The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Sep
21
September 21, 2016

The popular legend of Nero, the decadent emperor of Rome, fiddling while the imperial city burned in July, 64 AD is just that—a legend. First, the fiddle didn’t exist until the 11th century AD. Secondly, Nero was 35 miles away at his villa in Antium when the fire broke out. He did rush back to the city to begin relief efforts, but some of the citizenry accused him of igniting the conflagration. (For more details www.history.com/news/ask-history/did-nero-really-fiddle-while-rome-burned.) Nevertheless today’s vernacular still speaks of “fiddling while Rome burns”—i.e., acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary while the world around you falls apart.

I don’t suppose anybody could accuse us of fiddling while our own nation burns, could they? But then again, consider this potpourri of stories just this week:

•    Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN poll results on Tuesday announce “84% of white working class say government does not represent their views” (https://mobile.twitter.com/cnnbrk/status/778392163856056320).

•    In the September 2016 issue of Imprimis Frank Buckley (law professor George Mason University) contends America is now, in contradistinction to its past, “the story of class struggles”—dominated by “a New Class of lawyers, academics, trust-fund babies, and media types—a group that wields undue influence in both political parties and dominates our culture. . . . America has become an aristocracy” (p 4-5, Vol 45, Num 9).

•    Unarmed, 40 year old black man, Terrance Crutcher, with his hands up was shot last week and killed by Tulsa, Oklahoma police, when his car broke down in the middle of the street—one more blue on black video gone viral this summer [after writing this blog Charlotte erupted in violence overnight over a fatal police shooting on Tuesday].

•    Some NFL players, as a protest to mounting racial tensions and inequities in this nation, are now kneeling or remaining seated during the playing of the national anthem.

•    A naturalized American Muslim from Afghanistan is apprehended and charged this week with planting and exploding a series of bombs in the greater New York region over the weekend.

•    Two candidates share disapproval ratings near record highs for a presidential election—but where else can the nation turn?—evidence enough that the day after the election this nation will be critically divided—racially, economically, socially, politically, religiously, morally, et al.

“Fiddling while Rome burns”—acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary, while the world around us falls apart. Would that be true of you, of me, too?

In 3 weeks Hope Trending: A Crash Course on How to Live without Fear will go live to the nation and world on October 14 at 8 PM ET. For 9 evenings (livestreamed at www.hopetrending.org and simulcast live on HOPE-TV) a relationally appealing picture of a loving God will be presented to a nation whose hope and help lie far from the corridors of aristocracy, politics and division. Don’t the citizens and neighbors we do know, the friends and colleagues we do have, the people down the hall or down the street—don’t they deserve to know Him, too?

For over a year now we’ve been talking and praying about a new, innovative way to connect Christ with people we know. Now that Hope Trending is 3 weeks away—wouldn’t this be the right time to extend His invitation? So, forget the fiddle—let’s grab our faith—and make an invitation that could change a life forever. Our own.

Sep
7
September 7, 2016

I was visiting with a student in the cafeteria this week when some faculty friends joined us at the table. “Hey—did you hear about the joint statement the bishop of Rome and the patriarch of Moscow released last February when they met in Havana?” I hadn’t. Turns out our conference president Jay Gallimore had referenced the joint statement in an editorial in a recent Michigan Memo. And sure enough, when I later googled “pope” “patriarch” “Havana,” I found the concord.

In fact here is the paragraph (#24) in question:

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism. We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm 15:20). (www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/full-text-of-joint-declaration-signed-by-pope-francis-and-patriarch-kirill-61341/)

Did you catch that? “This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.” The notion of brotherly cooperation rather than cut-throat competition within the Christian community—what’s not to like about that? Living “together in peace and love”—ditto.

But consider the meaning of “proselytism”: “ . . . it now refers to the attempt of any religion or religious individuals to convert people to their beliefs, or any attempt to convert people to a different point of view, religious or not” (www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=proselytism). 

What my own faith community would consider “evangelism” (the proclamation of the “evangel,” or Good News of the gospel to all peoples) is increasingly being redefined by more powerful voices, as Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill expressed: “disloyal means . . . to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions.” But is that a fair reading of Jesus’ commission—“Go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20)? Does communicating the “everlasting gospel” embedded in the Three Angels’ Messages (Revelation 14:6-12) deny people(s) “their religious freedom and their traditions,” as the joint statement declares?

Is it not the embodiment of the Protestant Reformation to proclaim the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples of earth, both in and out of Christendom? Are there not millions who bear the name of Christ, but who have yet to discover the “blessed assurance” of His salvation by grace through faith alone? 

In five weeks Hope Trending will encircle the earth with a livestreaming invitation to all peoples to come to Christ, the only Hope for our dying civilization. In five weeks Watch Parties locally, nationally, globally will gather (October 14-22) to hear the Creator’s appeal to this generation.

But the joint statement is a sobering alert that one day public access to all peoples will be curtailed. It is no coincidence that Vladimir Putin, five months after the joint statement, announced a law curtailing “proselyting” in Russia (http://dailysignal.com/2016/07/20/back-to-the-soviet-era-putins-new-law-could-lead-to-religious-crackdown/). Ostensibly under the aegis of an anti-terrorism crackdown, such a law could be duplicated in any country in a time of emergency or crisis.

What we can do today may not be possible one day. So please join me in earnestly petitioning the mighty Spirit of God to harness the technology, ignite the proclamation and raise up a generation of radical witnesses within this faith community—men and women unafraid to go where Christ sends us, giving heed only to the joint statement of Christ and Scripture. “So help us, God.” Amen.

Aug
31
August 31, 2016

The world’s heart has been broken over a video clip gone viral two weeks ago. Who can forget the picture of that five-year-old Syrian boy, pulled from the rubble of an Aleppo building, the victim of yet another lethal bomb in the war-torn city. Stunned and mute, the boy is seated on an orange jump seat in the back of an ambulance, the side of his head gashed by some projectile. While the video rolls, the young child stares back with blank expression, bewildered into silence. Not even a sob. Silence. What was he thinking in that moment of sheer terror? His chubby hand reaches up to his mane of hair, piled high now on his head, soaked in his own blood. The boy begins to rub his temple where the wound is coagulating. And as he rubs, his hand is soon stained red. Silence. Staring out the open gate of the vehicle, he keeps rubbing (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/haunting-video-bewildered-syrian-b...).

What does five-year-old Omran Daqneesh have to do with you and me on this holiday weekend in this country surprisingly still at relative peace? (The “the boy in the ambulance,” as he is now remembered, survived, as did his parents and three siblings.) I wonder to myself if he is not a symbol of an entire civilization. A dazed world with a billion heartaches and as many broken lives, staring blankly into the lens of eternity, not knowing, and too wounded to even care, who is on the other side of that glass eye that stares back.

The narratives across the earth are a billion times different, but the story tragically the same: forces beyond our control locked in a mortal battle for this race, this very human race. We know the enemy and his dark heart. The insanity that rules his mind we know all too well.

But do we know the Father of the race? Do we share His shattered heart?

Jesus once asked: “‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . You are worth more than many sparrows’” (Matthew 10:29-30). “‘Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish’” (Matthew 18:14). “‘No, the Father himself loves you’” (John 16:27). “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’” (John 3:16).

“Not a sigh is breathed, not a pain felt, not a grief pierces the soul, but the throb vibrates to the Father’s heart. . . . [I]t is in this speck of a world, in the souls that He gave His only-begotten Son to save, that His interest and the interest of all heaven is centered. God is bending from His throne to hear the cry of the oppressed. To every sincere prayer He answers, ‘Here am I.’ He uplifts the distressed and downtrodden. In all our afflictions He is afflicted. In every temptation and every trial the angel of His presence is near to deliver” (Desire of Ages 356).

Into the world of Omran Daqneesh we must hurry to bring the urgently Good News of this Father of Jesus who is our Father, too. And Omran’s Father. And the fiercely loving Father of this very human race. Time is running out for Aleppo, Syria, the United States, the world. If we don’t go now, will we ever go?

Hope Trending is six weeks away. Like no other previous effort to communicate the Good News of our God, Hope Trending will plunge through the wide open door of the Internet, and through social media connect with thousands of this civilization. Not only through digital communities, but through the warm, friendly environ of your Watch Party, hundreds and thousands of Watch Parties. The stunned, blank face of that little Syrian angel is an impassioned appeal to those who know the Good News to share the Good News. While there is still time.

Which is why this is the right time for you to prayerfully assemble your Watch Party for Hope Trending—isn’t it? (For more information: hopetrending.org.)

Aug
24
August 24, 2016

The Roman Catholic turned Anglican Englishman lawyer turned diplomat, preacher and poet, John Donne (1572-1631), composed these lines (from his collection Devotions upon Emergent Occasions):

No man is an island, 
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

There are those who either by personal subscription or personal behavior seem to believe that a nation like ours, a people like us, can live unto ourselves and let the world fend for herself. We hear shades of such a notion in the presidential campaign we must yet endure for two-plus more months. We see it in the embarrassing behavior of young American Olympians who in a drunken fit trashed a gas station in Rio a few nights ago, hiding behind a fabricated story of being held up by criminals, then attempting to flee the country before being caught by the authorities. The belated apology by the American swimmer Ryan Lochte only seemed to exacerbate the Brazilian anger over this “ugly American” incident, an anger perhaps mollified by news that Lochte has been dropped by four corporate sponsors (ostensibly for violating the morality clause in his contract).

“No man is an island,/entire of itself,/every man is a piece of the continent,/a part of the main.” We cannot live in isolation from the world around us, our self-righteous pretensions and self-serving behaviors notwithstanding.

The stark truth, made more provocative by the Incarnation, is that God himself refused the isolation alternative, choosing rather to immerse himself in the lazar house of this planet’s quarantined inhabitants than live without us:

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).   

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

When it dawns upon you that you are the object of so counter-cultural, so self-emptying a love as this—does it not follow (if it truly has dawned on you) that we are compelled by that very awareness to go out and in self-emptying deeds of service seek to love a world as undeserving as we?  “Freely you have received, freely give,” Jesus invites us (Matthew10:10). “For the love of Christ compels us,” Scripture reminds us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

In #RxF4Now—the new year series at Pioneer—his compelling love will stir us, perhaps as never before, I believe. I am praying.

Because Jesus and Donne are right:

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

 

Aug
17
August 17, 2016

Has the blogosphere always been this awash in conspiracy theories? I was reading a European writer the other day who commented (and perhaps for good reason) that Americans as a people seem to have a predilection for conspiracy theories—those wild suppositions claiming sinister powers are manipulating current events, the populace, politics, the markets, medical science (you choose), all for a nefarious end. For example, one blogger suggested  one of the presidential candidates is suffering from a secret malady that will cut short their candidacy and offered a YouTube link as proof. I clicked the link, and sure enough a score of sites with video footage to “prove” the malady. Really? Not to be outdone, a popular blog posed the suggestion this week the President is quietly preparing for an emergency suspension of the Constitution this fall so he might serve an indefinite and unconstitutional “third term.” Really?

Consider for a moment what this glut of information/misinformation streaming from the internet every nanosecond creates: (1) an attitude of suspicion and disbelief toward any internet-driven information; (2) an oversaturation that numbs the mind to what in fact may be critical and necessary information; (3) a skepticism toward all authority; (4) a subtle, increasing diversion from life’s most essential realities and truths; (5) the inability to even discern what is true; (6) an incapacity to respond in the event of a genuine crisis or emergency; and (7) a cynical rejection of any conspiracy theory at all.

Because as it turns out, the Bible unapologetically champions a single conspiracy, not as imaginary theory but as life-and-death truth. This week my summer worship reading through Ephesians ended with its stunning finale: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12). There they are—cosmic sinister powers manipulating humanity, government, nature, economies, politics, entertainment, the very stuff of our existence on this planet. To what end? “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), “filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short”(Revelation 12:12).

But here’s a stunning rejoinder and promise: “[We] are to contend with supernatural forces, but [we] are assured of supernatural help. All the intelligences of heaven are in this army. And more than angels are in the ranks. The Holy Spirit, the representative of the Captain of the Lord’s host, comes down to direct the battle. Our infirmities may be many, our sins and mistakes grievous; but the grace of God is for all who seek it with contrition. The power of Omnipotence is enlisted in behalf of those who trust in God” (Desire of Ages 352).

What a picture of God in the midst of this cosmic battle! Grace for our litany of “sins and mistakes” grievous and many. Around the clock help and protection from the adversary. “The power of Omnipotence” for every child of God who wants Him. And all of it poured out on this campus through the mighty Holy Spirit, Jesus’ divine boots on the ground for this university this new year. There has never been a more optimistic time to trust the Savior. Let the conspiracy theorists have their day—in Christ the future is no theory—it’s a promise. Absolutely secure.

Aug
11
August 11, 2016

Remember being a child and sitting with your little friends in a long row, perched on chairs a bit too tall for all of you—remember what you did with your legs? Why of course—we sat there kicking and swinging our legs as if there were no tomorrow. G. K. Chesterton once commented about those indefatigable legs: “A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged”  (Orthodoxy 61).

Now that we’re older, of course, we with the Apostle declare, “I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). For such repetitive activity no longer pleases us. Chesterton again: “They [children] always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.” Come on, Daddy, one more time—please—I can’t, we croak! “For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony”(ibid).

And then Chesterton, that jovial spiritual provocateur of last century England, pivots to God. “Perhaps,” he muses, “God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them” (ibid).

After all, He keeps making new years. And they keep coming, like those swinging legs, faster and faster. “Do it again,” the Lord of this campus cries out. And “do it again” the new year comes. And “do it again” we gather on its cusp to welcome it.

“Behold, I make all things new” (Isaiah 43:19). Could it be that promise is what moves the Creator to repeat-create the  little daisy as well as the weighty new year? “Do it again,” because in the fresh vitality of a new creation, the sky above His throne is no longer the limit.

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone; the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

And because it is, we gather from across this university to worship Him Who has already summoned time not yet here to “do it again.”

“It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we” (ibid).

Jun
15
June 15, 2016

The nation is still reeling from Sunday morning’s headline of the bloody massacre in an Orlando night club in the wee hours of a new week. But already the news media’s scrolling litany of superlatives—“the worst mass shooting in U.S. history” “the greatest mass murder in American history”—along with its non-stop coverage of this horrific tragedy have numbed the American psyche once again. And as it was for San Bernardino California and Newtown Connecticut and Columbine Colorado, the 24-hour news cycle is eventually coopted by the new headline and the relentless pursuit of the next “breaking news.”

But left in the aftermath and forgotten in the chase will be the fifty families who will go on grieving their crushing loss—fifty funerals and memorial services, fifty caskets or urns, fifty homes and countless hearts forever broken. Fifty. A number that eventually may feel small, quite small . . . in comparison to a figure one day somewhere else that is sure to be higher.

Beyond the sheer tragedy of it all, what is stunning about the Orlando massacre is the convergence of the most inflamed issues that plague this election cycle’s national debate: Muslims, the LGBT community, the place of immigrants in this nation, the place of firearms in this society. But let’s reflect for a moment about minorities.

Take the minorities in this story.  The killer was an American-born Muslim from an immigrant family. The victims by and large were members of the LGBT community. The night club theme that fateful early morning was “Latin Night.” Minorities—people who are never identified as “minorities” in the raucous political debate of this presidential election season, but who nonetheless have been very much targeted by the rhetoric of this campaign—minorities.

Come to think of it, my own faith community is regarded as a religious minority. One candidate had trouble even pronouncing our name. But that’s OK. I grew up a minority as an American missionary’s kid in Japan. As an adult I remain in the minority as a member of a Sabbatarian community—one that worships on Saturday, while the rest of the Christian nation worships on Sunday. But I am proud to be a member of a minority. And I am grateful to be a citizen of a nation where minorities are protected from the majority.

But I fear that there are some even within my own faith community who have embraced the crowd-pleasing “keep the minorities out” spirit that now troubles America. I wonder if we have seriously, sufficiently thought through the implications of that populist mentality. Immigrant minorities, LGBT minorities, Muslim minorities, Sabbatarian minorities—the chant to “send them all home” eventually will catch up with us all.

Ponder this confession from the German pastor Martin Niemöller during the dark days of the Nazi government, words that bear repeating in this season of anti-minority fervor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came_):

 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

“‘You will leave Me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for My Father is with Me’.” (John 16:32) Jesus is still the minorities' Best Friend.

Jun
8
June 8, 2016

Months ago (it seems like years now, doesn’t it?) when Ben Carson announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists released the following statement: “While individual church members are free to support or oppose any candidate for office as they see fit, it is crucial that the Church as an institution remain neutral on all candidates for office. Care should be taken that the pulpit and all church property remain a neutral space when it comes to elections. Church employees must also exercise extreme care not to express views in their denominational capacity about any candidate for office, including Dr. Carson” (NAD/Michigan Conference email 5-4-15). The fact that Dr. Carson is a practicing Seventh-day Adventist no doubt necessitated this official ecclesiastical pronouncement.

But thirteen months later Ben Carson and the rest of the twenty or so candidates for the major political parties’ nominations for president are no longer on center stage. Rather as the result of primaries this week across the nation it seems clear (certainly to the press and political talking heads at least) that the presumptive nominees for President of the United States from the two major parties are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In keeping with the North American church’s position of political neutrality and its advice that pulpits and pastors maintain that neutrality in their public communications, this blog will obviously not be taking or advocating political sides.

That does not, however, mean that we as a people (pastors and parishioners alike) should remain silent in the face of blatant attacks on or denials of deeply held moral values or biblical truths. Political neutrality is not moral neutrality.

Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and recognized chief policy spokesman for the denomination, raised eyebrows when a Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) interview with him was posted on the CBN website June 3. When asked what he would pray for were Donald Trump to become President, Moore replied: “‘My primary prayer for Donald Trump is that he would first of all repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ. That’s my prayer for any lost person. . . . And the same thing would be true in terms of Hillary Clinton.’” (http://religionnews.com/2016/06/05/southern-baptist-leader-donald-trump-a-lost-soul-who-must-repent/)

While I disagree with the premise that all occupants of the Oval Office must be born again Christians (our nation has been well served by presidents not of my own evangelical persuasion), who could challenge a Christian’s prayers for all presidential candidates this election year to come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and humbly but confidently follow Him in their exercise of the presidential office? While the office of President is not a Christian or even spiritual office, it is still a position of powerful moral influence for this nation and for the world.

But perhaps Russell Moore made his most thoughtful point when in the interview he acknowledged: “Regardless of what happens in November, my primary focus is not November 2016—my primary focus is 2017 and preparing the church to be a church which is going to have to be a sign of contradiction regardless of whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is in the White House.” (Ibid.)

“A sign of contradiction”—isn’t that what Jesus was signaling when He replied to the Roman governor, “‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight. . . . But now my kingdom is from another place’” (John 18:36)? As radical followers of Christ, we take our marching orders—not from a political party nor from a charismatic leader—we obey the uncompromising directives of the Most High God. There are political positions held by both major party candidates that the disciple of Christ chooses not to embrace. We don’t need to picket or protest the candidate’s appearances. But now more than ever in history we need to pray for the nation we will all wake up to the morning after the election. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Jun
1
June 1, 2016

Now the country’s boisterously divided—not only between political parties and candidates this presidential election season—but water cooler conversations reveal a nation divided as well over the videotaped encounter of a 17-year-old male lowland gorilla and a three-year-old boy. By now you’ve heard the story retold a hundred times (make that 101 now). An unidentified boy with his mother and a group of children were visiting the Cincinnati Zoo last week, when the youngster pulled away from his mother, climbed into the gorilla enclosure, slipped on the edge and fell ten feet into the moat. Whereupon Harambe, the popular 450 pound gorilla, appeared to attack the boy, tossing and dragging him across the moat (www.cnn.com/2016/05/31/us/gorilla-shot-harambe/). Moments later zoo officials made the decision to shoot and kill the endangered gorilla in order to save the child.

Animal rights activists protested Harambe’s killing. Others sided with the zoo administration’s decision. And given social media’s ubiquitous platform combined with America’s penchant for overheated public conversation, it was the perfect storm for another raging debate. “The boy’s mother has not been formally identified by police, but other women who share her alleged name on social media have received threatening messages intended for her, attacks that called her ‘scum,’ ‘a really bad mother’ and a ‘[- - - - -] killer.’ ‘that animal is more important than your [- - - - -] kid,’ one man messaged. Another woman wrote: ‘u should’ve been shot.’ At times, the barrage of insults was racially charged, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer. By Monday, the threats grew so intense that Cincinnati police felt compelled to act.” (www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/30/shooting-an-endangered-animal-is-worse-than-murder-grief-over-gorillas-death-turns-to-outrage/)

But I retell this story—not as a commentary on the burgeoning demise of civility in our civil conversations—but as a startling reminder that we seem to be losing a common sense of human values. How much is a 3-year-old boy’s life worth? Never mind the parenting (or the lack of it) by the boy’s mother (whom bystanders described as being distracted at that moment by other children in the group). How much was that boy’s life worth, when to all outward appearances a 450 pound gorilla was taking hostile action against this small intruder? If you have to choose between an endangered gorilla or an endangered child, what’s the choice? That they should’ve shot the mother of the child instead? Or does the anonymity of social media excuse deranged dismissal of human life, or at least dismissal of its fragile value?

No gorillas in our parish—but little boys and little girls abound. How endangered are our own children? How does the value of Adventist education for these little ones compare with the greater value parents and guardians apparently have awarded a new car or a house equipped with the latest electronic gadgets and toys—but no one at home can afford sending their little one(s) to church school? What is wrong with that picture?

I realize this comparison between choosing the life of a gorilla over the life of a child and choosing personal or family luxuries over the Christian education of your children is a bit painful. Particularly because there are families who have forgone those luxuries and yet still struggle to afford church school tuition. But it is precisely those families on whose behalf I am appealing right now. There are many of us who have more luxuries and toys than we really need. Which means there are many of us who have the means to offer compassionate assistance to families who long to have their children in our church schools, but cannot afford the tuition. For these families, for all of our children, for all of us there is Line Three on our tithe envelopes—“Christian Education.” Your generous offering marked on that line goes directly to Ruth Murdoch Elementary School and Andrews Academy to financially assist our own families in need.

We’re not talking gorillas versus little boys now. But we are dealing with eternity, with eternal values taught and modeled to our children by our church school teachers every day. “Let the little children come to Me,” Jesus still invites us (Matthew 19:14). That’s why He invented church schools—and why we must support them. Today. Line Three. Your tithe envelope. Thank you.

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).