The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Nov
2
November 2, 2022

Karen and I shot to the top of the world’s tallest broadcast/communication tower, the Tokyo Sky Tree (634 meters/2080 feet). The view from the Tembo Deck is spectacular. As you gaze out over the 360-degree vista of the world’s largest city, it seems like you can look down on all 35 million of those souls far below—urban sprawl as far as the eye can see. The super elevators that whisked us up and then back down the Sky Tree are clocked at 10 meters (almost 33 feet) per second! 

But the world elevator speed record holder now is in China. How fast does it travel? “The world’s fastest elevator, developed by Hitachi Building Systems [a Japanese company that has built the three fastest elevators on the planet], is installed in the Guangzhou CTF Finance Center, a 530-meter-high skyscraper built in Guangzhou, China. In order to carry guests to the hotel on the upper floors, the elevator climbs from the 1st floor to the 95th in around 42 seconds. Its recorded maximum speed of 1260 m/min has been recognized as a Guinness World Record” (workinjapan.today/hightech/fastest-elevators-of-the-world/). That is a stomach-sinking 21 meters or 68-plus feet per second.  

But to put it in perspective, compare these speeds going up with the speeds going down of an average roller coaster (which if you were foolhardy enough to ride, would drop you at a speed of 33 meters or 108 feet per second). On land that is almost 74 miles an hour. (And of course in a car, who bats an eye at that speed.)

How fast will the new elevator travel, the one our Renovate 2.0 construction project will begin to install on December 27? Good news! It will travel faster to the next floor than our stairs are capable of offering right now. I.e., our senior members or visitors, our physically disadvantaged worshipers, and our young families will be able to travel in quiet comfort without a single worry about negotiating the (obstacle course-like) stairway leading into the sanctuary from our main parking lot right now. We all listened to one of our senior members describe how she prays at the bottom of those stairs every Sabbath morning before negotiating them up to the top in order to reach the sanctuary. Prayers in church? Of course. But prayers before climbing stairs? Not good.

So thank you for the way you have embraced our new Renovate 2.0 project. No one is going to send you a pledge card—no one will call you up. The leaders of our church board believe the inarguable need for this new elevator (especially for our senior members, who have invested the most financially through their faithful years of giving at Pioneer) will be motivation enough to raise the $1 million we need. Already $230,000 has been given or promised toward this new elevator. And I am confident we as a church Family will rise up and provide the funds necessary to complete this essential project by the first half of 2023.

You may give directly through AdventistGiving.org, or through your tithe envelope. Just mark the line “Renovate” with your offering. Naturally, this project will necessitate regular and sacrificial giving over the eight months ahead. But imagine our joy when the doors of our new elevator open to a new chapter in eldercare in the Pioneer Family. It is a Jesus cause and it is a Jesus care that He will bless us to provide: “‘Freely you have received; freely give’” (Matthew 10:8) is His personal appeal to us all. 

Thank you.

DKN

Oct
26
October 26, 2022

God bless our neighbors to the west. Orkin (the pest removal company) has once again crowned Chicago with the dubious distinction of being the most rat-infested city in this country. For the eighth year in a row! “‘Each fall, mice and other rodents invade an estimated 21 million homes in the United States,’ Orkin says, in a press release. ‘They typically enter homes between October and February looking for food, water and shelter from the cold’” (www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/chicago-beats-out-new-york-to-earn-no-1-spot-on-list-of-rattiest-cities/2969714/). 

According to Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Department, the culprit varmint is the Norway rat. Wrap your mind around these factoids: 

The name is rather misleading as this species originated in Asia centuries ago. The rat has an average life span of six to twelve months. Beginning at the age of two to three months, a female rat can produce four to seven litters per year with each litter containing eight to twelve pups. Females can become impregnated within 48 hours after giving birth. The number, size and survivability of litters produced depends upon the amount of food and shelter available. They prefer fresh food, but will eat many things such as pet food, dog feces, garbage and plants. If food is scarce, the strongest rats may even eat the weakest and young. Norway rats prefer to live in burrows in the ground. They are excellent climbers and swimmers and most active at night. They have very hard teeth and can chew through wood and plaster or any other material that is softer than their teeth. They can crawl through holes the size of a quarter, tread water for three days and land unharmed after a five-story fall (www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/streets/provdrs/rodent/svcs/rats_in_chicago.html). 

Makes you want to stand up cheer for these hardy creatures, doesn’t it! But Chicago is not alone. “New York came in second behind Chicago, with Los Angeles finishing third, Washington, D.C. fourth and San Francisco ranked fifth. Two Indiana cities, South Bend and Fort Wayne, also made the list for the first time coming in at 44th and 48th respectively” (https://wgntv.com/news/wgn-news-now/chicago-is-rat-capital-of-u-s-for-8t...). Look out—they’re coming our way.

So what does rat infestation have to do with this beautiful fall life we’re experiencing these days? Beware the small openings!

Because it's the little holes, the tiny openings the enemy of our souls exploits and squeezes through. One of our senses left unguarded (be it an eye, an ear, a mouth [maybe not so small]) is all it takes for the Adversary to find direct entry to our very being. 

Think about it: every addiction we suffer finds its first entrance through an unguarded sense—pornography (sight), food (smell and taste), lust (touch), gossip and tale-bearing (hearing), et al. Addiction is a single unwanted spirit vermin squeezing into our consciousness through a single unguarded sensory portal. Until eventually the whole house is infested!

No wonder this moral counsel: “All should guard the senses, lest Satan gain victory over them; for these are the avenues of the soul. You will have to become a faithful sentinel over your eyes, ears, and all your senses if you would control your mind and prevent vain and corrupt thoughts from staining your soul. The power of grace alone can accomplish this most desirable work” (Adventist Home 401).

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). Because unguarded strength is a double weakness. Just look at Samson, the strongest of them all, felled by his unguarded, unregulated sensory appetite—a morality tale for us third millennials immersed, as we are, in a full-sensory but unguarded culture.

But there is help: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). What a promise! The peace of God Almighty Himself will guard my mind, will guard your heart from the enemy of our souls. 

If you begin each day inside the quiet peace of God, communing with Him through His Word, you will go out to traverse this vermin-infested full-sensory culture, and remain unscathed and uncompromised by the enemy. Beware the small openings, by keeping your heart largely open to Christ alone.

Oct
5
October 5, 2022

The apocalyptic fury with which the winds of Hurricane Ian slammed into the Florida shoreline last Thursday, and with which they with buzzsaw precision subsequently obliterated a swath of destruction across the Sunshine State to the opposite shores—this unfolding tragedy of nature and humanity is beyond comprehension.

The accumulating statistics are numbing—over one hundred humans dead, countless wildlife destroyed, seaside villages wiped off the face of the earth, inland towns storm-surge flooded beyond recognition—to the place hurried estimates (being upwardly revised almost daily) put the monetary losses suffered at “between $180 billion to $210 billion” (www.newsweek.com/hurricane-ian-threatens-cause-120-billion-dollars-damages-1747675). 

“‘Ian will go down as one of the most damaging and impactful storms in U.S. history, along with 2017's Hurricanes Harvey, which caused $190 billion in total damage and economic loss, and Irma ($80 billion); Sandy in 2012 ($210 billion); Katrina in 2005, ($320 billion), as adjusted for inflation,’ AccuWeather said in [an] initial press release on Thursday” (ibid).

But then, how can you put a price tag on total loss?

Michigan friends who had owned a mobile home (snowbird getaway) in Fort Meyers called us on Thursday to report that while the hurricane straps kept the mobile structure anchored to the cement slab foundation, Ian’s raging winds stripped the roof and gutted the contents. Gone. (Fortunately, our friends sold the home a few months ago—unfortunately, the new owner had just finished remodeling the interior.) Loss.

It’s funny how we use the word “loss.” The neighbor kids hit a baseball out into the unmown field and can’t find it. Loss. The stock market plunges and our retirement portfolio drops. Loss. Ukraine recovers territory it lost to Russia. Loss and gain. Puerto Rico's and the State of Florida’s power infrastructure is blown to smithereens. Loss. Praying now for gain.

We lost our keys—we lost our souls—how very different the stark meaning of being “lost” turns out to be. What makes the difference? Of course, it is the value attached to what is lost. 

No wonder Jesus minces no words: “‘For what will it proffer a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Mark 8:36)

Of course, it is the value attached to what is lost that determines the degree of loss. In this case, Jesus describes the loss as eternal. And who wants to lose that badly, who wants to lose forever?

Which, let me be quick to add, makes the risk Jesus willingly suffered, to save the likes of you and me from the enemy’s raging fury, utterly astounding. “[The Father] permitted [the Son] to meet life’s peril in common with every human soul, to fight the battle as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss” (Desire of Ages 49 emphasis supplied).

Loss. What Heaven was willing to risk—eternal loss—for the sake of saving your and my lost souls. We bow before Calvary’s incalculable cost. But we celebrate Christ’s incalculable gift. 

And in that spirit of self-sacrificing joy, we turn our hearts southward to the sufferings of our neighbors, and for them, we send more than prayers and love. We give. For the fastest way to get your gift to where it is desperately needed, please go to https://relief.floridaconference.com and note the various options for giving. 

As Jesus so succinctly put it, “‘Freely you have received; freely give’” (Matthew 10:8). For them. For Jesus. 

Sep
7
September 7, 2022

Here’s a story headline that would catch the eye of anybody in the over-40 crowd! CNN ran the news piece under the heading, “Walk this number of steps each day to cut your risk of dementia” (www.cnn.com/2022/09/06/health/step-dementia-risk-wellness/index.html). Curious? Keep reading.

According to a study published Tuesday in JAMA Neurology (Journal of the American Medical Association—go here to read the original study report—jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/2795819), “people between the ages of 40 and 79 who took 9,826 steps per day were 50% less likely to develop dementia within seven years….Furthermore, people who walked with ‘purpose’—at a pace over 40 steps a minute—were able to cut their risk of dementia by 57% with just 6,315 steps a day” (see CNN).

But there’s more: “Even people who walked approximately 3,800 steps a day at any speed cut their risk of dementia by 25%, the study found” (see CNN).

If you’re intimidated by these high step counts, consider this: “The largest reduction in dementia risk—62%—was achieved by people who walked at a very brisk pace of 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes a day, the study found” (see CNN). In fact, the JAMA editorial accompanying the research report Tuesday counseled: “‘While 112 steps/min is a rather brisk cadence, ‘112’ is conceivably a much more tractable and less intimidating number for most individuals than ’10,000,’ especially if they have been physically inactive or underactive’” (see CNN). (To determine your walking pace per minute, simply count the number of steps you take in 10 seconds and multiply that number by six.)

The bottom line to all of this seems to suggest the simple daily exercise of walking is linked to numerous health benefits that now include a lowered risk for dementia. And what’s not to like about that! (The CNN piece ends wisely with this editor's note: “Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.”)

Ellen White observed: “There is no exercise that can take the place of walking. By it the circulation of the blood is greatly improved....Walking, in all cases where it is possible, is the best remedy for diseased bodies, because in this exercise all of the organs of the body are brought into use” (Healthful Living 129).

The Scriptures describe the height of spiritual communion with God in the language of walking. “Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 5:22, 24). “Noah walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9). God called Abraham at the age of ninety-nine to “‘walk before Me faithfully and be blameless’” (Genesis 17:1). Paul counsels us to “follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). And near the end of the Bible is this appeal, “As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love” (2 John 1:6).

So why not turn your brisk walks into prayer walks with Jesus? Nothing fancy, nothing difficult or strenuous—just the rhythmic breathing in and out of prayers for the new day, prayers for the family, prayers for friends, prayers for the sick, prayers for wisdom, prayers for your classes, prayers for your students, prayers for your patients, prayers for guidance, prayers of joy and thanksgiving for the God who walks beside you. Prayer walks—research documented exercises for the preservation of your heart, your mind, and your soul. What’s not to like about that?

Aug
31
August 31, 2022

Can you imagine a world without water? Think about it. Nearly every single daytime or nighttime, waking or sleeping, human activity is dependent on water. Why, if water disappeared from this earth, we would last around three days. “Dehydration happens quickly, causing extreme thirst, fatigue, and ultimately, organ failure and death. A person may go from feeling thirsty and slightly sluggish on the first day with no water to having organ failure by the third” (www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325174).

And yet our friends in Jackson, Mississippi, at this very moment of writing, are living—all 250,000 of them—with unusable water. You can turn the faucet on and eventually there may gurgle forth a brown, gritty trickle of water. But no usable amount of water or water pressure for flushing toilets, brushing teeth, taking showers, washing dishes, washing anything. No fighting fires for sure! And on top of that, bottled water is almost non-existent—they’ve run of it, too.

“Since 29 July, households have been under orders to boil all water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth, to fend off bacterial infections. Now the crisis looks poised to escalate with the possibility the main treatment facility, OB Curtis, could fail completely after its central pumps were seriously damaged in the wake of recent flooding of the Pearl River, following heavy rains” (www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/31/jackson-mississippi-no-running-water-flooding).

For months authorities have been warning of the collapse of Jackson’s water treatment plant. “The city’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, said the water infrastructure had suffered from three decades of chronic underfunding” (ibid). Well, for Jackson, Mississippi, it’s “apocalypse now.”

Are you living without water? Not the faucet kind of water, but heart-flow water? She was, the Samaritan woman Jesus engaged there at that noonday well. Sure, she had all the H2O water she needed, but her soul was parched, dehydrated, dying, really. Jesus knew it—hence His offer. Pointing to the well, He spoke: “‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:13-14).

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? We take for granted that even Jesus’ kind of thirst-slaking water will always be their mañana, so why worry now? “‘[But] the days are coming,' declares the Sovereign Lord, 'when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it’” (Amos 8:11-12).

Then isn’t it a no-brainer for us to keep Jesus' spiritual faucets wide open with His water of life—while we have it: “‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’” (John 7:37-38). 

But wait a minute—keep reading: “Jesus did not convey the idea that merely one draft of the water of life would suffice the receiver. . . . The cisterns will be emptied, the pools become dry; but our Redeemer is an inexhaustible fountain. We may drink, and drink again, and ever find a fresh supply. . . . From this source [we] may draw strength and grace sufficient for all [our] needs” (Desire of Ages 187). 

It is the Bible’s last offer: “‘Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life’” (Revelation 22:17).

Poor Jackson, Mississippi. So thirsty, so dry, but no water. Poor you and poor me, if besides the thundering Niagara of Jesus’ living water, we live with parched souls and die of dehydration. 

It must not be! 

So let the one who is thirsty, drink. The fountain still flows.

Aug
24
August 24, 2022

As the drought tightens its grip on the western states here in the U.S., the dramatic plunge of reservoir water levels is stunning. If you haven’t seen the before-and-after NASA satellite photographs of Lake Mead (“the largest reservoir in the United States [that] supplies water to millions of people across seven states, tribal lands, and northern Mexico”), take a moment to check it out for yourself (earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/150111/lake-mead-keeps-dropping).

Lake Mead water levels now stand “at their lowest since April 1937, when the reservoir was still being filled for the first time.” By mid-July the reservoir “was filled to just 27 percent of capacity” (ibid). Wow!

But along with this very public regional crisis, the plunging water levels have also exposed private pain and heartache. Already at Lake Mead “a fourth set of human remains has been found at the shrinking reservoir . . . as the drought gripping the western US continues to blaze and sends its water levels plunging” (www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/07/lake-mead-human-remains-found-drought). Who were these victims, what happened, and what about their families?—questions the authorities are yet unable to answer.

But when it comes to water levels, there is one profound reversal of today’s drought headlines worth remembering. Consider the promise embedded in the ancient prophet’s prayer: “You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah of 7:19).

 

The ancients considered nothing on earth deeper than the sea. And into its dark and murky depths, our divine Savior is depicted, symbolically hurling “all our iniquities” where they disappear never to be seen again. No chance dropping sea levels will ever expose the private sins we have confessed to Him. No chance some sea-diving bounty hunter will come across their remains.

 

No, no—“all our iniquities” are buried at sea, sunk to the bottom by Almighty God, where not even He would dredge them up again to condemn us. No wonder Micah exclaims: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).

 

And if not even God Himself would dredge them up, why should we punish ourselves by recalling the very sins we have asked Him to bury? Do we really believe reviewing past sins God has buried somehow proves our penitence or double-checks His pardon?

 

And while we’re at it, why should we allow others to torment us with those transgressions not even Jesus would recall? If a “friend” or a spouse or even an adversary hurls our past against us, may the Spirit of God bring quickly to mind the assurance our failures have already been hurled into the depths of God’s eternal sea, never to be heard from again. So “get behind me, Satan.” 

 

Then I say we let these drought-stricken headlines be our quiet reminder that God’s great reservoir of grace will never, ever be diminished—not by even a single drop, not even by a single sin.

Aug
17
August 17, 2022

A few days ago, Brittany Moore and her year-and-a-half-old toddler, Ethan, were in the backyard blowing bubbles into the Georgia summer air. As one of those rainbow-hued wet bubbles drifted upward into the sky, little Ethan ran after it. But over their backyard fence and into the woods it sailed.

Halted by the fence, Ethan stood there pointing. “Feet,” he called to his mother. “Feet.”

Feet? Puzzled, Brittany joined Ethan. “What did you say, Ethan?” “Feet,” he repeated. All she could see were the overgrown trees beyond their yard. So she “crouched down to her son’s level and looked where he was pointing” (www.cbs46.com/2022/08/15/coweta-co-toddler-finds-missing-elderly-woman-while-playing-with-bubbles/).

There between the slats, she saw a pair of human feet. She panicked. “‘I didn’t know if I needed to go into fight or flight’” (ibid.). Clearly, there was a body on the other side of their fence. Dead? Alive? She dialed 9-1-1.

“When first responders arrived, they realized it was 82-year-old Nina Lipscomb, who had been missing since Monday night [this was on Friday], according to her family” (ibid). For four days and nights, authorities had been searching for this missing senior citizen with early-stage Alzheimers, even using thermal technology in the search. All to no avail.

Instead, a little boy chasing a fly-away bubble found the confused but still very much alive Nina Lipscomb. Nina met Ethan soon after she was released from the hospital. “‘I truly think this was something outside of what any human could do,’ said [Ethan’s mother]. ‘It took a child who was being worked by God’” (ibid). 

Nina’s family agrees, “the toddler likely saved her life.”

Just a pair of feet—but what a story it tells. Makes you wonder. How many pairs of feet will soon be stepping onto our campus and walking into our church? And what will be the stories they will tell?

New students, returning students—first comers and veterans—are we ready once again to open the doors to our hearts and our church to these many pairs of feet?

One of the most effective ways Pioneer has discovered to get to know new students is our annual New Student Welcome Dinner we host out under the trees beside our church. On their first Sabbath away from home (August 27), what better occasion to invite them to our friendly tables, set with a home-cooked lasagna/pasta dinner, replete with salad and garlic bread (my mouth waters, just thinking about it!)—dessert and drinks provided by the church.

We need forty host families willing to be Love on the Move and provide this delectable we’re-glad-you’re-here kind of dinner for a table of ten. Along with the food, Karen and I pass around a clipboard for the new students to jot down their names and contact info. That clipboard becomes our prayer list. And our adopt-a-student (or two or three or four) list for the weeks ahead. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a bunch of Love on the Move Pioneer families decided to adopt a bunch of Andrews students and invited them to our homes now and then during the new year ahead? I can guarantee they’ll love you for it. And maybe even love Jesus more because of your loving welcome.

So please take a moment and call Claudia or Lailane at 269.471.3543 and let us know you’d like to serve ten pairs of feet (and ten hungry souls) on August 27. Call us right away, so we can count on you. (If you’re not able to attend the picnic dinner but would like to contribute food, please indicate that when you call.)

On behalf of those pairs of feet who are waiting for somebody to find them . . . and on behalf of the very same Jesus who still says “Do it to them, you’re doing it to Me” (see Matthew 25:40)—thank you very much.

 

______________________________

*Thank you, Melchizedek Ponniah.

Aug
10
August 10, 2022

You know it is a slow news cycle when one of the hot stories of summer has to do with how fast our home planet Earth is spinning these days.

Here’s how the website Defector creatively reported the headline: “On June 29, Earth spun through a full rotation in 1.59 milliseconds short of the league-average 24 hours, a breathtaking athletic feat witnessed by an estimated 7.97 billion viewers. This sets a record for the fastest rotation of Earth since they started tracking the stat in 1955 with the advent of the first practical atomic clock” (defector.com/earth-the-true-goat-breaks-longstanding-speed-record/).

Did you catch that? On June 29 Earth spun 1.59 milliseconds quicker than the day before. Hmmm. Do you recall that day feeling a bit shorter? I can’t even remember June 29!

As it turns out, this isn’t the first time Earth has gone into a sprint: “Terrestrial haste is a trend. In 2020, the planet recorded the 28 shortest days on record, and it kept spinning rapidly into 2021 and 2022. Before scientists could even verify that record-setting day time of June 29, our world almost outdid itself: It blazed through July 26, 2022 [a month later], 1.50 milliseconds ahead of schedule” ( apple.news/AWYlaADBKSYmI6RIzc9HB_A).

What’s up with these spurts of speed? Some scientists are suggesting that the melting polar caps have flattened the planet and are causing the spurts—but others respond such melting would actually slow Earth down, not speed it up. Another hypothesis suggests it has to do with the “Chandler wobble”—the phenomenon of “how the not-quite-perfectly-round Earth wobbles ever so slightly, like a spinning top as it slows down.” Apparently that wobble “mysteriously disappeared between 2017 and 2020, which could have helped the Earth finish the day a bit faster” (ibid).

But nobody knows for sure why Earth is breaking out into these occasional spurts.

So, are we getting older or younger? Is life speeding up or slowing down?

Here’s what I know about God. In those majestic words of the psalmist long ago:

        Lord, you have been our dwelling place
                 throughout all generations.
         Before the mountains were born
                  or you brought forth the whole world,
                  from everlasting to everlasting you are God. . . .
        A thousand years in your sight
                 are like a day that has just gone by,
                 or like a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:1-2, 3)

Peter echoes Moses’ psalm with these familiar words: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).

One point five nine milliseconds isn’t a whole lot of time, to be sure. But Holy Scripture promises this of God: “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So it really doesn’t matter how much time you have left—in milliseconds, in days, in years, in a lifetime. God’s assurance to you and me is that He can take the number of seconds allotted to our lifetimes and make them “beautiful.”

And that’s the life I want as we round summer’s corner and hurry towards the autumn of a new school year. Jesus makes “everything beautiful in its time.” Which makes this the right time for you and me to discover “the beautiful life” of Christ and to make it our own, while we still have the time.

Jun
22
June 22, 2022

You are invited to an historic Supper in honor of our Lord Jesus. For the first time since 2019, we will gather as a worshiping congregation with real emblems of His broken body and shed blood (good-bye packaged communion wafers and juice), with real white towels and basins of water (good-bye foot washings at home).

Of course, what we commemorate is not the first “live” communion celebration since the pandemic broke out, but rather the two-millennia-ago triumph of Heaven at the cross over the forces of evil that have held the human race hostage for so long.

If it’s been a while since you had the joy of an on-site Lord’s Supper, if it’s been a while since you’ve enjoyed the gathering of the Family for this power-filled symbol at Christ’s nail-scarred feet, if you wish to experience the supernatural cleansing and personal restoring that accompanies communal communion worship—then come and join your Savior and your Family this Sabbath (9:00 AM/11:45 AM).

“Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho: Skeletons in the Closet, Prostitutes on the Tree”—the conclusion to our pre-summer mini-series—will set the table for an unforgettable promise from the Lord at our Supper. “The Spirit says, ‘Come!’”

Jun
8
June 8, 2022

An old song from my parents’ generation crooned about meeting in St. Louis, today the chrome-arched city along the Mississippi River that is host to the 61st General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Karen and I drove down on Sunday for the opening of this Covid-postponed (twice) gathering of leaders and delegates from the four corners of the earth.

Embedded in the former football stadium of the St Louis Rams, the 1800-plus delegates were spread across the now concrete stadium floor either in person or via global Zoom (provided for those delegates who for pandemic, visa-entry or personal reasons joined the session from their homelands).

The Monday morning opening service included a welcome from the three world church officers, Ted Wilson (president), Erton Köhler (secretary) and Paul Douglas (treasurer), and was followed by a ninety-minute prayer service, interspersed with singing, group praying and the preaching of Mark Finley (evangelist), Barry Black (chaplain of the United States Senate), and me (your pastor). The three of us had been assigned themes by Jerry Page, Director of the G. C. Ministerial Association, and I know I speak for the other two preachers in saying it was a honor to lead the worshiping delegates to prayerfully focus on the daily baptism of the Holy Spirit. And it felt like being home for me with Ken Logan, our Pioneer organist and minister of music, at the convention organ console (a seat he hardly ever vacated through the long business session hours morning and evening).

One of the joys of a General Conference session is the serendipitous meetings with people you haven’t seen for months or years, in our case, fellow pastors and ministers from around the world. What a special joy those reconnecting conversations were for Karen and me.

One quick scan across the assembled delegates, and you are quickly reminded that (as it should be) our church is truly a growing and growingly international body of Seventh-day Adventists. Long gone are the days when the North American delegation dominated either the discussions or the votings. Youthful faces from the two-thirds world are a reminder of the increasing influence young global Adventists will have on the future of the world church.

A highlight for our brief time at the session came in Ted Wilson’s quinquennial President’s Report, a review of major church developments over the previous five (in this case seven) years. As you can see from my third row snapshot, the pulpit stands at the side of the sprawling backdrop that proclaims, “Jesus Is Coming—Get Involved.” 

The president’s multimedia presentation, a peripatetic highlighting of stories from across the world, ended dramatically with an Adventist World Radio (AWR) report of how communist guerrillas, fighting an insurgency war against the Philippine Army, somehow connected with AWR shortwave broadcasts there in their mountain hideouts. Long story short, one by one these rebel fighters came to know Christ and began to study the Bible via their shortwave radios. Once contact was established with Adventist members in the region, these fighters began to surrender to the army, confessing their newfound faith. Through a live Skype connection, two of the transformed former rebels (masked to protect their identity) shared their testimonies (translated by their pastor, who stood before us in the stadium). One of them was a woman (masked face on the right side of the big screen picture I took), who in tears shared her testimony for Christ. Then in a dramatic ending, our eyes dropped from the big screen to a Philippine Army colonel and his wife, who stood with Ted Wilson beside a baptistry on the stadium floor, also led to Christ by the Adventists of that mountain region. The stadium burst into applause as this military husband and wife followed Jesus and joined our faith community.

Only at a General Conference session! I’m sure the week will culminate in a celebrative Sabbath of worship there in the sports stadium. 

Karen and I returned to our quiet little village, grateful for the privilege of serving this global community of faith, and thankful for the testimonies of men, women and children in this parish who (without any accompanying fanfare or big screen drama) continue to take their stands for Christ their Savior. “Jesus Is Coming—Get Involved” is a fitting call to us here at Pioneer as well. For our own mission statement, “Love on the Move,” can come true as we all get involved for Him. 

So let us press on to love lost people to Christ, for are we not all “former rebels” won to Jesus by His unrelenting love? “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself’” (John 12:32).