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.

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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.