The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

November 8, 2017

The unspeakable tragedy that befell the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday morning has not only broken the collective heart of church-going America. It has caused every church-going American to wonder if it could happen to us, too.

"All I heard was bullets flying everywhere," 73 year old Farida Brown testified, according to the Wall Street Journal. She and a friend, sitting on the last pew near the door, instinctively dropped to the floor when the staccato shooting began even before the black-clad gunman entered the sanctuary. "By the time Devin Patrick Kelley stopped shooting, most of the congregation would be dead or wounded. He killed 26 people and injured 20 more. Counted among the dead is the unborn child of Crystal Holcombe, who was also killed along with 7 family members, including her husband and children" ( Our hearts break.

Will this ever end, this accelerating mayhem that has become the daily fare of our world wide web news?

Over a century ago the American writer and spiritual leader Ellen White observed: "We are living in the midst of an 'epidemic of crime' at which thoughtful, God-fearing men everywhere stand aghast. The corruption that prevails is beyond the power of the human pen to describe. Every day brings fresh revelations of political strife, bribery, and fraud; every day brings its heartsickening record of violence and lawlessness, of indifference to human suffering; of brutal, fiendish destruction of human life. Every day testifies to the increase of insanity, murder, and suicide" (Testimonies to the Church 9:89).

" . . . beyond the power of the human pen to describe . . ." How tragically true.

And yet the rest of us awakened to the early morning glory of a silver midnight frost draped across our maples—miniature sparkles of ice just weighty enough to break loose leaves dying in yellows and reds, striking the ground below with tiny metallic thuds of protest. Death to be sure. But here at least even in death there still is beauty. This is not Texas.

But this is Earth. And across its pock-marked face the saga of human suffering and death spreads at rates and in degrees that startle even the most calloused observers.

Does the church, do the people and friends of God notice? If a century ago warranted a warning of inexplicable acceleration of epidemic crime and insane killing, what would that writer now say? What Jesus once said was even plainer, "'Even so, when you see these things happening, you know the kingdom of God is near'" (Luke 21:31).

How near? Near enough for the church of God to arouse from her lethargic slumber? Near enough for the young and the not-so-young of Adventism to turn aside for a day or two from the distractive noise and hypnotic clutch of our technological toys? Near enough for God's people to band together in prayer?

How about seven days of prayer, seven days and nights for opening our minds, our souls to the supreme God of the universe, the Savior of the world? Seven days and nights for praying the cry of the Damascus Road Saul to the Stranger in the blinding light, "'What am I to do, Lord?'" (Acts 22:10). (See the accompanying thematic guide for 7 Days of Prayer.)

Surely our God is earnest enough, creative enough, personal enough to answer the sincere petition, "What do You want me to do?" If it is racial reconciliation He calls us to pursue, surely He will show us how . . . right here . . . won’t He? If it is missionary zeal He hopes we will embrace, surely He will grant such fervor to our honest petitions, won't He? If it is His overcoming power He urges us to seek, surely He will grant to us the very victory power we long for, will He not?

Then let us ask in this time of diminishing time. Let us ask and receive, seek and find, knock and it will be opened to us—as Jesus urged us: ". . . how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who [Greek: daily/continually] ask Him!" (Luke 11:13). Because if the Holy Spirit is "the greatest of all gifts," then isn’t this the most urgent of all times to be daily seeking His fresh baptism of love and power and witness? 

November 1, 2017

It's time for another "favorite granddaughter" story (especially since after February I won’t have a "favorite granddaughter" anymore—I’ll have two of them—Ella’s going to have a sister!). Four-year-old Ella loves to color. So of course Papa and Grammy buy her a new coloring book every now and then. But the problem, if I might be quite candid about my granddaughter, is she hasn’t learned yet to confine her gloriously wild crayon colors to inside the lines. No kidding—she’s forever coloring outside the box. What’s up with that! Everybody knows you’re supposed to color inside not outside the box.

And yet it suddenly dawned on me this week that Jesus was no inside-the-box "colorer" either. Certainly not when it came to His prayer life. For years I’ve assumed that Mark 1:35 pretty much summarized His prayer routine: "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where he prayed." He was an early morning Man. And yes, there are those other references to His praying in the night, sometimes all night in fact. But nighttime, early morning time—that was it, right?

Wrong. Take the afternoon He fed 15,000+ people with that unselfish little boy’s lunch of 5 loaves and two fish. Once dinner had been served and His disciples had collected and redistributed all the left over bread and fish, "after saying farewell to them, He went up on the mountain to pray" (Mark 6:46 NRSV). There He is, coloring outside His usual routine box of prayer, choosing to leave the crowd to spend some late afternoon or early evening time alone with His Father.

Which, of course, isn’t that momentous a headline to be sure. But that’s the point. It wasn’t a headline at all. It was the One we call Lord and Savior pushing away from the rest in order to make time for being alone with God. Outside the box of His prayer routine.

But isn’t that what prayer is supposed to be for you and me, too? Pushing away from the crowd, stepping out of the room, leaving friends or family, anytime you wish, anytime you sense the need—making time to be alone with God, alone with Jesus, alone with the Holy Spirit. Now we know it’s OK to color outside the box of routine prayer when you want to be alone with Him.

Because what’s so routine about time alone with the One who keeps your picture on His refrigerator, so crazy is He about you? No kidding—"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God" (1 John 3:1 NIV). Love lavished on us—what’s not to love about that!

So the next time you sense His prompting, that quiet invitation to come be alone with Him to talk, do something really radical—color outside the box—and grab an unscheduled moment to sit alone with Him. One on one. That’s how life becomes a romance (as Oswald Chambers describes it) with the Dashing Young God of this universe. Alone. Outside the box. Just you and Him. Listening to each other.

"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 [who] bids us, 'Be still, and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10" (Desire of Ages 363).

October 25, 2017

It’s amazing how much one can learn of Martin Luther’s state of mind—simply because of the prodigious output from his prolific pen, because in every sense of the word his writings went "viral." Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type and the printing press (seventy years before Luther) forever changed the human playing field. "In terms of its cultural impact the printing press was the most significant innovation in world history before the internet" (Derek Wilson Luther: Out of the Storm p. 41). Could it be Someone set the Reformer up for mass communication success years before he was born? "By 1500 every major town and city in Europe had at least one print works and there were already in existence more books than the world had ever seen—some thirty thousand titles, running to over six million copies." Thus it was possible for "'a little mouse like Wittenberg to roar like a lion across the length and breadth of Europe’" (ibid.).

So it isn’t hard to gauge Luther’s state of mind—but what about his state of health? Reading multiple biographies this summer I was stunned to learn how sick Luther was much of the time. Timothy Lull and Derek Nelson detail a painful life of ill health plaguing Martin throughout his adulthood. "He suffered for many years from tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and frequently had dizzy spells and fainting. Once he fainted in a pulpit and fell from it" (Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther p. 323). But there was more to come. Luther also suffered from: uremia (a kind of kidney failure), gout (painful joints caused by uremic acid build-up), and kidney stones. Given he lived at the end of the Dark Ages, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn Luther "praised his medicines coming from the Dreckapotheke (excrement pharmacy), including slurries of swine feces for reducing blood flow and horse dung for better breathing. Perhaps not surprisingly they seem not to have helped much" (p. 324). Surprise!

In 1537 Luther’s health tanked even further from a large kidney stone and its attendant bleeding. When he couldn’t urinate, the court’s physician prescribed massive amounts of water. And when this obviously only made matters worse, the doctor tried a mixture of garlic and raw manure. "In excruciating pain, Luther expected—and hoped for—death. Finally relief struck . . . [when] the sharp jostling of his carriage broke the [kidney] stone loose. Over a gallon of urine poured forth uncontrolled. Shocked by his survival, he exclaimed that night, 'Luther lives!’" (ibid.). Surprise!

But the more he aged the more afflicted Martin’s body. "His physical and emotional pain in these last years was so intense he frequently prayed that he be allowed to die" (p. 345). Now added to his list of ailments came a perforated eardrum (which festered with pus for weeks causing an acute inner-ear infection), severe diarrhea and vomiting, an abscess on his throat, his right eye going blind from a cataract, dysentery, rheumatism, and "crippling angina pectoris [chest pain due to coronary disease] episodically from 1540 until his death [1546] " (ibid.).

And yet in the midst of such painful suffering, Luther’s prodigious output of pastoral and theological writings poured forth unabated, as did his unrelenting challenge to Rome and his opponents, all the while shepherding his parish flock (now numbered by the thousands across Germany and even Europe). But therein lies the mystery of suffering, does it not? Do our lives produce fruit "in spite of" our personal suffering, or do they bear fruit "because of" that suffering? Sit down sometime and read 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10. Brood over this lengthy list of personal trials and intense suffering the apostle Paul cheerfully (seemingly) endured in his peripatetic ministry for Christ. Like Luther he too pleaded to be released from the clutches of suffering. And to him (as no doubt to Luther) came the response of Christ, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul, Luther, you and I—would that we all might exclaim with the apostle—"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Soli Deo gloria. That He alone might be glorified.

October 18, 2017

Even the world recognizes the battle hymn of the Reformation, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." What is little known is the poignant story behind it—what Germans call sitzen leben ("setting in life"). And that back-story tells much about its composer, the excommunicated monk Martin Luther (who at the time and for the rest of his life lived under an empire-wide warrant for his arrest and execution).

In July 1527 a ravaging plague swept through the town of Wittenberg. Elector Frederick urged the Reformer to flee with all who were able to. But Luther "felt duty bound by his office as a pastor to care for the sick" (Derek R. Nelson, Resilient Reformer: The Life and Thought of Martin Luther 279). And so he and his pastoral colleague, Jonas Bugenhagen, made the decision to remain in Wittenberg. He later explained why in a long letter eventually published as an essay, "Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague." Yes, of course you may flee, though Luther also concluded "those who lived with special and public responsibilities to others needed to remain." And that included the pastors. Tragically along with thousands of others Bugenhagen’s pregnant sister Hanna succumbed to the plague. And a postmortem caesarian section could not save her baby.

Broken over this loss, "not least because his own wife [Katrina] was suffering a difficult pregnancy," Luther scribbled a note to Jonas, "May my Christ, whom I have purely taught and confessed, be my rock and fortress" (Nelson 280). That very month the little word burg ("fortress") appeared again when he wrote "Ein’ Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott" ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"). While this great hymn (based upon Psalm 46) conjures up apocalyptic images of the cosmic battle between light and darkness, truth and error, this simple back-story illumines the pastoral soul of the Reformer in the midst of life’s frailty. "It was no cataclysm of empires but love for a dead mother and child that led him to sing":

God’s Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes, who fear it;
For God, our Lord, fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever!"

Luther would later write: "Music is to be praised as second only to the word of God because by her are all the emotions swayed. . . . [T]his precious gift has been bestowed on men alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord" (Dexter Wilson Luther: Out of the Storm 276). Evidence of his deep conviction over the place of music and hymnody in the life of the Christ follower, Luther published "the first hymnbook in the language of his people . . . [with] eight hymns in the first edition of 1524, and 40 in the second edition the next year" (Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal 489). Luther would eventually write 37 original hymns and publish nine hymnals.

"When considered alongside all the mighty tomes of biblical exegesis, Christian apologetic and religious polemic that poured from Luther’s pen, it must be conceded that, with the exception of the German Bible, nothing that he wrote had a greater or more lasting impact on ordinary people than his hymns" (Wilson 276-277).

In commemoration of this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, why don’t you pick up a well-worn hymnal (perhaps you or a family member have one on a back shelf somewhere) or go to your Apple Store or Google Play and download one of the SDA Hymnal apps (be sure and read the reviews first). You may not know the tune or be able to carry a tune—but never mind. Just like Jesus did, we can express "the gladness of [our] heart by singing psalms and heavenly songs. Often the dwellers in Nazareth heard his voice raised in praised and thanksgiving to God. He held communion with heaven in song" (Desire of Ages 73).

Just like Jesus, just like Luther, in the early morning we too may find daily refuge in God through song. "A mighty fortress" indeed!

October 11, 2017

Flying and writing at seven miles above the earth, I am thanking God for your prayer partnership as I return from 12 days in Zagreb, the Old Europe capital of Croatia. We called it Novo Nada (New Hope), our series of public lectures in the beautiful year-old Music Academy performance hall across the street from the National Theater. For nine nights and one Sabbath morning, the five Seventh-day Adventist churches in the city banded together to give public witness to their faith. Ninety-one "guests" (as they call them) joined with Zagreb Adventists in the nightly ninety-minute program—of music (featuring the well-known Agape Singers, the popular Heritage Singers like group known country-wide because of their television appearances and concerts) and lectures (translated by my new friend Pastor Dejan, campus chaplain for the academy/college at Marusevec). You may recognize our series theme sentence—"The Maker of all things loves and wants me"—which will always be the basis for novo nada/new hope anywhere on earth.

Regarding the language of Zagreb—any notion I might have had that it would be as easy to pick up Croatian—as it had been in Belgrade with the Serbian language back in April, 1996—quickly dissipated opening night with my butchered Croatian quip of "How good it is to be in Zagreb!” It wasn't pretty! But the audience seemed to take delight in my struggle, so I soldiered on each evening trying out a new phrase in their mother tongue.

Truth is, public evangelism's protocol and strategy in every country is different. But the goal is universal—as Jesus declared: "For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Which by the way is what is driving our Unlock Revelation seminar that is still going strong here at Pioneer each evening. Zagreb's nine-night series was a compact and quick turnaround for inviting our "guests" to spend their "first Sabbath" at the Zagreb One Adventist church in town. Sixteen of the guests accepted our invitation, and ten made decisions that morning for baptism. (The evening series was livestreamed to Adventist churches around Croatia—but no report yet on their stats.)

The Zagreb team's strategy is to now follow up the 91 Novo Nada guests by visiting each home with a gift book just off the press last week, a translation of my book Outrageous Grace. Then this Friday evening they begin eight more nights of public meetings with a German pastor psychologist on "How to Find Happiness." It's going to remain a full court press for the pastors and members. But to reach a city and nation 85% Roman Catholic means the personal ties Adventists make with their neighbors are essential.

I'm confident their spiritual leaders are up to it all, having spent four morning hours with the 30 pastors gathered from across the small country. What a lively team! Our theme—how to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. In fact I learned that Helmut Haubeil, the author of the Holy Spirit book we've been studying here on campus, will be preaching in Zagreb in November (here is the new website for his book—now available for download in a host of languages including Croatian).

On a personal note and in grateful appreciation for your intercessory prayers, I need to testify I've not had an experience of public evangelistic preaching quite like this one in Zagreb in all the years I've been involved in evangelism. As I told the pastors here at Pioneer, I’m absolutely certain it was and remains the fruit of the Holy Spirit's own full-court intervention day and night in that city in response to concerted prayer. I remind you, many of us back in September began seeking God for a daily baptism of the Holy Spirit (as Christ invites us to do in Luke 11:13). Which is why I can be confident in attributing what I personally experienced and witnessed in Zagreb to His direct work. All of which says nothing about me—but says everything about the veracity of Jesus' promise—"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses . . ." (Acts 1:8). So whatever we do, let's not abandon our daily seeking for the Spirit of God's fresh, empowering baptism every morning.  

But again, thank you for your prayer partnership these past two weeks. You perhaps will never know the spiritual impact your unselfish praying has in the lives of those for whom you pray. Please join me now in claiming for Zagreb God's great follow-up promise: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). Ninety-one souls on heaven's radar screen—plus an entire city—let's pray for them all.

And given America's escalating need for divine intervention (the whole world heard about Las Vegas), it doesn't take a 37,000 foot perspective to know we need to be praying hard for our own homeland, too. "Give us America, before we die!" Amen.

September 20, 2017

If you surf YouTube, then you know there has been a crescendoing clamor by a fringe of people claiming a non-existent planet called Nabiru (nicknamed Planet X) will collide with our home planet Earth sometime on Saturday, September 23, 2017. I.e., in three days the world will end. Slick YouTube graphic animations portray what the explosive moment of impact will look like from somewhere out in space. One of the loud voices belongs to David Meade, a Christian "numerologist," who is warning that on the basis of the number 33 and the prophecy of Revelation 12, the Bible itself predicts this destructive collision between "Planet X" and Earth on this very date. Meade, however, has avoided claiming, as others are, the world will end—instead he clarifies: "'The world is not ending, but the world as we know it is ending,’...adding later: 'A major part of the world will not be the same the beginning of October’" (

Ed Stetzer, a professor and executive director of Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, has responded to the Washington Post: "'There’s no such thing as a Christian numerologist . . . You basically got a made-up expert in a made-up field talking about a made-up event’" (ibid).

The reason I mention this "non-event" at all is because the internet doomsayers are warning that the recent escalation of record-shattering hurricanes and killer quakes (and who can deny that over the last few weeks our hemisphere has been severely battered with a devastating string of these ecological disasters?) are evidentiary proof "Planet X" is hurtling closer and closer to this earth. Some go so far as to claim the recent U.S. solar eclipse 33 days before September 23 is itself an indicator of impending doom.

But of course in a university community like this one—and an Adventist campus at that—these warnings are quickly (and rightly) dismissed as evidence the lunatic fringe is still alive and well. But that is precisely my point.

If I were the devil and I were concerned that these strings of natural disasters were indicators my own time on this planet were coming to an end, I would do all in my power to keep thinking men and women from arriving at the same conclusion. After all, Jesus’ list of indicators preceding His return (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) strongly link upheaval in Mother Nature to His coming: "'On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:25-27).

If I were the devil, I would do all in my power to destroy any logical connection between these upheavals in nature and the return of Christ. I would inspire illogical, unreasonable minds to seize this escalation of natural disasters as proof of September 23’s impending doomsday. By leading unbalanced minds to embrace a biblically credible indicator (one the Lord Himself offered as a sign of His return), I would destroy the credibility of Jesus’ own indicator(s) in the eyes of the public and thus lead lucid, thinking people to reject any notion of "the end of the world." I repeat—no way would I want this civilization to be warned that in fact time is running out for this planet. The lunatic fringe would be my subterfuge to make sure nobody believes such gobbledygook.

But you and I know different, don’t we? Which is why Unlock Revelation begins this Monday evening (7:30) here at Pioneer. Because the Bible does speak with clarion voice to the times in which we now live. And to keep silent is to surrender the genuine harbingers Christ gave us to the hype of terribly misguided zealots who are dead wrong. Your witness and mine are God’s counterbalance to our mortal enemy’s desperate deceptions. People need to know the truth as it is in Jesus. Now more than ever. So please join me in making a personal invitation to someone you know who needs to know. If the choice is between YouTube and you, be assured God is banking on you.

September 13, 2017

I don’t remember ever seeing so much interest in such a little book! And I don’t believe it’s because the book is free. I am convicted there is a deep soul hunger and thirst in my faith community for something Jesus called "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5). How else can you explain why Helmut Haubeil’s short book, Steps to Personal Revival: Being Filled with the Holy Spirit, was downloaded over 1,000 times last week? And I tell you the truth—I have already begun to see a marked difference in people who are taking up his invitation to seek for the baptism of the Holy Spirit every day. The power clearly isn’t in the book—but in the Giver of the Gift that many are now seeking.

Near the end of Haubeil’s book he offers a "model prayer with promises for the daily renewing of the Holy Spirit." I invite you to read that prayer right now—and if your heart is impressed, turn right around and pray this prayer as your own:

"Father in heaven, I come to you in the name of Jesus our Savior. You said: 'Give me your heart' (Prov. 23:26). I want to do that now by submitting myself to you today with everything I am and have. Thank you that you have already answered this prayer according to Your will, because Your word says that if we pray according to Your will we know that we have already received it (1 John 5:15). And You also said that You would by no means cast anyone out who comes to You (John 6:37).

"Jesus said: ‘If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him'" (Luke 11:13).

"You further said that You would give the Holy Spirit to those who believe in You (John 7:38-39), who obey You (Acts 5:32), who let themselves be renewed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and who walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). This is my desire. Please accomplish this in me. For this reason I sincerely ask You, Father, to give me the Holy Spirit today. Since it is a request according to Your will, I thank You that You have given me the Holy Spirit now (1 John 5:15). Thank You that I have received Your divine love at the same time, because Your word says: ‘The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 5:5; Eph. 3:17). I want to say with the psalmist: 'I will love You, O Lord, my strength' (Psalm 18:1). Thank You that I can love my fellow human beings with Your love.

"Thank You that through the Holy Spirit the power of sin has been broken in me (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:16). Please save and protect me today from sin and from the world, give me protection from the fallen angels, save me from temptation and when necessary snatch me and save me from my old corrupt nature (1 John 5:18).

"And please help me to be Your witness in word and deed (Acts 1:8). I praise You and thank You for hearing my prayer. In the name of Jesus my Savior and Lord. Amen" (Haubeil p. 98).

I invite you to print off or cut out this prayer and place it where you meet with God every morning. It may feel a bit mechanical at first, but read the prayer, say the prayer, and in a few days it will become your own prayer, too.

After all, Jesus promises: "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you" (Luke 11:9). Which means every day you and I ask, the Gift is ours, the one Gift that "brings all other blessings" in the universe with it (Desire of Ages 672)!

I’ve been praying for 100 people on this campus and in this community who will daily ask God for the fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit. Will you please help me answer that prayer? And then imagine what God is going to do around here!

September 6, 2017

Talking about Ground Zero! The world is abuzz over the reported underground detonation of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea this week. Other than state propaganda, information from out of the Hermit Kingdom is hard to come by. But analysts have concluded the 6.3 Richter scale quake in the northern sector of the isolated country on Sunday was triggered by a test nuclear explosion, perhaps North Korea’s largest nuclear detonation ever. Photographs of their feared leader Kim Jong Un examining a suitcase size hydrogen bomb only add to the speculation he now has the capacity to arm an intercontinental ballistic missile with a warhead that conceivably could threaten major distant cities in both the Far East and the U.S.

Why even a tabloid in London, playing on the fears of an anxious public, headlined the news, "North Korea nuclear attack threat: What will happen if H-Bomb hits London?": "A North Korea attack on the heart of London would utterly destroy around nine square miles of the city and instantly kill tens of thousands, according to terrifying new data provided by NukeMap. The website shows in horrifying clarity the extent to which an H-bomb attack would impact all corners of the city, which is one of the most obvious European targets for the rogue state" ( Perhaps a bit of tabloid overkill, to be sure, but an indicator nonetheless of the fear that continues to drive this hour of uncertainty on Earth.

And given all of this, jammed between two devastating and record-shattering hurricanes in our own hemisphere, on our own shores—one could be excused for more than the usual dose of paranoia over the state of affairs lately. Even the investors on Wall Street have embedded their personal fears into the gyrations of the major indices.

Any good news in the midst of all of this? Actually there is. Jesus’ own prediction of the prevailing mindset at this juncture in history—"people will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world" (Luke 21:26)—describes an unrest that plays into His mission to save lost people. Check this out. "Happiness researcher Dan Gilbert has written that ‘human beings come into the world with a passion for control, they go out of the world the same way, and research suggests that if they lose their ability to control things at any point between their entrance and their exit, they become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed.’ We want to be able to imagine the future, and we want to be able to prepare for it. Uncertainty makes this awfully hard" ( Which being translated means times of overwhelming uncertainty drive the human to seek new certainty, new security.

Our default setting is always to try and turn disequilibrium back into equilibrium (homeostasis) as quickly as possible.

And when we try, guess Who’s standing at the door knocking? "Turn to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:22). Because crisis and change are a valuable catalyst to urge the human mind to turn towards the possibility of the divine. You’ve tried everything else—and the anxiety and fear remain undiminished—so why not turn to Me now? "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

While we wouldn’t wish bad news on anyone, the fact remains that times of uncertainty and change are powerful opportunities to point those we know, those we love to the unchanging love of our changeless Lord—Whose impassioned appeal will remain unchanged to the very end: "Come to Me now."

PS—Why not pick up some printed invitations to Unlock Revelation (beginning September 25 @ Pioneer) in the literature rack? Let God make His invitation through you. It’s the right time, wouldn’t you say?

August 30, 2017

What a week! With Hurricane Harvey ravaging a path of destroying floods across southeast Texas and western Louisiana—accumulating devastating human losses (at least 30 dead) and crippling economic losses now estimated at $42 billion with projections eventually to exceed $100 billion (rivaling Hurricane Katrina for the most destructive storm in history)—and with North Korea test firing another unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile this time straight across northern Japan and into the Pacific—one can sense the whiplash as the world’s anxious attention is yanked back and forth from East to West. What next?

We grieve for the flooded residents of Houston, this nation’s fourth largest city. And we empathize with the threatened citizens of Japan (how would we enjoy a neighboring foreign power flying a nuclear-capable missile so low in the sky above us it triggers advance warning sirens across our cities?). Fear, anxiety, uncertainty are rapidly becoming a way of life anymore, aren’t they?

And here we are beneath pleasantly blue and breezy summer skies, tucked away in the quiet southwestern corner of Michigan—far away from floods and missile overflights—a new school year already one week old. What’s not to like about our good fortune?

But be careful what you celebrate. Wasn’t it Jesus who warned, "‘For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage [going to college and graduating] . . . and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away’" (Matthew 24:38-39)? Apparently the cataclysm of the only global and certainly most destructive flood in human history struck at a moment preceded by not a single reportable clue or warning. Just the pleasant rounds of everyday life on the planet. "‘So it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’" (v 37).

Which in itself may be sufficient reason for us to "ponder anew, what the Almighty can do, if with His love He befriend thee" (Joachim Neander).

Because a loving heavenly Father would find no pleasure in catching His children by surprise. Rather, one would suppose He would do everything in His power to prepare His children for the coming cataclysm. No wonder He offers you and me the most exquisite and essential Gift of all! How did Jesus put it? "‘If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Luke 11:13).

That’s why for the next few weeks I invite you to join me in pondering (and receiving) the one Gift that brings "all other gifts" and "all other blessings" with it! The title of our miniseries, "Ground Zero and the New Reformation: How to Be Baptized with the Holy Spirit." This morning I want to share with you what I’ve discovered in a little book given to me a few weeks ago. In fact you can have a PDF of that short but moving book right now on your own phone or laptop by going to I’m on my third time through this English translation of the German writer Helmut Haubeil’s Steps to Revival: Being Filled with the Holy Spirit.

Our blue skies notwithstanding, the world’s a mess. God longs to reach this civilization one more time. He needs you and me. Which is why we need His offer of a daily baptism with the Holy Spirit. He’s running out of a time. Won’t you please join me in praying for that baptism every day? How? Listen carefully to what we discover in this new miniseries. It’s time.

August 23, 2017

"Parents often think teenagers are overly obsessed with their best friends. They should let them be" ( That’s the conclusion from new research published in the journal Child Development. Turns out having a best friend when you’re young impacts your life beyond your teenage years.

Rachel K. Narr, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, led the study of 169 adolescents, who were tracked for ten years, from the age of 15 to 25. The youth were diverse racially, socio-economically and ethnically—and were interviewed at 15 or 16 years of age with a follow up interview at 25. "They were asked who their closest friends were, and detailed questions about their friendships in general. The interviewers also asked them about anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth, and symptoms of depression" (ibid). The researchers "triangulated" the teens’ responses by making sure the best friends they identified in fact considered them best friends as well. They also corroborated that the teens who claimed to be popular were in fact so." (Studies find two types of popularity—"people who are likable—their peers trust them and want to be with them—and those who seek status, and often try to wield that popularity as power" [ibid].)

So what are some of the conclusions researchers have drawn? Narr’s hypotheses include: (1) "Adolescent relationships are critically important because they are the first that teens form outside their families, and come at a time when identity is being formed (as they say, you can pick your friends but not your family); (2) "it’s about the skills a teen develops in forming friendships, rather than the friends themselves; (3) [most] kids won’t have the same best friend at 25 that they had at 15, but making close friends develops the muscles that can become self-defining characteristics [which] help build self-worth, and give kids confidence that they can build trusting relationships, which is something researchers say bodes well for the next chapter of intimacy in life (romantic relationships)" (ibid).

Mitch Prinstein (not part of Narr’s research), a University of North Carolina professor and author of Popular: The Power of Likability In a Status-Obsessed World, maintains that "people who seek to be likable tend to end up in healthier, in better relationships, with more fulfilling work, and even live longer" (ibid). And Joseph Allen, co-author in Narr's UV study, observes: "‘As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority’" (ibid).

So how are you with your friends?

Turns out the wise King Solomon was right: "There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24 RSV). And having a best friend like that truly does add years to your life—which must be why God makes this powerful friendship promise: " . . . call upon Me, and I will answer [you]; I will be with [you] in trouble; I will deliver [you] and honor [you]. With long life I will satisfy [you], and show [you] My salvation" (Psalm 91:15, 16 NKJV).

Did you catch that? A "long life" with your Forever Friend—your truly BFF (best friend forever)—what’s not to like about that! As Jesus puts it: "‘And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. . . . Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me’" (John 15:13, 15 NLT). Just an old rugged cross, to be sure—but kneel there and gaze up at it morning after morning, and you’ll never forget the lengths your BFF went to just to win a friendship with you. And you’ll never keep Him a secret either.