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Friday, August 20, 2021 - 15:26

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Oct
20
October 20, 2021

We live in a world where debate over collective decisions, ostensibly connected to science, has become our daily news fare. Two of this nation’s largest cities (New York and Chicago) are hotly debating municipal mandates to require Covid vaccinations of city employees. And both the Yay-sayers and the Nay-sayers are loudly trumpeting their opinions, both conflicting conclusions appealing to science for support. Decisions, decisions.

It really isn’t any different with climate change. Nearly everyone who prognosticates about what this planet is facing has staked out a position on greenhouse gasses and rising global temperatures—from dire warnings on the one hand to dismissive “this has happened throughout Earth history without catastrophic consequences” reasoning on the other hand. And once again, both conflicting conclusions appeal to science for support. Decisions, decisions.

I suppose we ought to be used to it by now, this world of ours so radically divided—over science, politics, economics, morality, race, health care, or even caring at all. It is probably fair to say we really haven’t seen anything yet, given where all this division appears to be headed.

But there is one science over which many of us are agreed—the science the great apostle Paul described: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:10). The American writer Ellen White called it the “science of salvation”: “The foundation of all true science is contained in the Bible. Every branch of knowledge may be found by searching the word of God. And above all else, it contains the science of all sciences, the science of salvation. The Bible is the mine of the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Christ’s Object Lessons 107, emphasis supplied).

“The science of salvation”—it is what we were blessed to witness evening after evening as Richie Halversen preached his heart out in our recent revival series—“The Darkness Will Not Overcome”—appealing to every listener to make a decision for Jesus and His salvation. (The edited series will soon be posted on our website.)

And as a result, we are rejoicing over the many decisions made for Christ, decisions made not just privately in our hearts, but openly through texted responses. Pastor Rodlie reports 35 of those in attendance texted in their decision and desire to begin a relationship with Jesus. Thirty-two individuals texted in their wish to study the Bible with someone. Seven people made the decision to follow Jesus in baptism. And 43 individuals indicated their wish to talk with someone about a matter on their hearts. God be praised! (We are now following up on these texted requests.) 

Decisions, decisions—it is the stuff of gospel preaching and the reality of “the science of salvation” manifested through the work of the Holy Spirit on listening hearts.

Let’s face it. This civilization may never agree on the most vital scientific decisions humanity faces. But it is surely clear to us all that the most critical decision of all—to come to the Savior of the world while there is still time to freely choose Him—is the one invitation, the one decision we must be most passionate about and proactive in extending to all. Because ultimately “Love on the Move” at Pioneer is simply the friends and disciples of Jesus loving lost men, women, and children to the Savior. On that, we can all be agreed.

Sep
22
September 22, 2021

Bruce Wilkinson tells the story (perhaps it was a dream) about a Mr. Jones who was enjoying a personal tour of heaven. Eyes wide with wonder, he couldn’t get enough! But then he and his guide passed a large warehouse, which the guide ignored. Perplexed Mr. Jones asked why they weren’t stopping. “Oh, it’s nothing you’d be interested in.” “But yes I am interested—please show me what’s inside.”

The guide relents, prepares for the disappointment, and opens the door. Turns out “the enormous building is filled with row after row of shelves, floor to ceiling, each stacked neatly with white boxes tied in red ribbons.” Mr. Jones begins to walk the aisles and quickly notices each box has a name on it. “Is there a box here for me?” he eagerly asks. The guide reluctantly nods but before he can explain, Mr. Jones races toward the J section of the warehouse, quickly locating the box with his name on it.

Slipping off the ribbon and popping off the lid, Mr. Jones peers inside and lets out a deep sigh, as he recognizes the contents of the box. “Because there in Mr. Jones' white box are all the blessings God wanted to give to him while he was on earth . . . but Mr. Jones had never asked” (The Prayer of Jabez 25-27).

“You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).

Makes you wonder what is in your box, doesn’t it? What are the gifts we could have had, had we asked?

Could there be a box marked “Pioneer Memorial Church” and another for “Andrews University”?

I think of “The Darkness Will Not Overcome” series with Richie Halversen beginning a few days from now (October 1 - 9). Could it be Heaven is primed and eagerly waiting for us to plead with God for the saving of lost people we know? Might it be God and His angels are standing by, unwilling to force themselves on us, but thoroughly prepared to supernaturally intervene in the life of this campus and this congregation, if we would “but for the showers we plead” (to quote the familiar hymn).

Steps to Christ wonders: “Why should the sons and daughters of God be reluctant to pray, when prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven's storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence?” (94-95).

Regarding the upcoming series, your pastors and chaplains have each taken a day of prayer to cover the days between now and opening evening, Friday, October 1. Your House of Prayer communities (AM and PM) are taking the 24 hours from Thursday 7:00 PM to Friday 7:00 PM (at both the beginning and the ending of this series) to earnestly intercede before God on behalf of Pastor Richie and all who will attend this event.

And you, too, can join us in these prayers. (1) Pray for people you know who need to meet Jesus, their Savior. (2) Pray for God’s timing to guide your simple and short invitation for some of them to join you. (3) Pray for an unusual, supernatural moving across this campus, a divine turning these young hearts and minds toward the soon-coming Christ. Why not be praying prayers like these at this critical juncture in Earth history?

What was that line? “Prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse”—what are its contents?—“where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence.” It surely is the right time to empty Heaven’s warehouse. And it surely must be right for us to pray and pray for God’s boundless resources. Why leave a single box unemptied?

Sep
15
September 15, 2021

This evening at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, if all goes as carefully planned, the youngest American ever will fly into space. Hayley Arceneaux, 29 years old, joins the first all-civilian crew (not a single professional astronaut onboard) to orbit the earth, thanks to the largess of billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman. And what’s not to like about her story?

At ten years of age, doctors discovered she had cancer of the bone. “‘When I got that bone cancer diagnosis I was so scared. After the doctor told me I had cancer I just kept saying “I don't wanna die. I don't wanna die.” And at age 10, everyone I knew with cancer had passed away,’ Arceneaux said” (www.wbrz.com/news/baton-rouge-local-to-become-youngest-american-in-space-wednesday/). 

From Baton Rouge, Louisiana, young Haley plunged into the fight of her life, spending a year at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Her regimen was a grueling series of chemotherapy treatments and surgeries. But they saved her life and her leg, most of it. 

Two decades later now, Haley Arceneaux is working “her dream job” in the very place where a ten-year-old found hope. “‘Ever since I was a patient at St. Jude, I knew I wanted to grow up and work there. I just felt so close, part of the St. Jude family, and I was given so much hope that I wanted to share that hope with other kids going through the same thing’” (ibid).

But her dream job soared to new heights a few months ago when an unexpected phone call from St. Jude announced she had been selected to join this first all civilian mission to space “to bring awareness and fundraising to St. Jude” (ibid).

Turns out she is not only going to inspire young Americans battling cancer, she is set to inspire prosthesis wearers as she becomes the first person wearing a prosthesis to be rocketed into space.

By the way, her preparation has not been for the faint of heart. “Training was primarily academic, but the crew also spent a lot of time in a spacecraft simulator, spent a weekend training in fighter jets, and underwent traditional astronaut training exercises, including centrifuge, water-survival, and hypoxia training” (www.wbrz.com).

Haley’s motivation? “‘What I’m most excited about is being the first pediatric cancer survivor to go to space, because I’m thinking about all these kids that are gonna come after me . . . just like me going through something difficult and then knowing that they can do big things’” (ibid).

A story to inspire us all, wouldn’t you agree? Turns out there is no limit to what the young of the world, the young of the church, can accomplish with support from people like the rest of us—who though not so young anymore, are young at heart enough to invest our lives in helping the youngest reach the farthest.

Our mission? To mentor them to: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). 

There’s a line I’ve scribbled in my Bible to help me remember these intrepid young: “With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world! How soon might the end come—the end of suffering and sorrow and sin!” (Education 271)

This campus congregation exists to raise up, to inspire, to equip this young army of workers for Christ. That’s why we’ve set a goal for a quarter of every ministry team to be young Adventists. That’s why our exemplary children’s and youth Sabbath Schools exist, along with our Pathfinder and Adventurer clubs. That’s why we provide significant financial support (thanks to your faithful generosity) for Ruth Murdoch Elementary School and Andrews Academy. That’s why our Grow Group strategy targets university students, both as group leaders and members. That’s why we’ve invited Richie Halversen to join us (October 1 - October 9) to connect with the campus young through his “The Darkness Will Not Overcome” series at Pioneer. 

Why all this? I repeat—we exist to inspire, to equip, to mobilize the young for our Lord Jesus. After all, our praying, our volunteering, our mentoring, our giving on behalf of our young will ensure we join them on the one space flight that matters most—with Jesus.

Sep
8
September 8, 2021

It was a sun-bathed gorgeous Tuesday morning. I was in my study reading when colleague and friend Skip MacCarty called. “Turn on your TV!” “Why?” “Just turn on your TV” was all he would say. So I switched on a black and white 12-inch television (anybody remember those?) in the family room. NBC. As the small screen popped on, there was Tom Brokaw instructing, “Let’s reroll that video clip of the plane again.” I thought he might be referring to a small Cessna. In disbelief, I watched as a jetliner slammed into the side of the World Trade Center. An orange ball of flame. And the rest is history.

For all of us living outside New York City and Washington, D.C. and later Shanksville, Pennsylvania—the day was a nonstop vicarious blur of suffering. Here in our little village, televisions on and off campus were running continuous loops of video clips, as somber-faced newscasters intoned a stream of new updates for what became a trifecta of unfathomable news. And sometime during that broken morning came the nation’s realization somebody somewhere had perpetrated it all.

September 11, 2001.

A few hours later, Tuesday noon, the phone rang in our Pioneer church office, a call from Danny Shelton, executive director of 3 Angels Broadcasting network. “We’d like to bring our satellite truck up there to Andrews University—would you help us host a live national prayer hour from Pioneer?” Of course. How do you put a program together in the face of such a national tragedy, the toll of the dead and missing climbing toward 3000 in what would become “the deadliest terrorist act in world history” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_September_11_attacks)?

September 11, 2001.

A few days ago PBS television ran a new documentary, “Generation 9/11.” It consists of a string of on-camera interviews with children who were conceived before but born after September 11, 2001—children whose fathers perished in the mayhem of that single morning—parents they never knew but only heard about when they became old enough to understand. PBS’s own promo explains: “‘Generation 9/11' is an intimate film driven by the stories and personalities of its protagonists, who were born in the wake of a global tragedy which, for them, was also deeply personal. But it is also the story an entire generation that has been shaped by the attacks and their aftermath” (www.pbs.org/video/generation-911-9pozv4/).

September 11, 2021. 

Truth is, most of the university and high school students in our parish today have no recollection of that fateful day two decades ago. September 11, 2001, for GenZers, is what December 7, 1941, is for Baby Boomers—a “day of infamy” to be sure, but a day we know very little about, except for our high school history classes.

So how should we live—all of us—irrespective of when we were born? The same Jesus who warned of smug complacency—“Those who died when the tower fell on them, do you think they were more guilty than all the others living? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (see Luke 13:4-5)—this same Jesus went on to tell a parable only Luke records. About a vineyard owner who had a fig tree that “refused” to bloom three years in a row. Totally frustrated, the owner commanded the vineyard keeper to cut the fruitless tree down. But the servant urged the owner to give him one more year with super-duper fertilizer. “‘If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’” (Luke 13:9). The End.

Jesus’ point? Anniversaries of tragedies only remind us we live on a planet running out of time. One of these days “the big one” will strike, and then it’s curtains for everyone. “So repent!” is Jesus’ clear appeal. What shall we repent of? That which separates us from God, “the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). Why? Because divine compassion, though more than long-suffering, is not interminable. Nor is the life we have been given. Anniversaries of such sudden, unexpected tragedies are somber divine calls: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). 

Because the truth is, now is the best time any of us has left with Jesus. And Jesus is the best news any of us needs right now.

Sep
1
September 1, 2021

What if you were living somewhere in Afghanistan, racing across the dusty wilderness toward Kabul, desperate to catch the last flight out of that beleaguered city, only to arrive in time to see the aircraft's jet trail vanish into the ether? In two conversations last weekend I talked with individuals who have been apprised of the actual situation on the ground and who have assured me there still are many who for legitimate reasons hoped against hope to be on that last plane out. But alas, it was a not-to-be.
 

In a fete of prescient timing, the latest issue of Christianity Today arrived two days ago—cover story, “The Other Story of Afghanistan” (September, 2021). The author Rebecca Hopkins reports on the backstory behind the humanitarian aid of nongovernment organizations in the country, about 140 of them (according to the US Agency for International Development), many of them Christian organizations. While the Afghan record of aid workers suffering violent deaths over the past twenty years is somber, nevertheless workers of these charitable agencies continue to serve Afghanistan’s predominantly Sunni Muslim populace.
 

An author and aid worker, who for safety reasons uses the pseudonym Anna Hampton, says that while some will leave the country “because of security concerns,” the fact is “others will find ways to stay.” She went on, “‘There is a 100-year modern history of the Christian foreigner in Afghanistan. . . . It’ll get small again, but it’ll be there.’” Why do such workers remain? “‘We love Jesus and we love the Afghan people’” (39).
 

But in a biblically correct though perhaps (in this case) unexpected interpretation, Anna Hampton defends those who have chosen to leave the country: “‘Both Jesus and Paul fled risky situations,’ she said. ‘Workers need to see where God is speaking and guiding and leading them either to continue to move into a higher risk situation, or to retreat for a time’” (39-40).
 

In last week’s blog, we reminded ourselves we can still have an important part in helping meet the needs of Afghanis through our prayers, our donations to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (www.adra.org), and our choice to serve the needy who live here in our own community.
 

But if you wish to specifically partner with an effort to assist those who missed the last plane out of Kabul, “a diverse group of all-volunteer NGO workers, pilots, and concerned citizens with extensive cumulative experience in Afghanistan and other international conflict contexts” has formed Operation Rescue. Under the auspices of nPraxis International ("a US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered with the Internal Revenue Service and the Tennessee Secretary of State”—www.npraxisinternational.org), you may help Operation Rescue with your support (www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=4PD5KLKLYZY7C).
 

The truth is we live in a civilization—unwary and unsaved—awaiting the last flight out. The Second Coming of Jesus, by its very promise, adds to the gospel appeal of Holy Scripture an urgency we must not ignore. August 31 was was the deadline in Kabul. Who knows the deadline for Earth? What we know is clear enough: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 emphasis added).

 

Have your friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues secured their place on the last flight out? What are we waiting for?

Aug
25
August 25, 2021

What a humanitarian crisis the still-unfolding story out of Kabul has become for Afghanistan, for the United States, and for the world community. What is a civilization to do?

A picture is worth a thousand words? 

Seared on our minds is the image of that desperate father, plastered against a cement wall by the panicking crowd behind him and frantically trying to hoist his infant child high overhead to the American Marine standing atop the barricade. The soldier, spotting the father and child, instinctively leans over the razor barb wire curls, to grab the baby by its arm and lift it over the razor wire.

A picture is worth a thousand words?

Aghast, the rest of the world has watched and re-watched the video clips of hundreds (thousands?) of men, women, and children, breaking through airport barriers and racing onto the Kabul airfield in hopes of securing a flight out of that desperate city. Now they surge around a C-17 U.S. military transport plane, taxing down the runway for takeoff—its gigantic hull already crammed with vetted and escaping passengers, packed tightly on the metal floor, knees tucked beneath their chins, but relieved, to be sure, to be on this flight to somewhere else. 

Unbeknown to them, outside the giant craft desperate men and women on foot surge around the still taxiing jet, some of them managing to climb up beneath its wings, clinging to the fuselage, while hundreds of others run pell-mell beside the massive rolling tires of the aircraft. In distress, they hope they might yet halt the plane and secure a place inside. But alas, there is no room for another. And as the mighty C-17 accelerates its engines and begins to hurtle itself down that long runway, some brave souls manage to cling to a handhold beneath the plane as it lifts into the sky over Kabul—until they eventually lose their grip and fall earthward.

I repeat—what a humanitarian crisis the still-unfolding story out of Kabul has become for Afghanistan, for the United States, and for the world community. What is a civilization to do?

At the risk of what they call “frozen emotions,” we must not turn away from the scenes embedded in our hearts. We must respond, or we shall lose the capacity to be moved at all. Eventually. 

It was our Lord who perhaps pre-viewed scenes like these and intoned, “‘If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones . . . that person will certainly not lose their reward'” (Matthew 10:42). Three days before His own death, Jesus reminded His followers, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me’” (Matthew 25:40). 

But Kabul is 6,951 miles away—what could we possibly do for that suffering city? Perhaps not a lot. But then again Haiti, still digging out from under the killer quake that leveled communities across the island days ago, is within reach. Especially through Adventist Development & Relief Agency (ADRA). Rather than commiserate with our world’s suffering and then resume our cheery comforts here at home, why not go to www.adra.org right now and click on to Give Now and put a gift to work through Jesus’ deeds of mercy. Giving is a huge gift to organizations who hurry to places we’ll never reach.

But then again there is Neighbor to Neighbor right here at home in Berrien Springs. The other day I was visiting with Laura and Lucy, two leaders of this good-neighbor ministry—and I must tell you they have really expanded their Jesus-reach through the new addition to their building. Volunteers—people who give a few hours early some morning, late some afternoon—are the need of the day for sure. Internet videos can outsize a crisis far away—but human need through pain and suffering is just a big right here at home.

So pass on that cup of water, click on the Give Now button, step into the volunteer center—and give of yourself. It’s a sure-fire way you and I can avoid “the frozen emotions” of those who no longer care. That's what Jesus had in mind, isn’t it?

Aug
11
August 11, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun
23
June 23, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwight K. Nelson
Lead Pastor

Jun
16
June 16, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun
9
June 9, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His point is so simple it needs no amplification. 

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

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

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