Friday, February 25, 2011


"All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isa. 40:6-8, cf. 1 Peter 1:24). [1]

"Abraham answered and said, 'Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes'" (Gen. 18:27).

"For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).

Self-esteem is defined by the world as learning to love yourself; this is a false gospel of Babylon that is motivated by self-interest. By the world's standards, our self-esteem should be based on some intrinsic worth we find in ourselves which supposedly distinguishes us from others and makes us special. We therefore can value ourselves. The true gospel based on God's love for us teaches self-respect.

The Bible teaches that God has "respect unto the lowly" (Psalm 138:6, KJV). The introductory inspired verses are not an insult. We are dust. He formed man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). It would be easy to blame mankind's inherent worthlessness on the entry of sin, but we were created before sin. God even gave pre-Fall mankind the Sabbath to remind us of how the dust He formed came to be worth more than dust. Therefore, even before sin, mankind's intrinsic worth was the value of common dust. Though sinless, humans have never had power to create or even transform inert matter into life. God can do both.

God's special love, agape, is not created by the value of its object. Since God is love, God loved His creation, and in love created value in it. Humans pervert God's love because we are born self-centered. We generally have trouble loving ugly or disagreeable people. We call them "unlovely." I have a friend who has only two or three pictures of herself as a baby. Her mother told her she was so ugly, she didn't want to waste the film. Our hearts go out to a person who was so abused. We are quick to assure them of God's respect. However, that doesn't change the fact that my friend, like me, only has the intrinsic worth of dust. What gives us all respect is not something from within us, but the sustaining love and power of God.

Satan appealed to Eve's ego when he suggested that by eating the fruit, she could enhance her intrinsic worth to become as God. Even though she and Adam had been created in the image of God, this gave them no value without His life-sustaining power. If the most talented sculptor in the world managed to carve a piece of marble into the exact shape of God, it would still be a piece of marble. The sculptor cannot transfer any worth to the marble other the shape he gives it. It is still just marble. The sculptor cannot give what he does not possess in himself--life. What created importance in the dust that God formed into His image was the breath of life He breathed into it.

The self-esteem "gospel" which has been so popular throughout the latter part of the 20th century and the first part of this century, is a subtle deception of Satan. He has perfected the art of sophistry in convincing Christians that before they can love others they must first love themselves. This is a subtle twist of the words found in the great commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 19:19).

If Satan can get Christians to think that self-love, self-esteem is an essential part of the gospel, then he has defeated the principle of the cross. The cross is the revelation to our dull senses that God is self-denying. Satan has perpetually accused God of self-exaltation--that He asks of us more than He requires of Himself. The cross has forever settled the issue of God's self-denying love.

Now that issue plays out in the final crisis which is just upon us. If Satan can get us to buy into the self-esteem movement, then he knows that we will cave in over the "mark of the beast." The love of self will be the prime value, over loving God and neighbor in the great controversy.
In fact, the self-esteem "gospel" is one of the evidences that "Babylon is fallen, is fallen." There has been no restoration of true agape in popular Christianity. There is a woeful misperception of the cross of Christ. This popular trend has leeched into our circles to the extent that we have bought into the self-esteem movement.

Some believe Christ's admonition that "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" proves we are to develop "love" for ourselves. It was God who filled those words with their proper meaning: "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32).

We are natural-born self-lovers. It is a contradiction of terms to say that innately we are capable of loving others as ourselves. A self-centered person is incapable of loving others as he loves himself. So the only way that this commandment can be understood properly is through the prism of God's agape. God's love is self-giving. It led Christ to self-denial. It led Him to the point of giving His life for His enemies.

It was Jesus who spoke the words "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If one wants to talk about loving oneself before he can love his neighbor in the context of self-giving agape, then it means to prefer harm to oneself over harm to another. It means the pouring out of one's own life in order to preserve the life of another, even his enemy. It means evaluating the life of another as more valuable than his own life. Jesus did not value Himself more than He valued you.

Does this mean we are to somehow conjure up a nice feeling about ourselves so we can transfer that to others? We have no such capacity, we cannot create genuine love. It is difficult to admit this, but the truth is, we are completely helpless to generate unselfish love. We may choose to permit Jesus to crucify our self. All ideas that we can contribute enough worth in ourselves to merit salvation are vane. Unless we choose to identify with Him we will always be offended by the cross of Christ.

"The cross is and always has been a symbol of disgrace. To be crucified was to be subjected to the most ignominious death known. The apostle said that if he preached circumcision (that is, righteousness by works), 'the offense of the cross' would cease (Gal. 5:11, KJV). The offense of the cross is that the cross is a confession of human frailty and sin and of inability to do any good thing. To take the cross of Christ means to depend solely on Him for everything, and this is the abasement of all human pride. Men love to fancy themselves independent. But let the cross be preached, let it be made known that in man dwells no good thing and that all must be received as a gift, and straightway somebody is offended" (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 113).
Does this mean we should develop low self-esteem, constantly talking about how worthless we are? The death of Christ establishes our value in His sight, but it also reinforces our total helplessness to create value in ourselves. This is the 1888 dynamic of self-respect. We choose to identify with the Crucified One. We choose to believe that He (not us) is worthy to receive honor, glory, power, and blessing.

The "gospel of self-esteem" is different from "the gospel of self-respect." The latter is from the Lord; the former is a snare. The Bible does not encourage self-esteem, but it does teach genuine self-respect.

True self-respect, a true sense of one's value, is rooted in the cross--the Son of God gave Himself for you; that makes you equivalent in value with Him. True, we have no value of ourselves; but agape creates value in its object. Let the truth sink in: your security, your value, is only "in Christ."

--Arlene Hill

[1] Unless noted otherwise, Bible texts are from the New American Standard Bible.

Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe.

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at:

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Sabbath School TodayWith the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Jesus Wept: The Bible and Human Emotions
Lesson 8: "Resilience"

What is the solution to suffering, persecution, and affliction? The popularized Protestant version of righteous by faith is "the power of positive thinking." However, the Lord Jesus has given us better good news than some psychological "trick" of looking within in order to overcome adversity. He has given us "much more abounding grace."

A Jewish teen had been captured in the Syrian war and found herself a domestic slave to the general's wife (2 Kings 5:1-14). Bitterness, hatred, and revenge might have captivated her heart. After all, no Israelite was ever to be a slave having been delivered from Egypt. She was born "free." The real reason she was a casualty of war was because of the rebellious sins of God's people. Her temptation was to hate her captors, and seriously question the divine destiny of the church of her day.

But she was a true Israelite and chose to believe in the freedom which God had given her. In other words, she understood righteousness by faith. She was a political captive. The Syrians might physically possess her, but she chose to give her mind a "captive" to God. She understood faith and consequently enjoyed freedom from sin.

We are living in a day when "every wind of doctrine" is sweeping the church. Unsuspecting youth, the very flower and future of the church, are turned off by the hypocrisy and legalism they see--casualties of war in the great controversy. They quietly go out the back door into "Babylon," while "Baal worship," the worship self disguised as the worship of Christ, subtly infiltrates the pews. How can the "Israelites indeed" overcome in the midst of the pathetic "lukewarmness" of God's remnant church?

In all the history of God's people the most difficult problem which the Lord Jesus has to resolve with His people is the controversy which His own Laodicean church has with Him. It is a know-it-all, "rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing" spiritual arrogance that has no hunger to grow beyond "me-first" adolescence (Rev. 3:17).

How did Jesus respond to adversity within the church? He faced the temptation just a few days before His crucifixion to leave Jerusalem and by-pass the cross. As He exited the temple one day, some Greeks inquired of His disciples, "We wish to see Jesus" (John 12:21). It was a real encouragement to the Saviour, when most of His own people were rejecting Him, that the Greeks desired to "see" Him.

Jesus explained to the Greeks the principle of His kingdom: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24, 25). In effect He was rejecting the temptation to let Israel rot by abandoning her in order to do a glorious work in Athens. He chose rather the cross at the heart of the "work." His dying was not a sleep, but the real thing. Self-sacrifice is the law of His kingdom.

Jesus' response to adversity from within the church was resiliency,--the principle of the cross,--that through death comes life. Only then can He save the world. He gives that principle of resiliency to us, His disciples: "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also" (John 12:26).

What does this mean for us today who are confronted with adversity within the church? There is a progression in the third angel's message as it swells to a "loud cry," and "the latter rain" matures the harvest to face the final examination of "the mark of the beast" issue. Then the harvest is ready for the Reaper at His coming (Rev. 14:16).

The first angel declares with "a loud voice" that the cosmic Day of Atonement truth is the good news of "the everlasting gospel." "The hour of His judgment is come" (Rev. 14: 6, 7) is the cleansing of the sanctuary truth.

The second angel warns about the false christ and the false prophet of Babylon;--salvation in your sins and not from your sins. It is lawless to the core.

The third angel's message is a warning about the end product of the false gospel or the worship of self--man's self-appointed day of worship, Sunday; over against God's holy seventh-day Sabbath. The over-mastering temptation will be fear of self-preservation versus Jesus' revelation of agape--the seal of God as revealed in His "rest" of the Sabbath from all "self." "Here is the patience [resiliency] of the saints" in the final conflict.

What is the propelling force of the 1888 message? What does that angel of Revelation 18:1 bring to the third angel's message that illuminates the character of God "in verity"?

Finally, the truth of the cross converges with the cleansing of the sanctuary truth so that it becomes practical for the "saints," "And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev. 12:11). Here is the message of resiliency for the afflicted saints.

The final hand-to-hand combat of overcoming temptation to sin will take place in the mind. "Their testimony" will coincide with "His testimony." He did not love His life more than He loved the world as its Saviour. They do not love their lives more than they love Him who gave His life for the world. Hence the constraining power of the Lamb has fully reconciled their hearts to the Crucified One. The Atonement is finished. The harvest is ripe. To change the metaphor, the Bride has made herself ready for her Husband (Rev. 19:7).
--Paul E. Penno

Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe.

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at:

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Hope Against Depression"

Sabbath School TodayWith the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Jesus Wept: The Bible and Human EmotionsLesson 7: "Hope Against Depression"

Just last week an e-mail came about depression: "It seems that these days more and more people in America suffer from depression, whether it is considered mild or severe. In fact, according to the U. S. National Institute of Mental Health, over 18 million people in America suffer from either Major Depressive Disorder or Dysthymic Disorder (mild but chronic depression) every year. Some people might simply attribute these numbers to the hectic lifestyle of many Americans and the daily stress they face, while others might believe that medical professionals are better at diagnosing the symptoms" [1] This report included an unhealthy diet and stimulants as contributors to these disorders. But is there an underlying cause besides these contributors? Can depression be overcome?

No matter where we turn in the Bible, we meet someone who suffers from what we call "depression": Job sitting on his dung heap scraping his sores with a potsherd. Jeremiah weeping while he writes his Lamentations, or surely Elijah in his cave at Horeb, praying the Lord to let him die. And we can't forget David, whose Psalms are a prime example: "Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD (130:1); that's the powerful name, that just saying it humbles one's heart. Then in verse 2 David begs, "Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications."

But the Prince of sufferers from depression is the Lord Jesus Christ; see Him in Gethsemane. His disciples, even Peter, James, and John, couldn't give Him an hour of their precious human time without going to sleep on Him (Matt. 26:36-40). He "began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed" (the King James Version says "very heavy"). How "heavy"? "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." Have you ever been near there?

We know that Jesus never sinned, therefore we must conclude that to be "depressed" is not of itself sin. Depression is a temptation, not a sin. It's human, and Jesus, the Son of God, became human, the Son of man. He took into His soul all the depression that all humans have suffered, cumulative, corporately, and bore it, "even unto death," the final God-forsaken kind of hopeless death when He cried out in those "depths," "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" If you feel depressed, Jesus does not cast you off; He remembers how He felt on His cross.

If you are tempted by despair, if everything has gone wrong, disappointments and misfortunes seem to shout in your ears that God has forgotten you, and to top it all off, you are keenly aware of your own sinfulness, please remember Jesus. It would not be fair for you at last to "sit down with [Him] in [His] throne" (as He promises in Revelation 3:20) unless you have at least tasted a little of what He went through. Some "fellowship with Him in His sufferings" (see Phil. 3:10) is a great blessing to you in the end. If we remember Jesus, we can see how depression is not sin, even if some well-meaning people rub that in to make your sufferings worse (Job had his three "friends").

Remember and believe God's New Covenant promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 3) and see yourself as a "child of Abraham" (Gal. 3:29). Learn how to believe those promises. Fast for a while, let your mind be cleared so you can hear the "still small voice" Elijah had to listen for (1 Kings 19:12). And best of all, have a good long quiet visit alone with that Prince of all sufferers. Choose, even if you don't feel like it, to believe His promises.

What can we do to help people who are depressed? It's important to give them "good news" from the Great Physician. God calls upon those who serve Him to minister to others in need. He told Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the world: "Thou shalt be a blessing, … and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12:2, 3). Jesus saw that His mission was to help depressed people: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel [good news, glad tidings] to the poor [those who can't afford medical treatment]; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18).

When we realize our debt to the "Savior of the world" we will want to be ready to "know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary" (Isa. 50:4), because the Lord has sent us to do the work that He would do if He were here in person.

The week's lesson topic crosses over many of the concepts or "points" of the 1888 message. Christ has "first-hand" knowledge of depression, He came all the way to where we are, taking upon Himself "the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Thus He is a Savior "nigh at hand, not afar off." But the most comforting focal point is that Christ is a Good Shepherd who is seeking His lost sheep even though we have not sought Him. A misunderstanding of God's character causes us to think He is trying to hide from us. But at the point where every person stands, there is a Good Shepherd who has found him, comforts him, and has a message of encouragement and hope for him.

The gospel is the Good News of what Jesus has accomplished in His incarnation. Did He truly conquer this sin in the "likeness of sinful flesh"? Or did He sidestep the real issue by taking upon Himself a different nature than what we are saddled with? When He inspired the Bible, did He employ cunning rhetorical evasion to make us think that "in all points He was tempted like as we are, yet without sin," while in reality He excused Himself from facing and conquering the REAL temptation that plagues us all? Well, I must tell what I believe: the true gospel IS the power of God unto salvation from depression to everyone who believes (see Rom. 1:16). So, everything depends on understanding what it means to believe!

Depression is overcome--through believing genuine Good News.

--Robert J. Wieland[Excerpts from his writings]

[1] Cindy Jones-Shoeman, Feb. 2, 2011.
Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe.

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at:

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Good Thinking"

Sabbath School TodayWith the 1888 Message Dynamic
Jesus Wept: The Bible and Human EmotionsLesson 6: "Good Thinking"

Good thinking, bad thinking. White and black. But is there a "gray" area that plagues the Christian church? It all begins in the mind. "As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). The thoughts cherished will eventually govern the conduct outwardly. Deep in the thoughts is where the battle is decided, where we "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:12). It's the fight to believe when every ounce of your being seems to push you the other way. It's "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

Our Sabbath School lesson covers the results of bad thinking--the undesirable behavior, and asks us to consider the "specific actions that we are called upon to do in order to live the kind of life in Christ we are promised" (p. 51). This is the "gray" area that plagues our thinking--a checklist of what we must do to change our thinking. Books and books (Christian and otherwise) have been written on the subject of mental health, but we would like to present this lesson topic in a different light, to stretch our thinking beyond ourselves.

Could this issue of good (or bad) thinking correspond to the Old Covenant and the New Covenant? Can Old Covenant thinking be passed down from generation to generation? For example, throughout ancient Israel's centuries, Baal worship kept infiltrating generations of God's true people. Only occasional brief revivals under kings like Hezekiah or Josiah brought temporary relief. The source of the problem? Always, the Old Covenant thinking their fathers embraced at Mt. Sinai and bequeathed to their children. Even today the spiritual failures of many sincere people are the result of being taught Old Covenant ideas, especially in childhood and youth.

The New Covenant truth was an essential element of the 1888 message, and even today lifts a load of doubt and despair from many heavy hearts. The Old Covenant idea of "obey and live" does nothing more than "gendereth to bondage" (Gal. 4:24; "slavery, NEB), while the New Covenant was established on "better promises" [the promises of God rather than the promise of the people, Heb. 8:6] (see Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 372).

"You are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. … You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. … You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. … Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him" (Steps to Christ, p. 47; emphasis supplied).

Some questions arise: Is it possible for any church in any age of history, anywhere in the world, to be "lukewarm" and at the same time be living under the New Covenant? Is this what Christ died to accomplish--to raise up a professed Christian church that is apathetic in its devotion to its Savior and thankfulness for His sacrifice on the cross?

You can't read very far in the New Testament without being confronted by a painful truth: spiritual lukewarmness is inconsistent with understanding and believing the New Covenant. Wherever we see such pathetic devotion, we can know we are in an area of spiritual experience dominated by Old Covenant ideas. They may have their roots beneath the surface of our consciousness, and it's the height of arrogance for us to boast that we are "rich and increased with goods" in our understanding of the gospel when Old Covenant principles still bedevil our thinking.

Old Covenant "Christian" living is highly popular, but it's difficult for Jesus to explain to the holy angels how His people can be content to go on generation after generation, century after century so spiritually naïve, so self-satisfied. In His message to the leadership of His church in the last days, He confesses that this lukewarmness perpetuated so long makes Him feel like throwing up (see Rev. 3:16, 17). He is suffering the pain of acute nausea; should not our concern be, not for self, but for His healing?

When asked, "How can I control my thoughts," Ellet J. Waggoner once wrote that there is only one remedy for our wayward thoughts, and that's found in Isaiah 55:7-9: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." In other words, let the Lord do our thinking in us. This is possible; for we have His assurance: "Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established" (Prov. 16:3).

The apostle Paul wrote, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). But how do we get that "new mind"? Not by "working," not by "doing." It's our choice, by faith, to "see" Jesus and permit His thoughts to become our "right thinking." If we don't resist the Holy Spirit, Christ, our great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, will work to impart that "mind of Christ" to us--the greatest joy we can have to be totally "at-one" with Him. The process is ministered by "grace." As you begin to appreciate the dimensions of the agape that drove Him to the cross, His "mind" begins to be imparted to you. And you "overcome … even as [He] overcame" (Rev. 3:21).

As we near the glorious finishing of God's work in the world and the coming of Jesus, all the cobwebs and junk of legalistic, egocentric thinking will be swept out. Then when the Lord has a world church truly reconciled to Him, the world can be lightened with His final message (18:1-4).

--Carol A. Kawamoto[With thanks to Robert J. Wieland]

Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe.

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at:

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to