The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Sep
5
September 5, 2018

By the way, that's not "babble"—it's "Babel," as in the Tower of Babel. Because the accumulating headlines of late, while they may sound like so much babble and background noise, mirror the fatal confusion of that ill-fated attempt long ago to outmaneuver God.

"Now the whole earth had one language and a common speech" (Genesis 11:1). So what's new—the lingua franca of this generation is English, and the modus operandi of communication is social media—one language, one common speech.

But the brewing trouble exploded into the open when that ancient band of humanity united to "'build ourselves a
city . .  . so that we may make a name for ourselves'" (Genesis 11:3-4).

It's that "making a name for ourselves" business that has ever been the Achilles heel of sophisticated thinking. Rome and its prelates and pontiffs, America and its politicians and presidents—the engine driving the machinations of both powers is still the luciferian temptation to "make a name for ourselves." Gullible, fallible humans that we are, we trip and fall constantly for that deadly baited hook, do we not?

No wonder we are witnesses to unprecedented levels of hubris and one-upmanship played out in the arena of "one language and a common speech." When has this generation ever witnessed a papal nuncio publicly (on the screens of a billion smartphones) call for the resignation of the supreme pontiff! And when have we been such gawkers to an unfolding saga of bitter, chaotic, partisan acrimony 24/7 in our news feeds!

Babel. Meaning "confusion." As in "[And God said,] 'Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other'" (Genesis 11:7). Does anybody understand anybody anymore?

"As messages [at the Tower of Babel] were thus passing from one to another the language was confounded, so that material was called for which was not needed, and the directions delivered were often the reverse of those that had been given. Confusion and dismay followed. All work came to a standstill. There could be no further harmony or co-operation. The builders were wholly unable to account for the strange misunderstandings among them, and in their rage and disappointment, they reproached one another [sound familiar?]. Their confederacy ended in strife and bloodshed" (Patriarchs and Prophets 119).

Confusion. Babel. Babble. "For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there" James 3:16).

That's what concerns me about the unraveling headlines from Rome and this nation—that behind the confusion and chaos "every evil thing" hides. Simply put—behind all of this babble is in fact Babel (or Babylon) coiled and ready to strike.

"Then I heard another voice from heaven say: 'Come out of her [Babylon], My people, so that you will not share in her sins . . .'" (Revelation 18:4, cf 2). If we're not careful, the one-language common-speech technology we heed can subtly draw our very souls into the cacophony of Babylonian confusion, all in the name of needing to keep abreast of the news as well-informed citizens. But at what price do we feed at the trough of such confusing slop? Lucifer's original sin of pride and self-worship is fatally contagious.

"'Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth'" (Psalm 46:10). Daily. Quiet. Alone. With Christ.

"When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God. . . . Amid the hurrying throng, and the strain of life's intense activities, the soul that is thus refreshed will be surrounded with an atmosphere of light and peace. The life will breathe out fragrance, and will reveal a divine power that will reach [people's] hearts" (Desire of Ages 363).

Aug
30
August 30, 2018

What's not to like about Labor Day? The school year is only a few hours old, and they declare a holiday! Does it get any better than that? Actually, it does—but that's a matter for another blog.

Wikipedia offers this bit of Labor Day history: ". . . the idea of Labor Day was the brainchild of Peter J. McGuire, a vice president of the American Federation of Labor, who put forward the initial proposal in the spring of 1882. According to McGuire, on May 8, 1882, he made a proposition to the fledgling Central Labor Union in New York City that a day is set aside for a 'general holiday for the laboring classes'. According to McGuire he further recommended that the event should begin with a street parade as a public demonstration of organized labor's solidarity and strength, with the march followed by a picnic, to which participating local unions could sell tickets as a fundraiser. According to McGuire, he suggested the first Monday in September as an ideal date for such a public celebration, owing to optimum weather and the date's place on the calendar, sitting midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving public holidays" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day).

It may have been a holiday crafted by labor unions once upon a time, but most Americans give little thought to that history as they lather up the sunscreen for summer's last fling.

And it's a bit embarrassing to acknowledge that most Earth inhabitants give even less thought to the non-labor-day celebration of the ancient holiday/holy-day bestowed once upon a time to the entire human race.

"And on the seventh day God ended His work [labor] which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work [labor] which He had done" (Genesis 2:2). The Creator's non-labor-day Gift of time (the seventh day) to humanity "in the beginning"—but who remembers it anymore?

Sigve Tonstad suggests a fresh depth to this divine Gift: "The Sabbath has the power to overturn distorted priorities. In the biblical perspective, the Sabbath interrupts the routine of clock time and the obligation of work by calling all creation to a day of rest according to the great clock of nature. As daylight fades every Friday night, 'from evening to evening' (Lev. 23:32), the Sabbath breaks the cycle of business and the struggle for subsistence. At the setting of the sun, clock time yields to Creation time in order to respond to a higher summons, mediated by the clock of Creation. Human priorities, set by the clock and the necessity of working, come face to face with God's generous provision" (The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day 382).

Rest. Cessation of labor. Quiet, rhythmic breathing again. Why? Because Someone else has already undertaken the labor, has done the heavy lifting, has breathed His own breath into the human being and then has summoned us—you and me—to catch that breath, our breath, and to rest in Him. "Tell your heart to beat again"—the words of Danny Gokey's hit song—is the whispered appeal of the non-labor-day Sabbath.

And remember: ". . . every time the Sabbath came round, while it would of necessity bring before the minds of [humanity] the glory of God's wisdom, power, and goodness, as manifested in His works of creation, it would bring still more prominently before [our] minds, and present in special splendour and attractiveness, the crowning glory of His love, manifested in His coming so very near to [us] in friendship . . . as man's glorious Friend" (John Kellman in Sakae Kubo's God Meets Man 15-16).

Rest. In our "glorious Friend." Who came "so very near to [us] in friendship." Who remains "so very near to [us] in friendship."

Rest. Because to labor over what He has already declared "very good" (Genesis 1:31) and "finished" (John 19:30) belabors the point of His Gift beyond the point of credulity.

So this seventh-day Sabbath just rest. Rest in the One whose labor is finished but whose love is everlasting.

Rest.

Aug
22
August 22, 2018

Recent national headlines remind us of a well-known horticultural law. And you don't even have to be an "Ag" major to know it—all you need is a fruit tree out back. Because everyone knows you can tell the health of a tree by its fruit. Sick trees produce sickly fruit. Healthy trees bear healthy fruit. And guess what—what's true of a tree is true of a human. You can tell the truth about a person by the kind of fruit that person grows. Horticulture 101. Psychology 101. Spirituality 101.

In the words of Jesus: "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. . . . Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:17, 20).

The #MeToo movement has become a powerful social expression and tool in the hands of those seeking to expose (and even eradicate) sexual harassment and abuse—in the marketplace, in the entertainment industry, in politics, in sports, in the church, in every walk of society and life. And as men of power and of influence have been toppled by the groundswell of painful anger from their victims, the public has drawn courage from the women who have bravely stepped forward to recount their suffering. "How the mighty have fallen!" (2 Samuel 1:19)—the list of names is a veritable Who's Who in American life. "By their fruits you will know them."

Even the political corridors of Washington now echo the click-click of angry high heels stepping forward to expose the abuse they have suffered. A celebrity lawyer pleads guilty to being the conduit of payoff money to women claiming to have had an affair at one time with the lawyer's client. #MeToo is apparently no respecter of persons. "By their fruits you will know them."

And while it could be argued that there is no #MeToo connection with this heartbreaking story, the truth is the grand jury report released last week in Pennsylvania, listing 1000 child victims of 300 priests in that diocese over the past seventy years, is very much the tragic tale of #MeToo suffering at last being exposed for the awful truth it reveals. "By their fruits you will know them." Seventy years of silent suffering at the hands of spiritual leaders can only be measured and requited before Heaven's tribunal. And while some wonder the nature of a religious system that would cover-up the documented suffering of innocent children for so many years—by so many spiritual leaders—the headline at least deserves an attachment to our Lord's somber warning: "By their fruits you will know them."

Furthermore, in a stunning reverse #MeToo moment this week, one of the initial Hollywood female champions of the #MeToo movement has been accused by a young male actor of sexual harassment and coercion against his will in a hotel room years ago. Equal opportunity exposure of an equal opportunity sin. "By their fruits you will know them."

The heart of Christ still weeps, we can be sure—for untold sufferings in untold places exposing an untoward reality—sickly trees bear sick fruit.

But there is yet hope for both victims and their victimizers. The same Lord who pronounced to the accusers, "He who is without sin—let him cast the first stone," is the same Savior who promises the accused, "Neither do I condemn you—go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:7, 11). Keep reading: "As you see the enormity of sin, as you see yourself as you really are, do not give up to despair. It was sinners that Christ came to save. We have not to reconcile God to us, but—O wondrous love!—God in Christ is 'reconciling the world unto Himself.' 2 Corinthians 5:19" (Steps to Christ 35).

Turns out the gospel truth of Jesus is the only good news left for sinners such as you and I. For only He can heal our heart of its sickness. And only He can recreate our life to flower with fresh fruit, new fruit, good fruit. And so to His offer to do just that I say we both say, "Me, too."

Aug
16
August 16, 2018

Forbes magazine reported this week the 25 highest-paying jobs in this nation this year. In a few hours this campus will be abuzz again with students—all of them eventual young job-seekers. How many of them will end up in one of these jobs? Who knows?

But here they are for your perusal. Forbes sets up the list with this preamble: "Glassdoor.com, one of the leading job and recruiting websites in the world, recently published a report on the highest-paying jobs of 2018. The research analyzed 2018 salary reports submitted by employees, median annual base salary, the number of job openings available, and active job listings as of 7/19/2018. For consideration, a job title had to receive at least 100 salary reports from U.S.-based employees within the past year. C-suite level jobs were not included in this report" (www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2018/08/15/the-25-highest-paying-jobs-...). (C-suite jobs are those with a title beginning with the word "chief"—as in CEO, CFO, COO—i.e., this list does not include executive positions.)

Here are this year's 25 highest-paying jobs in this country (be advised—you will not know what some of these jobs do!):

25. Data Scientist—median salary $96,116/job openings 4,986
24. Tax Manager—$96,175/3,690
23. Cloud Engineer—$96,449/1,077
22. Attorney—$96,678/903
21. Consulting Manager—$97,154/1536
20. Scrum Master—$98,239/1,876
19. Systems Architect—$100,984/1,146
18. Strategy Manager—$101,754/2,641
17. Data Architect—$101,900/1,472
16. Financial Planning and Analysis Manager—$102,155/108
15. Solutions Architect—$102,160/5,899
14. IT Program Manager—$102,969/218
13. Plant Manager—$103,892/1,182
12. Applications Development Manager—$104,048/360
11. Engineering Manager—$105,260/4,738
10. Software Architect—$105,329/1,130
9. Nurse Practitioner—$106,962/14,931
8. Software Engineering Manager—$107,479/1,105
7. Physician Assistant—$108,761/8,616
6. Software Development Manager—108,879/1,064
5. Corporate Counsel—$115,580/693
4. Enterprise Architect—$115,944/1,097
3. Pharmacist—$127,120/2,534
2. Pharmacy Manager—$146,412/2,009
1. Physician—$195,842/3,038

There they are. Can't find yourself on there? Me neither. But remember—this is not a listing of the highest job satisfaction positions in the country. These are the highest paying jobs (though while higher pay and greater job satisfaction do not necessarily correlate, I am certain there are individuals throughout these 25 job categories that experience much personal satisfaction).

But back to our new and returning students here at Andrews University. The simple fact is that they all come in search of a professional/career niche in society. Every one of them, no doubt, is hoping their choice will mean both financially security and personal satisfaction. Isn't that true of us all?

But the mission of this Seventh-day Adventist university is bigger than the student may be expecting. Because beyond financial security and job satisfaction is the "God has called me" component of career search and job placement. And while the young adult may not be integrating divine calling into his or her job search, we as faculty and staff who will surround this student for at least four years are tasked with the "God has called you" mission. Luke was a practicing physician, when he met Paul who introduced him to Christ Jesus. And it isn't much of a stretch to imagine that Paul proactively engaged this new convert in "God has called you" conversations. By the time it's over, Luke is physician, Christian, evangelist, historian and writer, all of it devoted to his Lord and Savior.

You and I work for the same Lord and Savior and share with Paul the same mentoring opportunities. You can work the cafeteria line and mentor a student. You can vacuum the hallways and influence a young life. A teacher or professor engaged in afterhours conversation for Jesus can make a lasting impact on a young life greater than any of these 25 hottest jobs can achieve. Because it isn't what we're paid to do—it’s what we're called to do that matters in the end.

So what has God called you to do this new year?

Years after mentoring Luke, Paul on the eve of his death wrote: "Only Luke is with me" (2 Timothy 4:11). And how could you put a price tag on that?

Jun
27
June 27, 2018

Ever heard of Vuja de? I hadn't either. Until I began reading Adam Grant's new book, Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World. Grant, the 36 year old American psychologist and author who teaches organizational psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the last ten years researching the how's and why's, the in's and out's, of originality.

Déjà vu we all know. "Déjà vu occurs when we encounter something new, but it feels as if we've seen it before." But what's this vuja de? Vuja de is simply déjà vu backwards! "Vuja de is the reverse—we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems." (p 7)

Take for example economist Michael Housman's effort to discover "why some customer service agents stayed on their jobs longer than others." Housman combed through data from over 30,000 customer service agents (for banks, airlines, cell phone companies, et al), and noticed that his team had included in the data regarding these employees the particular internet browsers the customer service agents were using. "On a whim" Housman ran the numbers to see if browser choice was related to job longevity or quitting. Stunned with the results, he then added the sales performance data of these customer service agents. His discovery? "After 90 days on the job, the Firefox and Chrome users had customer satisfaction levels that Internet Explorer and Safari users only reached after 120 days"(p 4).

Why would which internet browser you use say something about you? Simply because Internet Explorer and Safari are browsers that come as part of the package with Windows and Apple computers. If you use the Google Chrome or Firefox browser, "you have to demonstrate some resourcefulness and download a different browser. Instead of accepting the default [browser], you have to take a bit of initiative to seek out an option that might be better. And that act of initiative, however tiny, is a window into what you do at work" (p 5).

"The employees [in Housman's study] who took the initiative to change their browsers . . . approached their jobs differently. They looked for novel ways of selling to customers and addressing their concerns. When they encountered a situation they didn't like, they fixed it"(ibid).

Adam Grant's point? "The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. Hence his déjà vu vs vuja de expression.

Maybe that's what we need when we come to "the old rugged cross." Vuja de—when "we face something familiar [the cross], but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems."

How many times have you and I come to Calvary—reading the Gospels through again or partaking of the Lord's Supper again—and we have neither seen nor experienced anything personally fresh or particularly insightful about that encounter. (After all, we've read the story before [yawn]—we've been to the Table before [boring].)

What if the next time we approached the cross (in the Gospels or at the Lord's Supper) we asked the Spirit of Christ to lead us past our usual default setting and give us new eyes to see, a new perspective to comprehend. "Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified" (Galatians 3:1). It's that fresh clear portrayal that we need most.

Perhaps it's as simple as breathing a prayer as we approach His cross:

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth You have for me
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine.

        —Clara Scott

Perhaps in the realm of the Spirit, too, the most successful are the ones who in their browsing move beyond the usual default and discover God's "hallmark of originality."

Jun
20
June 20, 2018

 

Has it come to this? Must we choose between Pope Francis and Donald Trump? Unless you've slept through the last two weeks of this nation's news cycle, you already know there is a rather tumultuous (to put it mildly) debate broiling through our news outlets and social media platforms over what the United States should do with the children of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border into this country.

The present policy (defined in April by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as "a zero-tolerance policy") seeks to enforce immigration law by separating migrant children and parents, while the parents are detained and their appeal for asylum or entry is legally evaluated. The children are placed in one of a hundred detention centers, overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (part of the Department of Health and Human Services) but operated by non-profit groups (www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621065383/what-we-know-family-separation-and-zero...). And therein lies the great debate—should young children (some under the age of five) be separated from their parents during this intensive immigration review process? Viral pictures and recordings of young children sobbing for their parents, as well as bleak photographs of concrete detention centers, have fanned the public outcry and debate.

Pope Francis, in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters news agency this week, weighed in on the U.S. border immigrant debate. ". . . the Pope said he supported recent statements by U.S. Catholic bishops who called the separation of children from their parents 'contrary to our Catholic values' and 'immoral'. 'It's not easy, but populism is not the solution,' Francis said on Sunday night" (/www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-interview/exclusive-pope-criticizes-trum...).

President Trump, on the other hand, has opted to let the decision of whether or not to separate young children at the border be decided politically. And it is obvious the matter now has become a political/ethical hot potato both political parties are blaming on the other and thus have yet to resolve. Meanwhile, the children still wail, the public is still divided, the politicians still argue.

Sidestepping political ramifications, is there a moral stance endorsed by the Word of God? I'm slowly making my way through Deuteronomy for morning worship and came across these words a few days ago: "[The LORD your God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 NIV). God loves the alien and commands us to do the same? Apparently. But on what basis? "You yourselves were aliens" once. And that is the indisputable truth about every one of us citizens of this nation—pull out the family tree and be reminded that except for our Native American friends we are all children of aliens. Without exception. No wonder our Creator, in the very Sabbath Commandment we champion, commands us to offer His gift of rest to "the alien within your gates" (Exodus 20:10). And they are now within our gates.

Why? "The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow" (Psalm 146:9). But sadly His own people too easily forget: "The people of the land [of Israel] . . . oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice" (Ezekiel 22:29).

Do alien children deserve justice? "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'" (Matthew 19:14). As followers of His, is there a moral obligation for us to find a way to help save innocent, hapless children, irrespective of their parents' socio-economic baggage (or the lack thereof)?

Don't ask the pope or the president. Find someone else who cares and ask them to join you in asking Jesus what He would do if He were you? You may be very surprised what the Spirit reveals to you. This much is sure—courageous action by compassionate people can still change the course of a nation as divided as this one. Just ask Jesus.

Jun
13
June 13, 2018

You got to love it—here I am with my son Kirk Monday evening waiting and watching for the historic moment when the President of the United States and the President of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea meet and shake hands—when without warning my screen goes into freeze mode. Can you believe it! All I wanted to do was witness that history-making handshake, and my screen freezes. Freezes, actually, with their two right hands reaching to clasp each other. No words, no movement, no nothing except two hands—frozen.

Presumably, the rest of the world was able to watch that much ballyhooed and eagerly anticipated handshake with the brief words and muted smiles that followed—but no matter where you live or what ideology you subscribe to, the truth is it was a meeting fraught with global consequence and significance.

And, I might add, particularly for the Kingdom of God. As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian—whose mother 89+ years ago was born in Pyongyang (when Korea was an undivided nation) and who himself was born in Tokyo and attended high school in Singapore—I certainly was drawn to this dramatic diplomatic feat (playing out on live television) for reasons beyond the geopolitics of the event.

Along with thousands of Christians, perhaps many of you, I've found myself praying earnestly these last few days for the diplomatic success of this meeting. For one simple reason. Over the last three decades, we have witnessed the "opening" of Russia, China, and Cuba to God's endgame appeal "to every nation, tribe, language and people" (Revelation 14:6-12). While all three of those countries remain solidly communist in their political governance, the fact is that Christianity along with our own faith community has experienced unprecedented growth there over the last thirty years. I have preached evangelistic series in two of those countries. But the political tolerance that has fostered such growth is already being tempered and in some cases withdrawn.

So a divine door of opportunity opening eventually in North Korea, the last communist nation to remain closed to Christianity, would present a powerful breakthrough for the "everlasting gospel" and our mission to reach that people group.

Could it be the promises we claim for Japan are appropriate as well for North Korea? "I am the LORD, and there is no other. . . . From the rising of the sun [far east] to the place of its setting [far west] people may know that there is none besides Me. . . . Turn to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:5-6, 22). One by one the nations of this third millennial world are being drawn into the circle of God's passionate endgame appeal. Country by country the Three Angels' Messages are penetrating. But never forget that the Apocalypse promises even more, "After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory" (Revelation 18:1 emphasis supplied). The entire earth surely includes North Korea—and even our own nation here at home!

So we must (1) keep interceding before God for the fulfillment of both His Three Angels and Fourth Angel breakthrough promises. It is high time God's people were on our knees daily supplicating His throne of grace and mercy on behalf of the unsaved billions in the Far East, the Middle East, the West, the North and the South. And we must (2) help answer our own prayers by volunteering our financial resources, and even our own availability and willingness, perhaps, to enter one of these opening doors to answer God's call to "Go!"

Mother is buried beside Dad in Loma Linda, far away from the land of her birth. But the dedicated missionary lives that were spent penetrating a world closed much more tightly then than now were not in vain. Rather it is the legacy of this generation to finish the mission task of that generation and reach this civilization one last time for Jesus before He returns. All of that I pondered in a frozen handshake a few nights ago. It really is time to "Go!"—isn't it?

Jun
6
June 6, 2018

Given the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals that are in progress as I write—a contest between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors (who are meeting in a record fourth consecutive finals matchup)—you can forgive the sports world for obsessing over facial expressions. Such was the case in Game 1 a few days ago. Taking cues from Yahoo Sports, let's set up the picture.

Game 1—the teams are tied. With 4.7 seconds to go the Cavaliers' J. R. Smith offensively rebounds the ball and—instead of a quick pass to an open teammate or a shot at the basket himself or even calling for a timeout—Smith dribbles the ball away from the hoop. But in a major gaffe, he forgets the score is tied. The buzzer sounds. The tied teams go into overtime, whereupon the Warriors surge ahead and win Game 1.

A now gone viral video clip (www.sports.yahoo.com/lebron-james-incredulous-bench-j-r-smiths-game-1-gaffe-video-153826487.html) of Cavs superstar LeBron James' facial express of incredulous disappointment says it all. What can a crestfallen superstar say? A mindless gaffe can be a very costly mistake.

But it was more than a just a gaffe that chilly, very early Friday. The night air turns blue with fisherman oaths as the man swears he never knew this Jesus of Nazareth. A rooster crows. And the Prisoner turns, disappointment and hurt etched all over his pained face. No video clip needed. Just the terse recitation: "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly"  (Luke 22:61-62).

How many times, I wonder, have I left that look of painful disappointment all over God's face? He was counting on me to stand for Him in that circle of chatter. He was hoping against hope that I'd man-up to my moral responsibility as a disciple of His. But forgetting the time left on the clock, I dribbled that opportunity away, when if I'd only been thinking (praying) instead of laughing, I could have changed the score for Team Heaven. Instead, I blew it.

You know the scenario.

Of course, for J. R. Smith, LeBron James, Steve Curry it's just a game. A billion-dollar game, to be sure, but nevertheless just a game. But not so this business of living. It's life or death, it's war, it's for keeps, and the stakes are eternal. Which only jacks even higher the painful disappointment my fumbled gaffes must cost my dearest Friend, my God.

So where is hope for me, gaffe-prone sinner that I am? "Peter's eyes were drawn to his Master. In that gentle countenance, he read deep pity and sorrow, but there was no anger there. The sight of that pale, suffering face, those quivering lips, that look of compassion and forgiveness, pierced his heart like an arrow" (Desire of Ages 713). So look into that Face—it can tell you a lot: pity, sorrow, compassion, forgiveness, but "no anger there." No wonder His very next prayer is my only hope, "'Father, forgive them, for they do know not what they are doing'" (Luke 23:34).

Forgiveness. Compassion. No video replay necessary. Because nothing in that Face has changed. And everything in this heart can still change. "[Peter] said, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you'" (John 21:17).

What a game-changing difference the Cross can make.

May
30
May 30, 2018

It was a first for me, this idea of posting an online daily journal from the frontlines of evangelism (www.pmchurch.org/japanjournal). But I'm glad I did, because even if no one read the journal, the very exercise of recording the acts of the Holy Spirit inspired my own soul. So on this first Sabbath back at Pioneer, let me share a few lines from my next to the last journal entry:

"As the Sabbath draws to a close here in my guest room apartment on the Saniku Gakuin campus [201 college students, 70% non-Christian] . . . on the last day of this short but intensive evangelistic series, what an experience this has been for me. And what a blessing to have a small army of prayer partners who have unselfishly devoted extra intercession time to pray for Japan and this college and the advance of the everlasting gospel to this great unreached people group. My reciprocal prayer of gratitude this Sabbath is that God would pour back into your life--in the currency of His Kingdom--a super bundle of blessings for your unselfish
ministry! Thank you."

"Cars and busses from all over Chiba prefecture (prefectures are small state-like governing administrative units throughout Japan) arrived on campus for the ten o'clock worship celebration in the gymnasium (see photo gallery) and the outdoor baptism and lunch and afternoon concert that followed. My friend, Masumi Shimada, the Japan Union Conference president [we grew up together], told me this afternoon that they counted 775 . . . in the morning event in the gym and Granger Hall [the campus church], an overflow livestreaming site for elderly worshipers. . . ."

"It was my joy to preach on the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the eleventh and final piece in this campus series. . . . My translator, one of the pastors in this prefecture, did a masterful job (as did the other four translators who stood up and preached with me through the week). It is my opinion that translators are the Spirit-guided preachers who deserve to be remembered long after the visiting foreigner preachers have left the country. Because no matter how well or how poorly the guest preacher does, the communication event is what transpires between the translator and the listeners. So I say, God bless them every one."

"One of the reasons it is such a joy to preach the soon coming of Christ is the tonic it provides for my own soul. As Peter expressed it, We have not followed 'cunningly devised fables' (as the KJV renders it) but we have 'the prophetic message completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts' (2 Peter 1:16, 19 NIV). It [always] stirs my soul to recall with the listeners the indicators Jesus gave as harbingers of His return—political, ecological, economic, moral, psychological, societal markers that indicate the unraveling of humanity's hold on this planet and the approach of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And for our natural tendency to dismiss these indicators with the aside—'everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation' (2 Peter 3:4)—there is the provocative Chris Martenson illustration of geometric progression/compounding we humans tend nearly always to forget (www.adventistreview.org/voices-dwight-k.-nelson). The last five minutes are what catch you by surprise."

"Once again through the decision card we made an invitation to guests and students alike to carefully weigh God's call to follow Christ through baptism. And with the final Amen, the entire convocation stood and moved out of the gym, up the winding road to the campus proper high on that hillside, where the Granger Hall outdoor baptistery was already surrounded by family and friends awaiting the baptisms. . . ."

[From the journal entry on Sunday: "Kondo sensei, the campus pastor, handed me a sheet of names when we met this morning with this written report: 'At least 24 non-Christian students put a mark on Question 2 (I would like to bury my past and rise up to new life in Jesus through being baptized as He was) on the Thursday morning decision card. . . . He also notes that at our Friday evening meeting 3 more students indicated they would like to be baptized someday—and the Sabbath morning decision cards have yet to be tallied. Plus . . . five more non-Christian students indicated on the decision card they would like to talk with someone about this decision re baptism. So God has abundantly answered our many prayers in guiding these students to their decisions!"]

"Whenever you begin one of these evangelistic series, you simply have no idea how the series will proceed and eventually end—such is the adventure of preaching. But when it ends . . . there is a quiet sense of gratitude that steals over you, along with a surrender of it all back to God. For, as Jesus reminded us, the mystery of soul-winning is truly divine: '"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how"' (Mark 4:26-27). Or as Paul put it, 'I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow' (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 emphasis supplied)."

"And that's the way it should always be. 'But only God.' Which is why I thank Him for you, for drawing from your heart the very prayers He needed, in order to do the very work He promised to do and will yet do for His glory alone. Amen."

[Sing Doxology here.]

May
9
May 9, 2018

Here are a couple of trending headlines to share with you before flying to Tokyo. In Japan right now trending up is the pollen count, but trending down are the children.

Japan's renowned cherry blossoms have been in glorious bloom now since April. But while the world revels in their stunning pink and white splendor, the economic impact on Japan is no trifling matter—$1.8 billion "because of pollen-induced allergies" (www.money.cnn.com/2018/05/04/news/economy/japan-hay-fever-economy/index....). According to Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist with the Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute, "The damage comes in several forms. . . . Fewer people want to go out, which hits consumption, and workers suffering from hay fever take more sick days. Or if they do show up to work, they're less productive. And 2018 is looking like one of the worst years on record for hay-fever sufferers in Japan. The pollen count in some parts of the country has more than doubled compared with last year" (ibid.).

But trending down for the Land of the Rising Sun is the child count. According to The Japan Times: "The number of children in Japan fell for the 37th consecutive year to yet another record low, signaling that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to combat the low birthrate are still wanting" (www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/05/04/national/number-children-japan-fall...). In fact comparing 32 countries with a population of 40 million or more, Japan is ranked the lowest in terms of the ratio of children (a child is defined as a person aged 14 or under) to overall population (12.3%). Lower birth rates are the harbinger of a dwindling work force and sagging economy. This past year Japan's child count  dropped another 170,000.

In all candor the church in Japan faces a similar challenge. The number of "second birth" or "born again" members  is dropping. And the outlook is glum. But "glum" is a human attitude, not a divine perspective. In fact I believe God's stunning YES CAN DO perspective for reaching and winning new children for His Kingdom in Japan (and throughout the world) is over the top! How else shall we explain John's vision of all the saved in heaven one day (we pray soon): "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands" (Revelation 7:9).

Did you catch that? The number of the redeemed from earth is so high no one can count it!

I say we take courage from this stunning portrayal of God's saving love for His lost earth children—He is going to save us by the tens of thousands of millions. And those numbers will include Japan!

So on the eve of my flying to Tokyo for the upcoming full-court press evangelistic series on the campus of Saniku Gakuin Adventist College (where 70% of the 201 students are non-Christian pagans, to put it bluntly)—I earnestly solicit your prayer partnership on behalf of all the evangelistic series and preachers across the islands of Japan this month. Put your finger on God's promise: "Therefore in the east [Land of the Rising Sun] give glory to the LORD; exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea [Japan]" (Isaiah 24:15). "Sing to the LORD a new song . . . you islands, and all who live in them" (Isaiah 42:10). How the Savior longs for the day when Japanese voices will join that innumerable throng in singing the praises of our Redeemer and God!

Look—if the "pollen count" in Japan can go up, why can't the "pollen count" of the Holy Spirit and His contagious "everlasting gospel" go up as well! Of course it can—it must. So we must pray—pray as we have never prayed before for God's supernatural release of (1) the dark lord's iron grip upon that land and (2) Christ Jesus' penetration throughout that society. Let the ether be filled with His life-giving "pollen." And our prayers.

PS—for my (hopefully) daily reports on Japan please visit www.pmchurch.org/JapanJournal. Pray on.