Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lesson 13: "Social Support: The Tie That Binds"

On a flight to Israel a few years ago a conference president saw me reading the book Corporate Repentance. [1] He asked, What is corporate repentance? At the time the best response I could offer was: I don't know, that's why I'm reading the book. Little did I realize that the biblical concept of corporate repentance was the key to authentic interaction between such diversionary peoples within the church.

There is a yearning in Evangelical circles for such authenticity in church life. God meant for Seventh-day Adventists to lead the way. Now it seems that scholars such as Mark J. Boda are writing about the biblical doctrine of repentance in order to lay a foundation for such an experience within the Christian church. [2]

Jesus intends for the Laodicean church to be the leader demonstrating genuine social interaction in the world. It is the consequence of heeding His appeal to "be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:19).

Righteousness that is motivated by self-centered fear of hell and hope of heavenly reward produces division in the church. Its fruit is a critical spirit, judgmentalism, and elitism. For example, a worldly adorned woman went to church on Sabbath morning and the "greeters" immediately tagged her with a "visitor" sticker so that everyone would know she wasn't one of them.

A. T. Jones, one of the Lord's "messengers," sensed the self-inspired mainspring of the work when he said: "Why should we not honor Him instead of ourselves? Shall I not honor Him instead of myself? It is not individual confession that is wanted so much as a General Conference confession. It is a General Conference clearing of ourselves that is needed." [3]

An individual concern for our own salvation is good. If one is preparing to die, by all means, make confession of personal sin; but it will never produce a body of believers who stand united and face their final examination before translation at Christ's second coming. Jesus says what is needed is for "the angel [the leadership] of the church of Laodiceans" to "be zealous therefore, and repent." Jones captured the idea with his expression, "a General Conference confession."

We are all born into this world with an innate, natural self-love. It is this sinful nature which has the potential of producing all the sin that exists in the world from A to Z. If it were not for the restraining powers of God's grace, any individual saint or sinner, would, given the right circumstances and opportunity, commit the crimes of another. [4] In the cosmic Day of Atonement, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring this to our attention so that we may intelligently confess such unknown sin by appreciating how much it cost the Son of God to die for that sin on His cross.

No one is made of any better material than another. When this recognition sweeps across the world church, the "caring church" will be a reality. Relationships will be genuine. Friends will be open and vulnerable to one another. Acceptance of the outsider will be spontaneous. There will be a sudden in-rush of newcomers that the Lord Jesus can entrust to His people. [5] Such repentance of the body will be the greatest incentive for evangelism that the world has seen.

It was Jesus Himself, who originated this kind of social interaction and evangelism. His repentance was no sham act on the banks of the Jordan when He requested of John the Baptist the baptism of repentance. Jesus' incarnation necessitated Him taking a "self" like we all have (John 5:30). This meant that He was truly "tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). He could have sinned. For this reason, He humbled Himself in prayer, fasting, and repentance in order to keep "self" under the principle of the cross--self-denial.

Jesus knew what was in man, because He was one with us (John 2:25). He didn't need anyone to tell Him what potential existed in the self-motivations of mankind because He took a "self" like we have and continually repented on behalf of sinners. He felt the need for personal repentance in order to keep from sin that He might say, "not as I will [ego desires], but as Thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39). This made Him sympathetic with individuals so that He might impart aid to them in time of need. People were drawn to Jesus because He was "real."

It was at Pentecost that eleven disciples fully appreciated the cross. They saw what in their ignorance they had not perceived beforehand. The love of Christ revealed in the cross produced a spontaneous repentance for sin that resulted in church unity. An authentic body healed of its disease became the agency through which the Holy Spirit was manifested in the early rain. A socially united body was a fit vessel to receive the evangelistic fruitage of diverse converts.

The Apostle Paul's divinely inspired metaphor of the church as a body in 1 Corinthians 12 fully expresses the harmonious interaction of its members under one Head who is Christ. There is (1) corporate unity of the "one body" (vs. 13); (2) corporate diversity of various "members" (vss. 15-18); (3) corporate need (vss. 21, 22); (4) corporate balance (vss. 23, 24); (5) corporate care (vs. 25); (6) corporate suffering and rejoicing (vs. 26).

The Lord Jesus comes to His people in the 1888 message as a Lover and not a Lawgiver, in order to present the claims of the cross. The message to the Laodiceans is a heart-warming, heart-reconciling appeal to return to their first love. The ultimate meaning of the cross is the cleansing of the sanctuary. Jesus shows the cross as the way to being at-one-in-heart with God. When once alienated hearts are turned to God, there is harmonious and united interaction within the body. In other words, faith that is motivated by God's self-giving love is true righteousness. The righteousness is 100% His.

The healing and health of the church can only come about by the restorative power of the cross. The integrity of the church lies in the pathway of Christ's gift of corporate repentance.

--Paul E. Penno.


[1] Robert J. Wieland, Corporate Repentance (Glad Tidings Publishers: Berrien Springs, MI, 2002).

[2] Repentance in Christian Theology (Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 2006). Mark Boda is a professor at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

[3] A. T. Jones, "General Conference Proceedings," The Daily Bulletin of the General Conference (Worcester, MA: Feb. 24, 1899, p. 3).

[4] "God's law reaches the feelings and motives, as well as the outward acts. It reveals the secrets of the heart, flashing light upon things before buried in darkness. God knows every thought, every purpose, every plan, every motive. The books of heaven record the sins that would have been committed had there been opportunity. God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing. ... He reveals to man the defects that mar his life, and calls upon him to repent and turn from sin (Signs of the Times, July 31, 1901; The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1085).

[5] "If the churches expect strength, they must live the truth which God has given them. If the members of our churches disregard the light on this subject, they will reap the sure result in both spiritual and physical degeneracy. And the influence of these older church members will leaven those newly come to the faith. The Lord does not now work to bring many souls into the truth, because of the church members who have never been converted and those who were once converted but who have backslidden. What influence would these unconsecrated members have on new converts? Would they not make of no effect the God-given message which His people are to bear?" (Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, pp. 370, 371).

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Corporate repentance: Plea of the true witness

Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Set (Vol's 1-8)

Testimonies For The Church (9 Volume Set)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Nutrition in the Bible"

Does the Bible have anything to say about nutrition, the food we eat, our diet? Does God care about our eating? Have you ever known of a cook who has prepared a special gourmet meal for you as a guest, who hovers over you while you eat, hoping against hope that you like what he/she has prepared, pained and disappointed if you express no genuine appreciation? Could God be like that?

Of course, we know that the Bible says that God created all the food which we enjoy; it says that He "satisfieth [our] mouth with good things." For example, there's no other reason why He created strawberries--He created them simply because they taste good (a little illustration of His love)!

Part of the happiness the Lord wants us to know is that our "mouth [be] satisfied with good things; so that [our] youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Psalm 103:5). Is such dietary pleasure health-inducing? It says so. It's re-educating our taste to be "reconciled" ("at-one-ment") to enjoy the foods that God has created to be "received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim. 4:4). Day of Atonement living includes that re-educating our diet.

To list all the delicious foods is impossible. How can you doubt there is a loving Creator who created them all in six days when you consider alone the annual progression of fruits through the year, from the earliest strawberries in spring, through summer peaches, then pears, to those delicious persimmons in late autumn! Just a tiny example of the Lord's goodness.

The first chapter of Daniel packs a powerful gospel punch: here are four young men in university training where their scholarships provide them access to the elitist dining rooms or cafeterias. They will be served the same gourmet bill of fare from the same kitchens that serve royalty.

The delicacies set before them arouse the envy of wealthy Babylonians. The meats come from the fabled outreaches of the empire, and the desserts are super mouthwatering. But Good News saved them from health disaster.

These four young servants of the God of Israel petition the authorities for a simple, low-fat, low-sugar vegetarian diet. With the hearty appetite of all teens, these four "purpose" in their hearts to deny their natural cravings for rich food and choose the simple diet. Their goal is not merely to live seven years longer and take more holiday trips; they want to keep their minds clear to comprehend the teaching of the Holy Spirit in an era of solemn significance.

We're in that kind of era today, on a world scale. It's great Good News that the same world Savior who blessed Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will give (not merely offer) you and me the victory over runaway appetite. The Holy Spirit will be your teacher; you won't be able to transgress without His convicting you of truth. "Purpose in your heart" to follow the Savior on this great Day of Atonement.

There is an intimate detail in the Bible about our food: Jesus teaches that the temporal, daily food we eat is ours only because of His great sacrifice in giving Himself for the world. Here it is: "I am the bread of life. ... I am the living bread which came down from heaven, ... and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. ... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:35, 51-53).

The people didn't understand Him then, and many were so offended by this that they "went back, and walked no more with Him" (vs. 66). What did He mean? Just this: He says that the food you eat day by day is "My body, which is broken for you" (1 Cor. 11:24). This is something startling! Every meal, if we have faith, becomes a sacrament, the Lord's Supper!

Most of us have read the famous quotation by Ellen G. White that "the cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf [of bread]" (see The Desire of Ages, p. 660). But what does it mean? Here are only a few Bible texts that give the answer. Please look at John 6:33: By His sacrifice, Christ has "given life unto the world." Verse 51: He has "given" His "flesh ... for the life of the world." 1 Timothy 4:10: He is already "the Saviour of all men." John 4:42: His name is "the Saviour of the world." Isaiah 53:5, 6: He has died for every person's sin, paid the full penalty because "the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Hebrews 2:9: He has "tasted death for every person."

Romans 5:16-18: as our second Adam, Christ has taken the place of the first Adam. The entire human race was "in him" when he sinned in Eden; now because Christ has taken his place as our second Adam, the entire human race is "in Him" in the same legal, or corporate sense. He has reversed the "condemnation" that came upon "all men" in Adam, and God has given us instead "a verdict of acquittal" in Christ (REB). Revelation 13:8: If Christ had not become "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," the entire human race would have perished in Eden; the human race "lives" because of Him; the sun shines, the rain falls, because of Him; we are all infinitely and eternally in debt to Him, whether or not we know it and whether or not we believe it.

2 Corinthians 5:19: When Christ was on His cross, God imputed the world's trespasses unto Him, not just of a few. The conclusion: John 6:51-53 applies both to our present physical life as well as to our spiritual life. No one can excuse himself from the obligation to yield all to Christ, for He has purchased all; thus His cross is stamped on every loaf of bread, and every meal becomes a sacrament--by faith. The believer "eats and drinks" to "God's glory" (1 Cor. 10:31).

--Robert J. Wieland

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lesson 11: “Optimism: Happiness and Healing”

“Unbelieving Israel, not having the righteousness which is of faith, and so not appreciating the great sacrifice that the Heavenly Father has made, sought righteousness by virtue of the offering itself, and because of the merit of presenting the offering” (A. T. Jones, Lessons on Faith, p. 81, emphasis added). Israel came to believe the very act of giving an offering or making a sacrifice was what saved them, not the supreme sacrifice of the cross that their sacrifice foreshadowed. They could never find joy in the Lord who they believed expected an endless round of sacrifices.

There are some who are concerned that the “most precious” message teaches happiness and joy without responsibility. Afraid to believe the Good News is better than they think, they manufacture prerequisites that must be performed before the reality of the gospel is effective for them. Many think reciting a prayer that they believe, and confessing and repenting, provide the objective evidence that they are Christians. Almost always, the heart change necessary to make the objective act genuine is completely ignored.

A disturbing e-mail suggests a situation where this was taken to the extreme. A small boy, appearing to be about five or six years old has been caught stealing. His religion demands that he be punished in a way that forces him to confess his sin to the world, and repent of it for the rest of his life. The boy’s arm is placed in front of a car tire. A series of pictures depicts his father watching beside him as the car slowly advances so the tire crushes his arm. The purpose is to render his arm useless so he will never again be capable of using it to steal. Apparently, this is accepted as evidence that he has forever repented of stealing.

Jesus would never approve of self-mutilation as an acceptable method of gaining His approval for salvation. He told Israel: “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings” (Amos 5:21, 22).* God tells them exactly what He means in verse 24: “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Wherever you find rites and ceremonies emphasized in religion you can be sure there is a detour around the principle of the cross. No amount of rituals and ceremonies will force our hearts to love His law, because our sinful natures naturally hate it. The inevitable result is anger toward a God who requires the impossible. Generally we cannot admit this anger is really directed at God, so it is directed at those who disagree with us. We look for people who agree with our philosophy, and, like ancient Israel, add ten thousand traditions, exactions, and hair-splitting distinctions in a vain attempt to give evidence of our own righteousness and to associate only with those who agree with us.

A. T. Jones comments on this: “What could possibly more fittingly describe a dead formalism than does this? And yet for all this conscious dearth in their own lives, there was still enough supposed merit to cause them to count themselves so much better than other people that all others were but as dogs in comparison” (op. cit.).

Just because it is possible to pervert the concepts of confession and repentance, the necessity for them remains. If saying the words is not enough, how is genuine confession and repentance possible? As we would say today, how do we get the “real deal”?

Ellen White analyzed the confession of Judas as being forced from his guilty soul by an awful sense of condemnation and fearful looking to judgment. His confession was defective because “there was no deep, heartbreaking grief in his soul, that he had betrayed the spotless Son of God and denied the Holy One of Israel” (Steps to Christ, p. 24).

The heart-broken prayer of David after his great sin illustrates the nature of true sorrow for sin (read it in Psalms 32:1, 2 and 51:1-14). “A repentance such as this, is beyond the reach of our own power to accomplish; it is obtained only from Christ, who ascended up on high and has given gifts unto men. Just here is a point on which many may err, and hence they fail of receiving the help that Christ desires to give them. They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance prepares for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait till he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour? … We can no more repent without the Spirit of Christ to awaken the conscience than can we be pardoned without Christ” (ibid, pp. 25, 26).

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the heart of sin. Once conscious of our helplessness to do anything about it, the Spirit directs our attention to Calvary and gives us the capability to follow Paul’s advice to the jailer in Philippi: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31). Salvation lies not in doing this or that good thing but in believing truth. As with everything in the gospel, even belief, repentance, and confession are gifts from Christ. Only when our hearts are melted by the love demonstrated at the cross, can we accept the message that puts any scrap of my merit permanently in the dust. Only the repentance and confession of Christ, demonstrated at His baptism and gifted to us through faith (which in itself is a gift), is the “real deal” for the searching world. Force, self-mutilation, or sacrifice will never cleanse and restore the stony self-righteous heart. It is only with humble appreciation of the cross that we can receive the healing of our heart that alone brings genuine happiness in the Lord.

—Arlene Hill


* Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Integrity: Wholeness and Holiness"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Health and Healing
Lesson 10: "Integrity: Wholeness and Holiness"

What is it about the lure of sex that seems impossible to overcome? Society is addicted to it. There is a compulsive allure to see all its aberrations. Can the present truth, last-day witness of the good news found in the third angel's message bring deliverance from this temptation?

Paul writes that "love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Only Christ is the source of agape, which is "the fulfilling of the law." We are natural-born lovers of self, the opposite of agape. Agape can only be imported from God. Jesus can teach us agape so that we can accept it from Him.

There is not an individual on earth who is any better than another so far as our fallen sinful motivations. The potential exists for any earth-bound soul to commit the sin of another, except for the fact of much more abounding grace from above. Sex is so alluring that it's almost like flypaper, a single contact with it and you're caught for good. All the self-help programs in the world do no good to deliver from sexual addiction.

Since God's love is the goal of the Ten Commandments, it follows that violation of the law is the opposite of His love. So you're stuck! Disobedience to the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery" is total self-centeredness in the soul.

There are players who can be so convincing, acting like they really love and care for someone inexperienced. Young innocents are taken in because they haven't had any experience and are vulnerable wanting a significant relationship. They don't know the difference between true and false love. But when God's true love is in the heart you won't choose to defile another through an affair or by force. With God's love within, it won't happen.

So what's the cure for the subtle allure of illicit sex? It has to be the revelation of the good news about Jesus. The gospel is easy enough for a child to understand, and yet Satan has made sure that it has been watered down by the counterfeit teachings which come from heathenism and are absorbed into "Christian" Babylonian religion. It is vital that we spend time with the Word so that we can be taught of God about the genuine, eternal good news. If you have discovered such a precious stone, wouldn't you take everything out of the bank in order to buy it?

The gospel does not teach you to be good so you can have fun. The gospel shows you what true faith is in Jesus and His accomplishment on the cross and that produces true joy. So what did He accomplish? Jesus delivered you from the second death. That is what hell is. Hell is fire and brimstone at the close of the millennium; however, there is such a thing as burning embarrassment here and now.

John the Revelator writes, "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" (Rev. 16:15). If it's white-hot embarrassment you're itching for, just bring out the real you and the love of self and its desires so that everybody can see it, then your name, integrity, decorum, and trustworthiness is gone. Everybody at home, in the neighborhood, at your place of employ, your close associates will sense you are bogus. There won't be any escape from it because you won't be able to get away from yourself to some lonely outpost. You won't be able to get rest at night. You're exposed to the community and will have to endure the embarrassment.

Where's the gospel? The Redeemer rescued all from going through this terrible experience. How can we see this? The Bible truthfully says, "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10). The truth detector opens up our personality for what it really is by showing how it stands up to attractive enticements. Without a Redeemer we would be uncovered for all to see.

A small bush on the sheltered side of the meadow is ill advised to smirk at a large Ponderosa pine on the ridge-top when it topples to the ground in the blast of a wind-shear. The bush should be happy to confess, "It's only God's mercy that keeps me from falling."

Those "clothes" covering you aren't some innate goodness, rather they are Jesus' robe given to you. They are not just to cover your dirty undergarments, but to replace them altogether. It is by faith that you receive His robe of righteousness. We have nothing with which to straighten ourselves out. The prophet Isaiah teaches, "their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord" (Isa. 54:17). You may experience the grace of the Saviour's justification by faith.

"The purity, the holiness of the life of Jesus, ... possess more power to reform and transform the character than do all the efforts put forth in picturing the sins and crimes of men and the sure results. One steadfast look to the Saviour uplifted upon the cross will do more to purify the mind and heart from every defilement than will all the scientific explanations by the ablest tongue. This is my teaching of moral purity. The opening of the blackness of impurity will not be one half as efficacious in uprooting sin as will the presentation of these grand and ennobling themes. ... [Other approaches] create sensuality in place of uprooting it. The Bible, and the Bible alone, has given the true lesson upon purity" (Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White, The Australian Years, vol. 4, pp. 131, 132).

Your natural-born heart which loves itself can appreciate the self-giving agape of God that rescued you. Jesus' agape moved Him to choose the agony of eternal death so that you might never have to go there. This was the "curse" which He endured on the sinner's behalf during those hours dying on Calvary. He died unclothed before the world for He wanted you to be robed in His righteousness. For that we can choose to lift our voices in praises to His name. It's enough to keep us in a state of constant humility.

--Paul E. Penno
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