September 25th, 2014

Have you noticed that life on this home planet of ours is living up to the second law of thermodynamics—that calculus about “entropy,” which we’ve come to define as “a gradual decline into disorder”? This single phrase succinctly, painfully describes the unraveling crisis in the Middle East, doesn’t it? (Is the Middle East ever not in crisis?) This week the President announced that once again our nation is at “war” (albeit one theoretically limited only to high altitude fire power) in or above the sprawling desert sands of the Near East. When will this one end? Nobody can say. What the President did say to the United Nations on Wednesday was, “There is a pervasive unease in our world.” How true.

So what posture shall we as American Christians, more particularly as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, take to the endless bleed or entropy that retrogrades any hope of lasting peace in that volatile region? We know well our Lord’s parting command, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And there isn’t one of us that doesn’t believe that His commission certainly includes the Muslim world’s 1.4 billion adherents. But how shall we respond in the face of a global hemorrhage that cannot be staunched?

May I suggest three responses? First, we can pray. Dramatic narratives in both testaments of Scripture (read Esther and Acts for starters) depict the people of God earnestly interceding for divine intervention and deliverance in the face of dark prospects. The psalmist pleads: “Give us aid against the enemy, for human help is worthless” (Psalm 108:12). The truth is we—Muslims, atheists, Christians—share a common enemy behind all the terror and evil unleashing on earth. Thus the prayer Jesus taught us: “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). For the sake of God’s will being “done on earth even as it is in heaven,” let us petition Him to hold the Enemy at bay long enough to reach all of God’s earth children while there is time.

Second, there are some of us who can personally go to the deserts sands of human suffering. Right now Adventist Frontier Mission (AFM here in our village) is preparing to send one or two (no doubt young) missionaries to minister to the ISIS-displaced refugees in Erbil, Iraq. The conditions those refugees are enduring (I’ve seen AFM president Conrad Vine’s pictures) are appalling. What more Christ-like response could there be than incarnating His cross-cultural love for these sufferers? (For more information go to

Third, we can join the Friday Prayers for the Muslim world. It is no more logically correct to conclude that the Muslim faith fosters ISIS butchery against Christians, than it is to conclude that the Christian faith fostered the butchery of the Crusades against Muslims long ago. There are millions within Islam today whose hearts are seeking the One true God. Why not join the Friday Prayers that AFM sponsors and intercede for Christ’s miraculous breakthrough to these honest in heart (

Will the world slowly bleed out until Christ comes? Without a doubt. In fact believers in Him rightfully conclude there will come a stunning acceleration of evil’s hemorrhage as we near the end. But rather than railing against the dark, we must light the bright candle of faith, hope and love. One candle—one intercessor, one volunteer, one missionary, one contagious witness—can dispel the darkness in any corner of Earth. Won’t you please be that one?

1027 to ONE

September 18th, 2014

“Here’s a Fourth Watch story for you,” emailed one of the readers of this blog. And I agree.

Early Sunday morning, June 25, 2006, Corporal Gilad Shalit, a nineteen-year-old soldier with the Israel Defense Forces, was kidnapped by Hamas militants on the Israeli side of its border with Gaza. Abducted back into Gaza, Corporal Shalit became the rallying cry of a nation caught between two clashing ideals: never negotiate with terrorists versus never abandon one of your own. Hamas refused International Red Cross requests to visit Shalit on grounds that it would reveal the captured soldier’s whereabouts. Over the five years of his captivity “Free Shalit” rallies across Israel increased pressure on the Israeli government to achieve his release.

The news this week that Hamas had agreed to return Corporal Shalit was met with jubilation by Israelis . . . until the negotiated terms of the release were reported. And suddenly the country was divided. How much is one Israeli soldier worth? 1,027 convicted Palestinian prisoners? Listen to one Israeli family’s reaction: “Embittered father Zeev Rapp, 66, sat at home and watched the television in disgust. In 1992, Amrin [one of the released Palestinian prisoners] stabbed Rapp’s daughter Helena, 15, in the heart as she was on her way to school. Now, he was . . . walking free with other smiling prisoners, flashing victory signs and kissing the ground. ‘We feel as though our daughter has been murdered all over again’” (South Bend Tribune 10-19-11). And Shalit? Egyptian television released the first images of the now freed corporal, “pale, gaunt . . . in a dark baseball cap, exiting a car in Egypt, which mediated the handover” (ibid). Ecstasy for his family, mourning for another. How much is one Israeli soldier worth?

So how much is one sinner worth—Israeli, Palestinian, American, Afghan, Chinese, Sudanese, Mexican, Indian? How many earth children would God be willing to pardon and release for the exchange of His own Son? I realize the metaphor shifts and collapses the moment we introduce Calvary. But you do have to wonder, don’t you, the prisoner exchange that effected our salvation and release?

The psalmist struggled over the dilemma: “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough” (Psalm 49:7, 8 NIV). How true. How could any of us possibly provide the ransom for just one sinner even in a thousand lifetimes? And yet the stunning announcement of the Good News is that God found the ransom for this rebel race within His own circle, within Himself. “And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NKJV). That’s not 1,027 to one. Nor is it seven billion to one. It’s every human being in the history of this planet to One—“‘The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:45). Very many!

Because God has been into prisoner exchanges for a long time, hasn’t He? Take that Friday morning the rabble clamored for a murderer in exchange for the Innocent—and got Barabbas instead of Jesus of Nazareth. But whether it’s one for One, or billions for One, the numbers really don’t matter, do they? Love’s radical prisoner exchange is beyond comprehension.


September 12th, 2014

One hardly expects to find Karl Marx and Jesus in the same headline. After all, what in the world would the intellectual forerunner of political atheism (still known today as communism) possibly have in common with One regarded by billions as Lord and Savior? Wasn’t it Marx who in 1843 penned that line in German, still remembered today, “Religion is the opium of the masses”?

What then could he and Jesus possibly have had in common? As it turns out, much more than anyone today would think.

I’m reading my way through F. F. Bruce’s stirring commentary on the Gospel of John. Just this week I came across a footnote, tucked away at the end of his comments on John 15. It turns out that seventeen year old Karl Marx wrote a graduation essay with this intriguing title, “The union of believers with Christ according to John 15:1-14, showing its basis and essence, its absolute necessity, and its effects.” His essay was later approved as “a thoughtful, copious and powerful presentation of the theme” (quoted in F. F. Bruce’s The Gospel of John, 316). What a stunning contrast between the youthful convictions of a teenager and the later avowed atheism of this man who would eventually be heralded as one of history’s most influential figures!

During this week of prayer with our guest preacher Karl Haffner, we have again and again returned to the compelling theme of a personal friendship with God—what the young Karl Marx described as “the union of believers with Christ.” No matter where his intellectual journey eventually took him, the young Marx wisely and correctly described this personal union with the Savior as an “absolute necessity.”

And what was his basis for such a conclusion? Jesus’ own words: “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you [“the union of believers with Christ”], you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’” (John 15:5 NIV).

That has been the second Karl’s appeal all this week, the appeal of Jesus, “Abide in Me and I in you.” It’s the heart and soul of a living friendship—it’s the gift of a daily reconnecting—it’s the promise of a daily recommitting to the “absolute necessity” of carrying your early morning Christ-consciousness with you throughout the hectic day ahead. Both Karls are right—it begins and ends with a personal union with Him.

The week is now ended. But let the friendship begun this week go on. And on. Beyond the galaxy and galaxies. With Jesus. In the words of this week’s theme song: “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him until that Day.”


September 3rd, 2014

So when do the beheadings stop? The dark revulsion the world community has expressed over these diabolical, taunting, on-camera killings certainly has not dissuaded the terrorists. Today they butcher captured journalists. And when they run out of journalists, who will be next? Subjugated women, children, and men—both Muslim and Christian—have already been the human fodder for ISIS and its grizzly on-camera executions. Who will be evil’s next choice for extermination?

Twice now the black-hooded executioner has taunted by name the President of this nation. But the sobering reality is that the greatest political, military powers on earth are simply unable to staunch this hemorrhage of evil. The other day someone suggested that they simply nuke the living daylights out of the entire region. But what would that solve? And besides, wouldn’t such a response be guilty of the same black-hooded sin—butchering the innocent for the sake of making a point?

Jesus identified “the increase of lawlessness” as the contributing factor for the moral collapse of this civilization on the eve of His return (Matthew 24:12). In fact, He warned, “as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (v 37). And what were “the days of Noah” like? “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). “Only evil continually.” Perhaps we still have a ways to go.

Which is why “go” is the operative command for the followers of Christ in this global descent into darkness: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”—“for I am the Light of the world”—“and you are the light of the world, so let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”—“for night is coming when no one can work” (Mark 16:15; John 9:5; Matthew 5:16; John 9:4).

The followers of Christ can wring their hands and rage against the dying of the light. Or they can light a candle and move out into the night of human suffering and need—like medical personnel who have flown to the Ebola-racked nations of Africa to minister to the victims, irrespective of the personal cost—like volunteers at an inner city soup kitchen, who incarnate God’s love in the midst of impoverished suffering—like self-supporting evangelists who pay their way to a country they can’t pronounce to share a message they know by heart, by simply moving next door to perfect or imperfect strangers.

Let the talking heads plot their political responses to earth’s unraveling conditions. We who follow “this same Jesus” have but one response He calls us to make—in His name we must go.


August 28th, 2014

In the midst of all the bad news headlines at summer’s end, here’s a feel-good story from St. Petersburg, Florida. At 7 a.m. last Wednesday a woman drove up to the Starbuck’s window and was prepared to place her order. And then on a whim, she told the cashier, “Make that two orders—I want to pay for the driver behind me.” She had no idea who that driver was. On the spur of the moment she simply decided to pay for both beverages, hers and the stranger’s.

So when the driver behind her drove up to the window, the cashier announced: “The driver ahead of you just paid for your order.” Oh really? “Well then, let me pay for the driver behind me.” And so it went all morning. And all afternoon. And into the evening.

Three hundred and seventy-eight drivers had their beverages paid for by the anonymous driver ahead of them. All because a stranger, who at 7 that morning practiced a quiet, no-fanfare act of random kindness.

As it turned out, the 379th driver drove up to the window to order her beverage and was informed that it had already been paid for, “and would you like to pay it forward for the next customer.” “No,” she replied, “I only want to pay for my own drink” (which, of course, had already been paid for). Maybe she just didn’t get it. No matter, the chain of kindness was quietly broken.

That last driver reminds me a lot of me—poor chain-breaker me. Two thousand years ago the Man on the middle cross paid it forward (and backward) for the entire human race. But when I drive to Calvary’s window, I have the temerity to announce I want to pay for it myself. It’s not about ingratitude. It’s about being in control. And so if you don’t mind, I’ll pay for my own drink. Poor chain-breaker me.

Andrews University’s theme text for this new school year declares: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”—the words of Jesus on the banner over the circle outside (Matthew 22:37). After all He has paid it forward for every one of us. We owe Someone (besides this university) big time! James Denny was right: “I do not hesitate to say that the sense of debt to Christ is the most profound and pervasive of all emotions in the New Testament” (Death of Christ 158).

So how shall we respond? Jesus answers: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 39). Because you don’t pay back God’s love—you pay it forward. “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20 NIV).

Pay it forward. Love your neighbor. With random acts of thoughtful kindness. You’ll not only be the most popular person on campus. You’ll be the one God uses to start a brand new chain that may eventually stretch around the world. From here. From you. For Him. 379 and counting.


August 21st, 2014

The story of the explosive racial divide of Ferguson, Missouri, (exposed last week by the shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager by a white policeman) has become the headline of the world. For all of our nation’s rhetoric about the liberty and freedom of democracy and the American dream and the pursuit of happiness and equal rights for all citizens, we have become an enigma to the editorial talking heads of the international press. I.e., in their eyes, what we preach we don’t practice.

The economic blogging website Zero Hedge carried a piece this week: “Why So Much Anger In Ferguson? 10 Facts About The Massive Economic Gap Between White & Black America.” It opens with, “When people feel like they don’t have anything else to lose, they are likely to do just about anything.” And it concludes with, “I wish that I could be more optimistic about the future of this country. I wish that I could believe that we won’t see a tremendous amount of chaos in the  streets of America in the years ahead.”

And in between those lines the blogger lists “10 startling facts” about the economic racial divide in this nation: (1) for decades “the unemployment rate for black Americans has consistently been more than twice as high as . . . for white Americans” (July 2014—11.4% v 5.3%); (2) African Americans also have an “underemployment rate” twice as high as white workers (20.5% v 11.8%); (3) a 2012 study reported that “the average white household has 22 times as much wealth as the average black household”; (4) African-American households, 13% of the population, “receive more than 26% of the food stamp benefits”; (5) high school graduation rates reflect the racial divide (82% for white students, 63.5% for black students); (6) Pew Research reports that the “income gap” between the two races “has continued to grow ever since the late 1960s” (the difference in media household incomes growing from around $19,000 to “roughly $27,000” in 2011 [measured in 2012 dollars]); (7) in this nation 12% of white children live in “areas of concentrated poverty” v 45% of African-American children; (8) the percentage of children living in single parent homes is 19.9% for white children, 52.1% for black children; (9) since 1960 the decline of the percentage of adults getting married has been from 74% to 55% for whites and from 61% to 31% for blacks; and (10) “the incarceration rate for black men is more than six times higher than it is for white men.” (

How does the church of Christ live with disparities like this? When Jesus declared that “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) is the second half of “no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31), what was He trying to tell us? When Desire of Ages pronounces that—“[in the final judgment] their [our] eternal destiny will be determined by what they [we] have done or have neglected to do for Him [Christ] in the person of the poor and the suffering” (637)—what does that tell us about our responsibility in Ferguson or America? Or how about Benton Harbor, twelve miles up the road from us?

What difference will the racially diverse student body of Andrews University make this new school year? How will we respond to this “massive economic gap”? What would Jesus do if He were a student or a faculty member on this campus?

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?


August 14th, 2014

The old King James reads: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). The news of Robin Williams’ suicide stunned the world Monday evening. And the off-the-chart Richter scale of public outpouring has been a measure of the global affection the 63-year-old comedian enjoyed.

Talking heads like psychologist Dr. Phil and comedienne Joan Rivers gave voice to the painfully repeated question, ”But why?” Why would such a popular entertainer, so relatively young, so obviously successful (with career box office receipts of $5 billion), so apparently happy (with all the accoutrements of wealth, family and achievement, his well-publicized addictions notwithstanding)—why would Robin choose suicide as a final solution?

His own words, scripted to be sure, were played and replayed in the somber reporting of his death. In a scene where he plays a guest on the show of a popular television psychologist, the host asks him to comment on teenage despair. Turning from the woman psychologist and looking into the camera, as if he were talking to a distraught viewer, he offers this now chilling advice: “And remember, suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.” How tragically permanent Robin Williams’ untimely death truly is.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” In Robin’s biography, the latter half of this ancient proverb trumped the first half. The broken spirit silenced the merry heart.

Now that depression has become a water cooler conversation, we’re hearing numbers suggesting one in 10 of us in this country suffers from it, with 80% of depression cases going untreated. Now we’re being reminded of warning signs that could indicate the possibility of depression: feelings of sadness that don’t go away; a sense of guilt, worthlessness; loss of energy; feeling tired constantly; loss of interest in pleasurable activities; sleep changes; appetite changes; thoughts of suicide.  “If you have some of these classic symptoms of depression and the symptoms are severe and have lasted longer than a few weeks, you should seek help. The best place to start is with your doctor. . . . Depression is not a sign of weakness or a reason for shame—it is a serious illness. The positive news is that even in serious cases of clinical depression, treatment is usually very successful. And the earlier treatment is started, the more successful it is. So don’t wait.” (

“Don’t wait”—that’s good counsel for you or for someone you care about—because “very successful” means the treatments really do work.
And so does God. While His preferred method of treatment most often is through a counselor or physician, Jesus’ promise is still sure, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full—so come to Me, and I will give you rest” (see John 10:10, Matthew 11:28). Because the truth is, Christ is the only “permanent solution” to the phalanx of problems we all face. “Come to Me” is His assurance that even the darkest of our private struggles can be “temporary.”

Dr. Phil, commenting on William’s death, told the interviewer, “I wish he had called me.” Don’t we all. So make the call. “Come to Me” means “Don’t wait.”


June 26th, 2014

Two killer headlines on either side of the Atlantic! The anthrax scare occurred a few days ago when 75 Atlanta employees at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention were accidentally exposed to the deadly anthrax bacteria. Apparently workers at another CDC lab sent an anthrax sample to the Atlanta lab but inadvertently failed to “inactivate” the killer bacteria, which the Atlanta researchers handled without proper safety gear. Fortunately none of the exposed workers has shown symptoms of anthrax. CDC authorities are reviewing their safety protocol.

Unfortunately, across the Atlantic the exposure has been deadly. The mutant Ebola virus (fatal in up to 90 percent of cases) has spread across the nations of West Africa since January. “Ebola can fell its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhea—in some cases shutting down organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.” At least 337 people have died so far this year. According to Dr. Bart Janssens, director of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF),  “‘The epidemic is now out of control. With the appearance of new sites in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there is a real risk of it spreading to other areas.’” A statement from MSF warns, “‘The scale of the current Ebola epidemic is unprecedented in terms of geographical distribution, people infected and deaths.’” (

As tragic and as fatal as the outbreak of anthrax and Ebola can be, the human race faces an even more deadly mutation. At least for exposure to anthrax and the Ebola virus, there are emergency protocols to “inactivate” these microscopic killers. But there is no human remedy for the deadly virus of sin. Our human condition is fatal: “The whole head is sick, the whole heart is diseased,  from the sole of the foot to the head there is nothing healthy: only wounds, bruises and open sores not dressed, not bandaged, not soothed with ointment” (Isaiah 1:5-6 NJB). A revolting depiction of our moral condition, to be sure!

And yet just a few lines later this stunning therapeutic offer from our Creator: “‘Come, let us talk this over. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (vs 18). Red as crimson, red as blood—the color of the life transfusion Calvary offers every dying sinner like you, like me. Without His sacrificial death, we are utterly hopeless. Without His saving love we are dead.

Though the symbols of His body and blood that we ingest today are uncontaminated, remember—they are a stark reminder of the deadly infectious disease, our fatal sin disease, that cost Christ His life. Forever. “By His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Forever and ever. Amen.


June 18th, 2014

I don’t know about you, but I find the internecine fighting between the children of Islam in Iraq so terribly sad. Sunnis against Shiites, Shiites against Sunnis have been the headlines these past seven days.

But it’s not like Muslims have a corner on the market of intra-family killing. This aging, disintegrating planet has lived with that tragedy from “in the beginning” with Cain and Abel. And while it might assuage our consciences to point the finger at Islam, the sorrowful truth is that the American Civil War and the terrorist killings between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland are evidence enough that Christianity (or a perversion thereof) can be justly fingered as well.

Of course, the crooked finger rightfully deserves to be pointed straight at someone else, someone whose hatred of the Creator King is still (after all these millennia) so intense, so insane that he derives a sadistic (satanic would be the better word) pleasure in injecting the children of the heavenly Father with his own poisonous rage. “And war broke out in Heaven . . . . but woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you ‘wild and raging with anger’” (Revelation 12:7, 12—see The Message). Jesus’ own finger-pointing truthfully declared, “An enemy has done this” (Matthew 13:28).

So what’s a Father to do? Here are some not-so-simple suggestions about what you and I might do:

1) Let’s you and I resolve that by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will not let intra-family anger, hatred or even resentment spring up in our own homes, our own hearts. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 5:26) is inspired counsel for marriages, families, friendships and workplace relationships. Before the day ends, talk it out, email it out, pray it out together.

2) Let’s you and I invest some extra time on our knees, pleading with God to intervene (even while He allows and protects free choice) in the rage and killing, that the innocent might be spared and that the guilty might yet be reached. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45). While Jesus’ counsel was for us, why can’t we exercise this loving and praying on behalf of others far away?

3) Let’s you and I offer ourselves to God to become peacemakers in the circles where we live, work, play. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). We may not be able to heal the whole world, but why couldn’t God’s healing peace flow through the way we speak to each other, the way we choose not to forward that angry, judgmental piece of gossip, the way we become involved in quiet shuttle-diplomacy between two estranged brothers or sisters who need the Peacemaker Himself?

When children fight, what’s a Father to do? Could it be that you are what He’s wanting to do to stop it?


May 14th, 2014

“Hopium” is a word someone coined to describe the opium-like addiction we humans have to hear what we want to hear, discarding evidence that challenges our hopes. Financial analyst Tim Aka, in his new book End Game Economics (which I examined in my previous blog), puts it this way: “We are addicted to this ‘hopium’ as some have called it. The truth [about an impending economic collapse despite surface appearances to the contrary] is unpalatable and the transformations needed are far too painful for most to consider. And so for now, ignorance is bliss, until a massive reality check [is] imposed on the hopium junkies” (39).

Are we, too, addicted to “hopium,” hoping against hope that we’ll turn the corner somehow and “happy days” will be here again? At what point does such hopeful optimism become destructive naivety?

The blockbuster movie “Noah,” though a far cry from biblical, historical and spiritual reality, has at least branded our secular culture’s psyche with the notion that civilization as we know it can cataclysmically end. Prophets of doom abound in the blogosphere, and warning voices could be suddenly proven right.

My point is that perhaps God’s people—those who seek to live by radical faith and trust in their Creator—ought to take seriously the mounting warnings from economists who have chosen not to play to the press. Maybe it’s time to heed the warning of our Lord: “‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’” (Matthew 24:37). “Up to the day Noah entered the ark,” Jesus cautioned, people were eating and drinking, partying and building. If there had been a stock market, it perhaps like ours would be going through the roof right about now. Just before the collapse. Just before “sudden destruction comes on them . . . and they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

So it seems fair to ask: Should the friends of Jesus be plunging into significant financial debt today? Shouldn’t we who have lived from day to day, from debt to debt, begin to undertake serious efforts to be relieved of that indebtedness? Is the time rapidly approaching when those with discretionary income and more than adequate savings consider investing more substantially and sacrificially in the mission of Christ? While money is still of value? No one, of course, can tell you or me what to do with the little we have. But surely there will come a time when our hearts will tell us the truth, while there is still time.

A century ago came this encouragement: “God Himself originates the plans for the advancement of His work, and He has provided His people with a surplus of means, that when He calls for help, they may cheerfully respond. If they will be faithful in bringing to His treasury the means lent them, His work will make rapid advancement. Many souls will be won to the truth, and the day of Christ’s coming will be hastened”(The Review and Herald, July 14, 1904).

No “hopium” there—just the blessed hope of that glorious day—and who doesn’t want that day to be hastened?