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Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 18:41

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Aug
11
August 11, 2021

Leaving the Olympiad games and the COVID-19 Delta variant out of the picture for a moment, this summer’s unfolding story about wildfires is enough to give any thinking person pause. Even so, yesterday’s headline was jolting, “Smoke from wildfires reaches the North Pole for the first time in recorded history.” The report opens: “Wildfire smoke has made it to the North Pole for the first time in recorded history, NASA said, as multiple blazes continued to rage across Russia on Tuesday. One of the country's coldest regions has been especially hard hit, with smoke so bad that it blacked out the sun, the Guardian newspaper reported” (www.cbsnews.com/news/smoke-russia-wildfires-reaches-north-pole/).

Turns out it’s Siberia that’s burning. “The Sakha Republic in Siberia is one of the coldest areas in the world and sits on top of permafrost. This year it has seen record high temperatures and drought, and vast swaths of its forests have burned.” One scientist described this unprecedented blaze: “‘There have always been large fires in Siberia. It is a landscape evolved to burn,’ Jessica McCarty, an earth scientist at Miami University in Ohio, told NASA's Earth Observatory. 'What is different because of climate change is that fires are burning larger areas, affecting places farther to the north, and consuming fuels that would have been more fire resistant in the past’” (ibid).

Not even the pristine icy wilderness of the Arctic's the North Pole is immune. 

South Lake Tahoe is a sunny world away from that hinterland. But as we vacationed there with my siblings and their spouses in July, on an afternoon hike we noticed an intriguing formation of clouds peeking up above the southern mountain ridge. Someone commented on it. A few minutes later that cumulus cloud had grown. And eventually, we spotted orange hues to its pure white billows. As we learned later, it was another wildfire in that state on fire, this one the Tamarack fire. To the north of Lake Tahoe (beyond our view) still burns the Dixie fire, the largest wildfire in California history. 

So what’s up? Siberia, California, the West Coast states—just another aberration of Mother Nature that we’ll get over as soon as the news cycle finds another tantalizing story to cover?

TIME magazine observes: “Flames light up hillsides in British Columbia. Smoke swells over highways into Athens. A swimming pool in California is surrounded by charred rubble. Thick forests in Siberia lie shriveled and brown. Countries across the northern hemisphere this summer are experiencing the worst wildfires in years of recorded history, with large swaths of land and entire towns in Europe, North America and Russia consumed by flames since the start of July. Though many of these countries are used to summer fire seasons, climate change is making the hot, dry conditions that allow fires to catch and spread more common and more intense” (time.com/6087748/wildfires-around-the-world-photos/).

Are these wildfires eschatological harbingers? I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be. But then we’ve always believed Jesus is coming soon. “More and more, as the days go by, it is becoming apparent that God’s judgments are in the world. In fire and flood and earthquake He is warning the inhabitants of this earth of His near approach” (9T 97). Truth is, we are the red-handed culprits whose wanton consumption and waste of natural resources have triggered the imbalances exacerbating radical weather swings. Our greedy depletion of earth’s choicest gifts has a left a planet with the pox of judgment upon it—a judgment we ourselves have rendered.

“The time has come . . . for destroying those who destroy the earth” is the Apocalypse’s dark warning (Revelation 11:18).

So with that cheerful note, on the eve of a new year here at Andrews University, with more of COVID than fires on our minds, what shall we pray for as the campus church? What a perfect confluence for us to claim the ancient promise: “Ask the LORD for rain in the time of the latter rain. The LORD will make flashing clouds [thunderstorms—NIV]; He will give them showers of rain [drenching rain—Robert Alter]” (Zechariah 10:1 NKJV). “Drenching rain” for the out-of-control wildfires across the northern hemisphere—why not ask for it? But in the same breath, we must plead for the “thunderstorms” and “drenching rain” of the mighty Holy Spirit, whose outpouring has a been promised for “the last days” (Acts 2:17). It is time, it is high time, for God’s friends on earth to cry out for His rain-soaked intervention. Let those showers inundate this campus, this congregation, this global remnant community—and a people very much like Jesus will be raised up for such a time as this. So pray for the fire, pray for the rain, plead for the mighty Spirit of Jesus. It is time.

Jun
23
June 23, 2021

By now most of us Michiganders have read the good-news proclamation of Governor Gretchen Whitmer on June 17: “'Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us.’” And with that she announced, “Beginning June 22, capacity in both indoor and outdoor settings will increase to 100% and the state will no longer require residents to wear a face mask” (www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499-562084--,00.html).

So what does this good news mean for Pioneer? First a quick reality check. No governor’s pronouncement, of course, ends a pandemic. The truth is COVID-19 and its variants continue to appear the world over. But the upside is that here in Michigan and Berrien County we are fortunate, as the governor announced, that “COVID-19 cases continue to plummet following increased vaccinations” (ibid). 

This Monday evening our Safety Committee, under the able chairing of Michael Tan, convened to review the governor’s latest directives. After discussion, the committee edited its “COVID-19 Preparedness & Response Plan Safety Update: June 22, 2021” document, which you can read here (pmchurch.org/safety/covid19). 

To further clarify what this update means for our congregation, particularly on Sabbaths, we shared with the church board this six-point summation (from Michael Tan) of Pioneer’s safety protocol going forward:

• Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) will continue to align with Andrews University's COVID-19 protocols with the goal of opening completely by Fall, 2021.

• Masks: Per the MDHHS [Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] guidelines, all unvaccinated persons are to continue using the masks and practice social-distancing indoors, and for some outdoor activities.

• Signage: PMC will remove masking requirement signs from the entrances effective June 22, 2021.

• Capacity: Pioneer will continue to remain at 50% capacity through July 2021. On August 1, 2021, the signs to keep vacant alternate rows will be removed.

• Individuals who are not feeling well are requested to participate remotely.

• Recognizing the need of members to express faith and worship in singing, and anticipating members and visitors will be compliant with the masking guidelines from MDHHS, and that there is an avenue of remote worship for at-risk individuals, the Safety Committee will not object to the suspension of the announcement to hum along during musical expression of worship.

Based on these Safety Committee recommendations, masks will no longer be required for vaccinated worshipers in our two services each Sabbath morning. As a precaution for our unvaccinated children, leaders in our children’s Sabbath Schools will continue to be masked. And of course, we request unvaccinated worshipers to continue to mask themselves (as per CDC [Center for Disease Control] requirements). 

And, beginning on August 1, all rows in our sanctuary will be opened for Pioneer worshipers. The committee wisely waited until August 1 for implementation in order to give time for our worship leaders (deacons, greeters, and worship planners) to make worship protocol decisions, including the reception of morning tithes and offerings, in-person children’s stories, fellowship dinners, etc.

Also included in our revised safety protocol will be the resumption of congregational singing. Now not only the singers up front, but all who come to worship will have the opportunity to praise our Lord and Creator in song. 

Truly He has been our refuge and our strength throughout these long, seemingly interminable fifteen months here at Pioneer (March 14, 2020, to the present). God has protected us at church—not a single case of COVID-19 has been traced to any activity of the Pioneer Memorial Church over these months. And I believe His divine protection has shielded us at home as well. 

I am truly grateful to our entire Pioneer Family and our leaders for the way you have faithfully abided by national, state, and local protocol during this pandemic. It was a hard road, but it was the high road. And while we’re not out of the woods yet, to be sure, we have the assurance the same Lord who kept us safe during these fifteen months past will continue to protect His people for the journey ahead—with Him—until He comes.

Dwight K. Nelson
Lead Pastor

Jun
16
June 16, 2021

The reason the well-known phrase, “man’s best friend,” is enclosed in quotation marks is because (1) it is an oft-quoted phrase in reference to dogs, but (2) it is also regularly challenged! I want to thank all who submitted animal stories prior to our worship series, “For the Love of an Animal.” Those stories are evidence enough that “man’s best friend” could just as well be a cat, a peacock or two or three, or whatever animal companion you happened to grow up with or are enjoying right now.

And yet dogs continue to hold a special place in the human heart. I remember looking down from our hotel balcony in Belgrade, Serbia, and counting the number of people walking their dogs in the nearby city park—ditto, by the way, in Xiamen, China, every early morning. Dogs are beloved—let’s face it. That’s why I’m a bit hesitant to point out that we will not be having a dog story in this short mini-series. Why? Because in the time of the Bible writers dogs were not domesticated animals—they were wild, feral beasts nobody wanted around. Two exceptions are the “sheepdogs” that Job noted (Job 30:1 NIV) and the “little dogs” Jesus and the Syro-Phonecian mother described as eating crumbs spilled from the master’s table (Matthew 15:26-27). 

But look up the word “dog” in your favorite concordance, and you’ll discover the very word is an epithet, “a term of insult when applied to human beings . . . or a term used to indicate extreme self-abasement.” In fact “opponents of the gospel are compared to dogs,” as are immoral sinners outside the New Jerusalem ([Revelation 22:15] see SDABC Bible Dictionary 277).

But happily, three Pioneer members—Kathy Koudele and Bruce and Jan Wrenn, clearly dog-lovers to the core—took the time to extol their beloved canine companions, and even included photographs. 

Kathy wrote up a short piece about “Jack, the Guardian Angel in Dog Fur,” to tell about the part-Husky part-German Shepherd stray that wandered into their farmyard one day in Central Michigan. Would this stranger be a threat to the sheep on the farm? Turns out he was just the opposite! She writes, “Thankfully, Jack showed no interest at all in sheep; he was much more interested in retrieving and chewing on corn cobs. We used his love of cobs to trick him into acting like a Border Collie and thereby accidentally herding the sheep. We’d throw a corn cob toward the back of one side of the flock and he’d run after it causing the sheep to move forward away from him. Then we’d throw another cob toward the back of the other side and the same thing would happen. The process was repeated several times and in that way, the flock would continue to move forward.”

But how would he be with their children? Kathy continues, “Some dogs don’t see babies and toddlers as fully human and can treat them like unruly puppies. When our children arrived, however, Jack recognized them as fully human and treated them with the same respect and enthusiasm he did us. When they would be sitting in their little bouncy seat while I was milking cows or feeding lambs, he would bring over a corn cob he favored and put it in the little tray. They would wave it around and then drop it. He would quickly pick it up and set it back in the tray so they could drop it again for him. Sometimes they would use the cob as a teething ring before their parents had a chance to retrieve it.” Too bad they couldn’t market that idea!

And as for strangers “within your gates” (Exodus 20:10), Jack was there to guard: “His intense husky eyes and upright ears combined with the German Shepard body coloring were enough to persuade folks to stay in their car and call out to us or honk the horn. While my husband was away at medical school during the week, I knew I could rest easy both day and night since Jack was on patrol. I knew no unsavory sorts would be able to get past him and possibly harm our children or me. He was my guardian angel in dog fur, and I thanked God daily for bringing this perfect dog into our lives.”

Bruce and Jan write: “We have had 7 Golden Retrievers over our time in Berrien Springs. . . . Cooper was beloved by all who knew him—from the very young to the very old. Taking him for a walk around the neighborhood was like walking with the Pied Piper. The kids would come running out yelling 'Cooper!!’ And he would sit down so the smallest chidden could hug his neck. Some of the kids would come ring our doorbell and ask if they could come in the backyard to play with him.”

How was Cooper with senior citizens? Bruce wrote: “At the other end of the age spectrum, Cooper was a trained therapy dog, certified to be able to go into nursing homes, and other care places like hospice facilities, to greet older people who wanted to pet dogs and tell us about their own dogs, long since past. Cooper loved doing this, just loved it. He would get so excited when we brought out his service dog vest.”

Reflecting on the softer side of companion dogs, Bruce observes: “Books have been written about how animals have shown remarkable, sacrificial love for one another and for humans. Two that come to mind are Stephanie Laland’s Animal Angels and Peaceable Kingdom. What I take away from all this is just as God places in our heart the need to love and be loved, and to recognize the God of Love’s presence in our life, He also places the capacity for love in many of his creatures. We all have witnessed this in our own lives. Just another peek into God’s marvelous and amazing character and why we are reminded by John that ‘God is Love.’”

There it is. “For the Love of an Animal.” Right here at home. 

So why wouldn’t the Creator of us all—humans and “man’s best friend" and everything “else in all creation” (Romans 8:39)—embed reflections of His own heart of devoted love in all of us? For who more than He deserves the title, “The Best Friend of All?"

Jun
9
June 9, 2021

They say a surefire strategy in tracking organized crime is to “follow the money.” But even the Dark Side, an illegal online electronic hacking syndicate, must have been surprised! 

Over the last month, the nation has learned bit by bit (bitcoin by bitcoin) the saga of Dark Side and how they hacked into the computers of Colonial Pipeline to shut down this major east coast oil supply line. They demanded from Colonial $4.4 million ransom in order to “unhack” the pipeline and restore the flow of oil. And they got it.

Unbeknown to them, however, was Colonial Pipeline’s secret consultation and cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A black market encrypted cellphone, secured by the FBI, allowed investigators access to an underground app cybercriminals use to extort their demands and traffic their loot. Hiding in those crypto-criminal shadows, these investigators were able to track $2.3 million of bitcoin as it was secretly transferred into a digital wallet. But as it turned out, the FBI had retrieved the private key (password) for that specific wallet. And bingo—the bitcoin ransomware was recovered for Colonial Pipeline.

“It remains unclear how exactly the FBI retrieved the key. 'I don’t want to give up our tradecraft in case we want to use this again for future endeavors,’ Elvis Chan, an assistant special agent with the FBI’s San Francisco office, said in a news call Monday” (www.cnbc.com/2021/06/08/fbi-likely-exploited-sloppy-password-storage-to-seize-colonial-ransom.html).

All of this because the FBI found the private key to a digital wallet.

So who holds the key to your digital wallet? To whom have you given access to the hard-earned monies you have tucked away to cover your never-ending expenses?

Turns out that was Jesus’ question, too. Oh sure, nobody had an inkling two thousand years ago about digital wallets and crypto-currencies. But Jesus knew well the heart of man and woman: “‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.’” Why, it’s the Colonial Pipeline headline far in advance! Will the Savior recommend digital wallets for security? He goes on, “‘But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’” (Matthew 6:19-21).

His point is so simple it needs no amplification. 

Here’s a line Karen and I read together this morning from this year’s devotional book, Jesus: Name Above All Names: “Lay up your treasure beside the throne of God, by doing with His entrusted capital the work that He desires done in the winning of souls to a knowledge of the truth. This will secure you eternal riches” (172 emphases supplied).

Turns out there is one Person we can trust with the key to our digital wallets. Put that key in His nail-scarred hand, and it is as if we were placing our humble life belongings right there beside His throne. Talking about eternally safe and secure, beyond the reach of any Dark Side in this old world!

So my humble recommendation is we all give Him our keys: “Go ahead and follow the money, Lord Jesus—I’ve placed it all beside Your throne.” 

Jun
2
June 2, 2021

I remember an elephant joke we kids used to tell. In fact, at someone’s birthday party, I received a whole book full of elephant jokes. (Not sure such a book would survive today.) Anyway, here’s one embedded in the hard drive of my memory all these years later. Q: What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence? A: Time to get the fence fixed.

Since we’re about to launch a new mini-series, “For the Love of an Animal,” here’s an elephant story straight out of the headlines. A rogue herd of 15 elephants is on the warpath! According to NBC News, the herd “was approaching the city of Kunming, the capital of southwest China's Yunnan province, on Wednesday, defying attempts to redirect them after a journey of several hundred miles from forests to the south” (www.nbcnews.com/news/world/herd-wild-elephants-approaches-chinese-city-after-300-mile-journey-n1269293). Running out of food in their southern nature reserve, they are heading north.

But look, it's one thing to Ooo and Ahh over elephants in a wildlife documentary, but to face off a hungry herd of them heading for your village—no thanks! For days and nights now these 12 adult pachyderms and their three calves have been roaming up roads and tearing up fields, leaving a trail of ruin now estimated at $1.1 million of damage according to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.

“Local governments in Yunnan, which borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar, have used roadblocks and tons of food to try to shift the elephants' course over recent weeks while evacuating residential areas” (ibid). But all to no avail.

But what’s this have to do with the Bible? Nothing really. There are no elephants by name mentioned in Scripture, although every picture I’ve seen of Noah’s ark has an elephant couple headed for the gangplank. But it does say much about “the Maker of all things” to recognize that these gray wrinkled creatures came straight off His designing board and onto this primordial planet.

And any Creator who designs and loves not just elephants, but giraffes and baboons and kangaroos and sperm whales, to name some noteworthy representatives of nature’s animal kingdom, is obviously a Lover of beauty as well as diversity.

Why take a look at us humans. But then that’s the point. Diversity has been “the Maker of all things” modus operandi from “in the beginning.” And over the next four Sabbaths as we zero on four of His creatures (see if you can guess which four by the homily titles), the Creator will be teaching us some pretty important lessons, no just about the animals He loves, but about the people, He crafted, designed and placed on this terrestrial ball “for such a time as this.”

I hope you love animals—because this will be a series for people who do—and for the rest of us who need to learn to love them, too—just like “the Maker of all things [who] loves and wants [you and] me.”

May
19
May 19, 2021

Tick-tock, tick-tock—we all grew up that bit of onomatopoeia (a fun word to look up and pronounce) embedded in children’s stories. Everybody knows the sound of a clock. But the Chinese company ByteDance is betting that before long “tick-tock” will be forever eclipsed by “TikTok,” the hottest new social media app star on the planet.

How big is this global phenomenon? Consider this handful of factoids: 

  • “The platform has 732 million users–and more than 14 million new users jumping on every day. If we extrapolate things from when that stat was released in October, that number is probably more like 818 million today. This means TikTok will hit a billion users in about a year.
  • “That’s more than double Spotify’s total user number. However, YouTube reaches 2 billion. Still, 732 million is nothing to sneeze at.
  • “An average of 100 million people reliably use TikTok every month in just the United States.
  • “The average TikTok user checks in with the app 19(!!!) times a day. NINETEEN!
  • “The average user spends 89 minutes per day on TikTok.
  • “The demos of users are as follows: 17% are between 13 and 17. 42% are between 18 and 24. Another 22% are between 25 and 34. 12% goes to 34-44. Only 7% are over 45. No real surprise there, huh?” (www.ajournalofmusicalthings.com/how-big-is-tiktok-bigger-than-you-might-think/).

All of which means I am one of the 7%-over-age-45 users of TikTok—as of last Thursday, actually. (Hold the applause.)

Why would a self-respecting middle-aged adult male (let alone pastor) venture onto teeny-bopper/young-adult turf (59% of TikTok users)? Because this winter you and I challenged ourselves to move out into the crowded thoroughfares of social media and become “a house by the side of the road”—from which we could share with passers-by the profound truth, “The Maker of all things loves and wants me.” Remember?

Thanks to the coaxing and coaching of one of our pastors (hint—the one who preached on the use of social media this winter—whose initials are RO), I decided it wasn’t enough to be on Twitter (a platform I’ve occupied for almost a decade). I needed to tiptoe into the cacophony of noise and music and colors and messages that TikTok has become to pitch what I still believe is the greatest universal truth today: “The Maker of all things loves and wants me.”

And so if you go to my new TikTok account (@pastordwight), you’ll see a half dozen videos taped between last Thursday and yesterday—all of them with the winsome message, “The Maker of all things loves and wants me.”

Because I’m hoping that there are young and not-so-young TikTok users out there, wandering through those noisy, provocative, creative (you can’t imagine the level of creativity the young users bring to their video clips!), sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, sometimes lewd posts, with an empty heart that longs for meaning and purpose heretofore elusive to their quest. That’s a long sentence to simply say I believe these are the thoroughfares Jesus and Paul would traverse today. Why? To reach out to and touch the lives of people “whose hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (to paraphrase Augustine).

“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men [and women] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me’” (Ministry of Healing 143). TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat—these are the thoroughfares where traverse billions of this planet daily.

So why not take a deep breath and plunge into the waters yourself? You’ve got nothing to lose, and perhaps a life or two to win for the Savior because of your venture for Jesus. You’re welcome to check out my account. The numbers posted there are those of a newbie. But drop by Pastor Rodlie’s account (@pastor.rodlie) for IMHO astounding numbers for someone who has been faithfully witnessing for only five months now, with the highest number of views going to his short (under 60-second) prayers (notice how many TikTok users are drawn to simply a prayer!). Why even you or I could do that!

In the end, I can tell you (here at the beginning) that prayer is what animates my own simple TikTok efforts. Before each shoot, I appeal to the Holy Spirit to get me through the next sixty seconds (the maximum length allowed) with something that He could use to trigger the attention or touch the heart of a stranger. What happens after that? I keep praying. And trying. Which is all Jesus asks of any of us, isn’t it? 

Tick-tock, tick-tock. That’s the sound of time running out for a civilization on the brink. So why not take the plunge, while there’s still time?

Apr
28
April 28, 2021

No one is quite sure where this “100 days” marker actually originated. But it obviously rules the political world inside the beltway of our nation’s capital. 

Some say it stretches back to Napoleon: “The 100-days concept is believed to have its roots in France, where the concept of 'Cent Jours' (Hundred Days) refers to the period of 1815 between Napoleon Bonaparte’s return to Paris from exile on the island of Elba and his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, after which King Louis XVIII regained the French throne” (www.history.com/news/fast-facts-on-the-first-100-days).

Most link the “100 days” packet of time to the opening months of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency: “[He] was the first president to use the phrase 'first 100 days’, in a radio address on July 24th, 1933. He had taken office around five months earlier. America was then in its fourth year of a depression” (www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/01/24/why-an-american-presidents-first-100-days-matter). 

But as it turned out, every subsequent American president would be evaluated by the “first 100 days” of his own presidency, for weal or for woe. Thus, Wednesday evening President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the end of his “first 100 days,” a session radically reduced in attendance and thoroughly masked to accommodate our Covid-19 times.

And how would God be judged, were we to use the “first 100 days” marker for His administration?

Creation of Earth—seven days (Genesis 1-2)
Global flood over Earth—forty days (Genesis 7)
Ten Commandments—forty days (Exodus 31)
Ten Commandments recarved—another forty days (Exodus 34)
Conquest of Jericho—seven days (Joshua 6)
Ministry of Jesus—1,260 days (Daniel 9/Luke 3)
Salvation of the human race—three days (John 19-20)
Pentecost—fifty days (Acts 1-2)
Re-creation of Earth—someday (Revelation 21)

Is anyone surprised God can accomplish so much inside the “first 100 days” criterion of American politics? “Yes, but of course, He is God!” To which we all agree. “And besides, He doesn’t have to work with Congress.” We nod.

But would you like to know how many days really matter to God? The answer is—one. “Today, if only you would hear His voice” (Psalm 95:7). Because “today” is the only day that matters for God when it comes to you and me. “Today” is the only day that counts. Not “yesterday” nor “tomorrow.” But “today.” Have you listened for His voice today?

Why the big deal about “today?” Because of both the immediacy and urgency of this diminishing commodity called “time” for us time-bound inhabitants of this planet. It is the only day we have—“today.” And so it is the only day in our lives that truly matters to God—“today.”

“‘Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve’” (Joshua 24:15). Because “today” is the only day we have left to decide for Jesus and eternity. Not “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” But “today.” Have you reaffirmed your choice of the Savior today?

Our spiritual forefather, William Miller (the Baptist farmer turned preacher), concentrated his entire life and life mission on one day, the day of Christ’s return. Even after the bitter disappointment of Jesus not returning on October 22, 1844, three weeks later Miller wrote: “‘I have fixed my mind on another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light.—And that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see HIM for whom my soul yearns’” (quoted in Francis D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry, 267).

“Today” and “today” and “today”—how better to deal with the immediacy and urgency of this frazzled, pandemic world we inhabit? Who cares about a hundred days? The only day that matters between you and Jesus is still “today.” 

Apr
21
April 21, 2021

Maybe we should ask NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to supervise things here on earth. After all, they sure do well operating on another planet! 

On April 19 the world watched as the four-pound, 19.3-inch tall drone (rotorcraft), dubbed the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, lifted off the dusty rocks of the Martian surface. Breathlessly, NASA's Ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California monitored the action 173 million miles away, as Ingenuity whirled up to an altitude of ten feet, hovered there for 30 seconds, and returned to the Mars surface. 

True, 39.1 seconds is not a long flight. But it was unprecedented in space exploration annals, as Ingenuity became “the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet” (www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-ingenuity-mars-helicopter-succeeds-in-historic-first-flight).

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk pronounced, “‘Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible. . . . We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky – at least on Mars – may not be the limit’” (ibid).

But what about the sky here on Earth? Have we reached our human limits? Once again, the world watched the jury conviction of Derek Chauvin two days after the Ingenuity exploit. What a somber reminder that while we can soar a box of technology millions of miles into space without a hitch, we are seemingly unable to regulate, let alone guide and protect, human life on this planet. And while the family of George Floyd sobbed in relief, the unnerving string of mass killings over the past few weeks across this land only compounds the helplessness of what feels like a society out of control.

The apostle Paul ventured to describe our generation with this scribbled prediction, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). Terrible? How else shall we describe the knee-jerk assaults across this nation on Asians, ostensibly to express the perpetrators' anger over the China linkage to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The point is obvious, the glory of this springtime notwithstanding. We need the ingenuity of the Holy Spirit to turn the hearts of the people back to their Creator. Because life with no notion of a loving Creator is truly a hell on earth. 

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (Revelation 14:6-7).

The words are marked up and highlighted in my thin volume: “In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning [Revelation 14] for a perishing world. . . . There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention” (9T 19).

You and I belong to a faith community—an apocalyptic movement—that takes this too-long-ignored divine appeal to the human race seriously. It is our mission to invite the world to embrace the truth, “The Maker of all things loves and wants me.” Can you imagine what life on this planet would be like were humanity to remember we are deeply loved and wanted by the Maker of all things? Who laid down His life for this race on that long ago cross. And rose again. And is coming back sooner than we have calculated.

Ingenuity. That’s what we need—bright young minds and activists, willing to go to the streets and neighborhoods, with the urgently good news of the Maker of all things who comes soon. Ingenuity may be on Mars right now, but Heaven needs it here on this terra firma right now. So give us, O God, the Spirit’s ingenuity, we pray.

Photo courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory—California Institute of Technology

Apr
14
April 14, 2021

“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring”—so opined Victor Hugo. 

Or as Tiffany Aurora mused:
We are settling into the spring of things.
     Two-lipped Tulip kisses & cherry blossom breaths.

In matters of the heart, spring is the season of blossoming love, is it not? Why even Solomon himself was carried away with spring’s enchantment:
           My beloved spoke and said to me,
                   “Arise, my darling,
                           my beautiful one, come with me.  
           See! The winter is past;
                           the rains are over and gone.  
                   Flowers appear on the earth;
                           the season of singing has come,
           the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
         The fig tree forms its early fruit;
         the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
         Arise, come, my darling;
          my beautiful one, come with me.” (Song of Solomon 2:10-13)

Thus, spring is surely the perfect season to ponder matters of marriage, as we are in our current worship-pulpit series, “Marriage.”

This Sabbath our series continues through the ministry of David and Beverly Sedlacek in both services (9 AM/11:45 AM). As pastor and clinician, David is Chair and Professor of Family Ministry and Discipleship in the Department of Discipleship and Lifespan Education at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. And having specialized in psychiatric nursing, Beverly is a therapist in private practice at University Medical Specialties in Berrien Springs, Michigan. 

Combining their two academic careers (David’s doctorate in Social Work [Case Western Reserve University], and Beverly’s doctorate in Nursing Practice [Andrews University]), our guest couple collaborated to write the book Cleansing the Sanctuary of the Heart: Tools for Emotional Healing, along with its accompanying workbook. 

Together they conduct seminars nationally and internationally on many topics related to family ministry and are family ministry directors in their local church. They have five children, twelve grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. They know of what they speak!

And besides, who better than a husband and wife team to minister to our campus congregation on the subject of marriage? Given the stresses of both pandemic and culture, marriage faces unprecedented challenges today. But the Sedlaceks come to minister to us the hope and promise of Christ our Lord for all who have, who are, and who may yet experience the Creator's “in the beginning” gift of marriage to humanity. Welcome, Sedlacek's, and all to worship this Sabbath.

Apr
7
April 7, 2021

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, garnered a few headlines this week. His comments about the state of life and the economy in America caught my eye. In his annual shareholder letter on Wednesday (and no, I didn’t receive a copy), he not only prognosticated about the future but also offered a candid analysis of America right now.

“Dimon wrote that the Covid-19 pandemic, the 'horrific murder' of George Floyd, and the painfully slow economic growth of the past two decades are all symptoms of a broader problem: 'inept' public policy and broad government dysfunction” (www.cnn.com/2021/04/07/economy/economy-jamie-dimon-jpmorgan/index.html).

He goes on in his shareholder letter: “‘Unfortunately, the tragedies of this past year are only the tip of the iceberg — they merely expose enormous failures that have existed for decades and have been deeply damaging to America,’ . . . adding that the nation was ‘totally unprepared’ for the deadly pandemic” (ibid).

But all isn’t doom and gloom. “‘I have little doubt that with excess savings, new stimulus savings, huge deficit spending, more QE [quantitative easing—i.e., printing more money], a new potential infrastructure bill, a successful vaccine and euphoria around the end of the pandemic, the U.S. economy will likely boom,’ Dimon said. 'This boom could easily run into 2023 because all the spending could extend well into 2023’” (www.cnbc.com/2021/04/07/jamie-dimon-says-economic-boom-fueled-by-deficit-spending-vaccines-could-easily-run-into-2023.html).

But who cares what Jamie Dimon thinks? Fair enough. Though before we dismiss him too quickly, we should consider what this influential financial leader is suggesting.

America’s in trouble. The fractious events of the past year—racial, economic, political, medical—a hint of uneasy uncertainty ahead. And while there may be a euphoria-fed boom in the immediate future, existing ineptitude of public policy and governmental dysfunction, as he put it, may be ominous harbingers of what this country faces.

Was Jesus suggesting the same? “‘For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’” (Matthew 24:38-39). 

I.e., life was carrying on, with its usual hiccups and small crises, as it always does—people eating (no sin there), drinking (no sin there), marrying (no sin there), and giving in marriage (no sin there). All of this, plain and simple, as per usual. Were there systemic fractures and fault lines evident in the day? Of course (just read the first seven verses of Genesis 6). But instead Jesus skips over Genesis 6 and focuses on the laissez faire attitude of the antediluvians.

And therein lay their fatal error.  Life was unraveling around them, but they just kept living it as if everything was going to be OK. This means Jamie Dimon’s prediction of a euphoric boom in our economy’s near future must not overshadow his warning of systemic fault lines in our society and government. Hungry for good news though this pandemic-embattled society is, we must not be willfully blind to the bad news that social and economic fissures are still widening. And so are the moral and spiritual fractures that threaten the soul of this civilization.

“‘And they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’” (Matthew 24:38-39).

Describing our own generation, The Great Controversy warns: “The end will come more quickly than [people] expect” (631).

But then what did you expect? A recovery from the pandemic that ushers in a new millennium? Hardly! Even Jamie Dimon knows better. And given the times we now inhabit, we must know better, too.