The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

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!

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" ( ). 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.

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

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."

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)

January 9, 2019

The baby's coming!" Since time immemorial those three words have sounded a universal red alert for families.

Take Jimmy and Laura Baker in Raleigh, North Carolina. Laura was great with child, but she's been that way it seems for weeks. Until late Saturday afternoon when Laura groans, "The baby's coming." Red alert! Bundling her into his arms and the family van, husband Jimmy floorboards the engine, screeching out the driveway toward the hospital.

That's when, according to WRAL-TV, State Highway Patrol Sgt. Brian Maynard happened to clock the speeding van on his radar—85 mph. Maynard goes on red alert, his blue lights blazing.

But in the van nobody is looking for blue lights, because while the young mother is gasping the baby arrives. Well not quite—there are a few centimeters left to go. Husband Jimmy stomps on the accelerator. That's when he sees the blue lights of the state trooper. Panicky but obedient, he pulls the van with mother and almost-here baby to the side of the road.

Trooper Maynard walks cautiously up to the car. The young husband yells out the same three words, "The baby's coming!" And with that Brian Maynard becomes an unintended midwife, bringing that tiny little life form fully into the world.

To a reporter, Maynard later described the experience as both "scary" and "rewarding." Last reports indicate mother Laura and newborn Halyn are both doing well (

When a birthing takes place, life heretofore may have perambulated along—but no more! Priorities radically change, values dramatically realign.

Last Sabbath we were blessed to have our guest preacher Pavel Goia (editor, Ministry magazine) cast a new vision for collective prayer. And at the end of his fourth presentation (to a nearly full house at Pioneer in the afternoon), we knew something had been birthed in our midst. And I realized, as did the rest of us, that we must respond. You can't just listen to those stirring appeals, those dramatic stories and do nothing! (All three Pioneer presentations are at

Pavel's powerfully reiterated point—persistent, prevailing prayer ("don't quit praying so soon!") is the path not only to a deepening relationship with God but a door as well to His supernatural interventions in response to such praying. If you do nothing else, listen to the stories Pavel tells in all three online presentations (we have yet to upload his 10:30 AM sermon at the Spanish church). Whatever you do, don't miss the story he told in his first service sermon about Cuba and a team of American doctors who went there to conduct evangelistic series. That one story makes Pavel's reiterated point powerfully.

But we in this campus parish need to respond further. And so, as announced Sabbath afternoon, Pioneer members are invited to join the Village Church in their 10 Days of Prayer that begins 6:30 this evening (January 9)—the first 30 minutes will be for prayer and Bible reading, the last 30 minutes will be a health presentation. But the Pioneer pastors believe there is a further response to this new birthing that we at Pioneer need. And so beginning today (January 9) at our House of Prayer (7AM/7PM) services, we are organizing our "prayer force" into prayer units that will band together for specific deep needs we have. (HOP will begin at 7:10 PM today and next week to accommodate being at the Village for their 30 minute prayer time.)

Gary Burns once shared with me this acrostic—D-U-E—the 3 keys to transformational revival: D-esperation; U-rgency; E-xpectancy. Every story Pavel told modeled these three realities—the people were desperate for God to intervene, their need was urgent, and they fully expected that God could do whatever He wanted. (Don't miss that Cuba story in Pavel's first service sermon!)

What are you desperate for God to do in your life this New Year? What are we desperate for God to do in our lives, in our congregation, in our nation, in our world? Are we desperate enough to prevail in prayer, to persist in praying until God does respond? Are we urgent enough? Do we really believe and expect God to act?

Join us at our winter House of Prayer (every Wednesday at 7:00 AM/PM) here at Pioneer. God has birthed a new vision of persistent, prevailing prayer for us. Now that the baby has arrived, see how quickly and radically this Family acts to accommodate God's vital life changes!

January 2, 2019

Let them exult! The scientists crowded in the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Maryland a few hours ago certainly deserved to be awash in superlatives. And why not!

Over thirteen years ago a small piano-sized spacecraft, christened New Horizons, blasted through Earth's atmosphere to begin its arduous journey to the outer reaches of our solar system. Nine years later in the summer of 2015 this electronic box of beeping instruments blew past Pluto at over 31,000 miles an hour. "The photos New Horizons beamed back then were the most detailed ever captured not just of the former planet, but the outer solar system" (

But deeper and deeper New Horizons kept probing. Until yesterday, New Year's Day 2019, this marvel of scientific prowess shot past (at a speed of nine miles per second) a mysterious object in the distant Kuiper Belt—a region of ice and rocks considered the final zone of the solar system. They named the object "Ultima Thule" (an ancient cartographer expression meaning "beyond the known world"). Beyond indeed—in fact 4.1 billion miles beyond Earth—the farthest reach any man-made probe has ever achieved.

"'We set a record! Never before has a spacecraft explored something so far away,' New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said after the flyby today (Jan. 1). 'I mean, think of it. We're a billion miles further than Pluto, and now we're going to keep going into the Kuiper Belt'" (

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse telegraphed the first official Morse code message from Washington D.C. to Baltimore. The reply simply read, "What hath God wrought." With data now transmitting from New Horizons at 1000 bits/second from 4.1 billion miles away, what would they be telegraphing today!

In a time of great crisis, Daniel undertook a three-week modified fast for prayer. Twenty-one days later Gabriel appeared to Daniel with these words: "'Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them'" (Daniel 10:12). Did it take three weeks of prayer for Daniel to be heard? No, the angel is clear, "You were heard instantly." But Gabriel goes on to explain that "a great war" had delayed his appearance to Daniel for "twenty-one days" until Michael the Prince arrived on the field of battle, freeing Gabriel to hurry to the side of Daniel (vv 13-14).

Over 4.1 billion miles? Considerably—though who can know how far it is from the throne room of God to your humble prayer closet? But what we can know this New Year is that the almighty Creator of this universe—who wrote the scientific laws that govern the cosmos and made New Horizons' discoveries possible—is the Intelligent Designer of prayer—the spiritual telemetry that instantaneously connects our thinking minds and His loving heart. No wonder the spiritual giants of the race have taught us to "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Think of the angels unleashed all because you whispered your prayer to the ear of your Father.

As the story of Daniel reminds us, "The prayer of a human being can alter history by releasing legions of angels into the earth. If we really grasped this truth, we would pray with intensity, and we would pray constantly" (John Dawson Taking Our Cities for God 140, emphasis supplied). Because the promise is clear: "If you will find voice and time to pray, God will find time and voice to answer" (Ellen White Review and Herald April 1, 1890).

So wouldn't a fitting resolution for this New Year be to explore and experience "new horizons" in our prayer walk with God? After all like Daniel we too live in a time of "great war," we too need instant intervention. So why not learn to daily breathe a running conversation with God—your lips to His ears, His lips to your ears?

Prayer isn't rocket science—it's simply constant contact with mission control.

December 19, 2018

This is not a story about Santa Claus falling asleep on his sleigh. First of all, none of us believes in Santa Claus. Secondly, how could you possibly fall asleep while piloting your flying reindeer around the world! And third, this story's true.

Having just survived a personal crisis with paid leave, a commercial pilot (unnamed and understandably so) checked back in to work with his company Vortex Air (Melbourne, Australia). He was glad to be back, and they were glad to have him.

This morning (6:20) his assignment is to fly a payload of freight from Devonport City on the island of Tasmania 155 miles northwest to King Island in the Bass Strait. As he straps into his twin-propeller Piper PA-31 Navajo Chieftain, the pilot runs through the usual pre-flight routines in preparation for his delivery. All systems are go, the control tower signals he is cleared for takeoff, and our commercial pilot is soon roaring up the run way and into the blue heavens. So far, so good.

When you fly commercial freight, there aren't a whole lot of options for conversation. No flight attendants because there are no passengers, just stuffed boxes. What's more these small puddle jumpers don't even require a second pilot aboard, given the shorter flights that deliver the goods. Christmastime or not, the packages must still be flown in. He knows the drill.

What he doesn't know is what happens next.

According to a statement released by the Melbourne based airline, the pilot "unintentionally fell asleep while in command of the aircraft."  "The issue became apparent when air traffic control was unable to contact the pilot in-flight," the statement went on—he was on auto-pilot ( ) .

Air traffic records indicate numerous radio calls were made to the sound-asleep pilot without any response from him. Radar records show he overflew his destination by 29 miles, when he suddenly awakened to discover his dangerous overshot. Switching off auto-pilot our pilot friend circled back to King Island and landed his freight plane without incident.

"'Vortex Air takes the safety of our passengers, crew and pilots extremely seriously and always abide [sic] by all safety procedures,' the airline said. 'This is an extremely rare occurrence, as demonstrated by the company's excellent safety track record,' it added. The company said it was assisting the pilot to 'safely return to full duties'" (ibid).

Needless to say authorities from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority "are investigating the incident and the company's management of pilot fatigue."

Three cheers for the sleepy but now wide awake pilot! After all who of us hasn't fallen asleep at the wheel or on the job?

But one of the melancholy truths tucked deep inside the Christmas story is the obvious reality that the people of the Advent—you know, the ones who for centuries had been reviewing the promises and rehearsing the prophecies of the Messiah's coming—were sadly asleep on the night the Messiah arrived. Running on auto-pilot all these fruitless and now pointless years and sound asleep when the greatest and most spectacular arrival of a Baby in the history of the universe took place, they zzz'ed away their golden opportunity to welcome the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.

"God of heaven, wake us up!" is how the American writer Ellen White once warned of a potentially similar debacle brewing today (Last Day Events 26). "Surely, not I, Lord!" "Not me, Jesus, not me!" And of course, none of us could ever fall victim to the same dark enemy's same dark bewitchment: sound asleep when Messiah comes.

And the good news is we don't have to. We can have the same gift the Messiah had when He was with us! "He wakens Me morning by morning, wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed" (Isaiah 50:4). Need to be aroused and awakened to the reality of the times in which we are living? Me, too. Then why not this Christmas ask God for this extraordinary gift of divine awakening, morning by morning, His voice calling us to begin the day with Him—alert, awake and ready for action.

Here's His promise: "Those who place themselves under God's control, to be led and guided by Him, will catch the steady tread of the events ordained by Him to take place" (Last Day Events 15).

No auto-pilot, no sound asleep. This New Year grant us ears to hear the footsteps of our approaching God.

November 28, 2018

Amazon used to be a gargantuan river with anaconda and piranhas and scary dark forests. Not anymore! Thanks to a record setting five days of holiday sales, Amazon (the online store we all love to shop) is trumpeting new numbers to prove its global dominance.

CBS News reported on Tuesday: "Amazon said Cyber Monday and Black Friday were the biggest shopping days in its history. The online retail giant didn't disclose sales figures, but it said customers ordered more than 180 million items during the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, adding that the latter was its biggest single shopping day ever." And by the way, Amazon wasn't the only retail winner this year. "Cyber Monday likely hit $7.9 billion in sales across all retailers, making it the biggest online shopping day yet, according to an estimate from Adobe. That represents a roughly 20 percent increase from last year. Online sales for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday likely reached $3.7 billion and $6.2 billion, respectively, Adobe said" ( .

Did you catch that—$9.9 billion of online shopping on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, PLUS another $7.9 billion of online sales for Cyber Monday—which rounds off to a cool $17.8 billion spent online to open the Christmas shopping season. Numbers, by the way, which do not include the billions spent at retail stores over these same five days—numbers that prove what James A. K. Smith describes as "a culture whose civic religion prizes consumption as the height of human flourishing" (Desiring the Kingdom 76).

You go, Amazon and friends!

Maybe the word to be emphasizing right now is the "go" of "You go!" Because charitable gifts in this season of outsized spending on gifts hardly measure up to equivalency. Don't get me wrong—having spent my life working for an institution that is totally (completely, exclusively) dependent on charitable giving—I am a sold-out believer in the spiritual boost God gives the charitable, cheerful givers who keep the church going and growing!

But "go" goes beyond "give." "Go" is what I saw happening a couple Sundays ago when I dropped in on our Harbor of Hope church's pre-Thanksgiving dinner for the inner city of Benton Harbor. There I happened to bump into a police officer and his family who used to worship here at Pioneer but have joined Harbor of Hope in its city mission. I also chatted with a flight attendant, who with her family left Pioneer to join Harbor of Hope to become more involved in a hands-on ministry of compassion and care. That's the "go" I'm thinking about—the "go" of Jesus "into all the world" which includes our depressed inner city 12 miles up the road from this campus.

Don't get me wrong—I'm all for charitable giving (thank you for your generosity to the Boss of the institution I work for)—but I'm realizing that charitable going goes much deeper than a tithe envelope or an offering plate. Going means changing places, abandoning observer status, and plunging into hands-on compassion and caring in a very needy demographic slice of America.

If you'd like to check out this idea of charitable going, drop in on our very attractive Harbor of Hope campus (769 Pipestone St, Benton Harbor, MI 49022) some Sabbath soon, or check out their website ( , or email Pastor Taurus Montgomery who with his family of five leads the congregation and community (

"Charitable going"—two words that summarize the story line of Christmas. Because just like Jesus, charitable goers go to where action and need intersect—usually near the intersection of a city near you.

You go!

November 14, 2018

The mind-numbing speed with which the wildfire they are calling Camp Fire ravaged Paradise, California, is almost incomprehensible. At one point, observers reported, the inferno was torching the equivalent of one football field of ground every second for 90 minutes! That's 10,000 acres consumed in an hour and a half. If the fire's velocity were in a straight line, it would be traveling across the ground at 300 feet/second—or 204 miles per hour. It is no wonder the flames were almost unbeatable. In this town of 20,000, more than 6,700 structures were reduced to ash in a matter of minutes.

Mayor Jody Jones told a reporter: "'It's pretty devastating. It's huge. I would say 90 percent of our homes are gone. The entire town council lost their homes, half of our police department, most of our town administrative staff, just about every friend I know'" ( Fire chief David Hawks, who grew up in the town, described their efforts to contain the onslaught: "'I got into my firefighting gear and immediately responded to Pentz Road, which was where the fire was first reported in Paradise. As you can picture a snow blizzard, it's just an ember blizzard. And all those embers were pelting homes and pelting the ground'" (ibid).

Forty-eight deaths from the Camp Fire are now reported, with scores of individuals still missing.

Also lost in the firestorm was the Paradise Seventh-day Adventist church, the homes of the pastoral leadership team, the kindergarten through fourth-grade section of Paradise Academy, and the lower level of the Feather River Adventist Health hospital in Paradise. Newly arrived Paradise pastor Steve Hamilton, on the church website, writes: "All our staff members and the vast majority of our church family have lost their homes. If you need to contact the church office, please understand that we may not be able to respond as quickly as we might like"

But stamped across the church's homepage in fiery letters is #ParadiseStrong. Pastor Hamilton notes: "Though the physical attributes of our earthly Paradise are destroyed, the spirit of Paradise has spread across the country and around the world, as people are moved to volunteer resources to help. Despite the loss, we recognize that we're also blessed by the kindness and generosity of others" (ibid).

What can we, a half a nation away, do to help? Hamilton again: "In fact, at this point, we have donations of material in excess of what we have resources to distribute. For the immediate future, monetary donations are more useful. You can go direct to our Giving page [on their website], if you like. And course, prayers are always welcome" (ibid).

If you would like to send a donation for the Paradise relief (and rebuilding) effort, here are two suggestions from Mark Woodham, president of the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, on the conference website: (1) donate online ( or (2) text NCCSDA to 77977 to give.

My psalm for the day this Wednesday included these words: "Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Psalm 113:5-7).

Truth be told, this entire civilization is on fire, metaphorically and in California literally. But the tender-hearted Creator of Earth is not unmindful of what His children suffer here below. He needs no binoculars to observe our plight. He is Immanuel, the God who is with us. "In all [your] affliction, [I] am afflicted" (Isaiah 63:9). This is the One who promises to raise the needy "from the ash heap." And while we are all yet far from Paradise (the promised home of God's friends one day)—do not fear the fires that scorch your own heart and life right now. "'When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze,'" is His promise to you spiritually (Isaiah 43:2).

Because with Jesus the best is yet to come. In the words of the English writer John Milton, we will one day move from "Paradise Lost" to "Paradise Regained." And in that penultimate move, we shall know at last the greatest Thanksgiving of all.

November 7, 2018

Guess what. Politics isn’t the only realm preoccupied with winners and losers. So is Scripture. As it turns out, on this morning after the midterm elections across the nation, my summer journey through the Apocalypse ended. Looking back now I must admit, Revelation really is all about winners and losers!

Here’s a short list of them compiled just this morning:

God wins. The triumph of the Lamb of God on Calvary (repeated and reiterated throughout this revealing) is the crimson heart of the divine forever triumph. Over and over again the strong assurance that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet” (Maltbie Babcock) vibrates through the book, and crescendos in the mighty Hallelujah chorus of Revelation 19: “Hallelujah! For the Lord God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory” (19:6-7). No wonder the angelic throngs shouted their praise to Christ our Savior at His inauguration: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12). God wins!

Satan loses. Hands down, big time the “biggest loser” in the Apocalypse is our constant arch nemesis and foe: “. . . but he was defeated . . . the great dragon . . . that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:8-9). Loser! But let’s not taunt him yet. For the divine Voice warns us: “But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath [“filled with fury” NIV], because he knows that his time is short!” (12:12). Nevertheless make no mistake about it, the ending to this brutal cosmic war, “the great controversy,” is unequivocal: “. . . and the devil who had deceived them [and us] was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:10). All the heartache, pain, suffering and death he has inflicted upon us one day will be avenged (6:9-11). Satan loses!

The seven-headed sea beast, the two-horned earth beast, the seven-headed scarlet beast, the prostitute who rides the scarlet beast, and Babylon lose. I.e., the satanic trinity’s reign of terror just before the collapse of history will be crushed by the returning Christ—defeated, obliterated forever and ever. As the Apocalypse loudly pronounces: “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (17:14). And who are these who conquer with the Lamb?

The Bride wins. The wildly glad tidings that peal through Revelation is that the Bride of Christ—and in this book the church of Jesus is distinguished through a series of monikers: the servants of Jesus Christ (1:1), those who overcome (chapters 2-3), the 144,000 (7:1-8), the innumerable “great multitude” of the saved (7:9-10), the remnant of the woman’s offspring (12:17), the saints (13:10), those who “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (14:12), “those who had conquered the beast and its image” (15:2), the “called and chosen and faithful” (17:14), “My people” (18:4), the Bride of the Lamb (19:7), the priests and kings of God (1:6, 5:10, 20:6), and the New Jerusalem (21:9-10)—at long last the Bride of Christ wins! And to “roar of many waters and the sound of mighty peals of thunder”, the Bride—the people of God robed in “fine linen, bright and pure” (19:8)—takes her place at the marriage supper table of the Lamb (19:6-9). She wins because He won!

I plan to be there—how about you? Too preposterous, too prideful an ambition and prayer? Not at all. Never forget this Book of winners and losers ends with the divine secret to winning: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (22:20-21).

The Bible’s last words: Lord Jesus . . . grace . . . Amen. You win!