The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

May
18
May 18, 2016

I'm sitting here in my 26th floor hotel room in Hong Kong—high rises towering into the sky all around me. I don't think I will ever forget the anguished, nearly despairing look on her face last Friday afternoon—a desperate face not even my iPhone camera could possibly have captured.

We flew in this afternoon from Xiamen, China—where we (my two translators and I) spent the last nine-plus days and nights in that thriving seaport city of Fujian Province—a city once remembered in British annals as Amoy (one of the five Chinese ports opened to foreign trade by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842). Our mission in Xiamen—to conduct a public evangelistic series. I say "public," though government officials overseeing religious affairs allow no public marketing of the gospel through evangelism, thus leaving word-of-mouth and discreetly hand-distributed printed pamphlets as the only advertisements for this series of meetings.

Actually, that we were there at all is a tribute to the influence and respect the pastor of the Xiamen Seventh-day Adventist Church enjoys in the government circles of the city and province. A  humble, deeply spiritual and loyal Adventist pastor and leader, he also sits as a leader on the Three Self Patriotic Movement council (a government oversight board established for government sanctioned Protestant churches/congregations). It is because of his relationship with governing authorities that the church received tacit (but necessarily unwritten) permission to invite a foreign preacher to preach in his church for this series, the first time such permission has been granted in Xiamen and the southern provinces of China.

And the woman with the anguished and pleading countenance—I spotted her Friday afternoon as we were touring the large ornate Buddhist temple in Xiamen (across the street from Xiamen University with its commanding 30- or 40-story administration tower). The temple precincts were bedecked with bright red festive hanging lanterns, banners and floral bouquets for the next day's celebration of Buddha's birthday. Shining golden images of Buddha were everywhere you turned on the hillside temple grounds. But as part of the birthday preparations, the entrance to the "most holy place" shrine within the temple was cordoned off from the public with yellow traffic/crowd control tape, leaving all of us sightseers and adherents alike on the outside looking in.

That's when I saw the woman, oblivious to the people milling around behind her, on her knees beneath the yellow tape, her hands clasped, her lips moving, her head bowing repeatedly toward the now inaccessible golden image of Buddha across the cordoned off courtyard. But it was her face—a face etched I think forever inside of me now—a face I can still see even here as the Hong Kong sun vanishes and the high rise lights below and above me now twinkle in the night—a face of such absolute despair and anguish welling up from a heart that appeared to be breaking in real time while I silently watched—breaking for what, I will never know—but breaking in front of a cordoned off idol that I swear never heard her pleas—and will never answer her prayers.

Back in my Xiamen hotel room two hours later, my heart broke for a nameless Chinese woman loved by the God whose own heart broke for her on a cross, on another Friday afternoon much longer ago than last week.

"And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people to Me" (John 12:32). 

But who will go—to her, to them, to all the broken hearted—and lift Him up—there, here, wherever? Only the broken hearted, of course—God, you, and me.

Join me this Sabbath morning for a personal picture and testimony report on the China mission in both services (9 and 11:45).

Apr
20
April 20, 2016

On April 29, 1865, 50,000 people stood in line to pass through the Ohio Statehouse rotunda to pay their last respects to the recently slain Abraham Lincoln. As America mourned the assassination of its President, Ohioans reflected the gratitude of this country in that outpouring of affection. Hanging overhead in the Statehouse was a banner with an excerpt from Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of his death, the Statehouse in Ohio today has hung a replica banner high overheard for all to read: “With malice to no one, with charity for all.” It is an admirable sentiment, but as you quickly note it is not the correct rendition of the line President Lincoln spoke in that address.

But if you were to call the Ohio Statehouse and protest this inaccurate quotation, they would be quick to inform you that in fact the words on the banner are “historically faithful to the one hung on the building on April 29, 1865” (South Bend Tribune 4-22-15). As it turns out the creators of the original banner 150 years ago got it wrong—and with no Google to fact check their quotation, they hung up an inaccurate rendition of (what would become) Lincoln’s immortal line!

Do you suppose this has something to do with “the sin of the parents” being passed down “to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5)? Probably not what God had in mind.

But the truth is, it really isn’t that difficult—is it?—to repeat the mistakes of those who have gone before us. Honest-hearted mistakes, to be sure, but mistakes nevertheless that we unintentionally pass on to the those who watch us, who become behind us—mistakes they in turn honest-heartedly repeat. Children are renowned for their uncanny ability to mimic our behavior. When I get it right, they get it right—when I get it wrong—oops!—they get it wrong. That may be closer to what God had in mind in the 2nd Commandment of His Decalogue.

Perhaps Michael Horton, in his new book Ordinary, has something to teach us: “If staying with the familiar (no matter how bad it may be) is the tendency of a conservative temperament, the ideal of creativity and novelty—as an end in itself—becomes destructive of long conversations. At the end of a term a student discovered the professor’s evaluation explaining the poor grade: ‘Your paper is original and creative. The parts that are creative are not original and the parts that are original are not very good.’” Horton concludes: “The best changes are slow, incremental, and deliberate. Instead of cutting their own path, they extend the ancient faith into the next generation” (Ordinary 64-65).

Extending the ancient faith into the next generation—that is the mission of both the Christian academy and the church. To the extent we do it faithfully and we do it well here at Pioneer and Andrews, may God be blessed and His Kingdom on earth expanded. And to the extent that each of us translates that ancient faith into the language of this new generation, the Kingdom of God is advanced and the Word of God is made fresh for this third millennium. In the words of the ancient prophet: “I have heard all about you, LORD, and I am filled with awe by the amazing things you have done. In this time of our deep need, begin again to help us, as you did in years gone by. Show us your power to save us." (Habakkuk 3:2 NLT).

Apr
13
April 13, 2016

Never mind that the Alpha Centauri star system is 4.367 lights years away—some of the world’s richest and brightest minds have announced a new collaboration to get there. From here!

This week famed physicist Stephen Hawking, internet investor Yuri Milner and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg formally teamed up to launch project Breakthrough Starshot—a space expedition to our closest star (beyond the sun). How far is 4.367 light years? Trillions of miles—nearly 300,000 times the distance from the earth to the sun. Traveling at the speed of the Space Shuttle it would take a leisurely 165,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri. (It’s the return trip that really ages you!)

Actually these collaborators are not planning on sending a “who” but rather a “what.” “Yuri Milner said the eventual goal is sending hundreds or thousands of tiny spacecraft, each weighing far less than an ounce, to the Alpha Centauri star system. . . . Propelled by energy from a powerful array of Earth-based lasers, the spacecraft would fly [with actual extended sails a few yards wide] at about one-fifth the speed of light. They could reach Alpha Centauri in 20 years, where they could make observations and send the results back to Earth” (www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/stephen-hawking-joins-bid-to-seek-life...).

Too crazy an idea for us humans? Not according to Hawking. “‘We commit to the next great leap into the cosmos because we are human and our nature is to fly’” (ibid).

He’s certainly right about the “our nature is to fly” notion. The Creator-Designer of this universe gifted intelligent life with a capacity to know, to question, to explore—a capacity we earth inhabitants have clearly yet to maximize. That the most well-known thinkers in our midst are so preoccupied with this quest to “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” (SETI) should be no surprise. As the wise man Solomon observed, “[God] has put eternity in [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This embedding has fueled exploration from the beginning of time. For at its core is the longing to make contact with the Eternal. “He has put eternity in our hearts.”

That’s why this campus was raised up over a century ago—to send into the world the brightest and best of Adventist young—to make contact on behalf of the Creator with other intelligent earth inhabitants—to tap into that latent longing for eternity and the Eternal. “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee,” Augustine wrote. The God-shaped vacuum within us makes the mission of Christ’s followers simpler. All we need to do is to cross the relational bridge into the lives of those we know, those we work with or play with or occasionally socialize with. A simple relational bridge to cross over and connect with the Eternal already in our friends’ consciousness.

Coming this fall (October 14-22) is “Hope Trending: A Crash Course on How to Live Without Fear” (www.hopetrending.org) —the perfect opportunity for you to now begin composing your prayer list of friends and acquaintances you are positioned to reach for Jesus. Pray over their lives, pray their names to the Savior who emptied His life and treasury to win their minds, their hearts. He’ll do the winning—let us do the bridging that begins with praying.

Think about it. Someone this fall is going to meet Christ in an eternally life-changing way. Why not pray that God will guide you to put that someone on your prayer list now? He will do the winning—we must do the praying and then the bridging.

Because Yuri Milner is right: “We can do more than gaze at the stars. We can actually reach them” (ibid). Your praying, your bridging can become for someone a one-way ticket far beyond Alpha Centauri—why not a one-way friendship into Eternity?

Apr
6
April 6, 2016

Look—I don’t mean to sound incredulous and I’m not wanting to be cynical. But when I learned just this week that an organization called “UnitedCry” is planning to hold a prayer rally for 30,000 pastors this Saturday (April 9) in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital, I admit to being a bit skeptical. It’s not that I don’t believe pastors pray. I joined 5000 other praying pastors last summer in Austin, Texas, at a convention they called “Called.” Pastors pray—trust me.

But 30,000 pastors bowed together in Washington DC? It would have to be a hugely compelling agenda to draw that many men and women of the cloth to leave their rural or inner city or suburban parishes and travel to the capital for the solitary purpose of praying, wouldn’t it? Turns out that’s what “UnitedCry” is proposing. In their own words:

 

When a nation is in crisis, scripture is clear about the solution: Joel 2 states, “Call a sacred assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble [sic] the elders. . .” Believing that we are in a pivotal moment in the history for our nation, UnitedCry DC16 is a gathering 30,000+ pastors and Christian leaders on April 9, 2016 from 9 am until 4 pm at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to unify in the spirit of a Joel 2 Solemn Assembly. Gathering in our Nation’s Capital has been of historical and spiritual significance. It has been a major gathering place for Christians to come together in solemn assembly to pray and repent for their nation. Each time thousands of Christians gathered to pray in Washington, DC, our nation encountered significant events and God intervened. Throughout our American History pastors have also always played a significant role in  bringing about spiritual and social transformation in our nation. We need our pastors to rise up, teach us how to pray, and lead all of us within the Body of Christ back to a relationship with the Lord! Strong times call for strong measures—It’s time to gather again and pray! (http://unitedcry.com/about/)

 

Who could argue with a stirring call to prayer like this? If ever there were a time in this nation’s history when believers of all stripes and shapes needed to band together to call upon the God of Heaven to “forgive us our trespasses” and “deliver us from evil” (as Jesus taught us to pray), wouldn’t it be now? Make no mistake—I am a fervent believer in collective prayer (on this campus, in this congregation and across this country).

Less clear is the stated reason “UnitedCry” chose April 9, citing it as the anniversary of: (1) the ending of the Civil War in 1865, thus symbolizing “repentance for national sins”; (2) the pentecostal outpouring at Azusa Street (Los Angeles) in 1906, symbolizing praying for revival; and (3) the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany in 1945, symbolizing pastors in “civic engagement” (http://unitedcry.com/the-historic-significance-of-april-9/). (Perhaps the linkage of these three disparate events says less about history and more about the theological/charismatic persuasion of the “UnitedCry” organizers.) 

That’s why on April 9 I will be in my home church pastoring and preaching alongside a team of seminarians who’ve just returned from an evangelistic mission in Santiago de Cuba. Pray together—we did every day and night in Cuba, praying for the salvation of that nation. And now that we’re home we must pray for the revival of this nation as well. We must all pray for the day when “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will be left to another people” (Daniel 2:44). But we must not only wait and pray for that Day—we must work for it. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” “and then shall the end come” (Mark 16:15/Matthew 24:14). Cuba, China, America, Africa—it is time to answer our own prayers. And GO.

PS—You can GO by joining the “Hope Trending” mission (October 14-22) now—begin praying and growing your list of people to invite to this historic/collective sharing the truth as it is in Jesus (wherever you live on earth—see www.pmchurch.org/hopetrending).

Mar
30
March 30, 2016

One of our team came hurrying in to breakfast two Tuesdays ago with the news. Thirty-one of us from the seminary at Andrews were wrapping up our evangelistic mission to Santiago de Cuba. We’d just spent our only night (and the last one) in Cuba in a hotel (a change from the generous kindness extended to us by the Cuban families who boarded all of us in their small living quarters during our mission). Lisandro had been watching the news in his hotel room and hurried in with the announcement, “There’s been a terrorist bombing in Belgium at the Brussels airport!”

We got back to our rooms and turned on the hotel televisions and CNN Mexico. Sure enough, surreal images of the dust and din aftermath of the twin bombings at the international airport were flashing across the screen. And commentators were reacting in Spanish (at 100 mph). Our Spanish-speaking seminarians began interpreting. And the grim reality of yet another global urban center under attack quickly sank in.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Do you suppose Jesus was aware that His command to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15) would have to be obeyed and fulfilled by an endtime generation in the midst of such threatening geo-religio-political conditions? The answer is: Of course He did—just read Matthew 14/Mark 13/Luke 21. This civilization has never been on a trajectory of ascending peace and prosperity. The third law of thermodynamics is proving true socially and geo-politically—civilization is moving from equilibrium (order) to entropy (disorder). Moving, as anyone can see, at an accelerating pace.

Which only makes Christ’s command all the more imperative. The nearly 100 flags flying unfurled on our campus mall on this International Student Sabbath are a vivid reminder that this university was raised up “in the beginning” to prepare young minds and lives for global mission. No matter the academic discipline, no matter the nationality, no matter the mother-tongue—we are all under commission by our Lord and Savior to GO on His behalf into every nation, every culture, every city, every village and hamlet and through the practice of our training find access and opportunity to proclaim God’s love for this dying world.

And never forget—His is a co-mission—which means we do it “co” or “with” the Master. Nobody has to go alone. No one.

So whichever colorful flag is yours out on the windy mall, the command to all of us is the same: GO. And to those unsure of what Jesus’ command means for them there is surely this response from the Spirit: Which part of the GO don’t you understand—the G or the O? “For lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19).  

PS—don’t miss our Cuba Mission Team report (with video, pictures and personal testimonies) next Sabbath in both services.

Mar
23
March 23, 2016

I'm squeezed into the very last window seat on this American Airlines jet, ready to taxi away from the Frank Pais Holguin international airport in Cuba on our flight back to Miami, Chicago, and home. The lady beside can't speak a word of English, and after ten days in Cuba my Espanol has only increased by a dozen formal you-can-say-this-from-the-pulpit sentences.

But for the 31 of us from the seminary at Andrews University, we return home with the joy of the resurrected Christ. Not just because of the 258 people of Santiago de Cuba who rose up with Jesus out of the salt watery "grave" of baptism this past Sabbath along a sun-baked beach.

Nor just because of the five churches we were privileged to serve as preachers and visiting pastors for this Cuba evangelistic mission, getting to know the faithful Bible workers and church members who with friends, guests and strangers night after night filled our Seventh-day Adventist sanctuaries (ranging from a wall-less worship site [known as Chicharrones—literally "pork chops"] still not recovered from Hurricane Sandy's devastation to a wooden banistered wrap-around balcony sanctuary where I and my seminarian translator Sandro Sandoval were blessed to preach).

And not even because of the warm Cuban hospitality that filled the tiny homes where our entire team was hosted by volunteer families who from their meager largess fed us breakfast and supper, and who did so with unflagging kindness and cheer (group lunch was served everyday in the central church "fellowship hall" [a wall-less roofed space with chairs and plenty of flow through ventilation], where our field school was conducted every morning).

No, we all return home this day and night with the joy of the resurrected Christ, because we were granted a front row seat as witnesses to the mighty New Testamentesque outpouring of the Espíritu Santo. Alcoholics coming forward with tears in response to the altar call. One of them a husband with a knife in search of his espousal. Strangers showing up for the night meeting only to make the decision then and there to embrace Jesucristo as Lord and Savior. It is the stuff and fervor of evangelical life once upon a time in the United States, but seen or at least testified to less and less these days in this sophisticated and a bit jaded land we call home.

"Una Nueva Esperanza En Cristo"  ("New Hope in Christ") is the message we went to preach. And when nearly 1,800 people crowded into Santiago's Teatro Heredia convention center (across from the Plaza de Revolución) for the final two joint meetings last Sabbath—the high octane music, the moving personal testimonies, the altar call respondents—all radiated that new life-giving hope en Cristo.

"He lives!"

We know it. We saw it. Nueva Esperanza. It changed them. It changed us. And truth be known, it must change our homeland, too.

New hope. Gloria a Dios.

Because He lives!  

Don't miss the video and personal testimony report of Team Cuba Mission on Sabbath, April 9 (9:00 & 11:45 AM).

Mar
2
March 2, 2016

Humans have been fascinated for millennia with the thought that there are other intelligent alien life forms in our universe. Most recently from the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project decades ago to the $100 million ten year Breakthrough Listen Initiative today, science continues to act on this numinous sense that “somewhere out there” are intelligent creatures with whom we might yet communicate.

The Christian Science Monitor and others reported this week a new strategy to find a populated exoplanet. (Exoplanets are planets that orbit a star other than our own Sun—Wikipedia estimates that “over 2000 exoplanets have been discovered since 1988 . . . including 509 multiple planetary systems” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanet).  

According to the Tech Times website: “The key is to look for [aliens] in the way they are probably looking for us. To look for alien life, astronomers use a technique called ‘transit method,’ which involves investigating the light changes that occur in parent stars when orbiting planets pass by. The Kepler telescope of NASA is said to be the most efficient instrument to do just that. If aliens do exist and also want to find us, they can detect the Earth by looking for the dimming of the sun, which signals Earth's travel. Such dimming may only be observed in the so-called ‘transit zone,’ which is said to house approximately 100,000 possible alien habitats” (www.techtimes.com/articles/137781/20160302/study-reveals-new-trick-for-h...).

I.e., look for small shadows that cross between us and the face of distant stars. Could those shadows belong to orbiting exoplanets like Earth? And if that method effectively identifies a planet, could it be that alien intelligences are also using this method to discover us in our Milky Way solar system home?

“Being able to discover eclipses or transits will encourage aliens to study the event and eventually discover that the Earth has an atmosphere that has undergone chemical changes due to life. ‘They have a higher motivation to contact us, because they have a better means to identify us as an inhabited planet,’ says study author René Heller from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. Such possibility would drive them to look for us and maybe send signals for communication. If we have a keen ear for listening, we may someday catch those signals and eventually find each other” (ibid.).

The ancient Holy Scripture has long championed the notion that the human race is not alone in our universe. Job describes the “sons of God” that reside outside our home planet (Job 1:6; 38:7, et al). And the Bible is replete with references to angel beings (including the “seraphim” and “cherubim” angelic orders) that travel to and from this planet to the celestial headquarters of the Creator.

In fact the Creator Himself incarnated into our human existence for a brief three and half decades (John 1:1-3, 14). But that single “extra-terrestrial” visitation has rewritten human history, literature and scientific advancement. What is more the Bible predicts the return of “this same Jesus” (see Acts 1:11). In the interim those who follow the Incarnated Returning One are commissioned by Him to penetrate the furthest reaches of Earth to communicate the urgently Good News that He is soon to return.

“Hope Trending: A Crash Course in How to Live without Fear” will be beamed into cyberspace from Andrews University’s Howard Performing Arts Center this October 14-22. Its solitary mission will be to communicate that Announcement to Earth (www.hopetrending.org).

There are three ways I hope you’ll respond: (1) pray daily for the success of this new mission; (2) begin a prayer list of individuals to invite to this unique experience; and (3) join the large volunteer team essential for the success of this Kingdom venture. Jesus couldn’t be clearer: “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you—so go into all the world and share the Good News—for I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (John 20:21; Mark 16:15; Matt 28:20).

The Alien has already found us—it is now our mission to find the lost ones who do not know Him yet.

Feb
24
February 24, 2016

When the news first broke, my reaction was a they’ll-never-get-Apple-to-buckle dismissal. True, the FBI possessed a cell phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino terrorist-killers. And yes, government law enforcement agencies have significant cause to seek information encrypted inside that Apple cell phone. But isn’t this a matter of free speech, civil liberty, and customer privacy? Tech giants Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter all agree with Apple’s refusal to comply with either the FBI or the court order to unlock potential incriminating evidence inside the phone. Chalk up another win for privacy.

But that was yesterday—this is today. Turns out the FBI and the federal courts have painful tools they can wield to force Apple and its CEO Tim Cook into compliance. According to a piece at FastCompany.com, the potential penalties are no laughing matter (see http://www.fastcompany.com/3057045/how-apple-could-be-punished-for-defying-fbi-encryption-order). First, the court can levy financial penalties—from $10,000 per day according to a 1992 communications law up to $250,000 a week (based on a case against Yahoo, where “the daily fine was set to double every week that Yahoo refused to comply”--$250,000 this week, a half million dollars next week, a million dollars the next, etc). But still what are these millions in comparison to the billions of dollars Apple is worth?

But there’s more: “‘Apple could be held in criminal contempt of court for defying the order signed by Judge Pym. This legal mechanism is often used when no amount of civil coercion (like monetary fines) can make the party in question comply with the court's demands,’ [attorney] Fu explains. Courts can use this non-monetary punishment on journalists who refuse to divulge their sources, for example. The goal isn't to compensate an injured party, but rather to ‘punish the target party and to vindicate the authority of the court,’ Fu says. If the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court, and Apple refuses to comply with a demand to adhere to the [Judge] Pym order, then things get a little crazy. ‘Under these circumstances, there is a universe of possibilities where Tim Cook could actually go to jail for refusing to comply with a lawful order of the court,’ Fu says” (ibid).

Who cares? We all should. Global terrorism (from Paris to San Bernardino) has rewritten the playbook for human freedom. It isn’t incongruous to surmise that even free access to the Internet enjoyed by most of the world could eventually be reduced or even removed, given the heated, escalating debate over personal freedom vs national security. Moreover the Apocalypse predicts an eventual radical slashing of personal freedom in society (whether economic, social, or religious—see Revelation 13).

But the door to the world is still open. Which is why today we begin a countdown to “HOPE TRENDING: A Crash Course on How to Live without Fear”—a first of its kind cyberspace experience to communicate the “everlasting Good News” to this 3rd millennial generation. Beginning October 14 in the Howard Performing Arts Center, HOPE TRENDING will be a fast-paced, nine-evening, 60-minute live program to all twenty-four time zones on earth. Anyone anywhere with a cell phone, a tablet or a laptop within reach of WIFI will be able to connect. Combining a TED-talk length presentation each evening with a high-octane panel discussion fielding questions globally through social media—HOPE TRENDING will harness the Internet to communicate the most compelling news this civilization must hear.

There are three ways I hope you’ll respond: (1) pray daily for the success of this new mission; (2) begin a prayer list of individuals to invite to this unique experience; and (3) join the large volunteer team essential for the success of this Kingdom venture. Jesus couldn’t be clearer: “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you—so go into all the world and share the Good News—for I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (John  20:21; Mark 16:15; Matt 28:20).

While the door is still open, we must go.

Feb
17
February 17, 2016

I read a fascinating piece from the Wall Street Journal this week (thank you, Don Wilson)—“ISIS Is Guilty of Anti-Christian Genocide” (2-12-16 A11). Written by Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, the essay is a one-year anniversary reflection of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic State terrorists. “These Coptic Christian hostages were executed for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ. ISIS released a video of the barbarism with the title: ‘A Message Signed With Blood to the Nations of the Cross’” (ibid).

Side-stepping the heated debate within Christian circles over whether the religion of Islam is contrary to the principles and truths of Christianity (e.g., the recent termination of a Wheaton College professor because of her claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God), the author of the WSJ essay relates a detail from that execution I had not read before. Let me quote the bishop’s essay:

The 21 men executed that day were itinerant tradesman [sic] working on a construction job. All were native Egyptians but one, a young African man whose identity is uncertain—reports of his name vary, and he was described as coming Chad or Ghana. But the power of his example is unshakable. The executioners demanded that each hostage identify his religious allegiance. Given the opportunity to deny their faith, under threat of death, the Egyptians declared their faith in Jesus. Steadfast in their belief even in the face of evil, each was beheaded.

Their compatriot was not a Christian when captured, apparently, but when challenged by the terrorists to declare his faith, he reportedly replied: ‘Their God is my God.’ The ISIS murderers seek to demoralize Christians with acts like the slaughter on a Libyan beach. Instead they stir our wonder at the courage and devotion inspired by God’s love” (ibid).

Jesus, the ultimate divine Savior Martyr, once intoned: “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’” Mark 8:34, 35.

The Greek word, martus, from whence comes our word “martyr,” means “witness.” As with these 21 men, martyrs are those who give the ultimate witness by their death. But these words from Jesus do not command our martyrdom. Rather they summon from us a bold, unflinching witness to Christ’s lordship in our daily living. The kind of living Dietrich Bonhoeffer described, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship 99).

Which can mean: Come and die to social conformity or popularity—come and die to financial success or personal gain—come and die to professional reputation—come and die to the Devil’s Faustian bargain—come and die to self-advancement or self-preservation—come and die—period.

Because in the scarlet shadow of the cross, the greatest crucible is not dying—it is living—and therein lies our martyrdom.

Feb
3
February 3, 2016

5,700 feet underground is enough to stir up anybody’s latent claustrophobia. Although I suppose that if you’re used to being that far down and are doing it for a living (as miners do), it’s pretty much old hat to you. Unless, of course, your way back up to the surface has been blocked, as was the case with South African miners in the Harmony Gold mine west of Johannesburg. They were digging over a mile underground when apparently a magnitude-2.4 tremor shook a large rock loose, tumbling it into a metal cable, causing a spark that ignited combustible material into an underground fire, trapping eight men in that subterranean dark. Several years ago in almost the same place in South Africa I descended 742 feet into a gold mine  in a small elevator with other tourists (the certificate of proof is still on my study wall)—and trust me, I was more concerned about getting back up to the surface than enjoying the chilled-air sights of that abandoned mine!

I can’t imagine the concerns of these miners trapped so much farther down. Although on this Black History Sabbath, it may not be so difficult to imagine a vast swath of this nation and this world’s populace trapped in the deep shaft of poverty. The news last week: “At least 500,000 people will lose their food stamp benefits this year as many states revert back to a strict three-month limitation on benefits, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. At the extreme, as many as one million of the country's poorest people will lose food assistance, which averages $150 to $170 per person per month. Those affected are people aged 18 to 49 who aren't disabled or raising minor children. Most of them live a subsistence existence, scraping by with the help of government and charitable organizations and low income jobs, although college students are also eligible.” (www.cnbc.com/2016/01/26/why-half-a-million-people-will-lose-their-food-stamps-this-year.html)

What’s all of this have to do with such fervent “We have this hope” Adventists like you and me? Maybe everything. Commenting on Jesus’ familiar words in His final parable about the sheep and the goats and “the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine” (Matthew 25:40 NIV), Desire of Ages makes this startling observation: “[Jesus] represented [the judgment’s] decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering” (637).

On this Black History Sabbath the truth is—the unfailing standard in the final judgment will be what we have done or neglected to do for Jesus “in the person of the poor and the suffering.” Black (as in clean-water impoverished Flint, Michigan), white, brown or yellow, it doesn’t matter. The narrative of freedom this nation is still struggling to write has “poverty” written all over it. Thus every worshiper is under the obligation of Christ’s compassion to live out His compassion toward those we clearly know are trapped—those who can only be set free if we will volunteer, if we will give, if we will reject racial stereotypes for the sake of living out Jesus’ radical love.

The student bus for Flint on Valentine’s Day still has a few seats left—call campus ministry (269.471.3211) to get on the bus and join the Freedom Train.