COVID-19 UPDATES  —  

For details regarding prevention measures in place and the COVID-19 Pioneer response click here.

 
Tuesday, February 16, 2021 - 18:25

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Apr
28
April 28, 2021

No one is quite sure where this “100 days” marker actually originated. But it obviously rules the political world inside the beltway of our nation’s capital. 

Some say it stretches back to Napoleon: “The 100-days concept is believed to have its roots in France, where the concept of 'Cent Jours' (Hundred Days) refers to the period of 1815 between Napoleon Bonaparte’s return to Paris from exile on the island of Elba and his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, after which King Louis XVIII regained the French throne” (www.history.com/news/fast-facts-on-the-first-100-days).

Most link the “100 days” packet of time to the opening months of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency: “[He] was the first president to use the phrase 'first 100 days’, in a radio address on July 24th, 1933. He had taken office around five months earlier. America was then in its fourth year of a depression” (www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/01/24/why-an-american-presidents-first-100-days-matter). 

But as it turned out, every subsequent American president would be evaluated by the “first 100 days” of his own presidency, for weal or for woe. Thus, Wednesday evening President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the end of his “first 100 days,” a session radically reduced in attendance and thoroughly masked to accommodate our Covid-19 times.

And how would God be judged, were we to use the “first 100 days” marker for His administration?

Creation of Earth—seven days (Genesis 1-2)
Global flood over Earth—forty days (Genesis 7)
Ten Commandments—forty days (Exodus 31)
Ten Commandments recarved—another forty days (Exodus 34)
Conquest of Jericho—seven days (Joshua 6)
Ministry of Jesus—1,260 days (Daniel 9/Luke 3)
Salvation of the human race—three days (John 19-20)
Pentecost—fifty days (Acts 1-2)
Re-creation of Earth—someday (Revelation 21)

Is anyone surprised God can accomplish so much inside the “first 100 days” criterion of American politics? “Yes, but of course, He is God!” To which we all agree. “And besides, He doesn’t have to work with Congress.” We nod.

But would you like to know how many days really matter to God? The answer is—one. “Today, if only you would hear His voice” (Psalm 95:7). Because “today” is the only day that matters for God when it comes to you and me. “Today” is the only day that counts. Not “yesterday” nor “tomorrow.” But “today.” Have you listened for His voice today?

Why the big deal about “today?” Because of both the immediacy and urgency of this diminishing commodity called “time” for us time-bound inhabitants of this planet. It is the only day we have—“today.” And so it is the only day in our lives that truly matters to God—“today.”

“‘Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve’” (Joshua 24:15). Because “today” is the only day we have left to decide for Jesus and eternity. Not “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” But “today.” Have you reaffirmed your choice of the Savior today?

Our spiritual forefather, William Miller (the Baptist farmer turned preacher), concentrated his entire life and life mission on one day, the day of Christ’s return. Even after the bitter disappointment of Jesus not returning on October 22, 1844, three weeks later Miller wrote: “‘I have fixed my mind on another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light.—And that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see HIM for whom my soul yearns’” (quoted in Francis D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry, 267).

“Today” and “today” and “today”—how better to deal with the immediacy and urgency of this frazzled, pandemic world we inhabit? Who cares about a hundred days? The only day that matters between you and Jesus is still “today.” 

Apr
21
April 21, 2021

Maybe we should ask NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to supervise things here on earth. After all, they sure do well operating on another planet! 

On April 19 the world watched as the four-pound, 19.3-inch tall drone (rotorcraft), dubbed the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, lifted off the dusty rocks of the Martian surface. Breathlessly, NASA's Ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California monitored the action 173 million miles away, as Ingenuity whirled up to an altitude of ten feet, hovered there for 30 seconds, and returned to the Mars surface. 

True, 39.1 seconds is not a long flight. But it was unprecedented in space exploration annals, as Ingenuity became “the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet” (www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-ingenuity-mars-helicopter-succeeds-in-historic-first-flight).

Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk pronounced, “‘Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible. . . . We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky – at least on Mars – may not be the limit’” (ibid).

But what about the sky here on Earth? Have we reached our human limits? Once again, the world watched the jury conviction of Derek Chauvin two days after the Ingenuity exploit. What a somber reminder that while we can soar a box of technology millions of miles into space without a hitch, we are seemingly unable to regulate, let alone guide and protect, human life on this planet. And while the family of George Floyd sobbed in relief, the unnerving string of mass killings over the past few weeks across this land only compounds the helplessness of what feels like a society out of control.

The apostle Paul ventured to describe our generation with this scribbled prediction, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). Terrible? How else shall we describe the knee-jerk assaults across this nation on Asians, ostensibly to express the perpetrators' anger over the China linkage to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The point is obvious, the glory of this springtime notwithstanding. We need the ingenuity of the Holy Spirit to turn the hearts of the people back to their Creator. Because life with no notion of a loving Creator is truly a hell on earth. 

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (Revelation 14:6-7).

The words are marked up and highlighted in my thin volume: “In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning [Revelation 14] for a perishing world. . . . There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention” (9T 19).

You and I belong to a faith community—an apocalyptic movement—that takes this too-long-ignored divine appeal to the human race seriously. It is our mission to invite the world to embrace the truth, “The Maker of all things loves and wants me.” Can you imagine what life on this planet would be like were humanity to remember we are deeply loved and wanted by the Maker of all things? Who laid down His life for this race on that long ago cross. And rose again. And is coming back sooner than we have calculated.

Ingenuity. That’s what we need—bright young minds and activists, willing to go to the streets and neighborhoods, with the urgently good news of the Maker of all things who comes soon. Ingenuity may be on Mars right now, but Heaven needs it here on this terra firma right now. So give us, O God, the Spirit’s ingenuity, we pray.

Photo courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory—California Institute of Technology

Apr
14
April 14, 2021

“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring”—so opined Victor Hugo. 

Or as Tiffany Aurora mused:
We are settling into the spring of things.
     Two-lipped Tulip kisses & cherry blossom breaths.

In matters of the heart, spring is the season of blossoming love, is it not? Why even Solomon himself was carried away with spring’s enchantment:
           My beloved spoke and said to me,
                   “Arise, my darling,
                           my beautiful one, come with me.  
           See! The winter is past;
                           the rains are over and gone.  
                   Flowers appear on the earth;
                           the season of singing has come,
           the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
         The fig tree forms its early fruit;
         the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
         Arise, come, my darling;
          my beautiful one, come with me.” (Song of Solomon 2:10-13)

Thus, spring is surely the perfect season to ponder matters of marriage, as we are in our current worship-pulpit series, “Marriage.”

This Sabbath our series continues through the ministry of David and Beverly Sedlacek in both services (9 AM/11:45 AM). As pastor and clinician, David is Chair and Professor of Family Ministry and Discipleship in the Department of Discipleship and Lifespan Education at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. And having specialized in psychiatric nursing, Beverly is a therapist in private practice at University Medical Specialties in Berrien Springs, Michigan. 

Combining their two academic careers (David’s doctorate in Social Work [Case Western Reserve University], and Beverly’s doctorate in Nursing Practice [Andrews University]), our guest couple collaborated to write the book Cleansing the Sanctuary of the Heart: Tools for Emotional Healing, along with its accompanying workbook. 

Together they conduct seminars nationally and internationally on many topics related to family ministry and are family ministry directors in their local church. They have five children, twelve grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. They know of what they speak!

And besides, who better than a husband and wife team to minister to our campus congregation on the subject of marriage? Given the stresses of both pandemic and culture, marriage faces unprecedented challenges today. But the Sedlaceks come to minister to us the hope and promise of Christ our Lord for all who have, who are, and who may yet experience the Creator's “in the beginning” gift of marriage to humanity. Welcome, Sedlacek's, and all to worship this Sabbath.

Apr
7
April 7, 2021

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, garnered a few headlines this week. His comments about the state of life and the economy in America caught my eye. In his annual shareholder letter on Wednesday (and no, I didn’t receive a copy), he not only prognosticated about the future but also offered a candid analysis of America right now.

“Dimon wrote that the Covid-19 pandemic, the 'horrific murder' of George Floyd, and the painfully slow economic growth of the past two decades are all symptoms of a broader problem: 'inept' public policy and broad government dysfunction” (www.cnn.com/2021/04/07/economy/economy-jamie-dimon-jpmorgan/index.html).

He goes on in his shareholder letter: “‘Unfortunately, the tragedies of this past year are only the tip of the iceberg — they merely expose enormous failures that have existed for decades and have been deeply damaging to America,’ . . . adding that the nation was ‘totally unprepared’ for the deadly pandemic” (ibid).

But all isn’t doom and gloom. “‘I have little doubt that with excess savings, new stimulus savings, huge deficit spending, more QE [quantitative easing—i.e., printing more money], a new potential infrastructure bill, a successful vaccine and euphoria around the end of the pandemic, the U.S. economy will likely boom,’ Dimon said. 'This boom could easily run into 2023 because all the spending could extend well into 2023’” (www.cnbc.com/2021/04/07/jamie-dimon-says-economic-boom-fueled-by-deficit-spending-vaccines-could-easily-run-into-2023.html).

But who cares what Jamie Dimon thinks? Fair enough. Though before we dismiss him too quickly, we should consider what this influential financial leader is suggesting.

America’s in trouble. The fractious events of the past year—racial, economic, political, medical—a hint of uneasy uncertainty ahead. And while there may be a euphoria-fed boom in the immediate future, existing ineptitude of public policy and governmental dysfunction, as he put it, may be ominous harbingers of what this country faces.

Was Jesus suggesting the same? “‘For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’” (Matthew 24:38-39). 

I.e., life was carrying on, with its usual hiccups and small crises, as it always does—people eating (no sin there), drinking (no sin there), marrying (no sin there), and giving in marriage (no sin there). All of this, plain and simple, as per usual. Were there systemic fractures and fault lines evident in the day? Of course (just read the first seven verses of Genesis 6). But instead Jesus skips over Genesis 6 and focuses on the laissez faire attitude of the antediluvians.

And therein lay their fatal error.  Life was unraveling around them, but they just kept living it as if everything was going to be OK. This means Jamie Dimon’s prediction of a euphoric boom in our economy’s near future must not overshadow his warning of systemic fault lines in our society and government. Hungry for good news though this pandemic-embattled society is, we must not be willfully blind to the bad news that social and economic fissures are still widening. And so are the moral and spiritual fractures that threaten the soul of this civilization.

“‘And they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’” (Matthew 24:38-39).

Describing our own generation, The Great Controversy warns: “The end will come more quickly than [people] expect” (631).

But then what did you expect? A recovery from the pandemic that ushers in a new millennium? Hardly! Even Jamie Dimon knows better. And given the times we now inhabit, we must know better, too.

Mar
31
March 31, 2021

For a band of no-name merchant marines, they certainly found the quickest way to global notoriety! They’ll be telling the story to their grandkids forever. After all the Suez Canal is a mere 200 to 225 feet wide. And the cargo ship they were sailing stretches 1,312 feet long (a quarter of a mile). Do the arithmetic. If that 200,000-ton “multi-decker” giant of the sea, loaded with 20,000 huge shipping containers (with $9 billion of estimated cargo), would manage to get crosswise in that very narrow canal, it’s “good-bye” to any other ship trying to get by.

And that is exactly what happened. The Ever Given became ever stuck, thanks to strong winds that wedged the vessel diagonally between the two canal walls. And the rest is the news feed story the world followed for a few humorous days (funny only to the newsreaders, not the sailors on board, not to mention the crews aboard the 321 ships backed up behind the Ever Given). 

What’s the big deal? “The Suez Canal is one of the world's most important waterways. Located 75 miles east of Cairo, the capital of Egypt, it links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, allowing for direct shipping from Europe to Asia. Roughly 12% of the world's shipping traffic and a chunk of its oil supply goes through the manmade canal, which has become particularly vital following pandemic-related disruptions to shipping” (www.cnet.com/news/suez-canal-ship-freed-how-the-moon-helped-and-everything-else-you-need-to-know/).

But as CNET put it, “thanks to a huge rescue effort and help from the moon itself, traffic has resumed on the Suez Canal” (Ibid). Even Mother Nature’s lunar tug got in the act with a strong falling tide that pulled the vessel free. Unjammed at last!

Two thousand years ago all of humanity, the entire race was jammed, wedged inside its mortal enemy they called Ever Grave. For the grave has ever been mankind’s destiny. And nobody . . . no one . . . since the beginning of time . . . has ever been able to unwedge and unjam the human race trapped in the dark and breathless domiciles of death. Graves, sepulchers, tombs, pyramids, mausoleums, mummies, urns, skeletons—not all the tears, not all the prayers, not all the incantations, not all the science even third millennials can boast—nobody has ever been able to unwedge the jam, to set the human race free. Nobody.

Until “the Maker of all things who loves and wants me” was buried in one of those "ever graves." Pulseless breast, nail-scarred and whip-lashed torso, Jesus lay on the cold shelf of that rock-hewn sepulcher. The stone door to His domicile sealed shut. Forever.

Until three o’clock that morning, or was it four? When in the nanosecond of a nanosecond a spark of deity ignited within the pulseless Body. And life—“original, unborrowed, underived” (Desire of Ages 530)—breezed through His lungs, unsealed His eyes, and animated His slumber. And a blinding, brighter than the noon-day sun, explosion of glory wrapped the Sun of Righteousness with a robe fire-white and a smile as strong as His love. 

And with that “The Maker of all things” came forth to love us all and to want us all—so that we, too, one day will come forth—unjammed—forever and ever. Amen.

Mar
24
March 24, 2021

He called marriage the “M” word, the late University of Chicago ethicist Don Browning: “‘It is often referred to as the “M” word, almost in the same category as other dirty words. Of course, it is not a dirty word, but it is a word that makes people uncomfortable as a topic of serious conversation’” (Marriage and Modernization: How Globalization Threatens Marriage and What to Do About It, p viii [quoted in Mark Regnerus, The Future of Christian Marriage p 4).

Let’s face it—timeless though it is, marriage as an institution is getting whacked in today’s culture, for both the young and the old. Nothing surprising there. But as pastor of a university parish where marriage continues to be a viable option, I am concerned about numbers now being reported. Too much is at stake for me and us not to speak up. And given realities in our own small community here in southwestern Michigan, it is necessary and, I believe, expedient that we hit the pause button and plunge into the “M” word as a campus congregation.

So we’re moving that new series, “For the Love of an Animal,” into May and June, so we can clear the decks and focus on marriage in the final weeks of this semester. It will be time well spent for all of us.

Although, like Luther, I approach this pastoral domain with caution: “‘How I dread preaching on the estate of marriage! . . . The lax authority of both the spiritual and the temporal swords has given rise to so many dreadful abuses and false situations, that I would much prefer neither to look into the matter, nor hear of it. But timidity is no help in an emergency; I must proceed. I must try to instruct poor bewildered consciences and take up the matter boldly’” (Martin Luther, The Estate of Marriage [Ibid. p. 27]). 

And what better spring day to begin this new series than Sabbath April 3, 9/11:45 AM (Easter weekend). “Marriage: Fresh Hope for the ‘M’ Word—He Lives!” 

But not before we have the joy this Sabbath of celebrating the Cross of Him who is our “the Maker of all things loves and wants me” Lord Jesus. These pandemic celebrations of the Lord’s Supper have turned out to be very meaningful worship experiences, the prepackaged communion elements and social distancing notwithstanding. Come and worship with us this Sabbath (“Love Story—Return to Sender: ’So I Am Sending You’”).

If you prefer to celebrate the Lord’s Supper at home, please drop by the church this Thursday or Friday to pick up your communion element kit. And then Friday evening, let’s join with family or a friend at home in commemorating our Lord’s washing of our feet that Thursday night long ago. What a blessed Sabbath is coming: “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Mar
17
March 17, 2021

What do you say we shift gears for a few Sabbaths? Last fall it was “American Apocalypse.” This winter it was, “The Maker of All Things Loves and Wants Me.” But with springtime chomping at the bits to break out all over the land, let's celebrate the “Maker of all things” in the context of the wonderful little (and sometimes not so little) animals He has created for our blessing.

“For the Love of an Animal” will be the series of Old and New Testament stories revolving around animals (and by that I mean the four-legged kind)—you know, “Moooo,” “Baaaah,” “Bow-wow” (although unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t speak very highly of dogs—which we can gently consider and explain when we’re together).

But is there a human heart that doesn’t smile and glow in the presence of an animal? From toddlers to college kids to senior citizens—and all of us in between—the Maker of all things has planted animal love deep within our human souls for sure. 

But be forewarned—lest we conclude all the animal stories are warm and cuddly. They are not. But that’s OK. We still have lessons to learn.

So join us from Easter Sabbath (April 3) and onward as we worship Christ our Maker around the theme, “For the Love of an Animal.” Invite your friends to share the blessing, too.

PS—if you have a favorite animal story to share (I don’t mean from a book—but from your own life experience), you can go to www.pmchurch.org/animalstories. Thank you.

Mar
10
March 10, 2021

Although I don’t suppose “happy” is the appropriate adjective when you’re talking about the one-year anniversary of the Covid-19 lockdown in Michigan, at Andrews, and with the Pioneer Memorial Church. Twelve months ago—who can forget the warp speed with which leaders and people alike, faculty and students alike, all of us alike—very much alike in our foreboding uncertainty (outright fear, I’m sure, for some) of what was happening to our nation, our community, our congregation—we were all catapulted into the strange new world of “lockdown.”

An empty sanctuary, empty classrooms, empty offices, empty everything and everybody, except for “essential” and “frontline” workers. Who can forget?

For those of us on the congregation side of the campus, empty was driven home when on Sabbath, March 14, 2020, two days after the university lock-down, a team of media workers and a few pastors showed up early Sabbath morning to conduct worship in a cavernous empty sanctuary. Who will forget that day! (I also remember it a bit more painfully, since in my rush to get to Pioneer, I backed into the rental car of a young family who was bedding down with us for the weekend. Oh boy! Got the scars to prove it.)

It seems like an eternity ago in some ways, doesn’t it? And yet in other ways, just like yesterday. Because for all our “reopenness” it still feels like we’re locked down. Face masks (what a joy it will be when we can safely discard these cloth coverings), physical distancing (have you noticed how we’re creeping closer and closer to each other—surely God understands), hand sanitizing and washing, et al. We still battle the pandemic.

But now many of us are lining up for our vaccinations (Karen and I are scheduled for next week), in a collective effort to build some sort of “collective immunity” in our country. How will life be different once we’ve been vaccinated? Here’s a link from the CDC with its latest depiction of a less-lockdown nation: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html

What about Pioneer? Our children’s leaders are anticipating reopening children’s Sabbath Schools on May 15. But don’t lock that date in yet, since tenuous times mean flexible calendars. We’ll keep you posted here in our eLetter and on Sabbath mornings.

But when it is all said and done—we really do have reason to praise God for the way He has shepherded us through these past roller coaster twelve months. The Angel of the Lord has been our protector. The Spirit of Jesus has gone on ministering electronically when not in person. And you who make the Pioneer Family what it is have been faithful partners and third millennial saints in the gracious way you have rolled with the punches! And for you, we on the pastoral and office team thank God. Your commitment to safety and health, your willingness to sacrifice in order to protect those around you, as well as your unrelenting support for both God’s Kingdom and Pioneer through it all—“I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).

And I am also grateful for the team of pastor professionals I get to minister beside day in and day out. They have each gone above and beyond in their dedicated ministry for Christ in spite of and straight through the pandemic. We are blessed to have their giftedness in our midst. And good news, we'll be welcoming a brand new pastor family to our team and congregation on Sabbath, April 10—a new associate chaplain to join us a Pioneer and Pastor Jose and Danielle Pilgrim in the Center for Faith Engagement here on campus.

My psalm for the day this morning offered up this prayer: “Praise befits you, our God, in Zion. . . . Blessed are those You choose and bring near to live in Your courts. . . . You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. . . . You crown the year with Your bounty, and Your carts overflow with abundance” (Psalm 65).

This anniversary-of-sorts Sabbath let us gather in person and online with the praise that befits the Almighty God who has led us heretofore, and who will guide us yet into the uncharted future that awaits us. We go together. Amen.

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).