The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Jun
13
June 13, 2018

You got to love it—here I am with my son Kirk Monday evening waiting and watching for the historic moment when the President of the United States and the President of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea meet and shake hands—when without warning my screen goes into freeze mode. Can you believe it! All I wanted to do was witness that history-making handshake, and my screen freezes. Freezes, actually, with their two right hands reaching to clasp each other. No words, no movement, no nothing except two hands—frozen.

Presumably, the rest of the world was able to watch that much ballyhooed and eagerly anticipated handshake with the brief words and muted smiles that followed—but no matter where you live or what ideology you subscribe to, the truth is it was a meeting fraught with global consequence and significance.

And, I might add, particularly for the Kingdom of God. As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian—whose mother 89+ years ago was born in Pyongyang (when Korea was an undivided nation) and who himself was born in Tokyo and attended high school in Singapore—I certainly was drawn to this dramatic diplomatic feat (playing out on live television) for reasons beyond the geopolitics of the event.

Along with thousands of Christians, perhaps many of you, I've found myself praying earnestly these last few days for the diplomatic success of this meeting. For one simple reason. Over the last three decades, we have witnessed the "opening" of Russia, China, and Cuba to God's endgame appeal "to every nation, tribe, language and people" (Revelation 14:6-12). While all three of those countries remain solidly communist in their political governance, the fact is that Christianity along with our own faith community has experienced unprecedented growth there over the last thirty years. I have preached evangelistic series in two of those countries. But the political tolerance that has fostered such growth is already being tempered and in some cases withdrawn.

So a divine door of opportunity opening eventually in North Korea, the last communist nation to remain closed to Christianity, would present a powerful breakthrough for the "everlasting gospel" and our mission to reach that people group.

Could it be the promises we claim for Japan are appropriate as well for North Korea? "I am the LORD, and there is no other. . . . From the rising of the sun [far east] to the place of its setting [far west] people may know that there is none besides Me. . . . Turn to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:5-6, 22). One by one the nations of this third millennial world are being drawn into the circle of God's passionate endgame appeal. Country by country the Three Angels' Messages are penetrating. But never forget that the Apocalypse promises even more, "After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory" (Revelation 18:1 emphasis supplied). The entire earth surely includes North Korea—and even our own nation here at home!

So we must (1) keep interceding before God for the fulfillment of both His Three Angels and Fourth Angel breakthrough promises. It is high time God's people were on our knees daily supplicating His throne of grace and mercy on behalf of the unsaved billions in the Far East, the Middle East, the West, the North and the South. And we must (2) help answer our own prayers by volunteering our financial resources, and even our own availability and willingness, perhaps, to enter one of these opening doors to answer God's call to "Go!"

Mother is buried beside Dad in Loma Linda, far away from the land of her birth. But the dedicated missionary lives that were spent penetrating a world closed much more tightly then than now were not in vain. Rather it is the legacy of this generation to finish the mission task of that generation and reach this civilization one last time for Jesus before He returns. All of that I pondered in a frozen handshake a few nights ago. It really is time to "Go!"—isn't it?

Jun
6
June 6, 2018

Given the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals that are in progress as I write—a contest between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors (who are meeting in a record fourth consecutive finals matchup)—you can forgive the sports world for obsessing over facial expressions. Such was the case in Game 1 a few days ago. Taking cues from Yahoo Sports, let's set up the picture.

Game 1—the teams are tied. With 4.7 seconds to go the Cavaliers' J. R. Smith offensively rebounds the ball and—instead of a quick pass to an open teammate or a shot at the basket himself or even calling for a timeout—Smith dribbles the ball away from the hoop. But in a major gaffe, he forgets the score is tied. The buzzer sounds. The tied teams go into overtime, whereupon the Warriors surge ahead and win Game 1.

A now gone viral video clip (www.sports.yahoo.com/lebron-james-incredulous-bench-j-r-smiths-game-1-gaffe-video-153826487.html) of Cavs superstar LeBron James' facial express of incredulous disappointment says it all. What can a crestfallen superstar say? A mindless gaffe can be a very costly mistake.

But it was more than a just a gaffe that chilly, very early Friday. The night air turns blue with fisherman oaths as the man swears he never knew this Jesus of Nazareth. A rooster crows. And the Prisoner turns, disappointment and hurt etched all over his pained face. No video clip needed. Just the terse recitation: "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly"  (Luke 22:61-62).

How many times, I wonder, have I left that look of painful disappointment all over God's face? He was counting on me to stand for Him in that circle of chatter. He was hoping against hope that I'd man-up to my moral responsibility as a disciple of His. But forgetting the time left on the clock, I dribbled that opportunity away, when if I'd only been thinking (praying) instead of laughing, I could have changed the score for Team Heaven. Instead, I blew it.

You know the scenario.

Of course, for J. R. Smith, LeBron James, Steve Curry it's just a game. A billion-dollar game, to be sure, but nevertheless just a game. But not so this business of living. It's life or death, it's war, it's for keeps, and the stakes are eternal. Which only jacks even higher the painful disappointment my fumbled gaffes must cost my dearest Friend, my God.

So where is hope for me, gaffe-prone sinner that I am? "Peter's eyes were drawn to his Master. In that gentle countenance, he read deep pity and sorrow, but there was no anger there. The sight of that pale, suffering face, those quivering lips, that look of compassion and forgiveness, pierced his heart like an arrow" (Desire of Ages 713). So look into that Face—it can tell you a lot: pity, sorrow, compassion, forgiveness, but "no anger there." No wonder His very next prayer is my only hope, "'Father, forgive them, for they do know not what they are doing'" (Luke 23:34).

Forgiveness. Compassion. No video replay necessary. Because nothing in that Face has changed. And everything in this heart can still change. "[Peter] said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you'" (John 21:17).

What a game-changing difference the Cross can make.

May
30
May 30, 2018

It was a first for me, this idea of posting an online daily journal from the frontlines of evangelism (www.pmchurch.org/japanjournal). But I'm glad I did, because even if no one read the journal, the very exercise of recording the acts of the Holy Spirit inspired my own soul. So on this first Sabbath back at Pioneer, let me share a few lines from my next to the last journal entry:

"As the Sabbath draws to a close here in my guest room apartment on the Saniku Gakuin campus [201 college students, 70% non-Christian] . . . on the last day of this short but intensive evangelistic series, what an experience this has been for me. And what a blessing to have a small army of prayer partners who have unselfishly devoted extra intercession time to pray for Japan and this college and the advance of the everlasting gospel to this great unreached people group. My reciprocal prayer of gratitude this Sabbath is that God would pour back into your life--in the currency of His Kingdom--a super bundle of blessings for your unselfish
ministry! Thank you."

"Cars and busses from all over Chiba prefecture (prefectures are small state-like governing administrative units throughout Japan) arrived on campus for the ten o'clock worship celebration in the gymnasium (see photo gallery) and the outdoor baptism and lunch and afternoon concert that followed. My friend, Masumi Shimada, the Japan Union Conference president [we grew up together], told me this afternoon that they counted 775 . . . in the morning event in the gym and Granger Hall [the campus church], an overflow livestreaming site for elderly worshipers. . . ."

"It was my joy to preach on the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the eleventh and final piece in this campus series. . . . My translator, one of the pastors in this prefecture, did a masterful job (as did the other four translators who stood up and preached with me through the week). It is my opinion that translators are the Spirit-guided preachers who deserve to be remembered long after the visiting foreigner preachers have left the country. Because no matter how well or how poorly the guest preacher does, the communication event is what transpires between the translator and the listeners. So I say, God bless them every one."

"One of the reasons it is such a joy to preach the soon coming of Christ is the tonic it provides for my own soul. As Peter expressed it, We have not followed 'cunningly devised fables' (as the KJV renders it) but we have 'the prophetic message completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts' (2 Peter 1:16, 19 NIV). It [always] stirs my soul to recall with the listeners the indicators Jesus gave as harbingers of His return—political, ecological, economic, moral, psychological, societal markers that indicate the unraveling of humanity's hold on this planet and the approach of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And for our natural tendency to dismiss these indicators with the aside—'everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation' (2 Peter 3:4)—there is the provocative Chris Martenson illustration of geometric progression/compounding we humans tend nearly always to forget (www.adventistreview.org/voices-dwight-k.-nelson). The last five minutes are what catch you by surprise."

"Once again through the decision card we made an invitation to guests and students alike to carefully weigh God's call to follow Christ through baptism. And with the final Amen, the entire convocation stood and moved out of the gym, up the winding road to the campus proper high on that hillside, where the Granger Hall outdoor baptistery was already surrounded by family and friends awaiting the baptisms. . . ."

[From the journal entry on Sunday: "Kondo sensei, the campus pastor, handed me a sheet of names when we met this morning with this written report: 'At least 24 non-Christian students put a mark on Question 2 (I would like to bury my past and rise up to new life in Jesus through being baptized as He was) on the Thursday morning decision card. . . . He also notes that at our Friday evening meeting 3 more students indicated they would like to be baptized someday—and the Sabbath morning decision cards have yet to be tallied. Plus . . . five more non-Christian students indicated on the decision card they would like to talk with someone about this decision re baptism. So God has abundantly answered our many prayers in guiding these students to their decisions!"]

"Whenever you begin one of these evangelistic series, you simply have no idea how the series will proceed and eventually end—such is the adventure of preaching. But when it ends . . . there is a quiet sense of gratitude that steals over you, along with a surrender of it all back to God. For, as Jesus reminded us, the mystery of soul-winning is truly divine: '"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how"' (Mark 4:26-27). Or as Paul put it, 'I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow' (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 emphasis supplied)."

"And that's the way it should always be. 'But only God.' Which is why I thank Him for you, for drawing from your heart the very prayers He needed, in order to do the very work He promised to do and will yet do for His glory alone. Amen."

[Sing Doxology here.]

May
9
May 9, 2018

Here are a couple of trending headlines to share with you before flying to Tokyo. In Japan right now trending up is the pollen count, but trending down are the children.

Japan's renowned cherry blossoms have been in glorious bloom now since April. But while the world revels in their stunning pink and white splendor, the economic impact on Japan is no trifling matter—$1.8 billion "because of pollen-induced allergies" (www.money.cnn.com/2018/05/04/news/economy/japan-hay-fever-economy/index....). According to Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist with the Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute, "The damage comes in several forms. . . . Fewer people want to go out, which hits consumption, and workers suffering from hay fever take more sick days. Or if they do show up to work, they're less productive. And 2018 is looking like one of the worst years on record for hay-fever sufferers in Japan. The pollen count in some parts of the country has more than doubled compared with last year" (ibid.).

But trending down for the Land of the Rising Sun is the child count. According to The Japan Times: "The number of children in Japan fell for the 37th consecutive year to yet another record low, signaling that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to combat the low birthrate are still wanting" (www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/05/04/national/number-children-japan-fall...). In fact comparing 32 countries with a population of 40 million or more, Japan is ranked the lowest in terms of the ratio of children (a child is defined as a person aged 14 or under) to overall population (12.3%). Lower birth rates are the harbinger of a dwindling work force and sagging economy. This past year Japan's child count  dropped another 170,000.

In all candor the church in Japan faces a similar challenge. The number of "second birth" or "born again" members  is dropping. And the outlook is glum. But "glum" is a human attitude, not a divine perspective. In fact I believe God's stunning YES CAN DO perspective for reaching and winning new children for His Kingdom in Japan (and throughout the world) is over the top! How else shall we explain John's vision of all the saved in heaven one day (we pray soon): "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands" (Revelation 7:9).

Did you catch that? The number of the redeemed from earth is so high no one can count it!

I say we take courage from this stunning portrayal of God's saving love for His lost earth children—He is going to save us by the tens of thousands of millions. And those numbers will include Japan!

So on the eve of my flying to Tokyo for the upcoming full-court press evangelistic series on the campus of Saniku Gakuin Adventist College (where 70% of the 201 students are non-Christian pagans, to put it bluntly)—I earnestly solicit your prayer partnership on behalf of all the evangelistic series and preachers across the islands of Japan this month. Put your finger on God's promise: "Therefore in the east [Land of the Rising Sun] give glory to the LORD; exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea [Japan]" (Isaiah 24:15). "Sing to the LORD a new song . . . you islands, and all who live in them" (Isaiah 42:10). How the Savior longs for the day when Japanese voices will join that innumerable throng in singing the praises of our Redeemer and God!

Look—if the "pollen count" in Japan can go up, why can't the "pollen count" of the Holy Spirit and His contagious "everlasting gospel" go up as well! Of course it can—it must. So we must pray—pray as we have never prayed before for God's supernatural release of (1) the dark lord's iron grip upon that land and (2) Christ Jesus' penetration throughout that society. Let the ether be filled with His life-giving "pollen." And our prayers.

PS—for my (hopefully) daily reports on Japan please visit www.pmchurch.org/JapanJournal. Pray on.

May
2
May 2, 2018

Last week a friend gave me Carl Wilkens’ provocative first-person account—I’m Not Leaving: Rwanda through the Eyes of the Only American to Remain in the Country through the 1994 Genocide. In his disturbing recital of what it was like to survive "the most tragic one hundred days of the twentieth century," young Carl Wilkens—country director for Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) at the time—struggles to come grips with what he witnessed, the genocide extermination of over 800,000 Tutsi men, women and children—most of them hacked to death by machetes.

He describes the surging emotions of that moment when he watched the vehicle, bearing his wife and their three young children, disappear around the corner, tight on the tail of one lone UNAMIR tank (United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda), their escort to safety outside the city and country. Because of his decision to refuse the U.S. embassy evacuation, he was asked to send a signed and dated note with his family: "I have refused the help of the United States government to leave Rwanda."

Years later he still wrestles with the choices so many made during this genocidal crisis:
"When I think about choices, I think about what Holocaust survivor and author Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: 'We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." (33)

And therein lies a promise for every graduate in this Class of 2018—no one can take away from you the freedom to choose your own attitude. Like Wilkens, you will face radical life-changing decisions (at a pace now much faster than you may have anticipated). But no matter the successes or crises on the road ahead, the truly great news is that you will face them all in tandem with the God of the universe who has been charting your future for quite some time now.

And He has a Book full of YES CAN DO promises for you:

• "What god is there in heaven or on earth who CAN DO the deeds and mighty works You do?"
—Deuteronomy 3:24
• "I know You CAN DO all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted."—Job 42:2
• "I CAN DO all things through Christ who strengthens me."—Philippians 4:13
• "Now to Him who CAN DO immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!"—Ephesians 3:20

The good news is you CAN DO because He CAN DO.

So our collective prayer for you is a simple one: May the same Jesus who was with you here be with you there—your CAN DO Friend and Lord with His CAN DO future and life—"immeasurably more than all you ask or imagine." To which I add my fervent Amen.

Apr
25
April 25, 2018

I picked up a book in the Hong Kong airport while returning from Thailand last week. (Don’t get me going about my decision to save $268 by toughing it out on a wooden bench in the airport transit lounge instead of checking into the airport hotel—bad decision!) The book is Adam Grant’s New York Times best-seller, Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World. Catchy title, intriguing content.

Grant—a psychologist researcher at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and ranked one of the world’s top twenty-five management thinkers—spends a chapter expanding his counter-intuitive suggestion that procrastination can actually heighten creativity and production. Perhaps Mark Twain was right: "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

"It may not be a coincidence that some of the most original thinkers and inventors in history have been procrastinators" (96). Take Leonardo da Vinci, for example. "Scholars estimate that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on and off for a few years starting in 1503, left it unfinished, and didn’t complete it until close to his death in 1519" (ibid). Turns out he procrastinated in similar fashion with his painting of The Last Supper, a masterpiece in the making for over a decade and a half. "His critics believed he was wasting his time dabbling with optical experiments and other distractions that kept him from completing his paintings"—but it was these pottering distractions that fueled "a lifetime of productive brainstorming, a private working out of the ideas on which his more public work depended" (ibid). I.e., da Vinci’s procrastinations ignited his genius for originality.

Adam Grant suggests it was the same for Martin Luther King, Jr., and his iconic "I have a dream" speech. Early in that summer of 1963 King and his advisers began hammering out a list of talking points for what they knew would be a critical speech carried on television and radio live to this nation. Over the summer they debated and scribbled. But it wasn’t until the night before that August gathering at the Lincoln Memorial that King sweated through his last feverish efforts. His wife Coretta later recalled, "'He worked on it all night, not sleeping a wink’"(92). And yet when he stepped to the lectern with his notes, the "I have a dream" segment wasn’t even there. It was the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted out from behind him part way into his speech, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin!" And tell them he did, eventually pushing away his prepared notes to draw instead from the 275,000 miles and the 350 speeches he had already logged that year. "I have a dream" he intoned. And thus was born one of the most recognized phrases in human rhetoric, inserted into history at the last moment!

Adam Grant’s protracted point? Procrastination, coupled with deep thinking and interrupting brooding, can actually ignite originality and creativity. "Once a task is finished, we stop thinking about it. But when it is interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds" (99).

Though let’s be clear he isn’t suggesting procrastination is the best way to study (an important caveat on this eve of final exams here at the university)! The wise King Solomon reminds us: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest [procrastination]—and poverty [of income, of ideas] will come on you like a bandit and scarcity [of good grades] like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:10).

But there is one procrastination that spiritual sense forbids—and that is putting off your decision about Jesus Christ. The Roman governor Felix made that fatal mistake: "He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you’" (Acts 24:24-25). Procrastination. Lost.

Have you been putting off the same decision? "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Because there is no time like right now to open the door to your life and invite the Lord Jesus to be your Savior. Turns out, He, too, has a dream—the dream of a forever friendship with you. So why wait? Why not say Yes right now? (Contact me at this website, and let me help you with that Yes.)

Apr
18
April 18, 2018

This week I had an inspirational experience spending time with young adults at a global retreat for missionaries who are sold out on Jesus and passionately maxed out on His mission to reach every unreached people group on this planet.

The organization I visited is a cutting-edge mission and missionary enterprise that has targeted unentered or unreached swathes of the human race heretofore seemingly untouched by the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ. This elite organization (OK, I admit, that's my word, not theirs—but "elite" in my humble opinion is any strategic effort to go where no man or woman has gone before in the spread of the religion of Jesus) with global offices now in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and South Africa, has mobilized these 200+ individuals to many nations (some that must remain nameless), urban centers and rural mountainous zones, and secular towns and cities in East and West Europe—all because of our Lord's command, "'Go into all the world an make disciples of all nations'" (Matthew 28:19).

While I've been preaching morning and evening to these missionaries, the inspiring testimonies from these families as I sit with them in the sprawling dining hall each day stir up my own soul. Not only are they mastering a foreign tongue whose alphabet is unlike anything you and I have witnessed, their stories of friendship building and gospel-living and Jesus-telling are often times nothing short of miraculous. Miraculous not only because of the very evident "fingerprints" of the Holy Spirit on the supernatural fruit of their efforts, but miraculous because when strangers speaking another language and hailing from a distant shore and culture set up house in hostile territories and then through incarnational loving on behalf of Christ begin to win friends for Him—the only word that makes sense to me is "miraculous.""And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). And He still is through these intrepid missionaries.

Timothy and Abigail (not their names) have taken up residence and mission in a country and culture so foreign and so hostile you and I would laugh off the suggestion God was calling us there. And yet with no friends or prior acquaintances in that nation (nobody—meaning zero, nada, no one), this courageous couple has set up house and "gospel shop" in a beneath-the-radar sort of existence, quietly loving and cautiously awaiting the divine moment for simple witness. "You will hear a voice behind you saying . . ." is how the modus operandi works (see Isaiah 30:21). And work the Spirit of God does. With fruitage measured in the optics and coinage of the Kingdom.

If life for you has become terribly predictable and/or numinously unsatisfying, God's solution for you may be to simply double down where He has you now and with a prayer for added grace carry on in your faithful surrender to His daily providences and guidance. But if the Spirit of God is stirring up your soul with the compelling commission—"'As the Father has sent Me, so send I you'" (John 20:21)—then it may be it's time to look for an open door and obey Jesus' command, "'Go preach [and use words if necessary] the gospel to all creation'" (Mark 16:15). God may already be planning to send you to the last frontier left—where your only hope will be His promise, "'Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Matthew 18:20).

Apr
4
April 4, 2018

Almighty God and Father of us all—"Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom Come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10). For You are the Omnipotent One whose strong hand still guides a billion billion galaxies in their soundless trek (Psalm 147:4), and yet each morning You eagerly bend low to hear the chirping gratitude of the tiny sparrows (Luke 12:7). And if You feed the birds of the air, dear Father, how much more will You care for us, who are Your children? (Matthew 6:26) As the psalmist Himself sang, teach us to sing, "I will bless the Lord at all times—Your praise shall continually be in my mouth!" (Psalm 34:1)

But dear God, it is because You have "loved us with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3), that we come humbly to You in advance of our collective Day of Prayer and Fasting. Have mercy on us, O Lord. For like our fathers and mothers, we have sinned against You (Daniel 9:4-10). We have turned to the gods of this world hoping to satisfy our appetites and slake our many thirsts (1 John 2:15-17). Like Israel of old, we have emulated the corrupted culture around us (Hosea 4:17). We have joined the clamoring rabble, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15)—but dear Savior, we admit and confess Satan has deceived us and Caesar has enslaved us. How can we then cry out for the demolishing of his strongholds out there without first pleading for Your deliverance from the dark strongholds in here? You have promised, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). O Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, remove our sins, too, we implore You (John 1:29). Cleanse us, and we will be clean—wash us, and we will be whiter than the snow that fell this springtime week (Psalm 51:7). We must hear the Gospel's assurance, "Neither do I condemn You—go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11).

Forgiven and freed, we take courage now to boldly come before Your throne of grace with petitions for this Day of Prayer and Fasting (Hebrews 4:16). "For the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). And so Almighty God, in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, we come with the weapon of prayer against the strongholds of our mortal enemy, the fallen Lucifer and his demonic hosts of angels (Ephesians 6:12). We possess no power of our own, but we come boldly in the might of Him who "made a public spectacle of [Satan and his hosts], triumphing over them by the cross"(Colossians 2:15).

We come on behalf of people who don't even know they are enchained in the enemy's stronghold (1 Peter 4:18-19). On this Day of Prayer and Fasting we call upon You, Father of all humankind, to deliver the masses ignorantly held in these enemy strongholds:

• We pray for Japan (the Land of the Rising Sun) and boldly claim the promise that the Sun of Righteousness will yet rise with healing in His light (Malachi 4:2)—may the 163 evangelistic events to be conducted there in May "proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1);

• We pray for the secular West, where atheism and paganism's iron-fisted grip pins both young and old in their strongholds—may the cry of Creation's angels—"Worship Him who made heaven and earth"—be heard in the halls of academia, the corridors of politics and power (Revelation 14:7);

• We pray against the stronghold of racism in our country, on our campus and in our church—break down the egotism (self-worship) that lies coiled and deadly in the heart of all racism, and answer the prayer of our Lord—"That they may be one as We are one, O Father, I in them and You in Me, so that they may be brought to complete unity"(John 17:22-23)—so that as we humbly but radically love one another "everyone will know" that we are Your disciples (John 13:34-35).

And one more request, dear God. Would you please grant to us a visible sign that You have heard our prayers and have already begun to answer them (Isaiah 65:24). After all, You promised us, "In the last days I will pour out My Spirit on all people" (Acts 3:17). Send us that sign as a divine token that the strongholds we go against in the name of Christ are already beginning to crumble.

"O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name . . . deliver us . . . for Your name's sake!" (Psalm 79:9) So that one day "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).

AMEN.

Mar
28
March 28, 2018

Who could forget her story! As the London Guardian wryly observed, "Whatever faults Maria D'Antuono may have, wasting time is not among them."

The 98-year-old woman was one of the few survivors to be pulled from the rubble of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck central Italy. For thirty dark and interminable hours, she lay trapped beneath the ruins of her home, not far from the L'Aquila epicenter. But they found her! And as the elderly woman was carried to safety amidst the cheers of the onlooking crowd, someone asked her what she had done to pass the hours while waiting and hoping for rescue. "Why, crochet, of course!" Her world comes down around her—but the 98-year-old matriarch survives with a hook, a ball of yarn and a heartful of hope.

Not even an earthquake can bury hope!

"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" (Mt 28:2). His enemies could have piled a thousand Mt Everest on top of the garden tomb of Jesus—but it would have made no difference. For not even an earthquake can bury hope. And when Christ came striding out of that quake-shattered crypt and declared over the pre-dawn rubble, "I am the resurrection and the life!" then humankind's last hope was made forever secure. Death may bury us. But in the power of the risen Savior hope can still be resurrected.

So what is it that has you trapped beneath the rubble of your broken dream this Easter? Is it your schooling, buried with late papers, overdue reading reports, skipped quizzes— and now there seems no way out? Financially, is it debt crushing the life out of your hopes?  In heart matters, is it the loss of a friendship, the spurning of a love that has sucked away your hope?

Whatever weighs heavy on you right now in this season of the Resurrection, whatever you do, don't repeat the computation error of the eleven disciples. In their dismal hopelessness that woeful Saturday night, they totally forgot to calculate something called omnipotence—divine omnipotence—into their dark crisis. And so needlessly (and that's easy for you and me to say, I realize), they suffer on through two dark nights without a ray of hope.

But, as the song sings, "then came the morning!" And in an explosion of light and glory and with the tread of a Conqueror, the dead and buried One strides onto the stage of Forever—a divine guarantee that no matter how heavy the stone that entombs us, the risen Christ can yet roll it away!

So put your finger on this Easter promise and face your uncertain future with new hope: "God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams" (Eph 3:20 Message). And remember: "As you ask the Lord to help you, honor your Savior by believing that you do receive His blessing. All power [omnipotence], all wisdom [omniscience], are at our command. We have only to ask" (Ministry of Healing 514).

So why not ask Him . . .  and crochet while you wait . . . with hope.

Mar
7
March 7, 2018

Shane Claiborne, the young and radical Christian activist, popular particularly among millennials, made an observation that is worth pondering: "I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it's because we don't dare them, not because we don't entertain them. It's because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what do they do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?" (quoted in Philip Yancey's Vanishing Grace 83).Is the church guilty as charged—you and I? Are we somehow inadvertently (certainly not intentionally, I presume) communicating a no-risk, no-cost, no-peril, no-fun brand of Jesus to the young today? Cautious, calculating, conservative (as in never thinking outside the box—is that our shtick?)

A campus friend dropped by the church this week, and in the course of our conversation it comes up that he has found profound blessing in serious, extended seasons of fasting. You read that right—fasting. Profound blessings from fasting? You've got to be kidding me. Every time I venture into that foreboding spiritual discipline I can hardly wait for it to be over!

But in response, my friend tells me that Jesus' call to discipleship in fact strongly hints at the value embedded in fasting (a practice referenced 77 times in Scripture, as it turns out): "'If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me'" (Mark 8:34 NRSV). No hint of a no-risk, no-cost, no-dare brand of religion here! Plain and simple (which Jesus usually was), if you want to follow Me it'll cost you some major self-denial—meaning you're going to have to push away the natural inclination to preserve your self, to promote your interests, to protect your appetite, to presume life is a zero sum game where winning is the ultimate value. And then, He goes on, take up the cross and follow Me. One thing's for sure—nobody can accuse Jesus of offering a tiptoe-through-life-safely brand of religion!

Which begs this question: What would happen if you and I signed on to that no-tiptoe dare from our Lord? What if we plunged into the discipline of fasting as an expression of our desire to deny our self (whose loudest clamorings are always linked to appetite) and thus open up our minds, our hearts, our bodies to the radical lordship of Christ? My friend even went so far as to suggest that fasting is actually a divine gift intended to draw us closer and more intimately to God. Just look at those who fasted in Scripture, he reminded me—Moses ends up practically face-to-face with God through his fasting, Jesus is catapulted into a ministry of profound healing and deliverance after His intimate prayer and fasting with His Father, Paul—who frequently fasted—is granted visions of heaven no human had experienced. Which doesn't mean we'll all become Moseses and Pauls and Jesuses—but it does strongly hint that something deep transpires between God and the human who voluntarily chooses to fast as part of
his/her prayer walk with the Eternal.

If we with our young today could be challenged by the very nature of Christ's radical calling—to a life daring but not entertaining, difficult and not easy—might we and they not find in Jesus' church a cause and a Kingdom worth dying for, worth living for? But if all we offer ourselves and our children is entertainment, then Claiborne is right—we breed a generation that will turn elsewhere to satisfy the God-embedded longing for risk and the heroic—a longing most deeply fulfilled by the way of the cross. And by fasting.

PS—after my friend left, I found these two helpful links on fasting—check them out for yourself: www.allaboutgod.com/common/printable-biblical-fasting.htm and www.christianity.com/bible/9-reasons-fast-other-than-swimsuit-season.html.