Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Christ in the Crucible"

We have been reminded all through these thirteen weeks of helpful Bible study that we are all “in the crucible” of trial and suffering for the sake of Christ. “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). The apostle Paul said this because he was encouraging the believers in Asia Minor not to be dismayed because they met persecutions in their walk with Jesus.

Our lessons have emphasized how we all, without exception, must endure these trials. The authors use the idea of a “crucible” to illustrate their point: the precious metal, gold, or silver, is safe inside the vessel while it (the crucible) is heated over the fire to an even nearly-destructive (it seems), temperature. Paul says that this “much tribulation” is necessary for the development of our character.

This is a distinctly unique Seventh-day Adventist idea: our entry into heaven or our exclusion therefrom will not depend on some whim that “Saint Peter at the gate of the New Jerusalem” will have concerning us (this popular idea is totally unbiblical). “God is love” is true all the way through, because even in the end if He has to exercise a condemnatory judgment, He remains “love.” Whether He admit or has to exclude someone from eternal life will be an act of love, for in the case of the lost, they could face no greater misery forever than to be forced to spend eternity in the presence of God and His people whom they detest. The Lord gives them what they want. Thus “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Admission to heaven depends therefore on character—one’s fitness for its companionship.

Hence the supreme importance of developing a Christlike character, here and now. And the message of righteousness by faith which “the Lord in His great mercy sent” to Seventh-day Adventists 120 years ago is totally concerned with developing such a character.

Must Christ have to endure the same hot “crucible” of trial as we must endure? Is He not already “perfect”?

Behold and see:

Has any other human on planet earth had to endure the “crucible” that He was forced to endure? The answer is clear: “In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17, 18).

”We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The double negative emphasizes the positive truth: in His incarnation, the Son of God knew exactly how you have felt in your most sinful moment: even your alienation from God, for He cried out in the total darkness, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?”(Matt. 27:46). No human can get any lower or in any greater darkness than that!

Therefore it is an eternal truth to be trusted forever: Christ is with you as you endure your crucible! We could pinpoint a few of our crucibles:

Enduring cancer (or some other fatal illness)—whether it is physical pain and suffering or whether it is that nameless dread that combines all our fears: your Savior, not only One who would like to be your Savior if you will let Him be, but the One who is (present and future tense) already your Savior—is with you intimately, personally.

The horror of divorce: Christ has endured that; He has a particular fellowship with us in that He has been “despised and rejected” by the one corporate “woman” whom He loves above all on earth: no heartache has been as severe as His. The Song of Solomon sings for eternity about His heartbreak; it will yet be the song of humanity when the earth will be “lightened with the glory” of that “fourth angel” of Revelation 18:1-4. It’s the human heart that we talk about in this Lesson 13.

The pain of human guilt: He never sinned, but He has had the experience of bearing guilt for sin, even “bloodguiltiness,” for He “was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Not only will the Hindus rejoice: Christ bore the karma of the entire world (yours, too). Galatians will comfort your heart: henceforth you walk “at liberty” for you know and you believe yourself to be under the “New Covenant” (5:1; ask us for our little tract entitled “The New Covenant Contrasted With the Old”).

Thank God for a wonderful 13 Lessons (keep your old Lesson Book, it’s worth saving in your library). And may you know forever a closer intimacy with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

—Robert J. Wieland

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 13 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Dying Like A Seed"

Our lesson poses the question, “If we know that God’s will is best for us, why do we have such a hard time accepting it? What example of submission has Christ left for us?” Submission is not an easy thing. Our attempts at being independent get us into more trouble that we can imagine, and yet we continue rather than allow God to direct our lives. I wonder if we are not missing something about submission to God that might contribute to making it seem so hard. Is it possible that that Jesus left us more than just the example that He submitted to the Father? I believe that He revealed another side of submission: how God works from His position to lead us to submit to Him by winning our hearts. He does this by reaching out to us as sinners. Case in point: The Exodus.

Israel was enslaved for centuries. They only knew the ways of Egypt and oppression of the Pharaoh. What did God do to turn the situation around for Israel so they would no longer live as slaves and become His people in thought and action? Notice God’s work in wooing the hearts of Israel.

  1. Even though Israel is in Egypt, they have multiplied from 70 to millions, just as God had promised Abraham (Exodus 1:1-7).
  2. The three attempts of the new Pharaoh failed because Israel, being slaves, were more healthy than the Egyptians, thwarting the plans to stop them from fulfilling God’s promise (Exodus 1).
  3. The means by which God prepared Moses to be the leader is amazing: his rescue by the princess (Exodus 2) and his education in the wilderness (see Signs of the Times, Feb. 19, 1880). Also, God was patient with Moses at the burning bush so that he would be clear on how he could count on God’s leadership and protection, which is truly empowering (Exodus 3, 4).
  4. When Pharaoh was first confronted and forced Israel to work harder, Israel, who had at first believed Moses and Aaron turned on them. Even Moses struggled. Then God clearly told Moses what He was going to do and how He was going to do it. Still Israel did not believe, but God continued (Exodus 5, 6). Notice God’s reference to previous promises to provide connection with Abraham, somebody they would have known about.
  5. The plagues are graduated from strength to strength, and Moses was clear in warning Pharaoh of each plague so that at any time he could stop and submit (Exodus 7-10). Note how each plague is introduced, the dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh, God’s specific statements as to what the plague will show to Egypt and Pharaoh.
  6. In instituting the Passover the people were given time to reflect upon what God had been doing.
  7. God’s leading Israel to Mt. Sinai was masterful. He brought them to situations that would allow them to choose if He was worthy of their trust by providing for their every need as He had promised (Exodus 14-19). Notice how God transfers Israel’s instinctive dependence from Egypt to His leading, and how God provides for them in places unable to sustain them unless He is with them.

The list goes on but I believe a pattern can be seen. God does not ask us to submit to His will “cold turkey.” He addresses our unbelief and unwillingness to submit to His will by making clear His love toward us by first showing us that His promises are trustworthy, His ability to save is overwhelming, His resources are limitless, and His patience is never ending by not just getting us to obey but teaching us to obey. (There is a difference. Too often we assume that God is more interested in obedience than the necessity of our sinful condition requires. His intervention by teaching us to obey reveals a side of mercy and love we forget.)

I believe that Jesus understood well what had taken place not only during the Exodus but throughout the Old Testament. (He was there! John 8:54-58.) The knowledge that He brought to our world was of our God, who is very active in reaching out to us in our sinfulness. So when He fought with doubt and doing His own will, He had insight into the true character of God that we don’t see, being blinded by sin. He overcame sin perfectly, not because His assumed nature was different from ours, but because He knew the Father, whom He came to reveal to us. That is the victory we need, to see the Father as Jesus saw the Father—to have the faith of Jesus. Such a view would drastically change our understanding of submission to God. No more would we be tempted to think how hard submitting to God’s will might be. We instead would focus upon the revealed life of our Father and how He is able to deliver us in our fight with self (as He promised Moses at the burning bush). This does not diminish the struggle we each face when we decide to follow Christ, but it does give us real hope that, “where sin abounds, grace abounds much more” (Rom. 5:22).

On a personal note, I could not have seen what I have just written if I had not learned to read my Bible as I saw E. J. Waggoner as I read The Everlasting Covenant. I was impressed with how he not only brought scripture in a way that appealed to me but also the way he brought out how God interacted with His people. I had never seen that part of the Gospel before. I was inclined to think that Jesus did all the saving at the cross and now “the ball was in my court.” I needed to step up and give myself to Him. When it dawned on me that my Father had worked so hard to win the hearts of the people in the Old Testament, I was moved to ask, “If He did it for them, is it possible that I am not seeing that He is doing it for me too?” The Bible was meant to engender faith, to empower us to live a life we have thought we could never live. By rereading the Bible, tracking the way God helps others to do His will, it change us into believers with hope, hope that is founded on the acts of God in a book that is far more revealing than we have thought.

—Robert Van Ornam

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for LessonTo listen as a podcast click here.

To stream click here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Waiting in the Crucible"

In the process of tracing the elements of the word “crucible” we learn that it is a derivative of the Latin word crux, from which we get the English word cross. The term “crucible” is used in this week’s lesson in a figurative sense to describe severe tests or trials. There are times when we must wait in crucibles of pain and suffering. It is during these times we are to learn lessons of patience, faith, endurance and perseverance. And too, crucibles into which we are placed ought to further purify us.

We might spend worthwhile time studying about Jacob waiting for Rachel and David for the throne or Daniel waiting for the interpretation of the time period in his chapter eight. However, the subject of our thought is to consider how this lesson of “Waiting in the Crucible” correlates to the message and experience of Minneapolis in 1888.

The lesson presents two thoughts concerning a crucible that do not seem compatible. The title states one thought: “Waiting in the Crucible.” The other is found in the third paragraph on the first page of the lesson and implies that waiting is the crucible. To join this thought with the title we would have to say that we are to be “Waiting in the Crucible of Waiting!” I am not sure these thoughts can be correlated logically.

However, there are times when we must wait in crucibles of suffering and affliction. During these times we should become more patient. In the memory text (Gal. 5:22) this waiting is expressed by the fruit of “patience” in the NIV and “longsuffering” in other translations. This fruit originates in and with the Spirit of God. Not that He learns patience, but that He has to wait patiently for us because of our unbelief. The cross is ever before Him. He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). The context in which this verse is found reveals practices that bring grief to the Holy Spirit, such as corrupt communication, bitterness, anger, clamoring, and malice. No doubt He is also grieved when insulted (Heb. 10:29), just as was Jesus when He was spit upon and mocked (Luke 18:32).

Our insubordination to God brings grief to Him also. One reason for our remaining on earth is because of the absence of subordination or submission, even our resistance to the authority of God. Ellen White stated years ago that we “may have to remain in this world because of insubordination many more years” (Dec. 7, 1901, letter to P. T. Magan, Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 202; also Lt. 184 in 20 MR 312). We are still here, and during this time we wait in crucibles of manifold afflictions. When the lessons to be learned are accepted both corporately and individually, while in these vessels of suffering, we shall be purified and subsequently removed from the pot that melts our cold hard hearts.

Elders A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, and Ellen White, waited and lived through the ordeal of the crucible of Minneapolis. In the boarding houses several “made light of the truth and of those who advocated the truth” (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 875). The joking, insulting laughter, and not-so-funny stories about Jones and Waggoner produced crucibles in which they suffered, but they endured with much patience. On a couple of occasions Ellen White was ready to leave that place, but the angel of God stopped her and told her to remain in Minneapolis. She wrote:

“I was about to leave the meeting for Kansas … That night the angel of the Lord stood by my bed and … I was commanded to stand at my post of duty; that there was a spirit coming in taking possession of the churches, that if permitted would separate them from God as verily as the churches who refused light that God sent them in messages of warning and of light that they might advance in regard to His second coming to our world” (1888, p. 296).

“When I purposed to leave Minneapolis, the angel of the Lord stood by me and said: ‘Not so; God has a work for you to do in this place. The people are acting over the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram’” (ibid., pp. 1067-1068).

The trio at Minneapolis persevered and no doubt learned valuable lessons from that crucible into which they were thrust, and in which they waited. They could do no other. We can be thankful for particular delegates at that meeting, who, although confused as to the issues, observed the conduct and attitude revealed by Jones and Waggoner. Some of the delegates during the meetings, and in the days and months following, accepted the messages graciously given by God, designed by Him to prepare us for His kingdom.

However, we are still here. So … the crucibles still await us. But one day these afflictions shall end. We all need a deeper experience in the things of God that come through faith and the study and practice of the Word of God.

“As we near the close of time, there will be needed a deeper and clearer discernment, a more firm knowledge of the Word of God, a living experience, and the holiness of heart and life which we must have to serve Him.

“Much precious light was brought out at this meeting [Minneapolis, 1888]. The law of God was exalted, placed before the people in the framework of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which left impressions on many minds which will be deepened and will be as lasting as eternity, while some minds were closed against light because it did not meet their ideas and former opinions. I have heard many testimonies in all parts of the field: ‘I found light, precious light.’ ‘My Bible is a new Book.’ ‘Never did we feel as at this meeting the necessity of being under the constant control of the Spirit of God, constantly uplifting the heart to God, to be Christians in heart, Christians in principles, possessing not merely a theory of the truth but revealing the principles of truth in a Christlike spirit’” (ibid., p. 828).

The crucible did its job in the lives of Elders Jones and Waggoner, Ellen White, and a few others at that time. Minneapolis was the crucible into which every person in attendance at that meeting was placed. Some learned the lessons and endured the purifying process. Others wanted no part of the crucible—the cross of Christ. The crucible became to them, instead of a purifying agent, a rock of offence, and a stumbling stone. To paraphrase Romans 9:33: Behold, I lay in Zion a rock-like crucible of offence and a stumbling vessel, but whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.

So, how is it with you? Are you in a crucible? Are you tempted to jump out? As excruciating as it may be, take courage, for Jesus knows what you are going through. He has been there. He will remain in the crucible with you. He will not allow anything but dross to be consumed from your character. He will carry you through your ordeal, just as He did with Moses and Elijah who complained of the crucibles into which they were in. Both were in such a state of depression and despondency that they asked God to kill them (see Numbers 11:10-15 and 1 Kings 19:4).

Notwithstanding that those men of God failed the testing in the crucibles at that time, they are in heaven today. And one of them entered heaven without experiencing death. Both men typify God’s people who, in the last days, will go through “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” that last crucible of suffering.

There is another truth concerning Moses and Elijah. Those two were sent by God to encourage Jesus before His time of Jacob’s trouble—His ordeal in the crucible of intense suffering, of desperate despondency and deep depression during His ordeal in Gethsemane and Calvary (Luke 9:30, 31; Matt. 26:37, 38). He waited in the crucible of our redemption until His work was finished on the cross. In the light of Christ’s experience for us, shall we complain while we wait in our crucibles?

Our “Waiting in the Crucible” may not be our desire, but the waiting for God is good for us. Whether we place ourselves in crucibles or whether life’s circumstances insert us into the crucibles of suffering or of fearful trials we may say with Peter:

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).

This is the gold refined in the crucible that Jesus counsels us to receive from Him (Rev. 3:18). He stands knocking, ever knocking, at the doors of our hearts, longing for the invitation from us to permit Him to come in and sup with us and we with Him (Rev. 3:20). Have you received Him, or will you receive Him now, in this the day of your salvation?

—Gerald L. Finneman

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by Robert J. Wieland is available. Click here to listen to the audio recording for Lesson 11 now in MP3 format.

To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Meekness in the Crucible"

Nearly 50 years ago I was introduced to a system of casting gold and other alloys in the field of dentistry. As a freshman dental student, I was issued a ceramic crucible that “fit” on one end of the arm of a centrifugal dental casting “machine.” This crucible resembled a shallow bowl that held a few pennyweights of gold alloy. This “gold” was heated in the flame of a blowtorch to prepare it for casting. As it was heated it changed properties; impurities were burned off and it became a molten mass.

When it reached a certain temperature it took the shape of a ball and the surface became clear as glass. At this point I could see a “perfect” reflection of my face on the surface of this “ball” of molten metal. At this temperature the metal was cast into a permanent dental restoration for a patient.

“A harsh-spirited man is unrefined, coarse; he is not spiritual; he has not a heart of flesh, but a heart as unimpressible as a stone. His only help is to fall on the Rock, and be broken. The Lord will place all such in the crucible, and try them in fire, as gold is tried. When He can see His own image reflected in them He will remove them” (Sons and Daughters of God, p. 100).

Whenever I read this quotation, I think of my experience with dental castings. God is waiting to see an image of His own face in me and in the corporate body of His Church.

Our lesson quarterly has introduced us to “crucibles” and has used many words and concepts defining crucibles. I find it helpful to remember that the stressor is not the stress. I have no control over the stressors of life. The stress can occur in me and I do have control over that possibility. The stressors in my life can only cause stress for me if I allow it. The choice is mine. Of course, it goes without saying that I do have Divine aid available “24/7.”

The trials of life, temptations, hardships, diseases and the like are often seen as “blowtorches” in a “hand” that is trying to destroy us. Even Job thought he might die. The “blowtorch” is not the crucible!

I propose that “the hands of God” surrounding us form the crucible. That crucible experience can transform us if we are willing to remain in “God’s hands.”

Everyone has “blowtorch” experiences. God in His great mercy places His hands around the children He is preparing for the Kingdom of Heaven forming the crucible that can produce the desired result. He is very careful to allow enough “heat” to bring about a change or to shield from too much heat that would destroy us. Remember that the “torch” heats up the crucible as much as the gold alloy being heated for casting. Jesus Christ has experienced and is experiencing all of our “crucible experiences.”

This week we are emphasizing meekness and humility. A quotation from The Desire of Ages, page 646, comes to mind. The setting is the upper room and the foot [feet] washing service. “Their hearts must be cleansed. Pride and self-seeking create dissension and hatred, but all this Jesus washed away in washing their feet. A change of feeling was brought about. Looking upon them, Jesus could say, ‘Ye are clean.’ Now there was union of heart, love for one another. They had become humble and teachable. … Now with subdued and grateful hearts they could receive Christ’s words.”

It seems to me that “meekness” is a very basic quality. It is the foundation or building block for most if not all of the character traits needed for translation and the Kingdom of Heaven. Without meekness and humility, real character growth will not take place or it becomes meaningless if it exists at all. Meekness or humility is a true understanding of one’s genuine value in the sight of God. It is an understanding of the value “Heaven” places on us as children of the King.

All that Jesus Christ has accomplished and is currently accomplishing for us reveals how much God values each lost soul on this earth. An understanding of these accomplishments forms the heart of that “most precious message” that is referred to as the “1888 message.” In the hands of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit we will reflect the character and face of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It behooves us to stay in God’s hands and not try to escape the crucible we find ourselves in today.

I was so impressed by a quotation we had a few weeks ago that I feel constrained to repeat it here at the close of this small insight. It contains everything! Oh what a precious gift we have in the “Spirit of Prophecy” writings. She said it all.

“Prayer is not an expiation for sin. It is not a penance. We need not come to God as condemned criminals; for Christ has paid the penalty of our transgression. He has made an atonement for us. His blood cleanses from sin. Our prayers are as letters sent from earth, directed to our Father in heaven. The petitions that ascend from sincere, humble hearts will surely reach Him. He can discern the sincerity of His adopted children. He pities our weakness and strengthens our infirmities. He has said, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive.’” ...

“We are to come to God, not in a spirit of self-justification, but with humility, repenting of our sins. He is able to help us, willing to do for us more than we ask or think. He has the abundance of heaven wherewith to supply our necessities. ... God is holy, and we must pray, ‘lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting’” [1 Tim. 2:8].

These are two paragraphs from Signs of the Times, November 18, 1903. Please read it over and over a few times. (A shortened version is found in In Heavenly Places, p. 71.)

—J. B. Jablonski

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 10 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "A Life of Praise"

The location: South Lancaster, Massachusetts, USA. The time: January, 1889. The occasion: Revival meetings with various speakers, including Ellen White and A. T. Jones. Here is Mrs. White’s observation, as recorded in a Review and Herald article dated March 5, 1889: “Both students and teachers have shared largely in the blessing of God. The deep movings of the Spirit of God have been felt upon almost every heart. The general testimony was borne by those who attended the meeting that they had obtained an experience beyond anything they had known before. They testified their joy that Christ had forgiven their sins. Their hearts were filled with thanksgiving and praise to God (emphasis supplied).

What brought about such a reaction of joy and praise among those attendees almost one hundred and eleven years ago, shortly into the aftermath of the Minneapolis meetings? Here is what the servant of the Lord observes in her article:

“We felt the necessity of presenting Christ as a Saviour who was not afar off, but nigh at hand.”

“There were many, even among the ministers, who saw the truth as it is in Jesus in a light in which they had never before viewed it. They saw the Saviour as a sin-pardoning Saviour, and the truth as the sanctifier of the soul” (emphasis supplied).

“In the early morning meetings I tried to present the paternal love and care of God for His children.”

Ellen White further observed: “I have never seen a revival work go forward with such thoroughness, and yet remain so free from all undue excitement. ... The honest of heart were ready to confess their sins, and to bring forth fruit to God by repentance and restoration, as far as it lay in their power. We seemed to breathe in the very atmosphere of heaven. Angels were indeed hovering around.”

Again, their reason for praise? The attendees had seen Jesus as never before! Consequently, the meetings were prolonged for an additional week. Classes were dismissed at the school. Heaven, indeed, seemed to come down in those messages centered on the righteousness of Christ. It was a time of wonderful revival shared by students, laity, teachers and pastors alike. Perhaps not unlike the days of the ancient prophet Jonah when he marched throughout the streets of Nineveh and saw a repentance experienced “from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” Apparently, the joyful reaction to the preaching was universally experienced in that humble setting of South Lancaster.

Can it happen again? Will it happen again? Can it permeate the entire church body? Yes, on all counts. Unfortunately, today we have fallen victim to the thought that it is music or worship forms that generate the reason for our praise. Let us pray that such thinking and convictions are short-lived; not only for our sakes, but more importantly, for God’s.

Our church history teaches us that true heart-felt praise comes as a result of the preaching of the Word. Take, for example, Ezekiel, in the thirty-seventh chapter of his book, which reminds us that the dry bones live again, not by some artificial means of music and worship forms, but through “hear[ing] the word of the LORD.” The former methodology denotes righteousness by works; the latter is a vehicle of faith. Could it be that the present mode which is prevalent within the church is due to the fact we “know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God”? (Mark 12:24). Compound such a thought with the truth that, according to the words of Jesus Himself, “all scripture testifies” of Him, and perhaps we can see why the true reason for praise is lacking so much in our ranks.

However, we ought to be encouraged by the promise of a true lasting-last revival given to us in holy writ through the apostle of love, John the Revelator, in that familiar passage of the 18th chapter, verse 1: “After these things, I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with His glory.” This tells me that what took place in South Lancaster to a former generation of Seventh-day Adventists will occur again on a worldwide scale.

Such an experience of praise, we should realize though, will not simply be uttered in words alone. Carsten Johnsen, former Andrews seminary professor, writes in his book, The Maligned God, p. 267: “Obedience is the highest praise man can offer to God.” And as Ellen White writes, “Words alone cannot tell it. Let it be reflected in the character and manifested in the life.”

How will the day come when an entire denomination comes to such an experience of praise? First, when it sees itself for what it truly is and then, in humble contrition, it repents of its failures in history. Such a neglect to do so delays the return of the One who is worthy of all our praise. Secondly, when it takes to heart the wonderful instruction that is given by the servant of the Lord which lifts up Jesus as “the Chiefest among ten thousand” and the One “altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:10,16). Here is that instruction articulated so beautifully in The Desire of Ages, p. 826 (one of my favorite passages): “In Christ is the tenderness of the shepherd, the affection of the parent, and the matchless grace of the compassionate Saviour. His blessings He presents in the most alluring terms. He is not content merely to announce these blessings; he presents them in the most attractive way, to excite a desire to possess them. So His servants are to present the riches of the glory of the unspeakable Gift. The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrine would accomplish nothing.”

Yes, hearts broken in repentance and subdued by the majesty of God will be reflected in a continual life of praise. Nothing else is possible. And may we not forget the greatest perfection that believers can achieve is the perfection of repentance. God, lead us to that experience and to that day soon! And not just individually, but corporately as well.

—Bill Brace

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 9 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here. Subscribe to this feed

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Seeing the Invisible"

Moses discovered the secret of overcoming. The temptations and pleasures of this life lost their grip on him. Our memory verse explains his secret thus: “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27).

Can we possess such faith and see what he saw? “The knowledge of what the Scripture means when urging upon us the necessity of cultivating faith, is more essential than any other knowledge that can be acquired. … There can be no perfection of Christian character without that faith that works by love, and purifies the soul” (Review and Herald, Oct. 18, 1898). Faith is not nebulous. It is “substance” (Heb 11:1). A. T. Jones defines it simply: “Faith is the expecting the word of God to do what it says and the depending upon that word to do what it says” (ibid., Dec. 27, 1898).

Since “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17), we may expect this Word to increase our faith as we consider what it was that Moses “saw.” Some frequently ignored points in the story of the woman caught in adultery may serve to open our eyes anew to the character of Him Who is invisible; her story illustrates our seeing the “invisible” (John 8:1-11).

Behold infinite Purity, standing in the temple, face to face, not only with the guilty, terror-stricken woman, but also with all the ugliness Satan could inspire in the hearts of those rebellious rulers!

In refusing to condemn the woman, Christ is not minimizing the heinousness of her sin, for “our God is a consuming fire” to sin wherever it may be found (The Faith I Live By, p. 176). Standing as the “Enmity” which interposes between the woman (the church) and her sin was already beginning to crush out our Savior’s life. He could see just what it was going to cost Him immediately, and also eternally, to set her free. By saying, “Neither do I condemn thee,” He confirmed His covenant to bear the death penalty for her sin so that she could go free. All He asked of her, as she tried to comprehend her new freedom, was that she would keep this precious gift He had given her. In saying, “Go and sin no more,” He was empowering her to stop identifying with sin so that she need not earn back the wages of sin. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1).

The temple—the sanctuary—is a representation of Christ Who is the “Way” to the Father. The sanctuary services depict His plan of salvation. Everything from the great cornerstone to the veil between the two apartments represents Him who is “invisible.”

In the eyes of the murderous mob of angry scribes and Pharisees Jesus sees a seething hatred which is all focused on Him. The woman’s entire value in their eyes lies in their ability to exploit her weakness in their quest for Christ’s destruction.

Standing there within the temple (The Ministry of Healing, p. 86) of which every part is a type of Himself, Jesus stoops to the marble pavement that represents His own body, and begins to write the sins of His questioners in the dust. In writing their sins on the temple’s marble floor He is, in type, writing them upon Himself. He is transferring to Himself the guilt for each of their sins, including the murderous hatred burning in their eyes at that very moment.

Totally missing the point, the woman’s accusers saw only potential exposure in the writing. They did not stay around long enough for Jesus to finish writing, so they did not hear the words, “Neither do I condemn thee.” In their haste, they missed the fact that He kept on writing, not because He wanted to impress them with how bad they were, but because He wanted to free them from the heavy, death-dealing burden of guilt. He wanted them to see that all their past sins were now registered against Him. He wanted them to see “the invisible” things of eternal importance.

He wanted them to see that while He came to condemn sin, He came to save the sinners (John 3:17). But, like Israel at Sinai, they would not stay around long enough to really know Him.

Had the accusers stayed near Jesus they would have heard the same words Christ addressed to the woman. They might not have appreciated their freedom as much as did the woman at that time, but the scenes of the crucifixion would soon have demonstrated to them just how heinous their sins really were. In Christ’s death they would have seen the depths of the pit from which they were rescued. Broken-hearted love for their Savior could then have forever cured them of the love of sin.

Oh that our lives might represent this Christ to sinners! Then, with Moses, they will see that no earthly pleasure or prize could hold a candle to the love of God for them! He has written all of your sins, and all of mine, on His own heart, and carried them with Him into the second death. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Today we hear that Word which spoke the worlds into existence saying, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Let us exercise the faith of Jesus which consists in surrendering to, and depending upon this Word to accomplish the freedom from sin which the Word commands.

Seeing the true Christ as He really is removes every excuse for shame and despair. At the same time, it removes every excuse for sinning. Further, it cures even the desire to sin, for it makes us fall in love with the One whom sin still wounds. In this vision of Jesus we have the one and only motivation strong enough to put perfect enmity between us and sin in all its guises. With Moses we may then endure as seeing Him who is invisible!

—Helene Thomas

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 8 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Indestructible Hope"

I would like to share with you an article by E. J. Waggoner as supplementary reading for this week’s lesson.—Paul Penno

“The Certainty of Hope”
[The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 24, 1902, p. 9.]

VERY few of the thousands who daily express themselves as hoping for this or that, realize what hope really is. How often we hear of disappointed hopes, of “hopes dashed to the ground,” of people who hoped for certain things, but did not get them; and even while telling of their “hope” for some desired thing, some will express the fear that they will be disappointed. Such ones know not what hope really is, and are deluding themselves with false hopes.

There is nothing true but God, for Christ, the revelation of God, is “the truth.” He is also the reality, the fullness, because He is the life—the whole of life. He is, and without Him there is nothing. There is but one true God, and but one true love, “the love of God,” because “God is love.” So there is but one rightful Lord; but one faith—“the faith of Jesus;” and but one real hope,—the hope of our calling in God (Eph. 4:4-7).

This hope does not disappoint. That is the force of the expression, “hope maketh not ashamed,” in Romans 5:5. Real hope does not deceive us; we are not made ashamed by being obliged to admit that we have not received that of which we spoke so confidently. Often have we been embarrassed when we have been asked where a certain thing is, which we have with bright anticipation spoken about expecting to receive. We were disappointed, and would be glad to have the matter forgotten. We feel perhaps a little ashamed of our former enthusiasm, and do not like to have it mentioned. But nothing of this sort happens when we have “the blessed hope” which comes with the experience of justification by faith.

Why is this? What is the reason that hope—all hope that is hope indeed—“maketh not ashamed”? The reason is given: “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” True hope has its origin in true love—the love of God,—because love “hopeth all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). “Love is of God,” for “God is love;” therefore love is as enduring and unchanging as God himself. He is “from everlasting to everlasting,” and “the Lord hath appeared of old time unto me, saying, Yes, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” It must be evident to all that hope that is based upon such love can never disappoint one.

“God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This was promised to Abraham, and the promise was confirmed by an oath,—God swearing by himself,—for our sakes, that “we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek” (Heb. 6:17-20). All things are assured to us in Christ, and only in Him (Rom. 8:32). There is nothing in this world or the world to come that we can have except through His cross. So the so-called hope for anything that is not to be found in Him is sure to meet with disappointment; and the hope for everything that is in Him, and that can be had with Him, is as sure of fulfillment, as that He lives.

Even this is not all; for hope is so very real that we truly have the thing hoped for. Thus: God’s work was finished from the foundation of the world, and Christ was given before that (Heb. 4:3. 1 Peter 1:19, 20). On the cross He said, “It is finished.” Infinite and everlasting love has bestowed everything. God asks: “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it” (Isa. 5:4). All heaven has already been poured out in the gift of Christ, so that all that we can possibly hope for we already have in Him. We “rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” and Christ in us is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). He is the brightness of the Father’s glory (Heb. 1:3), and the glory that was given Him He has given us (John 17:22); therefore having Him we have all things. He is the same today that He is in eternity; therefore all the joys of eternity are ours in Him today.

This is the “lively hope,” the living hope, that we have by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). There is no element of doubt or uncertainty in it. The Christian’s hope is no vague longing after something in the dim and uncertain future, but a firm grasp of that which is, as well as is to come. This is not simply “the larger hope,” but the largest hope, for we are taught to believe that God’s mercy is upon us according as we hope in Him (Psalm 33:22). Then let abiding hope abound, that joy may be full.

Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 7 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Struggling With All Energy"

The Refiner's Fire: "Struggling With All Energy"

The focus of this week’s lesson is summed up in the question, “What is the role of our wills, and willpower, in the battle with self and sin?” We could also add, what motivates our will and from where do we obtain willpower? How are will and willpower related to faith?

As we begin our study, our memory verse deserves consideration. For many the word “striving” [“struggling,” NIV] would seem to be the focal point of the verse and thus the entire lesson. The Greek word literally means agonizing (Gr. agonizomai); utmost zeal and earnestness toward that object of our interest.

Full consideration of this verse must include the entire sentence in which the memory verse phrase appears. That means going all the way back to verse 21, which is the beginning of Paul’s thought. The sentence begins by stating that at one time we were alienated and enemies in our mind, and through the wicked works which arise from this disaffection. From whom are we alienated and what caused the estrangement?

Obviously we were alienated from God. The good news is that “yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” This phrase reveals both elements of the gospel’s message. The first is God’s work through Christ in “reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). This is what is sometimes referred to as “legal justification.” Through the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), the just demands of the violated Law have been satisfied. God looks upon every sinner as His friend (Rom. 5:8, 10). On Calvary’s cross Christ lay down His precious, sinless life for His friends (John 15:13).

Then Paul adds the corollary truth of justification by faith when he stated that after hearing the good news, we’re to remain “in the faith” grounded and settled and not moved away through temptation to commit “wicked works.” It’s our free choice to remain steadfastly believing in God’s deliverance from sin, or to remain in a state of unbelief which arises from an unconverted mind. We may choose to remain “enemies in our mind” toward God, but that is not how God looks at us. What causes our estrangement from God is persistent unbelief in the power of the reconciling work of God for the whole human race.

Paul speaks twice in this sentence of a “mystery.” First he says that the mystery had been hidden, but then states that the glory of the mystery has now been made manifest (vss. 26-27). The mystery concerns how the gospel transforms our character through the transforming of our mind, and the surrendering of our will to Him (Phil. 2:5; Rom. 12:3; The Desire of Ages, p. 668). Paul then concludes his thought by declaring that this glorious truth of Christ crucified for the sins of the world is what he has been compelled to preach: “whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily.”

What causes the evangelistic zeal and earnestness Paul speaks about here?—seeing the Cross for what it really is, a revelation of the love of God for lost mankind. Christ is the Saviour of the world, and that includes every sinner who was ever born on this planet (1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Cor. 5:14-15). Are you a sinner?—then Christ died for you. When you realize that Christ died for you as though you were the only person on earth, a new motivation activates your life. A true appreciation of the death of Jesus gives us the power to choose to say No to all Satan’s temptations. It teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).

Now that we have a fuller picture of the context of the memory verse, let’s return to the original question: “what is the role of our will” in the process of salvation? How are will and willpower related to faith? Is there a danger of self being manifested in the action of the will and willpower, even when seemingly “doing the right thing”?

Self dies hard. It will permit the professing believer to do just about anything including submission of pride and acceptance of poverty; it will endure insults and menial labor, just so long as it is allowed to live. In contrast, the crucified self takes no pride in good deeds or superior behavior. Every manifestation of self, including self-motivated will, must die.

In the 1893 General Conference Bulletin we find this discussion of faith: “A person may believe in the existence and power of God; he may believe the truth of the Bible; he may believe and say that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Holy One of God, and yet be a devil; but that is not faith. There is no power in that kind of belief to help anybody” (A. T. Jones; sermon No. 13; p. 95). Simply acquiescing to the truth about Jesus is not synonymous with the saving faith of Jesus. Something more than opinion is needed to convert our character.

In true faith “there is not only a belief in God’s word, but a submission of the will to Him; where the heart is yielded to Him, the affections fixed upon Him there is faith,—faith that works by love, and purifies the soul” (Review and Herald, Nov. 11, 1915, “Victory Over Sin Through Faith in Christ”). A. T. Jones exclaims, “Now these are weighty expressions, they are worth considering. ... Is your will submitted to Him never to be taken back, or exercised in your own way or for yourself?” “Is your will submitted to God for Him to use as He pleases and you have no objections to raise at all; you have no thought or inclination to use it your way; you want Him to do His way, and that is all you care for?” (Jones, ibid.).

The danger is in reserving some of our will to do our own thing. If I do this “I will go my way in spite of myself. ... Christ can not come in fully, unless there is a full submission to Him.” Jones concludes: “Let there be some dying here. Let there be some actual dying to self. That is what it means; it means death: and of course people never struggle to die; they struggle to stay alive, if there are any struggles” (Jones, Ibid.).

How then do we “struggle with all energy”? By dying to self. It might sound like an oxymoronic concept, but this is what true conversion is all about. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:6-7). What more glorious good news could there be?

—Ann Walper

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 6 now in MP3 format.

To listen as a pod cast go to To stream the audio, go to

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Extreme Heat"

Our memory verse (Isa. 53:10) raises the profound question of how it could "please" the Father to "bruise" and "put ... to grief" His Son! The only answer possible is to recognize that the Father (the "God [who] so loved the world that He gave [Him]") loved us more than He loved His own Son!

That stretches our poor little hearts outsize to comprehend it!

In our daily lives, to know that someone dear to us actually loves us is what makes life worth living; now try to realize that the great God and Creator of the universe, He who is infinite, cares about you personally and individually. David was greatly comforted by that thought, for he knew that he was "poor and needy" (the sooner we know that, the better for us!) yet in his poverty of soul he remembered, "yet the Lord thinketh on me" (Psalm 40:17, KJV).

Knowing and believing that, David became a great man of God. As a teenage boy, he slew a lion and a bear that tried to get away with one of his lambs he was shepherding; then throwing himself on the ground utterly exhausted, he remembered that the Lord was watching him as though he was the only person on earth. He thinks on me!

Isaiah 53 tells a little known detail about Jesus. "He was cut off from the land of the living;" "and who will declare His generation?" (vs. 8). That's Hebrew thinking: for Jesus to be murdered at the young age of 33, dying unmarried and without being a father, He is pictured as leaving no heirs so that His "generation" is "cut off." It meant that he has no part in Israel to come; it's a fate in their thinking equivalent to dying "the second death."

To heap injury on insult, Isaiah says "they [scribes and Pharisees] made His grave with the wicked" (vs. 9). The prophet says it because that was their intent and purpose. But the Father intervened and wouldn't let it happen!

Crucified victims' bodies were usually thrown on the "Gehenna" of garbage and dead animals' remains—which was the intent of the scribes and Pharisees, yes, also of Pilate (think of what these men will face in the final judgment!). Instead, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a distinguished society leader, boldly went to the Roman governor and asked for the body of Jesus (beholding the cross of Christ transformed that timid man into a bold man!). Thus Isaiah's unlikely prophecy found exact fulfillment: not with the "wicked" but "with the rich at His death" Jesus was buried (vs. 9; compare John 19:38-40).

But now, consider the good news: when we make the cross of Christ our "offering for sin," the resurrected, High Priestly Jesus is so happy that He sees in us "His seed," that is, His real "children" or descendants!

Although it "pleased the [Father] to bruise Him," the Father did not want to make the torture Jesus endured utterly unbearable. As He hung on the cross in the total darkness, having cried out, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" He had a little something bright to think about. He remembered the anointing in Bethany when Mary Magdalene poured the precious perfume on His feet and let it run to waste on the floor—a mirror image of the love expended in His great sacrifice. In remembering her deed before He had to die, Jesus was given a little glimpse ahead of time of the faith of the "144,000" who likewise will come to sacrifice their all for Him.

Abraham's "Extreme Heat"

Why did Abraham have to endure his terrible ordeal of offering his only son Isaac when the "burden of years was heavy ... and he longed for rest"? To prepare him for heaven?

There was a bigger reason. The plan of salvation required that he become the "father of all who believe" (Rom. 4:11-16), but he had failed miserably when he lied to Pharoah about his wife, and then to Abimelech the same mistake (Gen. 12:10-16; 20:2-10). Then he abandoned the New Covenant promises and married a second wife, Hagar, to help God fulfill His promises.

Now Abraham must demonstrate that he is worthy to be called "the father of all those who believe" (Rom. 4:11). He is not paying for his sins, Christ paid for them. But he is learning to appreciate the dimensions of the love of Christ for us, its "width and length and depth and height" (cf. Eph. 3:18). He is acquiring an infinitely precious insight into the character of the heavenly Father. This lets him grow from infant faith to mature faith.

And that is precisely what the worldwide "church of the Laodiceans" so desperately needs.

This is not to give the patriarch the key to enter the New Jerusalem, but to make him supremely happy when he gets there.

Along the way we are being reminded of Hosea's "extreme heat" which experience rivals that of Abraham: Abraham's "heat" was an episode of his life, over with in a short time. Hosea's permeated a lifetime of agony. If a man is enmeshed in genuine love for a woman and she plays him false, the exquisite pain he feels is indescribable.

Again, is it to give him a ticket into heaven? No; it is to acquaint him with the pain that Jesus has experienced. The world church today must not remain infantile; growing up to sense or to appreciate His "beyond-description-disappointment" is very appropriate.

—Robert J. Wieland

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 5 now in MP3 format. Listen as a podcast at Listen as a stream at pluggd.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Seeing the Goldsmith's Face"

The concept of seeing the Goldsmith’s face is a serious thought. If we see His face, we are going to have to enter through the veil into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary, because that is where the Goldsmith is.

Hebrews 6:13-18: “When God made promise to Abraham, ... after he had patiently en-dured, he obtained the promise. ... God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed [it] by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which [it was] impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”

Hebrews 10:22: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

So, you see, the way into the sanctuary is going to involve the perfection of God’s peo-ple, having our evil conscience sprinkled, washed. Entering into the Most Holy Place is a spiritual experience as we are washed with the blood and the water of Jesus. This way into the Most Holy was consecrated by Jesus by living His perfect life in His flesh, that is, the fallen sinful human flesh that He took.

The experience of Jacob gives us a clue as to how this “entering” happens.

Genesis 32:24-26: “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. ... And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And He said unto him, ... Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

Do we cling to Christ until we have received the blessing? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to show us our worst case—to show us things about ourselves we might otherwise not want to know? The job of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin and to bring us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Will we let Him do that? By wrestling with God until we receive the blessing, we allow the “oil” of the Holy Spirit to bring us to the experience of the perfec-tion He has given us through His consecration—His righteous character—as He understands it, not as we understand perfection. A. T. Jones, one of the 1888 “messengers,” says it best:

“In His coming in the flesh—having been made in all things like unto us and having been tempted in all points like as we are—He has identified Himself with every human soul just where that soul is. And from the place where every human soul is, He has consecrated for that soul a new and living way through all the vicissitudes and experiences of a whole lifetime, and even through death and the tomb, into the holiest of all at the right hand of God for evermore.

“O that consecrated way! Consecrated by His temptations and sufferings, by His prayers and tears, by His holy living and sacrificial dying, by His triumphant resurrection and glorious ascension, and by His triumphal entry into the holiest of all, at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens!

“And this ‘way’ He has consecrated for us. He, having become one of us, has made this way our way; it belongs to us. He has endowed every soul with divine right to walk in this consecrated way, and by His having done it Himself in the flesh—in our flesh—He has made it possible, yea, He has given actual assurance, that every human soul can walk in that way, in all that that way is and by it enter fully and freely into the holiest of all. ...

“Perfection , ... of character, is the Christian goal. ... . Christ attained it in human flesh in this world and thus made and consecrated a way by which, in Him, every believer can attain it. He, having attained it, has become our great High Priest, by His priestly minis-try in the true sanctuary to enable us to attain.

“‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.’ And ‘Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised’” (The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, pp. 82-84).

And the results of the refiner’s fire?
“The church, being endowed with the righteousness of Christ, is His depository, in which the wealth of His mercy, His love, His grace, is to appear in full and final display. The declaration in His intercessory prayer, that the Father’s love is as great toward us as toward Himself, the only-begotten Son, and that we shall be with Him where He is, forever one with Christ and the Father, is a marvel to the heavenly host, and it is their great joy. The gift of His Holy Spirit, rich, full, and abundant, is to be to His church as an encompassing wall of fire, which the powers of hell shall not prevail against. In their untainted purity and spotless perfection, Christ looks upon His people as the reward of all His suffering, His humiliation, and His love, and the supplement of His glory—Christ the great center from which radiates all glory. ‘Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 18; emphasis supplied.

Fasten your seatbelts! We’re in for quite a ride (Matt 5:48). A blessed one.

—Craig Barnes

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 4 now in MP3 format. Listen as a podcast at Listen as a stream at pluggd.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "The Birdcage"

The memory text, 1 Peter 1:6 plus verse 7, says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire ... .” According to Revelation 3:18, this gold tried in the fire is faith and the church of Laodicea is counseled to buy it. It is a must. This week’s lesson explores our unavoidable experience with trials and how we should relate to them. God often leads His children into trials and the lesson gives us a number of examples. We will draw four practical points from these examples.

1. God’s people will face trials meant to teach spiritual realities and truths about God, who is Immanuel, “God with us.”

The children of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land but it wasn’t a straight shot. There would be trials along the way. Their first trial was the Red Sea with the Egyptians in hot pursuit; next came the dry, hot wilderness of Shur, three days without drinkable water only “Marah” water. Then according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed and camped at Rephidim, and again no water. This time they accused Moses of trying to kill them and their livestock.

Trials! But God was leading them so He parted the Red Sea for them, then He showed them a “tree” (interesting) which when it was cast into the waters made them sweet. Then at Rephidim, Exodus17:6 tells us that God instructed Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall smite the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst.” Isaiah declares, “... yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted, but he was wounded for our transgressions, ... the chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isa. 53:4, 5).

Paul says, “For they all drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). God did not cause the trials but He led them into the trials and taught them powerful truths about Himself and about their salvation. There are other examples in Scripture of God leading His people to important positions, often by way of trial. God had a grand purpose for Daniel, but it came by way of Babylonian captivity and the lions’ den. Daniel learned that God is love and that He will never leave us or forsake us.

He had a faith that would endure to the end and it was a witness, a testimony to King Darius. So much so that King Darius proclaimed, “For He is the living God, and steadfast forever” (Dan. 6:26). Joseph rose to fame and was able to provide for his family in Egypt during a terrible time of famine, but it came by way of a pit dug for him by his brothers in which he was left to die. Add Potiphar’s wife and we have compounded trials. Joseph discovered what David learned. Sin is against God and it profanes His Holy name (character) “among the nations” wherever we go. Trial endured in God’s strength leads to a testimony!

2. Make sure God has led. How do we know that God has led us? Ask a simple question. Was God leading me yesterday?

The greatest Person who ever lived endured the greatest of trials. He overcame His temptation to question God’s leading by knowing the answer to that simple question, was God leading me yesterday? Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O My God I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.” He was not acting; He had a total melt down.

But assurance came in knowing that God had led Him “yesterday.” Psalm 22:9-11: “But you are He who took Me out of the womb: You made Me trust when I was on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From my mother’s womb You have been My God. Be not far from Me for trouble is near; for there is none to help.” Even His beloved disciples left Him, but His faith which was tested in the fire grabbed hold, and in verse 21 He exclaims, “You have answered Me.”

Reviewing His history gave Him necessary saving faith that embraced all mankind. If we know for certain that God has led us we can endure and even embrace our trials. It gives us a guarantee of hope.

3. Know the voice of God.

We are human—how can we know the voice of God? The same way Jesus did. We learn to hear His voice in our closet with Him, in the daily quiet times in His Word. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah ran for his life when Jezebel threatened to kill him. He ran into a cave and prayed for the Lord to take his life. He had gone from the Mount of joy (Carmel) to the valley of despair (the cave). How does he get back to the mount of joy? God starts to provide for him in the cave and then talks to him, and Elijah recognizes it is Yahweh.

The faithful, covenant-keeping God instructs him to “Go out, and stand before the Lord.” First there was a strong wind that ripped the mountain in pieces but, God wasn’t in that display, powerful as it was. Next there was an earthquake, then a fire, but God was in neither. Finally there was a delicate whispering voice and God was there. Elijah recognized the voice for he had spent much time with Him.

4. Learn to praise God in the midst of the storm.

After the Red Sea crossing in Exodus 15 Moses and the children of Israel sang the song of Moses, expressing praises to God for how He had led them. The praises were offered after the trial was over—they were safe on dry land and the Egyptians were cast into the sea.

This was a marvelous deliverance God performed, but in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 we have a wonderful story in the history of Israel. The Moabites, the Ammonites, and others came to battle against King Jehoshaphat, who “set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” He recounted to God the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple that should any calamity befall Israel they would cry out to Him from the temple and He would hear and save.

God told him not to be afraid “the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not need to fight in this battle, just position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” The next day Jehoshaphat went out early with the people and he addressed them saying, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established” (vs. 20). He then appointed those who would sing and praise the Lord and they went out ahead of the army praising God for a victory that had not yet happened!

The trial was still ahead of them. What takes more faith, singing the song of deliverance for past triumphs or singing the songs of praise for victory that has not yet come? Habakuk 3:17-19 says, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” In Psalm 22 Jesus teaches us that we sing the song of faith, knowing the God who holds us in the palm of His hands.

1 Peter 1:6-9: “In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious that gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ ... receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” May God bless us as we study this week.

—Lyndi Schwartz

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 3 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast go to Wolf's Oath Audio To listen as a stream go to

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "The Crucibles That Come"

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent (Rev. 3:19).

We humans have trouble associating the concepts of “rebuke and chasten” with love. Yet, that is what the Lord tells Laodicea after He explains their true condition. If we saw a human parent tolerating misbehavior in their child, we might conclude they don’t really love the child. When trials come to believers that test their faith, it is easy to wonder why God is allowing the terrible thing. Our lesson used the example of Job to show how wrong it is for us to put everything good in the “God box” and everything bad in the “Satan box.”

The definition of a crucible is important to understanding this quarter’s lessons. It includes a vessel used for melting a substance that requires a high degree of heat. It is easy to apply the concept to the Christian experience. One of the blessings of the 1888 message is how much our Savior understands our suffering because He has come so near to us. Without a true understanding of the nature Christ assumed at the incarnation, we will always doubt that God can sympathize with the struggles of living in sinful flesh. Since we know that He was tempted “in all points like as we are,” in the same sinful flesh (yet never sinned), He is intimately aware of our needs. Therefore we can believe He will provide the help we need to overcome.

The Christian experience is that of the crucible. It is the only thing Christian believers can expect from this earthly life. Satan will never leave believers alone because he, unlike God, cannot see the future. He doesn’t know if a particular believer “stony ground” or good soil. In the parable of the Sower, Luke tells us that Satan took away the seed that fell by the wayside, even though the Word was heard and in the heart. This alerts us that if we aren’t being challenged in our Christian walk, we need to ask God to show us where we have become complacent. We cannot fight the devil; only being “rooted and grounded” in God’s agape will keep us safe from that “roaring lion.”

We misunderstand God if we think that suffering is random and without meaning. God knows exactly when we need challenges that strengthen our confidence in a personal and sympathetic High Priest who can intercede between our weakness and a holy God. Like Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels, which represent the interplay of human events, God is guiding the events and experiences in even unbelievers’ lives to bring us to a better understanding of Himself. The cliché that there are no atheists in foxholes is misunderstood if we think falling into the foxhole was a random event for the atheist. Some may resent this concept, seeing God as a manipulator. But God’s goal is always to present the choice of accepting His incredible Gift of salvation as attractive, advantageous, and appealing.

Hearing the siren of an ambulance is an opportunity to pray for the people involved. A full code ambulance or Life Flight helicopter ride is almost always a life-changing event for the patient and his or her family. To ask God to heal the patient is too simplistic, for that may not be in their best interest. To ask God to use the experience to bring all involved closer to Him and that He may be glorified is always in God’s will. It is also acknowledgement and acceptance that God wants and knows what is best in the situation. Occasionally, people refer to a healing as God answering prayer. We must mature to the point that we can say that no matter the outcome, He has answered our prayer. That we can’t prove by human devices whether it was God or fate really depends on the choice to believe in a benevolent and interested God who is willing to Shepherd us in all circumstances. Believers know there is no such thing as fate or luck with God.

The crucible process also includes learning from our and others’ mistakes. E. J. Waggoner uses the story of Jericho and Ai to illustrate how easily trial and triumph can be misunderstood. “A man is never in greater danger than when he has just achieved some great success, or gained a great victory. If he is not very much on his guard, his joyous song of thanksgiving will have a chorus of vainglorious self-congratulation. Beginning with recognition of God’s power, and praise and thanksgiving for it, man insensibly puts himself in the place of God, and assumes that his own wisdom and strength brought him the success and the victory. Thus he exposes himself to attack when he is sure to be overcome, since he has separated from the source of power. Only in the Lord Jehovah is there everlasting strength” (The Everlasting Covenant, p. 261; Glad Tidings ed.).

God never leads us into temptation, including the temptation to depend on ourselves. “When the men said that but few of the people were needed for the capture of Ai, they assumed that it was their military skill that was to secure the land for them. But that was a grievous error. God had promised to give them the land, and it could not be obtained except as a gift” (ibid, p. 263).

The defeat at Ai was by human standards a minor defeat, only 36 men were lost. But with the inhabitants of Canaan watching them, they misrepresented Jehovah and His power. Our defeats produce the same results. Not only are we in danger of discouragement, we misrepresent God to others. The mature Christian must be more concerned for God’s reputation than his own.

Another important concept is how to understand trials and suffering in those around us. Like Job’s friends, we wonder what they did to deserve their “punishment.” It is more beneficial to ask, “What am I supposed to learn from my neighbor’s suffering?” There are many examples where friends or family members have suffered injury or difficulty, and those watching their faith grow stronger have been led to the Lord. What a blessing that suffering turned out to be.

Many believers think it is burdensome but inevitable that spiritual trials will come, and we should bear them by the grace of God. Few think they are beneficial and we should ask for them. If we understand that the 1888 message prepares a people to give the message that lightens the earth with glory, the process is just that. The week before the Day of Atonement was a time when the believing Israelite asked God to show him his deep and hidden sins. Many sins came to mind through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but it is just as likely that events happened to test the person’s willingness to accept the illumination, confess it, and ask for forgiveness and victory. God is eager to not only forgive, but cleanse, and write His law on our hearts.

What a wonderful perspective a true understanding of the Gospel gives us. May we all be grateful for the Lord’s rebuking and chastening.

—Arlene Hill

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 2now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast go to To listen as a stream go to

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "The Shepherd's Crucible"

Welcome to a new Quarter of well-written Sabbath School Lessons! They are on a topic of practical day-to-day godliness: how to understand “despair, betrayal, disappointment, loss, injustice, and abuse.” The closer we come in the stream of time to the last-days’ events of “the great controversy between Christ and Satan,” the more critical will be our need to learn how to endure these tests of faith.

The “insight” of the 1888 message to Lesson One about the 23rd Psalm can be the parallels between the Shepherd’s Psalm and the New Covenant promises the Lord made to Abraham and his descendants (which we are, by faith).

The major contribution which “a most precious message” in 1888 made to Seventh-day Adventist understanding of righteousness by faith was the New Covenant. Let us note these parallels side by side. Remember that the promises He made to Abraham are made to us:

The 23rd PsalmThe Promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 3)
“I shall not want”“A land that I will show you”
“Makes me lie down in green pastures”“I will make you a great nation”
“Leads me beside still waters”“I will bless you” (make you happy, GNB)
“He restores my soul”“I will make your name great.”
“Leads me in the paths of righteousness”“You shall be a blessing” (make others happy)
“I will fear no evil”“I will curse those who curse you”
“Your rod and staff comfort me”“I will bless those who bless you”
“My cup runs over”“In you all families of the earth be blessed”

The message that the Lord in His great mercy sent to us in 1888 was intended to lighten the earth with glory,” that is, it was the “beginning” of the glorious Loud Cry of Revelation 18:1-4. Not only did “God so love the world” (past tense) that He gave His only Son; He still loves this dark world lost in sin. He still loves all the multitudes who are bewildered and confused and alienated from God. The essence of the 1888 message was, “Be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). It was not a fear-oriented harsh demand, but “a revelation of the love of God.” We as a people needed to realize that as the sun goes down for the last time, the message the world must hear is that message of “Christ and Him crucified.” When Ellen White wrote these words, she remembered the 1888 message:

“‘Behold, the Lord will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him.’ ... Those who wait for the Bridegroom’s coming are to say to the people, ‘Behold your God.’ The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 415).

To know nothing except “Christ and Him crucified” is not an off-balance obsession; it’s the message that hungry-hearted honest people all over the world are longing to grasp. We can see as we review the history of the 1888 message how the message even then moved the lay people who heard it, even the non-Adventists who heard A. T. Jones proclaim it. If every Adventist church had been a place where people would hear only “Christ and Him crucified” (to borrow Paul’s statement), the Holy Spirit could have inspired people to come, and the message would have spread.

This new Quarter of lessons will direct us to see how all our trials and mishaps and disappointments are one means the Lord uses to remind us that He loves us individually, personally, intimately; if we will but believe that, we shall be prepared to look into His eyes with joy when we see Him coming in the clouds of heaven.

—Robert J. Wieland

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 1 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast go to To listen as a stream go to

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Yahweh and Israel: Fulfilment Beyond Failure

Is Jesus in love with a “woman”? Yes, He is!

It was Christ who invented sexual love and marriage. When Adam was in desperate loneliness in the Garden, the Lord brought Eve to him; He foresaw when He would assuage His own loneliness with the “marriage” to a “Bride.” Jesus is a lone, lonely Man in heaven; He belongs with His people in the earth.

No woman on earth could be so tall, so beautiful, so wise, that she could be the bride of the divine Son of God; the “woman” with whom He is in such desperate love is a “corporate” woman—a “body” of humans, redeemed sinners from “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6, 7). “She” has grown up from her infancy “in Christ”; she has come at last to maturity where she can stand by His side as His “help-meet.” And He needs her! What God said of Adam in the Garden is true of Jesus also: “it is not good that the Man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

In Revelation’s picture, she will share with Him the administration of His new kingdom where He has just been crowned “King of kings and Lord of lords,” for He invites her to sit with Him on His throne (Rev. 3:21). He can’t rule there alone! He has to have someone “sit” with Him whom He can love, trust, and respect as a king his queen.

When God’s people had wandered away from Him, Jeremiah likens Israel’s infidelity to a “wife” treacherously departing from her husband” (3:20). The husband’s brokenheartedness is implied.

Ezekiel spends an entire long chapter on Israel’s youth as a time when she was so charming, beautiful and innocent that He, wanting to be her husband-to-be, fell in love with her (cf. 16:8ff). This, like a surrealist painting, portrays the whole of human history and especially that of God’s people as a divine-human love affair, a husband wooing a wife. It’s the back-in-the-shadows reality that informs the whole of Scripture. Paul likens Christ to His church as a Lover being betrothed (2 Cor. 11:2).

In Ephesians he shocks Christians of all ages saying that agape-love is sexual love: “Husbands, love your wives [with agape] even as Christ also loved the church” (5:25); so Christ’s love for the church is conjugal, that of a Lover for the woman who arouses His love!

This is so shocking extracted criticism. “Bishop Wordsworth ... said that Charles Wesley’s famous hymn “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” was ‘inexpressibly shocking’, and should not be sung in Westminster Abbey.” Even his brother John excluded it from his 1780 Large Hymnbook, “and in other hymnbooks ‘lover’ has been altered to ‘refuge’ or ‘Saviour.’” [1]

This fear of the humanity of the Savior is probably due to the popular Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which cuts the Virgin Mary genetic link to the fallen Adam and thus separates her Son from true identity with humanity. The reticence even in our churches to sing Charles Wesley’s hymn probably derives unconsciously from the same.

Hosea stands in history as the preeminent example of the disappointed but steadfast love of man for a woman, because he still loved Gomer after she played the harlot on him. Paul insists that agape is sexual as well as “spiritual.” Hosea’s love for her was conjugal; it had to be. He was not an angel; he was a man. He illustrates Christ’s love for His church that keeps His commandments in the last days. Why does He single her out to love her, like a man singles out one woman from all the world of women to love?

Something about that “body” of believers, “the remnant” which “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” that has called forth the conjugal love of Christ. He wants to marry “her”; a burning desire, not to be turned aside. The disappointment of that love in “1888” was to Him “beyond description.” [2]

We could say that the little group who went through the Great Disappointment of 1844 were deeply beloved of Him in this special sense. They refused to give up their faith, confident that the true Holy Spirit was in the Midnight Cry through the Great Disappointment. They were especially dear to His heart (Jesus describes them in His message to “the angel of the church of the Philadelphians,” Rev. 3:9, 10).

When new truth came to them (the heavenly sanctuary and the opening of the second apartment), they believed; there was an endearing love for that “little flock” in His eyes. When Rachel Preston brought them the seventh-day Sabbath-truth, they welcomed it; no resisting and fighting it (as “they” did other precious truth forty-plus years later). Then when the first principles of health reform came, again they eagerly accepted, even some “dress reform.” Through the early history of this people, a special heavenly love affair was developing. Not since Pentecost had Jesus found such a group of believers loyal to Him.

Then, “1888.” Here the Song of Solomon 5:2-8 comes on stage. [3] The Lover has come “home” to His beloved after a long safari; tired, lonely, hungry, wet from the rain; He longs to be with her intimately. He “knocks” (the Hebrew says banging on the door). The woman whom He loves disdains him, she is too relaxed, gone to bed for the night; why does He bother her now? (The world is too comfy a place as it is, says the church of the Laodiceans.)

Finally, she forgets about her own selfish comfort and thinks about Him out in the darkness in the rain, hungry and alone; she belatedly gets up and goes to let Him in, but when she opens the door, He is “gone.”

We’ve been looking for Him for over a hundred years (cf. 6:1). Increasingly, thoughtful people see here the story of “our” disdaining Him in the most precious message of the beginning of the latter rain. In rejecting the message, says the Lord’s servant, we disdained Christ, just as “the woman” did her Lover in Song of Solomon 5:3. [4]

Christ’s pathetic appeal in His message to “the angel of the church of the Laodiceans” [5] (“be zealous therefore and repent,” Rev. 3:19) demands attention.

—Robert J. Wieland


1. Michael Harper, The Love Affair (Eerdmans, 1982), p. 75.
2. See Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1904, her statement describing how Jesus felt after the 1888 failure of the church leadership to receive and pass on the message, and the loss of the consequent reconciliation with Him: “The disappointment of Christ is beyond description.”
3. There seems no reason to include this book in the Bible unless it speaks of Jesus and His love for the church. Jesus described it as “scripture” in John 7:37, 38 (4:15). Paul quoted it in reference to the church in Ephesians 5:27 (4:7). Scholars have long recognized that Jesus quoted the Septuagint version in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock.”
4. 1888 Materials, pp. 398, 399.
5. Ellen White identifies this as the Seventh-day Adventist Church (op. cit.)

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(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 13 now in MP3 format. To receive as podcast subscribe to To stream online or suscribe to podcast go to