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Tuesday, June 22, 2021 - 17:48

The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

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).

Jan
7
January 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec
16
December 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec
9
December 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec
2
December 2, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not one.

Nov
18
November 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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