I had a dream, recently.
In my dream I saw a dirt footpath three or four inches wide, supported by steeply raked pilings driven into the surrounding swamp. Night pressed in and twisted cypress branches draped in Spanish Moss blocked the star light.
Heavy mists rolled between the trees and reached for the path but were kept in check by a glorious light that shown down its length from the far end. Glorious as it was this light could not pierce the swamp any more than the swamp could impede it from the path. In the swamp I saw ghostly shapes like wooden figures without detail but of human form. To the right, self-righteous ones expounded upon the law, exacting in their legalistic practices, pointing at the faults in others, condemning them for not meeting the standard while they themselves were sinking in the mire of sin.
To the left, liberals celebrated all manner of sin, debauchery, and rebellion, pushing theories that sin could not be overcome, that all are free to live as one pleases. Neither of these groups would look upon the path or seek the light although they often pointed out the sins of the other side.
Upon the path I saw a man approaching. In his right hand he held the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all His grace, mercy, peace and love. In his left hand he carried the Law of God, not as a weapon, but as a standard to guide people by. He measured each step, for the enemy laid traps to disrupt the path, removing a piling or two here, throwing down debris there. Each obstacle he carefully traversed, yet always his eyes were fixed upon the source of the light.
When the light shining down the path struck him, it scattered into the swamp on both sides, illuminating the people there. Many turned away, blinded by the light, unwilling to be changed. Others hurled insults and swamp muck at the man from whom the light reflected, and though these things struck him, they failed to tarnish his robe, stick to him, or cause him to deflect from his purpose. Others left their respective groups and moved toward the path, looking in wonder upon the man from whom the light reflected. Some tried by themselves to climb onto the path, but the pilings were covered in slippery scum and they could not gain purchase. Others tried to pull the traveler off the path, or to entice him by how right their cause is, to get him to join them on their respective side, but although they could touch him, their grip had no power and he pressed through.
On either side, solitary honest hearts, touched by the light, pressed forward. “Brother, what must we do to be saved?” To these, he offered a hand, and lifted them out of the swamp and steadied their feet upon the narrow path. As they were lifted, the swamp creatures they left behind clung to them, yet by superhuman strength they were set upon the path, and those who wished to remain in the swamp lost their grip. As the light shown upon them, it began to wash away the swamp muck and to reflect also from them, brighter and brighter as their characters were changed by beholding the source of the light. They too took up the Gospel and the Law and pressed forward toward the source.
When Wesley Kime asked me to flesh out the comment I made on “West Virginia Camp Meeting 2019, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” I went to the Lord in prayer, for I am unworthy to write such an important article.
Over two weeks, 2247 words came together, and I thought it was good, that I had it figured out. Then He showed me I am depending on me. When He first gave me the picture, the path was an easy stroll, perhaps 4 feet wide, gently domed, with cattails along the edges. I discussed the picture with an artist in hopes of having it painted and displayed in my living room to start conversation with guests, and I remember the path being perhaps 2 feet wide. As I sat down to write this article, I once again saw myself in the swamp, and I saw the impossible pilings, and the man walking that path had the footing I described above.
Then on Sabbath I ended up in a church I never would have attended under normal circumstances, but the last nine weeks have been anything but normal, and so there I was in a celebration church, surrounded by nice, friendly, most engaging and accepting people I have had the honor of meeting, while the coffee pot percolated on a back table, and sugary cakes, cheese, and unknown other confections were spread for social consumption between Sabbath school and church, and sights and sounds assailed my senses that I consider inappropriate in church.
Once again, I find myself upon the razor’s edge, only this time, the path is not wide enough to find footing, and I’ve shed my shoes trying to get purchase, and I’m on my knees pleading, “God help me!” At this point there’s no walking the razor’s edge under my own strength, or by my own power. The balance is too fine for human ability. It was then that God brought to memory the four progressively narrowing paths in the picture, and I understood.
If we don’t make a habit of walking the path in His strength while the going is easy, as the going gets harder, we won’t be able to walk it, for we are not powerful enough, righteous enough, or balanced enough to walk a razor’s edge.
If we keep trying by ourselves, it will split us in two if we don’t get off on one side or the other. This isn’t walking a fence. Conservatives have the last message of warning, but it’s rare to find ones who mix it with the last message of mercy. Liberals appear to have the last message of mercy, but they won’t give the last message of warning. Without the one, the other is powerless. They go together. If we don’t have both mercy and truth, we are not on the path, but rather wandering in the swamp.
From inside the swamp, it’s easy to say, “They are bad over there.” Are we so busy pointing fingers at how bad they are that we don’t realize we are praying, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this [sinner]” (Luke 18:11)?
Scripture specifically refers to a tax collector, but who do we place in the brackets? Perhaps pastors who teach error or don’t confront the sin in their church? Misogynists? Celebration Adventists who still wear makeup and jewelry and serve coffee before “divine service”? Sunday Christians? Those rigid and unloving legalists? Meanwhile, our sins go unconfessed and unrepented of and we are just as deeply mired in the swamp as are those we are pointing at.
God directed my attention to Gideon, and the 300 men used to defeat the Midianites (Judges. 6 & 7). Before he ever faced the forces of Midian, Gideon had to clean house.
He broke down the altar of Ba’al, cut down the grove, and offered a sacrifice to God, but for the fear of the people he did so at night. Not very courageous of him, but the people of the village discovered the destruction the following morning, and were up in arms, seeking his life. God ordained that a wise person would speak out to argue that Ba’al should plead for himself. Thus, Gideon received the name Jerubba’al or “Let Ba’al plead against him.” Once the idol was evicted from his own camp, Gideon called for men to fight against Midian. 32,000 Answered the call, but God looked upon them and said, “It is too many.”
All credit for this fight was to belong to God, so he began weeding out those who were unfit to serve. God instructed Gideon to say to the people, “Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead.” To their credit, the 22,000 who left were at least honest about their cowardice. Yet God looked at the 10,000 who remained and said, “They are still too many.” So, He had Gideon bring the men down to the water. On one side was the army of Israel. On the other side was the army of Midian. Yet 9700 people put their faces down to the water and took their eyes from their enemies. Only 300 brought the water up in their hand to their faces, never wavering from watching their foe. 9700 were ruled unworthy. Only 300 were left. 300 out of 32,000 is 0.94%, less than 1% of those who turned out. Less than 1% were worthy to be used by God to do the work He had for them to do.
Currently there are more than 21,000,000 Seventh-day Adventists on earth. 144,000 is about 0.69%. Were it not for Gideon’s 300, I would accept the theory that the number 144,000 is figurative, but because God rejected more than 99% of Gideon’s troops, I no longer doubt that He will refuse more than 99% of current Laodicean Adventists.
We know not what work God has prepared for the 144,000 to do, only that they came out of great tribulation, are honored to follow the Lamb wherever He goes, are the first fruits, and were perfected before God. How sobering is that?
The parallels between Gideon’s 300 and the 144,000 don’t stop at percentages. Are they filled with faith and with the perfect love that casts out fear? Are they walking the razor’s edge, willing to be used by God? Are their eyes fixed on the prize, unwavering in devotion to duty, taking from this world what is required to survive but never focusing completely on it by bowing down to drink deeply from what it offers? Are they standing ready, and in that moment, breaking their earthen vessels so that their light shines, and shouting boldly the message God has given them to speak?
By the high calling God has for the 144,000, I have no hope to be among them. I have sinned deliberately, done fornication and adultery, so I have defiled myself. Through the grace of Christ, there is hope for the wicked, there is forgiveness and restitution, yet there are also consequences for our sin. Who among us is without sin? Who among us can say, “We are perfect”? If you do, you lie, for perfection only comes from Christ, and none of us have yet been perfected, and neither will we know we are until Christ clothes us with His righteousness at His return. The closer we come to perfection, the more guilty and worthless we will see ourselves for we will see sin as it really is, and we will see what we have done to our Savior.
In 2015 I lied about diagnosis I did on a car, claiming I did a step that I did not do in my rush to get the one job done and move on to the next thing. Over the next week, God made sure that my sin found me out, and that I realized just how serious and significant one little lie was, how offensive it was to Him. To us it is a little thing to lie, and a far greater thing to commit adultery, but they are both offensive to God, and both will keep us out of heaven. To compare degrees of sin is to do as the Pharisee did, thanking God that he was not like other men.
“The greatest want of the world…” Most of you know the rest of that quote from Education by heart. We love the idea of calling sin by its right name. We like the idea of standing firm, convinced that we are true and honest, and can’t be bought or sold. But have we considered what she goes on to say?
“But such a character is not the result of accident; it is not due to special favors or endowments of Providence. A noble character is the result of self-discipline, of the subjection of the lower to the higher nature—the surrender of self for the service of love to God and man.
“The youth need to be impressed with the truth that their endowments are not their own. Strength, time, intellect, are but lent treasures. They belong to God, and it should be the resolve of every youth to put them to the highest use. He is a branch, from which God expects fruit; a steward, whose capital must yield increase; a light, to illuminate the world's darkness.
“Every youth, every child, has a work to do for the honor of God and the uplifting of humanity.”
There are many examples in Scripture of men who confront sin, but I am only going to focus on a few. This incomplete list includes Noah, Nathan, Elijah, Peter, and Paul, but notice that each person confronted it directly. Noah preached for 120 years, but sadly only Noah’s own family listened (and praise God for Godly fathers training up their kids correctly).
Nathan confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba, and his confrontation led to the king’s repentance. Elijah confronted king Ahab and the prophets of Ba’al. Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira. Paul confronted Peter. Do you notice a trend here? In each situation, the sinner is confronted directly.
I recall a couple times in Scripture where Jesus pointed out a group to a separate group as an example of what not to be, referring to the Pharisees, and referring to the Nicolaitans. Yet, time and again His human agents directed their admonition directly to the guilty parties. Isaiah 58:1 says,
“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
Look at Isaiah 6:5:
“Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
He recognized his sin, along with the sin of his people, and he didn’t point fingers over there. He included himself. He prayed the prayer of the publican, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Isaiah is not alone in including himself. Look at Daniel 9:4-19 to which verse 20 adds,
“And whiles I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God…”
Consider also the book of Lamentations, which is Jeremiah’s cry on behalf of his people. As a very small example, consider 5:1, “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us; consider, and behold our reproach.” Again, he included himself in the prayer for the people. Each prophet spoke against sin. Each one showed the people their sins. But each one also considered themselves to be a part of the people and included themselves in their prayers for forgiveness. They did not portray themselves as being more holy. Always they confronted the people who needed repentance.
We are always to call sin by its correct name. We should see it for what it really is, but just like Gideon, opposing sin starts in our own life, in our own house.
“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shall thou see clearly to cast out the mote from thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
Who can stand in the great day of the Lord? Are we afflicting our souls, confessing our sins, but realizing that our repentance is not good enough, our confession isn’t righteous enough, our faith isn’t strong enough, and that it is Christ alone who saves?
It is Christ alone who enables us to walk the razor’s edge. It is Christ alone who teaches us to mix the last message of mercy with the last message of warning. Only Christ is righteous enough to say, “They are bad.” We can always say, “We are bad.”
“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).
If any finger pointing is going on, it ought to be us pointing people to Jesus. “Here is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “Look ye upon Him that was lifted up between heaven and earth, and live! Why should you perish?”
Russell Wickham seeks the Lord with all his heart (Jeremiah 29:12).