The Fourth Watch

By Pastor Dwight K. Nelson

Aug
16
August 16, 2017

This Monday the continent of North America will have a rare front row seat to an eclipse of the sun, when the moon will silently, slowly pass between the sun and the earth for a few fleeting moments—a moment NASA is calling "one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights" (https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-who-what-where-when-and-how). How rare this moment? As it turns out, a solar eclipse occurs every 18 months somewhere on the face of this earth. But because 70% of the earth’s surface is water, most solar eclipses occur where there is no one below to witness them. Not so this time. For the first time in 26 years this nation will host this eclipse. In fact 12 million Americans are living in the 70-mile wide "band of totality," stretching from Lincoln Beach, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, and will hopefully (depending on the cloud cover Monday) have the chance to personally witness that singular moment when day will turn to night.

And no, that band of totality does not include Berrien Springs, Michigan. But the good news is we will witness 84.86% of a total eclipse of the sun (with the partial eclipse beginning at 12:58:56 PM ET, the maximum eclipse occurring at 2:22:14 PM and the end of partial eclipse at 3:44:28 PM). If you’re going to be somewhere else, here’s a website to calculate the magnitude and times for the eclipse where you’ll be (https://www.space.com/33797-total-solar-eclipse-2017-guide.html).

So amateur astronomers that we all are, let’s meet beneath the heavens of our Creator on Monday afternoon and be awed with the clockwork precision and splendor with which He guides this universe. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands" (Psalm 19:1).

WARNING—DO NOT OBSERVE THE ECLIPSE WITHOUT PROTECTIVE EYE WEAR. Amazon has had to recall "eclipse glasses" sold through the internet because it has been unable to confirm this model of glasses was manufactured by a recommended manufacturer. Go to https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters for a list of reputable manufacturers.

Let’s be honest. In this alignment of what to us earth children are the three most important heavenly bodies in the solar system, perhaps the universe—there is an awe of the mysterious, the mystique of Creation itself. I like the way Jeffrey Kluger put it in an essay for TIME: "Despite all the hype, the moon has nothing planned for Aug. 21.... The sun has nothing special planned either.... That’s how things go in the clockwork cosmos, and yet once in a while, there’s poetry in the machinery. Once in a while, the wheels click in synchrony and the indifferent universe offers up a rare spectacle... as the moon’s orbit crosses in front of the sun at the precise spot to eclipse its face and appear to snuff its fires" (TIME August 21, 2017).

"To eclipse its face and appear to snuff its fires" - do we do that, too, with the Sun of Righteousness, eclipse Him in front of others? How easy it is for me - by my careless words, my vain actions, even my private thoughts - to eclipse the face of Jesus. How careless of me to slip between someone else and the Savior, so I block the beam of glory Christ was hoping to shine into that person’s life at that very moment. Like the lightless, gloryless moon, I intentionally or accidentally inject my "self" into the picture and block what could have been a beautiful moment between God and that soul.

"I [GK ego] am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I [ego], but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Through this quiet daily confession, you and I can reverse the eclipse. Instead of ego eclipsing Him, let’s ask Him to eclipse us. Then no one will need protective glasses.

Jun
21
June 21, 2017

"The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him" (Revelation 16:8-9).

Let me be clear—I don't believe we’re in the midst of the Seven Last Plagues. But let's go apocalyptic for a moment. That is, after all, the point of this weekly blog "The Fourth Watch": to scan rapidly mounting harbingers that this civilization is now in the throes of its final watch, what the Romans called "the fourth watch"—the darkest period of night before dawn.

On Monday the journal Nature published a study, "Global Risk of Deadly Heat" (www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate3322.html). Commenting on the study news media reported: "Deadly heat waves like the one now broiling the American West are bigger killers than previously thought and they are going to grow more frequent, according to a new comprehensive study of fatal heat conditions. . . . A team of researchers examined 1,949 deadly heat waves from around the world since 1980 to look for trends, define when heat is so severe it kills and forecast the future. They found that nearly one in three people now experience 20 days a year when the heat reaches deadly levels. But the study predicts that up to three in four people worldwide will endure that kind of heat by the end of the century, if global warming continues unabated" (abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/hot-handle-study-shows-earths-killer-heat-worsens-48133208).

No doubt the inhabitants of the cities experiencing the sun's deadly scorching this week would be inclined to concur—Phoenix 119 degrees (with planes grounded because it was too hot), Las Vegas 117 degrees, Sacramento 107 degrees,  Death Valley 127 degrees. Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii, lead author of the study, predicted, "'The United States is going to be an oven. . . . This is already bad. We already know it. . . . The empirical data suggest it’s getting much worse'" (ibid). Only in America? Turbat, Pakistan, back in May registered a lethal 128 degrees (ranking it "among the five hottest temperatures reliably measured on Earth").

The death tally isn’t in yet, of course. But a sober reminder of how high the human toll can be is the 2003 heat wave in Europe that claimed over 70,000 lives. The 72 deaths in Portugal last week from the dry sun-ignited wild fires are a reminder no place will be exempt from deadly heat.

". . . and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire."

We are not experiencing the fourth plague, whose apocalyptic proportions will surely dwarf the statistics scientists are scrambling to interpret. Nevertheless, Jesus warned His followers that before His return "'there will be signs in the sun . . . for the powers of the heavens will be shaken'" (Luke 21:25-26).

Shall we be afraid? No. Shall we be reminded that we live on the edge of God’s escalating endgame? We must.

I was on assignment last week in the nation’s capital. The chaotic mix of fear (my plane landed just hours after the shootings at the Congressional baseball practice that early morning), confusion and capricious volatility the world over surely compels those of us who call ourselves "Adventists" to shake off the numbing lethargy that paralyzes the heart of our faith community and our own souls as well.

Now more than ever the masses that live in Washington, D. C. and Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles—the scores of urban centers in this nation—must be warned that "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Peter 4:7). It is simply not enough for us to comfort our end-time-hungry souls with the reminder Jesus is coming soon. You don't win this game by guessing how close we are to the end. The only winning left on this deteriorating planet is the mission of Almighty God to save every lost earth child of His while there is still time. Forget the signs—we must embrace the mission—now rather than later.

Simply because later will one day be too late.

So what, pray tell, are we waiting for, you and I?

Jun
7
June 7, 2017

I wish my father were here—not just because it’s Father’s Day and I become particularly sentimental when conversations turn to the legacy of dads and the lasting imprint of their love on the lives of their children. (I know very well not all grown up children are blessed with such happy memories of their father—which only deepens my gratitude for having the dad that I did.)

But I wish my father were here because of the sage perspective he used to offer. Call it old-fashioned wisdom. I don’t suppose he was a genius, but he had a savvy way of reading life and people and events that made sense to me. And given all the confusion that rooms-full of mainly fathers are creating these days in our nation’s political capital, I wonder how my dad would sort through what is beginning to feel like unmitigated chaos.

Perhaps he would quietly demur, were I to ask him for his perspectives on our non-stop litany of conflicting, competing headlines these days. Or maybe he would simply advise, “You’re better off, Son, not expending your time and energies on what will only become more complex and confusing as time races on.” Would his advice be the same about the church today? As an administrator, he knew and loved it deeply.

But whatever the counsel, I grew up believing, like countless other little boys, there was no greater somebody or anybody on earth than my own father! In fact I remember the time I was in a circle of young missionary boys and we were bragging about our dads, when mine happened to overhear our boyish chatter. “I was the toughest kid in my neighborhood,” my dad interrupted. “Every time the boys saw me coming, they all started running.” He paused, and I beamed with pride in my “tough guy” father. “But,” he went on, “they could never catch me!” As the other boys in the circle laughed with him, it took me a split second to realize he had just told the joke on himself—that he was no tough guy at all, but just another kid the bullies would chase. Oh well—he was still my hero.

And I still wish he were here. He’d be 90 years old this Father’s Day. But he died fifteen years ago, far too young for any father to leave. And he died encapsulated in the lockbox of dementia that meant we couldn’t say good-bye that last day I hugged and kissed him. I remember sitting out on the terrace of his nursing home, each of us with a cup of ice cream and those too-small wooden spoons stuck to the bottom of the cup. A small plane droned overhead, and Dad, a chaplain with the Civil Air Patrol and a private pilot in his day, instinctively looked up to track the noise in the blue California heavens. His eyesight undimmed, he quickly spotted the plane. And without comment or even expression, he followed it. Not a word. Just his ice cream and me beside him that last memory together.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). Frail feet of clay and bodies of dust are we all, dads, children and moms, too. But on this Father’s Day, I thank God for being immeasurably greater than even the most idealized image of “Father” we’ve secretly carried inside of us all these years.

“Our Father in heaven.”

May
17
May 17, 2017

This winter I read through Jacques Doukhan’s new commentary, Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary: Genesis. And in his fascinating description of the Tower of Babel event (Genesis 11) I wonder if we find the antecedent to (or at least the seeds for) what is happening to this nation even as I write.

“Babel”—“confusion” —“because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world” (Genesis 11:9). Could there be a more succinct descriptor for the babble of confusion that now defines this nation’s government? It seems there is hardly a soul in the capital not culpable for this chaos—in the administration, Congress, the news media, late night entertainment, et al. Washington is now a veritable cacophony of chaos and confusion: he said/she said, he said/they said, he said/we said. Does anybody know the truth anymore? Or is truth even knowable now?

In the construction of Babel, you remember, the workers (who set out to build “a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves”—v 4) suddenly found themselves unable to communicate with each other. For the Creator “came down” and rewired their linguistic circuitry. According to Jewish tradition: “And great confusion took place; nobody knew what the other spoke. If one would ask for an ax, the other would hand him a shovel; and getting angry he would throw the shovel at him and kill him. So they left off building the tower, and God scattered them from the face of the earth” (Jacques Doukhan 190).

But there is more to the story. Doukhan writes: “The story of the tower of Babel also conveys a message of hope. There is an ‘after’ Babel: God will come down. This is the central message of the story. . . . This hope resonates throughout the Scriptures. It is seen in the prophets’ vision of the gathering of all nations under the rule of God [one day]” (186).

Because no matter the confusion that reigns in our government right now, there is One who will have the last word—when “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed . . . . but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44). The Apocalypse declares: “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon [from “Babel” or confusion] the Great!’. . . ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments’” (Revelation 18:2; 19:1-2).

I find peaceful assurance in these words from a century ago: “. . . the complicated play of human events [even in Washington] is under divine control. Amidst the strife and tumult of nations, He [who sits] above the cherubim still guides the affairs of the earth. . . . To every nation and to every individual of today [including the President] God has assigned a place in His great plan. . . . All are by their own choice deciding their destiny, and God is overruling all for the accomplishment of His purposes” (Education 178).

So we need not fret. God is on His throne. The door of opportunity to reach this nation is still open. And He will have a people loyally devoted to Him over all rulers and politicians. And His people will surely soon mobilize themselves across this country with the urgently good news that Christ is soon to come. No confusion in their message. Just the earnest appeal to, as one ancient prophet put it, “Prepare to meet thy God!” (Amos 4:12).

May
10
May 10, 2017

I have a young friend named Wandile Mthiyane, who is wrapping up his degree in architecture here at the university. Wandile is a South African born in the large seaside city of Durban. The story of how he got to Andrews is itself blog worthy. But the very short version is that with no money and a prayer he decided to ask the mayor of Durban for financial aid. Lo and behold he spots the mayor exiting a meeting, introduces himself, gets invited to sit down with the mayor, whereupon he shares his dream for designing inner city housing for low income South Africans. The mayor is enthused, provides the money for Wandile to come to this country and Andrews University to pursue architecture and this dream to house the homeless.

The End? No—the story continues: Wandile learns the skills of architecture at Andrews, takes a break last year to return to Durban with classmates from the School of Architecture, secures initial funding for the new prototype housing, and begins construction. The dream is full steam ahead! In fact, he sent me an email a couple weeks ago with a synopsis of this newly birthed project. Here it is:

"It always seems impossible, until it's done." Nelson Mandela

It's amazing what people can do when they come together for a common goal.

Since last August, Andrews University’s Masters School of Architecture [has] partnered with a local shanty community in Durban, South Africa to help design and build a home for a disabled family of three.

This project was motivated by Wandile Mthiyane, who grew up in the area and wanted to go back and be the hands and feet of Jesus. Currently all the designs are done, and Wandile is on the ground building the house with the local community and architecture students from Durban University of Technology and University of Kwa Zulu Natal.

The building experience has opened doors to ministry as local officials ask Wandile, “Why in the world would you leave everything to come and do this?” Wandile says he usually answers that he’s “just carrying on the mandate Jesus left for him on earth.” As you might imagine, this leads to full-blown conversations about faith in the broken world we live in.

What has been most inspiring in this project has been seeing white South African students from the suburbs come down to the townships for the first time and exclaim how they feel safe and loved in a place they’d always been taught to stay away from. This project is making us realize that we’re more alike than we are different, which is what the whole concept of Ubuntu is all about: “I am because we are”—and really we are because He is. We have experienced how this project is helping to break the walls of Apartheid.

Each year our pastoral team here at Pioneer votes a single mission project to add to the many projects this congregation already is supporting right here at home. We believe this amazing Ubuntu project is the right one for Pioneer to support in 2017. The project now needs $3,500 to finish its initial phase. If you would like to partner with our School of Architecture in establishing this new prototype housing for the Durban townships (and it is very possible the prototype will spread to shanty towns across the Republic of South Africa), please mark your contribution “Durban Project” on a Pioneer tithe envelope.

Isn’t this what Jesus meant? “Inasmuch as you do it to the least of these My brothers and sisters, you do it to Me” (see Matthew 25:40). No wonder Desire of Ages discloses: “We shall find His footprints beside the sickbed, in the hovels of poverty, in the crowded alleys of the great city, and in every place where there are human hearts in need of consolation. In doing as Jesus did when on earth, we shall walk in His steps” (640).

So why not walk in His steps with a gift to the Ubuntu project? Who better to follow?

May
3
May 3, 2017

Last Sabbath will certainly go down as an historic day in the journey of the worship communities of this university. Not just because well over a thousand people were fed Haystacks (Heaven’s favorite menu item?) and homemade desserts in Johnson Gym Sabbath afternoon. But also because of the spiritual quest that ignited the Great Exchange between New Life Fellowship and Pioneer Memorial Church Sabbath morning.

The quest for racial reconciliation has been on the hearts of the leaders of New Life Fellowship and the Pioneer Memorial Church this winter. As a symbol of that shared mission, the leaders of both worship communities considered a plan for the final Sabbath of the school year. What if the New Life Fellowship, meeting in the crowded seminary chapel, exchanged places with Pioneer’s second service congregation (11:45 AM) on that last Sabbath, so that both worship communities could experience each other’s worship space, each with their unique style of worship? The idea quickly expanded to include a campus-wide Sabbath dinner (with One Place joining them) following that exchange. Last Sabbath it all came together in a memorable morning and afternoon expression of koinonia, the Greek word describing the spiritual and social fellowship of the infant church after the Day of Pentecost: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship [koinonia], to the breaking of bread and prayer” (Acts 2:42).

The written survey at the end of both worship services  (New Life Fellowship at Pioneer, and Pioneer at the seminary chapel) will provide the grist for “Where do we go from here?” discussions, as both leadership teams this coming fall explore how their two worship communities can move beyond last Sabbath’s symbolism to a lasting expression of and commitment to racial reconciliation here on campus. It is anticipated that any formal action will commence January 1, 2018.

But April 29, 2017, remains a vital first step toward the deeper unity Jesus prayed for His followers (John 17). And this Koinonia Day could not have happened without the enthusiastic support and efforts of a host of leaders and volunteers. The administration of Andrews University, Plant Administration, and Dining Services all wholeheartedly supported both the Great Exchange and the Grand Dinner. Special kudos to Paul Elder who procured and then set up with his volunteers the blue canopy-covered walkway that stretched from the cafeteria to Johnson Gym, and to Rebecca May who organized a team of faculty and staff volunteers for both facility set up and crowd moving, and to the three university chaplains who oversaw the worship details of the Great Exchange, and to the 119 Pioneer families who provided homemade desserts enough to feed an army, and to the deacons/ushers/greeters of both Pioneer and New Life Fellowship who exchanged their usual comfort zone for a new environment to serve, and to the worship leaders and musicians of both worship communities, and to their pastors—to all of these dedicated leaders and volunteers we all owe a debt of gratitude!

(And to all those who came to me during the Grand Dinner at the gym and suggested that we consider providing such a sprawling dinner at least once a school year, or once a semester, or as one individual suggested, “once a quarter”— to all of you with such timely suggestions comes this immediate and irrevocable deputizing for “next time around” [if you read these words—you are herewith assigned to the planning committee]!)

But in the end, of course, “to God be the glory, great things He has done.” The truth is much prayer preceded much planning. Moreover, we have only just begun. But we can be confident of Scripture’s compelling promise: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the Day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). God finishes what He starts. And the good news is—with Jesus—the best is yet to come.

Apr
26
April 26, 2017

Pacheco Bustamante from Miami was having the time of his life. It was the perfect ruse. He drove an old Ford Crown Victoria (the last time you saw one of those it was a cop car). He found a blue light. And he stuck a BB gun pistol in his belt. Voila—he looked like a real live policeman.

And so driving his Ford on I-95 the other day, he decided he’d play “traffic cop.” Spotting a nondescript car ahead of him, Pacheco pulled in behind it, flipped on his flashing blue light and siren, and with BB gun strapped to his side, walked up to the driver pulled over onto the shoulder. But the driver in the unmarked car turned out to be a real police detective, who promptly arrested Bustamante when it became clear he was no officer. OOPS!

The AP press release concludes: “It wasn’t immediately clear if Bustamante has found a real lawyer to represent him” (https://apnews.com/f0096159b18a4ca6b143987da0e7746d).

The good news is—you don’t have to fake it. If you’re a friend of Jesus and a child of God, who needs a BB gun pistol, when you’re already armed to the teeth? Ever hear the story about Jonathan and his armor bearer? Two young men take on an entire Philistine garrison of professional warriors. Jonathan’s strategy was simple. The two of them would step out into the open and begin scaling the steep incline up to the garrison. If the pagan warriors commanded the two to wait until soldiers came down, they would hold their ground. But if the Philistines taunted them, “Come on up and we’ll teach you a thing or two,” then Jonathan whispered, “‘Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel’” (1 Samuel 14:12).

And that’s exactly what happened. Two brave young Israelite men against an entire enemy garrison—and they end up routing them all! Erwin Raphael McManus comments on that victory: “Somehow Jonathan understood that when you’re moving with God, you must move with an advance mentality. You move forward unless God tells you to stop. You advance unless God tells you to wait” (Seizing Your Divine Moment 155).

I love that. Moving forward with an “advance mentality.” Why? Because you are not a fake soldier or a fake friend and child of God—you have entrusted your life to the King—and He will unleash every celestial warrior He has for your protection. “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11).

McManus goes on: “There are certain things that you do not need permission to do. You’ve already been commissioned to do them. There are certain things that you do not need a calling to do. You’ve already been commanded to do them” (ibid).

In the words of Jesus: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:10). Your calling and His command are wrapped up in that simple invitation, “Fish for people”— anyone, anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Don’t need a degree to do it—don’t even have to go to school to do it—don’t need anybody’s permission either. He said GO—so you GO. He says FISH—so you FISH. You can move with an “advance mentality” and inject Jesus into any conversation anytime you wish, and never have to be afraid of what might happen.

Because you’re not a fake fisherman—you’re the real thing. Never mind your track record. No fisherman catches a fish every time she goes fishing. No fisherman gives up after a day of no fish. You just keep fishing, believing and know the day is coming when your net will explode with God’s catch!

And on that day—whether it’s one fish or a hundred—you will experience the most exhilarating joy a human can know—I promise you—the joy of leading a friend or a stranger to the Savior. And you won’t have to fake it!

Apr
19
April 19, 2017

In Japan, the land of my birth, the public has been stunned with the number of deaths linked to its culture of notoriously long work hours. So severe are the mounting statistics that the Japanese have coined a word for it, karoshi—“death by overwork.” It is estimated that more than 2000 suicides in 2015 were the result of work issues, chiefly overtime and overwork (www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-13/japan-s-bid-to-stop-death-by-overwork-seen-falling-short).

And when the court ruled that the suicide of a 24 year old female employee of the giant Dentsu ad agency was the result of illegally long hours on the job (105 hours of overtime per month!), the government scrambled to respond. Last month Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led a government panel to recommend that “an employee’s overtime should be kept under 100 hours in any single month, and average no more than 80 hours a month over any two- to six-month period, with an annual cap of 720 hours.” But activists have vigorously challenged that recommendation. Noriko Nakahara, a member of the National Association of Families Concerned About Karoshi, whose physician husband’s suicide was ruled karoshi, protested that “the 100-hour limit is too high and could legitimize a culture of excessive work that hurts the mental and physical health of employees” (ibid).

In an effort to promote “a healthier work culture,” the Japanese government has instituted what it calls a “Premium Friday” campaign—encouraging companies to allow their employees to leave early “on the last Friday of every month” (ibid). Well. At least it’s a start.

Truth is we in this nation can’t exactly point fingers at the Japanese. Our own can-do culture that applauds its overachieving, overworking sports heroes, entertainment and music stars, and business icons seems to bestow its highest laurels for all who are driven to succeed never mind the cost.

Could it be that what both nations need isn’t a “Premium Friday” once a month, but a restful Sabbath every week? “Come to Me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest,” offers the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 11:28 GNT). “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth . . . but He rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11 NIV). The Creator embedded within our DNA the universal need to discover in tandem, in relationship with Him our deepest and most satisfying rest—physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual rest.

Marva Dawn is right: “In an age that has lost its soul, Sabbath keeping offers the possibility of gaining it back. In an age desperately searching for meaning, Sabbath keeping offers a new hope” (in Gregory P. Nelson’s A Touch of Heaven 22).

But as Wayne Muller explains: “Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television and errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us” (Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives 8).

Plain and simple—God’s gift to us of the seventh-day Sabbath offers this civilization the very rest we’re dying for—a Sabbath rest for the rest of our lives. 

Plain and simple—won’t you take it?

Apr
12
April 12, 2017

Nineteen year old Helen and her honeymooning groom, Dickinson Bishop, were as star struck as newly-weds could be. The two young adults from Dowagiac, Michigan, were setting sail on what at the time was the largest moving object on earth—the RMS Titanic. Boarding the maiden voyage of the four-stack luxury liner on the evening of April 12, 1912, in Cherbourg, France, the couple set sail for New York City embedded in the luxury of first-class cabin B-49.

Two nights later Helen was already in bed and her husband reading in their cabin stateroom, when a knock at their door summoned them to the deck above. Neither had felt or heard the Titanic strike a floating iceberg. But when they ascended to the upper deck, officials there announced there was no danger and they might as well return to their cabin. As they prepared again for bed, a friend knocked, concerned that the ship was listing to its side, and so the Bishops dressed once more and hurried top side, where only a few passengers had gathered. Moments later crew instructed them to don their lifejackets, and the Bishops were ordered into the first lifeboat (No. 7).

In fact Helen was the first Titanic passenger to board one of those vessels, dangling from its perch 75 feet above the dark and frigid Atlantic. Afraid of its precarious height, many passengers were reluctant to climb on board any of the lifeboats. Thus at 12:45 AM, when lifeboat No. 7 was lowered to the night sea with 28 passengers, it was less than half full. Only three crew were aboard, which meant the passengers took turns hurriedly rowing the vessel into the night away from the massive sinking hulk.

At 2:20 AM, April 15, the unsinkable Titanic silently lurched forward, then nosedived into the sea, its twinkling lights simultaneously extinguished as the Atlantic swallowed the iron ship, carrying 1503 passengers and crew to their death. There were lifejackets available for all 2,208 passengers. But only 705 survived.

Rescued by the Carpathia, the Bishops returned to New York City, and eventually to Dowagiac. Both testified at a Senate investigation, headed coincidentally by Dowagiac-born Michigan Senator William A. Smith.

But tragedy continued to track Helen and Dickinson. Their infant child born that December died after two days. And on November 15, 1913, “the couple was returning to Dowagiac from Kalamazoo, Michigan, in their motor car when it went out of control and struck a tree. Helen suffered a severely fractured skull and was not expected to live. She recovered with a steel plate placed in her skull, but the accident caused a change in her mental condition and their marriage suffered. In January 1916, the couple divorced. Three months later Helen fell while visiting friends in Danville, Illinois. On March 16, 1916, she died and was buried in Sturgis, Michigan” (www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/helen-bishop.html). She was twenty-three years old.

One hundred-five years later the sinking of the Titanic remains a story of enduring sorrow. Such boasted promise, such hope misplaced, such tragic endings for both rich and poor.

And yet the story of an empty Palestine sepulcher two millennia ago offers to exchange our enduring sorrow with Hope’s singular promise: “Never again will death have the last word” for “because I live, you shall live also” (Romans 6:9 The Message; John 14:19).

No matter how titanic the tragedy, the sorrow, the death that stalks us. Today we seek Him. Who still promises. Resurrection hope.  

Soar we then where Christ has led—Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head—Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise—Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies—Alleluia!
—Charles Wesley

Mar
29
March 29, 2017

Thanks to a faculty member of an engineering school in Italy (who with his wife has been watching our worship service), I read a fascinating piece this week by Tom Harford, “The Problem with Facts.” Couple it with this week’s TIME magazine cover story, “Is Truth Dead?”—and it is clear growing suspicions are becoming public conversation. Are we witnesses (even participants) to a dramatic shift in public ethos regarding truth telling and fact checking? 

Harford opens with the 1953 narrative of how Big Tobacco pulled off their stunning public relations coup by dissuading the public from believing the mounting evidence smoking causes cancer. In 1995 a Stanford University historian detailed the tobacco case closely. “This is the study of how ignorance is deliberately produced. . . . The facts about smoking—indisputable facts, from unquestionable sources—did not carry the day. The indisputable facts were disputed. The unquestionable sources were questioned. Facts, as it turns out, are important, but facts are not enough to win this kind of argument” (http://timharford.com/2017/03/the-problem-with-facts/).

In the on-going tug of war between the news media and the President, the question of truth and truth-telling, of facts and “alternative facts,” of news and “fake news,” has hit an unprecedented fever pitch. As a consequence the miasma of “he said-she said” has effectively obscured not only the public’s knowledge of “truth” but also its trust in the heretofore generally regarded reputable truth-tellers of the news media and the White House. That there are those who argue it’s always been this way—and after all, the Brexit proponents across the pond resorted to the same distortion of facts and truth to achieve their victory—hardly mitigates the obvious paradigm shift we now witness regarding public integrity, ethics and truth-telling. “In the radical democracy of social media, even the retweets of outraged truth squadders [those defending truth] has the effect of rebroadcasting false messages” (TIME 4-3-17 p 37). And so it goes. And it only gets worse.

But why be concerned with this food fight between our media and our politicians? Because truth really does matter. Pilate’s “What is truth?” dismissal, when the One who was and still is “the way, the truth and the life” stood before him, is a reminder of the high stakes fall-out when leaders waive truth aside in favor of expediency (see John 18:37-38; 14:6; 19:16). And if the crucifixion of Jesus portends the end result of when church and state collaborate to rid themselves of uncomfortable truth and uncompromising truth-tellers, then we do have reason to not only care about truth-telling today, but to also be concerned, deeply concerned.

Concerned that a public so easily persuaded by Big Tobacco marketers to reject what was “obvious” scientific evidence could just as easily become a public dissuaded by other “marketers” from believing compelling biblical evidence championed by a band of truth-tellers one day yet to come. The truth is—truth matters.

So how should you and I be living in these days of prevarication? (1) We must always tell the truth—“You shall not give false testimony. . . . Do not spread false reports. . . . Do not lie to each other” (Exodus 20:16; 23:1; Colossians 3:9). And (2) we must always live the truth—“Let your good works [words]  shine before others that they may glorify your Father in heaven” (see Matthew 5:16). Notice how high God raises the bar: “A glance, a word, even an intonation of the voice , may be vital with falsehood. Even facts may be so stated as to convey a false impression. . . . Everything that Christians do should be as transparent as the sunlight” (Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing 68 emphasis supplied).

Why? Because  truth matters. So in a world running out of it, I say let’s stand up and let it shine!