Friday, August 29, 2008

Your Pain, Our Pleasure

A few months ago, I was having a "discussion" with a fellow pastor about faith and works. When I maintained that the work God wants us to do is "believe" His promises to us, rather than try to work for ourselves, my friend was completely disagreeable. And when I pointed to the fact that God promised Abraham he would have a son, and all Abraham did was believe (see Genesis 15:6), he reminded me of something interesting that I had overlooked. "Abraham didn't simply believe the Lord," he said, "He still had to have sex with Sarah in order for her to get pregnant."

Now, I don't believe the Bible explicitly mentions whether or not this is true, but I don't doubt that it is. But the point that he was making is that God doesn't ask us to only believe, but He tells us that we still have to "work" as well for our own salvation. Even though Abraham believed in the Lord and was righteous because of it, he still had to work, my friend maintains.

I kind of understand - and somewhat agree - with what he is saying. There is no doubt that true followers of Christ "work" when they have faith. You cannot separate faith from works. It's impossible (see James, who has something to say about this).

But something dawned on me a little while later. What my friend calls "work" I would call "pleasure." Do you think that Abraham really thought it was "work" to sleep with Sarah? Hardly! It was pleasure. And that is the precise reality with God. When we come into a heart-experience with Him, and respond by faith, that which we would consider "work" before actually becomes "pleasure." As Paul reminds us, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). And when we do His pleasure, it becomes our pleasure as well.

Of course, my pastor friend, who is unmarried, may have a hard time understanding this! But, I would dare say, even unmarried people have a good idea about the blissful marital pleasures.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Plug for the Three Angel's Messages

In the past few months, I have received in my mailbox at church a flier for an upcoming Conference. It has graced my mailbox a couple of times, and I have inspected it with moderate interest each time. It is being sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist church, and the flier claims that the annual event "has become the premier gathering within Adventism" for anyone who is serious about mission in the 21st century.

The back of the flier shows the four main guest speakers who will be presenting, and from my limited perspective, it would appear that 3 out of the 4 speakers are not Seventh-day Adventists. Now, don't get me wrong. I believe we can, and have, learned a great deal from our non-Adventist brothers and sisters. I regularly read non-Adventist authors on varying subjects. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out how non-Adventist presenters can teach us how to better proclaim the Three Angel's Messages - which we have been called to do at this time in earth's history.

It is one thing to read an author in the quietness of my own personal time - where I can freely "interact" intellectually with a person's ideas on paper - or even to attend a Conference at Willow Creek or Saddleback (though I would prefer to shy away from that as well), but to stick these individuals up on our platforms and proclaim that this is the "premier gathering within Adventism," where attendees may or may not realize the presenters are not Seventh-day Adventist, seems to be a little more dangerous.

And if such an event has become the "premier gathering" within Adventism, I fear we will forget what our true mission is.

I do not write this to be critical. I have colleagues who will be attending the Conference. And, as I said, I am sure there will be things that can be learned and implemented. But shouldn't Adventists be the ones leading the pack in teaching others how to be missional, rather than us, sitting at their feet, neglecting the Gospel that we have been called to proclaim?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Big Stack of Books

Whenever someone tells me about a book that they think I should read, I always tell them that I already have a big stack of books at home, waiting to be read. I also have a long "Wish List" on of books that I would like to buy. I'm sure you're the same way. And, as you can tell from the list to the right, I already have a long list of books that I am currently reading. There is not enough time in a day to read everything I'd like to read (it's hard to believe that I didn't really like reading until I was about 17), and currently, I'm being held up from progressing to my stack of books by the long tome on Lincoln, Team of Rivals (which is over 800 pages, but incredibly enjoyable).

Nevertheless, here is the list of books that is on my big stack.
  • Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright
  • The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller
  • John Adams, by David McCullough
  • I Sold My Soul on eBay, by Hemant Mehta
  • Einstein, by Walter Isaacson
  • The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman
  • The Maligned God, by Carsten Johnsen
  • The Peacemaking Remnant, Edited by Douglas Morgan
  • The Ravings of a Lunatic, by Adam Whitestone
  • Perfection, by Herbert Douglass, Edward Heppenstall, Hans La Rondelle, and C. Mervyn Maxwell
  • Cleanse and Close, by Larry Kirkpatrick
In addition to the books that you are currently reading, which books are waiting to be read by you?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chalk up another one for the prophet

I just returned from Maine, where I spent four days at a Pastor's retreat, and then spent one day with my wife for her teacher's retreat. Since I am not a teacher, I used some of my time to knock off some more pages in Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals, which details Abraham Lincoln's presidency. It is an epic and wonderful book - one that I have mentioned a time or two before on here.

Among other things, I was absolutely amazed to find a quote by Lincoln that immediately turned my thoughts elsewhere. I shared the quote with Brenden Krueger - who is the principal at Pine Tree Academy; a huge history buff; and a big fan of Goodwin's book - and within about two seconds, he also linked the quote to the same place I did. The context in which Lincoln shares the quote was after another defeat at the hands of the Confederate army. Lamenting the North's plight, he scribbled down this perspective, which was later found among his papers (this larger quote is taken directly from
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, which I was able to find online):
The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party - and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true - that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds. (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5, pp. 403-404. Emphasis added.)
Does this quote remind you of anything?

How about Ellen White? She essentially argued that at the first battle of Bull Run (in Manassas, Virginia), God caused the Union army to suffer defeat - though they were winning - because it was not His will to have the Civil War end so soon (kudos to my friend Charles who mentioned this a few weeks ago on here). Among other things, since the North had not been proactive enough in trying to abolish slavery, and there were still men in leadership who were against the abolition of slavery, God was "punishing" the North by prolonging the war.

I have heard about and read this quote for many years, but never before have I seen a confirmation of it by someone involved in the war, let alone Abraham Lincoln. What Ellen White understood - that God's hand was directly prolonging the war - is precisely what Lincoln perceived as well. Of course, Ellen White's explanation is a little more detailed, but below is the quote. Notice the similarities in ideas between Lincoln and Ellen White:

I had a view of the disastrous battle at Manassas, Virginia. It was a most exciting, distressing scene. The Southern army had everything in their favor and were prepared for a dreadful contest. The Northern army was moving on with triumph, not doubting but that they would be victorious. Many were reckless and marched forward boastingly, as though victory were already theirs. As they neared the battlefield, many were almost fainting through weariness and want of refreshment. They did not expect so fierce an encounter. They rushed into battle and fought bravely, desperately. The dead and dying were on every side. Both the North and the South suffered severely. The Southern men felt the battle, and in a little while would have been driven back still further. The Northern men were rushing on, although their destruction was very great. Just then an angel descended and waved his hand backward. Instantly there was confusion in the ranks. It appeared to the Northern men that their troops were retreating, when it was not so in reality, and a precipitate retreat commenced. This seemed wonderful to me.

Then it was explained that God had this nation in His own hand, and would not suffer victories to be gained faster than He ordained, and would permit no more losses to the Northern men than in His wisdom He saw fit, to punish them for their sins. And had the Northern army at this time pushed the battle still further in their fainting, exhausted condition, the far greater struggle and destruction which awaited them would have caused great triumph in the South. God would not permit this, and sent an angel to interfere. The sudden falling back of the Northern troops is a mystery to all. They know not that God's hand was in the matter. (Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 266-267. Emphasis added.)

So there you have it. Take it for what it's worth.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Investigating the Judgment - Part 1

(To read Part 2, click here)

I had a seminary professor who was infamous for being disorganized. Among other things, he gave us bits and pieces of the syllabus over three or four different class periods, and he had revisions, and revisions to the revisions, and on and on it went. No one in the class was quite sure what his requirements were. He would regularly show up late for class - including the final exam, in which he arrived ten minutes late to proctor his own exam - and he would often go over the exact same material he went over the day before, reading directly from the book we were discussing in class.

Most startling, though, was his grading system. After we took the final exam and found out what our final grades were, many students were left wondering just how he calculated each person's grade. One of my friends ended up with a C- and at first just shrugged it off. When I informed him that he needed at least a C to graduate from the seminary, he was a little more worried. So he tried to set up an appointment with the professor, hoping to find out just how he got a C-. After spending days trying to track down the professor, he was finally able to meet with him.

He sat in the professor's office, across from him at his desk. There were papers strewn all over the place. My friend asked the professor how, exactly, he got a C-, and if he could see his grading system. The professor pulled out his grade book and started shuffling through the pages. He then pulled out a calculator and started crunching some numbers, mumbling things here and there. Finally, after a few minutes of intense number crunching, the professor looked up at my buddy and said to him, "How does a B+ sound?"

Of course my friend took it - though I joked with him later that he should have held out for an A- (and it bears mentioning that he had to keep reminding the professor for at least a month to change the official grade with the registrar's office). But what little confidence I have in the professor's grading abilities and whether or not his grade distribution was anything more than arbitrary. It seems as though the professor should have been regularly audited, to find out whether he had any clue as to whether a given student really passed or failed his classes.

The truth is, when it comes to education, there is nothing worse than a professor who seems to be arbitrary in his distribution of grades. If there is no rhyme or reason as to why a person gets an A or an F, a professor's judgment is called into question.

And yet, much of Christendom - and many within Adventism - are more than happy to have a God who distributes A's and F's arbitrarily, without performing any type of objective or dependable investigation before He comes with His reward. In fact, not only are people in these camps happy with an arbitrary God, but they anathematize anyone who would want to insist that God is not arbitrary, and that He must perform some type of objective investigation before He can return.

And thus the controversy surrounding the so-called "Investigative Judgment." This is, perhaps, the most controversial doctrine that the Seventh-day Adventist church maintains; a doctrine that many people would like to obliterate altogether; a doctrine that was supposedly either erroneously introduced by Ellen White, or invented by the early church leaders as a way to "save face" in the aftermath of the Great Disappointment (opponents cannot seem to figure out if it was an invention of Ellen White, or the invention of other misled early Adventists pioneers apart from her).

And yet, I hope to show, as briefly as I can, that the Investigative Judgment is one of the most beautiful reflections of the character of a loving God. (Then, in part 2, I will share some reflections on the popular evangelical understanding of the judgment, and how unloving these mistaken views are.)

To begin with, it must be understood that God always performs a judgment before reaching a verdict or taking action. The Old Testament, alone, is replete with examples of this. In Genesis 3, for example, after Adam and Eve have partaken of the forbidden fruit, God doesn't simply share His judgment without investigating the facts. He actually comes down - an illustration of His humility and condescension - to the Garden of Eden and collects the facts of the situation, asking four questions to Adam and Eve before making any statement or giving His verdict. Only after He gives Adam and Eve a chance to share their side of the story does He give the verdict of banishing them from the Garden (and it should be noted that even in sharing this "negative" verdict, there is still a promise of a Savior in v. 15).

The same holds true for Cain, after he murders Abel. God doesn't simply declare Cain guilty before performing an investigation. He pursues Cain and asks him five questions before He shares any type of verdict, or declaration of guilt.

We see this yet again in Ezekiel 9, where an angel of the Lord comes down to Jerusalem and orders a man in white linen to place a mark on all the foreheads of those who will be saved. The rest will be slaughtered. But the mark isn't simply arbitrarily placed on just anyone. The man in white linen is told to go around and place a mark (which, in the paleo-Hebrew of the time, would have been the symbol of a cross) on those who "sigh and cry" over the all the abominations that are being committed in Jerusalem. In other words, only after the man in white linen investigates who was sighing and crying is he to mark those who would be saved.

Thus, scripture is quite clear that before God gives a verdict, or bequeaths a reward, He always investigates or collects the facts. And this is the only loving to do. The world and universe alike needs the assurance that God isn't simply arbitrarily handing out rewards or punishments. In some ways, God needs "red tape" for our benefit.

If I were to arrive in heaven and see Adolph Hitler standing there, I would make a bee-line to God and say, "How did he get here?" Although I trust God implicitly, and would, no doubt, be somewhat satisfied with Him saying, "Just trust Me on this one," I think evidence on Hitler's behalf would go a long way in allaying my fears and consternation. Thus, God would be able to open up a book, or play a movie, showing how, when, and why Hitler passed the "test," demonstrating that he did, in fact, have a heart-experience with the Lord.

Of course, what is probably more bothersome to opponents of the Investigative Judgment is the basis by which someone either receives an A or receives an F. How can we be saved by grace, they reason, and yet be judged by our works?

Aside from any theological or logical gymnastics that one tries to play, though, they must confront the plain witness of scripture. Over and over again the Bible declares that God's judgment is based on what a person does, rather than simply what they claim to believe. As the Hebrew scriptures proclaim: "For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Or, as Jesus Himself declares: "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work" (Revelation 22:12).

In the example of Ezekiel's Investigative Judgment, the man in white linen was not instructed to simply go around and mark those who claimed they had a personal relationship with God, or those who were baptized, or those who said they were saved by grace. He was instructed to mark those people whose outward actions passed the "test;" the ones that were living out that grace.

And this makes perfect sense to any perceptive student of scripture. Although the Bible clearly indicates that we are saved by the blood of Jesus, and nothing else, that reality takes root in a true Christian's heart and evidences itself in his or her actions. That is why Jesus can say, "Not everyone who says to Me 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). It's also why James can quite unequivocally say, in brilliant logic, "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18).

The truth of the matter is, those who have a true heart-experience with God will display the fruitage in their lives. In plain English, they will not only talk the talk, but they will walk the walk. Thus, any type of judgment that is based on works is nothing to be feared, but simply an opportunity to live out the love-experience that is already taking place between a person and God.

But beyond this, the judgment is also good news because of its significance. When the Bible declares that the "hour of [God's] judgment has come," (Revelation 14:7), it can be interpreted one of two ways linguistically. The judgment can either be interpreted subjectively, in which case God is performing the judgment, or it can be interpreted objectively, where God is receiving the judgment. Or, more than likely, it is probably ambiguous enough to go both ways.

Elsewhere, Paul, quoting the Old Testament, tells us that God is being "judged" (Romans 3:4). Thus, this Investigative Judgment not only involves my eternal destiny, but God's as well. His character has been maligned by Satan, and the "jury [the inhabitants of this world, the angels, and the universe-at-large] is still out" on Him. And when I keep that in mind, my attention moves beyond my personal little problems, to God's.

And that is comforting to me - to realize that in this cosmic conflict, I can look beyond my little place in this universe, and try to do something that is actually helping the One who gave His life for me. Thus, "passing" the judgment is not motivated by an ego-centric desire to live forever, but a Christocentric motivation to make God look good. As Carsten Johnsen has written:
What an astonishing "democracy" on the part of an all-wise and almighty God! He never ceases His once adopted plan of going down. In front of us, the little ones, the judged ones, He is, of course, the Great Judge. But, not content with being this only, He here again turns the roles upside down. He places Himself "in the dock," as it were. He steps down to the level of becoming the one who is judged. God is "on trial," as the NEB expresses it; and that is the sensational way in which He proves Himself true. . . . This is the way God's inspired word portrays Man's supreme reality. Obedience is the highest praise man can offer to God. In being obedient he vindicates God. And in vindicating the Other One, he vindicates himself. (Carsten Johnsen, The Maligned God, pp. 265, 267)
So what's the good news about the judgment? First, I can take comfort in knowing that God never doles out rewards or punishments arbitrarily. He will have His reasons - and a long list of them, at that - as to why a person is or is not in heaven. Not wanting to do anything haphazardly or carelessly, He will have all this prepared for us to review in heaven if we are curious.

Secondly, how a person "passes" the test is plainly stated in the syllabus. There is no confusion. When I am saved by grace, and I have a true appreciation for that grace, my actions will reflect the gratitude in my heart. This is not to say that I will never fall, but that - as any loving husband does towards his wife when he hurts her - I will be repentant about my shortcomings and seek reconciliation from the God that I wronged. And, by His grace, I will finally learn how to overcome those things that seem to trip me up time and again.

But beyond that, the judgment is good news because God, in His great humility, continues to play the role of a dependent, rather than a dictator. He does not stand above judgment or accusation. Rather, in loving humility, He places His character on the line and opens Himself up for criticism. He realizes that His loving character will win out, once and for all, and that His true followers will step up to the witness stand and speak out on His behalf. They will show what God's agape love - that which His government is based on - can accomplish in humankind and, indeed, the universe. In a very tangible way, the universe will see what Christ's cross can accomplish when it takes root in the heart of God's people.

Of course, this is not to say that the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment has not been abused. Sadly, over the years, this doctrine has been used to beat people over the head, to scare them into proper behavior, and to bind them in an "Old Covenant" experience with the Lord. But such abuses do not negate a proper understanding and appreciation for a doctrine that reflects the character of the loving God who not only judges, but stands as One who Himself is being judged.

*For a very refreshing explanation of the Investigative Judgment, I would highly recommend reading Jiri Moskala's article, "Toward a Biblical Theology of God's Judgment: A Celebration of the Cross in Seven Phases of Divine Universal Judgment (An Overview of a Theocentric-Christocentric Approach)," in Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 15/1 (Spring 2004): 138-165. It is available here (pdf) for on-line viewing. Among other things, instead of calling it the "Investigative Judgment," Moskala prefers to call it the "affirmative" or "confirmatory judgment," because, as he writes, "God in front of the universe affirms or confirms the relationship established between Him and believers during their lives. Nothing mysterious, hidden, or esoteric is performed at this judgment. It is a revelatory judgment because Jesus personally reveals the ethical dynamics of the relationship between Him and His faithful children" (p. 154). For further reflection on the idea of God being judged, see also my book Waiting at the Altar, particularly the chapter entitled, "Does God Need Help?"

Friday, August 1, 2008

11 Reasons Why New England is Better than California

I'm a New England boy. There is no doubt about that. And, as a result, I usually find it really hard to enjoy anywhere else in the United States. But I try. I really do. I enjoy places outside the US, but as far as other regions in the US, there is scarcely a place that impresses me.

I returned from California yesterday. It was only my second time in the state. And I left quite unimpressed. I don't see what all the fuss is about this place. People just drool over California, as if it was the Promised Land. So as you'll see below, I am going to propose 11 reasons why New England is way better than California. The list is not exhaustive, of course, and there are probably one or two (if that) things that are better about California, but I would live in New England any day over California. And, unless the Lord calls me to California (famous last words), I don't see any reason why I won't do that.

So, without further ado, here is my list (with apologies to my friends and loved ones who love California):

1. Green is good. Research shows that the color green has a positive effect on a person's psychological well-being and their ability to concentrate. Why would one want to live in California then, as opposed to New England? Granted, there are green places in California, but even those are laced with patches of brown.

As I drove throughout the state, from Redding to Sacramento, to the Bay Area, all I could see was brown, brown, brown. And this is not to even mention Southern California, which is even more brown than these other places.

Meanwhile, in New England, all you see is green: green trees, green grass, green tea, the Green Monster, the Green Mountains. To me, this is probably one of the most important aspects of a landscape that I need. There is just something about seeing green that comforts me. And California just doesn't have that.

Of course, it isn't always green in New England (winter anyone?), and it isn't always brown in California. But for the most part, these two colors are present in these respective places.

2. The Rest Areas are better. I went into three Rest Areas in California, and my life literally flashed before my eyes. Not only were there some shady characters hanging out at them, but the bathrooms looked like they hadn't been cleaned since 1974. I guess that's what a "Free Way" buys you.

Sure, you have to pay a toll on some of the New England Highways, but I'll fork over the $1.00 if I know the Rest Area has a relatively clean bathroom and a Burger King.

3. There are not long stretches of flatness. Right down the middle of California is a long stretch of flat land with few trees. New England has never been accused of being the most mountainous region (though we do have some tall ones), but at least we do not have long stretches of flat area.

4. The weather is unpredictable. Some may covet the fact that it is sunny and 85 every day in California. But I like unpredictable weather, thank you very much. In New England, one day it may be sunny and 80, and the next day it could be 55 and raining. That spices things up. Seriously. Predictability is what makes life mundane. And in New England, the weather is unpredictable, thus taking away the mundane.

5. The swimming is better. To begin with, you can swim anywhere in the ocean in New England - from northern Maine, to the southern tip of Connecticut. Granted, it may be on the chillier side in some of those places, but it is still bearable.

Meanwhile, in California, there is about a ten-mile stretch of ocean just north of San Diego where you can swim. What good is hundreds of miles of coastline if you cannot swim in the water?

And, on another note, I just discovered that swimming in a very humid place is a lot better than swimming in a very dry place. Why? Because when you get out of the water in a dry place, even if it is 95 degrees, you are a lot colder than in a humid place. This happened to me twice last week, even though it was in Oregon (I believe my hypothesis would still work for California). I would lie down to get some sun, come to a boiling point, and then jump in the pool. The problem was, the moment I would get in the pool, I would be freezing again because there was no humidity in the air, and even the slightest breeze made me chilly.

Meanwhile, you can go swimming in 75 degree weather in New England, and still not be cold while swimming because there is 90% humidity.

I can't explain it, but just trust me.

6. Your mouth doesn't get try every night while sleeping. It took me a few nights to finally realize why my mouth would taste and feel so dry every morning, but it finally dawned on me. Since the air is so dry in California, it would dry my mouth right out. This is not a good feeling.

7. Gas is cheaper. In San Francisco on Monday afternoon, we paid something like $4.39 a gallon for gas. When we returned to our town in New Hampshire yesterday, it was $3.77 a gallon. Gas in New England is usually at least 30-40 cents cheaper than in California. I think that is a lot.

8. Our fire departments are better. This is tongue-in-cheek, of course, but when a fire starts in New England, it is extinguished pretty quickly. Meanwhile, the whole state of California is ablaze before they can put it out. Case in point: a day before we were supposed to go to Yosemite, a fire started that was 1000 acres large. Twelve hours later, it had spread to 16,000 acres and was 0% contained.

And it seems like there is one fire after another in that unfortunate state. I do not know how a person could live all summer with smoke settled over them. We drove down from Oregon on Sabbath afternoon, and the whole way down, from the Oregon border, to Redding, the sky was filled with smoke. We could not even see Mt. Shasta, which is just off the "Free Way."

9. One word: charm. New England just has charm, like no other region or state in the US. From our white-steepled churches, to the old General Stores, to the enchanting light houses, we've got it architecturally. Meanwhile, California has Alcatraz and Rodeo Drive - quite charming in their own right, I suppose.

10. Autumn. This, of course, is one of New England's greatest assets. Our Fall Foliage - along with that charming architecture to go with it - cannot be beat.

11. We have better trees. Oh, sure, California has redwoods and giant sequoias, but their tree variety is rather lacking. Actually, this is what makes the East Coast better than the West Coast in general. In California, for the most part, all they have is evergreen trees. But in New England, we have plenty of evergreen trees, with lots of deciduous trees, thus making a very healthy and beautiful mix (and contributing to #10).

As I said, this also applies to the West as a whole. In some places, all they have are Ponderosa Pines, or whatever the pine is of your choice. And as much as I like Ponderosa Pines, it makes for a rather boring landscape.

Not New England. In fact, I was just speaking with a young man who is from Washington state, originally, now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is probably moving to New Hampshire, and when I said, "Oh, Oregon is a beautiful place," he specifically sited this issue as a big draw for moving to New England. "All we have is evergreens in Oregon," he said, "Whereas you guys have deciduous trees, too."

So don't just take it from me!

Quick: which place is prettier?

A Long Visit With an Old Friend

Camille and I just returned from the West Coast yesterday afternoon. We spent a week there. The first part was spent at her family reunion in Oregon, and then we went down to California. We were supposed to spend a few nights camping in Yosemite, but Mother Nature had other ideas.

All along, it was my intension to visit with an old friend. Some of you may recognize him in the picture above. Most people probably have no idea who he is. He is 92-years old, just lost his wife a few months ago, and is trying to do all he can - as he ever has - to hasten the Lord's return. His name is Robert Wieland, and he has been one of the most controversial persons in the Seventh-day Adventist church for the last 50 years. But I think he's a man of God. And I interviewed him for my blog a few months ago.

I've known him much of my life, though this was really the first time that I had ever sat down and talked with him personally. He has been close friends with my family for my whole life. I can remember him staying at our house when I was younger, and when he discovered that I played the violin, he was thrilled. He played it as well, and he left me a CD with Panis Angelicus on it that I could enjoy.

Since then, my own spiritual journey has gone different places. But I always seemed to come back to the theological understandings that he so strongly advocates. This, of course, was also influenced by my dad as well, whose theology almost directly mirrors Elder Wieland's. Such an admission may raise some eyebrows. Others already know this about me, I'm sure.

So I made the quick journey from Sacramento to Meadow Vista, where I spent four and a half hours with this man. We talked about theology, about his family, about how he misses his wife. And one thing that I enjoyed was that he has a subtle sense of humor - something that many of his opponents probably miss, and something that I hadn't picked up on before when listening to his sermons on tape, or reading his books, or reading his e-mails.

As an example, we sat down to have a little lunch. It was a "simple, simple" meal, as he described it, but we enjoyed it anyway. To drink, we had a glass of Silk, and when I asked if there was more, he poured the last few drops from the carton into my glass. And then he walked over to the kitchen floor, put the carton down on the ground, turned to me and said, "Now I can do one of my favorite things." He stomped on the carton, sending the cap flying through the air, hitting the ceiling. He looked at me and smiled, "I'm still a little kid."

Of course, such little diversions didn't downplay the burden he has for the Lord's coming, and people accepting the "most precious message" that was proclaimed 120 years ago. When I said that he would see his wife before too long, because the Lord is coming soon, he turned somber and said, "I've been hearing that for 80 years now, ever since I was baptized into the church."

And he's right, of course. We've been saying that the Lord is coming very soon for a long time now. And his burden is that we, as the bride of Christ, would finally, once and for all, understand that Jesus desperately wants to come, but He cannot until He has a bride who will finally show up to the wedding. "Imagine if there was a groom today," he said, "who showed up to his wedding, and when it came time for the minister to ask the woman if she took this man to be her husband, and she said 'No.' Imagine how embarrassing that would be for the groom?" The same is true for God, but all the more so.

Of course, none of that can happen, Wieland opines, until we, as a church, understand our history and repent of the unfortunate reality that we rejected that "most precious message" from 120 years ago. This is what is holding us up now.

And that was the tenor of my visit with this old friend. He is coming to terms with the fact that, perhaps, he will not be alive when Jesus returns. He's 92 and not getting any younger.

But I think otherwise, and I said as much in my prayer before we parted ways. Yes, he's 92, but he's in good health. I don't believe that anyone could look at him and say that he's 92. I've seen 65-year-olds who look older than he does.

But just the same, I left inspired and hope to do all that I can to make sure that the Lord comes before Elder Wieland tastes death.