The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Apr
3
April 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar
27
March 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar
20
March 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar
13
March 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb
27
February 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb
20
February 20, 2019

A friend told me years ago: "Our business [as a church] is to find the wave the Holy Spirit is
creating . . . and then to surf it." You don't even have to be a surfer to catch that metaphor. Because without a wave nobody surfs!

So what wave has the Holy Spirit been creating around Pioneer lately? Show up on a Sabbath morning, and it's pretty obvious. Children are everywhere—in our Sabbath School rooms, in our children's stories during worship. Where are they coming from? From parents, of course. So, where are the parents coming from? From all over this campus, this community and this county. And why do they come? Because what Pioneer does for children—in just the Sabbath School time slot each Saturday morning—is without parallel.

We have the finest, most creative children's Sabbath Schools on earth—I make that claim rather unabashedly, realizing I could be considered a biased observer! Our kids' Sabbath schools are known throughout the denomination. And as you can tell by the numbers, they enjoy the same reputation here at home.

And on this Pathfinder Sabbath, consider the fact that our Evergreen Club (ages 10-15) is second to none and that our Adventurers Club (ages 4-9) is the largest in North America. Truth is God has put together a volunteer leadership team for our young (on multiple fronts at Pioneer) that is excelling in its proactive mission/ministry for our children at every age level. I thank God for our leaders!

Call it a Holy Spirit wave, call it a demographic trend—it all adds up to Pioneer's future. Or to put it another way, the children of God's family are not only the future of His mission—they are our mission now. And that confirms (as we noted during Pioneer's 60th birthday celebration last Sabbath) the biblical metaphor, "We are Family!" Or as Paul expressed it: "So now you . . . are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family" (Ephesians 2:19 NLT).

And as a result (as we announced a week ago) our pastoral team is undergoing a major shift. Jim Collins, in his mega-bestseller Good to Great, introduced the leadership metaphor of the bus—you must get the right people on the bus and then you must get them in the right seats. And so after much prayerful thought among ourselves and consultation with our conference administration, we are moving three pastors to new seats on the bus.

First, to respond to this wave the Holy Spirit is creating with our children, we are asking Ben Martin (our Youth Pastor) to become our new Pastor for Children and Family Discipleship, giving special leadership and oversight to children from birth through early teens. Ben has long had a passion for discipling the youngest among us. And this shift seems a perfect fit for surfing the Spirit's wave.

His departure from youth ministry will be complete when we bring a new youth pastor on board the Pioneer team. Our new youth pastor will be a woman. In a few days, the conference will be interviewing several woman pastor candidates, any of whom will serve the youth of this congregation with passion and excellence.

Second, we have asked Jose Bourget (our campus chaplain) to become our new Executive Pastor here at Pioneer. I and we need someone with a passion for administration to oversee the vision/mission of Pioneer as we now move into our seventh decade as a campus congregation. Jose's task will be to lead the annual strategic planning process, reviewing the mission/vision and core values, developing key objectives and tactics and establishing 3-5 year goals for this campus congregation.

One other major change in seats on the bus is that we are inviting Rodlie Ortiz to provide new leadership for our GROW Groups discipleship ministry, along with the community outreach ministry he has already been leading. Brianna Martin will continue to assist him in this vital discipling. And I believe that is an effective match.

My friend was right—when the Holy Spirit creates a wave, our mission is to catch the wave and surf it. Which makes the youngest of the Family our very special mission. As George Barna presciently observed, it is the youngest who are "the spiritual champions" God is promising the church. Surf's up!

Feb
13
February 13, 2019

Some have attributed to Confucius the proverb, "A picture is worth a thousand words." So let's share a 5000-word history (five pictures) that ends with the birth of the Pioneer Memorial Church exactly sixty years ago right now—captured in five black and white photographs, mounted on the back wall of our sanctuary, each with a gold plaque of explanation—all of them a gift of the Emmanuel Missionary College Class of 1953. Take a look:

Photograph #1—the old Berrien County Courthouse. The plaque reads:

On October 31, 1901, the faculty and students organized the Emmanuel Missionary College Church. The charter listed forty-one members, the organizers being Sutherland and Haughey [two faculty members]. Religious services were first held in the vacant Berrien County Courthouse the first school year of Emmanuel Missionary College in 1901 through 1902. On December 5 the church opened a church school for sixteen pupils, using the first floor of the courthouse [still standing in the middle of our village today].

Photograph #2—the original EMC Administration Building (1903-24):

This building was the fourth structure to be built on the campus. It held primarily administrative offices and was the only building kept warm enough for student study. [Wonder how they would have fared with the recent polar vortex!] The chapel room served as the home of the EMC campus church. The onion dome [see the photograph] housed the campus bell used at Battle Creek College [now in Nethery Hall]. The building was razed in 1953—the same year the Student Association initiated a campaign for a new campus church.

Photograph #3—Auditorium Basement (1924-26):

Beginning in early 1924, the basement of the unfinished Auditorium building served as the next home of the church. There was seating for 600 people in this room. . . . Nature spurred completion of the Auditorium. A February-Sabbath thaw almost disrupted the church service when the "entire north side of the chapel was flooded within two rows of the front." Umbrellas shielded the worshipers from the dripping water [is this beginning to sound familiar—some things never change!] during the rest of the service.

Photograph #4—Auditorium (1926-1959):

"The wooden chapel will be in keeping with the faith of the denomination, looking forward to the near coming of our Lord and Master, and at the same time providing seating capacity with galleries for about 850 people. The student capacity will be provided on the main floor for 500 only, and it is hoped the school will not grow beyond this number," commented Board Chairman William Guthrie [ninety-three years later we ruefully smile at his awkward hope and prediction, while recognizing his passion must yet be our passion, too]. Not exclusively dedicated to worship services, secular gatherings were also held in the Auditorium. For 20 years the basement was used as a recreation hall for games and receptions.

Photograph #5—Pioneer Memorial Church "An House of Prayer for All People" (1959- ):

The Student Association of 1953 spearheaded a fund-raising campaign for what would become the only campus building dedicated solely to divine worship. Bake sales along U.S. 31 benefited the fund, as did the systematic giving of hundreds of people. When the work on the church was ordered stopped temporarily for lack of funds, a number of plant service men donated full weeks of time to prepare the church for the opening service Sabbath, February 14, 1959. By May 21, 1960 everything except the pipe organ was ready for dedication. On March 12 and 13 of 1966 the Casavant organ, with its 4,233 pipes, was unveiled. The name, Pioneer Memorial Church, bears witness to the educational talents of illustrious instructors or lecturers in our past.

Five photographs, one history—and it's your history and mine as members of this now sixty-year-old church family. A history with God's fingerprints all over it. Which is why we must keep singing the Doxology and telling the story, "so the next generation will know [God's mighty acts], even the children yet to be born, and they in turn will tell their children. Then they will put their trust in God and will not forget His deeds but will keep His commandments" (see Psalm 78:6-7).

When history is His story—pass it on!

Feb
6
February 6, 2019

The days of Martin Luther's scatological excoriations of the pope are long past (500 years past, to be exact). But do those five centuries mean turning a blind eye to the mounting evidence of sexual malfeasance by the Roman Catholic Church's ministers? The dark record of pedophilia among priests has already been cataloged in the news media and courtrooms of this nation. The alarming pervasiveness of this behavior over recent decades alone—along with the documented cover-up of the tragedy by church officials—is now a matter of public record.

But why bother? After all, boys will be boys, men will be men, so should we be surprised that a system of institutionalized celibacy should yield these now all too familiar headlines? And besides, these stories hardly malign an entire priesthood. One or two rotten apples perhaps—but thank God for the rest of the faithful pastoral guides that serve the Roman parish. I, too, honor those faithful shepherds of the flock who surely find this escalating story reprehensible.

But the hemorrhaging is spreading. National Public Radio reports this week another twist: "Pope Francis, for the first time, acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops, including a case in which some clergy used women as sex slaves. He said on Tuesday that he is committed to ending the problem in the Roman Catholic Church" (www.npr.org/2019/02/05/691843161/pope-francis-acknowledges-for-first-tim... ). In this Tuesday news conference the pope replied to a reporter's query: "'It is true ... there have been priests and even bishops who have done this,' said Francis as quoted by Reuters. 'I think it is still going on because something does not stop just because you have become aware of it,' he added" (ibid).

Yes, Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount did command us, "'Do not judge, or you too will be judged'" (Matthew 7:1). And the proverb, "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones," is a fair point about cleaning up your own house before condemning others. But that aphorism aside, this moral hemorrhaging isn't about "boys will be boys" and a few "rotten apples." This is not simply the fallenness that exists in every faith community. This is an endemic institutional moral crisis of widely exposed sexual sin by some of its spiritual leaders.

Thus, to recognize what is now globally substantiated is not Luther castigating the pope. It is simply pressing the logical question that dogs these mounting reports. From whence come such blatant pervasive clerical moral fallings? In this #MeToo age of protest over sexual abuse against women, will the now exposed abuse of single, Christian women by their spiritual leaders go unchallenged—innocent women across the earth who as nuns pledged their celibate lives to Christ and the Mother Church? Furthermore, what is there within this geo-religio-political system that precipitates such pervasive tolerance of the behavior?

In that same Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Himself taught, "'A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. . . . Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them'" (Matthew 7:18, 20). So is it a mistake to judge an institution (be it Hollywood or the Roman Catholic Church) by its fruits? Is it going against the counsel of Jesus to recognize there must be something inherently wrong with a theological, ecclesiastical system that produces fruits like this?

This I know. There are tens of millions of Roman Catholics who are pained by the mounting statistics. Their devotion to Christ and the Mother Church is stellar. Their abhorrence with immorality, their repudiation of this culture's sexual sin is unwavering. Their longing for peace, for freedom from guilt, for the grace and promise of the Savior permeates their prayers. Surely God holds them close to His heart in this time of such mixed confusion. After all He is the Lord who at the height of Babylonian confusion calls His children, "'Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins'" (Revelation 18:4).

Could this be the right time for your friendship with one of them to love them to the sacred heart of Jesus? Judge not. But love them without ceasing.

Jan
23
January 23, 2019

Are we lying about America? I'll let you decide for yourself. But I'm intrigued by a new book I'm reading: Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free (Jonathan P. Walton,  Intervarsity Press 2019). Not wanting to spoil your read of the book, I'll resist critiquing Walton's list of lies (though I have held similar convictions regarding several of the twelve for a long time). You may check out a listing of all twelve lies at www.ivpress.com.

But the two recent flaps in the news (the BuzzFeed claim about the Mueller investigation and the viral video "confrontation" of Catholic students and a Native American at the Lincoln Memorial) have become a provocative Exhibit A for those claiming the news media and social media's penchant for a rush to judgment. Both reports—later retracted, modified or withdrawn by most news outlets—have played into the "fake news" narrative the whole country has been debating. God bless America!

I suppose it is only human to trust the sources that lean toward our personal ideology or persuasion. But in both these cases, hindsight has revealed a rush to judgment and a precipitous publication of the unverified news reports by multiple outlets on both sides of the ideological/political divide.

And social media? The warp speed with which the faceless social media crowd (mob?) can serve as judge, jury, and executioner is breathtaking! "Don't confuse me with the facts—my mind is made up" seems to be the prevailing "cry de jour" among these anonymous commentators. And even when the press sheepishly withdraws yesterday's hue and cry 24 hours later, no abatement or disavowal appears among the purveyors of social media pronouncements. I.e., the "people" have spoken—so be it.

But the people (like the press) can be wrong, dreadfully wrong. And therein lies my concern.

I belong to a faith community that embraces some countercultural moral/ethical stances that don't play well in Peoria. E.g., the nation recognizes Sunday as the majority day of worship—whereas my faith community worships on the seventh day out of determined loyalty to the Creator God of the Bible Sabbath. We as Sabbatarians are used to sticking out or at least standing out but have flourished nonetheless in this time of politically correct minority protection. Thus worshiping on Saturdays today is hardly a big deal for the public.

But let a news story of some dastardly act become mistakenly (or intentionally) linked with Sabbatarians (not unlike the David Koresh Waco debacle decades ago), the warp speed of the rush to judgment we just witnessed this past week could turn both news media and social media into judge, jury, and executioner overnight. There were no social media when Jews in Germany were branded traitors to the nation by that rogue leader's denouncements to the press. But in a matter of days, the public was turned against those suspect Sabbatarians, and the rest is tragic history.

"Yes, but we have the Constitution of the United States of America." Since when have rogue voices within social media been regulated by the Constitution? Innuendo, distortion of fact, rumor-as-truth, the list of unethical catalysts for the rush to judgment are myriad.

Which leaves us two dependencies. First, we are dependent on the thoughtful, careful rulings of jurists, political and thought leaders and others of influence. Surely our leaders would resist cries to rush to judgment, we hope. Surely the angry voices in social media could be assuaged, would be tempered by calmer minds and more reasoned thinking. Surely the Jews of the 1930s in Germany would have been safe and protected in this hour of American history.

But unless we inform our civic, political and thought leaders of our persuasions and biblical convictions, how are they to be informed? Liberty magazine for decades has been our faith community's collective voice to this nation's leaders. This month you and I have the opportunity to sponsor as many annual subscriptions to this well-respected journal for leaders as we can. Won't you join me in marking your gift to Religious Liberty on a tithe envelope this Sabbath (or soon) and send this magazine on its vital mission?

But there is a second and higher dependency we cling to, wrapped in this ringing assurance no matter the prevailing or opposing winds: "The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psalm 46). And that's the one truth that will triumph over any rush to judgment, anytime, anywhere. He is with us—and we must stay with Him. Only then can we effectively pray: "God bless America."

Jan
16
January 16, 2019

Thanks to the generous largess of some kind, anonymous soul, I find myself in possession of the highly acclaimed new translation of the ancient Hebrew Bible. Robert Alter's three-volume The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary is being heralded as "the first single-author literary translation of the complete Hebrew Bible." I find the reading experience of this obvious work of a lifetime both fresh and refreshing, without the forced novelty that can plague newly released translations trying to catch the eye and ear of a Bible-saturated market.

Take Alter's translation of the beloved Psalm 23 (which happened to be my psalm-a-day reading yesterday). He retains the familiar King James Version—"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want." But a few lines later, Alter changes the KJV's "He restoreth my soul" to the more provocative "My life He brings back" (vs 3). In his below the line commentary Alter observes: "Although 'He restoreth my soul' is time-honored, the Hebrew nefesh does not mean 'soul' but 'life-breath' or 'life.' The image is of someone who has almost stopped breathing and is revived, brought back to life" (Hebrew Bible vol 3, p 70).

Perhaps we all have known of someone (someone even close to us) who has "almost stopped breathing" but who has been resuscitated, "brought back to life."  I was disembarking a plane once when a passenger ahead of me collapsed in the gate area and was resuscitated with a defibrillator. That, Alter, writes, is the notion of the Hebrew. "My life He brings back."

Even spiritual communities can collapse into lifeless heaps. God Himself captures this tragic possibility through Ezekiel's powerful vision. ". . . I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. [The LORD] asked me, 'Son of Man, can these bones live?'" (Ezekiel 37:2-3 NIV) Ezekiel defers to God, who addresses the bones: "'I will make breath [Heb: ruach] enter you, and you will come to life'" (v 5). And indeed "they came to life and stood upon their feet" (v 10). But what is this breath that brings life to these skeletons? God speaks once more: "'I will put My Spirit [Heb: ruach] in you and you will live'" (v 14).

Ah, the breath of life is the Spirit of God. "My life He brings back," the psalmist exclaims. Very good news for a lifeless church, wouldn't you say?

Because in the divine geopolitical administration of universe and Earth, it is the Spirit of the Living God who is "boots on the ground" for the Trinity. Call Him the Breath or the Wind of God, if you please. Call Him the Resuscitator of the church. Call Him what you will—but call Him! He's our only hope. Jesus Himself said as much: "'The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit [born of the divine Wind]'" (John 3:8).

"My life He brings back." The raw promise of this fresh sentence is ours for the asking—personally, collectively, organically, even organizationally—it doesn't matter. "My life He brings back" is divine assurance of resuscitation from a state of life-less, breath-less existence to a revitalized, resurrected living. (Think Laodecia!) So I say we ask (repeatedly ask) for the Breath Wind of God to blow into us each new morning—to rebirth us, to rebaptize us, to revive us with His fresh power. "My life He brings back."

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I constant be
And live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

-Edwin Hatch (SDA Hymnal 265)