COVID-19 UPDATES  —  

Pioneer is now open for worship in its Sanctuary. Sabbath Schools remain meeting digitally or in smaller off-site groups at this time. For details regarding prevention measures in place and the COVID-19 Pioneer response click here.

 
Thursday, September 17, 2020 - 22:36

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Jun
3
June 3, 2020

I must confess I hardly know what to write. It is my Wednesday routine to sit at this laptop and compose another entry for my Fourth Watch blog. But today's headlines are the visceral recitation of our nation's ugliest truth. Racism. 

We sat in a Zoom circle a few days ago—and listened as our colleague and friend, Taurus Montgomery (African American pastor of our Harbor of Hope campus in Benton Harbor), described the shock of being yelled out of his car. A teen at the time, Taurus had been impatiently waiting for his sister to emerge from the house—when a white police officer in an unmarked car screeched to a halt and with a revolver pointed at Taurus and his brother, yelled: "Get out—with your hands up!" The stunned young men obeyed immediately. A split second later the officer's radio goes off in the background, "Suspect has been apprehended." Without a word, let alone an apology ("Sorry, fellas"), the officer holsters his gun, jumps in his car and speeds away. End of story. 

End of story for you and me, perhaps. But for a black kid growing up with racism, how do a story and an adrenalin memory like that ever end? Sitting in that Zoom circle it was more than obvious the PTSD sort of stress every black man must experience when another killing—three of them in a row recently in this land of the free—strikes. Another black life snuffed out by raw power. End of story? Are you kidding!

I listened today to another colleague of mine, African American Adventist pastor of the Brinklo Emmanuel church, Anthony Medley. Visceral pain from vented anger over racism's chokehold, bondage not even the church (not to mention society) has been able to break, let alone heal.

The video images now of George Floyd dying are seared on the collective conscience of us all. Ever notice the soldiers played a game of craps as the Man on the cross was dying? "Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get" (Mark 15:24). The nonchalance over a man dying at their hands—how do you forget that picture?

But if that's all we remember, how can that chain be broken? My friend, Nick Miller, attorney for the Lake Union Conference, last Sabbath afternoon on a Facebook Live panel discussion (thank you, Debbie Michel, host), shared three provocative Ellen White admonitions worth brooding over:

  • “The desire to show their masterly authority over the blacks is still burning in the hearts of many who claim to be Christians, but whose lives declare that they are standing under the black banner of the great apostate. When the whites commit crimes, they are often allowed to go uncondemned, while for the same transgressions the blacks . . . are treated worse than the brutes. . . . Will not God judge for these things? As surely as the whites have brought their inhuman cruelty to bear upon the negroes, so surely will God’s vengeance fall upon them” (14LtMs, Lt 99, 1899).

"Whew! Not my problem." Keep reading.

  • "There is a cause for the moral paralysis upon society. Our laws sustain an evil which is sapping their very foundations. Many deplore the wrongs which they know exist, but consider themselves free from all responsibility in the matter. This cannot be. Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue?" (RH November 8, 1881).

"Whew! That one's about temperance and not racism." You missed the word "virtue."

  • "While we will endeavor to keep the 'unity of the Spirit' in the bonds of peace, we will not with pen or voice cease to protest against bigotry" (16MR 216).

"Protest against bigotry." The time has come for white Adventists to step out of the shadows and "with pen or voice" do just that, "protest against bigotry." 

This Sabbath in both Livestream worship services your Pioneer pastors and Andrews chaplains will read a statement on camera describing where we can go from here. Next steps. Because as history has taught us, if we don't begin somewhere, we won't be going anywhere. With Jesus.

May
27
May 27, 2020

Did I hear that right? WBBM News Radio from Chicago ran a piece this morning on COVID-19's fall out in the Windy City. Turns out that with so many bars and restaurants empty during this lockout, the rodents used to feeding off the garbage in the back alley have hit the road in search of new food sources, such as residential domiciles. We're talking rats! Says Robert Villamil, owner of Crow Pest Control: "'Rats are wild and are looking for food and trying to survive'" (abc7chicago.com/amp/coronavirus-rats-chicago-rat-warning-cdc/6213457). Turns out the Centers for Disease Control is warning now of "'unusual or aggressive rodent behavior'" from rats starved out of their usual haunts in big cities (ibid). Moral of the story–like rats, sin feeds on garbage kept "out back"–get rid of the garbage if you don't want the rat feasting off of you! 

And did you hear about the new app developed by Apple and Google? Twenty-two countries and some US states have requested the use of their new technology. The Swiss COVID app enables "automated contact tracing ... using smartphones to detect when two people are close enough to each other for long enough that there is significant risk of contagion, so that one can be warned if the other is later diagnosed with having the disease" (bbc.com). Moral of the story–your mother was right, "birds of a feather flock together," so beware of who it is you're getting close to⁠–they may be wearing more than enticing perfume!

And finally, this afternoon, if all goes according to schedule, a towering SpaceX rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida–destination: the International Space Station. Strapped inside the command module will be NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, both repeat visitors to outer space. This "will mark the first time in history that a commercial aerospace company has carried humans into Earth's orbit" (amp.cnn.com/cnn/2020/05/26/tech/spacex-nasa-launch-may-27-scn/index.html). And after a decade, this also "will usher in the return of human spaceflight to US soil" (ibid). Turns out the astronauts out there will be in a healthier domain than their Earth home, now contaminated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Moral of the story–you may never become an astronaut, but the day is coming when humans will blast off from this Earth on a fiery cloud to a pure and uncontaminated atmosphere and land called Heaven–they are taking reservations as we speak!

Three simple stories–one connecting truth–all about Jesus. Having willingly sacrificed His life (forever) to love you and me back to Him, He is the one Being who is (1) a Master at both moral pest and garbage control (with our permission, of course); (2) a Specialist at protective social distancing when the contagion is sin and not a virus; and (3) the Agent in charge of all one-way traffic to Paradise, reservations required. What a Savior, what a Friend.

Reminds me of a song we sing. Why don't you hum along as we read the words together: "Hallelujah! what a Savior! Hallelujah! what a Friend! Saving, helping, keeping, loving, He is with me to the end" ("Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners"  No. 187 Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal).

May
20
May 20, 2020

That’s the question on all our minds as we await the governor’s new pronouncement. Can you believe we’ve been locked down together for eleven weeks now? So with the rest of the nation slowly opening back up, when will Michigan be unlocked and we can go back to church?

That will be the question on the minds of your church leaders—the Pioneer board and the board of elders—this next Tuesday evening. When are we going to open? And how should we open? Shall we open all at once for Sabbath services? Or should we open gradually, a progressive opening from a single service to Sabbath Schools to a second service?

The good news is Andrews University has announced plans to reopen this campus to the students for face-to-face instruction beginning on Monday, August 24. And as the campus church, we have the privilege of crafting our Pioneer calendar so as to be ready for that highly anticipated new beginning.

Our leaders this Tuesday will consider not only a time table for Pioneer's reopening but will also put in motion very important safety protocols (as recommended by our Safety Committee) for social distancing, face masks, sanitizing, et al. Coming to our renovated sanctuary last August may have seemed a bit complicated—but given what needs to be in place coming back this time certainly takes complication to a new level!

And so we are asking our members and friends of our congregation to join us in earnestly seeking God’s wisdom and providential guidance regarding the decisions that must be made. He quickly and skillfully guided us out of our sanctuary and Sabbath School rooms for this emergency—and we can be confident He will safely and successfully guide us back into the sacred spaces so dear to our hearts. “Lo, I am with you always—even to the end of the world,” Jesus has promised us. With His presence, we will be walking into the best new year we have ever had. With Him, how could it be otherwise?

May
13
May 13, 2020

I pulled a book out of my library last week by one of a handful of authors I return to, Philip Yancey. Where Is God When It Hurts still is a powerful treatment of the painful subject of human suffering. I went back through it, this time taking notes, given the front and center place the pandemic has bestowed suffering.

Yancey quotes the novelist Peter De Vries, who “called the problem of pain ‘the question mark turned like a fishhook in the human heart’” (20). The snagging fishhook of Why?

In response to suffering, Christ Himself side-stepped that question mark. He did with Job. Did it with the disciples. Did it with the reporters regarding the bloody massacre by Pilate. Did it with the two heart-broken sisters of Lazarus. Why? Because there is no quick-fix quip to Why?

Because C. S. Lewis may be right: “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain in Yancey). 

Besides, could it be the How? is more critical than the Why?

Last Sabbath afternoon many celebrated with Lowell Hamel and his family over his brush with Covid-19 death (see www.facebook.com/lakeunionherald/videos/242742926827740/). Had the interview ended with the Doxology, we would all have stood in gratitude to God. But later that very night another member of our Congregation was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening complications. His text three days later simply testified, “I’m ready either way, now or later.”

Neither the now healed doctor nor the still suffering member can answer the Why? But both may testify to the How? of suffering—how, no matter what the outcome may turn out to be, we can know One who suffers beside us. Because “love suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4). And “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This means no matter how long we suffer through this pandemic, there is One who is pinned to our sides in our suffering. “Like a fishhook.” And He shall yet have the last word—which will not end with a question mark. Ever again.

May
6
May 6, 2020

Last week the leaders of the Greater New York and the North-Eastern conferences invited me to a Zoom conversation. (Will there be Zoom in heaven?—I am praying not—it’s not that I’m ungrateful for the technology—but oh boy, after a while it sure loses its shine!) In conversation with these church leaders in the Big Apple, I learned that this COVID-19 pandemic has not only turned New York City into the nation’s epicenter for this coronavirus. It has ravaged the Seventh-day Adventist community—to the place we have 400 of our brothers and sisters now infected with the deadly disease, and another 100 members have already died at its hands.

I listened as they described strategies they have already implemented within their communities—food pantries, health seminars, counseling programs, and other crisis intervention efforts. “We realize that to complete our efforts and represent the gospel in its totality,” one of them emailed me, “we need to give more direct attention to presenting Jesus as the ultimate solution to all our concerns in this crisis—bringing hope and healing to New York.” So, they asked, would I be willing to preach an eight evening series they’re calling “Healing Hope: Renewing Faith for New York.” 

The plan is to live stream (truly live) each evening (7:00) from May 16 - 23, from our living room to their web and social media platforms. The eight messages, I’m already planning, will revolve around two theme texts—“Love suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4) and “An enemy has done this” (Matthew 13:28)—twin explanations for the ravaging cosmic warfare over this planet that unleashes such untold human suffering.

I tell you all of this for one reason—New York City and its churches and your pastor very much need your intercessory prayers over the next ten days until the series begins, and then the eight days the series continues. How God’s heart aches for the plight of the citizens of New York City, as well as the rest of the world. God is no respecter of persons—His love and compassion stretch out in every direction to draw near to those who suffer. “If not one [sparrow] will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care,” Jesus assured us, “. . . you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-30).

In 1902 Ellen White was moved on behalf of the Big Apple: “New York is ready to be worked. In that great city, the message of truth will be given with the power of God. The Lord calls for workmen. He calls upon those who have gained experience in the cause to take up and carry forward in His fear the work to be done in New York and other large cities of America. He calls also for means to be used in this work” (Evangelism 384). In 1910 came these words that stun me every time I read them: “It is time to wake up the watchmen. I have expended my strength in giving the messages the Lord has given me. The burden of the needs of our cities has rested so heavily upon me that it has sometimes seemed that I should die. May the Lord give wisdom to our brethren, that they may know how to carry forward the work in harmony with the will of the Lord” (ibid 34 emphasis supplied). Has my heart ever been so burdened for any city at all?

Pray for New York City, and please pray for me “that whenever I speak, words may be given me to that I will fearlessly [and compassionately] make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). You’ll be in good hands here—God has three gifted preachers who will deliver His Word the next three Sabbaths. So please, pray for us all—that this pandemic may open up a “great door for effective work” for all of us, for Jesus and His mission on earth.

Apr
29
April 29, 2020

You probably saw the headline a few days ago, “As famines of ‘biblical proportion’ loom, Security Council urged to ‘act fast’” (UN News www.news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062272). Biblical proportions? Weren’t we talking about famines a few days ago ourselves?

“Noting that the global spread of COVID-19 this year has sparked 'the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two', Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley pointed to deepening crises, more frequent natural disasters and changing weather patterns, saying 'we’re already facing a perfect storm’.”

The United Nation news website continues: “As millions of civilians in conflict-scarred nations teeter on the brink of starvation, he said, 'famine is a very real and dangerous possibility'. 

Mr. Beasley painted a grim picture of 135 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse, coupled with an additional 130 million on the edge of starvation prompted by Coronavirus, noting that WFP currently offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people – up from about 80 million just a few years ago. 'If we can’t reach these people with the life-saving assistance they need, our analysis shows that 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period', he upheld. 'This does not include the increase of starvation due to COVID-19’” (ibid).

Was that 300,000 people starving to death every day for three months? Do you mean 27 million people? A crippling pandemic followed by famines “of biblical proportions”—no wonder he calls it “a perfect storm.”

Did you know God prophesied a devastating global famine before the end of the world? The shepherd prophet Amos recorded the prediction: “'The days are coming,' declares the Sovereign Lord, 'when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it’” (Amos 8:11-12).

A famine of biblical proportions—but not a famine of food—rather a global famine driven by desperate hunger for the Word of God that apparently will no longer be found.

Will all the Bibles on earth disappear? That seems highly unlikely. Rather Amos’ somber warning depicts a time when God’s appeals to this civilization will finally cease. Humanity will have had its golden opportunity to respond to “the last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world . . . a revelation of His character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons 415). Having uttered their irrevocable No to God, perhaps these like the worried antediluvians outside the ark’s closed-door offer to reconsider their No. But it is too late. “They will not find it”—the words of God, the promise of the Savior, the offer of forgiveness and restoration. 

But good news—this sad word doesn’t have to be the last word for this civilization right now. Why? Because you and I very well know where the Bread of Life can still be found in glorious supply—where the Water of Life still flows in crystal streams. “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35). Knowing what we know or Whom we know, we remain God’s most effective and final strategy to stave off the predicted global famine! 

Which is why when this lockdown is lifted, I'm praying none of us will go back to letting everybody else be Christ’s witnesses. No—you and I thus far have been spared the frontal assault of the coronavirus pandemic—which makes us God’s humble strategy to stave off a spiritual famine of biblical proportions. Our friendly deeds of love, our simple witness for Jesus are a revelation of God’s character of love to people more open to Him now than perhaps ever before. 

As someone once said—“Witnessing is one beggar telling other beggars where we found bread.” And that really is good news.

Apr
22
April 22, 2020

Maybe what we need to survive this pandemic is a CAN-DO-mic. Because as the news gets bleaker and badder, what’s wrong with focusing on the CAN-DO side of God? Seriously. Is there anything God can’t do? That’s what the mantled Stranger outside Abraham’s tent asked the patriarch: “Is there anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14) I.e., “Come on, Abraham, can you think of anything at all God cannot do?” Rhetorical question, of course. And the answer came nine months later in the squalling infant Sarah gave birth to at her and Abraham's “ripe old age.”

God must love that side of Himself. After all, He instructed Abraham to call Him El Shaddai, the Almighty God (Genesis 17:1). He is the God who CAN DO it.

Hudson Taylor, the intrepid missionary to China—who served that great people for fifty years—remarked once to his friends: “‘I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done” (Rebecca McLaughlin Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion 41). 

I love that—while we’re nearly overwhelmed by what has befallen us—what appears to us as utterly impossible and absolutely difficult gets suddenly done. By whom? By the CAN DO God you and I worship and love. Done!

“Well then, I hope He is done with this pandemic.” So do I. Though, of course, I don’t believe the pandemic is His creation. I am persuaded Jesus nailed it when He announced, “An enemy has done this” (Matthew 13:28).

“Satan is exercising his power. He sweeps away the ripening harvest, and famine and distress follow. He imparts to the air a deadly taint, and thousands perish by the pestilence. These visitations are to become more and more frequent and disastrous” (The Great Controversy 590).

So we know whom to thank. But even what the enemy has done to you, to me, to those who suffer, even to those who have died at the hands of this deadly pestilence is even yet reversible. “‘I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and [the grave]’” (Revelation 1:18).

El Shaddai gets the last word. Always. And you can be sure, it will be a CAN DO word.

So, as the little note card our daughter, Kristin attached to her bedroom mirror when she was a girl declares: “Don’t go to God to tell Him you have a big problem—go to your problem and tell it you have a BIG God!”

His name is El Shaddai, the Almighty CAN DO God. And He will do whatever it takes to get you through this lockdown, this life. He has nail-scarred hands to prove it.

Apr
15
April 15, 2020

No sense beating around the bush. Let's pretend we're kids once again and it’s very OK for us to pester our father with the familiar question: "Are we there yet?" Of course, I’m not thinking of our father, but rather our Father who is in heaven. 

I.e., God—are we close to calling this pandemic off (we, of course, meaning You)? Haven't we pretty much learned what we need to learn by now? You know—the lesson about how quickly life can irrevocably change—we got it. Or the lesson about how important patience is for our spiritual growth—got it again (sort of). So, dear Lord—since it's now been five weeks and we’ve learned our lessons—we promise—is it OK for us to ask: Are we there yet?

In The Atlantic science writer, Ed Yong describes the reality we face: "This physical-distancing strategy is working, but at such an economic cost that it can't be sustained indefinitely. When restrictions relax, as they are set to do on April 30, the coronavirus will likely surge back, as it is now doing in Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Asian states that had briefly restrained it. As I wrote last month, the only viable endgame is to play whack-a-mole with the coronavirus, suppressing it until a vaccine can be produced. With luck, that will take 18 to 24 months. During that time, new outbreaks will probably arise. Much about that period is unclear, but the dozens of experts whom I have interviewed agree that life as most people knew it cannot fully return. ‘I think people haven’t understood that this isn't about the next couple of weeks," said Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. “This is about the next two years.'" (www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/pandemic-summer-coronavirus-reopening-back-normal/609940/). 

Did you catch that? "Life as most people knew it cannot fully return." He means “ever."

Yong goes on: "The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world. 'Everyone wants to know when this will end,’ said Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh. 'That's not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?'" (ibid).

"How do we continue?"

That seemed to be on the mind of Jesus that Tuesday just before His Friday execution. I came across it a few days ago here in my lock-down study at home—one intriguing line: "'By your patience possess your souls'" (Luke 21:19 NKJV). The Greek word for "patience" is from hupomeno ("to remain under" or "to endure"), which of course is what patience is all about, remaining pinned down by circumstances utterly out of your control. You remember from our Livestream Agape Feast a couple of Sabbaths ago the same word described the four walls of dread that pressed in tighter and tighter on Jesus on Calvary. "He endured [hupomeno] the cross." Literally pinned down—not so much unable, but very much unwilling to extricate Himself, which defines the magnitude of what His love endured to save the likes of you and me.

And I complain about my circumstances after a few weeks of being pinned down in my comfortable space by this lock-down?

Interestingly this same hupomeno appears in another one-liner, this one in the Apocalypse, describing God's endgame friends before Jesus returns: "Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Revelation 14:12). Pinned down-and-under kind of patience—the very patience I don't have but I want very much to possess. "By your patience possess your souls." Jesus did. His friends will. And by God’s grace, I seek to learn His lesson here in my lock-down.

"Are we there yet?" Turns out we are much closer than we ever realized before—which makes this a very good time to be learning our lesson.

Apr
8
April 8, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, has become the media's go-to authority amid these dark days of the coronavirus pandemic. His quick mind and candid assessments of the disease's strength and spread have become a daily mainstay for Americans. In an interview yesterday with Wall Street Journal's podcast he offered this candid advice for Americans when the pandemic finally ends: "Speaking about the eventual return to normal life, Dr. Fauci said: 'When you gradually come back, you don't jump into it with both feet. You say what are the things you could still do and still approach normal. One of them is absolute compulsive hand washing. The other is you don't ever shake anybody's hands'" (www.newsweek.com/dr-fauci-americans-should-never-shake-hands-again-coronavirus-influenza-1496772).

Lots of handwashing but no more handshaking? Has it come to that?

"The history of the handshake dates back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece. It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. During the Roman era, the handshake was actually more of an arm grab. . . . Some say that the shaking gesture of the handshake started in Medieval Europe. Knights would shake the hand of others in an attempt to shake loose any hidden weapons." But how about today? 

"While handshaking is still the most ubiquitous greeting around the world, it may be losing ground in the US. The fist bump was, until recently, a gesture mostly used by athletes and young people. Now it's becoming more and more common among everyone, including older people. Even the President of the United States is a fan of the fist bump. According to one survey, forty-nine percent of Americans sometimes choose the fist bump over a traditional handshake greeting . . . [F]or many it's a pragmatic choice. Many survey participants said they preferred the fist bump because they were afraid of catching germs by shaking hands" (www.deepenglish.com/2014/07/handshake-history-listening-fluency-116).

There you go—good-bye handshakes, hello fist bumps.

A block from our home yesterday, I was outdoors chatting with a couple (maintaining our requisite social distancing, of course). "This no-handshake business must be really hard on you," they commented. Are you kidding! My pastoral instincts (within proper bounds) are to shake a hand, touch a shoulder as part of a personal connect, an I'm-glad-to-meet-you gesture of warmth. But with no more handshakes, probably no more fist bumps—how will a pastor survive!

Truth is this pandemic has pretty much rewritten a host of social proprieties. But we can't let the disease erase our commitment to the genuine, Christian community. Look at Jesus, the master of touch and champion of community. With His disciples "He took the Twelve aside" (Mark 10:32). With the young "He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them" (Mark 10:16). Miracle after miracle He touches the seeker. There was nothing suggestive about Jesus' touch and His quest for community. Over the creation of the human race “in the beginning," the pre-incarnate Christ pronounced our essential humanity, "It is not good for them to be alone" (see Genesis 2:18). We were made for community, and we will have to work hard at preserving it in our parish whatever the readjusted social norms become.

No handshakes in heaven? Who said so? "And what is the happiness of heaven but to see God? What greater joy could come to the sinner saved by the grace of Christ than to look on the face of God and know Him as Father" (Last Day Events 298). That won't be a handshake. That will be a hug only a Father could give!

Apr
1
April 1, 2020

Elijah remains one of the great heroes of Scripture. And everybody remembers that moment, when after three and half debilitating years of drought and famine, he and the wicked king Ahab meet once again.

But don't forget the backstory of their meeting. Three and half years earlier, unannounced Elijah strode into the monarch’s throne room with a thundering pronouncement: "'As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word'" (1 Kings 17:1). With that, he vanished. But don't miss the key phrase, "except at my word." I.e., this vagabond prophet held the key to any recovery from the nation's devastating calamity.

Insert here one more line from the New Testament to further illumine the backstory: "Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years" (James 5:17). Catch that? Elijah's prayers personally solicited the divine judgment on the land! So it was no idle threat for the prophet to declare the crisis would not end until he said so.

Another writer agrees: "Viewing this [national] apostasy from his mountain retreat, Elijah was overwhelmed with sorrow. In anguish of soul he besought God to arrest the once-favored people in their wicked course, to visit them with judgments, if need be, that they might be led to see in its true light their departure from Heaven" (Prophets and Kings 120 emphasis supplied).

He prayed it would not rain—and it did not rain. King Ahab's futile search for the pronouncer of doom over the intervening 1,260 days finally ends when the haughty monarch spots the prophet. "When he saw Elijah, he said to him, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?'" The blame game! "'I have not made trouble for Israel,' Elijah replied, 'But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commandments and have followed the Baals'" (1 Kings 18:17-18).

Guess what. It's going to happen again, this notion of the majority blaming the minority for their ills. I did a double-take when a physician friend of mine out West alerted me to an op-ed headline a few days ago, "The Religious Right's Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Response [to the Coronavirus Pandemic]" (New York Times, March 27, 2020). Using a paint-everybody-with-the-same-brush sort of logic, the op-ed writer essentially attempts to draw a line from hyper-reactionary evangelical responses to science over the last century and a half to the government’s response to our national pandemic today. Are evangelical Christians to blame? Hardly! But Ahab’s blame game is an easy one to play.

And it will happen again one day. "Satan is exercising his power. He sweeps away the ripening harvest, and famine and distress follow. He imparts to the air a deadly taint, and thousands perish by the pestilence [like the coronavirus]. These visitations are to become more and more frequent and disastrous. . . . And then the great deceiver will persuade men that those who serve God are causing these evils. . . . Thus [Ahab's] accusation urged of old against the servant of God [Elijah] will be repeated and upon grounds equally well established. . . . [The nation] will pursue a course toward God's ambassadors very similar to that which apostate Israel pursued toward Elijah" (The Great Controversy 590).

How then shall we survive, we who wait out this calamitous pandemic? The same way Elijah and all of God's friends through history have survived—casting ourselves upon His saving grace night and day, loving and caring for our neighbors, reflecting the self-sacrificing compassion of our Lord Jesus, volunteering to help in communities desperate for assistance, heeding the government’s mandated protocols for social isolation and virus containment, praying for those on the healthcare frontlines, interceding on behalf of a planet under siege, and calling upon God to open a new door through which we might yet reach our little worlds before Christ our King returns. We don’t have time to blame. God gives us the grace to help and to heal.