The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Jan
18
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.”

Amen.

Jan
4
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.”

Dec
21
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.

 

Dec
14
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!”

Nov
30
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. (www.goodreads.com/quotes/626466-for-the-want-of-a-nail-the-shoe-was-lost)

“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.

Nov
9
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.”

Nov
2
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.

Oct
26
October 26, 2016

I don’t want to be like the nine lepers who raced away from Jesus, so elated with His healing they forgot to even thank Him. Which is why—before even listing a single lesson we’ve learned from Hope Trending, our nine-night/ten program national/global event last week—I would like to thank God and the hundreds of volunteers at Pioneer and Andrews and across North America, who joined forces to make possible this Kingdom innovation. From its inception via the three think tanks a year and a half ago, we have been praying for God to turn Hope Trending into an evangelistic strategy that would penetrate cyberspace through social media for the Kingdom. That He has done so and that He did so through so many creative volunteers is reason enough to praise Him and thank you!

In Paul’s words: “A huge door of opportunity for good work has opened up here” (I Corinthians 16:9 Message). Were he alive today, no doubt the intrepid apostle would be trolling the Internet and social media for Christ, “a huge door of opportunity” indeed!

What have we learned? While we’ll need more time to carefully, prayerfully comb through the analytics of Hope Trending, here are ten initial lessons for our collective conversation and evaluation:

1    Social media is a frontier wide open for communicating the truth about God. Night after night we repeated our Big Idea, and it was passed from soul to soul in social media: The Maker of all things loves and wants me. I was amazed at how quickly that compelling truth caught on.

2    Social media is everywhere. Including Kazakhstan where a young Muslim began an online chat with our moderators over several evenings. Going to the entire planet through social media and the Internet is truly a no-brainer for the third millennial church. At last count, Hope Trending connected with people from 149 nations.

3    You don’t have to be a Millennial to reach the Millennials. It turns out they (18-35 years old) were the largest demographic slice we were connecting with on Facebook (perhaps not so surprising). (See our HT coordinator Rodlie Ortiz’s initial report in this publication with some additional statistics, including the 835,000+ Facebook connects with Hope Trending.) On Twitter and Facebook (from my scanning) our dominant promoters were Millennials. Reserving the front rows for Millennials (Andrews students) was a wise decision that infused their energy into the live television and livestreaming production each evening. Our HT producer Richard Parke’s production, programming and tech volunteers were all Millennials, but the program presenters were obviously (except for two) not. Go figure. We are grateful.

4    You don’t have to be a Millennial to be reached by social media. Having observed lesson #3, I was glad to discover #4 to be true, as well. Social media is no respecter of persons or ages, according to our adult responses and affirmations. Which further confirms the conclusion we the church need to be doing much more in cyberspace to connect humanity with the soon coming Savior.

5    The budget for an evangelistic endeavor like Hope Trending does not necessarily have to be high in order to achieve a national/global reach. We are grateful for Dan Jackson and the North American Division for going out on a limb with us through their $75,000 grant. And I am thankful for our Pioneer members who gave $55,000 to make Hope Trending possible. We were also grateful for Michigan Conference giving us $5,000. My point is simply that this total is not prohibitive for other congregations and institutions contemplating future initiatives like Hope Trending.

6    Hope Trending is a witness to the power of vision/mission to motivate young volunteers. The design, production, and programming team was Millennial—except for two, all of them serving gratis. Thank you.

7    Hope Trending is a witness to the power of vision/mission to motivate adult volunteers. The 150+ infrastructure and ministry adult volunteers were a huge bonus and essential for Hope Trending’s mission. Thank you.

8    Twenty-minute TED talk length biblical presentations on the truth of God’s character are doable—so is a high octane panel response to each teaching! Kudos to Ty Gibson, Michael Polite, Tacyana Nixon, Melissa Ruhupatty and Randy Sanchez. Not to mention the contagiously warm and energetic hosting of David Franklin!

9    The support of influential bloggers and social media players within our faith community was vital—and they came through with strong promotion. New strategies in social media evangelism will necessitate the support of these experts who have a proven track record in connecting with this hitherto unreached people group. God bless them.

10    If a local congregation like Pioneer can do it, I believe evangelistic innovation through the efforts of a local congregation is possible anywhere. Go for it!

The good news is Hope Trending isn’t over. Thanks to our online archived material (hopetrending.org), it is very possible that Hope Trending’s greatest impact is still future (so pass the word). Consider this promise: “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (Philippians 1:6 Message). With that promise, we can know for certain that with Christ the best is yet to come.

Oct
19
October 19, 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’ve been hearing shades of such a notion in the presidential campaign that promises to last only two more weeks (although we all remember the contested election in 2000). We feel it in the divisive, angry rhetoric that is increasingly crowding the airwaves of talk radio and the blogosphere and spilling over into every day backroom conversations. No matter how this nation ends up voting on November 8, we all know that on November 9 we will awaken to a country angrily divided and roiling over the outcome.

“No man is an island,/entire of itself,/every man is a piece of the continent,/a part of the main.” The truth is we cannot live in isolation from those with whom we vehemently disagree, no matter our convictions and in spite of our differences.

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, rather 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).

Hope Trending ends this evening. But the fact is it doesn’t end at all. All ten of the archived programs will be accessible on our new hopetrending.org website. Which means that both the Spirit of God and you can point your friends, colleagues, neighbors, family members to those archived presentations. Collectively we have invested thousands of human hours and even more of U.S. dollars into Hope Trending’s Kingdom mission. I am confident we can be certain that our Lord intends no termination to the mission and ministry of this strategic series. Our responses in social media, which number now into the hundreds of thousands, are evidence enough that God has only begun to work in our midst. And “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Thus we cannot live in isolation from this world that desperately needs what only Christ can bring. No mission ends tonight. In fact it is only beginning. 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.

Oct
12
October 12, 2016

That’s the headline of the October 17 TIME magazine piece on the fate of “truth” in this presidential election season. And anybody who watched Sunday evening’s debate knows that both candidates played fast and loose with the truth. But it is not the intent of this blog to play fact checker. We leave that to the pundits.

Instead let’s reflect for a moment on the cavalier treatment of “truth” in today’s social-media-driven culture—and wonder aloud how all of this will impact an apocalyptic mission to communicate divine truth to this civilization.

The challenge any proponent of “truth” faces is that we now live in a media-saturated world “where nothing and no one can be trusted” (TIME 10-17-2016 p. 30). So no matter how many “authorities” are dragged into the public square to proffer their studied opinions and learned conclusions, vast swaths of the public simply write it off as conspiracy. But let a social media snippet go viral, and suddenly the prevailing standard becomes “if people are saying it, it might be true.” The truth is, people are repeating the strangest and most bizarre rumors as unalloyed truth. Spend five minutes clicking from link to link in the internet, and you will discover a dozen examples of playing “footsie with fantasy.”

What happens when websites conflict in their pronouncement of truth or falsehood? “. . . if you’re an ordinary American, you might not know which of these two versions is the truth: you’d just believe the one that sounds most true to you” (ibid., 31). Are there then no objective standards by which we can judge the veracity of claims or the lack thereof? “There is simply too much information for the public to accurately metabolize, which means that distortions—and outright falsehoods—are almost inevitable” (ibid.).

So where shall we turn? “Instead of institutions, people look to their social networks for information. . . . Passed from Facebook to Facebook, retweeted by thousands of anonymous accounts, ideas can spread quickly without verification or context. People tend to share content that gets the most extreme reactions, which means a terrifying but untrue story will be shared more widely than a mildly alarming but accurate one” (ibid., 32).

Is the outlook for the future any rosier for TIME’s writers? “Whatever the outcome in November, none of this will end. . . . Pandora’s box has been opened, and once enough people believe something false, it begins to sound almost true” (ibid.).

“So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14). Stumbled, fallen (KJV) in the streets of public opinion, what a compelling depiction of the fate of truth in this third millennial society!

And yet into this very world Christ still sends his disciples, his friends, you and me. Armed with little more than “the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17)—please note Jesus was clear, “Sanctify [My followers] by the truth; Your Word is truth” (John 17:17)—armed with little more than that Word of Truth, we are sent into the very culture struggling with Pilate’s perplexed question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Knowing there are tens of thousands who want to know, we must hurry to them—privately, personally, publicly, collectively—with the truth as it is in Jesus.

Thus Hope Trending—and why we go together. Only nine nights long—but long enough for the Spirit of Christ to shine the light of Truth into minds still open. So thank you for harnessing your social media for God’s mission. Please get the word out: October 14 8 PM ET @ www.hopetrending.org and on HOPE TV. In a world driven to confusion by the enemy of all Truth, we partner with the triumphant One, “I am the Truth” (John 14:7).

Truth wins.

In the end.

Thus our hope.