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Saturday, March 12, 2022 - 16:20

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

March 2, 2022

For seven days now the world has looked on with handwringing concern as an aggressor nation has invaded a neighboring country. It is our human (and Christian) tendency to identify the villain, take sides in the conflict and pray (usually) for the underdog. 

The stunning real-time coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the horrific footage of war’s exploding carnage, and the consequent flight of tens of thousands of wives, mothers, and children have tugged at all our hearts. Their bitter tears are soul-churning. Will these families be reunited?

But we do well to remember on the other side of the border are countless Russian mothers and wives somewhere worrying, somewhere praying for the deliverance of their boys (literally cadet youth pressed into service for the Motherland). Where is the heart of our maternal God in war between the children?

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

“War is hell”—words originally attributed to Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman—remains undisputed. After only seven days of it who in Ukraine or Russia would disagree?

But we must be reminded—behind the miasma of human wartime suffering is a single dark mind. “Satan delights in war, for it excites the worst passions of the soul and then sweeps into eternity its victims steeped in vice and blood. It is his object to incite the nations to war against one another, for he can thus divert the minds of the people from the work of preparation to stand in the day of God” (Great Controversy 589).

Who is surprised at this prophetic disclosure? From the beginning, the evil genius of the fallen covering cherub—his first taste of human blood spilled from the battered Abel—has masterminded the deadly art of war in order to rush human beings into Christless graves. “And there was war in heaven” . . . and there is war on earth.

But in a war between Christian nations how does Heaven respond? How should we pray? Remember the truth about God: “The Lord is . . . not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV). Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it: “He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change” (Message).

The truth today is He is giving all of us—Russians, Ukrainians, Americans alike—“space and time to change.” This is why it is both right and essential for the friends of Jesus to cry out on behalf of any deadly war: “O Savior, hold back the winds of strife that all might yet come to know You.” Let every video clip of fighting become a call to seek the victims' salvation.

And if your heart is moved with the plight of the fleeing refugees, why not go to (Adventist Development Relief Agency) to make a donation to their refugee emergency interventions on both sides of the borders.

Because the good news for “Rachel weeping for her children” is this response from Heaven: “‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,' declares the Lord. 'They will return from the land of the enemy. . . . Your children will return to their own land’” (Jeremiah 31:16-17).

It may be a wartime promise fulfilled only in eternity—but it is still a promise we must claim for all.

February 2, 2022

I suppose the whole world knows who Phil of Punxsutawney is. And what’s not to like about that huggable, furry underground critter who cautiously pokes his head from his den every February 2, and predicts America’s weather pattern for the next six weeks? Be advised he’s a lot older than he looks since he has been plying his meteorological art since 1887!

And you know what? He’s giving competition to the two-legged weather forecasters who led this university to declare a snow day a day in advance a few weeks ago—closing down classes and the campus (all based, of course, on sophisticated meteorologic computer prognostications). But we awakened the next morning to only a thin layer of snow across the lawn. Oh well, what’s not to like about a free snow day! (Actually, I'm writing this on another snow day, and the advance call on this one was spot on—the snow is really coming down—Karen and I shoveled the driveway this morning—and it’ll need it again later today.)

As for Phil the celebrity groundhog forecaster in Punxsutawney, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and his local handlers, he “has forecasted six more weeks of winter 105 times since 1887” ( And how many of those times did we actually have six more weeks of winter? Forty-two times, giving Phil an accuracy rate of 40%—pretty good odds—which, as every baseball fan knows, batting .400 puts you in the superstar range. Unfortunately, Phil isn’t trying out for the New York Yankees (though they could use his batting average). According to SciJinks, the NOAA website: “A seven-day forecast can accurately predict the weather about 80 percent of the time and a five-day forecast can accurately predict the weather approximately 90 percent of the time. However, a 10-day—or longer—forecast is only right about half the time” ( Sorry, Phil.

Anybody want to predict how long this planet is going to last? Hardly! One thing’s for sure—I don’t want to end up being like the mockers Peter critiqued: 

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:3-7).

Peter’s point? The global deluge God promised and Noah predicted turned out to have a 100% accuracy rating, despite the howling critics and scoffers who suffered a 0% accuracy rating. When it comes to the end of the world—whether by water or by fire—we are far better off standing with God, wouldn’t you agree?

Punxsutawney Phil provides us all a cute mid-winter diversion. But he’s just a groundhog after all. If we're really serious about what is yet to come, you can’t beat the accuracy rating of the One who has promised—“‘Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done’” (Revelation 22:12). Jesus is still 100% the Savior, 100% on your side, 100% coming in your lifetime, and 100% eager for you to give yourself 100% to Him. So stick with the numbers and stay with Him—you cannot beat those odds.

January 5, 2022

A friend of mine whispered to me the other day his conviction that the eventual downfall of the American democracy will be traced to January 6, 2021, and the mob attack on Capitol Hill. My eyebrows arched, considering the bright mind and respected scholarship behind the whisper. But then everybody has an opinion these days, have you noticed?

Nevertheless, with the one-year anniversary upon us, it is prudent we pause and reflect on this New Year’s “new normal.” On the health front, the Covid-19 pandemic surges with the Omicron variant—we all know—but there is hope its surge will not reflect a sharp rise in mortality rates as well. And on the political front, there's no need to even review its landscape—we've already formed our own conclusions about all of that, irrespective of what news outlets may tell us to the contrary. But then, welcome to life in America today.

My concern for us is on the spiritual front. How is it with your soul and mine? Are we closer to the Savior this New Year than last New Year? Is the Spirit of God finding fuller access to our private lives and personal decisions, our practice behind closed doors? 

Consider this ancient prayer in the old King James Bible: “My soul followeth hard after thee” (Psalm 63:8). “I cling to you” is the same prayer in our own vernacular (NIV). But do we . . . do you . . . do I . . . follow hard after God . . . cling to Him?

A. W. Tozer, in his long-ago The Pursuit of God, reflected on the psalmist’s prayer and then made this appeal:

I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality of our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain. (p17, emphasis supplied)

Did you catch that? “He waits to be wanted.” I know you want Him and so do I. But is it a “My soul followeth hard after Thee” kind of want? How hard do we really want Him?

Maybe our New Year prayer ought to be, “Lord, help me to want to want You.” As Tozer noted, “He waits to be wanted.” As Ellen White often observed, we must “be willing to be made willing.” So why not ask Christ to mentor us into a deeper wanting, a following hard after Him this New Year? “Lord, help me to want to want You.”

Given the trajectory of this nation, it is hardly rocket (let alone political) science to recognize what we once prized as a nation is slipping away and could suddenly be taken away. If ever this secular country needed God—and by that I mean the people we work with and pray for—this would be the right time to personally model to them a deeper devotion to Christ, a following hard after Him. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with such a friend of Jesus? “Lord, help me to want to want You."

Clearly, this wanting must begin with us—we can’t wait for America. So to help answer our own prayer, “Help me to want to want You,” the practice of the ancients (and of those who walk with Jesus today—and you know who they are) must become ours. Begin each day with a less hurried, and more deliberate meditating on Holy Scripture verse by verse, joined to an uninterrupted conversation with God through prayer. The books on how to do it are legion. But the prayer to go deeper is ours. 

“Lord, help me to want to want You.”

December 22, 2021

Those are the last words of 30-year-old Shakar Ali Pirot, one of over thirty Middle East migrants who perished in the English Channel a few nights ago, their desperate flight to freedom ending tragically.

In this case, the electronically captured recording of the cry for help from the sinking dinghy says it all: “We are still in the sea between the UK and France. We're not sure which is coming [to rescue us]” (

By the time authorities were alerted and responded it was too late. “The BBC has confirmed at least 30 people died that night, by far the worst migrant tragedy ever recorded in the Channel. We have established, through help from many families in Iraqi Kurdistan, the identities of 20 of those on board” (ibid). Two survived.

How can the rest of the world ever get used to stories like this—whether the migrants are east or south or west of us? Smuggled in trucks or dinghies or swimming the currents or climbing the border fences—it is the sad plight of men, women, and children succumbing to their calculated risks for the sake of a new life. 

“We are still in the sea . . . not sure [who] is coming.”

But is that not also the cry of a desperate world this Christmastime 2021? Nobody, it seems, is sure who is coming to their rescue. The global medical community valiantly battles new variants of Covid-19, hospitals across the land overflowing with people desperate to be saved. The victims of “the longest continuous path record” for a tornado now pick through the rubble of their former lives in Kentucky. Innuendos and nascent rumors of impending civil war in this nation stoke the fears of a divided people.

“We are still in the sea . . . not sure [who] is coming.”

Was it any different when Messiah came the first time? So should we be that startled to realize it is deja vu all over again, two millennia later?

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

The One who came is the One who is coming. Thus those critical keywords—government, counselor, mighty, peace—find “re-solution” in this divine One. How else will Earth’s travail be resolved? 

Salaam, shalom, peace—may the promise of Christ this Christmas undergird our voyage into the uncharted year ahead: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

“We are still in the sea . . . but we know Who is coming.” 

December 15, 2021

A few days ago the Wild family—Mom and Dad and their two children—living on the Western Cape of South Africa were decorating their Christmas tree, a familiar holiday ritual. With the last ornament tucked onto a lighted branch, they all stepped back (you know the drill) to admire their blinking, glittering Yuletide creation. The requisite chorus of oohs and ahhs declared a job well done!

Except that Mother noticed the two pet cats, for some strange reason, also apparently admiring the tree. “Looks like we’ve got a mouse in our branches,” she pointed at the cats. But when the family tracked the cats’ unblinking stares back to the tree, it was no mouse emerging. The collective gasp was over the writhing, protruding head, and body of a four-foot-long boomslang, the most venomous snake in South Africa. Freeze!

Father moved first, grabbing his phone, snapping some pix and texting them to an animal handler he knew. A phone call confirmed they had a deadly boomslang in their home, its venom was able to shut off blood coagulation leading to death by bleeding.

For two hours the family, hardly daring to breathe, kept vigil on the snake in the tree, as the handler raced through the countryside to their home. But when he walked in, the snake dropped from the Christmas tree to the floor, slithering toward the couch to a chorus of screams. But the snake handler's long iron prongs snatched the snake and bagged it. Confirmation—a boomslang indeed.

Apparently, the snake had entered the home, confused but unnoticed, and had sought refuge in the Christmas tree. The handler later released the snake into the wild—far, far away from the Wild’s home, you can sure.

A poisonous Christmas tree. But then, isn’t that the story of Christmas? Wasn’t the Baby of the Bethlehem manger “the Word made flesh,” sent as a divine emissary to this rebel planet, born so that He might eventually die for the salvation of the fallen race?

And didn’t the grown-up Jesus once declare that “‘as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him’”? (John 3:14-15).

Born in a wooden manger, dead on a wooden cross—all for what? “[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes [we] are healed’” (1 Peter 2:24 NKJV, emphasis supplied). 

Hoisted like a snake on Calvary’s tree, the Savior of the world bore our poison and died for our rescue. The truth is you cannot separate the Christmas cradle from the Calvary cross—for the salvation we celebrate today was only possible by the Savior lying in the one and dying on the other. Profound mystery, relentless truth: “‘Herein is love.’ Wonder, O heavens! and be astonished, O earth!” (Desire of Ages 49). 

December 1, 2021

In answer to the question about the Greek alphabet, there are a total of 24 letters, with Omicron (transcribed as an “o”) as #15 in the alphabet, and just eight letters away from the last letter, Omega.

Of course, nobody’s interested in the Greek alphabet—but everybody is wondering how many more variants will there be to the deadly COVID-19 virus that has crippled this planet and has (through its Delta variant) stricken our own Berrien County. The heartache of an unexpected death, the specter of a pandemic unceasing in its spread, the growing number of people we know and love becoming infected—we thought all of this was the story of last Christmas. But as it turns out, this Advent season is beginning to feel as somber as the last one we survived together.

But this is no time for fear. Pioneer, thanks to your faithful compliance to safety and health protocols, is pressing ahead in our Kingdom mission—“Love on the Move”—on Sabbaths as well as weekdays, pandemic or not. But it is only prudent that we keep a watchful eye on global and national trackings. While the Omicron variant is reportedly less severe in its symptoms but more contagious in its spread, the truth is—we simply don’t know. Then again, what is “less severe” to those who are already in at-risk categories of life?

Thus this congregation (through its Safety Committee, Church Board, and pastoral team) will continue to monitor national and local trends. And should there need to be a change in our Christmas plannings and celebrations, we will notify our members via direct email or through this eLetter.

In the meantime, the truth is—it really doesn’t matter how many more letters there are, for Jesus is the summation of the entire alphabet—its first letter and its last: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last’” (Revelation 1:8, 17). And the good news is—He is every letter in between as well. This means whether we’re at the beginning of life’s alphabet or near the end—or, for that matter, anywhere in between—His nail-scarred hand securely holds us.

“Rejoice, rejoice!” No matter how many pandemic variants scientists may yet discover, the Alpha and the Omega is our Lord and Savior. Birthed in a crude manger, crucified on that gnarly tree, returning on a fiery cloud sooner than we think—this is our Jesus of this Advent season. 

“O come, let us adore Him!” 

November 17, 2021

Four centuries ago this autumn—“. . . it was probably in late September or early October [1621], soon after [the Pilgrim’s] crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested” (Nathaniel Philbrick Mayflower 117)—the decimated band of immigrant refugees to these shores had by a breath barely survived that treacherous winter before.

The numbers speak volumes: “ . . . 45 of the original 102 colonists died during the first winter. There were 17 fatalities in February alone.  Many succumbed to the elements, malnutrition, and diseases such as scurvy. Frequently two or three died on the same day. Four entire families perished and there was only one family that didn’t lose at least one member. Of the 18 married women, 13 died. Only three of 13 children perished, probably because mothers were giving their share of food to the children” (

And yet crippled though they were by those losses, these fifty-two English trans-Atlantic survivors turned a subsequent bountiful summer crop into a three-day harvest feast for the fledgling band of Pilgrims and their benefactor guests, Chief Massasoit, and his ninety Wampanoag warriors. “O give thanks unto the Lord.”

(Although truth be told, there is no celebration in the Wampanoag Nation today. In fact, “for the Wampanoags and many other American Indians, the fourth Thursday in November is considered a day of mourning, not a day of celebration” ( Once a thriving nation between 30,000 and 100,000 in eastern Massachusetts, Wampanoags today number 2,800—their homeland gone, their own numbers decimated. “O give thanks unto the Lord”?)

Four hundred years ago, of course, William Bradford had no inkling of the subsequent history. As the elected governor of these English immigrants, he declared their time of communal gratitude to be an occasion to “[gather] the fruit of our labors” and “rejoice together . . . after a more special manner” (Philbrick 117). 

Years after that first “thanksgiving,” the aged Bradford looked back to testify: “What could now sustain them [those survivors] but the spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in the wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity [see Deuteronomy 26:7]’” (Philbrick 46).

And “may not and ought not” the children of America today—we who come from every land to inhabit this same land—join that ancient chorus: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His love endures forever” (Psalm 136). 

But with that glad acclamation shall we not also resolve to be “Love on the Move” to the “strangers within our gates,” the refugees and immigrants who settle in our midst?  Of all people, shall we not extend the compassion of our Lord Jesus to the alienated, the disenfranchised, the marginalized residents of this land? “O give thanks unto the Lord.”

November 10, 2021

It was to be a simple day-trip hike in the beautiful, autumn-colored Colorado mountains last month. What’s not to like about that “Rocky Mountain high” of deep blue skies towering over rugged grey rock terrain amidst the you-can-smell-them rich conifer greens? Ahead is Mount Elbert’s peak and the South Trailhead that climbs toward it. What a day for a hike!

But at the end of the day around 8 p.m., someone called Lake County Search and Rescue, reporting the hiker was long overdue. Could they please help locate the individual?

All night long search and rescue teams combed surrounding areas to find the missing hiker. “‘Multiple attempts to contact the subject via their cell phone were unsuccessful,’” a Lake County statement later reported.

But lo and behold, more than 24 hours later the hiker returned home. Where have you been—the whole county has been searching for you!

According to the Lake County statement, the subject (whose identity and gender was being protected) lost the trail around nightfall, spent the night searching for the missing trail, finally found it, and reached their car the next morning. “‘They had no idea that SAR [search and rescue] was out looking for them.’”

But the closing to this news report (several readers sent me) is a classic. From the Lake County statement: “‘One notable take-away is that the subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn’t recognize the number.’” Can you believe it? The hiker’s phone kept ringing through the night from an unrecognized phone number, but since they didn’t know who was calling, they decided not to answer. Help was one phone call away—but they wouldn’t answer the phone!

When social media turned critical of this hapless hiker, the Lake County Search and Rescue came to the hiker’s defense: “‘Please remember that what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking’” ( 

I’m amazed at how many of us have lived through the double-header crisis of this pandemic, watched from afar the still erupting Capitol meltdown, tracked the global headlines of climate change, bemoaning the moral hemorrhaging of this culture and its collapsing values, and complaining about supply chain disruptions that threaten our Christmas gifts from China . . . and all the while our phones are ringing off the hook from an unidentified caller. Has it occurred to anybody it might be God on the other end? And that we might be more lost than even we think?

How did our Lord put it? “‘But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man’” (Luke 12:34-36 Message).

I.e., answer the phone!

Or in the words of the American writer Ellen White: “God of heaven, wake us up!” (Last Day Events 26)

Answer the phone.

November 3, 2021

All of Australia is breathing a sigh of grateful relief, now that police investigators hours ago rescued a missing four-year-old girl named Cleo. Eighteen nights ago she and her family were sleeping in a tent by a remote but popular tourist site along the west coast, Quobba Blowholes. Sometime after 1:30 AM when Cleo awakened to ask for a drink of water before falling back to sleep, police concluded she was abducted, sleeping bag and all pulled through a zippered tent flap (unzipped higher than a child would have raised it).

For eighteen days the frantic family has pleaded for her return, the anxious country tracking the “massive police search” on national news. 

Then hours ago just after midnight, Wednesday (Perth time) detectives found the proverbial needle in the haystack, when they broke into a house not far from Cleo’s home. Deputy Police Commissioner Col Blanch told 6PR radio: “When she said ‘My name is Cleo,’ I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. I have seen seasoned detectives openly crying with relief. I am speechless which is very rare . . . this is something we all hoped in our hearts, and it has come true’” (

The rescue of a child—the whole world shares the supreme priority such an undertaking commands.

A few hours after Cleo was found in Australia, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) here in the United States announced: “‘Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation's fight against the virus that causes COVID-19,’ CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. ‘We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine’” ( 

Now children as young as five may receive the Pfizer vaccine, to the relief of parents—as once again the rescue of a child (or in this case millions of children) rightfully occupies the center stage of adult attention.

No wonder Jesus uses the figure of “a little one” to get our attention in words often overlooked: “‘And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward’” (Matthew 10:42). While commentators suggest these “little ones” aren’t actually biological children—Frederick Dale Bruner suggests this verse means “giving even the tiniest social help to less significant Christians” (Matthew: A Commentary 1:497)—Jesus could very well be including children as young as five in calling us to show loving attention to the littlest among us.

Consider the Pioneer Sabbath Schools that faithfully open to our children (from a day old to the hoary-haired eldest among us) Sabbath after Sabbath, in spite of the pandemic still lingering across the land. Consider the masked Pioneer adults and teenagers who are staffing these Sabbath Schools simply because they care for children and love Jesus. What a compelling witness to the value of reaching one “little one” for the Savior. God bless our Pioneer children. And God abundantly rewards our Pioneer volunteers who serve up Jesus’ love for children in a simple cup of refreshing water. 

The rescue of a child—the whole world shares the supreme priority such an undertaking commands.

October 27, 2021

I am pleased and grateful to share with you the good news that Pacific Press Publishing Association has just released the book I wrote this last winter, American Apocalypse. Based on what we shared last fall—but with new chapters and material added—this book is a candid, earnest biblical examination of where America stands in the stream of apocalyptic history. One of the editors of the PPPA happened to listen in on some of that pulpit series and asked me to write the manuscript. 

I wrote American Apocalypse with the humble prayer that those not of my faith community would find it both intriguing and convincing. In fact, a few days ago I sent the book to two out-of-town friends of mine—one a physician and the other a pastor.

I don’t mind sharing with you, who are part of my own spiritual family, my prayer that politicians in America would have the chance to examine the case presented in this book. I wish the president would have an opportunity to read the book. I wish the former president the same. Every judge, every mayor, every county commissioner—is that too great an ambition? I think not. After all, Paul himself—the focus of our current pulpit series—lived with one aspiration: “Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand’” (Romans 5:20-21). 

And so I am praying this fresh examination of the prophetic Word will ignite for American readers an intellectual paradigm shift, along with a deepening spiritual conviction that life as we know it in this country and even globally is crumbling. 

Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, and historian, in his book The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels recognizes: “There is, in fact, no struggle more important, and none nobler, than the one we wage in service of those better angels who, however, besieged, are always ready for battle” (272). “Angels always ready for battle”? If he only knew!

But you and I do know. And so please join me in praying that the Spirit of Christ will attend this book and send it to inquiring minds, perplexed souls that wonder what could possibly happen next. Knowing what you and I know, is this not an opportune moment to speak up for Jesus?