It was to be a simple day-trip hike in the beautiful, autumn-splashed Colorado mountains last October. What’s not to like about that “Rocky Mountain high” of deep-blue skies towering over rugged, grey rock terrain amid the you-can-smell-them rich conifer greens? Ahead were Mount Elbert’s peak and the South Mount Elbert Trail that climbed toward it. What a day for a hike!
But at the end of the day, around eight o’clock, someone called Lake County Search and Rescue, reporting the hiker was long overdue. Could they please help locate the individual?
Search-and-rescue teams combed surrounding areas all night long to find the missing hiker. “Multiple attempts to contact the subject via their cell phone were unsuccessful,” a Lake County statement subsequently reported.
But lo and behold, more than 24 hours later, the hiker returned home. Where had they been? The whole county had been searching for them!
According to the Lake County statement, the subject (whose identity and gender were being protected) lost the trail around nightfall, spent the night searching for the missing trail, finally found it, and reached their car the next morning. “They had no idea that SAR [search and rescue] was out looking for them.”
But the closing to this news report is a classic. From the Lake County statement: “One notable take-away is that the subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn’t recognize the number.” Can you believe it? The hiker’s phone kept ringing through the night from an unrecognized phone number, but since they didn’t know who was calling, they decided not to answer. Help was one phone call away—but they wouldn’t answer the phone!1
I’m amazed by how many of us have lived through the crisis of this pandemic, bemoaning the moral hemorrhaging of this culture and its collapsing values, and complaining about supply-chain issues that have disrupted our lives . . . and all the while our phones are ringing off the hook from an unidentified Caller. Has it occurred to anybody that it might be God on the other end? And that we might be more lost than even we think?
How did Jesus put it? “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34–36, The Message2).
That is, Answer the phone!
Perhaps the classic precursor to a generation living on the edge of a stupendous crisis but ignoring the incoming phone calls would be the antediluvians, would it not? Everybody knows the story of Noah and the ark. How that bushy-bearded Old Testament hero was awakened from his restless sleep that night by a Voice in the dark with a nightmare pronouncement: “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark’ ” (Genesis 6:13, 14).
Noah and his wife, living as they were in the enclave of the faithful—those who still considered the Creator their Friend and Lord—were hardly caught off guard. After all, the ancient record of prevailing antediluvian culture is disturbing at best, at least from the perspective of the Creator: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Did you catch that? “Every inclination . . . was only evil all the time”? (emphasis added). Why, that is as close as you can get to 24-7, to the word constantly! No wonder there is the somber next line: “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (verse 6). Wouldn’t you be troubled if you were the Parent?
But has it come to that for us too? These millennia later, is our culture, our society, our race, any better? Few of us would disagree with James Dorn’s assessment “The most obvious signs of moral decay in America are the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births, the breakup of families, the amorality of public education, and the eruption of criminal activity. But there are other signs as well: the decline in civility, the lack of integrity in both public and private life, and the growth of litigation as the chief way to settle disputes.”3 American apocalypse indeed!
It is hardly rocket science anymore to discern the accelerating moral erosion of our culture’s values. Christian author Anthony Costello warns: “In America today we see the very foundations of morality and law crumbling under our feet. . . . We dare not find ourselves in an unresponsive slumber.”4
“Unresponsive slumber”? Why, it is the story of Noah and the ark all over again, only now in spades, lived out and documented in 5G color on every smartphone screen on the planet! The somber but pressing question, though too late for the antediluvians, is not too late for us. Are we lost in this moral night and ignoring the incoming calls?
As if to reinforce the point, Jesus Himself drew a straight line from Noah to us: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage [i.e., living as if life would go on forever], 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 24:37–39).
Just before this somber prediction, Jesus has warned His followers of the prevailing global deterioration that will serve as “signs of the times” of His soon return. Read the chapter for yourself—it is like reviewing your RSS news feed first thing in the morning.
But how sad it would be if His words were also true of you and me: “they knew nothing about what would happen” until the endgame exploded all around them! Too late. The phone has been ringing off the hook, but nobody recognizes the number, and they ignore the calls.
So what shall we do? How about taking a page out of Noah’s playbook: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” And “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8, 9, NKJV). There really is no other way to prepare for, let alone survive, the endgame, whether just before the judgment day of the Flood or just before the long-promised return of Christ—grace—the one gift this generation is promised more than any other. The Bible assures us that “where sin increased [and is there anyone who thinks it hasn’t?], grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). Good news for an end-time generation—where sin is on the rise, grace is abounding even faster!
And what is grace? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). But then, isn’t that Jesus? Willing to exchange places with the likes of you and me—His riches for our poverty, His perfect life for our guilt and sins, His future in exchange for our past. No matter how you frame it, grace is the shining evidence that the God and Creator of this universe will pay any price to win our friendship. After all “we were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God’s friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ’s life!” (Romans 5:10, GNT5). No wonder “Noah walked with God!”
And you can too. Just answer the phone.
What if you set aside 20 minutes first thing in the morning to answer Jesus’ call, to connect with Him? Nothing fancy. Just quietly read a story a day from one of His minibiographies, or Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John)—one miracle, one parable, one incident (usually not more than a paragraph or two in length). Let the story come alive as you reread it. Let it become Him calling you. And after you have brooded over the story for a few moments (asking yourself, What does this story tell me about my Creator, my Savior, my Friend?), go ahead and return the call. How? Grab your laptop or a notebook, and write an email to Him, simply responding to the picture of Him you just read and gazed on with your imagination. “Dear Jesus—I didn’t realize how much I am like Peter—open mouth, insert foot—but how gracious You were to him—not belittling, no shaming—Your forgiveness was quick, Your love strong—oh, thank You for treating me the same way—I want to walk with You today.”
That’s it. Twenty minutes in conversation with Jesus each morning, answering His call, His invitation to walk with Him for the day ahead like Noah did. Listen, when you get to know your Savior (as you will), the reality of this civilization running out of time is no longer news to fear—it becomes the compelling promise of a friendship with your Lord that doesn’t have to wait until He returns but deepens each day until He does come back. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see [Him] face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Remember our lost hiker who ignored the incoming calls because he or she didn’t recognize the number? When news got out about that unfortunate detail and social media turned on this hapless hiker, the Colorado Lake County Search and Rescue came to the hiker’s defense: “Please remember that what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking.”6
Moral of the story? Don’t wait until you’re lost and panicking. Begin a fresh walk with Jesus right now, and let the promise of His friendship rewrite the story of your future.
Just answer the phone.
1. Elisha Fieldstadt, “Hiker Lost for 24 Hours Ignored Rescuers’ Calls Because ‘They Didn’t Recognize the Number,’ ” NBC News, October 26, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hiker-lost-24-hours-ignored-rescuers-calls-because-they-didn-n1282381.
2. Scripture quotations marked The Message are from The Message, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
3. James A. Dorn “The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality,” Cato’s Letters, 1996, https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/cl-12.pdf.
4. Anthony Costello, “The Movie Every Church Must Show Its Young Adults: Spoiler, It Isn’t Marvel or the ‘The Jesus Film,’ ” Patheos, November 22, 2021, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/theologicalapologetics/2021/11/the-movie-every-church-must-show-its-young-adults-spoiler-it-isnt-marvel-or-the-jesus-film/.
5. Scripture quotations marked GNT are from the Good News Translation® (Today’s English Version, Second Edition). Copyright © 1992 American Bible Society. All rights reserved.
6. Fieldstadt “Hiker Lost.”
Dwight K. Nelson is the lead pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University and teaches at the university’s theological seminary.