Friday, November 28, 2014

Lesson 9: "One Lawgiver and Judge"

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of James

Lesson 9: "One Lawgiver and Judge"

Dear Friends of "Sabbath School Today,"

It's not always possible to cover every topic in a week of Sabbath School lessons in a short essay, so we try to cover one or more of the "dynamics" of the 1888 message. This week, the question at the bottom of Monday's lesson (page 74 of the regular quarterly) begs discussing: "Either reward or punishment, we will face only one or the other. What's your only hope of reward?"

One of the primary gospel truths of the 1888 message is this: A higher motivation becomes realized in the close of time than has prevailed in the church in past ages--a concern for Christ that He receive His reward and find His "rest" in the final eradication of sin. All egocentric motivation based merely on fear of hell or hope of reward is less effective. The higher motivation is symbolized in the climax of Scripture--the Bride of Christ making herself "ready." [1]

Technology in processing and storing data helps us understand that all the information about our lives is accurately recorded, including our thoughts and motives. God's law is the principle on which His universe is founded, which James calls "the law that gives freedom" (2:12, NIV). Any act or motive that conflicts with this law of unselfish love means that one's heart is at odds with God and with the universe. Thus selfishness becomes a part of our life record--the "books" by which John says we will be judged.

But the Good News is that the Judge is our Brother, the Son of man who took upon Himself "the likeness of sinful flesh" and who knows exactly how "in every way" we are tempted. "Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted" (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 4:15; 2:18). His present work is to prepare us to pass our final exam. So, the news of the judgment is infinitely better than you may have thought it to be. Its verdict in your case is in your hands.

Doubtless the Apostle John's desire was to present agape and the judgment in the clearest balance possible. He dared to voice an equation that no other apostle could rise to say: "God is agape." He labors to represent the judgment as consistent with that totally unique character. He represents the Father as condemning no man but as "commit[ing] all judgment unto the Son ... because He is the Son of man," humanity's Peer (John 5:22, 27).

And even though all judgment is "committed" to Christ, He Himself forswears the privilege of pronouncing it, saying that He will not "condemn" any nonbeliever "in the last day." "If any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge [condemn] him not: for I came not to judge [condemn] the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47).

"The remnant will know that the supreme matter before the universe is the trial of truth and righteousness--God's character. Their concern for a reward of sitting by the river of life or walking on the street of gold leading to a heavenly mansion will fade into the background. ...

"How long will God's people be obsessed with their selfish desire for their own salvation? He has made our security easy. He has compromised His standing before the universe to assure us of His commitment to truth and of our salvation from sin. The infinite heart of God is longing for some recognition from His children. Could they sense a little of sacrifice? Could they see what is pending? Could they understand that God also has feelings? How long will it take them to understand the magnitude of the plan of salvation?" [2]

Ellen G. White describes this in such a touching and heartfelt manner: "Love to God is the very foundation of religion. To engage in His service merely from hope of reward or fear of punishment would avail nothing. Open apostasy would not be more offensive to God than hypocrisy and mere formal worship" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 523).

"It is not the fear of punishment or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour's matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary's cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him" (The Desire of Ages, p. 480).

A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, the two "messengers" God "sent" with the "beginning" of the Revelation 18 message, presented the fate of the lost with an emphasis on God's fairness, His love, and compassion. They were, above all, "evangelists," longing to bear a message of reconciliation. They wanted to avoid any semblance of "fire and brimstone" preaching, convinced that the true motivation for lasting conversion is an appreciation of God's love. They wanted to find a clearer grasp of what that love has meant for the world. This conviction enabled them to "glory in the cross" as the true heart of "the third angel's message in verity." They viewed all of our "doctrines" in that light, and they anticipated Ellen White's Desire of Ages statement years before it was published. This was their emphasis.

The issue is evangelism, not complex theology; what message can reconcile the alienated, world-loving, self-centered, "lukewarm" heart to God? Unless a clearer understanding of the gospel becomes involved, the result must inevitably be further lukewarmness of devotion perpetuated generation after generation for centuries more. The present-day truth pleads with the sinner "in Christ's stead." That is, as soul-winners we enable the sinner to identify with Him so fully that he experiences a first-hand encounter with Christ as vivid as did the Samaritan woman at her well or Nicodemus in his night interview. This is soul-winning and soul-holding evangelism.

The message of the three angels is that God will certainly have a people who bring glory to Him. Revelation's primary concern is the vindication of the Lamb who paid an infinite price to redeem us. But His vindication also involves our own, for we are one with Him. Those who stand faithfully "with Him" in this final struggle will not do so in order to gain a reward for themselves. Salvation is indeed a bargain, but getting a good bargain will not be the motive for anyone who truly follows Christ in these last days. The little flower girl at a wedding is ever so sweet and lovable, but all she really cares about is getting some of the cake and ice cream at the reception. The bride, on the other hand, doesn't care about the refreshments. Her interest is in the bridegroom, and in him alone.

Is it possible for us self-seeking humans, who all our lives have been immersed in pursuing trivial self-interest, to find a larger perspective--a genuine heart sympathy with the Lamb of God? Appreciation of Him for His own sake will transcend both our fear of being lost and a merely selfish hope of reward in heaven. This is the mature faith toward which God is calling us.

--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short


[1] Robert J. Wieland, Ten Great Gospel Truths That Make the 1888 Message Unique, pp. 27-29.

[2] Donald K. Short, "Made Like ... His Brethren," p. 111.

Raul Diaz

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lesson 8: "The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom"

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of James

Lesson 8: "The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom"

There is some practical, day-to-day, instruction in James about how to overcome temptation. James has the Good News idea that Jesus taught about the Good Shepherd.

The 1888 message brings to our attention that the shepherd doesn't wait around at home for the lost sheep to find him. If he did, the lost would never find its way home. Rather, the Good Shepherd is not satisfied until he has searched high and low for the one lost sheep. In other words, God takes the initiative in finding you, poor sinner, and carries you all the way home on His shoulders, if you will let him. Thus it's easy to be saved and hard to be lost if you understand this wonderful reality about your Saviour.

James wrote, as a truth for all times, that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God, whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). "Besides the devil and the world, each one has his own self, the worst enemy of all, to contend against." [1] "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7).

The pure gospel always upsets lukewarm church members. The usual understanding that has been drilled into our people, and especially our youth, is that it is very hard to be a good Christian, and very easy to be lost. Jesus says the opposite, as anyone can see who will consider His words of life (Matt. 11:28, 29).

What James has said is usually understood backwards too. "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" (James 4:5). The bad news idea almost always comes through as we look at this from an old covenant perspective. [2] Because of the universal conviction of how imperfect we all are, we convince ourselves we cannot hope to do the good things we know to be right.

Because of the 1888 message we may have confidence in what this verse is saying. The Revised English Bible brings out the good news more clearly, "The spirit that God planted in us is filled with envious longings" (James 4:5). God the Holy Spirit does not tolerate His people trying to be friends with the world. The context is that of decrying friendship with the world. God desires from His people an exclusive marriage, like that of a spouse, and if they seek to be friends of the world, they may be called "adulteresses."

The first part of James 4:5, "Or do you think the Scripture for no good reason says. ... ," presents the second part of the verse as support for the warning against spiritual adultery. God's jealousy for His bride is in view. God's Spirit yearns for our fidelity with jealousy.

Satan cannot force you to transgress; even if he tries to frighten you by stamping his foot, you don't need to put up with him, for James says that if you "resist the devil, he will flee from you" (James 4:7). You don't need to suffer either allurement or terror from Satan!

"He giveth more grace" (James 4:6) which does more than teach us negative victories; it teaches us how to live beautiful, noble, sin-free lives. You still have a sinful nature (Jesus took upon Himself our same sinful nature, yet He never sinned!); the closer you come to Christ it may be the more you feel the temptations of Satan, but the more decided are your victories over him.

Christ "was in all points tempted like as [you] are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15), and even though you are tempted you too may overcome "even as [He] also overcame" (Rev. 3:21). And that's today; you don't need to wait until your deathbed. Like Christ, you will learn instantaneously to tell the devil, "Get thee behind me!"

Yes, you do have something to do--"resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). But you say, "That's my problem--I don't have the strength to resist!" Then read the first part of the same verse: "Submit yourselves therefore to God." Come to the Saviour, singing:

"Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,"

and you will find that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). That is freedom. It's a miracle, but it's true. But please don't expect that you'll never be tempted again. It's your privilege always to exercise the power of choice. [3]

The Lord has taken the initiative in loving and seeking you! He is not trying to hide from you. Now, respond. The Holy Spirit yearns with jealousy for you. Now, "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8).

Probably good sincere people have pounded into you a wrong idea of God (maybe even from the pulpit). God is not waiting for you to maintain a relationship with Him; He wants you to know He is maintaining a relationship with you. It all begins with His initiative, not yours. He wants you saved more than you want to be.

When Jesus came, He changed our ideas about His Father. The Good Shepherd is not waiting for His lost sheep to find Him; He is seeking the sheep (Luke 15:3-32). The text about "seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6) needs a clearer translation. The Hebrew verb there for "seek" is not the common one, looking for a lost object; it means "pay attention to Me because I am near! I'm not far away, ever!"

This idea of working hard to maintain our relationship with the Lord is a subtle Old Covenant idea that has crept in. When you begin to grasp His seeking love, His cross, you will "hunger and thirst" for His "truth of the gospel." It will expel your love for amusement; it will heal you of your Bible boredom. But we "walk softly": if you are in a spiritual coma, yes, force yourself to read your Bible and pray. But please ... believe the New Covenant.

--Paul E. Penno


[1] E. J. Waggoner, "Thoughts on the Third Psalm," The Signs of the Times, June 18, 1885, p. 375.

[2] Even the Lesson for Wednesday is confusing when it says: "James 4:5 is not easy to understand," "the most difficult verse in the New Testament," and refers to "the ambiguity of the Greek."

[3] "What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure" (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 47).

Raul Diaz

Monday, November 17, 2014

SST #8 | "The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom" |

SST #8 | "The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom" | Paul…:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lesson 7: "Taming the Tongue"

Sabbath School Today

>With the 1888 Message Dynamic
> The Book of James
> Lesson 7: "Taming the Tongue"
> "Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you." This little nursery rhyme is trying to convey the difference between physical and emotional injury. We may not have a choice when we are hurt physically, but we can choose whether words will hurt us emotionally. At least that's the sentiment, but in reality most of us don't have the emotional fortitude to never be affected by hurtful words.
> A child whose parent consistently tells him or her that they are stupid will begin to believe that's true. Children under a certain age rarely have the discernment to understand they can reject their parents' assessment of their mental acuity, since that comes with maturity if the child is willing to think independently about himself. If such maturity never develops, the child is doomed to carry the negative words, allowing their echoes to form their lifelong image of themselves. The failure of the parents to control their tongue becomes adopted by the child, and without reprogramming the child will repeat the parent's sin and make it his own sin.
> James tells us that "By his own wish He [God] made us His own sons through the Word of truth, that we might be, so to speak, the first specimens of His new creation. In view of what he has made us then, dear brothers, let every man be quick to listen but slow to use his tongue, and slow to lose his temper. For a man's temper is never the means of achieving God's true goodness. Have done, then, with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. ... The man who simply hears and does nothing about it is like a man catching the reflection of his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, it is true, but he goes on with whatever he was doing without the slightest recollection of what sort of person he saw in the mirror. But the man who looks into the perfect mirror of God's law, the law of liberty, and makes a habit of so doing, is not the man who sees and forgets. He puts that law into practice and he wins true happiness. If anyone appears to be 'religious' but cannot control his tongue, he deceives himself and we may be sure that his religion is useless" (James 1:18-26, The New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillips).
> It is not only individuals who can look in a mirror and forget what it shows them, but it is possible for a corporate body to make this mistake. The message given during the late 1800s to our Seventh-day Adventist Church was a very specialized mirror meant to correct an over-emphasis on law-keeping which grew out of an understandable passion to restore the importance of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. This fervor began as noble inspiration but soon disintegrated into preaching the law without love (agape) until we were as "dry as the hills of Gilboa."
> In giving the pure message of righteousness by faith to His messengers, A. T. Jones, E. J. Waggoner, and E. G. White, God was trying to get us to discern what we as a church had become. Instead of humbly accepting the rebuke the message could sow in our hearts we were slow to listen and quick to use our tongues to resist the precious light. Articles were written, sermons were preached, arguments were made, and messengers were attacked, all because people were talking instead of listening.
> The body of Christ is vertical as well as horizontal. It embraces all who have been its members in the past and all who will be in the future. Understanding the past is essential to understanding the present and preparing for the future. Those who do not know history are fated to repeat it. We cannot truly understand ourselves unless we understand our predecessors.
> Ellen White discerned the truth. The reason that the 1888 message was only the "beginning" of the Latter Rain and Loud Cry and not the completion, is that to a large degree the message was rejected by the leadership of the church. Sadly, those who so fervently believed in the doctrine of the second Advent actually delayed it for generations. They looked in the mirror but forgot what they saw. If we were to have another 1888 session where the Holy Spirit manifested Himself as the Latter Rain, would we again insult Him? Unless there is repentance for doing it the first time, the answer has to be yes.
> Since 1888, the denomination's corporate discussion of the message, if any, has focused on collateral issues: whether it was accepted, whose version is right, or that it's just Martin Luther's message, nothing new. Much of what the official church publications focus on is this or that writer's interpretation of the message. This is the wrong "mirror" to be looking into. The original writings of the three people God used are well-preserved and are more readily available now that mass media sources such as Amazon can get them. Yet, many are afraid to read them, preferring modern commentators' opinions. In some cases, these commentators completely omit the vital disctinctives such as the fact that Christ, coming in the likeness of sinful human flesh nevertheless accomplished a perfect character that can be ours by faith. Over the decades our dear church has insisted on preaching law-keeping as a requirement for salvation, the pendulum has swung across conservative and liberal lines and back again. We don't really understand where this pendulum should be, but someone is usually quick to criticize saying wherever the pendulum is now, it's wrong. Most give up and say it isn't possible, so it must not be necessary.
> Yet, the heavenly angel predicted in Daniel 8:14, "Unto two thousand three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." The books of heaven cannot be cleansed of the record of sins until our hearts are cleansed, which brings the issue of righteousness by faith into clear focus. Justification by faith is more than a mere legal declaration; it makes the at-enmity soul to be at one with God. Submitting to the cleansing process in the time before Ancient Israel's Day of Atonement was required to accomplish unity of the body, even for just a day. The Cosmic Day of Atonement in which we have been living since 1844 will accomplish a unity that is sealed in each individual permanently.
> There is a difference between corporate guilt and condemnation. As part of the human race we share the corporate guilt of the murder of the Son of God, but we are not held accountable or condemned unless we refuse the gift of repentance (see John 3:16, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 38). As modern Seventh-day Adventists, we share the corporate guilt for our forebear's rejection of the beginning of the Latter Rain and Loud Cry, but we will not be condemned for that sin if we accept the gift of repentance. We accept that gift by accepting the actual message, studying it, and sharing it with those who are willing to listen.
> For a long time the Lord Jesus has been waiting for Laodicea to humble herself and accept the eyesalve embodied in the 1888 message. Only with that can we see ourselves in the mirror of God's eyes. Only then will we be quick to listen and slow to justify ourselves with our tongues.
> --Arlene Hill
> Note: "Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at:

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fwd: Fw: Sabbath School Today, Lesson 6, Quarter 4-14

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 6: "Faith That Works"
What is genuine faith? James deals with this million-dollar question in the latter part of chapter 2. The 1888 message helps us see in the Scripture the true motive for faith. It is hinted at in our Wednesday's (Nov. 5) Lesson, but left undeveloped: "True faith is 'faith working through love' (Gal. 5:6)."
Let's begin at the end. It's there that we find James' illustration that explains the relationship between faith and works. A corpse without breath produces nothing (James 2:26). So "faith" without "works" is dead. Obviously, the breath of life is the animating principle of the human body. The Life-giver is God Himself. Likewise, Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). James is not pitting faith against works or vice versa; he pits a living faith against a dead faith.
James engages in conversation with a "vain man" (James 2:20). This empty man is a self-proclaimed Christian who argues for a separation between faith and works. He says, "Believe 'there is one God' (James 2:19), and that is sufficient for salvation."
But James counters the vacuous Christian's orthodoxy saying, "Don't 'the devils also believe, and tremble?'"
Isn't the essence of faith to believe in God? Doesn't Hebrews say that the one who comes to God must "believe that He is"? (Heb. 12:6). But believing that God exists doesn't go far enough, because when the devils think of God it causes them to shudder, says James. The devils' faith doesn't change their behavior at all. They continue to hate God and war against Him and His followers.
So what is James' point? You can talk all you want about how much you believe there is one God, but if all you can do is proclaim your orthodoxy, you're nothing more than an empty windbag. In reality, you're no better than the devils.
In James' view genuine faith works. Faith is the primary cause of the secondary evidence seen in works. He cites two illustrations from the Old Testament to support his conclusion: Abraham and Rahab. On the surface you couldn't have two more polar opposites than Abraham, the Friend of God, and Rahab the harlot; but both had the faith which works. They are examples of justification by works.
Take Abraham for example. Since James takes for granted that his Jewish readers will know the circumstances of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, he simply goes straight to the point. Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac on the altar (James 2:21).
God had told Abraham to do this. What Abraham didn't know was that God needed Abraham to do this. In the great controversy, Satan accused Abraham of worshipping God out of self-serving, ulterior motives. Abraham found himself suddenly projected onto the stage of the universe for all intelligent beings to see. Was he willing to sacrifice his only unique son whom God had given him? Abraham was put on the spot like God Himself, who gave His only begotten Son because He loves the world.
Abraham's faith was sorely tested, but without hesitation, faith triumphed because God's loving sacrifice motivated him. He saw through the immediate horror of human sacrifice, and perceived God's great paradox of either saving His Son and losing the world, or loving the world of sinners, and losing His Son. The Father made the decision to sacrifice His love for the Son and forever give Him to the world. God proclaimed this gospel to Abraham, and he chose to exercise this gift of faith by sacrificing Isaac. This Divine, self-sacrificing love, exhibited in the father of the Hebrews, was the cornerstone of the ancient church.
We recognize that James' point is that faith works. Abraham was "justified by works." But the 1888 message asks, why did Abraham's faith work? The answer, Because the primary cause was the Father's self-denying, self-sacrificing love in giving His only begotten Son. In fact, John 3:16, the best-loved verse in all the Bible, is based upon Abraham's decision to sacrifice his only, unique, God-promised son, Isaac. This "present truth" is missing in the Lesson.
But many are probably missing another story that is part of the picture—how "the harlot Rahab" of pagan Jericho has a significant role in the story. Many scholars have concluded that the evidence suggests that Salmon fits into the picture as one of the "spies" who stayed at Rahab's place before the destruction of Jericho.
In his genealogy, Matthew tells us that someone named "Salmon" married Rahab and became the father of Boaz, who married Ruth, and thus Rahab came into the genealogical line behind Jesus of Nazareth, the world's "nearest of kin" who alone could "redeem" us from sin (cf. Matt. 1:4, 5).
Rahab was a most unusual character; she would interest and appeal to any Israelite whose heart was sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Rahab had thought through the issues of the day; her heart was convicted: the one true God, the Lord, was with Israel; the truth was there. She experienced a corporate repentance for paganism. Rahab was converted; she yielded her heart to the Holy Spirit.
One popular book by Ellen G. White is entitled Faith and Works, the title having been added by editors long after the author's death. Yet inside the book covers, she repeatedly speaks of the correct formula as being "faith which works." [1]
James' view and the 1888 message go beyond the so-called Reformation view that justification by faith is merely a legal transaction taking place millions of light-years away, without respect to the heart of the believer himself. It also goes far beyond the usual current "historic" Adventist understanding that regards justification by faith as pardon or forgiveness for past sins, while a life of present obedience is labeled as "sanctification." However much justification by faith depends upon the legal substitutionary work of Christ outside of the believer, its very essence is a change within the believer. The merit on which justification by faith rests is never within the believer, but justification by faith itself is evident in the believer: Self is "crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20). This is why justification by faith is dependent upon the justification achieved for mankind at the cross. And genuine sanctification is the experience of extended, on-going justification by faith, separated unto God.
The believer's faith is counted for righteousness. Faith embraces the whole of Christ's righteousness. All the Lord asks from the sinner is true faith; He credits him with all the perfect righteousness of Christ.
Yes, the Bible is true; there is only one Savior, Jesus; none of us is a co-savior. It's not a 50/50 salvation trip; it's 100% salvation by Christ, received by faith. But the faith is not the "dead faith" that the apostle James decries (James 2:20). A "dead faith" can produce nothing except self-righteousness (which doesn't have a very nice fragrance!). A living faith works; it has to work; it will work; it always works by agape.
Paul E. Penno
[1] "The faith essential for salvation is not mere nominal faith, but an abiding principle, deriving vital power from Christ. It will lead the soul to feel the love of Christ to such a degree that the character will be refined, purified, ennobled. This faith in Christ is not merely an impulse, but a power that works by love and purifies the soul" (Review and Herald, Aug. 18, 1891; emphasis added).
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at:


Tuesday, November 4, 2014