Friday, June 29, 2007

The Word of God Endures

The memory text for this lesson contains the 1888 message that will prepare a people to be translated at the second coming of Jesus. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23-25). Peter is talking about being born again. Our birth into this world of a mother and father is of corruptible seed. It will not endure, but pass away like the grass withers on a hot, windy day. What will endure the heated blast of the fiery crisis ahead?

It is the word of God that endures forever. It is the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation in Christ Jesus. This word is of an incorruptible seed. Being born again of this word, the planting of God will become a redwood tree in God’s forest, which will endure the fiery inferno.

Peter takes his text from Isaiah 40, which is a wonderful forecast of the gospel message which will lighten the earth with His glory, but it begins with a message for God’s people. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1, 2). The expression “double for all her sins” means the punishment fits the crime. Jerusalem had been unfaithful to God and thus had been permitted the Assyrian and yet future Babylonian invasions. But the comforting word from God is that He loves Jerusalem and pardons her iniquity.

God is going to send a voice, a message, to prepare His way. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3). Of course, John the Baptist is recognized as the fulfillment of this prophecy. It was his work to announce: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isa. 40:4). The heart that is humbled before the Lord shall be lifted up. The haughty and boastful spirit will be brought down. The devious and winding pathways of life will be straightened. And the bumpy, rocky roads will be graded. Truly, John the Baptist was a sign to his generation of the Messiah’s first advent.

Now Isaiah’s prophecy takes a turn which far transcends John’s ministry. “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 40:5). This global revelation of God’s character of love is the loud cry of the third angel’s message which is blessed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain. John the Revelator spoke of this: “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with His glory” (Rev. 18:1). The beginning of this message came to His people in 1888.

God has given His people a unique message and experience of justification by faith not comprehended by the churches and religions of the world. The forgiveness of sins is accompanied by cleansing from sin. The restoration work of Christ as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary is absolutely essential, as is the sacrifice on His cross, to fit His people for the second coming. Hence, justification by faith and the sanctuary message are present truth.

John the Baptist’s message is to be magnified tenfold in the days before Christ’s second coming. The voice announces a message from God to His people. “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa. 40:6-8). God compares humanity to the grass of the field and the flowers that adorn the hillsides. The summer heat causes them to dry out and turn to tinder.

What are man’s expressions of doubt and higher criticism of the Bible, when in but a few days he passes to the grave and turns to dust, but the word of God endures forever? What is the churchman’s pride in great institutions and worldwide acquisitions, when man is grass? But the word of the Lord endures forever.

The last message which God brings before His people and the world humbles the glory of man in the dust before the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the word of our God which shall stand forever.

When the people of God truly appreciate that Jesus died the curse of their second death, then they will be born again of incorruptible seed. They will humble all their pride. There will be the repentance of the ages and a turning away from sin. God will demonstrate the power of His gospel through them. The Holy Spirit will accompany the message of the gospel with power in latter rain proportions as it did upon the disciples at Pentecost.

It will be truly said of them in that day: “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9). God has yet to set His church upon the mountain for the world to see. When He does set them in the spotlight, they will no longer proclaim the gospel of self, but “Behold your God!”

—Paul E. Penno

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Special Insights No. 12 Second Quarter 2007 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Growing Through the Word”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

To sum up Christian grow there are specific elements that cause it. This growth comes in and by the Word of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, love from and to God, surrender, and faith.

A pastor friend told of his sincere desire, as a boy, to become tall. He decided to stretch himself to his desired length by hanging himself on the family cloths line. To his chagrin he learned that that was not the way to become tall! Sometime later he discovered that by eating, drinking, and exercising he grew to over six feet tall.

As in the physical realm, so likewise in the spiritual. As we learn to feed on the word of God—the bread from heaven,— to drink from the Fountain of the water of life and to bask in the rays of light streaming from the “Sun of Righteousness” we will grow up into the full spiritual stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.

Consider the Power of the Word of God: We need only to go to nature to understand the power of the Word: “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20).

In nature we see the power of God’s word. The universe’s far flung stars and planets, earth’s granite rock substructure, the lofty trees, the various flowers, the tiny seeds, the microscopic universe are all a manifestation of the word of God. He spoke and they became the very thing stated. “He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). I went with a beet farmer to his field on a spring day. As we looked the field over he observed that his crop was coming along nicely. I could not see anything. Getting out of his truck I made my way to the field, and kneeling down I could see tiny shoots of beet stems coming up from the ground. When I plucked one of the stems, all that remained on my fingers was a transparent green moisture. I marveled that those beet stems, made up mostly of water and a bit of green colored covering, could push their way up out of the ground, moving small clumps of dirt that probably were a thousand times the weight of a single stem. This truly was a demonstration of the power of God’s word in nature.

That same creative energy is in the written word. It is the seed that God plants in the human mind that causes growth as in a garden or a forest of trees. God’s people are “called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isa. 61:3). This righteousness increases with steady growth, as do trees; and because they are planted by God, they will bring forth fruit, and consequently God will be glorified in their lives.

We are God’s planting. Consider further how likeness to the growth of plants is carried out. We may learn that salvation from sin (a life of righteousness) is like the casting of seeds into the earth: “As the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (Isa. 61:11).

In the growth of plants from a tiny seed we have a marvelous illustration of growth in grace, which is the growth of God’s kingdom of righteousness within the heart and mind of believers. A tree that stops growing, like the plucked beet stem, is dead. But as long as it remains rooted in the ground where God placed it, His power continually works through it, until it has accomplished His purpose for it. Likewise, the power of God is manifested even in the weakest of men who believe, until they have been brought to the place designed for them, which is “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Christ is the Seed of God. And He is the Word of God made flesh. When He dwells in our minds and hearts by faith,—when the seed springs up in us,—we also are “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19). Every one who believes receives all the fullness of the life of Christ, the true Seed, through the written word. This is how Christ dwells in us as Paul wrote: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you” (Col. 3:16). This is how “the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12).

Essentials to Growth: Most people can tell what is necessary for a plant to grow, but hardly anyone seems to understand what is necessary for a Christian to grow and develop. But we can learn this from the library of nature. As we have considered, a Christian is a plant in the garden of God; and like any plant in a garden, spiritual plants need plenty of water, good soil, and sunlight.

Everything has been provided by the Lord for His garden. His plants simply are to assimilate what they find. However, there is a perversity about plants of the human kind, that is not seen in nature. The Lord, through Jeremiah, stated that although He had planted His people “a noble vine, a seed of highest quality. How then have you turned before Me into the degenerate plant of an alien vine?” (Jer. 2:21).

There is no fault in what God has done; but an evil principle finds its way into a plant and perverts its nature, causing degeneracy and ultimate loss of what is good. A plant always turns towards the sun; but in God’s spiritual garden some plants try to grow in some other way. Some try to grow by something thought to be inherent within themselves. There is no growth attained this way. A plant cannot make itself grow by exerting itself; yet many people think they must exert themselves in order to grow. But Jesus asks, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matt. 6:27).

Who would think of exerting himself, or stretching himself, in order to grow physically? True, exercise most certainly influences growth, but it is not the cause of growth. There is nothing that man can do to cause it. The principle of development is in every human organization by nature. If one secures those conditions, such as eating and drinking, this principle can operate to the best good of the individual and growth will occur. Likewise in the spiritual world. God implants the principle of growth at the new birth, and only needs right conditions to cause the babe in Christ to grow up to the full stature of spiritual adulthood. While it is true that man can interfere with this principle, and repress it, he cannot create it.

A plant grows and reaches up and becomes stronger by simply looking to the sun. Because of the influence of its rays, the plant reaches up toward the source. The plant responds and grows and is drawn to the source of its life. In the soil it finds water and the various elements needed for life and growth, and by the principle of assimilation, which it has as long as it continues to look to the sun, draws up the elements through its roots and into the stem and leaves. The plant simply lets this process continue according to the law of assimilation which the Creator gave it.

So it must be with the plants in God’s spiritual garden. We cannot grow by looking at ourselves; we cannot grow by looking at other people around us. We are to look at the “Sun of righteousness.” We are to simply let the process of assimilation go on according to the law of beholding and thus change (2 Cor. 3:18). We are to “Let this mind be in (us), which was also in Christ Jesus.” If we let it, it will be in us. God longs for any person to let Him work in him.

Man is constantly doing something to hinder God’s work. He is continually putting self in God’s way. He refuses to submit his will to God’s will. A significant difference exists between plants and human beings. This difference is in the realm of choice. Man can stop the work of Christ in his life. This is where the surrender of the will comes into play. Although the term “surrender” is not found in Scripture, the concept is. Surrender is the substance of Christ’s teaching. This submission of the will to God is the crucifixion of self. This death is necessary for spiritual growth and maturity. This is the experience of justification by faith. God lays the glory of man in the dust and then does for him that which is impossible for him to do for himself.

In the plant kingdom, if there is no growth, there is no life. Life means growth. And finally, when the plant is fully matured, then comes the harvest. So it is in the life of God’s people. We are now in the harvest time, which is the end of the world, but also it is the beginning of eternity for the believer as he is garnered into the heavenly granary of God.

Another essential for the maturation of the harvest is the Water of Life in the form of the “latter rain.” We have been living in the time of this maturing and finishing rain since Minneapolis, 1888. If we turn from the “Sun of Righteousness” we can prevent the “latter rain” from watering us. But as we allow the “Sun of Righteousness” to draw us to Himself, the latter rain will fall into the soil of our experience and all the spiritual nutrients needed will be drawn up into the character of our lives and ripen us for the harvest. Belief in the word of God, and the nutrients of this word will cause growth, development, and maturity. So let us “Let the word of Christ dwell in” us.

—Gerald L. Finneman


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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Special Insights No. 11, Second Quarter 2007 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

Daily Wisdom

Is “Bible wisdom” practical for daily living in this world? Or is it suitable only for spiritual needs?

Let Jesus answer the question by His life:

At the age of 30 He was a master carpenter (the word teknonos also means a cabinet-maker or mechanical engineer, an accomplished craftsman). How did He learn this rare skill?

His Father, the same One whom we address as “Our Father which art in heaven,” taught Him. We read this in Isaiah 50:4 (Jesus is speaking): “The Lord GOD ... awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned”(this is also applying to His being awakened after the age of 30 when He was in His public ministry, so He could know what to say to people; but even as a teenager He needed to be awakened so He could “go to school” and learn from His Father how to live).

The “flesh” makes its power manifest for all of us in our wanting to go on sleeping past the time when we should awake and get up for the duties of life. Teens especially know this temptation. But Jesus says, “I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away” (vs. 5). Peterson renders it, “I didn’t go back to sleep, didn’t pull the covers back over My head. I followed orders ...” (If we would remember God’s original plan that the day begins at sundown, this early morning problem wouldn’t be so severe; we’d stop watching that silly late night show on TV.)

The Bible abounds with information about people who learned technical skills through inspiration given by the Holy Spirit. For example, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, ... and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship. ... I have put wisdom in the hearts of all who are gifted artisans ...” (Ex. 31:1-6).

Physicians in training go through enormous difficulties in learning; they may know nothing about what the Bible says, but it is the Lord who gives them their skill! They are His servants, whether or not they know it. Practical “daily wisdom”!

Will He not also give us spiritual knowledge and wisdom?

In the same method of learning that “the Lord GOD” taught Jesus, He teaches us. It’s that “morning by morning” tuition in the Lord’s “classroom.” He is yearning to impart the knowledge to us; you can picture Him as almost impatiently waiting for the time when He can wake us up (He never slumbers nor sleeps! Psalm 121:3). He is like any teacher who wants classroom to begin so He can impart knowledge! The transfer of wisdom from mind to mind is a thrilling experience, likened to begetting children (1 Cor. 4:15).

Stop spending time begging the Lord to teach you (He already wants to!), and begin spending your time praying that He give you the inestimable blessing of a hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6; let people get hungry and thirsty enough and they’ll do anything to get satisfaction!). The Lord can’t wait for you to wake up and become “alive” in Christ. And think of His yearning for a vast world church still lukewarm and asleep!

One can acquire and hold a vast amount of Biblical knowledge and end up “dry as the hills of Gilboa” (2 Sam. 1:21) if one’s mind and heart are “old covenant” motivated.

We can go on delaying the Lord’s coming for generations while we belt the earth with universities. The knowledge that the Lord is eager to give us is described by Jeremiah: “‘Let not the wise man glory in his [old covenant] wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches, but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me ...’” (9:23). We quote this endlessly; but let’s look again at how we can know Him in a new covenant way: “‘ ... that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these I delight,’ says the Lord”(vs. 24).

The new covenant “righteousness by faith” came to the Seventh-day Adventist church with the “message of Christ’s righteousness” that was “sent” to us in 1888, but which the Lord’s servant was forced to say was “in a great degree” “kept away” both from our people “and from the world” (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235). Now it’s time to recover it!

—Robert J. Wieland substituting for Mark Duncan

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Special Insights No. 10, Second Quarter 2007 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

The Bible and Happiness

This week, we will allow E. J. Waggoner, one of the “1888 messengers,” to “speak” to the topic.

“FOR a person to live and die happy, he must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” These words we lately saw in a religious journal and have very often heard similar expressions. The utterance of such a sentiment gives evidence of a very crude idea of religion and its object. We think that such a view of religion is injurious, for the following reasons:—

1. It fosters selfishness, which is directly opposed to true religion. To make happiness the sole or the principle incentive for gaining religion, is to direct the attention of the individual to himself rather than to God. Love should be the mainspring of every act of the Christian. The reward of the righteous, and the punishment of the ungodly are both set before us, to stimulate us both by hope and by fear; yet these are not the main incentives. “Perfect love casteth out fear.” It is certain that when one is imbued with the spirit of Christ, who said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish His work,” he will not do his work through fear of the consequences if he should neglect it. At the birth of Christ the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14. And the first commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” while the second is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In true religion there is no place for thoughts of self; the glory of God, and the welfare of our fellow-men comprise our whole duty. All the thought the Christian has to take of self is to keep himself unspotted from the world.

2. The idea is injurious because it tends to discouragement of those who hold it. If a man thinks that happiness is the sure and invariable result of belief in Christ, he will surely be discouraged when trouble comes, as it certainly will. When the Thessalonians were in distress, Paul wrote to them “that no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed there unto.” 1 Thess. 3:3. It is enough for the disciple if he has his Lord, and he was “a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief.” So he says to his followers: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” “Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” True, the Christian will be “joyful in tribulation,” yet it will be tribulation still.

3. The idea that happiness is a constant accompaniment of belief in Christ, is injurious, because it tends to produce false hopes. The careless sinner and the professor who is “at ease in Zion,” having this idea, a fancy that they are in a good ease. They have no trouble, therefore they think the Lord must be pleased with them. They forget that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Pious Job was afflicted almost beyond conception, while the wicked in whom David saw were not in trouble as other men, neither were they plagued like other men. They were in prosperity, and had more than heart could wish. And this was just because they were wicked. The devil can well afford to let his servants dwell in peace, but “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

A happy death is not in itself any evidence of a person’s piety, nor an assurance that he is sure of final happiness. The psalmist says of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm.” Ps. 73:4. On the other hand, a good man may, like Hezekiah, be in sore distress at the thought that he is near death.

In a word, the honor and glory of God should be placed before our own happiness. Indeed, happiness should never be sought. If we seek for happiness, it will be sure to escape us, although we may be satisfied with a spurious article. If we glorify God, that is of itself true happiness or blessedness, for Christ declares that they that mourn are happy. And this should show the folly of trusting to feeling in any case. The basis of the Christian’s hope and trust is not feeling, but knowledge. In the midst of terrible trial he can say, “I know that my redeemer liveth;” and although he may feel that because of poverty and low station, he is despised by men, if he keeps “the commandments of God and faith of Jesus,” he may have, not the feeling, but the assurance that he pleases God. (“Religion and Happiness,” The Signs of the Times, June 17, 1886, pp. 358, 359.)

ANOTHER beautiful new year has come. Brothers and sisters, schoolmates and friends have wished you a “Happy New Year.” But I want you just to stop a minute and think, while I ask you a question, “Are you happy—fully happy?” Perhaps you will know better what I mean if I tell you about eight gentleman who once were asked that same question.

They were old friends travelling together. Suddenly they asked one another, “Are you happy—fully happy?”

The banker was the first to reply. He said: “I have earned a large fortune. I have all the money that I possibly can need during my whole lifetime. I have a charming family. My wife and children do all that they possibly can to make home pleasant for me. Yet I am not happy. There is one thing which troubles me so much that it poisons all my joy; that one thing is the thought that all these goods, these riches, this dear family, are not lasting and that soon very I shall lose them for ever.”

The colonel, who had been the commander of many soldiers said: “I have known the joys of a soldier, and the triumphs of war. How proud I have felt, when, at the head of my soldiers, I have overcome the enemy; or when, after the victory, I saw my name honourably mentioned by the commander-in-chief. But one day, seeing an officer lying on the battle-field dying, I tried to lift him up. ‘Thank you,’ said the dying one, ‘but it is too late! We must all die: think about it!’ And with his last breath, he said again, ‘We must all die!’ I never, never can forget it. These terrible words follow me day and night. I have some moments of joy; but, alas! my friends, I am not fully happy.”

The next gentleman who answered the question was a very learned man who had done business for his country among other nations. He said: “Honours have been heaped upon me. Public gratitude has met me at every step. Yet I want something I know not what; my heart is empty. All my honours do not cure the secret longings of my heart.”

The poet said: “Even in my youth I had a wonderful gift for writing poetry. It was received with world-wide praise. Very many told me that my glory was immortal. But what is such an immortality? The flattery of men does not satisfy me. I desire a better immortality. And as I have no surety of ever receiving that, I am not fully happy.”

The man of the world said: “I have no such bitter complaints to make. It is true I feel rather weary sometimes, but what of that? I try still to be gay. I go to the theatre, to balls, to concerts, and to all sorts of amusements.” “But,” said one of his friends, “when old age, sickness, and poverty come upon you, what will become of your amusements?” “Then,” replied the worlding, “I suppose I shall have to give them up.” “But,” continued his friend, “when you think that you may sometimes lose your pleasures, are you fully happy?” “No,” replied the man of the world, in a low tone, “I am not truly happy.”

The old lawyer said: “I am now seventy years old. I have health, fortune, a good name, and a pleasant home. I used to fret and look anxiously forward to this time of leisure and rest. But now that I have it, the hours seem too long. I get tired of my newspapers and books, and do not know what to do with myself. I am not fully happy.”

Then the gentlemen who professed to be a Christian, but really was not, said, “I believe in God. Every day I read my Bible, and pray. On the Sabbath my place is never empty in the house of God. But my conscience is not easy; I do not get any peace and happiness out of it. Death, which is stealing on, fills me with fright. I always see in God a severe and angry Judge; and the thought of appearing before Him with my many sins, fills me with dread. No, I am not happy at all.”

The eighth gentleman was a true Christian physician. He said: “My dear friends, I am not surprised to hear you say what you do. The Bible teaches, and we have proved it true, that neither money, glory, honours, knowledge, or anything else in this world, can make us fully happy. God has created us for Himself; and, so long as we do not give ourselves to Him, we are filled with uneasiness and longing. In my youth I did not know how to be a Christian, and although I did well in my business, I tasted no happiness. But, by the goodness of God, I have been shown a better way. The reading of the Bible showed me that I was a sinner, and that unless I received help, I certainly would be lost. Then I read about how Christ came and suffered and died to be my Saviour. Since then I have turned my eyes to Him, in sorrow for the sins that caused Him to suffer. I believed that He would forgive, because He said so. And He has washed my sins all away, and has given me peace and joy more than words can tell. I trust Jesus, take Him for my best Friend, and with the strength He gives me, try daily to live as He would if He were in my place.” “You, then, are fully happy?” Said one of the company. “Yes, my friend, I trust in Him who gave His own Son that I might be happy in this world and in the world to come.”

Now, my dear child, are you fully happy? The Bible alone points out the way to true happiness. Do you read your Bible? Have you given yourself to Jesus? Are you every day trying to be like Him? Do you earnestly ask Him to help you? and do you believe that He does? If so, you then have the happiness which man cannot give, and man cannot take away. It begins on this earth, and is perfected on the new earth, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.

Please learn this little verse, and repeat it every day during the new year: “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Ps. cxlvi. 5. (“Are You Happy?,” The Present Truth, Dec. 29, 1892, p. 413.)

—Compiled by Paul E. Penno

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