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Monday, March 23, 2020 - 21:26

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

August 21, 2019

The national press—perhaps looking for one last “lazy hazy” summer vacation headline—has seized on the “Greenland for Sale” story. Turns out American presidents have given serious thought to purchasing the “largest island in the world.” In 1946 President Truman quietly explored procuring that icy kingdom from Denmark and actually offered $100 million for it. Its strategic location between this country and the Soviet Union in the Cold War made it a tempting piece of real estate. 

Moreover, while the populace of this Danish outpost is only a little over 56,000 and the frigid landscape forbidding, the reality is “Greenland is part of the Arctic and it's estimated that 13% of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of its undiscovered gas lies under the Arctic. . . . There is also believed to be vast mineral resources underground in Greenland, with mining opportunities for coal, zinc, copper and iron ore—among others” (

So when President Trump a few days ago floated the idea of purchasing Greenland from Denmark, turns out he not only had precedent, he was serious. But the subsequent brouhaha by Danish politicians and press apparently has pushed this story off the radar screen, at least for now.

Wouldn’t it be something if somehow the inhabitants of this planet could make a purchase offer for Heaven! While it’s true, the Owner of that real estate has breathed not even a hint his Kingdom is for sale, nevertheless, the novelty of such a massive procurement is strangely enticing.

It certainly was enticing, once upon a long-ago time when a rebel prince in the Kingdom instigated an open revolt against the Owner of Heaven. Skipping the ensuing details of the rebel’s maniacal fury and frenzy, here we all are—inhabitants of the rebel’s small world he now trashes with havoc and carnage as if there were no tomorrow.

And yet—believe it or not—it turns out the Owner of Heaven (aka the Creator of the universe) undertook the single greatest risk ever attempted by (1) being birthed into the fallen race, (2) going hand to hand in mortal conflict with the dark prince, and (3) eventually offering up his life and throne to purchase back his hostage children “which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:18). The magnitude of that sacrificial purchase will be the lore of song and story for eternity.
“Both the redeemed [purchased back] and the unfallen beings will find in the cross of Christ their science and their song. It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self-sacrificing love. In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven” (Desire of Ages 19).

Is Heaven for sale? No. But you and I were. And the greatest headline of all is that we’ve been bought back forever—for sale no longer.

August 14, 2019

Last Thursday a mysterious nuclear explosion at a northern Russian military offshore base sent the world into jitters. In the intervening days, the Russian government has slowly broken its silence by disclosing hints as to what transpired. 

“A radiation increase four to 16 times above normal background levels occurred in the nearby town of Severodvinsk after the incident, according to news agency TASS” ( 

Furthermore “the Thursday blast on the coast of the White Sea in Nyonska killed five scientists with Russia’s nuclear agency, which later confirmed they were testing new weapons. More victims were hospitalized” ( 

“Asked to comment on the conflicting reports and concerns about the consequences for the local population, [Kremlin spokesman Dmitry] Peskov said: ‘I have nothing to add beyond what I stated. ... I can just assure you that in such a situation all the competent agencies do everything to assure the safety of the citizens of the Russian Federation is fully provided’” (

Beyond the nuclear geo-political realities this headline represents, are there any lessons to draw from the story for ordinary people like you and me? How about these three?

Lesson 1—stuff happens fast. It’s the story of our lives in this nanosecond world, isn’t it? For the five hapless scientists going about their daily professional duties, one explosive second tragically snuffed out their lives, their bright minds. And spouses, children, and families are left devastated. Stuff happens fast anymore. No wonder the Bible warns its readers about the impending Day of the Lord: “For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). Life happens . . . stuff happens . . . even the end happens fast! Be vigilant, stay awake.

Lesson 2—openness is the best policy. There isn’t a government around that enjoys disclosing bad news to its citizens and the world. But the piecemeal release of information only raises the level of distrust, as we all have learned. Want to cultivate trust with people? Then be open, be honest. “Everything that Christians do should be as transparent as the sunlight” (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings 68). “Transparent as the sunlight”—that is sage counsel for us all—governments, institutions, and churches included.

Lesson 3—it’s good to be radioactive. The nuclear threat, of course, is not only instantaneous devastation but also long-term radioactive contamination. But in the spiritual realm that's actually very good news. Because radioactive contagion was the secret to the New Testament faith community, was it not? A band of eleven disciples becomes an upper room of 120 (Acts 1:15), and to them are subsequently added 3000 believers (Acts 2:41) and then 5000 (Acts 4:4) and then “myriads” (Acts 21:20, GK muriades “tens of thousands”). Their secret? At their daily request, the resurrected Christ so infused their lives that when they daily moved through their world, they were actually “radioactive” (or contagious) with Jesus' self-sacrificing love. 

Truth is people respond to a caring, loving individual. Didn’t Jesus promise that radioactive “contamination”—“Let your let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)? “By this all will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Radioactive with the very force the world is desperate for—unselfish love.

So in a few days why not join with the others in our “Bring a Friend to Church Day” August 31? No lengthy Bible studies to give in advance, no having to offer something distasteful—instead simply your friendly, “We’re moving back into our newly renovated church, and I’d like to invite you to join us August 31. Our pastor’s sharing a new series, 'Roommates, Bad Dates and Soul Mates’—it's about how to grow a lasting relationship with people. Here’s a printed invitation. Love to have you come!” Grab a handful of invitations at worship this Sabbath, and with your smile pass them on to neighbors, colleagues, and friends.

Radioactive for Jesus—and why not! Stuff happens fast. And who can say how long your opportunity will last. So I say, Let’s do it now.​

August 7, 2019

I read a piece the other day that was so good (IMHO) I’m sharing it with you. Kim Johnson wrote a short article for challenging one of the most uncomfortable subjects for people in my community of faith. Let me quote a few lines and summarize his conclusions—in hopes you might be in agreement.

“The words 'evangelism'and ‘witnessing’ have become so terribly distorted that they need to be discarded. They engender so much anxiety, fear, and guilt that they are no longer useful. They too often conjure up images of sweaty hands knocking on strangers’ doors asking if they want Bibles studies. They are too often equated with impassioned evangelists preaching through the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. What should be an expansive topic has become terribly imbalanced, narrowed, and constricted.”

He is quick to point out, “I am certainly not saying we should no longer engage in outreach. Far from it!” It’s these two words that trip us. “You can come up with your own replacement terms for ‘evangelism’ and ‘witnessing.’ I kind of like ‘Christlike love.’ Whatever term you choose, it needs to convey a sense of joy, fulfillment, and adventure.”

He then plunges into describing a fresh paradigm for sharing your faith. Imagine a straight line (go to his article for a helpful graphic), from zero to 100. He calls it a “Spiritual Interest Line”—i.e., a progression to show how “the Holy Spirit moves people forward through our deeds of love and kindness.” So, zero represents no spiritual interest in that person’s mind. You try to engage that individual in a spiritual conversation, there is no response—they’re not there yet. But further up the line (say at 20) a Christian caring for them when they are sick begins to awaken perhaps a slight openness to spiritual realities. Further up the line (say at 40) you invite that individual to go with you to a ballgame and that act of friendliness perhaps opens the spiritual interest door even wider. Then at the 60 marker you offer to pray for them—nothing heroic, but they are receptive to your gesture, and the spiritual interest door opens wider. 

Here’s where it gets interesting. It is when the individual is at the 95 marker on that spiritual interest line that there is an openness in the mind/heart of that person for spiritual conversation and/or exploration. “From 0 to 94, spiritual interest may be growing within their heart, but they do not yet feel any conscious need for God. At 95, they sense an inner longing for something more in life and are looking for spiritual direction and guidance.” And the 100 marker on this interest line represents the individual accepting Christ as their personal Savior.

Now Kim Johnson zeroes in on a handful of lessons we can draw from this spiritual interest line. 

Lesson #1—“I cannot create spiritual interest any more than I can create life. Both are completely up to the Holy Spirit. The only thing I can do is discover what the Spirit is already doing in someone’s life.” How easy for us to mistakenly conclude it is our responsibility before God to engender interest in spiritual things in our neighbors, colleagues or friends. Nope, says Kim Johnson. That’s the Holy Spirit’s mission—who may be on a very different time line than we are.

Thus Lesson #2—“It is the Holy Spirit who moves people forward along that line. He does that through the love and kindness shown by His followers to those within their sphere of influence. Our deeds of love do not create interest, they are the raw material the Spirit uses, just like a potter uses the clay to create beautiful art.” This is starting to make sense!

Lesson #3—“I don’t have to be the entire process. The Spiritual Interest Line is like a chain with many links. When someone accepts Christ, it may seem to be the work of a moment, but, in fact, it is the result of a long 'chain of circumstances ‘ that brought them to that point.” Then he uses this helpful illustration: “You might visualize a pitcher being filled with water, drop by drop. There will eventually come one drop that causes the water inside to spill out the spout. Suppose we equate the moment it spills over to a person whose spiritual interest hits 95 and they become conscious of a need for God. That is usually the moment we highlight in our Union Papers. But let me ask you, which drop of water was the most important? Of course they were all important and should all be equally valued. Every link in the Spiritual Interest Line is just as important as any other. Even if no one in leadership notices, God does.” To which I say, Amen!

Lesson #4—“I should relate to people according to where they are on the Spiritual Interest Line. It is not helpful to relate to someone who is at 33 as if they are at 97. Likewise, it is just as inappropriate to relate to someone who is at 97 as if they are at 33.” But notice how he develops this lesson: “I have often heard people debate whether it is enough to simply live a godly life, or do we have to actually talk to people about God? The answer is not either/or. We simply have to do what is appropriate for where people are at the time. Prior to 95, people will usually have little interest in ‘Bible talk,’ so loving deeds are our most effective response. From 95 onward, a person is eager to learn from scripture and does not need to be manipulated or convinced.” Think about that!

Let’s face it—we aren’t all alike. So here’s one more of Kim’s lessons: “Different personalities and Spiritual Gifts can relate more easily to different parts of the Spiritual Interest Line. For instance, some introverts may feel more comfortable helping others by doing things behind the scenes whereas an extrovert might prefer more direct, personal, one-on-one engagement. A person with the Spiritual Gift of 'Helps' will be great at doing specific tasks for those at 1 to 94 whereas someone with the gift of ‘Teaching' or ‘Evangelism' may want to specialize in working with those at 95 to 100. God wants each of us to reach out through who He has made us to be. No guilt. No fear.” (See for the full article.)

Wow—this makes sense, doesn’t it? 

It certainly fits with our new “Bring a Friend to Church” strategy! (Be sure to read Pastor Rodlie’s piece in this eLetter all about the unique Pioneer event coming Sabbath, August 31, in our renovated sanctuary.) It isn’t about finding people 95 and up on the spiritual interest line. Rather “Bring a Friend to Church” is about inviting people you’ve become friendly with over the weeks and months past—people in the neighborhood, in the dormitory, in the work place—who may not be open to Jesus but who are open to you.

You can use an invitation as simple as this: “Hey, we’re pretty excited about the summer-long renovation of our Pioneer church. We’re celebrating the new season with a new series of presentations our pastor’s having—all about growing the most important relationships in our lives. It’s called, 'Roommates, Bad Dates and Soul Mates.’ Here’s a card that describes it. I’d love to have you come. In fact, I’d be glad to pick you up Saturday morning, August 31.” That’s it.

Make the invite. And let the Holy Spirit do the impressing. It really is that simple.

So read Pastor Rodlie’s piece, pray for the Spirit to open the way for you to invite three of your friends or neighbors, and a week or so before August 31, make the invite. After all, the Bible ends with an invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!' And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). Let’s join God in His friendly “Come” all over this community!

June 26, 2019

Once upon a time, there was a man of prayer very agitated about events in Iran. Technically it wasn’t Iran—but it may as well have been—given the headlines we’re living with these days. Two recent oil tanker sabotages and the subsequent Iranian missile take-down of an unmanned U.S. military drone somewhere over the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf region—along with the saber-rattling in Tehran and Washington—have once again stirred up talk of an all-out Middle East conflagration. And the fact that “nearly a third of all seaborne-traded oil and almost 20% of all crude produced globally” passes through that 21-mile wide water corridor only stokes war concerns (

But then Iran—or should we say the land of the ancient Persian empire—has always been notorious for its military prowess and power. Which was precisely why the man of prayer in that long ago story undertook that twenty-one day modified fast. But what’s intriguing today is to analyze the global events while Daniel was praying.

“In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia [modern Iran], a revelation was given to Daniel. . . Its message was true and concerned a great war” (Daniel 10:1).

Some worries never change. And the idea of a “great war” exploding out of that volatile region has precipitated prayers throughout the millennia, including Daniel’s three-week prayer vigil.

At the end of the three weeks (scholars calculate that it was on a Sabbath day), while Daniel is in prayer he is granted a theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ—“a man dressed in linen . . . his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches . . . and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (vv 5-6). Daniel’s instant reaction—“I had no strength, my face turned deathly pale . . . and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground” (vv 8-9).

But when he feels a hand on his shoulder, Daniel awakens. And now it is the angel Gabriel who addresses him. “‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. 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.’” But notice what has delayed Gabriel. “‘But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes [Jacques Doukhan translation, “the chief prince” or “Prince of princes” (see 8:25)], came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future’” (vv 12-14).

Who is this dark prince of Persia who resists Gabriel and even the pre-incarnate Christ? None other than our age-old nemesis, the Apocalypse’s dragon, “that old serpent called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).

Which makes you wonder—could it be the very same personages of power are still battling for control or loyalty across this planet in the midst of all our headlines? Not just in the Middle East, of course, but in every city and village and hamlet on earth?

“As a people we do not understand as we should the great conflict going on between invisible agencies, the controversy between loyal and disloyal angels. Evil angels are constantly at work, planning their line of attack, controlling as commanders, kings, and rulers, the disloyal human forces. . . . We must pray as did Daniel, that we may be guarded by heavenly intelligences. . . . Pray, my [friends], pray as you have never prayed before. We are not prepared for the Lord’s coming. We need to make thorough work for eternity” (4BC 1173).

If that was true for the time of Daniel . . . if it was true for the time of Ellen White . . . then in the face of this even greater, more intense endgame war today, shouldn’t we, too, be clearing the decks spiritually to call on God to intervene like never before?

June 19, 2019

There has been a proliferation of shark attacks this year off the coast of North Carolina—which recorded only three attacks in 2018 and already has had three attacks this month alone. Some suggest global warming is pushing these predators of the sea beyond their familiar waters. Others say it’s the normal ebb and flow of human-meets-shark episodes.

But one story being told and retold is of 17-year-old Paige Winter, who with her family on June 2 was frolicking in the waters of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Here’s how one of her surgeons, Dr. Eric Toschlog, described it: "'On a picturesque afternoon at a pristine beach on the crystal coast of North Carolina, the life of a 17-year-old young woman was irrevocably changed. Paige Winter, standing with her siblings in waist-deep water, was attacked by a shark. The devastating injury to her left leg, which included the severing of the major artery and vein supplying the leg, would likely take her life. But in the ensuing minutes, Paige received the heroism of love and a simple tourniquet'" (

At a press conference along with Paige’s team of physicians, Dr. Toschlog recounted the split seconds that followed: "'Her father witnessed the attack, watching his daughter disappear beneath the surface in a swirl of bloody water. He dove into the water, found her, took her into his arms and lifted her out of the water. Still attached to her left leg was what he described as a "very big" shark. He proceeded to pummel the shark with his fists until it let go and then struggled to the beach with Paige in his arms, telling her that he loved her, bearing witness to the damage to her leg but unaware of the shark following close behind.'"

On the beach, a bystander witnessed the drama, rushed forward to assist Paige’s father and applied a tourniquet to the teen's left thigh. 9-1-1. Helicopter airlift to Vidant Medical Center. The trauma team was waiting. "'I have seen dozens of mangled extremities in my career, but this injury, suffered by a 17-year-old simply having a beach day with her family, was heartbreaking. It never gets easier. The decision to amputate is never easy, but tragically there was no decision to be made. She underwent massive blood product resuscitation and amputation of her left leg at mid-thigh,'" Toschlog recounted. "'Simultaneously, our plastic surgeons began work on her hands. In subsequent days, Paige underwent multiple additional surgeries on her hands and has done extraordinarily well. She will be discharged to rehabilitation within the next week.'"

One brave girl and a story for the ages. But of all that was spoken at the news conference, to me, the most profound was Dr. Toschlog’s observation: "'The real heroes in this story are a loving father and mother, a volunteer on a beach and a truly amazing young woman. Paige was saved by a simple piece of any trauma system, a tourniquet. But in reality, she was saved by something vastly more powerful. . . . Paige is alive as a result of one of the strongest forces that I have encountered in 20 years as a trauma surgeon, surpassing any medical technology. She was saved by love, the love of a father for his daughter'" (ibid).

"Saved by love—the love of a father for his daughter."

Paige’s story is our story, isn’t it? Ravaged by the predator of us all, nearly dead in the water, is there no one who can save us? "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). The self-sacrificing love of a Father for his children.

"The love of the Father, no less than of the Son, is the foundation of salvation for the lost race" (Great Controversy 416).

Which is why every day is Father’s Day—and every eternity will be one we owe to his love. Forever.

June 5, 2019

The western world pauses this week to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Normandy Invasion remembered today as D-Day. In June 1944, World War 2, considered by many to be the bloodiest war in history, raged on the twin fronts of Europe and Asia. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in secret collaboration with the Allies of the United Kingdom and Canada, had crafted an air and amphibious assault along a forty-mile stretch of beaches in northern France (Operation Overlord) that became that largest naval attack ever. In the early hours of June 6 came the assault by air, by sea and by land.

“It is hard to conceive the epic scope of this decisive battle that foreshadowed the end of Hitlers [sic] dream of Nazi domination. Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. The landing included over 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and over 150,000 servicemen. After years of meticulous planning and seemingly endless training, for the Allied Forces, it all came down to this: The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run, and crawl to the cliffs. Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell. When it was over, the Allied Forces had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties; more than 4,000 were dead. Yet somehow, due to planning and preparation, and due to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces, Fortress Europe had been breached” (

This week the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and the United States (along with eleven other nations) gathered on the windswept green bluff above Omaha Beach (the bloodiest of the assaults). Nearby is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where lie the white Latin crosses and stars of David of 9,388 American soldiers who perished.

In the realm of the cosmic war (“the great controversy”) still raging across the earth, could D-Day be a theological metaphor? If so what would it represent? Would D-Day be the birth of our Lord Jesus, as C. S. Lewis (during WW2) described it: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” (Mere Christianity 51)?

Or would D-Day more fittingly represent the triumphant death of Jesus on the cross? Describing that moment, Ellen White wrote: “In the Saviour's expiring cry, 'It is finished,’ the death knell of Satan was rung. The great controversy which had been so long in progress was then decided, and the final eradication of evil was made certain” (Great Controversy 503).

Or yet what about his resurrection or his soon return to earth as King of kings and Lord of Lords? How could either glorious triumph not fulfill the mighty D-Day metaphor for the universe! Here is Jesus’ own description of his return: “'Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other’” (Matthew 24:30-31). D-Day for the human race—but of course!

The truth is, every critical phase of God’s warfare to save the embattled human race is but another chapter out of the playbook of Heaven’s Supreme Commander, Jesus Christ. And who can’t notice that every advancing battle escalates the war and in fact advances the divine victory? First Bethlehem. Then Nazareth. Then Calvary. Then the empty tomb. Then the heavenly Sanctuary. And then the spectacular fiery theophany of the returning Christ witnessed by every eye in the universe! D-Day climax, D-Day supreme—call it what we will—the truth is that every hope within the human heart is but a longing (more often a sobbing) for the ultimate we have yet to experience.

How can we sit on such gloriously glad tidings? Rhetorical question. We can’t! Jesus is coming soon! And we have a world to warn and friends and neighbors to reach. We laud the ultimate sacrifice that tens of thousands of soldiers paid for freedom. But we bow most deeply before the crimson sacrifice our Lord and God himself paid to storm the enemy’s last bastions, to liberate the prisoners of war. 

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

D-Day—because the best is yet to come!

May 15, 2019

A couple of my story scouts spotted this piece out of St. Augustine, Florida—and I think it’s a perfect one for the big people (i.e., older than children). Two 17-year-olds—Tyler Smith and Heather Brown—were enjoying senior skip-day to the max a week ago. Students at Christ’s Church Academy and soaking up the sun, the two teens lazily floated just offshore at Vilano Beach.

Well, you know how it goes—two kids happily caught up in each other’s company with sea and sun surrounding them—who’s keeping track of where they’re drifting? Turns out strong undercurrents were pulling the two out to sea. By the time they realized their danger, they were too far from shore to be heard.

Try as they might, they couldn’t reverse course against the stiff current that hurried them further out. And so the teens held on to each other. And prayed. And prayed. And God bless them, somehow they managed to not panic and stay afloat, even as the swirling undertow dragged them farther and farther. By now they are two miles out to sea!

Did I mention they were praying? Who wouldn’t be?

That’s when Eric Wagner and his boat crew spotted the teens in the distance, bobbing atop the waves. As his vessel motored closer, crew members leaned over the side and strong arms pulled the swimmers to safety.

Oh, what a relief it is! Two young lives saved. Their prayers answered. By a boat called the Amen—no kidding—Amen.

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you; and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). Amen.

Wesley Duewel observes: “The most important measure of prayer is not its length but its depth; not its beautiful words but its intensity. It is not necessarily a matter of how many hours you pray, but how intensely you pray when you do pray. There is a dynamic of perseverance—prayer must often be continued at some length, but whether short or long, let your prayer be fervent.” (Mighty Prevailing Prayer 76) Amen.

And what catalyzes intense, fervent prayer? A sense of imminent danger, the recognition of desperate need. How do you suppose those teens prayed?

How does God respond to such intensity? “When a man [or woman] breathes an intensely earnest prayer to God (Jesus Christ is the only name given under heaven whereby we can be saved), there is in that intensity and earnestness a pledge from God that He is about to answer that prayer exceeding abundantly, above all that we can ask or think. . . . Unwearyingly persist in prayer. God does not say, Pray once, and I will answer you. His word is pray, be instant in prayer, believing you have the things you ask, and you shall receive them; I will answer you.” (Ellen White Prayer 72) Amen.

But whatever you do, don’t reserve prayer for trouble! If prayer is talking to God as a friend, then let your day flow with mini-conversations—in the midst of hectic life, in the middle of a dark night—pray. And let the benediction of God be your Amen! day and night.

Pray. And pray. And guess what—your Rescuer will be named Amen, too (Revelation 3:14)!

May 8, 2019

So who was your father? “A wandering Aramean”? Most of our forefathers (if you go back far enough in our family trees) were “wandering Arameans” of sorts, weren’t they? Exiles, nomads, immigrants, transnationals, wanders, et al. Until today we are a world of wanderers’ children.

Days before his death, Moses instructed the children of Israel proper protocol once they occupied the Promised Land (without him): “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, . . . you shall make response before the Lord your God [in worship at the sanctuary], ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous’” (Deuteronomy 26:1-50). 

“A wandering Aramean was my father [and my mother]."

Not so an inappropriate a confession to articulate in worship before God. “I am a wander and the child of wanderers.” 

Truth is—thanks to sin’s fracturing we are a race of wanders—rudely cut off from one another—not only fragmented geographically, but technologically isolated from each other in existentially empty cyberspace—wandering electronically from relationship to relationship, unfulfilled and sadly too often unloved, exiled at times from even our own biological kin and more like strangers to even our dearest friends. We are wanderers—all—through our allotted days, seeking for a remedy (of what who can be sure?), healing perhaps for our peripatetic spirits.

James A. K. Smith, the Calvin College philosopher, rattles off the dispirited lyrics of Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” (quoted in How Not to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor 66-67):

I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes,
Unique in each way you can see.
And now, after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me.
But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be.
I’ll get back to you someday soon, you will see.
What’s my name; what’s my station?
Oh just tell me what I should do. 

“A wandering Aramean was my father.” But that's no reason for angst.

For the God of some of our fathers and mothers is the same God who promises their wandering children: “And the LORD has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised” (Deuteronomy 26:18). “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).

Mercy for the wanderers. A community for the people-less, the dispossessed. Exiles once. And still, wanderers to be sure. Yet embedded in our deepest intuitions, in promises ancient but fresh, remains the premonition that one day we will cross over—into Promised Land—and at last, discover Home. Next door to God.

“A wandering Aramean was my father.” No more.

May 1, 2019

In front of this church where graduation exercises transpire stands a bronze statue of the university namesake, John Nevins Andrews. The skilled work of sculptor Allan Collins, this replica of the Seventh-day Adventist church's first scholar and missionary is shaped with extended arm and hand pointing outward to a world beyond the church.

For years now pinned to the wall of my study is this quotation from J. N. Andrews: "I know of but one way: find a field of labor, ask God to help, take off your coat, and pitch into the work." What is compelling about his personal mission statement is its tacit recognition that most of life (if not all of it) is simply a series of personal choices that reflect opinions and aspirations that are uniquely yours. What someone else considers a fantastic opportunity for career fulfillment or professional advancement might to you seem pedestrian and unappealing. Conversely, an opportunity others might declare unimaginative or so-dead-end might, in fact, be the high voltage that ignites your imagination and compels you to go.

But where does God want me to go? Note carefully the sequence in Andrews' lifework mantra: first, you find a place on earth where a great need matches your life quest; then ask the God who has already gifted you to help you serve Him there (in that village, that city, that wherever).

But is that modus operandi the way God really operates? It is precisely what He promised a new leader on graduation day long ago: "'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go'" (Joshua 1:9 emphasis supplied). When God promises "wherever you go," He means—"you choose, I bless . . . you go, I accompany."

Stunning, isn't it? Andrews was right. I.e., you pick the opportunity, you choose the field—and then asking God to help you, you pitch in to alleviate the human need in front of you. The graduate who spends her days calculating her move and choreographing her future will be of little help in a world so desperately in need right now.

So as you march out of this church for the last time, do yourself and God a favor. Glance one more time at the statue. It still speaks. And its hand is still pointing you to the way.

April 24, 2019

Just in time to conclude our mini-series, "How to Survive the Coming Economic Crisis," comes a headline warning of the mounting student loan crisis. (Spoiler alert—before you despair, practical counsel for managing those educational debts follows below.)

According to NBC News, the total student loan debt in this country now stands at $1.47 trillion (more than credit card and auto debt), with one in 5 Americans carrying student loan debt. Notice though a new shift in demographics: "Most Americans with student debt are young. But adults 60 and older — who either struggled to pay off their own loans or took on debt for their children or grandchildren — are the fastest-growing age cohort among student loan borrowers. The number of Americans over the age of 60 with student loan debt has more than doubled in the last decade" (

How big are the loans?

• The average monthly payments on student loans range from $200 to $300 (according to the Federal Reserve).

• More than 75% of borrowers owe less than $50,000.

• "The national default rate, a U.S. Department of Education measurement of the number of borrowers who start repayment, then default in the next two to three years, was 10.8 percent among those who started repayment in 2015, the most recent data available" (ibid).

So is defaulting on a student loan the answer? Hardly. Penalties for defaulting are steep and include garnished wages and tax refunds taken. But there's "good" news. "For borrowers who can't afford to make their regular payment, the government offers payment plans that are tied to their household income" (ibid). Unfortunately fewer than 20 percent of borrowers participate in these plans.

To paraphrase Paul, "Who will deliver me from this body of [debt]?" (Romans 7:24). But do not despair!

Instead, check out the practical strategies NerdWallet offers for paying off student loans, including their student loan payoff calculator ( Good Financial Cents promises help: "Here are 9 of the best strategies from recent grads you can use to pay off your student debts sooner and move on with your life!" ( Help is out there—you don't have to drag this ball and chain forever—so seek help now.

But the most significant financial principle of all isn't listed in most website debt solutions. Jesus offers this divine counsel: "'But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well'" (Matthew 6:33).

Who more than God desires our financial peace? Then surely the One "who's got the whole world in His hands" already has a solution in mind to take care of you, too . . . if you'll seek Him first. "Make Me the C-suite leader (CEO and CFO) of your life, and let Me open for you 'the floodgates of heaven' (Malachi 3:10)!" What an offer! Cheerfully make Him your first financial priority, "and all these things will be given to you as well."

A century and a half ago John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, and philanthropist remarked: "I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 a week." The best time to begin making God first in your life is not when your debts are paid, when your finances are strong, when your needs have been met—the best time to make God first is right now!