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Thursday, October 1, 2020 - 18:26

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Oct
21
October 21, 2020

"When you're weary, feeling small—when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all—I’m on your side, when times get rough—and friends just can't be found—like a bridge over troubled water—I will lay me down.”

“Mental Health America (MHA) today released data . . . showing that the number of people reporting signs of anxiety and depression since the start of the pandemic hit an all-time high in September. The new data accompanies the release of the annual State of Mental Health in America report, showing that nationwide, 19% (47.1 million) of people in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition, a 1.5 million increase over last year’s report” (www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/10/20/2111263/0/en/Number-of-people-reporting-anxiety-and-depression-nationwide-since-start-of-pandemic-hit-all-time-high-in-September-hitting-young-people-hardest.html).

Welcome to our world.

“Gen-Z adults, those ages 18 to 23, reported the highest levels of stress compared to other generations and were the most likely age group to report symptoms of depression, according to the APA’s 2020 Stress in America survey. More than seven in 10 Gen-Z adults surveyed said they experienced common symptoms of depression in the prior two weeks, such as: feeling so tired they sat around and did nothing, having trouble thinking and concentrating and feeling very restless, lonely, miserable or unhappy” (www.cnbc.com/2020/10/21/survey-more-than-7-in-10-gen-zers-report-depression-during-pandemic.html).

Welcome to our campus.

“Fear and anxiety [as a result of the pandemic] tend to run hand-in-hand, Kevin Antshel, clinical psychologist and director of the clinical psychology program at Syracuse University previously told CNBC Make It. ‘'The more things are uncertain, the more we’re going to fear, and the more we fear things, the more we are anxious,’ he said. And prolonged anxiety can lead to depression” (ibid).
Maybe it’s your world, too.

I came across a single line in my psalm for the day that in its own way seems to breathe some hope into the shadows of this Covid-19 thing that won’t leave. “The day is Yours, and Yours also the night” (Psalm 74:16). I get the part about God ruling the day—makes sense to me. But I need the part about Him ruling the night. Because it is in the night the darkness inside is most oppressive. That’s when I need Him most. So do you.

Does He show up in the dark? Keep reading. “. . . when care, perplexity, and darkness seem to surround your soul, look to the place where you last saw the light. Rest in Christ's love and under His protecting care” (Ministry of Healing 250).

How? Here are a few simple ways you can deal with the darkness right now:

  1. Be willing to be vulnerable and tell someone else about the darkness—you’re not alone, you’ll discover—and you'll be surprised the kind of comfort and strength their active listening will bring you. People who care for you are glad to be there for you.
  2. Try something new—look back to a time you remember before the darkness came—because looking back reminds us there was a season not so long ago when we lived with peace and a sense of quiet joy. Gifts like those do come back, I promise.
  3. Open up your heart to Jesus through someone else’s language. David (of David and Goliath fame) knew more about depressive darkness than perhaps any other Bible writer. So read one of his psalms every day—and turn his words of sorrow or anger or despair into your own prayer for help. You’ll be surprised at how much Jesus (the Son of David) responds to the familiar language of darkness. He, too, has been there.

"When you're weary, feeling small—when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all—I’m on your side, when times get rough—and friends just can't be found—like a bridge over troubled water—I will lay me down.”
This is why Jesus is the one Bridge you and I have that can span this pandemic night and cross us over into the light of a new day. Because as the psalmist reminds us, He owns them both:  “The day is Yours, and Yours also the night.” 

Oct
7
October 7, 2020

With all the finger-pointing going on, I’d like to share a piece one of our viewers sent me a few days ago. In my humble opinion, it is a point of view that deserves a hearing. So, with a few tweaks for spacing purposes, here is a fresh perspective from D. Bryan White:

The COVID virus has produced its share of finger-pointing over the last few months. Some good, God-fearing "saints" see God's judgment in all that has transpired, particularly in the last few days. So, In light of these heated arguments from the Right and Left, perhaps it would be well to refer back to the quintessential commentary on the wisdom or foolishness of construing everything as God's will, found in the book of Job.

The rain was believed by the devout of old to be a blessing, famine a curse—this idea extrapolated from Deuteronomy. Yet Job's rejoinder in his own defense was the observation: rain fell on the just and the unjust. The 3 visiting theologians at that impromptu Ash Heap Summit were sure Job's troubles were a divine sign of God's open displeasure over his secret sins but had no answer to Job's paradoxical observation—except to double down and insist his misfortune was a heaven directed curse.

When God finally gets his chance to comment, he ups the ante by observing—rain falls in the desert too—desert to be seen here as a metaphor for a place where neither the righteous nor wicked live.

Hmmm . . . So rain can be simply the product of a wandering thunderstorm, nothing more!

Perhaps we can use this to point out that the COVID virus travels on the wind, and lands wherever. Heaven has nothing to do with wind direction nor its ill effects. I say this for I have heard some good Adventist friends in California pointing to the Napa Valley fires as God's clear judgment against wineries. But I note as well, the Adventist Review is reporting several Adventists pastors have lost homes in St. Helena and Angwin! Were they too under some pointed wrath of Heaven?

Was the fact so many Republicans tested positive for COVID over the last 48 hours a divine punishment? Or, was another more predictable law in play—“as you sow, so shall you reap.” Plant squash seed and you get . . . squash. Build a house on a dry brushy hillside, and the fire is a natural risk. Put a bunch of people, Republican or Democrat, in close quarters without precautions, and you get a COVID outbreak. God is inserting into the din of “words without knowledge" a reminder of another law—cause, and effect.

The only judgment threatened by heaven in Job's story was against the "friends" whose self-righteous finger-pointing was offensive to God.

A little more prayer for our enemies and a little less finger-pointing does seem to be a far more bankable, God-sanctioned moral during times of crisis—then—and now.

Sep
30
September 30, 2020

Ever hear of the Crater of Diamonds State Park? Me neither, until Melchi Ponniah shared a Washington Post piece with me. This unique park in Arkansas “allows visitors to hand-sift 37 acres of plowed earth for the chance to take home a natural diamond — usually around a quarter of a carat and often found daily” (apple.news/A5UsShzMUTe-o5c8nn2q8eA). 

What’s not to like about a park like that!

On Labor Day Kevin Kinard, who has been coming to the park since he was a kid, went with a group of friends to this ancient volcanic field in hopes of finding some gemstones. When the expedition was over the 33-year-old and his companions exited the park, stopping by the visitor’s pavilion. One of his friends went inside hoping she had found a genuine stone. Kevin decided to wait outside since all he was taking home was what was obviously just a piece of glass. But curiosity got the best of him and he stepped into the pavilion. “What about this one?” he asked an attendant.

“This one” turned out to be the second-largest diamond find in the state park’s history—a 9.07-carat brown diamond the size of a marble. “‘I honestly teared up when they told me,' he said. ‘I was in complete shock!’” (ibid). 

What is it worth? Back in 2015, a smaller “8.52-carat diamond found at the park was valued at around $1,000,000 after it was cut into a 4.63-carat triolette.” Kevin’s gem is bigger! 

“Lucky visitors who do find diamonds are typically asked to name the stones, and Kinard named his in honor of friends who visited the park with him on Labor Day — the Kinard Friendship Diamond” (ibid). 

A diamond in the rough—turns out to be the truth of Calvary as well. That fateful Friday as sunset neared, who there at the dusty foot of Jesus’ cross could possibly have fathomed the value of the One hanging there dying? By far the vast majority of gawkers and gapers returned home that Sabbath eve, unmoved and untouched by Him who was “God in the rough.”

This Friday evening and Sabbath morning we will share the joy of Calvary’s Crown Jewel, known and adored by the universe now as King of kings and Lord of lords. So why not gather with those you love Friday evening as the Sabbath draws near—sing or play the songs of the cross on your phone or laptop—read again the story of Jesus’ kneeling by our feet to bathe our souls clean (John 13)—grab a pan or bucket of warm water and wash the feet of your family, your visiting friends—and as you towel those feet dear to you, breathe out a prayer for God’s outpoured blessing upon his or her life.

Then on the morning of the Sabbath (9/11:45 AM) let us join together with our sealed packets of communion emblems (the bread and the cup), that we might partake with each other (whether in person or online). We will eat and drink in adoration of the blessed Savior who promised, “‘Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in them’” (John 6:56). We will eat and drink with our Lord Himself at His table. And like Kevin Kinard, our eyes will tear up with the realization that we have held “the Calvary Friendship Diamond” in our hands and heart for a while.

PS—if you wish to celebrate that Friendship Diamond on live stream at home, please pick up as the sealed communion packets at the church office before Friday noon.

Sep
23
September 23, 2020

I don’t know about you, but lately, I’ve been noticing the repeated appearance of the simple word, “unprecedented”—defined as “never done or known before,” i.e., unparalleled, unequaled, unmatched, unrivaled. And it seems to be on everybody’s lips these days.

“Unprecedented.” Here’s a googled list of headlines in which the word appears: “Wildfires 2020: The California, Washington, Oregon fires are unprecedented” (Vox); “Covid-19 drives leaders to make unprecedented interventions but what next” (The Guardian); “Climate Change: ‘Unprecedented’ ice loss as Greenland breaks record” (BBC); “Belarus massive and unprecedented protests” (NPR); “Arkady Dvorkovich: 'It is clear that today the world is facing an unprecedented crisis’” (RealNoevremya); and one more from among dozens, this one the understatement of the day, “San Francisco prepares for unprecedented November election” (SFBay).

“Unprecedented”—what’s up with this word’s popularity? Just a news media fascination—you know, the flavor of the month kind? Or is it humankind’s attempt to condense into a single word our angst over the stunning magnitude of upheaval and change scrolling across our 24/7 news feeds?

“Unprecedented.” Turns out Holy Scripture resorts to it, too. Without even using the word, Daniel describes it: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then [unprecedented]” (Daniel 12:1). Unprecedented end times—unequaled by anything in history. Jesus Himself builds off of Daniel’s endgame description: “‘For then there will be great distress, unequaled [unprecedented] from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again’”—so unprecedented will be those times that Jesus goes on—“‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened’” (Matthew 24:21-22). Reads a bit like the googled list of headlines, doesn’t it?

Ever get the idea God is trying to tell you something? Well if you haven’t, this would a good time to get that idea. The escalating headlines with their litany of “unprecedented” events are hardly surprising to the student of God’s Word. Daniel, Revelation, Jesus’ mini-apocalypse (Matthew 24/Mark 13/Luke 21) clamor for our careful investigation. Why? So we can log on to one more depressing headline and burden our already anxious spirits? Not at all.

Jesus cuts to the point: “‘I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe’” (John 14:29). Did you catch that? The point of prophecy, the point of Jesus’ embedded predictions is to make believers out of us! The growing list of “unprecedented’s” swirling around us these uncertain days is simply the Spirit’s call to believe in Him who is the Lord of both history and prophecy (history in advance). “I am telling you all of this, so that when you suddenly realize you have entered a time of ‘unprecedented’ upheaval and change, you will not fear—you will instead believe in Me even more confidently!” 

In fact, that’s exactly how Jesus put it at the end of His predictions: “‘When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’” (Luke 21:28). There it is—the very best news of all—Jesus is coming soon! Unprecedented? Are you kidding? It will be the one headline with no precedent—before, after, or ever. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Sep
2
September 2, 2020

A friend of mine, who is a citizen of another nation far from here, contacted me with earnest concern about corrupt officials who apparently are trying to wrest family lands away from his family. Which being interpreted means, his family is running into unwanted intrusion by officials higher up. My friend wanted prayer right away—so I looked up a Bible promise to claim on his and his family’s behalf.

It is a dynamite promise—I’m surprised I haven’t claimed it more often! It's the kind of promise God’s friends can claim when powers that be push for actions that should not be—local or state or national actions that seem to run contrary to the will of God, to the detriment of those loyal to Him.

So I share the promise with you. Because you never know when in your daily living as a faithful citizen of both earth and heaven, you might encounter official efforts to harm you or your people or the cause you fervently defend.

Here’s the promise—from the wise king Solomon: “In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that He channels toward all who please Him” (Proverbs 21:1)

In other words, in our Lord Jesus’ nail-scarred hand lies the heart of any ruler (just or unjust, benevolent or malevolent). And holding tightly to that leader’s heart, God can turn that mind any direction He wishes. But the promise is even better than that. Christ can rechannel any human leader’s intentions or decisions for the sake of “all who please Him”—i.e., His friends. Amazing promise! In fact, why not jot it down and tuck it away—for that rainy day yet ahead.

Because it doesn’t matter who doesn’t matter when. It could be the nefarious mercurial king Nebuchadnezzar. In God’s hand that pagan heart was like a stream of water rechanneled, redirected until the ruler’s decision matched the saving will of the Almighty. Over and over, Nebuchadnezzar kept running into the God who holds the king’s heart in His hand like water—totally pliable, directionable, adaptable to divine providence, and yet ever free to choose.

Esther discovered the veracity of this promise when she pleaded for her people, the Jews. Lo and behold, the king’s heart was turned toward God’s will. Ditto for the Apostle Paul standing before the corrupt emperor Nero—who surprisingly dropped the charges and let this Christ-following disciple go free. But to remind us that the ruler is free to override what we are sure must be God’s will, Paul was later called back before the same Nero to defend himself. This time the evil ruler summarily ordered his beheading. 

Promises are not magic—they are “the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence” (Steps to Christ 94). We appeal, God decides. But every decision He makes is for the very best “of those who please Him,” and for the ultimate triumph of His Kingdom on earth.

So relax—be at peace—claim the promise—appeal to God (“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”)—and leave the results of the election to One who will not make a mistake. Promise.

Aug
26
August 26, 2020

I’ve been brooding over that two-word phrase we shared last Sabbath in the opening of “American Apocalypse." Here’s the quotation: “When we as a people understand what this book [Revelation] means to us, there will be seen among us a great revival” (TM 113). So what would such a “great revival” look like?

Acts 2 is the dynamite narrative of Holy Spirit’s Day of Pentecost outpouring. For ten days 120 followers of Jesus have been gathered in the Upper Room praying together, confessing together, bonding in the Spirit together—earnestly claiming the promise Jesus made to them days before He returned to heaven: “‘. . . wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 1:4-5). 

And so they waited. When one early morning as they were  praying, the heavens blew open with the roar of “a violent wind” while a fiery ball of flame descended, darting tongues of flame over the heads of the stunned disciples. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).

Is that what “great revival” from the study of Revelation will look like? Maybe. But let’s press deeper into the Apocalypse. 

What is the theme of the book? “The revelation [apocalupsis] from Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1). Of course, Jesus is the theme. From cover to cover Revelation reveals the truth from, the truth of, the truth about our Lord Jesus. Thus any “great revival” sparked by the study of Revelation must be some sort of Jesus-saturated, Christ-centered spiritual reformation (revolution even), ignited by the Holy Spirit in direct response to the earnest prayers and pleadings of God’s people.

Why would they be pleading? Because from their deepening study of the book, the magnitude of the impending conflict with the dragon (the raging Satan) dawns on the people of God. Crushed though he was by the Lamb of God at the cross, the dragon, with retaliating ruthless fury, has through the intervening centuries turned on the followers of Christ. And through his evil consort, described by the Apocalypse as “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people” (Revelation 17:6), the dragon will yet turn the past into prologue and with rage set out to annihilate God’s last friends on earth. No wonder they plead before God!

All of which means impending crisis can be an effective catalyst for such earnest pleading. And such earnest pleading can be the catalyst for “great revival.” And “great revival” can be the catalyst for the greatest spiritual movement ever on Earth. 

“Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. Satan also works, with lying wonders, even bringing down fire from heaven in the sight of men. Revelation 13:13. Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand” (The Great Controversy 612).

And that is how a deepening study of Revelation will help us “understand what this book means to us” as a people—by igniting fresh passion for Jesus, by illuminating apocalyptic prophecy (and history) in advance, by instilling a longing to be all or nothing for our Savior, by inspiring us to our knees in pleadings before God. This is what “great revival” will look like. For this will you join me in earnestly praying?

Aug
19
August 19, 2020

Good news for everyone wanting to escape this pandemic world—it isn’t too late to book your flight on Virgin Galatic’s SpaceShipTwo. You'll be rocketed 110 kilometers (68 miles) into glorious space, escaping the woes of this suffering world at 4200 kph (2600 mph) until you reach zero gravity! 

And oh my, will you travel in supersonic comfort. This summer I took a video tour of the plush cabin that will surround first-time space travelers or astronauts as the company is calling them (you can watch it, too: www.virgingalactic.com/articles/virgin-galactic-reveals-spaceshiptwo-cabin-interior/). 

Here is their brag sheet: you’ll sit in individually sized, reclining seats for G-force management and float zone volume; be bathed in automated mood lighting that harmonizes with each flight phase; watch personal seatback screens to connect astronauts to live flight data; enjoy cabin architecture that facilitates effortless movement in weightlessness; be served by 16 cameras providing high definition footage and stills; be awed by the 12 cabin windows for astronauts to gaze at Earth, and experience the largest mirror in a spaceship cabin that will reflect the real-time astronaut experience (take a selfie).

And seriously, they are taking reservations as we speak! A couple of thousand dollars to reserve your seat. And eventually $250,000 for your ticket. But good news again—it’s a round trip!

So here we are back on earth, battling our way into a new school year beginning right now—all three campuses alive with eager young minds ready and actually excited (most of them) about this unprecedented new year journey. No suborbital flights now—just the daily grind here on terra firma of coping with the Covid-19 new normal we are all already, unfortunately, getting used to.

Still, I suppose there is yet coming another day, perhaps sooner rather than later, when all of us earth inhabitants (young and old) will battle a bone-wearying, emotional, existential fatigue (and for some, despair) over what life has become—and we will long for something better. Somewhere else. Truth is deep inside us is the numinous realization there is more yet to come. As the old codger quipped, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” He’s probably right.

But this is precisely what Jesus spoke to hours before His own death—when with divine-human temerity He waives off His woeful prediction of the earth-wide, endgame meltdown with these bracing words: “‘At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” But He quickly adds: “‘When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’” (Luke 21:27-28).

Please note the “these things” we will be witnesses to are not the visible return of Christ. “These things” are the bone-wearying, heart-aching, life-despairing pre-advent harbingers of His return. “These things” are the new normal we have no choice but to survive as best we know how (by His sustaining grace) while we await His coming. "When you are overwhelmed with what life has become before I come,” Jesus is encouraging us, “in an act of clinging faith [“I will not let You go unless You bless me”] stand up and lift up your downcast heart—because what you now experience is the sure sign I am soon to return for you.” That’s the point He makes. 

And that’s the hope we have. In the midst of the meltdowns (both plural and personal or public) . . . in Christ our dearest Friend . . . in this life . . . we have His promise: “‘I will come again and receive you to Myself—that where I am, you may be also’” (John 14:3). 

“Whatever may be our situation, we have a Guide to direct our way; whatever our perplexities, we have a sure Counselor; whatever our sorrow, bereavement, or loneliness, we have a sympathizing Friend” (Christ’s Object Lessons 173).

What more could we ask for in this brave new world than Jesus—who, as it turns out, really truly is our one-way ticket to eternity by His side?

Aug
12
August 12, 2020

Look—I’ve never done this before—but then again, no one has responded to the previous week’s blog like this before.

For the last three weeks, Karen and I have had a delightful, I-really-enjoy-shedding-my-shiny-black-coat-all-over-your-carpet house guest named Kora, the favorite dog of our favorite granddaughters, who are frolicking by the lake of their other favorite grandparents. Wonderful girls, sweet dog.

Which needs to go out at night for obvious reasons. But alas, I broke my last flashlight and was looking for a replacement. Well, God bless one of our readers (from where I don’t know), who immediately ordered a brand new halogen flashlight that arrived two days after the blog with this note tucked inside: “I have a flashlight exactly like it—it is Great! I hope you enjoy it!” Signed with her name. Fortunately, Amazon included an email address so I could express my joyful gratitude to this kind stranger.

And oh boy, this flashlight is way more than “great!” It not only has a halogen light—but it also comes with a super-duper zoom lens (that can adjust its beam from blinding pinpoint to wide-area circle)—and on top of all that, it also can switch from low beam to high beam to blinking beam to a beam that actually blinks the morse code letters for S-O-S. You will never be able to lose me now!

Reminds me of Peter’s prescient observation about prophecy: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

Because that is what prophecy is—a halogen light peering into the dark uncharted future and exposing what we would never have seen lurking in our pathway. But they are much more than flashlights for the future. They are divine halogens that can supernaturally pierce the dark lair of the apocalyptic dragon and expose his deadly modus operandi with the Light of the world.

“I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5)—and “I am the bright Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16)—Jesus still declares. And He is the one Light we need now more than ever before, as we attempt to navigate the dark shadows of this pandemic landscape now our home. 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been pouring over those apocalyptic halogen snapshots of uneasy weirdness and terrible implication. Is there an interface between what we are living through on the cusp of a new school year and those dusty, long-forgotten, prophecies? Do they speak with decipherable clarity? Does the light of Christ and the Word of God expose the dark mastermind behind what we endure right now? From prophecy can we see with greater clarity the direction today’s stunning trends are headed?

Rhetorical questions, all four of them. This is why I am inviting you (and the friends and family you have) to join us Sabbath mornings, beginning next Sabbat, August 22, the eve of a new school year on all three of our campuses. Join us, join me as we seek to shine the halogen of prophetic light on what lies ahead. “American Apocalypse: ‘What Is Past Is Prologue’”—because if Shakespeare is right and the past is but prologue, then we have every somber need to be armed with the light of Holy Scripture at this critical time. Period.

And if we can decipher the beauty of God’s character and the face of our Lord Jesus in these ancient words—and if it is true that “when we as a people understand what this book [Revelation] means to us, there will be seen among us a great revival” (TM 113)—then can you think of a more essential, opportune moment in history to discover or rediscover all God has embedded in these ancient prophecies for His endgame friends?

Aug
5
August 5, 2020

Our granddaughters Ella and Izzy dropped off their favorite dog Kora Jean for us to dog-sit a few weeks ago. Kora is a Shepherd-BlackLab mix, and she’s a sweetheart—menacing in outward appearance (her ears straight-up pointed, her shiny black coat with gray betraying her age)—but she’s a charmer inside. Every morning first thing I take her on a two-mile walk. And she loves greeting the others we meet.

But Kora has also discovered the flock of wild turkeys that tramps all over our neighborhood. The other day she didn’t have her leash on in the backyard—and I’ve never seen those grumpy Turkeys rocket into the sky so fast! But it’s the deer I’m concerned about, fearing that if she spots one of them she’ll chase it until she collapses (and trust me—you can’t outrun the deer around here).

So I tried to find an inexpensive halogen flashlight yesterday (still looking)—because for our night jaunts I need to make sure we aren’t walking into a herd of those deer. The piercing halogen will hopefully spot their yellow-green reflective eyes staring back at us from the field behind our house. Gotta keep Kora from that chase.

In many ways, the ancient apocalyptic prophecies serve as halogen flashlights peering into the dark uncharted future. And given everything we’ve been going through the past seven months on this planet and across this nation, more and more people are wondering aloud about the connect there might between current events and Scripture.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been pouring over those apocalyptic snapshots of uneasy weirdness and terrible implication. Is there an interface between what we are living through on the cusp of a new school year and those dusty, long-forgotten, symbolic portrayals? Do they speak with decipherable messages? Does the light of the Word of God expose the dark mastermind behind what we endure right now? From them can we know with greater clarity the direction today’s stunning trends are headed?

Rhetorical questions, all four of them. This is why I must invite you (and the friends and family you have) to join us Sabbath mornings, beginning August 22, the eve of a new school year on all three of our campuses. Join us, join me as we seek to shine the halogen of prophetic light on what lies ahead. “American Apocalypse: ‘What Is Past Is Prologue’”—because if Shakespeare is right and the past is but prologue, then we have every somber need to be armed with Holy Scripture at this critical time. Period.

And if we can decipher the beauty of God’s character and the face of our Lord Jesus in these ancient words—and if it is true that “when we as a people understand what this book [Revelation] means to us, there will be seen among us a great revival” (TM 113)—then can you think of a more essential, opportune moment in history to discover or rediscover all God has embedded in these ancients words for His endgame friends?

Jul
8
July 8, 2020

When I was a boy, I remember my dad telling this story on himself to a group of my friends: “I was the toughest kid in my neighborhood—whenever the boys saw me coming, they started running—but they could never catch me!” And I recall feeling so upset because his story made him look like a weakling. Every child likes to think the authority figures in his or her life are invincible.

That’s why it is so confusing for the American public to decipher who of our many authorities are the ones we should believe, trust, obey. Look at all the debates we’re having, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) over face masks and social distancing; (2) over whether schools across the country should open or remain closed; (3) over the safety or lack of it for air travel; (4) over whether churches should open or not. Confusion over authority, confusion among authorities—how do you decide?

Take the decision of our Pioneer church board and board of elders, augmented by the protocol recommendations of our reentry taskforce—to open up our sanctuary this coming Sabbath, July 11. Talking about trusted authorities, here was a Zoom screen full of them, volunteer leaders of our congregation with a very much vested interest in Pioneer getting it right. So did they make the right decision?

I believe they did. But the more important question is—the right decision for whom? 

The Centers for Disease Control and the President’s coronavirus taskforce all are agreed—COVID-19’s greatest threat is to individuals 65 and older as well as those who have preexisting medical conditions. Does that mean everyone over 65 and/or with preexisting health conditions will contract COVID-19? Hardly. But it does mean individuals with these risk factors do well to evaluate the outside-the-house environment they choose to occupy, even on a Sabbath morning.

Here is the CDC’s counsel (irrespective of your age or health condition):

  • “In general, the more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer that interaction, the higher your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.
  • “If you decide to engage in public activities, continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions [wash your hands often, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when others are around, clean and disinfect et al].
  • “Keep these items on hand and use them when venturing out: a cloth face covering, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, if possible.
  • “If possible, avoid others who are not wearing cloth face coverings or ask others around you to wear cloth face coverings.” 
  • (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html)

In accordance with this counsel, our Pioneer reentry taskforce is taking these actions: 

  • Providing hand sanitizer for every worshiper entering the church;
  • Requiring face masks for all worshipers age two and above (if you forget yours, we’ll give you one);
  • Designating physical distancing in the sanctuary by limiting the number of worshipers in each pew (by maintaining six feet between families and/or individual worshipers, and keeping every other pew vacant); 
  • Disinfecting the pews, door handles, and restrooms between first and second service;
  • Dismissing worshipers by rows at the end of the service (in the back) through the south narthex exit, (in the front) through the canopy exit.

Why all this protocol? First, because your life and health are what matters most to your Pioneer Family. We not only want you to be safe—we want you to feel safe. Second, because being Christlike means considering the needs and safety of others, irrespective of our personal decisions (hence the required face masks). I believe our task force has made every safety provision so we may gather to worship our Creator and Savior in peace and confidence.

Does that mean we all show up this Sabbath? I doubt that will happen. Every worshiper must determine when is the right time to go back to church. Which means nobody needs to feel guilty about not worshiping in person. You’ll know when the time is right. And you will still enjoy a full live-streaming experience (9:00 AM/11:45 AM ET) where you live.

But for those of us who will venture into this “brave new world” this coming Sabbath, I say we celebrate our return with the words of David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).