The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Dec
4
December 4, 2019

We’re way too sophisticated for that childhood myth about a rotund gentleman with a white beard and rosy cheeks picking up the tab for our Christmas bills. But boy, are those bills going up! Take the latest post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping numbers (how could we ignore them) released over the last few hours.

According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: “A record 189.6 million consumers shopped over the long Thanksgiving weekend, up 14% from last year, the National Retail Federation said Tuesday. And for the first time, Black Friday topped Cyber Monday as the busiest day for e-commerce, though it also remained the busiest day for in-store shopping.” (www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/dec/04/holiday-weekend-spending-up-16-20191204/).

Must be the elderly driving this spending bill higher? Not hardly: "Spending rose 16%, as shoppers spent $361.90 on average over the five-day span from Thursday to Monday.” But keep reading: “Younger consumers were the biggest spenders, with 25- to 34-year-olds each shelling out an average of $440.46, followed by 35- to 44-year-olds at $439.72” (ibid emphasis supplied).

So how much did America spend on Black Friday? (By the way, Black Friday is now global—we were in the Czech Republic and Slovakia for ASI meetings over the Thanksgiving weekend—“Black Friday” was posted everywhere.) CNBC is reporting Black Friday shoppers in the U.S. spent $7.4 billion online alone (retail figures are not clear), making it “the biggest sales day ever for Black Friday and [trailing] only last year’s Cyber Monday’s $7.9 billion for the number 1 spot of all-time in online revenue, according to Adobe’s data” (www.cnbc.com/2019/11/30/black-friday-shoppers-spend-record-7point4-billion.html).

At this point, the numbers get a bit numbing when you add to that $7.4 billion the whopping Cyber Monday sales ($9.4 billion—a new record) and Thanksgiving Day online sales ($4.2 billion) plus the weekend in between. 

Bottom line? Over the last few days, Americans have spent more than $21 billion on Christmas. And we’re still three weeks out!

So who pays for Christmas? This summer the Wall Street Journal reported: “The American middle class is falling deeper into debt to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. . . . Consumer debt, not counting mortgages, has climbed to $4 trillion—higher than it has ever been even after adjusting for inflation” (August 2, 2019—front page). Moreover, “student loan debt totaled about $1.5 trillion last year, exceeding all other forms of consumer debt except mortgages” (ibid). That’s a total of $5.5 trillion of debt (not counting mortgages)! And yet our Christmas spending is higher than it has ever been before. What’s wrong with that picture?

What about this picture? “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:6-7).

Who picked up the tab for the “first “Christmas?” No Santa Clauses or online shoppers or Black Fridays or Blue Christmases there. Just the Newborn—swaddled in cloth strips and placed in a box of cow feed inside that dank stable cave—the Gift of the ages, from the Father’s heart to the fallen race. The cost of his Gift—when measured in the currency of Heaven? “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8). Did you catch that? Those lavished “riches of God’s grace” have canceled the most staggering debt of all—our moral bankruptcy!

“Having collected the riches of the universe, and laid open the resources of infinite power, [the Father] gives them all into the hands of Christ, and says, All these are for man. Use these gifts to convince him that there is no love greater than Mine in earth or heaven. His greatest happiness will be found in loving Me” (Desire of Ages 57).

Who pays for Christmas? A wooden manger and cross are answer enough. 

Nov
20
November 20, 2019

Nobody knows the day in 1621 for that first Thanksgiving on these shores. “. . . it was probably in late September or early October, soon after [the Pilgrim’s] crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested” (Nathaniel Philbrick Mayflower 117). The decimated band of immigrant refugees to the New World had by a breath barely survived that treacherous winter before.

The numbers speak volumes: “ . . . 45 of the original 102 colonists died during the first winter. There were 17 fatalities in February alone.  Many succumbed to the elements, malnutrition, and diseases such as scurvy. Frequently two or three died on the same day. Four entire families perished and there was only one family that didn’t lose at least one member. Of the 18 married women, 13 died. Only three of 13 children perished, probably because mothers were giving their share of food to the children” (www.weatherconcierge.com/the-pilgrims-barely-survived-a-harsh-first-winter-at-plymouth/).

And yet crippled though they were by those losses, this band of fifty-two English survivors turned a subsequent bountiful summer crop into a three-day harvest feast for the fledgling band of Pilgrims and their benefactor guests, Chief Massasoit, and his ninety Indian men.

While not referring to it as “thanksgiving,” William Bradford, their elected governor, declared it a time to “[gather] the fruit of our labors” and “rejoice together . . . after a more special manner” (Philbrick 117). Artists’ portrayals notwithstanding, it was not the traditional dinner associated with Thanksgivings since. No forks available, all ate with fingers and knives a repast of vegetables, duck, deer, fish—but (let it be noted) with nary a crumb of pumpkin pie or a spoonful of cranberry sauce (much later delectable additions to the traditional Thanksgiving fare).

Years after that first “thanksgiving,” the aged Bradford looked back to testify: “What could now sustain them [those survivors] but the spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in the wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity [see Deuteronomy 26:7]’” (Philbrick 46).

And “may not and ought not” the children of America today—all of us who come from every land to inhabit this same land—join that ancient chorus: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. . . . Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100).

And may this be a fresh new day of thanksgiving for us all—at the nail-scarred feet of Him whose faithful love has never failed us. A blessed Thanksgiving to all.

Nov
6
November 6, 2019

Chihuahua, Mexico—how else is Heaven supposed to respond to the tragic mayhem of life on this planet today? Look—if Jesus wept over the grave of Lazarus and subsequently wept over the city of Jerusalem—if tears choked his desperate cry on the cross that Friday afternoon—wouldn’t He be weeping now?

Weeping for the greedy, revenge-driven drug cartel members who in a turf battle hail of bullets cut down that band of Mormons on their way to a wedding earlier this week? Weeping for the three brave mothers and six children who perished in that withering onslaught, one slain mother able to first save her infant by throwing her to the floor of the SUV? Weeping for the courageous surviving children who hid in tall roadside grass until one of the older boys could walk thirteen miles for help?

The muffled sound of a heartbroken God weeping—our calloused hearts forget too easily, too quickly the sobbings of our Sovereign, don’t they? How could any human mind remain sane if we like He lived with every crushing headline, every devastating death, every split second of every day and night on this terrestrial home?

Jesus once taught us about our Father: “‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. . . . Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . . Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. . . . You are worth more than many sparrows’” (Matthew 10:16, 28-31).

If not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Father of all life personally noting that tiny death, how much more does His eternal heart grieve the deaths of His earth children?

“Not a sigh is breathed, not a pain felt, not a grief pierces the soul, but the throb vibrates to the Father’s heart. . . . God is bending from His throne to hear the cry of the oppressed. . . . Satan’s hatred against God leads him to hate every object of the Saviour’s care. He seeks to mar the handiwork of God, and he delights in destroying even the dumb creatures. It is only through God’s protecting care that the birds are preserved to gladden us with their songs of joy. But He does not forget even the sparrows. ‘Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows’” (Desire of Ages 356).

So live on we must, in spite of headlines like this week. Yes, we pray for the bereaved and bereft: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matthew 20:30). And for the evil perpetrators, we pray the prayer of the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

But let us also pray in response to His plea for someone, anyone to go to the rest of His children with the hope of Jesus: “Here am I. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Otherwise, Heaven weeps alone. And that would be the saddest story of all.

Oct
30
October 30, 2019

California and Vietnam—two very disparate regions of earth, to be sure—but in the news this week. And both of them—if you can believe the news—are muted challenges to the notion of gradualism (uniformitarianism or incrementalism)—the idea that life on this planet pretty much ambles along at its snail-pace predictability, gradually.

Talking about “deja vu all over again,” California’s truly “wild” wild fires captivate the headlines. Again. This morning the LA Times reported: “After enduring weeks of destructive fires, widespread blackouts and extreme weather conditions, California faced another test as powerful winds that forecasters described as historic and potentially disastrous moved into the Southland” (www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-30/worst-winds-of-season-batter-california-bringing-prospect-of-more-blackouts-fires-and-evacuations).

Those “historic” Santa Ana winds (predicted to be 50-70 mph with gusts up to 80 mph) “will be the strongest to hit the region in recent memory” (ibid).

On the other side of the Pacific, the residents of Vietnam awakened to learn (if they read the New York Times) much of the southern half of their nation could be flooded by 2050: “. . . the bottom part of the country will be underwater at high tide”—which means “more than 20 million people in Vietnam, almost one-quarter of the population, live on land that will be inundated” (www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/29/climate/coastal-cities-underwater.html). Click on to the link for two Vietnam maps contrasting old projections with these radically revised new ones. “Much of Ho Chi Minh City, the nation’s economic center, would disappear with it, according to the research, which was produced by Climate Central, a science organization based in New Jersey, and published in the journal Nature Communications. The projections don’t account for future population growth or land lost to coastal erosion” (ibid).

Speaking of the end of the world, Peter predicts: “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he [Jesus] promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation [gradualism]’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

If you’re one of 200,000 people in California under mandatory wild fire evacuation orders to flee your home now, the likelihood is strong at least for you (and at least for this moment) nature’s sudden catastrophic reversal effectively tosses incrementalism out that smoke-choked window.

That’s Peter’s point. Gradualism has never been able to explain the sudden catastrophic reversal from Noah’s flood: “[The last day scoffers] deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (vv 5-6). Who saw that cataclysm coming? Not very many—eight, to be exact.

The point? We underestimate the element of surprise to our loss. Peter calls it  “the day of judgment” (v 7)—when in a cataclysmic instant all the old timetables are discarded and gradualism is no more—as it turned out for the antediluvians, Sodom, Pompeii, the Titanic, 9-11-2001, et al.

The even larger point? Intensifying times for humanity are the occasion for God to manifest his intensifying love for lost human beings. Peter is clear: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise. . . . Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (v 9).

Vietnam, California, America, the world—God doesn’t want to lose a single one. So let’s abandon our gradualism and embrace his passion to lead that one to him. Now.

Oct
23
October 23, 2019

Some of you have been the recipients of a delightful little email from me asking for your money. And I am so sorry. I hope you immediately recognized that the atrocious spelling and grammar of the note evidences a crook whose short-cut to money-making obviously skipped over high school English or the ESL (English as a Second Language) classes he should have taken first.

And if you didn’t notice the grammar and spelling, I hope you quickly sensed that your pastor would never, ever send you a personal email about women in the hospital who are suffering from cancer. No kidding. Here’s the note one of you received [with my comments in brackets]:

Thanks for the quick response Richard, I’m very glad to hear from you Barbara.. [Notice the differing names—obviously someone was cutting and pasting notes as fast as he/she could and didn’t catch the separate names—also note no commas separating the names and the double periods at the end of the sentence.] I just need to get eBay gift card [grammar is his/hers/theirs] today for some women going through cancer at the hospital [what pastor alive would describe the desperate battle cancer always represents with the words “women going through cancer”!] but I can’t do that right now because of my busy schedule in a conference meeting with only access to email. [So what conference room is it that wouldn’t allow you to slip out of the room and make an important phone call? And whatever conference it is, it must be a boring meeting because I’m soliciting eBay gift cards while sitting through the deliberations.] Can you get it from any store around you possibly now? [What’s the meaning of that garbled sentence?] and I will pay you back later in cash or check. [Cash or check—sounds more like a checkout cashier than a soliciting pastor.] Let me know if you can get the card for these patients. [One card for all of them?]

God bless

Then he/she/they sign off: Dwight K. Nelson, Pioneer Memorial Church, and our address.

Oh, and the email address the hackers set up to receive your replies? nelson.pmchurch@gmail.com. Pretty clever throwing “pmchurch” (which we all recognize) into the address, hoping we won’t notice the Gmail suffix set up for the scam. Pioneer has never had a Gmail address! But how often do we all hurry through our inboxes not always catching the details of an email address?

Sad really—because as it turns out, the scam is to get you to buy those gift cards, scratch off the silver, take a picture of the exposed numerical code and send that pix to these scam artists who are able to cash in on (or sell) those cards because of the now activated (by your purchase) codes. Preying on our generosity, our compassion, and our desire to reflect the unselfish spirit of Jesus. We are guilty as charged!

That’s Paul’s point in his letter to the young Christians in Corinth: “You show that you are a letter [email] from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3). I.e., you followers of Jesus are a recommendation email from Christ to the world. People read your email and they think it is from him. How’s that for a switch!

Only you and I are not bogus emails or sham representations to all who read us. As Desire of Ages reminds us: “Christ is sitting for His portrait in every disciple. Every one God has predestinated to be ‘conformed to the image of His Son.’ Romans 8:29. In every one Christ’s long-suffering love, His holiness, meekness, mercy, and truth are to be manifested to the world” (826).

Amazing. People look at you and think of Jesus. Joy of joys—what could be better!

Oct
9
October 9, 2019

One of our viewers from Florida sent me a piece attributed to Mother Teresa. I went online and discovered this attribution to her is actually challenged (www.quoteinvestigator.com/2012/05/18/do-good-anyway/#more-3828). But while “Quote Investigator”’s extensive review suggests multiple sources, this piece is still rich with meaning, and so I share it with you:
 

People are often unreasonable
Illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may
Accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

 

If you are successful, you will win
Some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

 

If you are honest and frank,
People may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

 

What you spend years building,
Someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

 

If you find serenity and happiness,
They may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

 

The good you do today,
People will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

 

Give the world the best you have,
And it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
It is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

 

I admit it does sound a bit like a string of graduation platitudes at first glance. But the thematic undertow speaks volumes inside that little word, “anyway.”

“Anyway”—in this case meaning “in spite of it”—isn’t that the way the follower of Christ often has to live? “In spite of it all”—Paul writes with quiet courage—“we are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

“Anyway” or “in spite of it all”—Peter counsels—“in all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).

“Anyway” or “in spite of it all”—the Apocalypse begins—“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus”—and Jesus himself concludes—“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer—be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelation 1:9; 2:10).

Truth is “anyway” or “in spite of it all” is the way third millennial Christ-followers still walk in his steps. And “in spite of it all” their faith, like Jesus, “shines brighter” and “shines purer” against the dark panoply of evil. Anyway.

So what’s the “anyway” you’re having to face down in your life right now? A disease that won’t give up? A state of depression that won’t seem to let go? Are your last dollars gone, leaving your future uncertain at best? What is the “in spite of it all” pathway God has set your feet upon?

Paul, Peter, John, Jesus—who lived out their lives in spite of the most debilitating circumstances imaginable—surely in their “I will put my trust in him” courage we can find solace and fearlessness of our own. Trust anyway. Hope anyway. Love anyway. Live or die anyway.

Why? “When the darkness is deepest, then the light of a noble, Godlike character will shine the brightest. When every other trust fails, then it will be seen who have an abiding trust in God” (Sketches from the Life of Paul 252). Anyway.

You may not be able to see it—but it’s that word “anyway” that radiates your life right now. Your friends and family see it. The world takes notice, too. Because like Jesus you are a spectacle to behold. Anyway.

And so he thanks you.

Oct
2
October 2, 2019

I went out for my daily morning walk earlier this week. The sun wasn’t up—it was dark—and though I couldn’t see them, the clouds overhead only made the unrefreshingly warm humidity in the autumn air heavier and burdensome. I clutched my small flashing strobe light (given to me by a kind neighbor last week who caught me walking without light and insisted I receive his thoughtful gift—I gratefully did). The blinking strobe doesn’t light up much of the forested landscape—its value is its uncanny way of catching the eye of drivers hurrying to work in the dark.

But the downside of a light that doesn’t shine very far is your eyes begin to play tricks on you. And you think you see a creature racing across the road ahead (maybe a deer, or was it a tiger?). A blinking light with jumpy shadows is a recipe for uncertainty at best when you’re walking in the dark.

The darkness matched the mood of my heart. I like to pray while I walk. And that morning my heart was burdened for the church, my own and the wider national and global church. It feels like we’re stuck beneath dark clouds in heavy air, not drifting backward perhaps but certainly not making noticeable forward progress either. Having spent a few years in this parish and pulpit, my mind raced back through the many, many spiritual strategies our congregation and campus had embraced, had launched, had completed—hoping this one or that one would be the breakthrough.

I admit it’s difficult to define breakthrough anymore. After all, what constitutes a divine breakthrough in a faith community? Love and ministry to the disenfranchised, the marginalized and alienated (as in Isaiah 58)? The gospel to our neighbors and neighborhoods, our communities and cities (Matthew 28)? “Small companies of prayer” that meet faithfully to intercede for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4)? A body of believers who love God with all their hearts, souls and bodies—and love their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22)?

As I walked on in the dark, the cloud ceiling began to morph from black to grey, thanks to an approaching sunrise unseen beneath the heavy clouds. So what will it take? What are you waiting for, God? How long? Questions borrowed from saints through the ages much closer to him than I. Will the promised breakthrough—what the American writer and messenger described as “such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times . . . the Spirit and power of God . . . poured out upon His children” (GC 464)—come true for this generation?

“Ask the Lord for rain in the season of the latter rain” (Zechariah 10:1). “‘Behold I will do a new thing. . . . I will pour water on those who are thirsty, and floods on the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit on your descendants and my blessing on your offspring’” (Isaiah 43:19/44:3). “In the last days, God says, I will pour my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters. . . . even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’” (Acts 2:17-18).

Still deep in thought, I approached the end of my forty minutes. Less than two hundred feet ahead around the trees and curve was my home. At that moment I felt a drop. Then a second one. It was beginning to rain. I quickened my pace to get out of the rain, when a thought flashed through my mind—could it be that the breakthrough-rainfall prophets have promised and saints have prayed for through the ages—could it be that the “Big One” (the last divine rainfall) comes only when the children of God are nearly home, much closer to home than anyone realizes?

Could it be then the shadows play tricks on our eyes—“we see through a glass darkly”—so that what looks far is near, and what looks near is far? Could the same dark glass be hiding massive movements of Heaven and its visitants on earth, frenetically at work in the very strategies and prayers we conclude are ineffectual? Then maybe all is not in vain. And Heaven is much closer to us than we ever dared to imagine. Could it be?

Such are the thoughts of a man coming out of the rain.

Me? I was just glad to be home.

Sep
25
September 25, 2019

Neil T. Anderson in his book Victory Over the Darkness relates this poem, both poignant and anonymous:​

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have misplaced mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily,
pain and confusion are my companions.
I know not where to turn;
looking ahead to future times does not bring forth
images of renewed hope.
I see troubled times, pain-filled days, and more tragedy.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have misplaced mine.
Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings, recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing seems like a long and lonely one.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have misplaced mine.
Stand by me, offer me your presence, your heart and
your love.
Acknowledge my pain, it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed with sad and conflicting thoughts.

Lend me your hope for a while;
a time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal,
hope and love with others.
 

What kind of a world would this be if hope could be lent one to another? So on the days or nights when my hope gauge is pitiably on empty I could text you, call you, email you, find you somewhere and pray this plaintive prayer, “Lend me your hope for a while.”

And what if you could? I’m not sure if there’s a psychological trait that predisposes some people to possess extra amounts of hope, but if there were, wouldn’t we all make a bee-line to their door?

Somewhere in the Good Book there is a phrase provocative with meaning—“prisoners of hope.” Do you suppose we all are? Just that? Gauges on empty, too many of us—but all of us chained to the hope that hope exists. Prisoners to be sure . . . but hoping against hope there is yet hope to be had. Hope to lend, hope to borrow. But hope nonetheless.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Greater than hope? Apparently so, because when the hopeless come seeking hope of you, your heart to love them does much more for them than sharing your hope could possibly do. When a hopeless soul experiences selfless love—this must be the point—it is love that triumphs even as hope is birthed.

So the next time you hear the wistful prayer, “Lend me your hope for a while,” do the seeker a favor, and love on them instead. Turns out it is what they’ve been searching for all along.
 

Sep
11
September 11, 2019

Nearly half of GenZers (born 1995-2006)—i.e., our thirteen to 24-year-olds today—were born after the four coordinated terrorist attacks on the United States 18 years ago today. That means they have never known a world without TSA and long security lines at the airport. They’ve never known what it was like not to have to take your shoes off and walk barefoot through an Xray scanner, not to have to limit your fluids in your carry-on bag to 3 fluid oz each, not to have to plop your laptop on a conveyor belt for high-tech Xray analysis, not to have to undergo the occasional (or frequent, depending on your ethnic background) pat-down by a sometimes friendly TSA officer. The list could go on and on.

But what happened on that glorious, sunny, blue-skied Tuesday in New York City (the Twin Towers), in Washington D.C. (the Pentagon) and outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania (the crash of Flight 93), has not only altered our travel routines. It has sadly also altered our view of Muslims and eventually all immigrants, tinging our perceptions with a lurking fear or suspicion of these strangers’ alliance with evil. That radical Islam exists who can deny? That terrorist attacks have continued unabated since 9-11 is obvious. That lone wolf anti-Muslim retaliation has subsequently shot up mosques the world over is also common knowledge. No, the world we live in today is not the world we knew on September 10, 2001. September 11 has rewritten all of our lives.

In fact, it can be argued that endemic societal fear took a massive leap forward on that Tuesday eighteen years ago. We live in a culture afraid of everything now. Oh sure, the shoot-‘em-up mass killings that have escalated in recent years no doubt contribute to our insecurity and angst. And perhaps so does the “selfie me-first” narcissism that too often turns human beings into solitary individual fortresses afraid to trust anyone outside our immediate social context. Perhaps.

It could be that our Lord himself foresaw this global paralysis, predicting it would eventually become endemic: “People will faint from terror [recognize that word?], apprehensive of what is coming on the world” (Luke 21:26). Not surprising then that GenZers now manifest the highest percentage of college entrance students ever with self-diagnosed mental health issues. You can blame the technological impact of the smartphone, but we can thank 9-11 for preparing the way.

But why such gloomy thoughts on this sunny, still blue-skied September 11 eighteen years later? Because of all people, those who call themselves “Adventists” (believers in the soon-coming of Christ) should be analyzing the rapidly-gyrating news cycle and drawing the conclusion we now live in the self-disintegrating world the ancient Scripture predicted. While the Bible doesn’t calculate a calendar date for The End, we’d be fools to ignore Jesus’ somber admonition, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:42-44).

Jesus, our soon-coming thief? Of course not. Rather, Jesus, our soon-coming Savior, “the Savior of the world.” Which, if it doesn’t learn about him, will not only be caught unawares but will be lost. Which means that if we consider ourselves Adventists, it is ipso facto our “Adventist” mission to tell others this truth. Inviting them to worship with you is a blessed idea. Sharing with them something you’ve read that’s inspired you is another effective method. So is “loving your neighbor” into a continuing conversation about the meaning of relevant Bible truths (“the truth as it is in Jesus”). Choose what works for you.

But let’s not simply yawn our way past this eighteenth anniversary of September 11. What a waste of opportunity! In the words of Jesus, “keep watch,” “be ready” and “go.” And “I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 Message).

Sep
4
September 4, 2019

Two tragedies in the waters on opposite sides of the nation this week provoke a somber reminder. In a split second, all that is familiar and secure can be blown away!

The disastrous onboard explosion and fire sinking the dive-boat Conception on Monday have stunned the Santa Barbara seaside community. The “75-foot vessel once described by California Diving News as 'California’s crown jewel of live-aboard dive boats,' caught fire about 20 yards off the north shore of Santa Cruz Island and now lies upside down on the ocean floor in about 62 feet of water, authorities said” (www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-09-04/california-boat-fire-conception-victims). While five of the six crew members survived by leaping into the 3 AM waters, 34 others below deck perished—including a family of five divers celebrating their father’s birthday “with a luxurious three-day excursion that was to include diving amid the kelp forests, nature lectures and gourmet meals” (ibid).

How suddenly, how tragically life is extinguished.

On the opposite shore of the country Hurricane Dorian (at the time of this writing) is still clawing its way up the eastern seaboard. Left behind in its howling wake are pictures of mind-numbing devastation. I watched a helicopter video cam (its chopping propeller the only sound) as it whirled over the flooded, flattened islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. This surreal photographic capture of the hurricane's atomic-bomb-like obliteration is reminiscent of those black and white photographs of post-atomic bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Flattened. Gone.

How suddenly, how tragically life is extinguished.

Beyond the sorrow over lives lost is the somber reminder life can end just as instantaneously for any of us. Hours before his own death, Jesus warned of planetary upheaval before his return: “‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea’” (Luke 21:25). The net effect on the collective human psyche? “‘People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world’” (v 26).

The gaggle of end-of-summer headlines is hardly a collection to inspire confidence! Mass shootings, trade and tariff wars, economic downturn predictions, political stalemates, et al—we’ve heard this song before—a siren song for the followers of Christ, the unsettling reminder that we live too close to the edge to ignore the warnings. Bad news?

Not at all. For as Jesus put it, “‘When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’” (v 28). It is the way the Good News has always traveled—on the heels of escalating trouble comes the promise of impending deliverance. Thus courage is the way we who follow must take. “For he who called you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).