The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

February 8, 2017

In the latest issue of TIME magazine, the leader of the former Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, writes an op-ed piece that begins: “The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policy makers seem to be confused and at a loss. . . . It all looks as if the world is preparing for war” (TIME February 13, 2017, p 22).

In very similar language this observation was made over a century ago: “The present is a time of overwhelming interest to all living. Rulers and statesmen, men who occupy positions of trust and authority, thinking men and women of all classes, have their attention fixed upon the events taking place about us. . . . [T]he world is on the verge of a stupendous crisis.” (Education 179-180).

Could Ellen White and Mikhail Gorbachev both be right?

I’ve been reading Jacques Doukhan’s new commentary on Genesis this new year and am now immersed in the story of Noah. Commenting on Genesis 6:11—“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (NKJV)—Doukhan writes: “The word shakhat ‘corrupt’ refers to destruction and annihilation (Dan 9:26). This verb often occurs in the context of war (2 Sam 11:1; 1 Chron 20:1) and killing (Judg 20:21, 25, 35, 42; 1 Sam 26:9). . . . What makes the earth corrupt is the violence that predominates there. . . . . suggest[ing] not only the intensity of corruption, but also its totality; all aspects of corruption are implied” (Genesis 141).

Didn’t Jesus Himself predict, “As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37)?

Is the world “preparing for war?” Are we on “the verge of a stupendous crisis?” Are we facing unprecedented corruption and violence globally? Is Jesus soon to return to this earth?

What if the answer were Yes? Would it make a difference in the way we live today? Racially? Last June the Pew Research Center surveyed the nation and opened its report with these words:

Almost eight years after Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president—an event that engendered a sense of optimism among many Americans about the future of race relations—a series of flashpoints around the U.S. has exposed deep racial divides and reignited a national conversation about race. A new Pew Research Center survey finds profound differences between black and white adults in their views on racial discrimination, barriers to black progress and the prospects for change. Blacks, far more than whites, say black people are treated unfairly across different realms of life, from dealing with the police to applying for a loan or mortgage. And, for many blacks, racial equality remains an elusive goal. (

And how is it in the church, the church of the Jesus who prayed: “. . . that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21)?

“STORM: Finding Jesus in the Gathering Dark”—Pioneer’s new pulpit series segues with Black History Sabbath today, because the mounting evidence is inescapable. If we are saved by “the faith of Jesus,” then we will live by “the love of Jesus.” Why? Because in the end it will be the only way a secular, godless culture will recognize the divine—in a faith community where Blacks and Whites and Yellows and Browns are bound together by the radical, bold, self-sacrificing “love of Jesus” for one another. For as C. S. Lewis once observed about this faith community—“What you say about the VII Day Adventists interests me extremely. If they have so much charity there must be something very right about them” (Letters to an American Lady 109).


February 1, 2017

A friend of mine put me onto the Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith (Calvin College) and his book, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Smith’s book, as it turns out, is “an idiot’s guide” (my words) to the massive tome (900 pages) of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, Secular Age—a work recognized as a definitive analysis of our secular age. Smith describes Taylor’s work as “a genealogy of the secular and an archaeology of our angst” (ix) and sets out to make Taylor’s provocative conclusions accessible to the rest of us mortals.

Both Taylor and Smith turn to the memoir of the English writer Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, a book Smith describes as “an existential map of our secular age” (4). In it Julian Barnes admits, “‘I was never baptized, never sent to Sunday School. I have never been to a normal church service in my life’” (5). I.e., his is the life most of us would consider secular.

And yet consider the poignant depth of the confession Barnes makes: “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him” (5).

How many people today would identify with his confession: “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him”?

The striking point James Smith’s book drives home is that the world the church occupies today is a very changed world. The answers we’ve prepared in order to witness to our faith are questions seculars aren’t even asking. For many of them nothing is “missing” from their lives—“so you can’t just come proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who fills their ‘God-shaped hole.’ They don’t have any sense that the ‘secular’ lives they’ve constructed are missing a second floor” (vii). I.e., this isn’t Paul’s Mars Hill (Acts 17) world where even the intellectuals are surrounded by their gods. “No, it seems that many have managed to construct a world of significance that isn’t at all bothered by questions of the divine” (ibid).

And yet in Julian Barnes’s confession we hear the faint longing of the secular heart. “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” It’s what Taylor and Smith describe as the “haunting” of the secular mind, a longing for the transcendent (God) while embracing only the immanent (this world of here and now). Most of us, Smith observes, live in the in-between of these two worlds, “where both our agnosticism and our devotion are mutually haunted and haunting”(4).

So shall we abandon any effort to connect with this secular age for Christ? Not at all. First, I think of John Stott’s counsel to Christians who want to witness to their faith, “Remember—the other man’s conscience is always on your side.” I.e., the Spirit of God impresses divine truth via the conscience. Thus the “haunting” that Julian Barnes’s confession intimates reflects the light planted deep within the heart, “the true light, which enlightens everyone . . .” John 1:9 NRSV emphasis supplied). Or as Paul put it: “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). Good news—no one you meet is beyond the reach of God.

Second, the power of love may be the most persuasive argument God can make—through you. A 900-page tome would be enough to scare anyone away from plunging into our secular world for Christ. But intellectual prowess is hardly ever overcome by a matching wit. The power of change is embedded in selfless love. “The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian” (Ministry of Healing 470).

Two reasons why you are just what God needs to love the Julian Barnes’s of this world back to Him. They don’t believe in Him, but they miss Him—you know Him, and you love them—talking about a match made in heaven—let’s go!

January 25, 2017

I listened to a fascinating report by Charles Osgood on his “The Osgood File” this week. Researchers at Lund University (Sweden) have been studying the flight patterns of the common swift, that black ubiquitous bird (about the size of a barn swallow) found across Europe and the United Kingdom. Scientists have long expected that swifts spent much time in flight, but not this much!

Mounting tiny electronic sensors on 19 swifts, biologists began tracking their flight time. And when the numbers were compiled over a period of two years, they discovered that the common swift can spend up to ten months in the air. Without stopping! Fly an airline from Chicago to Sydney, and you’re looking at over 17 hours in the air (without stopping). But these small creatures are now tracked spending two months shy of a year in constant flight. (Researchers did note a possible half a percent of those ten months on the ground in the event of storms, et al.)

Ten months of non-stop flying? When in the world (or above the world) do they sleep? The embedded sensors on the swifts indicate that at both dusk and dawn these small birds ascend to 10,000 feet and stop their wing flapping, as they begin a long slow glide earthward. Those two glides (an hour in length each) apparently are the “power naps” that provide the swifts with enough rest each day to keep flying. For ten months.

“Lead researcher Anders Hendenstrom, professor of biology at Lund University, said: ‘It’s mind-boggling that they can stay airborne for 10 months without needing to come down. Most of the time there is a trade-off between energy use and life: live hard and die young. But these birds live quite long, up to 20 years, so somehow they have beaten this rule’” (

The lesson for us? If you’re not sleeping through these first days of the New Year, then you well know that our world (this civilization) is navigating some of the most turbulent times in memory. The mini-storms across the planet are fast merging into a global storm of eventually epic proportions. “We are on the verge of a stupendous crisis” (Education 179). No wonder Jesus with prescient foresight warned those living near the end:

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).

Again and again He admonishes His followers to “watch and pray”—and in this case “be always on the watch, and pray.” Is the Master suggesting that like the common swift we “fly” without sleep? Hardly. But He is clear enough that living in a predicted time of epic storms will necessitate a commitment to extended praying. Living in this nation and world, we have long passed the “business as usual” demarcation. Welcome to the “watch and pray” storm zone.

If you would like to join with others in collectively watching and praying, Pioneer now offers two “watch and pray” zones each week: Wednesdays at 7:00 AM (Youth Chapel) and 7:00 PM (Sanctuary). Pastors will be on hand to guide and join this “watch and pray” experience. I hope you will either begin or end your Wednesdays praying with us. But not just on Wednesdays, rather like the swift let’s keep our hearts ascending to our God and Savior all week long, interceding for those we love, for those we know—for this storm-bound church and world.

Let us swiftly “watch and pray.”

January 18, 2017

I want to be both politically neutral and correct in making an assertion. In my lifetime (my dear mother [whom we buried this week] named me after a general soon-to-become president named Eisenhower and a preacher named Moody) I do not recall a more contentious build-up to a new president and his administration than the one we are experiencing. In a few hours Donald John Trump will take the oath for the office of President of the United States, and a new chapter in this nation’s history will begin. And how shall we respond?

The Bible lists not a single caveat nor even one exception clause in its profound advocacy to pray for political leaders in power: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for  kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Be reminded that when the apostle Paul wrote this call to prayer, Nero was the reigning monarch in the Roman Empire.

And please note this is not simply a call to intercede for our new president. It is also an appeal to give “thanksgiving” for our leader(s). Clearly Paul commands no begrudging prayers, but rather fervent thanksgiving prayers. And given the political climate in the empire when Paul wrote this admonition, it is just as clear that he cannot be describing a “thank God my political views have won” sort of congratulatory prayer either.

Why would Paul issue such a clarion call to pray for our kings? He is quick to list the reasons: (1) that we may live peaceful lives; (2) that we may live quiet lives; (3) that we may live in godliness and holiness; (4) because such praying is good and pleases God; so that (5) all people might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Five compelling reasons why you and I should fervently pray for the new President.

Thus, it matters not how the political fortunes of this nation and the nations of the world may yet twist and turn. The imperative is unmistakably clear: Pray for your king. And so, in obedience to the Lord of Lords and King of kings (and if you prefer, the President of presidents), let this faith community lift up our collective and private voices in intercession to Him who “deposes kings and raises up others . . . [who] knows what lies in darkness” (Daniel 2:21-22). Let us pray for our kings, for the sake of our Lord’s saving mission, for the sake of yet reaching the people of this nation and world with the glad tidings: “The King is coming.”


January 4, 2017

On Monday morning my beloved mother (Barbara Watts Nelson Rienderhoff) peacefully fell asleep in Jesus while resting at her home in Banning CA. The attending nurse remarked that it was as peaceful a way to die as you could wish. She was 88. I’m so grateful I got to spend three days with her on her birthday just before Thanksgiving. Her condition deteriorated rather rapidly in December. My sister Kari flew down from Sacramento twice the week before Christmas to be with her. And while we with our brother Greg and her husband Bert grieve Mother’s death, there is relief in knowing her suffering is over. For her it will be a split second between her last moment of cognition and gazing up into the spectacular panorama of Jesus in the sky, calling His friends to rise. Oh happy day of reunion!

You would’ve loved her, too, had you known her. What was she like, this woman who survived my childhood? Let me share seven of life’s great lessons I learned from my mother, and you’ll get the picture:

1. Remember three rules—read, read, read. Mom was a voracious reader, and she stimulated our appetite for good books from the beginning. In a land where children’s books in English were a rarity (she and Dad were missionaries in Japan where all three of us kids were born), she managed to find the childhood classics, and we read all the time. Junior Guides came by ship from America—we devoured and preserved every issue, eventually binding them into books for rereading. I learned to love reading because of my mother.

2. Learn to love music—it is a beautiful thing. (It’s the practicing that’ll kill you!) And oh boy, did Mom make us practice. Relentless, sometimes merciless—she was our first piano teacher, along with trombone (me), trumpet (Greg), and oboe (Kari). Born with a beautiful contralto voice, she sang at the end of Dad’s sermons all across Japan. She loved music, and music loved her.

3. Never forget God has a purpose for your life. By the age of ten I had nearly died twice (stories for another time). I can’t count how many times my mother drew me aside to remind me, “God has spared your life for a reason—He has something special for you to do.” I grew up with that compound sentence. And because of her conviction and her faith, I ended up one day actually believing her. If you’re a young mother, memorize that sentence and whisper it to your child—because it will be always be true—and one day your child may very well turn out to be true to it.

4. A domesticated mother is a wonderful gift. My mother was an award-winning cook, baker (Sabbath morning sticky cinnamon rolls [to die for]), nurse, seamstress, PE coach, handywoman, boss, and queen of the castle. In a day where perhaps such giftedness is becoming rarer, God bless the mothers who embrace the divine mission of providing for, protecting and preserving a brood of children for society and the Kingdom.

5. A liberated mother is a wonderful inspiration. While it’s true Mom was more exceptionally domesticated than the TV Mom’s we watched in black and white, she embraced her God-given uniqueness as woman and colored outside the box. Somehow she became acquainted with the producers at a local television station in Toyama (a large city in which an American woman was a standout). And before long she was hosting a weekly television program fluently in Japanese (we kids with Dad even got to be her guests once!). Using her unique, God-inspired gifts, coloring outside the box, ministering as a woman—a liberated woman is an inspiration.

6. Be a learner all your life. My mother was Exhibit A that this must be God’s intention for us all. Whisked away by Dad before she could finish nurse’s training—off to Japan and mission life—good-bye schooling—but not Mom. On our second furlough, she enrolled in a school of business to study office administration. Then with her kids finishing college, she found a school that offered her life experience credit and eventually graduated with her Bachelor’s. Before long she was enrolled in Loma Linda University’s off-campus Master of Public Health degree, graduating at the same time Kari graduated from college. Then with her MPH Mother established a community health clinic in Portland OR, for which she was feted at a downtown hotel with a Community Services award. Always learning and growing, you go, Mom!

7. Be friends with God. I not only learned about prayer from kneeling beside my mother mornings and evenings—I also learned from those early mornings when I’d peek around a corner to find my mother alone, quietly reading and marking her Bible and  praying. When I would look inside her Bible at the markings and writing in the margins, I instinctively knew—she never had to tell me—how important this personal daily commitment truly is. For her, religion was a friendship and prayer a conversation. How many times when I was in college was she pouring her heart out in intercessory pleadings for me, as I later learned, at the very time the battle for my own heart was raging. She knew Jesus—and He knew her—and therein was the secret to her loving heart and fruitful life.

Ellen White describes the reunion one day in heaven: “Many will raise their crowns in sight of the assembled universe, and pointing to their mother say, ‘She made me all I am through the grace of God. Her instruction, her prayers, have been blessed to my eternal salvation’” (Reflecting Christ 195). To which I bow my head this day and whisper, “Amen.”

December 21, 2016

Some time ago Charles Schultz’s syndicated Peanuts cartoon went apocalyptic. Frame 1: Lucy to Charlie Brown, “I don’t worry about the world coming to an end anymore.” Frame 2: She continues, “The way I figure it, the world can’t come to an end today because it is already tomorrow in some other part of the world.” Frame 3: Lucy turns and asks Charlie Brown, “Isn’t that a comforting theory?” Final frame: Lucy smiling but Charlie Brown muttering, “I’ve never felt so comforted in all my life!”

What do the end of the world and Christmas have to do with each other? One word: Advent. Which being interpreted, of course, means the Messiah’s coming. First time. Second time. Both times, “God with us.” Advent.

The American lawyer and social activist, William Stringfellow, in his essay, “The Penitential Season,” bemoans the loss of meaning of this Advent season in America: “For all the greeting card and sermonic rhetoric, I do not think that much rejoicing happens around Christmastime, least of all about the coming of the Lord. There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing.” Why the loss of a deeper joy in this season? “The depletion of a contemporary recognition of the radically political character of Advent [i.e., “that message that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the nations and the principalities and the rulers of the world are judged in the Word of God”] is in large measure occasioned by the illiteracy of church folk about the Second Advent and, in the mainline churches, the persistent quietism of pastors, preachers, and teachers about the Second Coming. . . . Yet it is impossible to apprehend either Advent except through the relationship of both Advents” (in Watch for the Light 104, 105). Did you catch that? “It is impossible to apprehend either Advent except through the relationship of both Advents.”

In all holiday candor, it makes me wonder—not just about Americans, but about those of us who bear the name “Advent-ists.” Have we inadvertently (and no doubt, innocently) abandoned the apocalyptic connection between the two Advents, between Christmas and the Second Coming? And yet in this season’s most beloved and lauded of compositions, George Frederick Handel’s The Messiah, the composer powerfully and convincingly weaves together the theme of both Advents in his magnum opus. Isaiah’s grand prophecy—“For unto us a Son is given”—is inseparably joined with the Apocalypse’s mighty Hallelujah chorus—“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!” Because it is impossible to comprehend either Advent “except through the relationship of both Advents.” Stringfellow was right.

Then shall we not join him, and this Christmas set ablaze the candle of our joy, not only for the Advent that is past, but also for the One who is coming? “Oh that today the human family could recognize that song [“Glory to God in the highest”]! The declaration then made, the note then struck, will swell to the close of time, and resound to the ends of the earth” (Desire of Ages 48).

*Originally published on December 16, 2015 in "The Fourth Watch" blog.


December 14, 2016

Her nose is hardly the stuff of Christmas, to be sure. But there may be a Noel connection yet. My last blog noted that the French mathematician philosopher, Blaise Pascal, a devout Christian (1623-1662), wrote in his Pensees that had Cleopatra’s nose “been shorter the whole face of the earth would have been different” (No 413). I.e., such a small but attractive detail (her nose) left Mark Anthony’s heart smitten, plunging him into a war for her, forever changing the Roman Empire which changed the world we live in today. Etc. Seemingly small details can have enormous consequences.

In this season of gift giving and receiving, you may remember the promise of Jesus: “‘If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’” (Matthew 7:11)

Jim Moon, a pastor friend of mine, sent me a quotation the other day—came across it during his time of worship and prayer. He’s been listening to our #RxF4Now series and in connection with the teaching “2nd Hand Faith” he texted the quotation. Throughout the fall season at Pioneer we’ve been focusing on God’s omnipotent word—so omnipotent that when He speaks it, that word immediately creates the reality it describes. Hence, “Let there be light” in half a nanosecond resulted in—no surprise—light! “For He commanded and it stood fast; He spoke and it was” (Psalm 33:6). The astounding omnipotence of the word(s) of God is chronicled throughout Scripture (see also Isaiah 55:11; John 6:63; 2 Timothy 3:16, et al.). When God breathes a word, that very word immediately creates the reality it describes.

But how does it work? Paul declares (2 Corinthians 1:20) that all of God’s promises are a mighty “Yes!” in Christ, because Jesus is both the eternal Creator and the very Word of God (John 1:1-3). In Him every promise (or word) God has ever spoken is powerfully ratified with a divine exclamation “Yes!” All we mortals need do is declare “Amen” to Jesus—“. . . and so through him [Christ] the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). When you and I declare “Amen” to one of His promises, we are simply adding our “Yes!” to God’s “Yes!” and opening ourselves to receiving that promise, that gift.

Now the quotation Jim sent me:

For the pardon of sin, for the Holy Spirit, for a Christlike temper, for wisdom and strength to do His work, for any gift He has promised, we may ask; then we are to believe that we receive, and return thanks to God that we have received. We need look for no outward evidence of the blessing. The gift is in the promise, and we may go about our work assured that what God has promised He is able to perform, and that the gift, which we already possess, will be realized when we need it most. (Education 258 emphasis supplied)

Ponder those italicized phrases: “any gift He has promised,” “the gift is in the promise,” and “which we already possess.” Take any promise God has made in Scripture—put your finger on it and with childlike faith declare “Amen!” for that promise—believe you have in that moment received that gift—thank God for the gift—and with no further “outward evidence” resume your everyday living—with the assurance that (here’s the astounding part of the quotation)  the gift you “already possess” will be “realized” (made evident, made plain, manifested) when you “need it most.” Amen!

“Yes, but I prayed and believed that God would heal me (heal my loved one), and He has not done so.” First of all, God is not through answering your prayer (no matter the circumstances). And secondly, the same God who answered Jesus’ anguished pleading in Gethsemane—“Take it away from Me, but not what I want, but what You want” (see Mark 14:36)—will just as surely answer your prayer, too—in just the way He answered Jesus’ prayer—at the precise time and through the very circumstances that both maximize His glory and save your life (and the lives of countless others through your radical faith testimony).

Read it again: “We may go about our work assured that what God has promised He is able to perform, and that the gift, which we already possess, will be realized when we need it most.”

Such a small word—but what enormous and eternal consequences for your whispered faith in God’s bountiful promises this very Christmas—“Amen!”

November 30, 2016

In his Pensees Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Christian philosopher, once wrote of her nose: “Cleopatra’s nose: if it had been shorter the whole face of the earth would have been different” (no. 413). His point? Had not Mark Anthony, the Roman general, been smitten by the Egyptian monarch’s beauty, he would never have fought a war for her, would never have upset the Roman Empire, would never have changed subsequent history, including the very history we live today. All because of Cleopatra’s nose, as Pascal put it: “This indefinable something, so trifling that we cannot recognize it, upsets the whole earth, princes, armies, the entire world.”

The philosopher Peter Kreeft reflects on how, in fact, we all experience the “Cleopatra’s nose principle”: “If one of a million sperm cells had not successfully hailed the taxi of your mother’s ovum but another had gotten in instead, you would be a totally different person. If your grandfather hadn’t gotten a crick in his neck and turned his head the wrong way one day and noticed your grandmother walking down the street with a pleasing girlish gait, he would never have met her and married her, and you would never have been born.” Kreeft’s point about Pascal’s pensee: “enormous things constantly depend on tiny things” (Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined and Explained 83).

“Enormous things” really do depend on “tiny things,” don’t they? Benjamin Franklin wrote:

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail. (

“Enormous things constantly depend on tiny things.”

Could that be true for the realm of the Spirit as well? Can a single prayer, prayed by a simple heart, move the Hand that moves the world? 

I’m always intrigued by the number of times (in the upper room on the night before His execution) Jesus urges His followers to ask Him for anything: # 1—“I will do whatever you ask in My name” (John 14:13); #2—“You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it” (14:14); #3—“Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (15:7); #4—“Whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you” (15:16); #5—“My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” (16:23); #6—“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (16:24); and #7—“In that day you will ask in My name” (16:26).

Seven times in a single evening, the Savior of the world urges us to ask Him in prayer for what it is our hearts need most. It must be true—a single prayer, prayed by a simple heart, can indeed move the Hand that moves the world. One prayer. “Enormous things constantly depend on tiny things.”

Then why are we so hesitant, so reticent to pray that prayer, to ask as a child asks her daddy? Of all seasons of the year, Christmas is when the hearts of children joyfully, confidently ask for their heart’s desire. “‘If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’” (Luke 11:13) After all, “With the reception of this gift, all other gifts would be ours; for we are to have this gift [of the Holy Spirit] according to the plentitude of the riches of the grace of Christ, and He is ready to supply every soul according to the capacity to receive” (Ye Shall Receive Power 221 emphasis supplied). A single prayer from a simple heart—and the Gift that brings “all other gifts” would be ours. This Christmas. This New Year. In fact, right now.

Then—given the times in which we struggle to live—shall we not ask as never before? Forget Cleopatra’s nose—it is the Father’s heart that compels us.

November 9, 2016

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord” (Isaiah 6:1). The young prophet Isaiah, wrapped in the fog of political uncertainty—his nation threatened from crises without and fears within, his own soul afraid of what might yet come upon his people—turns his despondency toward the temple in Jerusalem. And as he steps into sacred space to pray, to ponder, the towering temple walls collapse into this stunning vision: “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Breathless he gazes at this theophany: “Above him were seraphim, each with six wings . . . and they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’”

The whole earth “full of His glory”? But how could that possibly be when the nation the young prophet loves and serves is at a critical crisis point?

Or could it be that political crises are the grist of divine paradigm shifts, that leadership upheaval and change is the catalyst for new revelation, for understanding?

A quick scan of Twitter hashtags on the morning after Tuesday’s presidential election reveals a community of young and not so young Americans exuding strong and conflicting emotions—triumph and joy, broken and bitter, get-over-it nonchalance, and angry, just plain angry. The election has been labeled the most bitter presidential election in the history of this nation. And America the morning after is as fractured and divided as we were before we cast our votes—perhaps divided even more deeply now.

But in the narrative of the young Isaiah the veil between human politics and divine sovereignty is drawn aside—and in his vision of the “high and exalted Lord” whose glory fills the earth “as waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14) we stand before the stark but abiding truth that there is only one Sovereign, one Supreme Leader—“the only God our Savior [to whom] be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 25).

And it is that “Amen” that promises hope for all Americans, for all earth inhabitants on the morning after. The hope of healing for this fractured nation, the hope of strong and abiding love for all those alienated and rejected by political ideologies or campaign demagoguery, the hope that somewhere there is a deep and abiding compassion that can yet restore this land to its original promise and historic destiny.

So it is we pray on. With this prayer—a prayer I hope you will pray with me—the prayer of the intrepid Protestant Reformer John Knox, who in a land torn by religion and politics, pleaded with God, “Give me Scotland or I die.” On this day after, Iet us cry out to the same God, “Give us America or we die.” Give us, O God, this land of destiny for which the door of spiritual opportunity is yet open a little longer.

Ours is not a political cause to champion. To us has been entrusted the apocalyptic mission to point this civilization to the soon-coming King, whose healing love is the greatest freedom any human can seek. Now more than ever carpe diem—we must seize the day! “Give us America or we die.”

November 2, 2016

Last Sabbath we considered the question, “If ‘Righteousness Exalts a Nation,’ What’s Going 2 Happen 2 the USA?” Even in a fractured nation with crumbling morality, God is still in control—He rules. We don’t have to fear what lies ahead for America. We can trust His omniscient wisdom. But for those who are considering not voting at all (as a way to avoid or protest a distasteful choice), let me share why I believe the Christian should vote in the 2016 presidential election:

1. It is a Christian’s duty to exercise civic responsibility. 
Attempting to trap Jesus in this regard, the Pharisees accosted Him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes or not?” Recognizing their duplicity, Jesus asked someone for a coin (He was that poor) and held it up. “Whose image is on this coin?” Obviously the emperor’s, they replied. To which Jesus retorted, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). All citizens owe their government the taxes it assesses. Paul echoes the Master: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. . . . This is why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants” (Romans 13:1, 6). I.e., Christians are citizens of the land. Voting is the method in a democracy whereby citizens freely elect their leaders. Thus, voting is a civic responsibility a democracy requires in order to remain a democracy. Consider the millions on this planet who would give anything for the privilege of exercising the freedom to vote.

2. It is the responsibility of Christians to help shape their nation’s future. 
Paul again: “I urge first of all that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority . . .” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). God Himself appeals: “‘If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face . . . then I will hear from heaven . . . and will heal their land’” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Prayer is a potent divine strategy to effect change in a nation and its leaders. Voting is a human strategy to also effect change. To the best of our ability while maintaining our moral values and spiritual commitments, we must exercise the ballot box, along with the prayer closet, to influence our homeland’s future.

3. But remember—the Bible supersedes the ballot. 
When push comes to shove, as it does in some nations of earth today and as it will one day in this nation, the principle Peter declared to the authorities of his day is our guiding light, too: “We must obey God, rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29). Political correctness, popular persuasion, cultural majorities—none of that must influence the follower of Christ’s radical loyalty to the Master. If our conscientious stand is forbidden, we must make that stand irrespective of its cost.

4. Don’t forget—God is the ultimate king-maker (see Daniel 2:21-22). 
His will will “be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Note the use of the Hebrew divine passive (often in the Bible when a passive verb appears with no stated subject, the subject is understood to be God) in the critical apocalyptic prophecy of Revelation 13: “It was granted to him [by God] to make war . . . . it was granted to him [by God] to give breath to the image” (Revelation 13:7, 15). Who granted these geo-religio-political powers the authority and power to force their rule on the world? God, of course. Why? Because “in the word of God the curtain is drawn aside, and we behold, behind, above, and through all the play and counterplay of human interests and power and passions, the agencies of the all-merciful One, silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will” (Education 173). All political power and authority are borrowed from the ultimate King of kings and Lord of lords.

5. No matter how this election fares, remember how the story ends. 
"In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44). God rules—God wins. In the end Love triumphs.

Who has not thrilled to the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah? “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Halleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Revelation 19:6). But until those Hallelujah’s are sung (on a day sooner perhaps than we once thought), we the citizens of the great King have the opportunity to exercise our privilege as citizens of this land. May God rule and overrule on Tuesday . . . until we hear the Hallelujahs in eternity.