Thursday, January 23, 2020

Lesson 4: From Furnace to Palace

Lesson 4: From Furnace to Palace


Is the story of the "burning fiery furnace" in Daniel 3 pious fiction? Or authentic history?

Historical and archaeological research confirms supportive details: such as brick kilns that were common. Jeremiah 29:22 tells the history of how King Nebuchadnezzar "roasted in the fire" two seditious Jews; another Babylonian king boasted of burning some political enemies--evidence that this method of execution was actually practiced; Herodotus and Pliny tell of ancient kings who built huge statues covered with gold leaf. The deliverance from death by fire had been promised: "When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you." Doubtless the three Hebrew youth thrown in the fire had cherished this assurance. The promise "I will be with you" was literally fulfilled (Isa. 43:2). "The Son of God" shared the "furnace" with them, as even the pagan king confessed (Dan. 3:25).

How did that heathen king know what the Son of God looked like? God's people in Old Testament times looked forward to the coming of Christ, while we look back to His first coming. Alike, we all see Him by faith. No one has ever been saved except by the power of Christ. The Hebrews had preached in Babylon of Christ, the Redeemer to come. The king remembered their teaching, and from their message recognized the Son of God when he saw Him.

Incidentally, they seem in no hurry to come out of the fire. God provides air-conditioning where and when it is needed. They will be happy to stay there, if only they can walk and talk with Christ. To be with Him is sufficient reward for all the trials of earth! When we suffer for Him today, we too may enjoy His presence with us in the same way (see John 15:18; Isa. 63:9; James 1:2). You may think this is hard to believe. But you'll know it next time you are thrown into your "fiery furnace" for your faith in Christ; He'll make Himself preciously near to you as ordinarily you never know Him in times of peace.

This is the point of Daniel 3: will we believe that the Son of God shares our sufferings for His sake? Will He give divine courage to "stand up" when everybody else bows down? The apostle Peter collapsed when the test came to him (Matt. 26:69-75); in fact, all the eleven disciples ran away.

Many Israelites had been exiled to Babylon when Daniel and his three companions went, but none of them had the courage to obey God's Ten Commandments except these four! Granted, the three who faced the fiery furnace were terrified at the prospect of death by fire; but they sensed that they were called to honor the truth of God before the assembled leaders of an empire. He gave them courage, even if God should choose not to deliver them from death (Dan. 3:16-18; this was a selfless motivation inspired by agape). A similar final test will come to us all in the "mark of the beast" crisis (Rev. 13:11-17).

And so there is a beautiful illustrationof genuine faith in the story of the three Hebrews of Daniel 3 who were thrown into the fiery furnace. They told the insanely angry king that: the living God whom they served was "able" to deliver them from his power, but; it might possibly be that He would be unwilling to do so--they didn't know for sure--but if He were unwilling to deliver them they would serve Him nonetheless, and they would not cast contempt on His holy law by bowing down to his golden image.

In this way these three men demonstrated that their faith in God was the New Covenant kind, not the Old Covenant kind. (They probably had been studying the writings of Jeremiah!)

So here we find the two kinds of covenant-faith expressed in the 1888 message. The Old Covenant kind of "faith" is a counterfeit of the genuine: it's making a "bargain" with God. Old Covenant faith says," Lord, if You will deliver us, then we'll keep Your commandments." Sometimes preachers lead their people into Old Covenant faith when they tell them that if they take the initiative to "pay tithe," then God will bless them financially. New Covenant faith is a choice to pay tithe whether or not the Lord rewards us.

The New Covenant is God's out-and-out promises to His people, and their heart response is to believe and appreciate what He promises. His love, not fear, "constrains" them to loyalty and service (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). The Old Covenant is "bargaining" with God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rebuke us for that. Jeremiah promises (31:31-34) that the time will come when God's people graduate completely out of the Old into the living faith that is in the New. As God's people face the trials of the last days, their faith will mature into that of "the Lamb's wife"--a church that has grown up into that "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). It's time for the New Covenant, now.

The good news is that right now worldwide the Holy Spirit is preparing, nerving, strengthening, and training willing people to endure the test. Fellowship with Christ in "fire" is precious, even today as we honor Him in school, in our community, at work, and at home.

--Paul E. Penno

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Lesson 2: From Jerusalem to Babylon

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Lesson 2: From Jerusalem to Babylon


"In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim" sets the date for the beginning of the Book of Daniel. Jehoiakim's reign lasted seven years and in every respect was a disaster for himself and the people of Judah, and was the beginning of the end for the nation. The reformatory work done by Josiah was soon overthrown and the people returned to their pagan idolatry. The voices of the prophets Jeremiah and Habakkuk rose louder in response to the declining spirituality of the people, but their warnings went unheeded and were scorned. Rejecting the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit through His prophets precipitated the crisis. The fast that Jehoiakim proclaimed in 607 B.C., perhaps superstitiously, did not effect any significant change in the people's hearts and minds.

When Nebuchadnezzar first marched against Jerusalem he ended up taking captives as well as certain sacred vessels from the Temple. King Jehoiakim had been bound in fetters with the intention of his removal from Judah to Babylon, but this was not done. Nebuchadnezzar decided to leave him in Jerusalem as a vassal to Babylon. However, all persons who were physically strong enough or in a political position in which they could foment an uprising, were carted off to Babylonian garrisons. Over three different deportations there were a total of 4600 of the highest ranking, best educated, and strongest people carried away by Nebuchadnezzar's army (Jer. 52:28-30).

We do not know how many of these people were considered "princes" of Judah who were placed in Nebuchadnezzar's special holding area in his palace, but we are told that they were "without blemish, well favored, and skillful in wisdom, knowledge and science." While living in Judah, even under the terrible conditions of war, some of these young men sought to be well prepared intellectually and spiritually for whatever was coming upon them.

When they were taken captive, all the young men were living in a completely immoral society where great confusion about who God is was rampant. But the four men that are brought into focus in the narrative--Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah--had especially dedicated their lives to the one true God of heaven and earth. Even though sin abounded in their country, God did not leave in the dark those who sought to know the truth. God is never without a witness and His word is never so abused or obscured that truth cannot be found and diligently studied.

How had their culture become so corrupt? They like us, live in a sinful world, and because our basic human nature "is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7), we accept various sins as normal for the society in which we live. Hazy, indistinct ideas about what constitutes sin produces only a hazy, indistinct response to it when we're confronted by it. This is a major reason why there is so much apostasy and backsliding in the church, then and now.

Another example is Lot's children, raised in a completely immoral society they succumbed to sin's seduction and could not discern the danger when their father warned them to flee in the night to avoid destruction. They had been so influenced by the society in which they lived, through mind working upon mind during their daily associations, that the "natural" enmity they had for God was stimulated into action. We may shake our heads in disbelief over their wrong decision, but we are of the same mind. We await only convenient circumstances to demonstrate our willingness to also commit the same sin that we frown on in others.

Through our neglect to call sin by its right name, we are constantly compromising our moral convictions, convincing ourselves little by little that "sin must not be so bad" since the whole of our society is committing it without apparent condemnation. By our silence and lack of moral outrage when confronted by evil, we are in essence condoning those sins committed by our society.

When Daniel and his companions were confronted with the king's command to "eat from his table" food and drink that were not wholesome and included the flesh of animals sacrificed to pagan idols, an opportunity for a major compromise was presented to them. Those young men who had not shunned compromise while living in Judah were not likely to stand firm to principle in Babylon. However, Daniel's group, when they came face to face with this difficult problem, knew they could rely on God's teaching and His protection.

The lesson from Daniel chapter 1 is especially for us, showing us how we should be living. Daniel learned the message of righteousness while living among corruption and sin in Judah. That message was the only thing that could prepare him for the trials he faced. Just so, the message of Christ and His righteousness brought to us in 1888, and largely neglected ever since, is the only message that will prepare us to stand in the time of trouble.

In the near future when we are called upon to pass through challenging experiences, we will not be able to endure if we have not prepared ourselves before that time. We must have already obtained that spiritual "eyesalve" that Jesus wants us to receive from Him (Rev. 3:18). We must have already given up everything that impedes the power of the Holy Spirit to work upon our minds in guiding us during that "time of trouble such as never was" on the earth (Dan. 12:1). Voluntary self-control ("temperance in all things") must be the standard of our life. Control of appetite is the foundation of all self-control.

We are on the borders of the heavenly Canaan, and living in the antitypical fulfillment of the challenge that the children of Israel faced at Baal-Peor (Num. 25:1-3). If we open our eyes we will recognize the parallels between that day and ours.

"The last great day is right upon us. Let all consider that Satan is now striving for the mastery over souls. He is playing the game of life for your souls. Will there be sins committed by you on the very borders of the heavenly Canaan? ... Men that God has entrusted with noble talents will be, unless closely connected with God, guilty of great weakness, and not having the grace of Christ in the soul will become connected with greater crimes. This is because they do not make the truth of God a part of them. Their discipline has been defective, the soul culture has not been carried forward from one advance to another, inborn tendencies have not been restrained, but have degraded the soul. For all the natural weaknesses Jesus has made ample provision, that they may be overcome through His grace. If not overcome, the weakness will become a tyrant, a conqueror, to overcome them, and the heavenly light will become beclouded and extinguished" (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, May 24, 1887).

God desires to shape our character through the things He allows to happen to us, whether accidents or disease or loss of wealth or death of loved ones, or as in the case of Daniel and his three companions, unjust captivity. Faith sees through and reaches through all these trials and tragedies, trivial or major. Through all that comes upon us to afflict us and make us miserable, we are to steadfastly look to Jesus and know that nothing in this earth can truly hurt us. "What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us" (Rom. 8:35, 36 ff.).

--Ann Walper

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at:

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Lesson 1: From Reading to Understanding


Google has searched out, for all of us, enormous amounts of information; everybody's computer has become a university at your fingertips.

What does Daniel mean: "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" (Dan. 12:4)?

It's obvious that the "increase of knowledge" comes in "the time of the end" when the book is unsealed; so the question is, is it knowledge of what the book of Daniel means, or is it secular Google-indexed knowledge in general?

"The time of the end" is a time when God's people are blessed with an "increase of knowledge." We have traditionally understood this to be scientific and engineering knowledge, which has indeed "increased" exponentially since the end of the 1260 years of papal oppression. But in its context, verse 4 is concerned with "turning many to righteousness" and becoming "wise" for eternal life. "He that winneth souls is wise" (Prov. 11:30). This "increase" has to do with understanding the gospel!

Fear of "the time of trouble" (admittedly, will be the worst in human history) is dissipated by this "increase of knowledge"--that's more than scientific knowledge. Only "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). In other words, the "increase of knowledge" is a clearer grasp of what the Son of God accomplished on His cross for "every man." This will be the truth that the fourth angel brings to lighten the "earth" in Revelation 18:1-4. Not only does it "cast out" fear, it also inscribes for deliverance one's name in the book of life and the book of remembrance that God keeps.

In the context of how Daniel 12 relates to the good news of Revelation 18:1-4 (lighting the earth with glory), one wonders if perhaps there is something good here that invites further study. God's people are not "holy" in and of themselves; it's Christ's righteousness, not theirs. If Daniel 12 relates to the final "loud cry" and if God's people are not "holy" of themselves, perhaps this "dispersal of the power of the holy people" has some good news in it. Ellen White, A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner, all tried to tell us that when "the most precious" message of Christ's righteousness is preached to the whole world, the end will come!

Learn to "understand" the Book of Daniel. "And they that understand among the people shall instruct many" (Dan. 11:33). Here's the good news?

If you "understand" the Book of Daniel, you "will instruct many." The God of heaven who sent Gabriel to instruct Daniel will open doors for you to communicate to others, maybe to children and teenagers, the truths of Daniel. And what happens when you do that? Here's the answer: "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12:3). You "instructing" others, and sharing the joy. The once-sealed Book is wide "open" now!

--Paul E. Penno

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:

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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Lesson 13: Leaders in Israel

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Ezra and Nehemiah
Lesson 13: Leaders in Israel


The biblical narrative is faithfully realistic and reports successes and failures. It records disappointments and shortcomings, putting leaders on alert and cautioning them against making the same mistakes that God's people made in the past. The successes and defeats of reforms are part of the biblical story. In the end, Ezra and Nehemiah are not heroes and models for long-term successful leadership. Though Ezra and Nehemiah were great leaders, the people were not great followers and hesitated to let God change their hearts and be their strength. Hence the short-lived reforms. Permanent reforms are possible only when humans continue to collaborate with the grace and power of God. This raises the issue of the role leadership played in our 1888 history.

Official correspondence in the Battle Creek archival files corroborates Ellen White's and A. T. Jones' testimony regarding the negative attitude of the most responsible leaders in Battle Creek toward the 1888 message. A. T. Jones said that "there was a secret antagonism always carried on." [1]

The letters of the General Conference Secretary, Dan T. Jones, illustrate how this attitude functioned. Although he was deeply prejudiced against the 1888 message and the messengers, a few weeks after Minneapolis the Holy Spirit impressed him with clear evidence that A. T. Jones was a true messenger of God.

It is phenomenal how good leaders could harden their hearts against what they clearly saw to be "credentials" of the Holy Spirit. We need to understand how this happened, for we today are in grave danger of repeating their history.

Dan Jones let his heart become hardened against the 1888 messengers, while during this same period Ellen White's attitude toward them became increasingly supportive. Here we see a mysterious ferment of the human spirit. As a responsible administrative officer, Dan Jones wrote to the leadership of the Missouri Conference, his home area. He communicated his mistaken judgment. There was an under-the-table kind of influence operating, the "secret antagonism" A. T. Jones spoke of:

"I think an Institute in Missouri would be a splendid thing; but I believe an institute on a quiet plan will be just as valuable to you as to make a great parade of it and get in ... Elder A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. To tell you the truth, I do not have very much confidence in some of their ways of presenting things." [2]

The 1888 messengers probably never knew why their ministry was not welcome in Missouri.

Dan Jones' informative letters to G. I. Butler regarding developments at Battle Creek revealed the "antagonism" operating. He encouraged Butler in his opposition to the message:

"I have often thought of what you said to me last winter that the California fellows [Jones and Waggoner] would be on the editorial staff of the Review in less than two years. I should not be at all surprised if an attempt in that direction was made inside of that many months. But I feel sure that it would meet with very strong opposition." [3]

The "strong opposition" he anticipated erupted like a volcano within his own soul during the following winter of 1890. Waggoner one day announced in his Bible class that on the next Monday morning he would discuss the two covenants. He had been officially invited, even urged, to leave his work in California and teach in Battle Creek.

But when Dan Jones heard the news about the two covenants, he could not contain himself. He immediately took steps to stop Waggoner, appealing to Uriah Smith and even to Ellen White for support.

Jones and Waggoner were not welcomeat the Battle Creek headquarters. The tension was so sharp that it is easy to understand how Waggoner found himself sent to Britain in early 1892.

Uriah Smith's opposition to the 1888 message was logical, scholarly, and apparently reasonable. He wrote Ellen White on February 17, 1890 explaining why he could not receive it.

"As it looks to me, next to the death of Brother White, the greatest calamity that ever befell our cause was when Dr. Waggoner put his articles on the book of Galatians through the Signs. ..." [4]

Could it be that there are many "Uriah Smiths" in the church today, just as sincere and reasonable in their heart opposition to the light that in God's providence must yet lighten the earth with glory?

A deep heart enmity against the humbling message of Christ's righteousness made it possible for good brethren long ago to credit ill-founded rumors and distorted reports. Ellen White often compared the situation with the Jews opposing Christ.

It's too late now for our brethren of a century ago to dig deep enough into their souls to repent of rejecting the most significant outpouring of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost.

Thank God, it's not yet too late for us to do so, for we can easily see ourselves in them. With that we say goodbye to Ezra and Nehemiah for this quarter and welcome in the New Year with a study of the Book of Daniel.

--Paul E. Penno

[1] Letter to C. E. Holmes, May 12, 1921.
[2] Letter to N. W. Alee, January 23, 1890.
[3] Letter, August 28, 1889.
[4] Letter of Uriah Smith, February 17, 1890.

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Lesson 12: Dealing With Bad Decisions

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Ezra and Nehemiah
Lesson 12: Dealing With Bad Decisions


As we read through the sad narrative of the Jews' abandonment of God's plans for the reestablishment of His temple and its services in order to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, we find parallels to our situation in the condition of today's church.

In Ezra and Nehemiah's day it was the leadership of the church--the priests and Levites--who were disregarding God's strict prohibition of mixing paganism and the truth. The sure result of such commingling was spiritual decline and apostasy. "These unlawful alliances caused great confusion; for some who entered into them were persons in high position, rulers of the people and men connected with the service of God, to whom, in the absence of Nehemiah, the people had a right to look for counsel and correct example. God had carefully excluded the heathen from uniting with his faithful worshipers; but the divinely erected barriers had been broken down, and as a consequence of mingling and intermarrying with other nations, the Israel of God were fast losing their peculiar, holy character." [1]

Through their disregard of God's command concerning paganism, the leadership of the church gave an uncertain sound to the message God intended them to preach to the world, and it caused the laypeople to become confused and lackadaisical in their spiritual life. They were the Laodiceans of the fifth century B.C., content to build their houses and farm their lands without much interest in what was going on in Jerusalem. In our efforts to accommodate the world's ideas and methods we are losing our distinctive Adventist character and message. We should not be afraid to being a "peculiar people"--that's precisely what God has called us to be! (1 Peter 2:9, 10). God promised us that if we will follow Him, He will make us "kings and priests unto God and His Father" (Rev. 1:6; 5:10).

By seeking to be like the world, adopting the world's methods in evangelism, worship, and church organization, we are "breaking down divinely erected barriers," and laying ourselves wide open to spiritual decline. 

In 1888 God sent a message that was intended by Him to develop a remnant people who would proclaim the earth-shattering message of Christ and His righteousness that would prepare the world for the second coming of His Son. Instead of heeding that message, there was a great resistance to the truth, especially among the leadership of the church. [2] A debate was opened at that time concerning the fundamental elements of righteousness by faith, which is the fulfillment of God's everlasting covenant. That debate has continued and over the last thirty-five years, strengthened as resistance to the message of overcoming sin through the power of the Holy Spirit, intensifies among the leadership of our church.

"The position taken at Minneapolis was apparently an insurmountable barrier which in a great degree shut them in with doubters, questioners, with the rejecters of truth and the power of God. When another crisis comes, those who have so long resisted evidence piled upon evidence will again be tested upon the points where they failed so manifestly, and it will be hard for them to receive that which is from God and refuse that which is from the powers of darkness." [3] Note: at Minneapolis in 1888 there were "rejecters of truth and [rejecters] of the power of God." Because our church continues to resist the truth and power, when crisis comes "those who so long [have] resisted evidence piled upon evidence" will find it hard to "refuse that which is from the powers of darkness."

Could this be the underlying reason that we now are finding pagan influences creeping through many cracks in the wall and into the church? We have resisted truth and God's power for so long that the elements of darkness are not discerned as the dangers that they really are to the spiritual condition of God's remnant people.

A "shaking" is coming and its work will be a terrible ordeal. "The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out--the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place." [4]

"I asked the meaning of the shaking I had seen and was shown that it would be caused by the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodiceans. This will have its effect upon the heart of the receiver, and will lead him to exalt the standard and pour forth the straight truth. Some will not bear this straight testimony. They will rise up against it, and this is what will cause a shaking among God's people. I saw that the testimony of the True Witness has not been half heeded. The solemn testimony upon which the destiny of the church hangs has been lightly esteemed, if not entirely disregarded. This testimony must work deep repentance; all who truly receive it will obey it and be purified." [5]

"Deep repentance." For some in the church, repentance is irrelevant and needs to be downplayed. After all, we are the chosen people of God, His remnant and the "apple of His eye." But the True Witness tells us otherwise. We are "wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" and we don't know it.

In Ezra's day, he called the people of the church together in Jerusalem to join with him in his corporate repentance, and putting away spiritual confusion. He prayed and fasted and pleaded with God because of the sins of the leadership of the church in marrying strange women (spiritual infidelity). Then he called everyone to join with him in corporate repentance. Those who would not join with him were to be "separated from the congregation"; they were to be "shaken out" (Ezra 10:8).

Some willingly left God's congregation. "Many who had married idolaters chose to go with them into exile; and, with those who had been expelled from the congregation, they joined the Samaritans, a heathen people who had combined with their idolatrous worship many of the customs of the Jews. Hither some who had occupied high positions in the work of God now found their way, and after a time they cast in their lot fully with them." [6]

"The time is not far distant, when the test will come to every soul. … In this time, the gold will be separated from the dross in the church. True godliness will be clearly distinguished from the appearance and tinsel of it. Many a star that we have admired for its brilliancy, will then go out in darkness. Chaff like a cloud will be borne away on the wind, even from places where we see only floors of rich wheat. All who assume the ornaments of the sanctuary, but are not clothed with Christ's righteousness, will appear in the shame of their own nakedness." [7]

We see men and women in high and important stations at universities, and in conference level leadership positions, lauded pastors in large and influential churches, and we admire these people because of their scholarly attainments and powers of speech and pen. But if their message is not in accordance with the message "that God commanded to be given to the world." [8] they will soon be blown away in the winds of strife. "When I see men exalted and praised, extolled as almost infallible, I know that there must come a terrible shaking." [9]

What does corporate repentance really mean? It is not a committee action. It is not a gathering together of the leadership of the church and then their making a "corporate confession" and taking a committee vote on the action. That would be only a superficial work that had little effect in remedying the problem that stands between God and His people. "The word 'corporate' has nothing to do with the organization of the hierarchy. Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a constituency vote. The work of repentance is always individual and personal. … Corporate repentance is personally repenting of the sins of others as though they were our own, feeling the pain and guilt of other members of the body, which we realize would be ours but for the grace of Christ." [10]

One of the last connecting links and personal witnesses to the 1888 Minneapolis conference died more than 65 years ago. J. S. Washburn was interviewed by Robert J. Wieland in 1950 for the purpose of establishing what actually took place at that General Conference Session. Elder Washburn confirmed that the crisis concerned the matter of righteousness by faith and the rejection of the message of A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner.

You and I were not in attendance at that fateful experience in Minneapolis in 1888, but as we continue to resist the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing repentance and reformation, we are corporately guilty of the same sin.

It is past time for the debate to come to an end concerning the message of righteousness by faith that has disturbed God's church for 131 years. It is past time for God's remnant people to get off the fence and fall on our faces in "deep repentance" for rejecting the only message that will save us from our sin and prepare a people for translation at the second coming of Christ.

--Ann Walper

Ellen G. White, Southern Watchman, July 5, 1904; compiled as Lessons From the Life of Nehemiah, p. 55.
[2] See Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235.
[3] Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 14, p. 110, January 9, 1891.
[4] Selected Messages, book, 2, p. 380, 1886.
[5] Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 270.
[6] Southern Watchman, July 5, 1904; compiled as Lessons From the Life of Nehemiah, p. 56.
[7] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 80, 81.
[8] See Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 91, 92.
[9] Ellen G. White, Manuscript Release 15, 1886.
[10] Robert J. Wieland, Lightened with His Glory, p. 121.

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Lesson 11: Backslidden People

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Ezra and Nehemiah
Lesson 11: Backslidden People


Nehemiah, after serving in Jerusalem for twelve years (Nehemiah 5:14), returned to Babylon to again serve King Artaxerxes (13:6). After several years, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and discovered that the main things to which he had made the leaders swear were not being followed (10:30-39; 13:6-11). They had failed in three areas of life and practice: (1) the support of the priests, Levites, singers, and gatekeepers and the services in the house of God through tithe and offerings (13:5, 10-14, 30, 31); (2) the observance of the Sabbath commandment (13:15-22); and (3) intermarriage with non-Israelites (13:23-29). These issues of backsliding raises the matter of the Lord's mind toward the Seventh-day Adventist Church in its lukewarm condition.

An important truth that will help us understand the mind of Christ toward the Seventh-day Adventist Church is our 1888 history. In spite of decades of lukewarmness within it, the Lord sent the "beginning" of the final latter rain through delegates to a General Conference session. He honored this people with the "revelation of the righteousness of Christ" in this "most precious message" destined to "lighten the earth with glory."

The 1901 reorganization was intended to bring revival and reformation and return to the leadership of Christ working through those who believe His word, "All ye are brethren." But the spiritual renewal did not take place. It was only a "what might have been." [1]

Ellen White did not withdraw her support from the organized church, but remained true and loyal until her death in 1915. This was despite the fact that she was deeply disappointed with the spiritual results of the 1901 session. The Lord continued through all those years to honor this church with the ministry of His messenger.

The solution to our problem does not consist in destroying or changing the system of our constitutional organization, but in finding repentance and reconciliation with Christ within it. Weaknesses in organization will be rectified almost overnight when the Holy Spirit succeeds in leading us to repentance.

Literally millions of people can testify that the only agency which led them to a knowledge of the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14 is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, despite its failures. The best hope for an ultimately successful proclamation of the last message to the world is a repentant Seventh-day Adventist Church that not only proclaims the message with crystal clarity, but demonstrates without question that it works. In the midst of the 1888 era of unbelief, Ellen White had hope for reformation:

"God is at the head of the work, and He will set everything in order. If matters need adjusting at the head of the work, God will attend to that, and work to right every wrong. ... God is going to carry the noble ship which bears the people of God safely into port." [2]

"When anyone is drawing apart from the organized body of God's commandment-keeping people, when he begins ... to pronounce judgment against them, then you may know that God is not leading him." [3]

After 1901 and 1903 Ellen White made some of the strongest statements of her lifetime, identifying this organized church as the true one and giving assurance of its ultimate success in ministry when repentance permeates the body:

"We cannot now step off the foundation that God has established. We cannot now enter into any new organization; for this would mean apostasy from the truth." [4]

"I am instructed to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over, God has called us as a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time." [5]

"I am encouraged and blessed as I realize that the God of Israel is still guiding His people and that He will continue to be with them, even to the end." [6] She clearly defined "God's people" as "this denomination."

Because ancient Israel failed repeatedly as has the church in modern times does not mean necessarily that the pattern of backsliding and apostasy will continue forever. The failures of God's corporate people have always involved the heavenly sanctuary in defilement.

The foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a belief in the good news of Daniel 8:14: "Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Then shall this constant cloud of failure which has hovered over God's Israel be lifted; then shall God's name be cleared as His people demonstrate His plan of salvation to be a success; then shall the sacrifice of Christ be vindicated. A cynical attitude which says, "Suppose the church fails and the conditions are not met" is the same as saying, "Suppose the sanctuary will not be cleansed." The honor of God requires that it shallbe cleansed.

This is the ultimate issue in the great controversy. We have the privilege of standing in absolute loyalty to Christ and to His Bride-to-be.

--Paul E. Penno

Endnotes (Ellen G. White):
[1] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 104-106.
[2] Selected Messages, book 2, p. 390.
[3] Selected Messages, book 3, p. 18.
[4] Last Day Events, p. 55;Manuscript 129, 1905.
[5] Selected Messages, book 2, p. 397.
[6] Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, Remarks to 1913 General Conference Session, pp. 437, 438.

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at:

Thursday, December 5, 2019

1888 Message Study : Worshiping the Lord




Our lesson this week is entitled, "Worshiping the Lord". Our attention is called by the lesson to worship at the beginning of the construction of the temple in Ezra 3:11 (Memory verse), "And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD.", and at its completion and dedication in Ezra 6:16, "And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy."


The parallels between the issues in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the issues of modern Israel and the three angel's messages are incredible. Just as we saw above in Ezra, there is a call to worship in the first angel's message (Revelation 14:7). In both Ezra and Nehemiah there is a coming out of Babylon, just as in the call of the second angel – and the fourth angel (Revelation 14:8 and Revelation18:1-4). Just as Ezra and Nehemiah were called to rebuild the temple and the city, so we are called to restore and cleanse the temple (Daniel 8:13-14). And we could list several important other parallels. Truly, Ezra and Nehemiah are "end-time" books. They are examples for our benefit and admonition (1 Corinthians10:11)


But let's examine the first of these parallels - the call to worship. The first question to address is why we are called to worship God. To this question the usually glib and well-recited answer is because He is our Creator. While certainly a true statement, the fact of creation doesn't necessarily lead to worship. Imagine you were born (or PRO-created) into a home with abusive parents. What if they had brought you in to the world for the sole purpose of them demanding your service to them? Would they be deserving of worship and honor? Of course, the answer is no.


Ultimately, the call to worship really only has meaning when the one being worshipped is worthy of worship based on who they are in character, in personality, in how they relate to "others". No amount of power makes one worthy of worship. Just ask the citizens of North Korea and China. They have powerful leaders but are completely unworthy of worship or honor, and completely deserving of condemnation. Position does not determine worthiness of worship. A brief look at politics is sufficient to make this clear. Even if that "position" is on the throne of the universe, with all the power of that throne in view, it doesn't necessarily make one (or One) worthy of worship. Only character makes one worthy of worship. How one acts, governs, relates, thinks, and feels, is of sufficient import and makes one worthy of worship.


Repeatedly in Revelation, there are statements about God's worthiness. In different places, by different groups in God's universe, there are conclusions made about God's worthiness as the basis for worship. Revelation 5:9 says, "You (Jesus the Lamb) are worthy because you were slain, and have redeemed us". In Jesus we see God. And what we see is a being Who sacrificed Himself for us. Now, we can truly say we've met someone worthy of our honor and worship.


A worship not based on obligation, or command, or requirement, or religious formalism, or tradition, or a sense of "I ought to". But worship based on a heart appreciation of the goodness and love of God most clearly revealed at Calvary. Now, I see something, someone, Who is worthy of worship.


No more is the first angel's message, "Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" a statement telling us, "you better worship God – because He is judging you! And if you don't worship Him, then read a couple more verses and you'll see what He has in store for you in the 3rd angel's message!".


Rather, the first angel's message becomes an appeal from God through us, to the world, to see God in Jesus (the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14:6). And when we see God like that, we will want to fear (honor) Him, and give Him glory (worship), because in this great controversy He (God) is being judged.


Satan has formed an opinion about God – not worthy – and Satan is spreading his view of God's character and government. Now it is time for us to be settled into our opinion about God based on the evidence of Jesus, and the evidence of God's dealing with the sin problem throughout history. When we do this, we will have the "loud voice" of the first angel to tell the world that "God is worthy" of worship. And God calls for our worship to answer the voices from Satan's side that God is "not worthy".


In Ezra and Nehemiah, there was a call to worship based on an appreciation for God's goodness manifested in God fulfilling His promise in the 70 year prophecy of Jeremiah, and based on God's presence as they rebuilt the temple, the wall, and the city. They appreciated what God had done – and this produced worship in their hearts without manipulation or coercion.


How much more do we have to be appreciative of! As we look to Jesus – as we see God in Jesus – may it awaken a deep and final heart appreciation that will lead to a worship that will always be the song of our heart. A worship that will move us to leave Babylon, and to eject Babylon from our hearts – a "cleansing of our heart's sanctuary" that we will never turn away from. May we be settled into the truth of God now and for eternity.


~Bob Hunsaker