Renovation Underway  —  

Pioneer’s summer renovation project is underway. Sabbath services will meet at Howard Performing Arts Center. Please note the Sanctuary is now closed to the general public. For updates and safety information please visit https://www.pmchurch.org/renovate/updates.

 
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 15:24

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

May
15
May 15, 2019

A couple of my story scouts spotted this piece out of St. Augustine, Florida—and I think it’s a perfect one for the big people (i.e., older than children). Two 17-year-olds—Tyler Smith and Heather Brown—were enjoying senior skip-day to the max a week ago. Students at Christ’s Church Academy and soaking up the sun, the two teens lazily floated just offshore at Vilano Beach.

Well, you know how it goes—two kids happily caught up in each other’s company with sea and sun surrounding them—who’s keeping track of where they’re drifting? Turns out strong undercurrents were pulling the two out to sea. By the time they realized their danger, they were too far from shore to be heard.

Try as they might, they couldn’t reverse course against the stiff current that hurried them further out. And so the teens held on to each other. And prayed. And prayed. And God bless them, somehow they managed to not panic and stay afloat, even as the swirling undertow dragged them farther and farther. By now they are two miles out to sea!

Did I mention they were praying? Who wouldn’t be?

That’s when Eric Wagner and his boat crew spotted the teens in the distance, bobbing atop the waves. As his vessel motored closer, crew members leaned over the side and strong arms pulled the swimmers to safety.

Oh, what a relief it is! Two young lives saved. Their prayers answered. By a boat called the Amen—no kidding—Amen.

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you; and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). Amen.

Wesley Duewel observes: “The most important measure of prayer is not its length but its depth; not its beautiful words but its intensity. It is not necessarily a matter of how many hours you pray, but how intensely you pray when you do pray. There is a dynamic of perseverance—prayer must often be continued at some length, but whether short or long, let your prayer be fervent.” (Mighty Prevailing Prayer 76) Amen.

And what catalyzes intense, fervent prayer? A sense of imminent danger, the recognition of desperate need. How do you suppose those teens prayed?

How does God respond to such intensity? “When a man [or woman] breathes an intensely earnest prayer to God (Jesus Christ is the only name given under heaven whereby we can be saved), there is in that intensity and earnestness a pledge from God that He is about to answer that prayer exceeding abundantly, above all that we can ask or think. . . . Unwearyingly persist in prayer. God does not say, Pray once, and I will answer you. His word is pray, be instant in prayer, believing you have the things you ask, and you shall receive them; I will answer you.” (Ellen White Prayer 72) Amen.

But whatever you do, don’t reserve prayer for trouble! If prayer is talking to God as a friend, then let your day flow with mini-conversations—in the midst of hectic life, in the middle of a dark night—pray. And let the benediction of God be your Amen! day and night.

Pray. And pray. And guess what—your Rescuer will be named Amen, too (Revelation 3:14)!

May
8
May 8, 2019

So who was your father? “A wandering Aramean”? Most of our forefathers (if you go back far enough in our family trees) were “wandering Arameans” of sorts, weren’t they? Exiles, nomads, immigrants, transnationals, wanders, et al. Until today we are a world of wanderers’ children.

Days before his death, Moses instructed the children of Israel proper protocol once they occupied the Promised Land (without him): “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, . . . you shall make response before the Lord your God [in worship at the sanctuary], ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous’” (Deuteronomy 26:1-50). 

“A wandering Aramean was my father [and my mother]."

Not so an inappropriate a confession to articulate in worship before God. “I am a wander and the child of wanderers.” 

Truth is—thanks to sin’s fracturing we are a race of wanders—rudely cut off from one another—not only fragmented geographically, but technologically isolated from each other in existentially empty cyberspace—wandering electronically from relationship to relationship, unfulfilled and sadly too often unloved, exiled at times from even our own biological kin and more like strangers to even our dearest friends. We are wanderers—all—through our allotted days, seeking for a remedy (of what who can be sure?), healing perhaps for our peripatetic spirits.

James A. K. Smith, the Calvin College philosopher, rattles off the dispirited lyrics of Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” (quoted in How Not to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor 66-67):

I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes,
Unique in each way you can see.
And now, after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me.
But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be.
I’ll get back to you someday soon, you will see.
What’s my name; what’s my station?
Oh just tell me what I should do. 

“A wandering Aramean was my father.” But that's no reason for angst.

For the God of some of our fathers and mothers is the same God who promises their wandering children: “And the LORD has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised” (Deuteronomy 26:18). “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).

Mercy for the wanderers. A community for the people-less, the dispossessed. Exiles once. And still, wanderers to be sure. Yet embedded in our deepest intuitions, in promises ancient but fresh, remains the premonition that one day we will cross over—into Promised Land—and at last, discover Home. Next door to God.

“A wandering Aramean was my father.” No more.

May
1
May 1, 2019

In front of this church where graduation exercises transpire stands a bronze statue of the university namesake, John Nevins Andrews. The skilled work of sculptor Allan Collins, this replica of the Seventh-day Adventist church's first scholar and missionary is shaped with extended arm and hand pointing outward to a world beyond the church.

For years now pinned to the wall of my study is this quotation from J. N. Andrews: "I know of but one way: find a field of labor, ask God to help, take off your coat, and pitch into the work." What is compelling about his personal mission statement is its tacit recognition that most of life (if not all of it) is simply a series of personal choices that reflect opinions and aspirations that are uniquely yours. What someone else considers a fantastic opportunity for career fulfillment or professional advancement might to you seem pedestrian and unappealing. Conversely, an opportunity others might declare unimaginative or so-dead-end might, in fact, be the high voltage that ignites your imagination and compels you to go.

But where does God want me to go? Note carefully the sequence in Andrews' lifework mantra: first, you find a place on earth where a great need matches your life quest; then ask the God who has already gifted you to help you serve Him there (in that village, that city, that wherever).

But is that modus operandi the way God really operates? It is precisely what He promised a new leader on graduation day long ago: "'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go'" (Joshua 1:9 emphasis supplied). When God promises "wherever you go," He means—"you choose, I bless . . . you go, I accompany."

Stunning, isn't it? Andrews was right. I.e., you pick the opportunity, you choose the field—and then asking God to help you, you pitch in to alleviate the human need in front of you. The graduate who spends her days calculating her move and choreographing her future will be of little help in a world so desperately in need right now.

So as you march out of this church for the last time, do yourself and God a favor. Glance one more time at the statue. It still speaks. And its hand is still pointing you to the way.

Apr
24
April 24, 2019

Just in time to conclude our mini-series, "How to Survive the Coming Economic Crisis," comes a headline warning of the mounting student loan crisis. (Spoiler alert—before you despair, practical counsel for managing those educational debts follows below.)

According to NBC News, the total student loan debt in this country now stands at $1.47 trillion (more than credit card and auto debt), with one in 5 Americans carrying student loan debt. Notice though a new shift in demographics: "Most Americans with student debt are young. But adults 60 and older — who either struggled to pay off their own loans or took on debt for their children or grandchildren — are the fastest-growing age cohort among student loan borrowers. The number of Americans over the age of 60 with student loan debt has more than doubled in the last decade" (www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/student-loan-statistics-2019-n997836).

How big are the loans?

• The average monthly payments on student loans range from $200 to $300 (according to the Federal Reserve).

• More than 75% of borrowers owe less than $50,000.

• "The national default rate, a U.S. Department of Education measurement of the number of borrowers who start repayment, then default in the next two to three years, was 10.8 percent among those who started repayment in 2015, the most recent data available" (ibid).

So is defaulting on a student loan the answer? Hardly. Penalties for defaulting are steep and include garnished wages and tax refunds taken. But there's "good" news. "For borrowers who can't afford to make their regular payment, the government offers payment plans that are tied to their household income" (ibid). Unfortunately fewer than 20 percent of borrowers participate in these plans.

To paraphrase Paul, "Who will deliver me from this body of [debt]?" (Romans 7:24). But do not despair!

Instead, check out the practical strategies NerdWallet offers for paying off student loans, including their student loan payoff calculator (www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/pay-off-student-loans-fast). Good Financial Cents promises help: "Here are 9 of the best strategies from recent grads you can use to pay off your student debts sooner and move on with your life!" (www.goodfinancialcents.com/pay-off-student-loans-faster). Help is out there—you don't have to drag this ball and chain forever—so seek help now.

But the most significant financial principle of all isn't listed in most website debt solutions. Jesus offers this divine counsel: "'But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well'" (Matthew 6:33).

Who more than God desires our financial peace? Then surely the One "who's got the whole world in His hands" already has a solution in mind to take care of you, too . . . if you'll seek Him first. "Make Me the C-suite leader (CEO and CFO) of your life, and let Me open for you 'the floodgates of heaven' (Malachi 3:10)!" What an offer! Cheerfully make Him your first financial priority, "and all these things will be given to you as well."

A century and a half ago John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, and philanthropist remarked: "I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 a week." The best time to begin making God first in your life is not when your debts are paid, when your finances are strong, when your needs have been met—the best time to make God first is right now!

Apr
17
April 17, 2019

Perhaps we should call this Passion Week a snapshot of fragments. But what a mixed up mosaic it turns out to be:

• The week begins on Sunday with Tiger Woods making what one commentator declared “the greatest comeback in all of sports history!” as he won the coveted Masters green jacket for the 5th time, his first major golf championship in eleven years—a comeback feat phenomenal considering his 2010 on-camera live confession of a moral meltdown and a series of back surgeries that precipitated a wilderness-wandering dearth of golfing and personal success—all of it erased in the glory of the Masters—yup, phenomenal!

• Also on Sunday South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg formally announced his candidacy for U.S. president, becoming the first Millennial and first LGBT candidate in the race for the White House. His on-camera kiss with his husband choreographed new parameters for presidential politics.

• The tragic fire in the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris galvanized the world on Monday, as flames engulfed this 850 year old iconic Roman Catholic church, ravaging the roof and inner sanctuary, collapsing the famed spire, but somehow sparing its twin towers and adjoining cathedral structures—while cordoned crowds mourned and sang and prayed—and billionaires stepped forward to raise (in the two days since) over €1 billion for its renovation.

• On Tuesday the FBI announced they were seeking a young Florida woman of interest, purportedly fascinated by the Columbine massacre (that left fifteen dead) 20 years ago this weekend—and because her whereabouts in the Denver area are still unknown authorities shut down more than 130 schools.

• And on Wednesday a Russian company announced plans “to build gigantic billboards in space, lighting up the night sky with advertisements for companies like Coke, McDonald’s, and KFC” by placing "dozens of tiny CubeSats into orbit roughly 280 miles above the ground in a single rocket,” tiny boxes that would fly in formation "and deploy giant reflective sails to send the sun’s light to Earth” (each sail independently controlled to behave “like programmable pixels”)—all of which could come to a night sky near you by 2021! (www.popularmechanics.com/space/satellites/a25950681/startrocket-space-billboards/)

What a world this is this Passion Week (and the half hasn’t been told)!

But how far away and long ago—in muted contrast to our headlines—is the eyewitness story of an innocent Man who was crucified on Friday and who rose triumphant as God Almighty early Sunday morning. How far away and how long ago.

Yet every story recounted in this Passion Week’s headlines is mysteriously bound up in the saga of the living Christ:

• Who for Buddhist adherent Tiger Woods surely longs for the day when He will be the only winning Master Woods seeks (Acts 4:12).

• Who for Pete Buttigieg offers the highest position in the universe—a seat beside Him on the throne of God (Revelation 3:21).

• Who for the parishioners of Notre Dame cathedral promises an even more glorious temple unrivaled, awaiting the arrival of us all (Revelation 21:22-24).

• Who for the young woman and the inhabitants of Denver and the survivors of Columbine offers a no-fear peace that can never be taken away even now (John 14:27).

• Who for the Russian promoters—and the rest of civilization staring into the heavens for some sign of security, of hope—promises to set those heavens ablaze with the only ever full-sky marketing on the day He returns for every friend He’s ever had (Titus 2:11-14).

“'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17-18). Christ promises.

In the words of the poet Christian Wiman: “Christ is not alive now because he rose from the dead two thousand years ago. He rose from the dead two thousand years ago because he is alive right now” (My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer 165). In the midst of a week of fragments and harbingers we call life, He lives. Right now.

Rejoice!

Apr
3
April 3, 2019

Has anybody on this side of the Pond (Atlantic) been able to figure out this United Kingdom brouhaha called Brexit? Since the mission of this Fourth Watch blog is to track the headlines in order to examine events or trends confirming time running out for our civilization, let’s see if the big story preoccupying Europe these days is an indicator of the diminishing times.

The European Union (EU) is a group of 28 countries that operates as a cohesive economic and political block, with nineteen of the countries using the euro as their official currency (www.investopedia.com/terms/e/europeanunion.asp). That much we know. For years the United Kingdom has been a card-carrying member of the EU. But three years ago, bemoaning the political, currency and economic bonds that EU membership required and nostalgic for the days when Britain stood alone as a nation empire, a majority of the British electorate voted to exit the EU (hence the moniker Brexit).

But trouble boiled over when the members of the British Parliament could not agree on just how that exit would best be accomplished. And the ensuing three years under Prime Minister Theresa May have been an unfolding saga of national deadlock.

A deadlock painfully evidenced this March in the repeated attempts of the Prime Minister to negotiate an orderly exit and the repeated rejections of Parliament to those efforts. But the onus now apparently is on the House of Commons which while rejecting the PM’s proposals has been unable to offer a majority-supported alternative. Deadlock.

And the clock is ticking down on April 12’s deadline for a decision. Google the story for the details—the bottom line is wincingly clear: confusion. Nobody in the UK, nobody in the EU, no government leader or political hack has been able to resolve the confusion and rather chaotic uncertainty (not in the press, the financial markets, or the electorate—nobody).

But speaking of the Fourth Watch (in the Roman reckoning, the darkest hour before night’s end), should followers of the soon-coming Christ be surprised? The ancient Babel narrative is a morality tale writ large for this civilization today: "But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other’" (Genesis 11:5-7).

The European Union arguably is a throwback to what some consider the halcyon days of the Holy Roman Empire, the Dark and Middle Ages union of European nations under the rulership of Rome. But the story of Babel and the towering image of Daniel 2 are biblical evidence of the divine "check" God has placed upon human/government unification. "Thus far and no further." The history of earth heretofore is one of the repeated attempts at global unification and repeated failures. "Thus far and no further."

The American writer Ellen White observed: "Henceforth in our day, the nations are to be in a very uncertain state. Kings and rulers [prime ministers and presidents] will be involved in greater perplexities than they ever thought possible." Sound familiar? Babel, Brexit. Chaos, confusion. Why? She goes on: ". . . this is because they are disobedient to the Word of the Lord and work entirely contrary to His principles" (Letter 12, 1897).

It is the lesson King Nebuchadnezzar had to learn, a lesson so few rulers over the millennia have ever learned: "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44).

As for Brexit and the EU, there is one power quietly waiting for the vacuum of leadership to become so strong that its offer to lead the nations once again will be heartily accepted. One day.

And thus we live—all of us—in "the fourth watch" of history. And we know how the story ends.

Mar
27
March 27, 2019

Would you fly on a Boeing 737 Max 8 today? Given the two recent deadly 737 Max 8 crashes in a span of five months (Lion Air last fall and Ethiopian Airlines this month) and the subsequent global grounding of all of Boeing's 737 Max fleet, you can understand why passengers are rethinking their travel plans. To the place, Southwest Airline (which only flies Boeing 737s) reported declining ticket sales this week.

(To answer my own question—sure, I'd fly a 737 Max 8 today. Because there isn't a 737 pilot alive who isn't now thoroughly updated and practiced on the precise safety measures to be taken should the plane "go erratic" again. In fact, this is probably the safest time ever to be a passenger on one of those 737 Max's. But that's just me.)

Naturally, the immense human tragedy of 346 deaths from these two crashes rightfully overshadows all the chatter about the aircraft's future. But could it be that in the unfolding story of the ill-fated 737 Max 8 there are life lessons for the rest of us?

Life Lesson #1—one very small malfunction is still a very big deal. The faulty sensor that mistakenly reported the planes were climbing into stall speed (when in fact they weren't) and thus automatically sought to correct the stall by repeatedly pushing the aircraft nose downward is a tiny piece of technology. But how devastating its misguided response! One "tiny" sin, harbored in a single angelic heart, crashed an entire universe into "civil war" (see Ezekiel 28:15-17). The eventual death toll is beyond emotional calculation! Even so, one "tiny" personal sin (one habit, one indulgence unresisted) can bring down an entire life and lifetime. We all know the sad truth. Personally.

Life Lesson #2sometimes the creator has to ground his creation while a remedy is sought. Boeing had no choice, given the global outcry against its 737 Max 8 aircraft. Everybody on the planet—laymen and specialists alike—could tell something was dreadfully wrong with its newly released 737 Max model. So, until the plane's maker designs a "fix" for the problem, the aircraft meant to spend its days and nights in the heavens is grounded. Just like the human race these days. Grounded soon after the Garden of Eden, because the rebel angel with the fallen heart tricked the humans into joining his civil war against the Throne. The Creator had no choice but to ground the fledgling race. Grounded until an emergency plan (shaped in eternity past—Revelation 13:8) could save the ill-fated planet. "'Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29) Only then would they ever fly again.

Life Lesson #3how quickly life's fortunes and future can change! Not just for the 346 victims of the two crashes, but for every family member—spouse, parent, child, friend, loved one—and the web of lives that spread away from this disaster. As the result of one split and tragic second, life will never, can never be the same again. Why even for a proud and mighty corporation that controls much of the airspace above our planet, for Boeing how the fortunes have instantly altered—"riding high in April, shot down in May" as the old song crooned. It's a somber life lesson for our civilization, caught in the frenzied mix of life and work and play and pleasure and the unceasing quest to accumulate more and more when we need less and less. Crazy sad really. Because just when we think Earth, at last, has its act together, what does the Bible predict? "Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not [Greek double negative "no not"] escape" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).

Wasn't that Jesus' sobering point? As the days of Noah, so the end of the world will be: people "eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage" until the very last day when the heavens and earth exploded with water "and took them all away" (Matthew 24:36-39). And only a handful saved? God help us!

But that's good news. He promises to. "For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you" (Isaiah 41:13). Wow! Divine help for every life lesson. Divine Helper for every day and night until grounded no longer we will fly with Him forever and ever. Amen.

Mar
20
March 20, 2019

Can you believe it! We are counting down at the same time for both Renovate projects––Heart and House.

(1) Renovate: House. Let's start with the most immediately obvious renovation. In a few days, we will witness scaffolding begin to surround our sanctuary, as workers prepare to replace nearly an acre of roofing. They begin earlier than we'd anticipated because our electricians now calculate needing more time to lay the electrical conduits beneath the roof for our new sanctuary light fixtures. Which also means that at some point before May graduation temporary lights will need to replace our chandelier lighting—but we'll be fine, knowing what we'll have once the project is through.

Monday, May 6, the day after university graduation, we will bid our many pews farewell. Latest plans are to ship the pews to a church in Africa that has requested them.

And Sabbath, May 11, will find us worshiping—thanks to the generous kindness of the university—in the Howard Performing Arts Center until our renovation project is completed in August. What a season awaits us! Thank you for your own generosity with our $2 million Renovate: Heart & House campaign. We're just over halfway there—praise God and thank you.

That's the word on the House, but how about the Heart?

(2) Renovate: Heart. I've been surprised (maybe it's not so surprising) that I've been hearing from people who are suggesting the next pulpit series after this one on Laodicea needs to be one on the second coming (or soon coming) of Jesus. No question that would be a valuable and heart-stirring theme for us to journey through in a worship series.

But the truth is "The Last Letter" has been very much a series on the second-coming of Christ. After all, Laodicea means "people judged," and scholars agree this letter describes the seventh and final period of church history before the return of Jesus—a people living in the great pre-advent judgment hour of human history. That's why Jesus depicts Himself in "The Last Letter" as standing "at the door"—a motif He used in the gospels to describe the nearness of His return (see Mark 13:29 et al).

But more critical than enumerating the signs of our Lord's return is the need for the signs of our Lord's reviving to be demonstrated in our daily living. Renovate: Heart. "By this will all people know you are My disciples" Jesus taught us (John 13:34-35). "Those who abide in Me and I in them will bring forth much fruit," He admonished us (John 15:5).

That's the point of "The Last Letter." And we got it, we get it. And we're embarrassed for Laodicea that considers herself to be fit as a fiddle and "in need of nothing," when it turns out she is in quite the opposite state and in need of profound spiritual renovation. Poor Laodicea—mouthing her hope in Jesus' soon return, all the while living untransformed lives that belie that hope—celebrating the overcoming Jesus achieved on the cross two thousand years ago while ignoring or even rejecting the overcoming Jesus longs to achieve in their own personal lives right now.

But all is not lost for Laodicea! The Desire of Ages promises: "The plan of redemption contemplates our complete recovery from the power of Satan. Christ always separates the contrite soul from sin. He came to destroy the works of the devil, and He has made provision that the Holy Spirit shall be imparted to every repentant soul, to keep him from sinning." But it gets even better. "Christ reaches us where we are. He took our nature and overcame, that we through taking His nature might overcome." Did you catch that? So that we might overcome—what a promise for Laodicea! "Made 'in the likeness of sinful flesh' (Romans 8:3), [Christ] lived a sinless life. Now by His divinity, He lays hold upon the throne of heaven, while by His humanity He reaches us. He bids us by faith in Him attain to the glory of the character of God" (311-312).

Wow! "The glory of the character of God" in the likes of you and me. No question—the intent of "The Last Letter" is: "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). Talking about renovating our hearts—that's it.

Which is why our biggest move is not exiting our church for the summer—our biggest move is to open the door of our hearts to the Lord Jesus and with grateful humility invite Him to take up residence within us right now. In fact, the Lord's Supper we share with Him today is the fulfillment of His promise, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup [KJV] with him, with her, and they with me" (Revelation 3:20). Sup—the first three letters of supper. Supper—the joyful privilege Laodicea can share with the Lord of Laodicea right now. Does it get any better than that?

Mar
13
March 13, 2019

The elite college entrance scam that broke into the news cycle hours ago is a stunning morality tale of the you-can't-buy-your-way-into-heaven-or-maybe-even-Harvard truth. Turns out cheating your way in doesn't pay either. Not in the long run.

Look, most of us can sympathize with a parent's desperation to pursue a stellar education for her child (actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are the first to be charged with soliciting this scam). But to buy your child's admission, to cheat on entrance tests and buy off college coaches' support—that is simply a bridge too far.

Turns out the perpetrator is college entrance coach William "Rick" Singer, who promised his clients "he had the inside scoop on getting into college, and anyone could get in on it with his book, Getting In: Gaining Admission to Your College of Choice. 'This book is full of secrets,' he said in Chapter 1 before dispensing advice on personal branding, test-taking and college essays. But Singer had even bigger secrets, and those would cost up to $1.2 million" (www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2019/03/12/college-scam-rick-singe...).

Not surprising, Singer had well-heeled clients who were so eager for their child to make the cut, they shelled out the "bribe" money and condoned their child's entrance tests administered by proctors in on the take. "A 204-page affidavit from an FBI agent laid out a scheme involving proctors changing test results, fabricated credentials and even doctored pictures to make non-athletic students appear to be accomplished athletes" (ibid.).

Transcripts of recorded conversations between Singer and his parent clients reveal some "parents seemed to get cold feet before Singer assured them that he's done this kind of thing hundreds of times. 'Let me put it differently: If somebody catches this, what happens?' Caplan [prospective parent] asked him. 'The only one who can catch it is if you guys tell somebody,' Singer said.'I am not going to tell anybody,' Caplan said. They both laughed" (ibid.).

But nobody is laughing now. Tuesday, Singer pleaded guilty "to racketeering, money laundering, tax evasion and obstruction of justice in a federal courtroom in Boston."

The ancient Book declares, "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). A truth as old as the human race and one worth learning sooner rather than later.

But a more good news, gospel moral invites our reflection. The truth is you really can't buy your way into Heaven. And why would you want to? Turns out the entrance fee has already been paid. In full. By the nail-scarred One who promises: "'Whoever comes to Me, I will never drive away'" (John 6:37). Why, that would be like a parent discovering Somebody has not only paid their child's entrance fee but has already assured their entrance! No shenanigans necessary. No back room deals to cut. No cheating at all. Just a quiet, trusting faith in the One whose invitation remains unchanged.

And what shall we say to that? How about, "Thank you, Jesus"?

Feb
27
February 27, 2019

What's not to like about the leaders of the United States and North Korea sitting down to dinner together, in of all places the century-old French hotel Metropole in Hanoi, Vietnam? Leaving the political optics out of the picture, shouldn't the followers of Jesus find reason to rejoice in the amazing gospel potential represented by these news-making photos seen globally?

What are the gospel optics? Thinking broadly, here are three Asian communist nations (North Korea, Vietnam and China) tacitly sitting together at the table of dialogue in Hanoi with the de facto political leader of the "free world" in order to explore the profound possibilities of a new openness with the Hermit Kingdom and the surrounding region. But it makes you wonder—could this precipitate a divinely engineered opening for the gospel in ways heretofore not possible, not imagined?

Psalm 67 opens with the stunning prayer: "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations" (vv 1-2). Robert Alter, in his new translation The Hebrew Bible, comments: "The shining of the face is a sign of favor just as the hiding of the face is its opposite" (3:160). Thus this prayer calls upon the Creator God of the universe to show favor to His people by opening the door for His way and His salvation "among all nations."

The American writer Ellen White quotes this line from Psalms with this question: "Are you using all your powers in an effort to bring the lost sheep back to the fold? There are thousands upon thousands in ignorance who might be warned. Pray as you have never prayed before for the power of Christ. Pray for the inspiration of His Spirit, that you may be filled with a desire to save those who are perishing. Let the prayer ascend to heaven, 'God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations' (Psalm 67:1, 2)" (In Heavenly Places 338).

"Thousands upon thousands"—think of what could happen were the gospel door to open to North Korea! Already in Vietnam, and in China to an even greater degree, that door is opening (and in some instances closing again). But "thousands upon thousands" is reason enough to intercede before God on behalf of all nations, on behalf of these three nations catapulted to our attention this week.

"May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations."

Let's agree to let this prayer from our lips ascend to heaven—so that the distance from Hanoi to Heaven, from Pyongyang to Heaven, from Beijing to Heaven, from Washington to Heaven might be radically reduced—so that thousands upon thousands might yet hear the very good news of Jesus' salvation and soon return.

"Let Your face shine upon us, O God—and send us to these millions who must know Jesus, too. Amen."