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.