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Saturday, November 14, 2020 - 00:29

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Jan
20
January 20, 2021

While today is Inauguration Day when America’s political transference of executive power shifts from one administration to the next—and I know we all are praying for a safe and orderly transition—I do believe the day will carry on quite well without my opining over it in this blog. Instead, I would like to recognize readers’ responses to last week’s blog, “What Would You Do?” More specifically, how can the community of Christ, the church in fact, effectively respond to the multi-faceted needs of the homeless in our communities across this land? The backstory (you can read the previous blog) is of a homeless woman released from jail a week ago, and my conversations with the public defender and social worker.

The good news is the woman is safely residing now in a woman’s shelter, while formal processes with the county and at least one charitable organization have been initiated.

But that’s the problem, one reader gently chided. Why do congregations “tend to ‘outsource’ to people [serving the state or private charities] who do not regularly attend church nor have an interest in building a deep, lasting relationship with Christ nor serving others”? The reader goes on to suggest congregations use empty or under-utilized church buildings, offer free services (food pantries, basic legal advice, and medical care) provided by volunteers from the faith community. The point—turn to in-church resources to aid those seeking assistance before depending on outside community organizations. 

True, Acts 4 and 5 certainly do corroborate the faith-community-first approach in assisting those in need. But mitigating factors back then included a controversial minority ostracized by the religious and community hierarchy and an absence of any state-provided assistance. You either solicit aid from religious authorities who are seeking to destroy your sect, or you provide it among yourselves, which is the Acts response.

Another reader’s response to homelessness has been to serve “as an active volunteer and board member of two homeless organizations that started with no financial means—only Holy Spirit inspired Christians from several churches asking the same question: what can we do?” God bless this reader and these two start-ups: Interfaith Community PADS (interfaithcommunitypads.in/ifcpwpr48/shelters) and Citizens Concerned for the Homeless (www.sandcastleshelter.org/index.php). Here is an example of Christians defining a critical need and banding together to begin meeting that need. 

An intriguing in-sourcing (sort of) suggestion came from another reader. What if we followed the model of the online email “group” Freecycle, with local chapters in Niles and St Joseph. People with items to give away as well as individuals with specific needs to be filled convene or converge at the Freecycle depot. “What if PMC partnered with N2N [Neighbor to Neighbor, our area Adventist churches' community service center] to create some sort of [similar] online ‘clearinghouse’ where the church could present the church [learns of] to the congregation?”

But is it enough to simply provide for physical or shelter needs? Another reader says No. “A person who is battling their addiction, homelessness, or criminal record needs to be taught how to handle those issues.” “Emotional regulation” and learning coping skills are vital. The reader appeals to remember the intangibles people need—“hope, faith, friendships, skills to handle the negative self-talk or outside stressors.”

I wish I could include all the reader responses I’ve received—stories of heartache from individuals who themselves have had to depend on N2N for assistance to a reader who lost a spouse to spiraling addictions and only now is recovering from the pain of that loss.

How can a blog solve such deep needs? Obviously, blogs only raise awareness of needs. One email response ended with, “When you find the answers, Pastor Dwight, let us all know!” Time-out! This isn’t about me finding the solution. As many have indicated, the solution rests with us collectively. What is clear is we all recognize it isn’t enough to parrot Ebenezer Scrooge’s response to the poor, “Aren’t there enough poor houses to provide for their needs?” It isn’t enough to think our tax dollars are responsible for solving social needs.

No, Jesus reminded us in the last story He ever told, “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, My brothers and sisters, you did it to Me” (see Matthew 25:40). If the truth—the Maker of all things loves and wants me—is the storyline of divine love, then it is the storyline He calls each of us to live out in our own little worlds. A few willing hearts and loving souls can band together to explore and begin to meet the growing need of poverty and homelessness. But it will take a village, or at least a congregation, to put feet to any ideas the Spirit will engender. 

I like the way Tom McCormick put in his email about the homeless organizations he has helped grow: “Let me know what I can do to help get the answer rolling. As you and I well know, be prepared for anything. Working the Monday night 2 AM to 7 AM shift as a chaperone at the Men’s Overnight Homeless Shelter for many years, I can tell you many lines were changed by one bad decision to take the wrong fork in the road.”

Clearly, the solution we seek lies not so much in a plethora of ideas, but in a hardy band of Christ-followers who are willing to serve time on the front line of this desperate need—out of devotion to Jesus and a love for the people the Maker of all things loves and wants. If you are willing to be in that band, please let me know. The Maker of all things thanks you.

And no wonder, for “the last message of mercy to be given to the world is a revelation of God’s character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons 415).

Jan
13
January 13, 2021

The more I think about it, the more I’m concluding the operative question isn’t—What would you do?—but rather—What would Jesus do?

For a few moments let’s leave the trials and tribulations of our nation and its government behind. After all, life much closer to home can be complicated enough, have you noticed?

Take the fifty-year-old woman who's going to be released this afternoon from the Berrien County jail. She’s homeless, has been living out of her car for months—a car impounded for the thirty days she’s been behind bars (a car worth less than the accruing daily charge she now owes the towing company). And she has “no” money. No money, I should say, except the few dollars from disability and quick temp jobs.

She called our number back in early December. We met her at a gas station, filled her car, gave her money for food, and visited for a while. Turns out over the years she’s been to Pioneer worship, sort of a “stranger within your gates” (Exodus 20:10), showing up so sporadically you probably wouldn’t recognize her. But I do—because she is the daughter of my mother’s cousin. I buried both her parents. And now I wonder what it will take to save her from this vortex sucking her down.

Close to midnight that December day she called again. Something about her car broken down and a run-in with the police. Another gas station. We took her to her friend’s place. A few days later the public defender called—the woman was in jail. Some sort of misdemeanor. Could I help? the lawyer asked. I soon was in touch with a social worker assigned to her case.

What a gift from God this social worker has turned out to be! Licensed as she is, she's also a Benton Harbor pastor’s wife. She has scrambled to hunt down every possibility for housing, for public aid, for crisis management, for addiction counseling—the stuff that social workers are gifted to do. She and I met at the jail before Christmas when the bond was posted for the prisoner to be released into the social worker’s care. But a few days later, the social worker called again. Guess who's back in jail once more? The truth is social workers can’t force people to change—and neither can pastors—or even family members. You can outline a strategic recovery plan—but if the helped one torpedoes it, what’s left? More time in jail. 

What I’ve discovered is that the state is hardly equipped to handle the bifurcated realities of citizens who may publicly appear to be living upstanding lives—but who behind their facades are not only physically houseless but emotionally homeless—who have burned their bridges behind them, and their homes, too. So when the judge gavels “you’re free to go”—they have nowhere to go. The homeless of America—struggling with mental health—and ever driving, parking, driving, parking, all they possess crammed into claustrophobic space.

Enter now the church of Christ, the one you and I belong to. What can the church do to come alongside these of whom Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these My sisters, you have done it to me?” (Matthew 25:40). Pray for good social workers? Of course. Pray for the alliances of federal, state, and county legal systems with non-profit mental health services that direct homeless Americans to a path toward healing, or at least help? Good idea. But what about the church?

What can we do? Or rather, what would Jesus do? The story of the infant church in Acts is of a faith community banding together to provide for the welfare of its own. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had . . . [so] there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32-34). For us today this may be less about strategy and more about the process—they collaborated together to meet felt needs. We don’t need a community pot of money—we need a community that owns the needs. 

In this specific case, we turned to people who know the housing situation in our village—and to a person, they were gracious and helpful (including our friends at Neighbor to Neighbor). But what would happen if we had a “bank” of availabilities (everyone says housing is our biggest local challenge), so that in emergencies like this one we could quickly turn for help—available short term housing, renovated automobiles to loan or to give, food-clothing-domestic-supplies (like N2N offers), temporary/part-time job openings, et al. Too big a challenge, too major a response? Maybe not. I wish you’d write me with suggestions you think might work well (nelson@pmchurch.org). There must be something we can do.

But this winter as we explore ways we can fulfill Jesus’ “As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you” mission (John 20:21)—I’m asking the Holy Spirit to open our eyes for fresh ways to put feet to His compassion—so that “the last message of mercy to be given to the world [will truly be] a revelation of God’s character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons 415).

Jan
7
January 7, 2021

That’s the word a friend texted me as the tragic turn of events in our nation’s capitol building unfolded on live television. What is there to say that hasn’t been said? Our hearts break for this land we love—no matter who we are or how we voted. 

Turns out NPR’s observation we are facing a dark winter, is truer than first thought. Yes, of course, the darkness that has spread over this land because of the still raging COVID-19 pandemic is terrible. Now add to it our hearts freshly broken—what is there to say that hasn’t been said?

Plenty—as it turns out. Because you and I have discovered a story, a portrait, a message one writer described this way: “The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of [God’s] character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons 415).

In more ways than one, that “last message” is just what American is ripe and ready for right now. “Yes, but with the pandemic and politics, we’ll never be able to get the word out.” Are you kidding!

We have been set up for divine success. And I’ve got four young preacher friends (digital missionaries) who are going to join me in Pioneer's fresh New Year worship/pulpit series—as we collectively examine and experiment with some very doable (in the middle of a pandemic) strategies.

Here are a few of the upcoming titles: “Good-bye Good Ole Days: ‘So I Am Sending You’” (1/9) . . . “Love Story for a Dark Winter: ‘So I Am Sending You’” (1/16) . . . “Reviving a Mummy: ‘So I Am Sending You’” (2/6) . . . “Two Hands on the Lightsaber: ‘So I Am Sending You’” (3/13) and a bunch more.

And to top it off—we’ve got a gifted team of musicians who will be crafting praise for each worship experience (shout-outs to Ken Logan and his team, along with Chuck Reid and his young worship leaders). Pioneer worship will be a bright and sunny, uplifting experience no matter how dark this winter gets.

So I do hope you’ll be able to join us in person or online (9:00 AM & 11:45 AM) this chilly winter. As we need to keep reminding ourselves, the best is yet to come—and always will be—with Jesus.

Dec
16
December 16, 2020

For this pandemic Christmas, I say let’s forget Covid-19 for a quiet moment. Enough is enough already. Instead, I invite you to sit back with me and let the joy and wonder of Jesus’ First Coming invade our souls. 

I once saw a painting by Julius Gari Melchers simply titled, The Nativity. Perhaps it was the way the artist captured the brooding face of the husband-not-father as he leans forward on his squatted knees and pensively stares at the bedded Newborn tucked at his feet in that crude box of hay. Or maybe it was the utter “spentness” of the young birth mother, exhausted, now prone on the cold floor, save for her slumping shoulders propped against the stable wall, her tired eyes at half-mast, her weary face expressionless and resting upon the side of her betrothed. It makes you wonder: What is it the husband broods upon? What thoughts are hers, the young mother? In the heavy, still, air do they wonder that the “infant lowly” is the “infant holy”?

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
   was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
   was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
   was taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)

“Great mystery”—these ancient words are as provocative in the Greek as they are in the English—mega musterion—a truly “mega mystery.” How else shall we describe the immersing incarnation (literally, “infleshment”) of the Infinite into this shadowland we finites still call home? 

G. K. Chesterton was right: “We walk bewildered in the light, for something is too large for sight, and something much too plain to say.” The Seed of God planted in the womb of humanity—why the very mechanics and genetics of such a divine-human anatomical transfer are more than even our third millennial science can fathom. 

But in the end, the great mystery that Christmas bids us ponder isn’t so much that God could do it, but rather that God would do it. “The work of redemption is called a mystery, and it is indeed the mystery by which everlasting righteousness is brought to all who believe. . . . Christ, at an infinite cost, by a painful process, mysterious to angels as well as to men, assumed humanity. Hiding His divinity, laying aside His glory, He was born a babe in Bethlehem” (7BC 915).

It was the day before Christmas. Busily wrapping packages, the boy’s mother asked if he’d please shine her shoes. Soon, with the proud smile of a 7-year-old, he brought her shiny shoes for inspection. She was so pleased, she handed him a quarter. On Christmas morning she felt a strange lump in one shoe. Taking it off, she shook the shoe and out dropped a quarter wrapped in a small piece of paper. On it in a child’s scrawl were the words: “I done it for love.”

Dec
9
December 9, 2020

We continue to pray for Brandon Bernard, the Seventh-day Adventist 40-year-old awaiting execution in a few hours, December 10, 12:01 AM. Thank you for joining the many who are claiming Proverbs 21:1 on behalf of both this process and this young man. The North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists has posted this statement on its website:

Members in North America Asked to Pray Regarding Adventist on Death Row in Indiana

“The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a complex family, made up of many different types of people — all of which have fallen short of God’s glory but have the possibility to receive grace through His redemptive love. Like most families, we sometimes face troubled times. One of our members is now facing such a huge challenge. Brandon Bernard is a death row prisoner facing execution at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, December 10. Bernard was convicted of a vicious crime committed in 1999, but now people involved in his conviction, including one of the prosecutors who fought to maintain Bernard’s conviction and sentence on appeal, are seeking clemency to change his sentence from death to one of life in prison. You can find out more about the facts involved in this case by watching this news report by CBS News. Recent news on the case can also be found in this Indianapolis Star article.

“Pastor Dwight Nelson, senior pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, introduced Bernard’s story during the church’s service last Sabbath (December 5). Click here to view Nelson’s message.

“The leadership of the North American Division is appealing to members to pray for those involved in the decision regarding Bernard’s sentence; the families of the victims; and Bernard and his family as the scheduled execution draws near.

“You can find out more about Brandon Bernard’s case at www.HelpSaveBrandon.com.” (www.nadadventist.org/sites/default/files/2020-12/NP%2012-8-20.pdf

Dec
2
December 2, 2020

When I was a sixth-grader at John Nevins Andrews Elementary School in Tacoma Park, Maryland, I can still remember traveling with my parents to a distribution point, where medical personnel was giving all of us small sugar cubes containing the polio vaccine. Subsequently, I never contracted polio, and the disease has essentially been eradicated in this country. 

According to the Center for Disease Control: “Polio was once one of the most feared diseases in the U.S. In the early 1950s, before polio vaccines were available, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year. Following the introduction of vaccines—specifically, trivalent inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in 1955 and trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in 1963 [when I got my vaccination]—the number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s” (www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/polio-us.html).

Now comes word this morning from London that the United Kingdom has approved a mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine: “Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use and said that it will be rolled out from early next week. . . . Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine—enough for just under a third of the population as two shots of the jab are needed per person to gain immunity” (www.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-britain-vaccine-fa/factbox-uk-approves-pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine-who-gets-it-first-idUSKBN28C0X8). Reports indicate the United States will approve and release COVID-19 vaccines in the next few weeks.

But why talk about vaccinations at all? Because in advance of a vaccine roll-out, we need to remember what vaccinations are. Over the last two centuries, vaccines have been the scientific fruit of the medical community’s desperate efforts to eradicate or at least halt the advance of killer diseases. Plain and simple. Are they perfect scientific medical remedies? Probably not. But is there anything perfect on this side of heaven? Although come to think of it, one of the great Bible narratives is about a vaccination antidote that offered a 100% cure to those who took it. 

The children of Israel are belly-aching against God and Moses (for the umpteenth time), but this time God honors their bitter complaints by withdrawing His guarding presence: “As the protecting hand of God was removed from Israel, great numbers of the people were attacked by these poisonous creatures [wilderness vipers God had been shielding them from]” (Patriarchs and Prophets 429).

“Piercing cries” rend the night air as these once-kept-at-bay killer vipers attack the tented masses. Humbled now by their act of rebellion, the people cry out, “‘Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’’” So at God’s direction, Moses hurriedly crafts a bronze viper and hoists it on a pole in the center of the community. God’s promise is simple: “‘Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live’” (Numbers 21:7-8).

And the story concludes, “Then when anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” The divine vaccination worked perfectly. Those who looked, lived—healed by faith on the spot.

Jesus reminded His midnight visitor of the story and then declared: “‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him’” (John 3:14-15).

Everyone. One hundred percent of those who look by faith to the cross and their Savior for healing are healed of the killer disease of sin. Healed. One hundred percent. Period.

In this season of the Advent when we commemorate the coming of the Christ Child to be our Savior, let’s celebrate the Good News of His vaccine: “While we realize our helpless condition without Christ, we are not to yield to discouragement, but rely upon the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour. Look and live. Jesus has pledged His word; He will save all who come unto Him. Though millions who need to be healed will reject His offered mercy, not one who trusts in His merits will be left to perish” (Patriarchs and Prophets 432).

There it is again—100% efficacy of His vaccine. So don’t be discouraged—take hope—look to Jesus and live. “Not one who trusts in His merits will be left to perish.” Not one. This Christmas. This New Year. 

Not one.

Nov
18
November 18, 2020

Somewhere in the Bible, it is commanded, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

Does that include the pandemic that pins this planet and nation down this Thanksgiving?

As far as I can tell, the command does not indicate an exclusion clause. Though let's be quick to recognize this is not a command to “give thanks for all circumstances”—it is a command to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

After all, how could we possibly thank God for the disease that has taken away our loved ones (1.34 million deaths globally—248,707 deaths across this nation as of three hours ago)?

No, the command is specific—“give thanks in [not for] all circumstances.” 

After all, how could we possibly thank God for the disease that has stripped away our personal economic security? 

“A new Pew Research Center survey finds that, overall, one-in-four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak started, a third have dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet, and about one-in-six have borrowed money from friends or family or gotten food from a food bank. As was the case earlier this year, these types of experiences continue to be more common among adults with lower incomes, those without a college degree and Black and Hispanic Americans” (www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/).

The apostle Paul, himself no stranger to economic deprivation and intense personal suffering, is clear in his apostolic command: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

But really—we’re supposed to find a reason for thanksgiving in the midst of this Covid-19 onslaught—are you serious?

May I make a humble effort to suggest a small list of possible gratitudes this Thanksgiving? Perhaps your own list will look quite different:

  • I am grateful for the technology that enables me to worship remotely with people I can’t see—somehow knowing, in a divine sort of way, we are actually connected to one another, though very much physically distanced.
  • I’m also thankful for the people who put up with the bother of wearing a face mask when they’re around me—what an “I care about you” kind of gift!
  • I’m grateful for the cell phone that lets me reach out to people I otherwise wouldn't have been able to reach during this pandemic.
  • I realize more and more the simple truth embedded in that old saw, “I complained to God about having no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
  • I’m grateful for the lesson this pandemic is trying to teach me—that what really matters most in life—more than professional success, more than economic comfort, more than even religious or theological correctness—what really matters most of all is relationships—and I want to treasure the ones I have all the more—especially the one with God.
  • I’m thankful that as a result of this pandemic Karen has become a first-class, homemade-bread specialist.
  • I’m also grateful that my Covid-19 test a couple of weeks ago came back negative.

Perhaps there is more truth than poetry to an “attitude of gratitude.” Consider these three one-liners I found in the chapter “Mind Cure” in Ministry of Healing:

  • “Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise” (251).
  • “When you open your eyes in the morning, thank God that He has kept you through the night. Thank Him for His peace in your heart. Morning, noon, and night, let gratitude as a sweet perfume ascend to heaven” (253).
  • “This command [1 Thessalonians 5:18—see above] is an assurance that even the things which appear to be against us will work for our good” (255).

Did you catch that? What appears to be against us “will work for our own good.” That’s what God did at the cross—took the enemy’s absolute worst and transformed it into salvation’s absolute best—as only Jesus can do. Gratitude? Are you kidding? A blessed Thanksgiving, indeed!

Nov
4
November 4, 2020

Here are three pithy word pictures for our brooding, as we seek to preoccupy ourselves with that which is not electoral:

A portrait from the Word of God:

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.” (Psalm 29:3)

A poem from Sir William Watson:

He sits above the clang and dust of Time,
With the world's secret trembling on his lip.
He asks not converse or companionship
In the cold starlight where thou canst not climb.

The undelivered tidings in his breast
Suffer him not to rest.
He sees afar the immemorable throng,
And binds the scattered ages with a song.

The glorious riddle of his rhythmic breath,
His might, his spell, we know not what they be;
We only feel, whate'er he uttereth,
This savors not of death,
This hath a relish of eternity. (“The Sovereign Poet”)

A promise from Ellen White:

"Above the distractions of the earth He sits enthroned; all things are open to His divine survey; and from His great and calm eternity He orders that which His providence sees best.” (Ministry of Healing 417)

All three collections of words depict the divine and sovereign One who sits high above earth’s “clang and dust of Time.”

All three crafted glimpses are of Him who from that vantage point “orders that which His providence sees best.”

And all three portrayals capture the unspoken credo: “I will put my trust in Him” (Hebrews 2:13).

Is there a better way for us to survive these roiling waters—political or even personal—than to trust the One who sits above their chaos? Life goes on. But I say we go on together—no matter the outcome—with Him whose promise “. . . savors not of death . . . [but] hath a relish of eternity.”

Oct
28
October 28, 2020

Let me be an echo chamber for a moment—there hasn’t been an election like this in modern memory. So they tell us. And who could disagree? By some estimates, 69 million early voters have already exercised their prized right. That represents over half of the total votes cast in the 2016 presidential election! And Election Day is still a week off. Go figure.

But the pundits cannot figure it out—because there’s no way to predict the outcome of what will likely be the most contentious and divisive presidential race in U.S. history. And given the record mail-in voting (thanks to the pandemic), this season of uncertainty may linger long past the last ballot cast next Tuesday night.

How should we as Seventh-day Adventist Christians approach next Tuesday? 

Church historian Douglas Morgan, in his fascinating entry “Politics and Voting” in the new Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, describes how the initial “sentiment against voting and political involvement” in the early years of this apocalyptic movement shifted with the advent of the Civil War. In 1865 the General Conference session resolved “that it could well be ‘highly proper’ for a Second Advent believer to exercise the influence of his vote ‘in behalf of justice, humanity, and right’” (1037). Ellen White “shared this consensus,” and reacted strongly to an effort by “men of intemperance” to encourage Battle Creek Adventists “into continuing their avoidance of the polls.” To not vote “in this context would be to abet evil by default” (1037).

But hers was not a blanket endorsement of politics. “If the political realm presented opportunity, even obligation, for Christian service, it also presented dangerous influences that threatened to mold those involved, rather than vice versa” (1038). She was clear and “impressed on believers the principle that citizenship in Christ’s kingdom must animate and control their interaction with the political powers of earth” (ibid). As a consequence of a populist surge across the nation in 1896, one political party “made central a proposal for coinage of silver currency as a panacea for the economic injustices suffered by the nation’s rural and working classes.” Ellen White, while supportive of economic justice for the poor, warned this plan would have a very opposite effect. “The direction from the voice of the Son of God, she declared, is ‘ye will not give your voice or influence to any policy to enrich a few, to bring oppression and suffering to the poorer class of humanity’” (1038). 

As for competing political parties, in 1897 she boldly wrote, “‘there is fraud on both sides,’” and urged instead “those for whom the Lord Jesus is ’the Captain’ to ‘file under His banner’ and avoid ‘linking up with either party’” (ibid). Vote? Of course. She even counseled young college students: “‘Have you thoughts that you dare not express . . . that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations. You may every one of you make your mark’” (1038 emphasis supplied). But Adventists, she reminds us, “are to stand as subjects of Christ’s kingdom, bearing the banner on which is inscribed, ‘The commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus’ [Revelation 14:12]” (1038).

Wise counsel for us in the twenty-first century. Yes, we exercise our right to vote as citizens of this land or any other land. We express our voice and convictions for a myriad of issues at the ballot box. But let us do so with two abiding realizations. First, we await no human savior. Politics at its best is the act of legislative compromise in order to satisfy a majority of citizens. But sadly the very times and technologies of our social media driven world have shaped us into combative, argumentative adversaries with anyone or everyone who sees life differently. And we quickly coalesce with other loud voices from whom we draw strength. Any one who emerges from this raucous process can hardly be an adequate savior. That sad reality will not be undone.

Second, we are blood-bought citizens of Christ’s eternal kingdom. And “the politics of Jesus” (as John Howard Yoder expressed it) preclude a “winner take all” mentality. In fact Christ Himself infuses us with His own “loser take all” spirit: “‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it’” (Mark 8:35). Supreme love for God and impartial love of our neighbors can only thrive through a spirit of self-emptying, a spirit sadly AWOL in this season of American politics. But you and I can be different—must be different. Without compromising deeply held convictions, it is still possible to be loving, compassionate and kind citizens—men, women and young who value the heart more than the vote, who walk along side rather than always taking sides.

So go ahead vote, if you haven’t already. But let your face tell the truth: “For God made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of his glory displayed in the face of Christ” (see 2 Corinthians 4:6).

Oct
21
October 21, 2020

"When you're weary, feeling small—when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all—I’m on your side, when times get rough—and friends just can't be found—like a bridge over troubled water—I will lay me down.”

“Mental Health America (MHA) today released data . . . showing that the number of people reporting signs of anxiety and depression since the start of the pandemic hit an all-time high in September. The new data accompanies the release of the annual State of Mental Health in America report, showing that nationwide, 19% (47.1 million) of people in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition, a 1.5 million increase over last year’s report” (www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/10/20/2111263/0/en/Number-of-people-reporting-anxiety-and-depression-nationwide-since-start-of-pandemic-hit-all-time-high-in-September-hitting-young-people-hardest.html).

Welcome to our world.

“Gen-Z adults, those ages 18 to 23, reported the highest levels of stress compared to other generations and were the most likely age group to report symptoms of depression, according to the APA’s 2020 Stress in America survey. More than seven in 10 Gen-Z adults surveyed said they experienced common symptoms of depression in the prior two weeks, such as: feeling so tired they sat around and did nothing, having trouble thinking and concentrating and feeling very restless, lonely, miserable or unhappy” (www.cnbc.com/2020/10/21/survey-more-than-7-in-10-gen-zers-report-depression-during-pandemic.html).

Welcome to our campus.

“Fear and anxiety [as a result of the pandemic] tend to run hand-in-hand, Kevin Antshel, clinical psychologist and director of the clinical psychology program at Syracuse University previously told CNBC Make It. ‘'The more things are uncertain, the more we’re going to fear, and the more we fear things, the more we are anxious,’ he said. And prolonged anxiety can lead to depression” (ibid).
Maybe it’s your world, too.

I came across a single line in my psalm for the day that in its own way seems to breathe some hope into the shadows of this Covid-19 thing that won’t leave. “The day is Yours, and Yours also the night” (Psalm 74:16). I get the part about God ruling the day—makes sense to me. But I need the part about Him ruling the night. Because it is in the night the darkness inside is most oppressive. That’s when I need Him most. So do you.

Does He show up in the dark? Keep reading. “. . . when care, perplexity, and darkness seem to surround your soul, look to the place where you last saw the light. Rest in Christ's love and under His protecting care” (Ministry of Healing 250).

How? Here are a few simple ways you can deal with the darkness right now:

  1. Be willing to be vulnerable and tell someone else about the darkness—you’re not alone, you’ll discover—and you'll be surprised the kind of comfort and strength their active listening will bring you. People who care for you are glad to be there for you.
  2. Try something new—look back to a time you remember before the darkness came—because looking back reminds us there was a season not so long ago when we lived with peace and a sense of quiet joy. Gifts like those do come back, I promise.
  3. Open up your heart to Jesus through someone else’s language. David (of David and Goliath fame) knew more about depressive darkness than perhaps any other Bible writer. So read one of his psalms every day—and turn his words of sorrow or anger or despair into your own prayer for help. You’ll be surprised at how much Jesus (the Son of David) responds to the familiar language of darkness. He, too, has been there.

"When you're weary, feeling small—when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all—I’m on your side, when times get rough—and friends just can't be found—like a bridge over troubled water—I will lay me down.”
This is why Jesus is the one Bridge you and I have that can span this pandemic night and cross us over into the light of a new day. Because as the psalmist reminds us, He owns them both:  “The day is Yours, and Yours also the night.”