The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Feb
21
February 21, 2018

"Billy Graham, America's Pastor, Has Died" intoned the USA Today headline this morning: "The world's best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. He was 99. From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America's pastor" (www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/21/billy-graham-americas-past...).

It's no secret I have admired Billy Graham throughout my ministry (is there a preacher who hasn't?). I've read his autobiography, Just as I Am. And then on a two-day trip with my mother-in-law sitting beside me, I listened to Cliff Barrow, Graham's longtime evangelistic associate, read the autobiography on tape. Last May Cheryl Logan gave me a book, God in the Garden: The Amazing Story of Billy Graham's First New York Crusade. What a stirring first person account of that historic four-month series in Gotham City! Throw in a couple of John Pollack's biographies of the famous preacher-evangelist and a tour of the amazing Billy Graham Museum Library in Charlotte, North Carolina—and I can testify I've come to know this great man who died peacefully this Wednesday, nine months short of a century on earth.

In May, 1957, Billy Graham wrote in his diary: "'Tonight I felt probably the greatest liberty I have felt thus far [in his New York City Madison Square Garden crusade]. I doubt if there is an experience in the world quite like a minister preaching the Gospel and having liberty and power. It is beyond any other human experience. There is nothing more horrible than to preach without liberty and power. I have had ministers tell me that they never had liberty or power in preaching. . . . I think I would leave the pulpit'" (God in the Garden 132). How very true!

According to most estimates, Billy Graham through his 417 crusades and music events spoke to more human beings than any other single individual in history (popes and politicians included). In live audiences alone, he preached the gospel to more than 215 million people globally (with 3.2 million people accepting Christ in those crusades). But adding his radio and television broadcasts, Wikipedia calculates "Graham's estimated lifetime audience . . . topped 2.2 billion" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graham). No wonder he appeared in Gallup's list of most admired men and women sixty times since 1955, more than any other person in the world.

After reading his autobiography, I jotted down a list of life lessons for me as we counted down to something we called NET98. And I submit this list of lessons as a humble testimony to the influence this godly man has had on my own journey as a preacher (journal entry August 9, 1997):

  1.  Plunge into challenge no matter how you feel
  2. Bathe your campaign in prayer
  3. Believe the Bible is God's Word to your world (stupendous mission—Rev 14:6, 7)
  4. Surround yourself with a team of honest, devoted spiritual leaders
  5.  Turn down $$ as sideline—keep all fund-raising accountable
  6. Be willing to travel
  7. Learn from each new experience and campaign
  8. Expect setbacks and failures
  9. Expect God to intervene
  10. Go for the young
  11. Be willing to speak to any group
  12. Don't let important messages hold you back from accepting invitations
  13. If God could bless Billy [Graham] & Charles [Spurgeon] & [Dwight L] Moody—why couldn't God bless me
  14. Think strategically
  15. Rally local pastors to your support
  16. Don't be afraid of interviews, news conferences and publicity
  17. Remember Who called you
  18. Remember the message you found is what the world's hungry for
  19. Work with a partner and a team—no Lone Rangers
  20. Talk boldly—your spirit will follow—EGW
  21. Pray—pray—pray
  22. Drink warm water—ice water only tightens the throat muscles
  23. There is absolutely no need to apologize for the gospel of Jesus Christ in academic settings—the gospel can more than hold its own
  24. Jer 29:11 & Is 55:[11]
  25. Always preach the cross

A great man has died. But the Christ Billy Graham preached still lives—and still issues today to all who follow Him His compelling imperative: "'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28:19-20).

To which I invite you to respond with me to Jesus, "Here am I—send me." Amen.

Feb
7
February 7, 2018

With two of our pastoral team down for the count with the flu, I decided it was time to investigate. The flu (from "influenza"—"a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory passages causing fever, severe aching, and mucus, and often occurring in epidemics") has gone viral across the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website reports: "Influenza activity increased again according to the latest FluView report. All U.S. states but Hawaii and Oregon continue to report widespread flu activity and the number of states experiencing high influenza-like illness (ILI) activity increased from 39 states plus New York City and Puerto Rico to 42 states plus New York City and the District of Columbia" (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/summary.htm).

The CDC reports "14,676 people have been hospitalized with influenza since the flu season began in October, double the number from all of last year and the highest ever recorded." Of interest to many readers of this blog is the ABC News website picture of a hospital tent with this caption: "A triage surge tent is seen outside Loma Linda University Health Center for patients infected with an influenza A strain known as H3N2, in Loma Linda, Calif. . ." (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/nationwide-flu-outbreak-shows-sign-easing-deaths-reported/story?id=52873006).

Closer to home, the Kalamazoo (Michigan) school district last Wednesday announced: "All Kalamazoo Public Schools will be closed Thursday and Friday as students and staff fight off the flu and related symptoms.

The area's largest school district made that announcement on its website on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 31. 'Given the rising percentage of students and staff with flu, flu-like, or gastrointestinal symptoms today, KPS will be closed Thursday and Fridayand will re-open on Monday, Feb. 5,' the district stated" (http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2018/01/flu_and_illnesses_close_kalama.html).

Of course, the viral tragedy of this season's flu epidemic is the number of children who have succumbed to the flu—53 and still climbing. (The CDC does not report the number of adult deaths nationwide because states are not required to report to the CDC individual seasonal flu cases or deaths for people 18 and older.)

What can we do to prevent the flu? The CDC, which recommends getting vaccinated for the flu as "the single best way to prevent [it]," also offers these helpful prevention steps (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm):

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick—when you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Stay home when you are sick—if  possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing—it may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  • Clean your hands—washing your hands often will help protect you from germs—if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub [from ABC News: Sing "Happy Birthday" twice as you vigorously rub your hands together with soap under warm or hot water—when you finish make sure your hands have time to thoroughly dry].
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth--germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits—clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill—get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

And what does the Bible say? "Dear friend, 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). What a beautiful prayer for optimal health! Does that guarantee I won't get the flu this season? No. But isn't it reassuring to know that your Creator is eager to combine your healthy living with His promise "that all may go well with you." Because flu or not, our soul can still enjoy "getting along well" with God. And that's one wellness promise good for all!

Jan
31
January 31, 2018

Winston Churchill is often misquoted with the admonition: Never give up, never, never, never give up. In fact what he actually stated in the early hours of World War 2 was, "Never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense" (www.quora.com/Why-did-Winston-Churchill-say-never-never-never-give-up). But the point is still well taken.

Back in 2000 NASA launched a new, high-tech satellite dubbed the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE). Its mission was to "create the first comprehensive images of atmospheric plasma"—which being interpreted means scientists wanted to learn how the magnetosphere (the magnetic shield around the Earth) creates "space weather" patterns that disturb cell phone and satellite communication systems as well as electrical distribution grids. The IMAGE satellite's elliptical orbit around Earth sent it straight through rivers and clouds of super-hot ionized gas from the Sun called plasma, a key to deciphering weather in space. The mission was declared a success when the satellite it delivered to scientists a treasure trove of images from inside that outer space sea of plasma.

IMAGE completed its mission in 2002, "but failed to make contact again on a routine pass by the Earth in 2005." Perhaps an eclipse in 2007 would enable the satellite to reboot and kickstart itself, scientists hoped. But nothing in 2007. In fact, nothing at all again, leading the researchers to subsequently declare IMAGE's mission over.

But as fate would have it, an amateur astronomer in January locked on to a mysterious object in space, reported it to NASA, which in turn reverse-engineered its hardware technology in an effort to communicate with an apparently out-dated computer system that, in fact, turned out to be the long-lost IMAGE satellite! "The team will now spend the coming weeks analyzing data from the satellite to learn more about the state of the spacecraft, and maybe a little more about what it's been up to all these years" (see www.news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1136795.stm and www.engadget.com/2018/01/31/nasa-makes-contact-with-satellite-lost-in-space-13-years-ago for more).

Moral of the story: "Never give up."

It's an admonition all of us can draw strength and encouragement from, can't we?

1.  Never give up saving a little of your hard-earned money each month.

  • "The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down" (Proverbs 21:20 NIV).

2. Never give up saying "I love you."

  • "Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8 NLT).

3. Never give up believing God loves you and has fully provided for
your eternal salvation.

  • "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 NIV).

4.  Never give up praying for a friend, a family member, a lost child.

  • "I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers" (Philemon 4 NKJV).

5.  Never give up dreaming that great dream for your life and for God's glory.

  • "Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope" (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).

6.  Never give up hoping and living for the soon return of Jesus.

  •  ". . . We wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13 NIV).

7.  Never give up sharing your faith in Him.

  • "'Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you'" (Mark 5:19 NIV).

The list can be endless. But the point is singular. Never give up. After all, has God ever given up on you? Not if this promise of His is still true: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11).

With a promise like that from a God like Him, why would we ever give up?

Jan
24
January 24, 2018

Google declares "packed like sardines" has been a part of our jargon since the 1880s. Or at least, in my own opinion, since the invention of the jam-packed Japanese railway car. The picture you see is one I took from the Ogikubo train station platform in Tokyo a few nights ago. It's rush hour. And decorous as Japanese crowds are noted for being, the packed-in occupants of this train have enough room to finger their ubiquitous cell phones—as the three gentlemen inside the window reveal. The two masked riders beside them who look like OR surgeons are wearing the popular medicated protective hygiene masks you see everywhere, especially in the flu-cold season of the year.

What you can't see is the mass of humanity squeezed in behind and between these taller riders. I remember as a boy watching the conductors shove passengers further into the railway car just so the electric doors could completely shut!

And I'll never forget what happened to me one morning riding the train to the missionary school (not far from the Ogikubo station) there in Tokyo. I'm still appalled my parents allowed me, as a nine year old third grader, to travel  the world’s largest city (at that time and still so today) an hour and a half each way on packed city busses and trains unaccompanied and quite alone. But in those days (just after they invented electricity!) it never occurred to my mother or father that such travel would be dangerous, simply because it wasn’t. Back then.

This particular morning I was wearing my Christmas gift from my father, his old Benrus watch he had worn since college. I was quite proud of that timepiece on my wrist. But waiting for the next train, I spotted a barrel of rain water glistening with its contents, so I hurried over and innocently decided to test whether or not my new old watch was waterproof. I plunged my wrist into the water and out again. Several times. Until the next train came roaring into the station, and I raced to the doorway to join the grunting mass of riders pushing hard to get onboard. It was so tight inside my arms were pinned to my side by the crowd of business suits. When finally I was swept off the train and my arms could move, I checked the time on my watch. Only there was no time left. The crush of that ride had torn off the crystal, bent the hands of the watch, leaving the red second hand crazily pointing straight up into the air! (That's when I learned the watch wasn't waterproof.)

What's all this have to do with Heaven? Apparently the trains will be crowded there, too: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands" (Revelation 7:9). Last week I reflected on this prophetic glimpse of the saved in Heaven, wondering how many of that innumerable throng will be from Japan. With 128 million souls crowded onto that small island nation (the size of California), surely God will find a way to save as many of them as He divinely can. Surely Jesus' pouring out His life on the cross to save all of our lost souls is still sufficient enough to deliver the proud but gracious Japanese people, too.

"From Japan and China and India, from the still darkened lands of our own continent, from every quarter of this world of ours, comes the cry of sin-stricken hearts for a knowledge of the God of love" (Education 262).

Have you met this God of love? And if you have, are you willing to help Him meet the rest? The day of missionaries has only just begun—the best days for missions are straight ahead. "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8)

[If you are interested in considering mission service, please visit these websites: www.andrews.edu/cm/change/missions/opportunities; www.afmonline.orgwww.hesaidgo.orgwww.adventistmission.org]

Jan
3
January 3, 2018

Leave it to the Japanese! According to NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, the electronics giant Hitachi is testing a smartphone app "to promote workers’ health management." Given Japan’s legendary penchant for work productivity, such "health management" likely means a new company tool to keep much closer tabs on employees’ work output and efficiency as related to personal health and habits.

According to this report yesterday, all the app requires is a photograph of the employee. From it the app "can estimate blood circulation, pulse rate, and stress levels," key indicators of employee health. Furthermore "if users input their alcohol intake, and their experience of hangovers [Japan is the land of sake (rice whiskey)], the app will calculate a hangover threshold for each individual" (www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20180102_18). All they need is a picture of your face.

"A Hitachi engineer says users can input data to smartphones easily and at any time. He says he hopes companies will use the app to better understand the health status of their employees" (ibid).

Ignoring for now the personal liberty/freedom implications of intrusive electronic monitoring (given Apple’s new face recognition technology, I suppose this is but a new normal for our "brave new world")—it makes you wonder, does God have an app to read our face? Or to put it another way, what if we had an app that through face recognition was able to read our hearts? What if this New Year we could snap a selfie, submit it to the app, and get a print out of our spiritual health, the conditions of our deep innermost soul?

"Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?’" (Genesis 4:7). Looks like God has had a face-recognition app from the very beginning! "And seeing the crowds [Jesus] was moved inwardly with compassion for them, because they were in distress and cast down, like sheep having no shepherd" (Matthew 9:36, David Bentley Hart, A Translation: The New Testament).

But what if it weren’t our faces that mattered as much as it is His face? It was that way for David: "Let the light of Your face shine on us" (Psalm 4:6); "My heart says of You, 'Seek His face!’" (Psalm 27:8); "Let Your face shine on your servant" (Psalm 31:16); "Look to the LORD and His strength—seek His face always" (Psalm 105:4).

It was that way for Moses, too: "Moses did not merely think of God; he saw Him." Face to face? Keeping reading: "God was the constant vision before him; he never lost sight of His face." Is this face to face or faith to faith? Keep reading: "He saw Jesus as his Saviour, and . . . [this] faith was to Moses no guesswork; it was a reality." And what Moses experienced by faith we can, too, this New Year. Keep reading: "This is the kind of faith we need, faith . . . [to] keep our eye upon Jesus!" Just like Moses, just like David, we can "see" His face: "My [friend], make Christ your daily, hourly companion, and you will not complain that you have no faith. Contemplate Christ. View His character. Talk of Him" (5T 562).

Gregory Boyd’s testimony still rings true: "My life is Christ—nothing else really matters" (Present Perfect 57).

Does Christ have an app to read our faces and our hearts, too? Of course He does. But the good news this New Year is that He’s inviting us to "seek His face," to "view His character," to know His love. Contemplate that picture in your heart every new morning, and chances are great people will begin to recognize His face in yours.

Dec
27
December 27, 2017

For this final blog of the now diminished, vanishing year, may I share with you the reflections of a young British poet and horticulturalist, Philip Britts (1917-1949). His pensive brooding is the sort of ruminating that does our souls good on the spiritual eve of yet another journey around the sun.

Britts wisely observes: "We are human and finite, and thus cannot live perpetually in a sense of expectation, or in a continuous Advent" (Watch for the Light 110). The truth of our frail humanity is that we simply are unable to sustain a red hot expectancy—for anything, let alone the advent of our Lord. "We are distracted by many things. Our spiritual awareness waxes and wanes in intensity. . . . We may get lifted up in moments of tenderness but will be cast down in hours of dryness. The swing of emotions is natural to us, and some are more subject to extremes than others. We mustn't despair about this" (ibid).

Truth is, feelings are both our boon and our bane. Which is why holiday seasons like this one can jack us up, only moments later to jerk us back down. The roller coaster of human emotions—of a life overrun by feelings—who hasn't ridden that ride?

Thus our deep need is for the objectivity of the faith story, Britts reminds us: "It is here that we need to see why it was necessary for Christ to come to the earth. God has come to us because we, by our own power of soul, by our own emotions, even the noblest and most sublime, can never attain redemption, can never regain communion with God" (111). He is right: "Spiritual depth, it is true, is the working of God coming down and penetrating to the depths of our hearts, and not of our soul's climbing. No ladder of mysticism can ever meet or find or possess God" (ibid, emphasis supplied). Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary—the narrative of Christ's birth, life, death is never the tale of us climbing up, but rather ever the story of His coming down. The ladder is His, not ours.

"To put it quite simply, spiritual experience, whether it be of faith, hope (or expectancy) or love, is something we cannot manufacture, but which we can only receive. If we direct our lives to seeking it for ourselves we shall lose it, but if we lose our lives by living out the daily way of Christ we shall find it" (111-112).

Philip Britts then thrusts his point: ". . . what is decisive is that we accept and live by and surrender ourselves to a strength which is not our own, to the piercing white light of God's love" (113). Pause for a moment and reread that line.

Because that is my New Year prayer for you, "the piercing white light of God's love"—a Light so bright, a Love so strong no residual darkness from the waning year could possibly hold you back or keep you down.

"[For Jesus] said, 'I am the Light of the world'. . . . [and] having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 8:12; 13:1).

"The piercing white light."

Dec
20
December 20, 2017

As far as I know, the Lutheran Church in town boasts the only life-size nativity display in our county. At nighttime its scattered spotlights cast a surreal glimmering over the porcelain participants in the birth of the Christ Child. And the recent snowfall with its dollops of white lumped across the scene only adds to its mystique—shepherds, magi, donkey and camel as big as life clustered about the peasant family of man, woman and Infant. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord" declared the Christmas angel (Luke 2:11).

Joseph Cahill reflects: "At its profoundest, our celebration of Christmas, which continues to maintain such an inexplicable hold on our whole culture, is not 'good news' about material acquisitions (as everything from department stores to television commercials proclaims to us): it is rather, a dramatization of the simple triumphs of common humanity, in which joy at a baby's birth can overcome the most grievous official oppressions, and even the pedestrian aggravations, of ordinary life" (Desire of Everlasting Hills 100).

That's certainly one way to summarize it. But even Cahill would agree that if the Bethlehem story is reduced to "a dramatization of the simple truths of common humanity,"  who could blame us for dashing past that crude manger, oblivious to the silver miracle embedded in its straw?

Nearly twenty centuries ago came this first carol of all: "By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:

He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory."
(1 Timothy 3:16 NASB)

Nearly fifteen centuries later Martin Luther composed a children's carol for this season:

Our little Lord, we give thee praise
That thou hast deigned to take our ways.
Born of a maid a man to be,
And all the angels sing to thee.

The eternal Father's Son he lay
Cradled in a crib of hay.
The everlasting God appears
In our frail flesh and blood and tears.

What the globe could not enwrap
Nestled lies in Mary's lap.
Just a baby, very wee,
Yet Lord of all the world is he.   

Nearly a century ago Ellen White crafted this un-carol depiction of Christmas: "The work of redemption is called a mystery, and it is indeed the mystery by which everlasting righteousness is brought to all who believe. . . . At an infinite cost, and by a process mysterious to angels as well as to men, Christ assumed humanity. Hiding His divinity, laying aside His glory, He was born a babe in Bethlehem" (7BC 915).

The mystery of incarnation, the miracle of "infleshment" summarized by Paul, celebrated by Luther, articulated by White.

For upon that mystery is balanced the only truth left to save humanity from itself. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

"Just a baby, very wee, yet Lord of all the world is he."

"O come, let us adore Him."

Dec
6
December 6, 2017

Just in time for the holidays comes an interview with Todd Vasos, CEO of Dollar General. Everybody knows Dollar General—we even have one here in our village of Berrien Springs. With many if not most of the items priced in the familiar range of a dollar plus a few more (depending on the product), it turns out Dollar General is a booming business enterprise with around 14,000 stores in this country, boasting a market value of $22 billion. Not bad for a dollar here and a dollar there!

What caught my eye, however, was what Vasos stated in his interview with the Wall Street Journal (reported in vox.com): "'The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,' Vasos said. This is how he described the typical Dollar General customer: 'Doesn’t look at her pantry or her refrigerator and say, "You know, I'm going to be out of ketchup in the next few days. I'm going to order a few bottles.["] The core customer uses the last bit of ketchup at the table the night prior, and either on her way to work or on her way home picks up one bottle'" (www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/12/4/16735340/dollar-general-ceo-ec...).

Picks up just one bottle? Apparently that's how she shops, or that's the only way she can afford to shop.

"God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay."

"'While many large retailers are closing locations, Dollar General executives said they planned to build thousands more stores, most in small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery'" (Wall Street Journal ibid.).

"Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day."

"'The more the rural U.S. struggles, company officials said, the more places Dollar General [which "targets customers making $40,000 a year or less"] has found to prosper. ‘The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,' Chief Executive Todd Vasos said in an interview at the company's Goodlettsville, Tenn., headquarters" (ibid.).

"To save us all from Satan's pow'r when we were gone astray."

"And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger [crude box for cow feed], because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:7).

"Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy."

"Please pass the ketchup."

"Oh tidings of comfort and joy."

Amen.

Nov
29
November 29, 2017

The list of the high and mighty who have been recently named in sexual harassment charges is stunning. From politicians to entertainers to media icons—it seems America now awakens each day with some new hitherto undisclosed revelation or charge of sexual abuse or harassment. Women victims, who have long been shamed or cowed into submission and silence by powerful male perpetrators, have found new voice and courage to speak out. And men, who once lived with wanton disregard for the women they mistreated with sexual abandon, now stand before the court of public opinion, their sexual libidos in full display. Even the secular press now touts sexual accountability, justice, and morality.

However, this sudden outbreak of sexual disclosure should hardly be unexpected, given the ancient prediction: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people" (2 Timothy 3:1-2, 4-5 NIV). Perhaps the operative word from Scripture for today's headlines should be: "'How the mighty have fallen!'" (2 Samuel 1:27).

But what would Jesus say to the girls and the women who have been wounded and shamed by workplace or campus sexual abuse or harassment? Remember Mary (the sister of Martha and Lazarus) at the feast of Simon, the healed leper? There she was, kneeling beside Jesus, sobbing as she splashed expensive perfume over both His head and feet. Here Desire of Ages draws the veil aside with a disclosure not unlike the headlines of late. As it turns out, "Simon had led into sin the woman he now despised. [Mary] had been deeply wronged by him" (566). He (who was her uncle, no less [Daughters of God 239]) had led her into the shame of his own sexual sin.

So when Jesus responds to the hisses of disapproval for Mary's outpouring (from the nearly all-male) dinner guests around that table, He speaks cryptic but forceful words still addressed to every male abuser: "'Leave her alone'" (John 12:7).

The church and this faith community stand beside all victims of unwanted sexual abuse—for there is no place in either Kingdom or church for this predatory immorality. If you are a victim of such abuse, then seize the new freedom that many victims are now sensing and speak up regarding your woundedness. Find a spiritual counselor you can trust, and share your story of pain. And if you're a student on this campus, go this website for instructions on how you may report the harassment (www.andrews.edu/life/health-safety/title-ix/universitypolicy). If you are in a workplace in this country, here is a website to assist you in reporting this illegal action to the authorities (www.aauw.org/what-we-do/legal-resources/know-your-rights-at-work/workplace-sexual-harassment).

Does Christ forgive sexual sin? Of course He does. Desire of Ages responds: "You may say, I am sinful, very sinful. You may be; but the worse you are, the more you need Jesus. He turns no weeping, contrite one away. He does not tell to any all that He might reveal, but He bids every trembling soul take courage. Freely will He pardon all who come to Him for forgiveness and restoration" (568).

But can Jesus heal the victims of sexual sin? The story of Mary offers a resounding Yes. Desire of Ages promises: "The plan of redemption has invested humanity with great possibilities, and in Mary these possibilities were to be realized. Through His grace she became a partaker of the divine nature.... The souls that turn to Him for refuge, Jesus lifts above the accusing and the strife of tongues. No man or evil angel can impeach these souls. Christ unites them to His own divine-human nature. They stand beside the great Sin Bearer, in the light proceeding from the throne of God" (ibid).

And where better to stand than beside the One who can both heal our wounds and forgive our guilt? No matter the headlines—abuser or victim—the light shining from Calvary offers hope to us all.

Nov
15
November 15, 2017

May I be a bit more personal with you in this blog and may I share with you a line that has come to mean very much to me? It was the early "morning after" I married off our little girl Kristin. A Labor Day morning—she and Andrew had gotten married here at the church the day before. I’m usually not one to be bothered by "Rainy Days and Mondays." But this Monday I awakened with an ache in my heart—the gnawing of a nameless, numinous sense of loss. Of a line crossed, an innocence gone, a chapter ended. And you can never go back. I got out of bed, tiptoed past her empty bedroom,  and down to where I have worship. Opened my Bible to my psalm for the day. And wouldn’t you know it—God in his gentle mercy had timed that cycle through the Psalms, so that I would come to these words on the morning after my little girl left home for good.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:25-26

Our childhood comes, our childhood goes. Our friends come, our friends go. Our spouses come, our spouses go. Our children come, our children go. Jobs come, jobs go. Health comes, health goes. Life comes, life goes. And death comes. "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).

Until one morning we wake up to the words of Peggy Lee’s throaty whisper, "Is that all there is?"

John Piper in his book God Is the Gospel captures well this prayer of Asaph—that when you have God, you truly do have everything you’ve ever wanted or will ever need—that all things else, the litany of blessings outpoured 24/7 into our recipient lives, are simply divine incentives intended to lead us to deeper gratitude, not for the gifts so much as for the Giver: "All the enticements to God that are not God are precious and precarious.  They can lead us to God or lure us to themselves. They may be food or marriage or church or miracles. All these blessings bring love letters from God. But unless we stress continually that God himself is the gospel, people will fall in love with the mailman—whether his name is forgiveness of sins or eternal life or heaven or ministry or miracles or family or food" (143).

Falling in love with the mailman—if we become so enamored with the blessings God sends us that we fall love with the gifts instead of the Giver—what a sad mistaken twist!

Eugene Peterson in The Message expresses Asaph’s prayer to God this way: "You're all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth!" There it is—a one item Thanksgiving list.

John Piper concludes: "That must mean, first, that if every other good thing were lost, Asaph would still rejoice in God. And it must mean, second, that in and through all the other good things on earth and in heaven, Asaph sees God and loves him.  Everything is desired for what it shows of God. Augustine put it like this: 'He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake’" (144). Reread that line.

On his deathbed, Charles Wesley dictated to his wife his final hymn:

Jesus, my only hope Thou art
Strength of my failing flesh and heart
O, could I catch a smile from Thee
And drop into eternity.

A one item Thanksgiving list.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73:25-26