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.