15th, 2014

Who could be comfortable connecting the National Security Agency (NSA) with God in the same sentence? But read on. The New York Times this week broke a new story with further astounding details concerning the NSA’s global surveillance program. Turns out the agency “has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks” ( According to the report, through on-site agents the NSA has been able to secretly insert tiny circuit boards or USB cards that transmit radio waves. Through those radio waves NSA monitors are not only able to “spy” on the content of those computers, but can also utilize those same waves to launch a crippling attack on the computer system(s) of that nation.

The Times observes: “The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of ‘active defense’ against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive. But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.” And so the revelations of the shadowy world of our government’s surveillance programs continue to unfold. Candidly, who of us would be surprised to discover that a video record of all our waking and sleeping is being kept in some hideaway subterranean fortress!

And God? OK, let’s be honest—the Bible is clear that a 24/7 record is being kept somewhere of every inhabitant of this earth. Jesus Himself taught: “‘But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken’” (Matthew 12:36). Somebody’s keeping a rather exhaustive record, wouldn’t you say? “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). (Which, incidentally, means that the NSA’s covert activities are themselves being recorded on Somebody’s Supercomputer—call it poetic justice!)

But what shall we call God? How about our “dearest friend”(Mss 80, 1903). But what kind of a Friend would order 24/7 surveillance? Switch the focus for a moment. What if we had (and we do, you can be sure) an enemy who rants and rails against us 24/7—our phony hypocritical lives, our ad nauseum repeat failures and sins, our utter unChristlikeness? How could you ever silence such an adversary without a 24/7 record? “What do you mean they are fakes and failures? Look at their records! Note how often they have cried out to Me to save them, to forgive them, to empower and strengthen them for living above your deceptive attacks? Look at the record, and let it be shown that in answer to their prayers I have covered them with the spotless robe of My own perfect life!” Trust me—having a 24/7 record when the evil prosecutor is throwing the book at you isn’t bad news—it is very good news!

So let the NSA spy on and on. The very dearest Friend you and I have sits on the throne of the universe. And there will be justice meted out one day. But in the meantime, let Mercy’s record show that we have chosen as our Defender (1 John 2:1), our Judge (John 5:22) and our Friend (John 15:14) the Jesus Savior of Calvary. Which makes His 24/7 surveillance the best news of all.