For details regarding prevention measures in place and the COVID-19 Pioneer response click here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 18:41

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

January 5, 2022

A friend of mine whispered to me the other day his conviction that the eventual downfall of the American democracy will be traced to January 6, 2021, and the mob attack on Capitol Hill. My eyebrows arched, considering the bright mind and respected scholarship behind the whisper. But then everybody has an opinion these days, have you noticed?

Nevertheless, with the one-year anniversary upon us, it is prudent we pause and reflect on this New Year’s “new normal.” On the health front, the Covid-19 pandemic surges with the Omicron variant—we all know—but there is hope its surge will not reflect a sharp rise in mortality rates as well. And on the political front, there's no need to even review its landscape—we've already formed our own conclusions about all of that, irrespective of what news outlets may tell us to the contrary. But then, welcome to life in America today.

My concern for us is on the spiritual front. How is it with your soul and mine? Are we closer to the Savior this New Year than last New Year? Is the Spirit of God finding fuller access to our private lives and personal decisions, our practice behind closed doors? 

Consider this ancient prayer in the old King James Bible: “My soul followeth hard after thee” (Psalm 63:8). “I cling to you” is the same prayer in our own vernacular (NIV). But do we . . . do you . . . do I . . . follow hard after God . . . cling to Him?

A. W. Tozer, in his long-ago The Pursuit of God, reflected on the psalmist’s prayer and then made this appeal:

I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality of our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain. (p17, emphasis supplied)

Did you catch that? “He waits to be wanted.” I know you want Him and so do I. But is it a “My soul followeth hard after Thee” kind of want? How hard do we really want Him?

Maybe our New Year prayer ought to be, “Lord, help me to want to want You.” As Tozer noted, “He waits to be wanted.” As Ellen White often observed, we must “be willing to be made willing.” So why not ask Christ to mentor us into a deeper wanting, a following hard after Him this New Year? “Lord, help me to want to want You.”

Given the trajectory of this nation, it is hardly rocket (let alone political) science to recognize what we once prized as a nation is slipping away and could suddenly be taken away. If ever this secular country needed God—and by that I mean the people we work with and pray for—this would be the right time to personally model to them a deeper devotion to Christ, a following hard after Him. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with such a friend of Jesus? “Lord, help me to want to want You."

Clearly, this wanting must begin with us—we can’t wait for America. So to help answer our own prayer, “Help me to want to want You,” the practice of the ancients (and of those who walk with Jesus today—and you know who they are) must become ours. Begin each day with a less hurried, and more deliberate meditating on Holy Scripture verse by verse, joined to an uninterrupted conversation with God through prayer. The books on how to do it are legion. But the prayer to go deeper is ours. 

“Lord, help me to want to want You.”

December 22, 2021

Those are the last words of 30-year-old Shakar Ali Pirot, one of over thirty Middle East migrants who perished in the English Channel a few nights ago, their desperate flight to freedom ending tragically.

In this case, the electronically captured recording of the cry for help from the sinking dinghy says it all: “We are still in the sea between the UK and France. We're not sure which is coming [to rescue us]” (

By the time authorities were alerted and responded it was too late. “The BBC has confirmed at least 30 people died that night, by far the worst migrant tragedy ever recorded in the Channel. We have established, through help from many families in Iraqi Kurdistan, the identities of 20 of those on board” (ibid). Two survived.

How can the rest of the world ever get used to stories like this—whether the migrants are east or south or west of us? Smuggled in trucks or dinghies or swimming the currents or climbing the border fences—it is the sad plight of men, women, and children succumbing to their calculated risks for the sake of a new life. 

“We are still in the sea . . . not sure [who] is coming.”

But is that not also the cry of a desperate world this Christmastime 2021? Nobody, it seems, is sure who is coming to their rescue. The global medical community valiantly battles new variants of Covid-19, hospitals across the land overflowing with people desperate to be saved. The victims of “the longest continuous path record” for a tornado now pick through the rubble of their former lives in Kentucky. Innuendos and nascent rumors of impending civil war in this nation stoke the fears of a divided people.

“We are still in the sea . . . not sure [who] is coming.”

Was it any different when Messiah came the first time? So should we be that startled to realize it is deja vu all over again, two millennia later?

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

The One who came is the One who is coming. Thus those critical keywords—government, counselor, mighty, peace—find “re-solution” in this divine One. How else will Earth’s travail be resolved? 

Salaam, shalom, peace—may the promise of Christ this Christmas undergird our voyage into the uncharted year ahead: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

“We are still in the sea . . . but we know Who is coming.” 

December 15, 2021

A few days ago the Wild family—Mom and Dad and their two children—living on the Western Cape of South Africa were decorating their Christmas tree, a familiar holiday ritual. With the last ornament tucked onto a lighted branch, they all stepped back (you know the drill) to admire their blinking, glittering Yuletide creation. The requisite chorus of oohs and ahhs declared a job well done!

Except that Mother noticed the two pet cats, for some strange reason, also apparently admiring the tree. “Looks like we’ve got a mouse in our branches,” she pointed at the cats. But when the family tracked the cats’ unblinking stares back to the tree, it was no mouse emerging. The collective gasp was over the writhing, protruding head, and body of a four-foot-long boomslang, the most venomous snake in South Africa. Freeze!

Father moved first, grabbing his phone, snapping some pix and texting them to an animal handler he knew. A phone call confirmed they had a deadly boomslang in their home, its venom was able to shut off blood coagulation leading to death by bleeding.

For two hours the family, hardly daring to breathe, kept vigil on the snake in the tree, as the handler raced through the countryside to their home. But when he walked in, the snake dropped from the Christmas tree to the floor, slithering toward the couch to a chorus of screams. But the snake handler's long iron prongs snatched the snake and bagged it. Confirmation—a boomslang indeed.

Apparently, the snake had entered the home, confused but unnoticed, and had sought refuge in the Christmas tree. The handler later released the snake into the wild—far, far away from the Wild’s home, you can sure.

A poisonous Christmas tree. But then, isn’t that the story of Christmas? Wasn’t the Baby of the Bethlehem manger “the Word made flesh,” sent as a divine emissary to this rebel planet, born so that He might eventually die for the salvation of the fallen race?

And didn’t the grown-up Jesus once declare that “‘as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him’”? (John 3:14-15).

Born in a wooden manger, dead on a wooden cross—all for what? “[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes [we] are healed’” (1 Peter 2:24 NKJV, emphasis supplied). 

Hoisted like a snake on Calvary’s tree, the Savior of the world bore our poison and died for our rescue. The truth is you cannot separate the Christmas cradle from the Calvary cross—for the salvation we celebrate today was only possible by the Savior lying in the one and dying on the other. Profound mystery, relentless truth: “‘Herein is love.’ Wonder, O heavens! and be astonished, O earth!” (Desire of Ages 49). 

December 1, 2021

In answer to the question about the Greek alphabet, there are a total of 24 letters, with Omicron (transcribed as an “o”) as #15 in the alphabet, and just eight letters away from the last letter, Omega.

Of course, nobody’s interested in the Greek alphabet—but everybody is wondering how many more variants will there be to the deadly COVID-19 virus that has crippled this planet and has (through its Delta variant) stricken our own Berrien County. The heartache of an unexpected death, the specter of a pandemic unceasing in its spread, the growing number of people we know and love becoming infected—we thought all of this was the story of last Christmas. But as it turns out, this Advent season is beginning to feel as somber as the last one we survived together.

But this is no time for fear. Pioneer, thanks to your faithful compliance to safety and health protocols, is pressing ahead in our Kingdom mission—“Love on the Move”—on Sabbaths as well as weekdays, pandemic or not. But it is only prudent that we keep a watchful eye on global and national trackings. While the Omicron variant is reportedly less severe in its symptoms but more contagious in its spread, the truth is—we simply don’t know. Then again, what is “less severe” to those who are already in at-risk categories of life?

Thus this congregation (through its Safety Committee, Church Board, and pastoral team) will continue to monitor national and local trends. And should there need to be a change in our Christmas plannings and celebrations, we will notify our members via direct email or through this eLetter.

In the meantime, the truth is—it really doesn’t matter how many more letters there are, for Jesus is the summation of the entire alphabet—its first letter and its last: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last’” (Revelation 1:8, 17). And the good news is—He is every letter in between as well. This means whether we’re at the beginning of life’s alphabet or near the end—or, for that matter, anywhere in between—His nail-scarred hand securely holds us.

“Rejoice, rejoice!” No matter how many pandemic variants scientists may yet discover, the Alpha and the Omega is our Lord and Savior. Birthed in a crude manger, crucified on that gnarly tree, returning on a fiery cloud sooner than we think—this is our Jesus of this Advent season. 

“O come, let us adore Him!” 

November 17, 2021

Four centuries ago this autumn—“. . . it was probably in late September or early October [1621], soon after [the Pilgrim’s] crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested” (Nathaniel Philbrick Mayflower 117)—the decimated band of immigrant refugees to these shores had by a breath barely survived that treacherous winter before.

The numbers speak volumes: “ . . . 45 of the original 102 colonists died during the first winter. There were 17 fatalities in February alone.  Many succumbed to the elements, malnutrition, and diseases such as scurvy. Frequently two or three died on the same day. Four entire families perished and there was only one family that didn’t lose at least one member. Of the 18 married women, 13 died. Only three of 13 children perished, probably because mothers were giving their share of food to the children” (

And yet crippled though they were by those losses, these fifty-two English trans-Atlantic survivors turned a subsequent bountiful summer crop into a three-day harvest feast for the fledgling band of Pilgrims and their benefactor guests, Chief Massasoit, and his ninety Wampanoag warriors. “O give thanks unto the Lord.”

(Although truth be told, there is no celebration in the Wampanoag Nation today. In fact, “for the Wampanoags and many other American Indians, the fourth Thursday in November is considered a day of mourning, not a day of celebration” ( Once a thriving nation between 30,000 and 100,000 in eastern Massachusetts, Wampanoags today number 2,800—their homeland gone, their own numbers decimated. “O give thanks unto the Lord”?)

Four hundred years ago, of course, William Bradford had no inkling of the subsequent history. As the elected governor of these English immigrants, he declared their time of communal gratitude to be an occasion to “[gather] the fruit of our labors” and “rejoice together . . . after a more special manner” (Philbrick 117). 

Years after that first “thanksgiving,” the aged Bradford looked back to testify: “What could now sustain them [those survivors] but the spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in the wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity [see Deuteronomy 26:7]’” (Philbrick 46).

And “may not and ought not” the children of America today—we who come from every land to inhabit this same land—join that ancient chorus: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His love endures forever” (Psalm 136). 

But with that glad acclamation shall we not also resolve to be “Love on the Move” to the “strangers within our gates,” the refugees and immigrants who settle in our midst?  Of all people, shall we not extend the compassion of our Lord Jesus to the alienated, the disenfranchised, the marginalized residents of this land? “O give thanks unto the Lord.”

November 10, 2021

It was to be a simple day-trip hike in the beautiful, autumn-colored Colorado mountains last month. What’s not to like about that “Rocky Mountain high” of deep blue skies towering over rugged grey rock terrain amidst the you-can-smell-them rich conifer greens? Ahead is Mount Elbert’s peak and the South Trailhead that climbs toward it. What a day for a hike!

But at the end of the day around 8 p.m., someone called Lake County Search and Rescue, reporting the hiker was long overdue. Could they please help locate the individual?

All night long search and rescue teams combed surrounding areas to find the missing hiker. “‘Multiple attempts to contact the subject via their cell phone were unsuccessful,’” a Lake County statement later reported.

But lo and behold, more than 24 hours later the hiker returned home. Where have you been—the whole county has been searching for you!

According to the Lake County statement, the subject (whose identity and gender was being protected) lost the trail around nightfall, spent the night searching for the missing trail, finally found it, and reached their car the next morning. “‘They had no idea that SAR [search and rescue] was out looking for them.’”

But the closing to this news report (several readers sent me) is a classic. From the Lake County statement: “‘One notable take-away is that the subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn’t recognize the number.’” Can you believe it? The hiker’s phone kept ringing through the night from an unrecognized phone number, but since they didn’t know who was calling, they decided not to answer. Help was one phone call away—but they wouldn’t answer the phone!

When social media turned critical of this hapless hiker, the Lake County Search and Rescue came to the hiker’s defense: “‘Please remember that what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking’” ( 

I’m amazed at how many of us have lived through the double-header crisis of this pandemic, watched from afar the still erupting Capitol meltdown, tracked the global headlines of climate change, bemoaning the moral hemorrhaging of this culture and its collapsing values, and complaining about supply chain disruptions that threaten our Christmas gifts from China . . . and all the while our phones are ringing off the hook from an unidentified caller. Has it occurred to anybody it might be God on the other end? And that we might be more lost than even we think?

How did our Lord put it? “‘But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man’” (Luke 12:34-36 Message).

I.e., answer the phone!

Or in the words of the American writer Ellen White: “God of heaven, wake us up!” (Last Day Events 26)

Answer the phone.

November 3, 2021

All of Australia is breathing a sigh of grateful relief, now that police investigators hours ago rescued a missing four-year-old girl named Cleo. Eighteen nights ago she and her family were sleeping in a tent by a remote but popular tourist site along the west coast, Quobba Blowholes. Sometime after 1:30 AM when Cleo awakened to ask for a drink of water before falling back to sleep, police concluded she was abducted, sleeping bag and all pulled through a zippered tent flap (unzipped higher than a child would have raised it).

For eighteen days the frantic family has pleaded for her return, the anxious country tracking the “massive police search” on national news. 

Then hours ago just after midnight, Wednesday (Perth time) detectives found the proverbial needle in the haystack, when they broke into a house not far from Cleo’s home. Deputy Police Commissioner Col Blanch told 6PR radio: “When she said ‘My name is Cleo,’ I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. I have seen seasoned detectives openly crying with relief. I am speechless which is very rare . . . this is something we all hoped in our hearts, and it has come true’” (

The rescue of a child—the whole world shares the supreme priority such an undertaking commands.

A few hours after Cleo was found in Australia, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) here in the United States announced: “‘Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation's fight against the virus that causes COVID-19,’ CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. ‘We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine’” ( 

Now children as young as five may receive the Pfizer vaccine, to the relief of parents—as once again the rescue of a child (or in this case millions of children) rightfully occupies the center stage of adult attention.

No wonder Jesus uses the figure of “a little one” to get our attention in words often overlooked: “‘And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward’” (Matthew 10:42). While commentators suggest these “little ones” aren’t actually biological children—Frederick Dale Bruner suggests this verse means “giving even the tiniest social help to less significant Christians” (Matthew: A Commentary 1:497)—Jesus could very well be including children as young as five in calling us to show loving attention to the littlest among us.

Consider the Pioneer Sabbath Schools that faithfully open to our children (from a day old to the hoary-haired eldest among us) Sabbath after Sabbath, in spite of the pandemic still lingering across the land. Consider the masked Pioneer adults and teenagers who are staffing these Sabbath Schools simply because they care for children and love Jesus. What a compelling witness to the value of reaching one “little one” for the Savior. God bless our Pioneer children. And God abundantly rewards our Pioneer volunteers who serve up Jesus’ love for children in a simple cup of refreshing water. 

The rescue of a child—the whole world shares the supreme priority such an undertaking commands.

October 27, 2021

I am pleased and grateful to share with you the good news that Pacific Press Publishing Association has just released the book I wrote this last winter, American Apocalypse. Based on what we shared last fall—but with new chapters and material added—this book is a candid, earnest biblical examination of where America stands in the stream of apocalyptic history. One of the editors of the PPPA happened to listen in on some of that pulpit series and asked me to write the manuscript. 

I wrote American Apocalypse with the humble prayer that those not of my faith community would find it both intriguing and convincing. In fact, a few days ago I sent the book to two out-of-town friends of mine—one a physician and the other a pastor.

I don’t mind sharing with you, who are part of my own spiritual family, my prayer that politicians in America would have the chance to examine the case presented in this book. I wish the president would have an opportunity to read the book. I wish the former president the same. Every judge, every mayor, every county commissioner—is that too great an ambition? I think not. After all, Paul himself—the focus of our current pulpit series—lived with one aspiration: “Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand’” (Romans 5:20-21). 

And so I am praying this fresh examination of the prophetic Word will ignite for American readers an intellectual paradigm shift, along with a deepening spiritual conviction that life as we know it in this country and even globally is crumbling. 

Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, and historian, in his book The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels recognizes: “There is, in fact, no struggle more important, and none nobler, than the one we wage in service of those better angels who, however, besieged, are always ready for battle” (272). “Angels always ready for battle”? If he only knew!

But you and I do know. And so please join me in praying that the Spirit of Christ will attend this book and send it to inquiring minds, perplexed souls that wonder what could possibly happen next. Knowing what you and I know, is this not an opportune moment to speak up for Jesus?

October 20, 2021

We live in a world where debate over collective decisions, ostensibly connected to science, has become our daily news fare. Two of this nation’s largest cities (New York and Chicago) are hotly debating municipal mandates to require Covid vaccinations of city employees. And both the Yay-sayers and the Nay-sayers are loudly trumpeting their opinions, both conflicting conclusions appealing to science for support. Decisions, decisions.

It really isn’t any different with climate change. Nearly everyone who prognosticates about what this planet is facing has staked out a position on greenhouse gasses and rising global temperatures—from dire warnings on the one hand to dismissive “this has happened throughout Earth history without catastrophic consequences” reasoning on the other hand. And once again, both conflicting conclusions appeal to science for support. Decisions, decisions.

I suppose we ought to be used to it by now, this world of ours so radically divided—over science, politics, economics, morality, race, health care, or even caring at all. It is probably fair to say we really haven’t seen anything yet, given where all this division appears to be headed.

But there is one science over which many of us are agreed—the science the great apostle Paul described: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:10). The American writer Ellen White called it the “science of salvation”: “The foundation of all true science is contained in the Bible. Every branch of knowledge may be found by searching the word of God. And above all else, it contains the science of all sciences, the science of salvation. The Bible is the mine of the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Christ’s Object Lessons 107, emphasis supplied).

“The science of salvation”—it is what we were blessed to witness evening after evening as Richie Halversen preached his heart out in our recent revival series—“The Darkness Will Not Overcome”—appealing to every listener to make a decision for Jesus and His salvation. (The edited series will soon be posted on our website.)

And as a result, we are rejoicing over the many decisions made for Christ, decisions made not just privately in our hearts, but openly through texted responses. Pastor Rodlie reports 35 of those in attendance texted in their decision and desire to begin a relationship with Jesus. Thirty-two individuals texted in their wish to study the Bible with someone. Seven people made the decision to follow Jesus in baptism. And 43 individuals indicated their wish to talk with someone about a matter on their hearts. God be praised! (We are now following up on these texted requests.) 

Decisions, decisions—it is the stuff of gospel preaching and the reality of “the science of salvation” manifested through the work of the Holy Spirit on listening hearts.

Let’s face it. This civilization may never agree on the most vital scientific decisions humanity faces. But it is surely clear to us all that the most critical decision of all—to come to the Savior of the world while there is still time to freely choose Him—is the one invitation, the one decision we must be most passionate about and proactive in extending to all. Because ultimately “Love on the Move” at Pioneer is simply the friends and disciples of Jesus loving lost men, women, and children to the Savior. On that, we can all be agreed.

September 22, 2021

Bruce Wilkinson tells the story (perhaps it was a dream) about a Mr. Jones who was enjoying a personal tour of heaven. Eyes wide with wonder, he couldn’t get enough! But then he and his guide passed a large warehouse, which the guide ignored. Perplexed Mr. Jones asked why they weren’t stopping. “Oh, it’s nothing you’d be interested in.” “But yes I am interested—please show me what’s inside.”

The guide relents, prepares for the disappointment, and opens the door. Turns out “the enormous building is filled with row after row of shelves, floor to ceiling, each stacked neatly with white boxes tied in red ribbons.” Mr. Jones begins to walk the aisles and quickly notices each box has a name on it. “Is there a box here for me?” he eagerly asks. The guide reluctantly nods but before he can explain, Mr. Jones races toward the J section of the warehouse, quickly locating the box with his name on it.

Slipping off the ribbon and popping off the lid, Mr. Jones peers inside and lets out a deep sigh, as he recognizes the contents of the box. “Because there in Mr. Jones' white box are all the blessings God wanted to give to him while he was on earth . . . but Mr. Jones had never asked” (The Prayer of Jabez 25-27).

“You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).

Makes you wonder what is in your box, doesn’t it? What are the gifts we could have had, had we asked?

Could there be a box marked “Pioneer Memorial Church” and another for “Andrews University”?

I think of “The Darkness Will Not Overcome” series with Richie Halversen beginning a few days from now (October 1 - 9). Could it be Heaven is primed and eagerly waiting for us to plead with God for the saving of lost people we know? Might it be God and His angels are standing by, unwilling to force themselves on us, but thoroughly prepared to supernaturally intervene in the life of this campus and this congregation, if we would “but for the showers we plead” (to quote the familiar hymn).

Steps to Christ wonders: “Why should the sons and daughters of God be reluctant to pray, when prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence?” (94-95).

Regarding the upcoming series, your pastors and chaplains have each taken a day of prayer to cover the days between now and opening evening, Friday, October 1. Your House of Prayer communities (AM and PM) are taking the 24 hours from Thursday 7:00 PM to Friday 7:00 PM (at both the beginning and the ending of this series) to earnestly intercede before God on behalf of Pastor Richie and all who will attend this event.

And you, too, can join us in these prayers. (1) Pray for people you know who need to meet Jesus, their Savior. (2) Pray for God’s timing to guide your simple and short invitation for some of them to join you. (3) Pray for an unusual, supernatural moving across this campus, a divine turning these young hearts and minds toward the soon-coming Christ. Why not be praying prayers like these at this critical juncture in Earth history?

What was that line? “Prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse”—what are its contents?—“where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence.” It surely is the right time to empty Heaven’s warehouse. And it surely must be right for us to pray and pray for God’s boundless resources. Why leave a single box unemptied?