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Monday, March 23, 2020 - 21:26

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

April 1, 2020

Elijah remains one of the great heroes of Scripture. And everybody remembers that moment, when after three and half debilitating years of drought and famine, he and the wicked king Ahab meet once again.

But don't forget the backstory of their meeting. Three and half years earlier, unannounced Elijah strode into the monarch’s throne room with a thundering pronouncement: "'As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word'" (1 Kings 17:1). With that, he vanished. But don't miss the key phrase, "except at my word." I.e., this vagabond prophet held the key to any recovery from the nation's devastating calamity.

Insert here one more line from the New Testament to further illumine the backstory: "Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years" (James 5:17). Catch that? Elijah's prayers personally solicited the divine judgment on the land! So it was no idle threat for the prophet to declare the crisis would not end until he said so.

Another writer agrees: "Viewing this [national] apostasy from his mountain retreat, Elijah was overwhelmed with sorrow. In anguish of soul he besought God to arrest the once-favored people in their wicked course, to visit them with judgments, if need be, that they might be led to see in its true light their departure from Heaven" (Prophets and Kings 120 emphasis supplied).

He prayed it would not rain—and it did not rain. King Ahab's futile search for the pronouncer of doom over the intervening 1,260 days finally ends when the haughty monarch spots the prophet. "When he saw Elijah, he said to him, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?'" The blame game! "'I have not made trouble for Israel,' Elijah replied, 'But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commandments and have followed the Baals'" (1 Kings 18:17-18).

Guess what. It's going to happen again, this notion of the majority blaming the minority for their ills. I did a double-take when a physician friend of mine out West alerted me to an op-ed headline a few days ago, "The Religious Right's Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Response [to the Coronavirus Pandemic]" (New York Times, March 27, 2020). Using a paint-everybody-with-the-same-brush sort of logic, the op-ed writer essentially attempts to draw a line from hyper-reactionary evangelical responses to science over the last century and a half to the government’s response to our national pandemic today. Are evangelical Christians to blame? Hardly! But Ahab’s blame game is an easy one to play.

And it will happen again one day. "Satan is exercising his power. He sweeps away the ripening harvest, and famine and distress follow. He imparts to the air a deadly taint, and thousands perish by the pestilence [like the coronavirus]. These visitations are to become more and more frequent and disastrous. . . . And then the great deceiver will persuade men that those who serve God are causing these evils. . . . Thus [Ahab's] accusation urged of old against the servant of God [Elijah] will be repeated and upon grounds equally well established. . . . [The nation] will pursue a course toward God's ambassadors very similar to that which apostate Israel pursued toward Elijah" (The Great Controversy 590).

How then shall we survive, we who wait out this calamitous pandemic? The same way Elijah and all of God's friends through history have survived—casting ourselves upon His saving grace night and day, loving and caring for our neighbors, reflecting the self-sacrificing compassion of our Lord Jesus, volunteering to help in communities desperate for assistance, heeding the government’s mandated protocols for social isolation and virus containment, praying for those on the healthcare frontlines, interceding on behalf of a planet under siege, and calling upon God to open a new door through which we might yet reach our little worlds before Christ our King returns. We don’t have time to blame. God gives us the grace to help and to heal.

March 25, 2020

Three days into our Michigan coronavirus lockdown, I’m already wondering, “How long does all this last?” Not that I’m impatient, mind you. But like you, I’m eager for the pandemic to be conquered, for the sick to be healed, for the rest of us to be saved, and for life to move beyond these four walls!

But assuming we’re going to be here for a bit (home-bound), I’ll be sending you a weekly blog that connects the life of the Spirit with life in a pandemic. (If you wish to subscribe to the blog, go to

Let’s open with this story (USA Today) sent me by a friend—about a 60-year-old pet-sitter named Amy McDonald (Fishers, Indiana). Her business, Amy’s Critter Care, focuses on giving day-time TLC (like long walks) to pets whose owners work away from home. But with the advent of the pandemic, her clients obviously aren’t needing anybody to watch their pets—everybody’s home. So Amy has been seeking ways to look out for some of her elderly neighbors.

Nearby Amy is 89-year-old Jo Trimble, who lives in a neighborhood filled with elderly, one of the higher risk populations for the pandemic. For Jo and the senior community, “the threat of infection hangs over every interaction as coronavirus spreads.”

Tuesday, Amy headed out to collect grocery orders from some of these elderly neighbors. She knocked on Trimble’s door, knowing Jo lived alone. “When Trimble opened the door, she told McDonald to stay back: She had a stomach virus and didn’t feel well.” Amy could have walked away, but she insisted Jo give her a grocery list. 

When McDonald returned with the groceries, the elderly Jo looked paler than before. “‘I feel horrible,’ she said.’” Again, Amy “could have set down the groceries and backed away.” But instead, she took the bags to the kitchen, while Jo laid down on the sofa. “McDonald was going to leave, but something in her couldn’t. She texted a neighbor who was a retired nurse for advice.” When Jo’s daughter called to check how her sick mother was faring, Trimble handed the phone to Amy, who instructed the daughter to hurry down. “‘I’m not going to leave your mother,’ she said.”

A little while later, Trimble vomited, complained of chest pains, and mumbled, I need help. Amy called 911. When the paramedics arrived, they were in full coronavirus mode with masks and talking to Jo from a distance. “Trimble was having a heart attack. The symptoms for women can be subtle, manifesting as uncomfortable pressure or shortness of breath. Her left anterior descending artery was completely blocked, a type of heart attack so lethal it is called a widow maker.”

At Community Hospital North Trimble was rushed into surgery. It saved her life. Isolated now in the hospital she can talk to family over the phone. Daughter Kelly remarked, “‘I saw three clear distinct times where Amy had contact with my mother where she could’ve easily walked away. [But] Amy persisted.’”

And it all began with Amy taking an interest in an elderly neighbor. She showed up—and that was the life-saving difference. 

What can we be going in this season of the pandemic, we who are not in the at-risk populace? This idea of grocery shopping on behalf of our senior citizens (who would prefer not stepping into the environment of a well-traveled store) makes sense, doesn’t it? So much so we have put together just such a ministry for our Pioneer parish. Please go to You may volunteer to be a community shopper, you may let us know you’d like to have one of your fellow members shop for you, or you may check out the community resources—three easy buttons to click.

Be clear about this—the story of Amy and Jo is not advocating we ignore the issue of contagion and infection. All contact during this state of emergency needs to be within the boundaries of medically recommended/CDC protocol and distance. (Leaving groceries on a doorstep, sending payment by check through the mail, et al.)

The point of this story is with one website click (I Want to Volunteer), you can become Love on the Move for someone in need. So I say, God bless all of us who are willing to step outside our four walls and maybe even our comfort zone to be Love on the Move for Jesus. “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you [do] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you [do] for Me’” (Matthew 25:40).

March 4, 2020

The well-known line from Psalm 2 actually reads like this: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs” (v 4). QUES: What would cause God to break out in such laughter? ANS: A political coalition here on earth—one targeting His kingdom (vv 1-3). In this season when the coronavirus and the US political scene are the preoccupations of the media, I know well the axiom: politics is the third rail of polite company—touch it and it is curtains for you. But let me seek to be non-partisan and still touch on it.

For months both national and international news media (themselves aligned politically) have been engrossed in American politics. Given this election year, who’s surprised? But I wonder sometimes if God doesn’t look down from heaven and sadly shake His head, or, as the psalmist suggests, “laughs.” How puny our political alliances and machinations must appear to the Supreme One of the universe! Not that God hasn’t suffered at the hands of those alliances Himself.

The arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus of Nazareth remain a classic demonstration of political alliances between strange bedfellows—Pilate and Herod, Rome and Judea, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, et al. Heaven knows the meaning and pain of political confederacies. The followers of Christ (before and after His incarnation) have been ravaged for millennia by such alliances.

But in this season when political stratagems and intrigue are the parlor game of American households, we do well to remember the psalmist’s sober depiction of God laughing over humanity’s alliances. His followers know that human politics can neither deter nor deflect the divine agenda for this civilization. As the converted king Nebuchadnezzar himself testified of God: “‘His dominion is an eternal dominion . . . He does what He pleases . . . All His ways are just and those who walk in pride He is able to humble’” (Daniel 4:34-37).

I’m reading Jen Pollock Michel’s new book, Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of And in an Either-Or World—“. . . for that matter the kingdom does not grow because of political influence and social clout. In fact, Scripture makes clear, God’s kingdom is frequently in conflict with the pharaohs and caesars of its day. Paradoxically, the kingdom of God seems to have all the vulnerability—and virulence—of a little seed. Even more surprising, the only way this seed is ultimately harvested is through suffering. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, Jesus said. God’s holy hill isn’t Capitol Hill but Golgatha” (93).

How true—but how easily we are captivated by Capitol Hill more than Golgatha.

Pray for Capitol Hill and the White House, we should and we must, Paul is clear (1 Timothy 2:1-4). But to become consumed by politics and feed on its detritus is surely a dangerous mistake for third millennial followers of Jesus. Go ahead and laugh—God does. But beware of the very forces (the strange bedfellows) that one day will unite themselves against God’s endgame community. To silence the voice(s) of the conscience-pricking minority (as at Golgotha) has always been the rebel angel’s stratagem. Which is why now is the time to declare our sole loyalty to the God of heaven, who may be laughing now, but who will be returning soon.

February 26, 2020

A colleague of mine sent me a YouTube clip reporting on the efficacy (or the lack thereof) of the now ubiquitous face masks popping up globally ( Turns out the drug store variety surgical masks (while they do help you from spreading your cold to others) provide too flimsy a seal to keep airborne viruses away from your mouth and nose. The more expensive n95 respirator mask offers a tighter seal, but all day usage ends up restricting necessary oxygen flow to the wearer. 

Meanwhile, the plunge of global financial markets this week, in reaction to the spreading coronavirus, reflects investors’ jittery nerves, worried over how the contagion will negatively impact economic expansion and interrupt global supply chains. The health minister of Iran, after warning the nation of the coronavirus now inside its borders, contracted the virus. And the mayor of San Francisco this week declared a state of emergency for the city over the coronavirus, without a single case reported there! All of this a telling reflection of the alarm that itself is spreading along with the virus.

Health authorities continue to emphasize common-sense hygiene practices may be the best deterrent to contracting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The World Health Organization’s website offers these recommendations: (1) wash your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub; (2) maintain social distance (at least 3 feet from someone coughing or sneezing—good luck with that on a plane!); (3) avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; (4) cover your mouth and nose with bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze; (5) if you have a fever and are coughing with difficulty breathing, "seek medical care early”; and (6) stay informed and follow your health provider’s advice (

“Dear friends, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2).

Sometimes the best deterrent to the infection of common sin is to emphasize common sense spiritual hygiene: (1) spend 15-20 minutes every morning meditating on a fresh story about Jesus from the Gospels (or Desire of Ages); (2) spend ten minutes on your knees in quiet conversation with your Savior; (3) don’t forget to ask Him for a fresh, daily baptism of the Holy Spirit in your life (Luke 11:13); (4) ask Him to help you connect with someone today who needs your contagious witness of Jesus’ love (become Love on the Move); (5) be available all day long for God’s promptings to help someone (even a stranger) in need; and (6) do not wear a mask over your heart—let the goodness, grace, peace, hope, and love of Christ spread from you to all you meet.

And what’s the benefit of this common-sense spiritual hygiene? “The effort to bless others will react in blessings upon ourselves. This was the purpose of God in giving us a part to act in the plan of redemption. . . . This is the highest honor, the greatest joy, that it is possible for God to bestow upon [us]. Those who thus become participants in labors of love are brought nearest to their Creator” (Steps to Christ 79).

And when you’re that near to your Creator, there really is no need for a mask at all.

February 19, 2020

For a kid who was born in Japan and grew up in Asia, I’d consider it a dream to spend twenty-one days sailing the Orient on a luxury cruise liner like the Diamond Princess. But for the 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew aboard that floating 5-star hotel, their heavenly cruise morphed overnight into a hellish nightmare. Quarantined now in the port of Yokohama, the Diamond Princess lists in the harbor, a nova coronavirus battlefield since February 4. On this day that marks the end of the two-week quarantine imposed by Japanese authorities, liberated passengers—one by one, family by family, the infected and the spared—limp off the vessel with prayers for a quick trip home.

Earlier this week the U.S. government dispatched two jumbo 747 airliners to transport the approximately 380 Americans (at least forty of them testing positive for the coronavirus) back to their homeland—for two more weeks of added quarantine in two stateside bases. Anybody homesick yet?

Truth be told this planet we call home has been under a moral quarantine for millennia now. Only three human beings we know by name have been granted travel permission beyond the quarantine belt—three one-way trips to the paradise headquarters of the Kingdom of God. The rest of us have spent a lifetime knowing all too well the reality of confinement to this planet’s quarantine zone.

Stretching the metaphor or simile even further, it turns out a radical life-saving intervention was launched two millennia ago, when the divine Lord of the universe morphed into human form and being, taking up residence with the infected, quarantined race for nearly three and a half decades. His death at the hands of morally diseased and dying earth-dwellers—in a dramatic, counter-intuitive strategy—precipitated the eventual rescue of all infected humans throughout planetary history (if they chose), as well as the eventual re-creation of the ecosystem of this disease-ridden planet. One Life, one death, one resurrection, one return, one Savior. And the stunning history of a rebellion crushed, a disease eradicated and a universe secured—all through the omnipotent intervention of incarnated love.

Quarantine abolished forever and ever. Amen.

Anybody homesick yet?

February 5, 2020

Have you been able to figure out this coronavirus contagion? I am no epidemiologist; but, if you listen to the news, you get the impression this viral epidemic is in rapid spread mode. It is at least in the coronavirus epicenter in China—where new ten-day hospitals are springing up—that’s right a 1000-bed hospital in ten days ( 

Hong Kong has partially closed its borders to travelers from the mainland, and medical workers are striking until the border is completely sealed, while all travelers to Hong Kong from the mainland now face a 14-day mandatory quarantine ( The BBC further reports 24,300 confirmed cases and 490 deaths on the mainland in China.

The global infection has now spread to 26 countries, leading the World Health Organization to declare the coronavirus a global health emergency, infecting more than 20,000 people outside of China (

I'm no epidemiologist, but like you, I am an observer of life on this planet. Every fresh crisis triggers fears. The markets tumble. Oil prices now are predicted to drop $5 a barrel. Hyundai is suspending production in South Korea because of supply chain problems in China. Airlines are canceling their flights to Hong Kong and China. All in reaction to the coronavirus.

How shall we respond? Buying face masks is one way people are reacting. But medical specialists doubt the efficacy of masks, especially for those trying to keep viruses out. The protocol recommended is frequent hand-washing and refraining from touching your face with unwashed hands (

But beyond that, we who follow Jesus can respond in two ways. First, we can pray for the victims of the coronavirus and for the medical staff who attend the ill. Our Love on the Move prayers can intercede for sufferers and care-givers near and far, country by country, bringing a fresh focus to the biblical admonition that “petitions, prayers, intercessions . . . be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1).

Second, we can remember the somber prediction of Jesus, “‘There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places. . . . People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world” (Luke 21:11, 26). It is fear and apprehension “of what is coming on the world” that triggers so much of human reaction to global crises. Nobody said the times before the return of our Lord would be a cakewalk. But in contrast to a jittery public, let us move among our neighbors and through our communities as Love on the Move would do. It isn’t the coronavirus sufferers we are meeting, but people all around us suffer for a host of other reasons. For each “neighbor” we meet, for each person in need along our pathway, let’s stop beside them and let the genuine compassion and care of Jesus for them reflect from our actions to them.

We can't cure the whole world, but we can become healing Love on the Move right now—like the Good Samaritan—just like Jesus.

January 15, 2020

Ten-year-old Athena Nastasia has to pinch herself to make sure it’s true. The young resident of Phoenix, Arizona, learned at school this last fall about a national contest NASA is sponsoring to name the new Mars rover. 

Contestants must write an essay, defending the name they are suggesting: “‘It was such an ambitious journey just to take this rover, and this rover will be transported to this amazing planet, and it will find things that could depend on future life or figure out past life on Mars,’ said Athena” (

So, if you were a school kid, what name would you submit? Twenty-eight thousand children took the challenge. And just a few days ago NASA whittled the 28,000 down to 155—and Athena is ecstatically one of them!

Talking about a shot at making space history. When she got the word, “‘I was crying, and my eyes were full of tears like happy tears, and I was in the car when it happened, and I was just so amazed,’” the ten-year-old told a reporter (ibid). 

And her mom? “I’m beyond the moon excited!” Come February 18, Athena and Mom will learn if the name she submitted will be emblazoned on the side of this high-tech other-world wonder.

Athena’s suggested name? “Ambition.” I like that.

Because let’s face it, ambition certainly drove the creation of this out-of-the-world invention—and ambition will be the intangible fuel that rockets the rover in its 193 million mile voyage to Mars.

Ambition. Come to think of it, that’s what fuels Love on the Move, too. Not a lofty ambition to make a name, but rather the ambition to live out the love of the One whose steps we follow. Not just Pioneer’s new vision/mission theme, Love on the Move is, in fact, the single phrase that captures the life of Jesus and every man, woman, and child who chooses to follow Him.

Love on the Move. In the steps of Jesus: “But we need not go to Nazareth, to Capernaum, or to Bethany, in order to walk in the steps of Jesus. We shall find His footprints beside the sickbed, in the hovels of poverty, in the crowded alleys of the great city, and in every place where there are human hearts in need of consolation. In doing as Jesus did when on earth, we shall walk in His steps” (Desire of Ages 640).

It’s called Love on the Move. Because when you walk in His steps, better yet by His side, you become Love on the Move to everyone you seek to love for Him. And what could possibly be a higher ambition than that?


January 8, 2020

Drones and missiles—intended precision, intended misses?—what just happened? Perhaps the simplest explanation is it’s the New Year. Again. And nothing’s changed really.

Not that the world was expecting much of a change. Life goes on, pretty much paying back in the cyclical currency we’re all used to—night and day, hot and cold, wet and dry, happy and sad, up and down, peace and war, strong and weak, love and hate, fear and calm, winners and losers, haves and have-nots, and on and on. Human, planetary cycles—we get it, we live with their ebb and flow.

So when sudden change strikes—anywhere, anytime—our status quo is shattered, because the familiar cycle is broken. And suddenly—personally or collectively—we’re on red alert—just like this New Year’s beginning.

What’s so fascinating is both Jesus and Paul zero in on that sudden unexpectedness. In fact, both of them identify sudden, unexpected violence as the critical marker for the earth’s endgame.

Jesus somberly reminds us of two ancient events—the antediluvian flood and the incineration of Sodom and Gomorrah, both classic reminders of sudden, unexpected violence. “‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man”—sudden, unexpected violence (Matthew 24:37). “‘It was the same in the days of Lot. . . . It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed’”—sudden, unexpected violence (Luke 17:28, 20).

Then Paul shapes Jesus’ twin warnings into his own prophetic caution: “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 escape”—sudden, unexpected violence (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).

The point is not about living in fear—humanity already has a nervous twitch. Truth is the friends of Jesus have nothing to fear—nail-scarred hands securely hold all our lives. The point rather is Now is the perfect time for Love to be on the move, really on the move. What a force for good in the midst of endemic uncertainty! Imagine it—the incarnated love of Jesus crisscrossing this campus, this community, this country, this civilization through the humble, compassionate likes of you and me. Would it be a game-changer? Are you kidding! “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful [full of pity], there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one” (Welfare Ministry 86).

One hundred people coming to Christ and experiencing the joy, peace, and security of His friendship—one hundred children, teens, young adults, and the not so young—where before there was just one! How come? Because people are that hungry to be loved. America has never been more needy and open to unselfish compassion than right now.

So I say let’s go—you and me—and be the Love on the Move Jesus needs us to be this New Year. A hundred to one—talking about sudden and unexpected—but then that’s Jesus for you—fully engaged with His friends in Love’s sudden, unexpected endgame harvest.

December 31, 2019

I suppose you already know the much-ballyhooed statistics for New Year’s resolutions—60% of us make them, and only about 8% of us achieve them. Peter Economy (his real name), who writes for Inc. magazine and website, touts these familiar numbers. But surprise—he then (very much in advance) declares what will be the top ten resolutions made for 2020. How does he know?

“Polly” told him so: “Polly is artificial intelligence patented by market research firm Advanced Symbolics Inc. that uses publicly available online information to create representative samples of any population or target audience. Polly looked at what 274,779 Americans said their New Year's Resolutions were for the past four years to project what the 10 top New Year's resolutions would be for 2020” ( 

Want to know what Polly says? Here are “her”/our top ten resolutions for the New Year just ahead:

1. Actually doing my New Year's resolution
2. Trying something new
3. Eat more of my favorite foods
4. Lose weight/diet
5. Go to the gym
6. Be happier/better mental health
7. Be more healthy
8. Be a better person
9. Upgrade my technology
10. Staying motivated

Who’s going to argue with these ten determinations to live a healthier, happier life in 2020? Those of us who make resolutions probably find at least one of them in this Top Ten list.

But there’s a missing resolution that hands down will one day be shown to be the most vital resolution any human being could possibly have made. Jesus minces no words: “‘But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’” (Matthew 6:33).

Talking about a one-resolution-fits-all proposition: “Make Me first—and I will take care of every dimension of your life and living.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing reflects: “Jesus does not release us from the necessity of effort, but He teaches that we are to make Him first and last and best in everything. We are to engage in no business, follow no pursuit, seek no pleasure, that would hinder the outworking of His righteousness [right-doing] in our character and life” (99 emphases supplied). Not because God is a bit grumpy on New Year’s Eve—but because we were created to thrive and flourish on the high octane of a Jesus-first kind of life. 

“First and last and best in everything”—that’s the Jesus who eagerly waits to turn this New Year into the best year we’ve ever had. But who’s surprised? After all with Jesus—the best is yet to come. 


December 18, 2019

The young mother, frazzled and spent from hanging on to her two children and all their Christmas shopping bags, stepped into the crowded elevator. The holiday mania had taken its toll. As the doors closed, she blurted out, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.” From the back of the car, a voice responded, “Don’t worry, we’ve already crucified him.” They said the rest of the way down you could have heard a pin drop.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 KJV).

We know the story—“found, strung up and shot”—from the manger to the cross. But with four frenetic days left until Christmas God help us to remember why.