Friday, January 28, 2011

Guilty Refuge

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 1.29.11

Have you ever been caught up in some activity that you knew was not right, but you rationalized it somehow so that you didn’t feel guilty? Rationalization takes a lot of mental and spiritual energy to maintain, but most of the time, the guilt drifts back into your consciousness often enough that you might gradually start to believe that you can’t be forgiven for what you’ve done.
I remember several times rationalizing things that I was doing, trying to make them okay.  It’s kind of strange, but during those times, I still loved God and still prayed.  What happened, though, was that I started making these little rules for myself:  I could sing the song “Jesus loves the little children” but I wouldn’t sing “Jesus loves me” or any other song that expressed Jesus’ love for me.  When I prayed, I could pray for other people, but I didn’t allow myself to ask for God’s help for myself… and I certainly couldn’t ask for forgiveness! 

Maybe I’m crazy, but looking back, it almost seems like I was using my guilty conscience to keep God at a “safe” distance.  Kind of weird, I guess, but I think most of us, at some time or another in our lives, have tried to rationalize something away.  We realize we shouldn’t be doing whatever it is, but we aren’t prepared to ask for God’s help yet because we know that He’s going to ask us to stop our wrong activity… so we get caught in a loop of sinning, rationalizing, and guilt. 

Sometimes people decide it’s just not worth the effort and walk away from God; sometimes we hide behind our guilt for so long that we just slip away.  We don’t feel like we’re good enough to go to church, so we start skipping out more and more often, until we realize we haven’t been to church in months.  And if nobody from church calls to ask if everything’s ok, we decide that we were right to stay away.

Eventually though, we have to make the decision one way or the other because we just can’t carry the guilt any longer.  A article published an article that illustrates that point:  
“What’s worse than being trapped behind prison bars? Trying to live while avoiding capture.
"Sergei was a Latvian prison convict with ten months left to serve on his seven-year burglary sentence, when he decided to escape. But even after years of freedom, the escapee couldn’t relax. ‘Worry over being caught was proving too stressful.’ He worked several jobs and moved into an apartment with his girlfriend, but Sergei was constantly looking over his shoulder.
“In a move that surprised prison officials, Sergei showed up at the minimum-security facility and turned himself in five years after he first escaped.”[1]
Guilt is a tricky thing, isn’t it?  The world would tell us that if we enjoy something, we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.  Some Christians will tell us that if we’re experiencing guilt that our faith is not strong enough. Some Christians would have us believe that we are sinners and should feel guilty for that.  Who’s right?  Does guilt serve any worthwhile purpose or is it just a bothersome emotion that keeps us from enjoying life?

I believe (you might disagree with me) that guilt is not just uncomfortable, but motivational.  This discomfort can lead people to make a change in their behavior.  A tells the story of John Jefferson who made a life changing decision because he didn’t want to live with the guilt any more.
“‘After I robbed the place I went to get some dope, and I couldn't even get high. I couldn't even enjoy it.’ These words come from John Jefferson, a man who robbed a Krispy Kreme Doughnut store in 1999 in order to support his drug habit. After robbing the Kingsport, Tennessee store, Jefferson moved to Kansas—but was plagued with guilt. So much so that he decided to confess.
“Jefferson called Detective David Cole of the Kingsport Police Department and identified himself as the robber. In an interview with the Kingsport Times-News, Jefferson explains: ‘I couldn't take it anymore. I was sick and tired of the way I was living. I didn't want to die in a crack house, and I didn't want to smoke crack anymore.’
After pleading guilty, Jefferson served 6 years in jail. Upon his release, he tried several times to return to the store and repay the money he'd stolen, but he kept turning around before he could get there. Finally, Jefferson called David Cole again and asked him to accompany him to the store. Though he'd stolen $300, Jefferson returned $400 in a check made out to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (at the robbery victim's request).
Afterwards, Jefferson told the paper, ‘I felt like a million bucks when I walked out of that place.’[2]

Which brings me to my next questions…Why would we waste even one second on guilt when forgiveness is so close, and Jesus is so eager to give it?

Look at this example of what just earthly forgiveness will do: 
“When Shannon Ethridge was just 16 years old, an act of forgiveness and love changed her life forever. While driving to her high school one day, Ethridge ran over Marjorie Jarstfar, a woman who was riding her bicycle along a country road. Marjorie died as a result, and Ethridge, who was found completely at fault by authorities, was consumed by intense guilt. She contemplated suicide several times, but she never took her life because of the healing response of one man: Gary, Jarstfar's husband.
“Gary forgave the 16-year-old and asked the attorney to drop all charges against her, saving her from a probable guilty verdict. Instead, he simply asked that Ethridge continue on in the godly footsteps that his wife had taken. ‘You can't let this ruin your life,’ Gary told her more than 20 years ago. ‘God wants to strengthen you through this. In fact, I am passing Marjorie's legacy on to you.’
Gary's act of forgiveness showed Ethridge the amazing love of God. Today, Ethridge is the bestselling author of Every Girl's Battle and Every Woman's Battle, and her recent book, Completely His: Loving Jesus Without Limits, helps women overcome guilt-ridden, wounded lives.”[3]

“I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’  Acts 26:17-18
Jesus promises to remove every speck of sin and guilt from our lives and fill us with the light of His loving forgiveness.  Amen.

[1] Man Picks Jail Over Girlfriend, (2-22-05); The Christian Science Monitor (3-14-05); submitted by John Beukema, Western Springs, Illinois
[2] "What Goes Around, Comes Around" (12-21-05); submitted by Dana Beatty, St. Charles, Illinois
[3] Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky; source: Kevin Jackson, "Christian Author Carries Mantle of the Woman She Killed," (6-21-07)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Goes Around…

Do you find the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah confusing?  Disturbing?  Just plain sad?  There are so many people to feel sorry for.

Look at Jacob; he’s finally getting on the right track, but he’s got Laban trying to cheat him all over the place.  Have you ever worked for someone like that, always changing the rules?  Just when you think you’ve figured out what they want, they announce that they didn’t ask for that at all.  You must have misunderstood them; what they really wanted was this other thing.  It’s very confusing and frustrating to be accountable to a person like that.  When I was in a situation like that, I began to doubt my own hearing and sanity.  I wondered if maybe I was speaking another language because no matter how hard I tried, I never got the task right.  It was maddening!  Now imagine working for that person for twenty years!  Added to the working situation, Jacob had the home situation that was probably even rougher than dealing with Laban.  He was married to the woman he loved and to a woman he didn’t.  The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how he felt about Leah. I mean, they might have been pretty good friends before the wedding.  On the other hand, Jacob and Leah might have detested each other.  Either way, waking up married to someone he didn’t love and never intended to marry can probably take all the fun out of even the best friendship.

Poor Jacob – Poor Leah – Poor Rachel

What about Leah?  Do you think she loved Jacob?  Or was she in on the scheme?  Was she the ugly sister?  Or just not the one Jacob was in love with?  What do you think she felt when her father pulled her aside to explain his plan?  Maybe she thought she could teach Jacob to love her?  Maybe she wanted to get back at Rachel for being prettier?  What ever she thought, I don’t think her actual experience was anything like what she had imagined.  I’ve always felt so sorry for Leah.  Every interaction, everyday must have been like having her skin rubbed with sandpaper.  Whether Jacob and Rachel meant to or not, their very presence reminded Leah they were in love with each other, and she was an outsider.  God blessed her with sons; was that enough? Or was she jealous?  Did she take out her feelings on Jacob?  On Rachel?  What do you think life was like after Rachel died?

Poor Leah – Poor Rachel – Poor Jacob

And then there’s Rachel.  In many ways, she should have been happy.  She had the man she loved and who loved her, and if Leah hadn’t been living right there having babies, she probably would have been relatively fine.  But there was Leah having one son after another, and Rachel was not.  Have you ever known a woman who wanted to have children but couldn’t?  Maybe you have experienced that ache yourself.  From all I have seen and heard, it is a devastating, isolating experience.  Compound that with watching, ultimately three, women living with you getting pregnant and having children, while you aren’t.  Could you be happy for them?  Could you listen to their endless stories about who was taking his first steps, or saying his first words?  Even if they didn’t mean to show off, it would be a painful experience.  Imagine if they wanted to be ugly about the whole situation.

Poor Rachel – Poor Jacob – Poor Leah

And what about all those kids?  There was a whole lot of conflict in that family – between the women themselves, between the individual women and Jacob, probably between the children and Jacob and the children with the other women who were not their mother.  I don’t believe you could even begin to map those relational trouble spots!

Anyway, some of the things I read this week implied that this was mostly Jacob’s fault.  What do you think?  Can all of this chaos be traced back to Jacob stealing the blessing and the birthright?  If that’s true, then I guess we have to keep following the path back to Isaac’s polarized family and on to Abraham’s lapse of faith that created Ishmael.  Admittedly, these guys did keep repeating their father’s mistakes.  Hmmm.  Maybe there is something to that.  How many of us have said to ourselves as we grow up, “I will NEVER do things like my parents do!”  And then we’re standing in the living room at age 32 and we realize that we have become either both or one of our parents.  That’s a real eye-opener!  It’s not always a bad thing though.  At that point we realize that our parents weren’t as clueless as we thought they were when we were teenagers, and that’s a good thing.  But it works the other way too.  What about the child of an alcoholic or a violent person, or someone who is mentally ill?  Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents as well as the good things?  I pray that my children are not stuck with my mistakes!

And that’s where I believe we have to send everyone else across the river and meet God, wrestle with Him, gain His blessing and be given our new name – be reborn as children of God.  There’s our hope for breaking the cycles of sin.  Satan wants us to give up and accept our inheritance, but we don’t have to!  Jesus is ready, impatient even, to make us into His new creations.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Commentary for the Sabbath School Lesson dated 1.22.11 
“Watchman Nee tells about a Chinese Christian who owned a rice paddy next to one owned by a communist man. The Christian irrigated his paddy by pumping water out of a canal, using one of those leg-operated pumps that make the user appear to be seated on a bicycle. Every day, after the Christian had pumped enough water to fill his field, the communist would come out, remove some boards that kept the water in the Christian's field and let all the water flow down into his own field. That way, he didn't have to pump.
“This continued day after day. Finally, the Christian prayed, ‘Lord, if this keeps up, I'm going to lose all my rice, maybe even my field. I've got a family to care for. What can I do?’
In answer to his request, the Lord put a thought in his mind. So, the next morning he arose much earlier, in the pre-dawn hours of darkness, and started pumping water into the field of his communist neighbor. Then he replaced the boards and pumped water into his own rice paddy. In a few weeks both fields of rice were doing well—and the communist was converted.”[1]
Ya know, stories like this one, to me, pretty much confirm that God exists and is interested in our lives, don’t you think?  Our human response to the communist stealing the water from us would almost certainly not been to fill his field and then our own.  Left to our own devices, we might have spent considerable time, if not money devising some way to keep our neighbor from moving those boards.  One of the many things, in my opinion, that evolution cannot do is explain the Golden Rule.

You remember the Golden Rule:  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12   It’s one verse even non-Christians can quote.  They may not even realize it comes from Jesus’ own lips.

Unfortunately our earthly behavior sometimes seems to defy the Golden Rule:  
“Have you ever felt that a driver was really slow in pulling out of a parking space for which you were waiting? It turns out your imagination may not be playing tricks on you. A recent study of 400 drivers in a shopping mall found that drivers took longer to pull out of a space if someone was waiting than if nobody was waiting there to claim the space. On average, if nobody was waiting for the space, drivers took 32.2 seconds to pull out of a spot after opening a car door. If someone was waiting, drivers took about 39 seconds. And woe to the person who honks to hurry a driver: drivers took 43 seconds to pull out of a space when the waiting driver honked!”[2]
Why, in the world, would anybody do that?  Why would we try to irritate people we don’t even know? Maybe that explains why we sometimes hear the Golden Rule misquoted like this: “Do unto others before they do it unto you.”  Now that makes worldly sense, doesn’t it?  It feels much more natural to our worldly natures.  In fact, living by Jesus’ Golden Rule is often a struggle, isn’t it?  Returning good when we have received evil just doesn’t feel natural!

As Christians though, we are called to set a different standard in our behavior.  “In your association with others, put yourself in their place. Enter into their feelings, their difficulties, their disappointments, their joys, and their sorrows. Identify yourself with them, and then do to them as, were you to exchange places with them, you would wish them to deal with you. This is the true rule of honesty. It is another expression of the law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And it is the substance of the teaching of the prophets. It is a principle of heaven, and will be developed in all who are fitted for its holy companionship.

“The golden rule is the principle of true courtesy, and its truest illustration is seen in the life and character of Jesus. Oh, what rays of softness and beauty shone forth in the daily life of our Saviour! What sweetness flowed from His very presence! The same spirit will be revealed in His children. Those with whom Christ dwells will be surrounded with a divine atmosphere. Their white robes of purity will be fragrant with perfume from the garden of the Lord. Their faces will reflect light from His, brightening the path for stumbling and weary feet.       
“No man who has the true ideal of what constitutes a perfect character will fail to manifest the sympathy and tenderness of Christ. The influence of grace is to soften the heart, to refine and purify the feelings, giving a heaven-born delicacy and sense of propriety.”[3]
It’s almost impossible to build any kind of mutually beneficial relationship without using the Golden Rule in making your choices.  Nobody wants to be friends with someone who always puts him (or her) self first.  In fact, we’re probably going to stay away from a person like that.

One of the most amazing things about the Golden Rule seems to be the answer to many of our problems.  If you’re feeling depressed, start trying to help others.  Feeling overwhelmed by cares and anxieties in your own life, start putting the needs of others before your own. 
“It is the little attentions, the numerous small incidents and simple courtesies of life, that make up the sum of life’s happiness; and it is the neglect of kindly, encouraging, affectionate words, and the little courtesies of life, which helps compose the sum of life’s wretchedness. It will be found at last that the denial of self for the good and happiness of those around us constitutes a large share of the life record in heaven.”[4]
Living by the Golden Rule may not be the easiest or the natural way to live, but it’s the way Jesus asks us to live and He set the example for how to do it.
“People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
“If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
“The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Be good anyway.
“Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
“What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
“People need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway.
“In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”[5]

[1] Making Things Right When Things Go Wrong (Howard, 1996)
[2] M. Raphael, "It's True: Drivers Move Slowly If You Want Their Space," Raleigh News and Observer (5-13-97), p. 1A; submitted by Jeff Arthurs, South Hamilton, Massachusetts
[3] E.G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 134, 135.
[4] E.G. White, The Adventist Home, pp. 108, 109.
[5] Kent M. Keith, "The Paradoxical Commandments," from The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Student Agencies) 1968

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fractured Family

Think about the way the story of Jacob and Esau as it has been told.  Each character fits into a neat little stereotype:  Rebekah is the pushy, conniving mother; Jacob the greedy trickster, but kind of a momma’s boy; Esau the jock, not too bright but a good guy; and Isaac, the innocent dupe.  I think I can look past those roles for the first time.  Unfortunately, I learned that nobody was innocent.  Each of these four had his or her own plans, motives, and desires.

Have you ever thought that you’d like God to tell you specifically what was going to happen in the future?  I have.  I always think that that would make life so much easier, but did knowing help Rebekah and Isaac?  It seems like knowing made their lives much, much more difficult.  Rebekah took what God told her and openly favored Jacob.  And from everything I’ve learned in psychology, a parent picking a favorite child, and openly demonstrating that favoritism, sets up all kinds of bad things, even if nothing else is going on.  The first thing that usually happens is that the other parent tends to compensate by favoring the other child, giving us what they call a polarized family.  We can really see that pattern set up in Isaac’s family!  The Bible doesn’t tell us any specifics about all those growing up years before Esau sold his birthright, but can you imagine?  I’ll bet supper in their tent was a fiasco!!!  And once the boys became adults, things got really ugly!

Rebekah took a kind of pride in God’s message that Jacob would be more important that Esau.  It colored all of her actions with her twins, and toward her husband as well.  Contrast that to the way that Mary took the news that her Son would be the Messiah.  Hmmm.

Did Jacob know the prophecy that God gave Rebekah?  I kind of always assumed he did, but I read something this week that implied that he didn’t know.   Does it make any difference, in the long run, whether or not he knew?  Probably not, I was just surprised to read that.  Whatever Jacob knew or didn’t know, he was more that willing to get the best of Esau in anyway he could.  And he started with the birthright.

The birthright was kind of a big deal in that time.  In Patriarchs and Prophets, pages 177 and 178 where Ellen White explains why it was so important.  Jacob and Esau 
“were taught to regard the birthright as a matter of great importance, for it included not only an inheritance of worldly wealth but spiritual pre-eminence.  He who received it was to be the priest of his family, and in the line of his posterity the Redeemer of the world would come.”   
Well, that sounded pretty good to Jacob and Rebekah.  But Esau just wasn’t that interested!  Why?  Because there were responsibilities that came with the good stuff, and apparently, Esau would rather be hunting.  The same quote from Ellen White says, 
“On the other hand, there were obligations resting upon the possessor of the birthright.  He who would inherit its blessings must devote his life to the service of God.  Like Abraham, he must be obedient to the divine requirements.  In marriage, in his family relations, in public life, he must consult the will of God.”
Esau definitely didn’t want that kind of responsibility.  In fact, he kind of went out of his way to avoid a lot of the stuff that his family thought was important.

So then, what was Isaac thinking when he decided to bestow the birthright blessing on Esau.  He knew what God had said, and he still planned to bless Esau.  Rebekah talked with him and tried to convince him to change his mind, but his mind was made up.  I can see, at that point, that Rebekah and Jacob could convince themselves that they were just protecting Isaac from making a big mistake, from going against God’s will.  Rebekah and Jacob decided to help God.  

Can you think of a time in the Bible,, or in your life that that plan worked?  From what I have read, trying to help God accomplish something He said would come to pass almost always ends badly.  In this case, Isaac’s distraught, Esau is devastated, Jacob has to run away so that Esau doesn’t kill him, and Rebekah never sees Jacob again…plus, she has to live with Isaac for however many more years (because he didn’t die like he thought he was going to).   Can you imagine what that would have been like?  I can’t think that that would have been a very happy situation…a lot of silent evenings by the fire.  Ouch!

And all of this pain and anguish for what?  What convinced each of these people that he or she was doing the right thing?  Did it turn out like they planned?  What did they learn from this whole experience?  What should we learn?

I learned there’s hope for all of us.  We’re never so far from God that He isn’t waiting to reconnect with us as soon as we ask.  The vision of Jacob’s ladder/stairway truly tells us that God is always looking out for us, and Jesus is always connecting us to God’s love.

Have you ever felt like you were outside of God’s love because of something you had done?  I think most of us have – we know we’re not living in a way that God wants us to, but have that nagging feeling that God doesn’t want us back.  I think that’s where Jacob was when he has to sneak away from his family.  He was heartbroken, lonely, and homesick.  And even after everything he’s done, God sends Jacob a dream that lets him know that God loves him and is taking care of him.  Angels moving between heaven and earth, taking care of people who lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, covet, break the Sabbath, and all kinds of other things.  I’m so glad that Jesus bridges the gap that I make every time I mess up, aren’t you?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Caution: Contents under Pressure

“You can have it all. You can work harder, play harder, and multitask your way to squeezing 31 hours of activity into a 24-hour day. That's the finding of a study conducted by the American Management Association.
“The study concluded that people can add almost 50 percent more activity to a typical day of 16 waking hours. Similarly, according to U.S. Labor Department figures, the average yearly increase in U.S. workers' productivity has doubled from 1.5 percent during the period from 1987–1996 to 3 percent from 1997–2006.
“But at what price? Through technology, people are accomplishing more in less time, but they are feeling overwhelmed by the multiplicity of their lives, according to Ed Reilly, CEO of the AMA. ‘There's a sense of fatigue that comes from multitasking,’ he says. ‘You can force yourself to keep doing things, but you may not be as effective.’”[1]
Do you find yourself multitasking more and more often?  Are you finding that you keep adding activities to your day?  Are those activities that you want to do?  Or that you feel like you have to do? Do you find yourself saying things like, “I am so stressed out!”?  Then you can count yourself among most of the people in the world (well the United States anyway).  Most of us feel overwhelmed by all we have to accomplish every day. Even in the shower, we apparently stop: 
“In 2009, the Ketchum Global Research Network asked 1,000 U.S. adults (ages 25–54) what they think about the most while they shower. Here were the top four responses:  To-do lists, Problems [and/or] worries, Daydreams, Work
“What an interesting glimpse into what we obsess over as we wake up in the morning or wind down in the evening—the two times most of us take a shower. While we clean ourselves to start the day, we sully ourselves with stress and disappointment. When we try our best to clear the clutter from our minds with a nice long shower or bath in the evening, we fill our minds to overflowing with thoughts about places to go, people to see, dreams to fulfill. We are a people who can barely go one minute without pondering the many things we feel we need to do, must do, should be doing but are not.”[2]
That’s kind of sad, isn’t it?  We don’t even let ourselves relax in the shower!  Even when our bodies aren’t “working”, our brain is flying around making plans.  We’ve forgotten what it means to really rest.

Part of the problem is our electronic side-kicks – our cell phones, i-whatevers, and our computers, we keep ourselves “on call” pretty much all of the time.  That becomes a problem for every part of our being.
“In December of 2005, a team of Australian researchers scientifically confirmed a long-suspected link between emotional stress and illness. The group from Sydney's Garvan Institute discovered that a hormone called neuropeptide Y (NPY) is released into the body during times of emotional stress. This hormone undermines the body's immune system and literally makes you sick.
“According to the Institute's Fabienne Mackay: ‘During periods of stress, nerves release a lot of NPY, and it gets into the bloodstream where it inhibits the cells in the immune system that look out for and destroy pathogens in the body.’ She added, ‘That stress makes you sick is no longer a myth; it is a reality and we need to take it seriously.’”[3]
And that article doesn’t even go into more directly stress related illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic pain and a bunch of others.  But what can we do about it?  How can we get rid of the stress that dominates our lives?

“How Americans manage stress: Listen to music: 52 percent, Exercise or walk: 47 percent, Read: 44 percent, Spend time with friends or family: 41 percent, Watch TV or movies two or more hours a day: 41 percen, Nap: 38 percent, Play video games or surf the Internet: 37 percent
Pray: 37 percent, Eat: 34 percent, Hobby: 30 percent, Church or religious services: 21 percent, Drink alcohol: 18 percent, Shop: 18 percent, Smoke: 16 percent
*Results based on an APA survey by Harris Interactive of 1,791 adults (June–August, 2008)”[4]
Wow!  Did you notice where prayer and going to church fell on that list?  Pretty low, huh!  How should we manage our stress?  What did Jesus do?  Well several times, the Bible tells us that He and His disciples went out into the country and away from people to have some quiet time:  “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”  Mark 6:31   Sometimes, he spent quiet time with his trusted friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  And, of course, there were times that Jesus went off by Himself to talk to His Father.

Then there’s Ellen White’s remedy for stress:
“Let us turn from the dusty, heated thoroughfares of life to rest in the shadow of Christ’s love. Here we gain strength for conflict. Here we learn how to lessen toil and worry and how to speak and sing to the praise of God. Let the weary and the heavy-laden learn from Christ the lesson of quiet trust. They must sit under His shadow if they would be possessors of His peace and rest.”[5]
Oh, wait, God built our biggest stress reliever into our every week!  Sabbath – a day when we can turn off, shut down, put away everything that pulls us away from Jesus and just feel Jesus’ presence.  The Sabbath didn’t show up on our list of stress-busters, but I’m thinking that it is the only true way of managing the stress that we experience in our crazy end-time lives.  My brother preached a sermon once about Sabbath being the holy ground of time, where we, like Moses, need to take off our earthly shoes and come close to God.
“O soul, are you weary and troubled?/No light in the darkness you see?/There’s light for a look at the Savior,/And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,/Look full in His wonderful face,/And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,/In the light of His glory and grace.”[6]

[1] Hugh Poland, Kingwood, Texas; source: Houston Chronicle (6-21-06)
[2] Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky, and Brian Lowery, managing editor,; source: Anne Carey and Sam Ward, "Snapshots: What Do You Think About in the Shower?" USA Today (6-5-09) 
[3] Sam O'Neal, St. Charles, Illinois; source: "Australian Scientists Find Proof That Stress Makes You Sick," (12-4-05)
[4] Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky; source: Adrienne Lewis, "How Americans Manage Stress," USA Today (10-7-08)
[5] E.G. White, Testimonies for the Church 7:69, 70 (1902)
[6] Helen H. Lemmel, Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus, 1922

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Joseph’s Revenge

 “Joseph said to [his brothers], ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.’”  Genesis 50:19-20
Joseph made a choice when he was sold by his brothers to have faith that God would be there with him through whatever was going to happen to him next.  That was the first choice, but it wasn’t the only choice.  Joseph had to make that choice, along with other choices, everyday for the rest of his life…just like we do.

All those choices had a major payoff for Joseph didn’t they?  Can you imagine what went through Joseph’s mind and heart when he saw his brothers walking up to him after all those years.  What would you have felt?  Most people’s first thought would have involve some kind of revenge I think.  Joseph had a free move to get even before his brothers knew who he was…but he didn’t take it.  He still loved his brothers, even after the way his brothers treated him.  Jesus still loves us, even after the way we’ve treated Him.  WOW!

Have you ever met someone who attributes everything to luck?  Especially when it happens to someone else.  You’ll often hear them say things like, “Wow, you’re so lucky.”  Somebody who just met Joseph after the Pharoah put him in power might have thought that Joseph was lucky.  We know better though.  Both in Joseph’s life and in our own lives, there is no such thing as luck. 

Nothing in our lives can be attributed to luck or fate.  Every breath we take is counted by God.  Psalm 139:13-16 says:
“For you formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.  I will praise You; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.  My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.  And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” 
Imagine that!  God knows each of us on the molecular level.  And He is interested and involved in every part of each of our lives.  And as Joseph’s life proved, 
“Those who follow Christ are ever safe under His watchcare.  Angels that excel in strength are sent from heaven to protect them.  The wicked one cannot break through the guard which God has stationed about His people.” The Truth About Angels, p13. 
“Under His watchcare” is a pretty good place to be, don’t you think?  That means that no matter where we find ourselves in our day-to-day lives, we are in the palm of God’s hand.  So as I look around at my current situation and see what could be described as less than ideal circumstances, maybe I should analyze the situation in a different light.  Maybe I’m not having “bad luck”, as some people would say, or, as others would say, experiencing a “punishment” for my sins.  My daily life may not always look or feel the way I hoped I wanted it to, but Ellen White reminds me in The Desire of Ages, 
“God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him.” P224-225
I think that if there is an over all theme for Genesis, it is that God is in everything that happens. He is always working through us to show His character to the world.  We are his “co-workers” and as we work with Him, He makes us a promise.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  And you will seek Me and find Me, when you seach for Me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:11-13

Friday, January 7, 2011

What, Me Worry?

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson for 1.8.11

Do you remember that catchphrase of Alfred E. Newman, the cartoon figurehead of Mad Magazine?  He would appear in the midst of some huge impending catastrophe and pronounce his signature line:  “What, me worry?”.  The implication being that he didn’t worry about things because he was unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation.  Kind of like the spoof of the first line of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If”:  “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” you clearly don’t understand what’s going on.
The converse of that would seem to be that people who understand what’s going on around them should worry or be anxious.  I was actually told by a counselor once that anxiety was really a good thing because it motivates us to accomplish things like good grades or getting a good job.  Coming, as a do, from a long line of worriers, I’m not sure that I can agree.  My experience has been that not only is anxiety more about paralysis than motivation, it has been the cause of the vast majority of my questionable decisions over the years.  Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but whether you call it anxiety, worry, fear, or stress, I’m thinking it’s an emotion that usually works against our best interest.  And, based on the number of times the Bible tells us not to fear, I believe I’m right.  Check out what Mrs. White has to say about it:
“Jesus is our friend; all heaven is interested in our welfare; and our anxiety and fear grieve the Holy Spirit of God. We should not indulge in a solicitude that only frets and wears us, but does not help us to bear trials.... He invites the weary and care-laden, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Lay off the yoke of anxiety and worldly care that  you have placed on your own neck, and ‘take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ Matthew 11:28, 29. We may find rest and peace in God.”[1]
I remember reading somewhere that the phrase “Fear not”, or some form of it, are in the Bible 365 times, once for every day of the year.  That would seem like pretty conclusive proof, that God doesn’t want us to worry about earthly things.

But if God makes it so clear that we shouldn’t worry, why do we spend so much time worrying about stuff?  “Daniel Gilbert (a psychology professor at Harvard) drew from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and stated that the Index showed ‘that Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they were a year ago, that happiness is down and sadness is up, that we are getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes, that depression is on the rise.’
“He stated that the real problem is not financial—not having enough money, but something else: Uncertainty. People don't know what's going to happen. Will I have a job next week? What's ahead in the future for me? Professor Gilbert pointed to a Dutch experiment where some subjects were told they would be intensely shocked 20 times. The researchers told a second group that they would receive three strong shocks and 17 mild ones, but they wouldn't know when the intense shocks would come. The results? Subjects in the second group sweated more and experienced faster heart rates. Uncertainty caused their discomfort: they didn't know when the shocks would come next.
“Another study showed that colostomy patients who knew that their colostomies would be permanent were happier six months after their procedures than those who were told there might be a chance of reversing their colostomies. Once again, uncertainty caused the unhappiness.
“Daniel Gilbert summarized, ‘An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait … . Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn't a matter of insufficient funds. It's a matter of insufficient certainty.’"[2]
Uncertainty causes worry…huh.  That seems pretty simple, right?  But most of us really struggle with anxiety on some level, don’t we?  I believe that anxiety is one of Satan’s favorite ways to pull our focus from Jesus to ourselves and our own problems.  If he can keep us worrying about what might happen instead of remembering that God is always in control, then he has us right where he wants us.

Brandon O’Brien, assistant editor of, like me, seems genetically pre-disposed to worry.
“I hail from a long line of worriers. From my dad, I inherited an inability to sleep until I resolve whatever issue is currently on my mind; from my mom, I received a proclivity for stomachaches before exams.
“It's not all bad, I suppose; worry has historically been a powerful motivator for me. One Saturday night I went to sleep unprepared for the sermon I was set to deliver the next morning. I dreamed all my biblical studies professors, previous pastors, and mentors arrived at church to hear me preach, only to discover that I was shooting from the hip. I woke up in a cold sweat and worked on my sermon till morning.
“I'd like to think that my tendency to worry is evidence of my unwavering sense of responsibility. Truth is, worry reveals a deep-seated self-reliance. I might say with Oliver Cromwell, ‘Put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry.’ But when I remember God's faithfulness in the past, and remember that he alone has brought me through, I am able to replace worry with worship. This simple action ensures that my faith is not in my keeping the powder dry, but in God's promise to secure the victory.”[3]
There it is!  If anxiety is caused by uncertainty, then as Christians, we have no reason for anxiety.  We can be certain, through faith, that God is going to be standing right beside us.  And we all know (say it with me): 
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:31-39

[1] E.G. White, The Faith I Live By, page 63
[2] Daniel Gilbert, "What You Don't Know Makes You Nervous," (9-21-09); as seen in The Week magazine, (6-5-09), p. 14
[3] Brandon O'Brien, assistant editor of

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is the Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

Have you ever met someone who keeps living and re-living all the terrible things that happened in his or her past? People like these seem almost handicapped by their past. Then you know people who have survived horrific events, and yet, have been able to let go of the hurt and move on.  What do you think makes the difference?

Joseph is a good example of that second group.  When you read his life story, you find he has a lot that he could hang on to and be pretty bitter about.  His early life was pretty easy, really, except that his brothers all hated him.  Admittedly he didn’t mend any fences by telling them about his dreams of them all worshipping him, but I always thought of him as a basically sweet natured person. But one of the studies I listened to this week portrayed him as more of a spoiled brat who kind of taunted his brothers with these dreams.   And of course, dad didn’t help at all when he gave Joseph his new coat.  I kind of like my sweet little boy better than the spoiled brat, but I’m not sure that in the long run it really makes any difference which Joseph we start with.  What matters is the Joseph we end up with.

 Joseph certainly had the opportunity to build up some pretty good anger and bitterness toward his brothers, Potiphar and his wife, … even God.  But he didn’t.  Why not?

His brothers, themselves, seem to be bitter, angry men and they really had not experienced anything so difficult as Joseph did.  What did they have to be bitter about?  I don’t know if I could prove this anywhere, but it doesn’t seem like Joseph’s brothers had any real relationship with God.  Not like you’d expect from children of Jacob, anyway.  Did Jacob not spend the time with them that he did with Joseph?  Whatever happened in their childhoods, the outcome was very, very different.

Imagining that all other things were equal, what made the difference between Joseph and his brothers?  Was it simply that Joseph’s temperament was different and so he approached life differently? (The old is the glass half empty or half full argument) Could genetics have had something to do with the outcome?  Was the introduction of Rachel’s DNA enough to make Joseph and Benjamin that different from the others?  Was it that God had already decided how things needed to end up to save the Hebrews and so He just made sure that it all worked out that way?  I have to say that sometimes it looks that way, because my human mind can’t imagine any other way for things to have worked out.  One thing the Bible tells us, more than once, is that God was with Joseph.  OK, so does that mean that He wasn’t with the brothers?  Did Joseph have any choice about whether God was with him or not?

And that’s where I think the difference comes!  When things got tough for Joseph’s brothers, what was their response?  Pretty often it looks like their motto was, “Don’t get mad, get even.”  And God doesn’t come into that.  What was Joseph’s response to being sold into slavery?

In Patriarchs and Prophets, Ellen White says that his first response was despair.  But the second thing he did was to think about the lessons his father had taught him. 
“Joseph believed that the God of his fathers would be his God. He then and there gave himself fully to the Lord, and he prayed that the Keeper of Israel would be with him in the land of his exile.
His soul thrilled with the high resolve to prove himself true to God--under all circumstances to act as became a subject of the King of heaven. He would serve the Lord with undivided heart; he would meet the trials of his lot with fortitude and perform every duty with fidelity. One day's experience had been the turning point in Joseph's life. Its terrible calamity had transformed him from a petted child to a man, thoughtful, courageous, and self-possessed.” p.214
WOW!  There it is!  Joseph gave himself to the Lord and asked Him to be with him.  Ellen White says that “one day’s experience” had turned Joseph around…but it was that one moment’s decision that laid the foundation for the change.  Because, think about it, there was a distinct possibility that Joseph would look at what had just happened to him and decide that God wasn’t doing His job and he wasn’t going to trust God ever again.  If that had happened, we wouldn’t read about Joseph probably.  We’d read about whoever it was that did turn to God.

So, what happens when things don’t go the way WE expect?  Do we decide that believing in and trusting God isn’t worth the effort and start building grudges to hang onto?  Or do we give ourselves “fully to the Lord” and ask Him to keep us during the hard times.  Do we start blaming other people for the bad things that happen to us?  Or do we remember that old saying, “You can’t hate a person you’re praying for.”? 

We all “Dare to be a Daniel”, but do we strive to be like Joseph?