The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

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.

Oct
5
October 5, 2016

Thornton Wilder in his The Bridge of San Luis Rey wrote: “Some say that to the gods we are like flies idly swatted by boys on a summer day. Others say that not a hair falls from our head without the will of the Heavenly Father.” But for too many the jury is still out—with the margin between life and death growing thinner with each passing day. And therein lies the mission of Hope Trending. But first this story.

Twenty-two year old law graduate Sam Hemming was riding with her boyfriend on the busy M-6 motorway in England a few weeks ago when suddenly his car flipped over, smashing Sam’s head through the windshield, sheering off an ear, breaking her neck, and leaving Sam brain dead with “no hope of recovery.” Airlifted to a hospital, Sam underwent six hours of emergency surgery and was placed in a medically-induced coma.

Nineteen days later doctors indicated Sam was brain dead and counseled the family “to prepare for the worst and to switch off her life-support machine.” The family gathered about Sam’s bed with their tearful farewells. The life support was turned off, when suddenly Carol, Sam’s mother, screamed. Everyone froze. Carol pointed at Sam’s big toe—it was wiggling. The medical team immediately reactivated life support, keeping Sam in an induced coma. Days later Sam was given a tracheotomy, and “when her life-support machine was turned off again, she was able to breathe on her own” (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3814394/Student-22-left-coma-horror-car-crash-saved-wiggled-toe-moments-doctors-turn-life-support-machine.html).

Remarkably eight weeks later she was declared well enough to return home. And today, despite brain damage, Sam has learned how to walk and talk again. (Click on to the above link for pictures of Sam before and after—all with smiles!)

The moral of Sam’s story—don’t pull the plug too soon. Because “where there is breath, there is hope” (and sometimes hope even when there is no breath at all, as with Sam). Even for a society as utterly confused about God as Thornton Wilder described. Hope. 

And who better, may I humbly ask, to point the nation and world to hope than this faith community with hope embedded in the name we call ourselves, “Adventists”—people who joyfully embrace the hope of Jesus Christ and His soon return?

One week from last evening Hope Trending begins its quest to connect the hopeless as well as hope-seekers with the greatest Hope of all. Here are some bullet points (courtesy Rodlie Ortiz) to lock into our seven-day countdown:

•    New resources are available at hopetrending.org/resources for Watch Party hosts (including the custom invite flyer). Click the link that says “Public Flyer (Add an address).” With this resource, a group can click on the white box towards the bottom and customize the address and time of their gathering.

•    You can host a Watch Party in your living room, but don’t forget you can also host an online Watch Party. If you have friends that live outside of your local area, invite them to attend an online Watch Party. Inviting them couldn’t be easier. Go to hopetrending.org and click Watch Live. Find a time that is convenient for your friend and then click the invite button. There are experiences across 11 different time zones, so it’s easy to find a convenient time. Additionally, people will be given opportunities to make decisions online, right from the comfort of their computer or mobile device

•    Want to know a way you can reach hundreds of your friends at the same time? In addition to being able to view Hope Trending on the website, you will also be able to view it at the Hope Trending Facebook page. So here’s a two-fold challenge: (1) go to Facebook.com/hopetrending and like the official Facebook page; (2) when the program actually starts, share the video feed from the Hope Trending Facebook page to your own page. By doing that, you’ll instantly be sharing the program with hundreds or even thousands of your friends. There could potentially be tens of thousands of people seeing the program through Facebook.

•    And whatever else you do for the next seven days and the nine days afterwards, please pray for Hope Trending and the people God will lead to this event. We’re all well aware that in the end it won’t be the technology or the panel or the host or the speaker that will make the difference—in the end it will be, “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD” (Zechariah 4:6). Hope after all has always been His mission.

And on a personal note, thank you for your prayers for me. Paul’s appeal is mine, too: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador. . . . Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Sep
28
September 28, 2016

Last weekend while the nation awaited the first televised debate Monday evening between the two presidential candidates, a group of U.S. citizens representing each state in this nation convened themselves in quaint colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Their mission—to simulate a “convention of states” (as provided for in Article V of the United States Constitution) for the purpose of amending the Constitution. According to the sponsor of this event’s website, “Rather than calling a convention for a specific amendment, Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) has launched the Convention of the States Project to urge state legislatures to properly use Article V to call a convention for a particular subject—reducing the power of Washington, D.C. . . . A convention of states needs to be called to ensure that we are able to debate and impose a complete package of restraints on the misuse of power by all branches of the federal government” (www.cosaction.com/strategy).

In last weekend’s event, grassroots representatives from all fifty states essentially went through “a dry run” of what they hope will one day be a formal constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the state legislatures of this nation (as stipulated by Article V). In their simulated convention the representatives “voted” six amendments, including requiring the states to approve any increase in the national debt, term limits on Congress, and granting the states (by a 3/5ths vote) the power to abrogate any federal law, regulation or executive order (September 25, 2016, email from info@cosaction.com).

Setting aside their political agenda (and the presidential candidate they are backing), what reason do we have to care at all about last weekend’s mock convention? One of the dramatic shifts in this season of national and global politics is the emergence or resurgence of ordinary, grassroots, blue collar, non-elite citizen activists. The Brexit surprise by the voters of the United Kingdom—over-riding the counsel of their political and government leaders by voting the UK out of the European Union—stunned the media elite on both sides of the Pond. The just as dramatic emergence of Donald Trump in this election season is attributed to the same ordinary, grassroots, blue collar, non-elite citizen activists. The point? The heretofore unnoticed masses are demonstrating new electoral muscle. And their prevailing mood seems to be to politically upset the apple cart.

For the follower of Christ and for this apocalyptic movement, Brexit and the presidential election, in and of themselves, are immaterial. But we cannot ignore the power of collective anger in masses tired of submitting to the will and whims of the political aristocracy. True—our mission is radically a spiritual one. Nevertheless we will not be immune to the effects of the widening socio-economic, racial, ideological, and eventually religious divide nationally and globally. One day an angry grassroots movement (perhaps in a time of crisis or deep national schism) may find the will to abrogate the Constitution of its basic rights and cherished freedoms we once considered inviolable. One hastily convened constitutional convention could undo even the most revered liberties.

Hope Trending: A Crash Course on How to Live without Fear begins in two weeks. Live to the world (via www.hopetrending.org) and live to this continent (via HOPE TV), Hope Trending will communicate the compelling portrait of the only Being who can yet save this civilization from its own self-destruction—the God of love manifested in the life and death, the resurrection and soon-coming of the Messiah Creator. “We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10 TEV).

It is the right time to share the Good News with our friends, our classmates, our neighbors, our colleagues. The Hope Trending invitation card is available for you at our greeting stations here at Pioneer. (Need more—go online and print off as many as you wish.) Two weeks. Time to pray. Time to invite. And not too late to intercede before God on behalf of our troubled and divided nation.

One last reminder from history—the truth about God has always shined brightest when it was darkest. It’s time to let it shine again!

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.