The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

May
9
May 9, 2018

Here are a couple of trending headlines to share with you before flying to Tokyo. In Japan right now trending up is the pollen count, but trending down are the children.

Japan's renowned cherry blossoms have been in glorious bloom now since April. But while the world revels in their stunning pink and white splendor, the economic impact on Japan is no trifling matter—$1.8 billion "because of pollen-induced allergies" (www.money.cnn.com/2018/05/04/news/economy/japan-hay-fever-economy/index....). According to Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist with the Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute, "The damage comes in several forms. . . . Fewer people want to go out, which hits consumption, and workers suffering from hay fever take more sick days. Or if they do show up to work, they're less productive. And 2018 is looking like one of the worst years on record for hay-fever sufferers in Japan. The pollen count in some parts of the country has more than doubled compared with last year" (ibid.).

But trending down for the Land of the Rising Sun is the child count. According to The Japan Times: "The number of children in Japan fell for the 37th consecutive year to yet another record low, signaling that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to combat the low birthrate are still wanting" (www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/05/04/national/number-children-japan-fall...). In fact comparing 32 countries with a population of 40 million or more, Japan is ranked the lowest in terms of the ratio of children (a child is defined as a person aged 14 or under) to overall population (12.3%). Lower birth rates are the harbinger of a dwindling work force and sagging economy. This past year Japan's child count  dropped another 170,000.

In all candor the church in Japan faces a similar challenge. The number of "second birth" or "born again" members  is dropping. And the outlook is glum. But "glum" is a human attitude, not a divine perspective. In fact I believe God's stunning YES CAN DO perspective for reaching and winning new children for His Kingdom in Japan (and throughout the world) is over the top! How else shall we explain John's vision of all the saved in heaven one day (we pray soon): "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).

Did you catch that? The number of the redeemed from earth is so high no one can count it!

I say we take courage from this stunning portrayal of God's saving love for His lost earth children—He is going to save us by the tens of thousands of millions. And those numbers will include Japan!

So on the eve of my flying to Tokyo for the upcoming full-court press evangelistic series on the campus of Saniku Gakuin Adventist College (where 70% of the 201 students are non-Christian pagans, to put it bluntly)—I earnestly solicit your prayer partnership on behalf of all the evangelistic series and preachers across the islands of Japan this month. Put your finger on God's promise: "Therefore in the east [Land of the Rising Sun] give glory to the LORD; exalt the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea [Japan]" (Isaiah 24:15). "Sing to the LORD a new song . . . you islands, and all who live in them" (Isaiah 42:10). How the Savior longs for the day when Japanese voices will join that innumerable throng in singing the praises of our Redeemer and God!

Look—if the "pollen count" in Japan can go up, why can't the "pollen count" of the Holy Spirit and His contagious "everlasting gospel" go up as well! Of course it can—it must. So we must pray—pray as we have never prayed before for God's supernatural release of (1) the dark lord's iron grip upon that land and (2) Christ Jesus' penetration throughout that society. Let the ether be filled with His life-giving "pollen." And our prayers.

PS—for my (hopefully) daily reports on Japan please visit www.pmchurch.org/JapanJournal. Pray on.

May
2
May 2, 2018

Last week a friend gave me Carl Wilkens’ provocative first-person account—I’m Not Leaving: Rwanda through the Eyes of the Only American to Remain in the Country through the 1994 Genocide. In his disturbing recital of what it was like to survive "the most tragic one hundred days of the twentieth century," young Carl Wilkens—country director for Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) at the time—struggles to come grips with what he witnessed, the genocide extermination of over 800,000 Tutsi men, women and children—most of them hacked to death by machetes.

He describes the surging emotions of that moment when he watched the vehicle, bearing his wife and their three young children, disappear around the corner, tight on the tail of one lone UNAMIR tank (United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda), their escort to safety outside the city and country. Because of his decision to refuse the U.S. embassy evacuation, he was asked to send a signed and dated note with his family: "I have refused the help of the United States government to leave Rwanda."

Years later he still wrestles with the choices so many made during this genocidal crisis:
"When I think about choices, I think about what Holocaust survivor and author Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: 'We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." (33)

And therein lies a promise for every graduate in this Class of 2018—no one can take away from you the freedom to choose your own attitude. Like Wilkens, you will face radical life-changing decisions (at a pace now much faster than you may have anticipated). But no matter the successes or crises on the road ahead, the truly great news is that you will face them all in tandem with the God of the universe who has been charting your future for quite some time now.

And He has a Book full of YES CAN DO promises for you:

• "What god is there in heaven or on earth who CAN DO the deeds and mighty works You do?"
—Deuteronomy 3:24
• "I know You CAN DO all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted."—Job 42:2
• "I CAN DO all things through Christ who strengthens me."—Philippians 4:13
• "Now to Him who CAN DO immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!"—Ephesians 3:20

The good news is you CAN DO because He CAN DO.

So our collective prayer for you is a simple one: May the same Jesus who was with you here be with you there—your CAN DO Friend and Lord with His CAN DO future and life—"immeasurably more than all you ask or imagine." To which I add my fervent Amen.

Apr
25
April 25, 2018

I picked up a book in the Hong Kong airport while returning from Thailand last week. (Don’t get me going about my decision to save $268 by toughing it out on a wooden bench in the airport transit lounge instead of checking into the airport hotel—bad decision!) The book is Adam Grant’s New York Times best-seller, Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World. Catchy title, intriguing content.

Grant—a psychologist researcher at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and ranked one of the world’s top twenty-five management thinkers—spends a chapter expanding his counter-intuitive suggestion that procrastination can actually heighten creativity and production. Perhaps Mark Twain was right: "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

"It may not be a coincidence that some of the most original thinkers and inventors in history have been procrastinators" (96). Take Leonardo da Vinci, for example. "Scholars estimate that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on and off for a few years starting in 1503, left it unfinished, and didn’t complete it until close to his death in 1519" (ibid). Turns out he procrastinated in similar fashion with his painting of The Last Supper, a masterpiece in the making for over a decade and a half. "His critics believed he was wasting his time dabbling with optical experiments and other distractions that kept him from completing his paintings"—but it was these pottering distractions that fueled "a lifetime of productive brainstorming, a private working out of the ideas on which his more public work depended" (ibid). I.e., da Vinci’s procrastinations ignited his genius for originality.

Adam Grant suggests it was the same for Martin Luther King, Jr., and his iconic "I have a dream" speech. Early in that summer of 1963 King and his advisers began hammering out a list of talking points for what they knew would be a critical speech carried on television and radio live to this nation. Over the summer they debated and scribbled. But it wasn’t until the night before that August gathering at the Lincoln Memorial that King sweated through his last feverish efforts. His wife Coretta later recalled, "'He worked on it all night, not sleeping a wink’"(92). And yet when he stepped to the lectern with his notes, the "I have a dream" segment wasn’t even there. It was the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted out from behind him part way into his speech, "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin!" And tell them he did, eventually pushing away his prepared notes to draw instead from the 275,000 miles and the 350 speeches he had already logged that year. "I have a dream" he intoned. And thus was born one of the most recognized phrases in human rhetoric, inserted into history at the last moment!

Adam Grant’s protracted point? Procrastination, coupled with deep thinking and interrupting brooding, can actually ignite originality and creativity. "Once a task is finished, we stop thinking about it. But when it is interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds" (99).

Though let’s be clear he isn’t suggesting procrastination is the best way to study (an important caveat on this eve of final exams here at the university)! The wise King Solomon reminds us: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest [procrastination]—and poverty [of income, of ideas] will come on you like a bandit and scarcity [of good grades] like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:10).

But there is one procrastination that spiritual sense forbids—and that is putting off your decision about Jesus Christ. The Roman governor Felix made that fatal mistake: "He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you’" (Acts 24:24-25). Procrastination. Lost.

Have you been putting off the same decision? "I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Because there is no time like right now to open the door to your life and invite the Lord Jesus to be your Savior. Turns out, He, too, has a dream—the dream of a forever friendship with you. So why wait? Why not say Yes right now? (Contact me at this website, and let me help you with that Yes.)

Apr
18
April 18, 2018

This week I had an inspirational experience spending time with young adults at a global retreat for missionaries who are sold out on Jesus and passionately maxed out on His mission to reach every unreached people group on this planet.

The organization I visited is a cutting-edge mission and missionary enterprise that has targeted unentered or unreached swathes of the human race heretofore seemingly untouched by the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ. This elite organization (OK, I admit, that's my word, not theirs—but "elite" in my humble opinion is any strategic effort to go where no man or woman has gone before in the spread of the religion of Jesus) with global offices now in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and South Africa, has mobilized these 200+ individuals to many nations (some that must remain nameless), urban centers and rural mountainous zones, and secular towns and cities in East and West Europe—all because of our Lord's command, "'Go into all the world an make disciples of all nations'" (Matthew 28:19).

While I've been preaching morning and evening to these missionaries, the inspiring testimonies from these families as I sit with them in the sprawling dining hall each day stir up my own soul. Not only are they mastering a foreign tongue whose alphabet is unlike anything you and I have witnessed, their stories of friendship building and gospel-living and Jesus-telling are often times nothing short of miraculous. Miraculous not only because of the very evident "fingerprints" of the Holy Spirit on the supernatural fruit of their efforts, but miraculous because when strangers speaking another language and hailing from a distant shore and culture set up house in hostile territories and then through incarnational loving on behalf of Christ begin to win friends for Him—the only word that makes sense to me is "miraculous.""And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). And He still is through these intrepid missionaries.

Timothy and Abigail (not their names) have taken up residence and mission in a country and culture so foreign and so hostile you and I would laugh off the suggestion God was calling us there. And yet with no friends or prior acquaintances in that nation (nobody—meaning zero, nada, no one), this courageous couple has set up house and "gospel shop" in a beneath-the-radar sort of existence, quietly loving and cautiously awaiting the divine moment for simple witness. "You will hear a voice behind you saying . . ." is how the modus operandi works (see Isaiah 30:21). And work the Spirit of God does. With fruitage measured in the optics and coinage of the Kingdom.

If life for you has become terribly predictable and/or numinously unsatisfying, God's solution for you may be to simply double down where He has you now and with a prayer for added grace carry on in your faithful surrender to His daily providences and guidance. But if the Spirit of God is stirring up your soul with the compelling commission—"'As the Father has sent Me, so send I you'" (John 20:21)—then it may be it's time to look for an open door and obey Jesus' command, "'Go preach [and use words if necessary] the gospel to all creation'" (Mark 16:15). God may already be planning to send you to the last frontier left—where your only hope will be His promise, "'Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Matthew 18:20).

Apr
4
April 4, 2018

Almighty God and Father of us all—"Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom Come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10). For You are the Omnipotent One whose strong hand still guides a billion billion galaxies in their soundless trek (Psalm 147:4), and yet each morning You eagerly bend low to hear the chirping gratitude of the tiny sparrows (Luke 12:7). And if You feed the birds of the air, dear Father, how much more will You care for us, who are Your children? (Matthew 6:26) As the psalmist Himself sang, teach us to sing, "I will bless the Lord at all times—Your praise shall continually be in my mouth!" (Psalm 34:1)

But dear God, it is because You have "loved us with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3), that we come humbly to You in advance of our collective Day of Prayer and Fasting. Have mercy on us, O Lord. For like our fathers and mothers, we have sinned against You (Daniel 9:4-10). We have turned to the gods of this world hoping to satisfy our appetites and slake our many thirsts (1 John 2:15-17). Like Israel of old, we have emulated the corrupted culture around us (Hosea 4:17). We have joined the clamoring rabble, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15)—but dear Savior, we admit and confess Satan has deceived us and Caesar has enslaved us. How can we then cry out for the demolishing of his strongholds out there without first pleading for Your deliverance from the dark strongholds in here? You have promised, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). O Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, remove our sins, too, we implore You (John 1:29). Cleanse us, and we will be clean—wash us, and we will be whiter than the snow that fell this springtime week (Psalm 51:7). We must hear the Gospel's assurance, "Neither do I condemn You—go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11).

Forgiven and freed, we take courage now to boldly come before Your throne of grace with petitions for this Day of Prayer and Fasting (Hebrews 4:16). "For the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary they have divine power to demolish strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). And so Almighty God, in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, we come with the weapon of prayer against the strongholds of our mortal enemy, the fallen Lucifer and his demonic hosts of angels (Ephesians 6:12). We possess no power of our own, but we come boldly in the might of Him who "made a public spectacle of [Satan and his hosts], triumphing over them by the cross"(Colossians 2:15).

We come on behalf of people who don't even know they are enchained in the enemy's stronghold (1 Peter 4:18-19). On this Day of Prayer and Fasting we call upon You, Father of all humankind, to deliver the masses ignorantly held in these enemy strongholds:

• We pray for Japan (the Land of the Rising Sun) and boldly claim the promise that the Sun of Righteousness will yet rise with healing in His light (Malachi 4:2)—may the 163 evangelistic events to be conducted there in May "proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1);

• We pray for the secular West, where atheism and paganism's iron-fisted grip pins both young and old in their strongholds—may the cry of Creation's angels—"Worship Him who made heaven and earth"—be heard in the halls of academia, the corridors of politics and power (Revelation 14:7);

• We pray against the stronghold of racism in our country, on our campus and in our church—break down the egotism (self-worship) that lies coiled and deadly in the heart of all racism, and answer the prayer of our Lord—"That they may be one as We are one, O Father, I in them and You in Me, so that they may be brought to complete unity"(John 17:22-23)—so that as we humbly but radically love one another "everyone will know" that we are Your disciples (John 13:34-35).

And one more request, dear God. Would you please grant to us a visible sign that You have heard our prayers and have already begun to answer them (Isaiah 65:24). After all, You promised us, "In the last days I will pour out My Spirit on all people" (Acts 3:17). Send us that sign as a divine token that the strongholds we go against in the name of Christ are already beginning to crumble.

"O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name . . . deliver us . . . for Your name's sake!" (Psalm 79:9) So that one day "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).

AMEN.

Mar
28
March 28, 2018

Who could forget her story! As the London Guardian wryly observed, "Whatever faults Maria D'Antuono may have, wasting time is not among them."

The 98-year-old woman was one of the few survivors to be pulled from the rubble of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck central Italy. For thirty dark and interminable hours, she lay trapped beneath the ruins of her home, not far from the L'Aquila epicenter. But they found her! And as the elderly woman was carried to safety amidst the cheers of the onlooking crowd, someone asked her what she had done to pass the hours while waiting and hoping for rescue. "Why, crochet, of course!" Her world comes down around her—but the 98-year-old matriarch survives with a hook, a ball of yarn and a heartful of hope.

Not even an earthquake can bury hope!

"There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it" (Mt 28:2). His enemies could have piled a thousand Mt Everest on top of the garden tomb of Jesus—but it would have made no difference. For not even an earthquake can bury hope. And when Christ came striding out of that quake-shattered crypt and declared over the pre-dawn rubble, "I am the resurrection and the life!" then humankind's last hope was made forever secure. Death may bury us. But in the power of the risen Savior hope can still be resurrected.

So what is it that has you trapped beneath the rubble of your broken dream this Easter? Is it your schooling, buried with late papers, overdue reading reports, skipped quizzes— and now there seems no way out? Financially, is it debt crushing the life out of your hopes?  In heart matters, is it the loss of a friendship, the spurning of a love that has sucked away your hope?

Whatever weighs heavy on you right now in this season of the Resurrection, whatever you do, don't repeat the computation error of the eleven disciples. In their dismal hopelessness that woeful Saturday night, they totally forgot to calculate something called omnipotence—divine omnipotence—into their dark crisis. And so needlessly (and that's easy for you and me to say, I realize), they suffer on through two dark nights without a ray of hope.

But, as the song sings, "then came the morning!" And in an explosion of light and glory and with the tread of a Conqueror, the dead and buried One strides onto the stage of Forever—a divine guarantee that no matter how heavy the stone that entombs us, the risen Christ can yet roll it away!

So put your finger on this Easter promise and face your uncertain future with new hope: "God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams" (Eph 3:20 Message). And remember: "As you ask the Lord to help you, honor your Savior by believing that you do receive His blessing. All power [omnipotence], all wisdom [omniscience], are at our command. We have only to ask" (Ministry of Healing 514).

So why not ask Him . . .  and crochet while you wait . . . with hope.

Mar
7
March 7, 2018

Shane Claiborne, the young and radical Christian activist, popular particularly among millennials, made an observation that is worth pondering: "I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it's because we don't dare them, not because we don't entertain them. It's because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army. But what do they do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death?" (quoted in Philip Yancey's Vanishing Grace 83).Is the church guilty as charged—you and I? Are we somehow inadvertently (certainly not intentionally, I presume) communicating a no-risk, no-cost, no-peril, no-fun brand of Jesus to the young today? Cautious, calculating, conservative (as in never thinking outside the box—is that our shtick?)

A campus friend dropped by the church this week, and in the course of our conversation it comes up that he has found profound blessing in serious, extended seasons of fasting. You read that right—fasting. Profound blessings from fasting? You've got to be kidding me. Every time I venture into that foreboding spiritual discipline I can hardly wait for it to be over!

But in response, my friend tells me that Jesus' call to discipleship in fact strongly hints at the value embedded in fasting (a practice referenced 77 times in Scripture, as it turns out): "'If any want to become My followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me'" (Mark 8:34 NRSV). No hint of a no-risk, no-cost, no-dare brand of religion here! Plain and simple (which Jesus usually was), if you want to follow Me it'll cost you some major self-denial—meaning you're going to have to push away the natural inclination to preserve your self, to promote your interests, to protect your appetite, to presume life is a zero sum game where winning is the ultimate value. And then, He goes on, take up the cross and follow Me. One thing's for sure—nobody can accuse Jesus of offering a tiptoe-through-life-safely brand of religion!

Which begs this question: What would happen if you and I signed on to that no-tiptoe dare from our Lord? What if we plunged into the discipline of fasting as an expression of our desire to deny our self (whose loudest clamorings are always linked to appetite) and thus open up our minds, our hearts, our bodies to the radical lordship of Christ? My friend even went so far as to suggest that fasting is actually a divine gift intended to draw us closer and more intimately to God. Just look at those who fasted in Scripture, he reminded me—Moses ends up practically face-to-face with God through his fasting, Jesus is catapulted into a ministry of profound healing and deliverance after His intimate prayer and fasting with His Father, Paul—who frequently fasted—is granted visions of heaven no human had experienced. Which doesn't mean we'll all become Moseses and Pauls and Jesuses—but it does strongly hint that something deep transpires between God and the human who voluntarily chooses to fast as part of
his/her prayer walk with the Eternal.

If we with our young today could be challenged by the very nature of Christ's radical calling—to a life daring but not entertaining, difficult and not easy—might we and they not find in Jesus' church a cause and a Kingdom worth dying for, worth living for? But if all we offer ourselves and our children is entertainment, then Claiborne is right—we breed a generation that will turn elsewhere to satisfy the God-embedded longing for risk and the heroic—a longing most deeply fulfilled by the way of the cross. And by fasting.

PS—after my friend left, I found these two helpful links on fasting—check them out for yourself: www.allaboutgod.com/common/printable-biblical-fasting.htm and www.christianity.com/bible/9-reasons-fast-other-than-swimsuit-season.html.

Feb
28
February 28, 2018

"'If it does here what it has done in Pennsylvania, people are going to go crazy. . . . Our goal is going to be just to try to manage the problem and slow it down. This is really a nasty critter'"—warned Mary Kay Malinoski this week, a veteran University of Maryland entomologist (www.baltimoresun.com/news/science/bs-hs-lanternfly-invasion-20180208-story.html). What's all the hubbub about?

Turns out when a shipment of stone from Asia arrived in Berks County, Pennsylvania, three years ago, nobody noticed (how could they?) the spotted lanternfly eggs attached to the rock. A few days later this speckled, four-winged insect (native to China, Vietnam and India, known as lycorma delicatula) hatched. And the rest is the devastating history of how this small moth-like insect has spread its destructive goo across swathes of grapes, fruit trees, hardwoods and gardens in more than a dozen Pennsylvania counties.

"[This crafty invader] feasts on more host plants than expected, reproduces more quickly than anticipated, and faces no known native predators." Moreover it "latches onto a wide variety of hard surfaces, allowing it to travel to parts unknown aboard cars, trucks and trains," and now "appears to have caused more damage in less time than any invasive insect to arrive in the mid-Atlantic region . . . proliferating more rapidly than the researchers trying to learn about it can handle." Penn State entomologist Tom Baker describes it as  "'the weirdest, most pernicious insect I've ever seen'" (ibid).

What could possibly be more pernicious and insidious than the spotted lanternfly? How about "the little foxes?" Ever read of them—tucked away in the sublimely beautiful love song we call the Song of Solomon? "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines" (SS 2:15)—those sly young creatures that stealthily feasted on the spring grapes of ancient vineyards.

Little foxes, spotted lanternflies—not an inappropriate metaphor for the pernicious, invasive and sadly spoiling reality of "sin," wouldn't you agree? So small, so insignificant you never even notice its sly invasion. Cleverly disguised as pleasure (and what's wrong with pleasure?), or "my personal right" (and who's against personal rights?), or "it's no big deal" (how can something so small be that big a deal?)—sin invades our hearts, our minds in such a clever fashion that only trained eyes could possibly spot it before it hatches into the deadly invader it always is.

Remember the Creator's warning to Cain? "'Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it'" (Genesis 4:7). Stealthy invader at our heart's door—sounds more like a person than a thing, doesn't it? Turns out he is: "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around . . . looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

I realize nobody likes talking about him or it, Satan or sin—but sadly they comprise one of the most incontrovertible realities of human existence—that is, we all face them both—Satan and sin.

Is there no deliverance from an enemy so pernicious, so invasive? "But of course" declares the gospel of Jesus! "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). "A way out," a way of escape—did you catch that? "Who will rescue me . . . ? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25).

So what's the strategy? "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you; and you shall glorify Me" (Psalm 50:15). If I'm learning anything in my own battlings in this cosmic war we're in, it's the faithful reliability of God in this simple promise. "Call on Me anytime, night or day, alone or in a crowd—I will hear you, I will deliver you, and you'll live to tell it." Period. Promise. Praise God.

So let's call on Him. Now.

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!