Sunday, February 27, 2011

Must Be Nice

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson for 3.5.11

I remember saying that phrase when I was a teenager and young adult.  Maybe you did too.  Somebody would tell me about something great that had happened in his (or her) life, and I’d say, “Must be nice,” with as much barely controlled jealously as I could manage.  It wasn’t until years later that I really thought about that phrase.  I’m not really sure when I realized that “must be nice” is just part of a longer thought:  “It must be nice…for you, that this good thing happened to you, but I wouldn’t know, because it hasn’t happened to me.” 

Jealousy is a terrible, terrible emotion.  It causes people to do crazy things.  It can ruin the lives of everybody it touches, both the person who is jealous and the person who is the subject of the jealousy.
If you ever saw the movie, Amadeus, you’ll remember how powerfully it illustrates the destructive power of jealousy.
 “… Salieri was the court musician in Vienna. He worked hard at his craft, writing melodies that were nice and choral pieces that were fine and instrumental works that were good. He knew that God had blessed him.
As a young man he had prayed fervently to God, ‘Let me make music that will glorify you, Father. Help me lift the hearts of people to heaven. Let me serve you through my music.’
“Then came the boy wonder, the child prodigy, young Mozart. He dazzled the crowds, playing music as if it was second nature to him. … songs that soared till they seemed to bring heaven right down to earth.
“Here's the catch: Mozart was such an obvious sinner. He was immature, vulgar, and obscene. He made off with the ladies every chance he could get. Salieri grew green with envy. How could life be so unfair. He was the servant of God. Why should Mozart be blessed with such talents? Salieri lived a pious and obedient life. Why should Mozart traffic in all these worldly pleasures and still get ahead? …
“The story continues until Mozart dies a mysterious death. Salieri's eyes gleam. And in the dramatic climax, Salieri sits in an insane asylum, where he curses God for denying him the kind of talent that blessed young Mozart. ….”[1]
At one point in the film, Salieri makes a chilling vow to destroy Mozart:
“…From now on we are enemies, you and I. Because you choose for your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for my reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation; because you are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block you. I swear it. I will hinder and harm your creature on earth. As far as I am able, I will ruin your incarnation.”[2]
Now, probably (hopefully) most of us have not experienced that depth of jealousy, but is it really any different when our noses get out of joint when someone close to us gets a promotion at work and we don’t?  We might even feel jealousy/envy toward people we don’t even know, like celebrities and movie stars…even just regular people who happen to have more money than we do.

This is true confession time.  I spent a very short time, one summer, doing data entry for the IRS.  We would take stacks of income tax returns from all over the country and type the information into the computer.  I saw hundreds of people’s taxable income (nobody I ever heard of), and realized an awful lot of people make a whole lot of money.  And as I typed, I felt myself getting very bitter, at people I had never heard of.  I also got more and more upset with God.  I’d pick up each return and find myself thinking, “must be nice.”

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit jabbed me and showed me a way to soften that hard knot that was growing in my heart.  Every time I caught myself thinking, “must be nice,” I would pray for the family represented by that tax return.  It wasn’t easy, but the Holy Spirit sat right next to me with minute by minute help.

Harboring jealous feelings is like saying to God, “You messed up.  You should have given that to me.”  Henry Nouwen describes how all that bitterness keeps us from praying.  
“You still feel jealous of the fellow who is better paid than you are, you still want revenge on someone who doesn't respect you, you are still disappointed that you've received no letter, still angry because she didn't smile when you walked by. You live through it, you live along with it as though it didn't really bother you ... until the moment that you want to pray. Then everything returns: the bitterness, the hate, the jealousy, the disappointment and the desire for revenge. But these feelings are not just there; you clutch them in your hands as if they were treasures you didn't want to part with. You sit rummaging in all that old sourness as if you couldn't do without it, as if in giving it up, you would lose your very self.”[3]
What’s the answer?  How do we let go of all the things that are destroying us?  James shares his solution:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”  James 3:13-18
I grew up in San Antonio, so the Spurs have a special place in my heart.  David Robinson explains how he
“learned to share the limelight with … his teammate Tim Duncan. … In Sports Illustrated, Robinson reflects on what that was like for him.
“I can't overstate how important my faith has been to me as an athlete and as a person. It's helped me deal with so many things, including matters of ego and pride. For instance, I can't deny that it felt weird to see Tim standing on the podium with the Finals MVP trophy. I was thinking, Man, never have I come to the end of a tournament and not been the one holding up that trophy. It was hard.
“But I thought about the Bible story of David and Goliath. David helped King Saul win a battle, but the king wasn't happy because he had killed thousands of men while David had killed tens of thousands. So King Saul couldn't enjoy the victory because he was thinking about David's getting more credit than he was.
“I'm blessed that God has given me the ability to just enjoy the victory. So Tim killed the tens of thousands. That's great. I'm happy for him.”[4]
Hmmm … must be nice …

[1] Wayne Brouwer, "Taming the Beast," Preaching Today, Tape No. 118.
[2] Amadeus (Orion, 1984), rated PG, written by Peter Shaffer, directed by Milos Forman
[3] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Leadership, Vol. 3, no. 1.
[4] "Mission Accomplished," Sports Illustrated (7-5-99), pp.36-40

Friday, February 25, 2011

Valuable or Valued

Commentary on the Sabbath School lesson dated 2.26.11

If your house were on fire and you could only rescue one thing, would it be the most valuable or the thing you valued the most?  “What?”  you say.  “Wouldn’t that be the same thing?” 
Uh, no!  Let me give you an example.  My family and I have an old vase that my father probably found at a garage sale or something.  It is really, really ugly!  In fact, we have actually titled it, “The Ugly Vase”.  A couple of years ago, we ran across a picture of another vase by the same artist.  It was valued at about $2000.00.  Now, if we could find someone who collected truly ugly vases! 
Valuable or not, if our house was burning, that is not the item we would rescue!  The Ugly Vase may be valuable, but we do not value it.
So, as people, which are we – valuable or valued? 
“The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils invested many a hard-earned tax dollar in calculating the chemical and mineral composition of the human body, which breaks down as follows: 65% Oxygen, 18% Car.bon, 10% Hydrogen, 3% Nitrogen, 1.5% Calcium, 1% Phosphorous,0.35% Potassium, 0.25% Sulfur, 0.15% Sodium, 0.15% Chlorine, 0.05% Magnesium, 0.0004% Iron, 0.00004% Iodine.
“Additionally, it was discovered that our bodies contain trace quantities of fluorine, silicon, manganese, zinc, copper, aluminum, and arsenic. Together, all of the above amounts to less than one dollar!
“Our most valuable asset is our skin, which the Japanese invested their time and money in measuring. The method the Imperial State Institute for Nutrition at Tokyo developed for measuring the amount of a person's skin is to take a naked person, and to apply a strong, thin paper to every surface of his body. After the paper dries, they carefully remove it, cut it into small pieces, and painstakingly total the person's measurements. Cut and dried, the average person is the proud owner of fourteen to eighteen square feet of skin, with the variables in this figure being height, weight, and breast size. Basing the skin's value on the selling price of cowhide, which is approximately $.25 per square foot, the value of an average person's skin is about $3.50.”[1]
“When we total the monetary value of the elements in our bodies and the value of the average person's skin, we arrive at a net worth of $4.50!”[2]
Okay, let me just say…eeww!  Now, how does it feel to realize that physically you’re worth less than $5.00?  Not valuable, certainly!
In spite of that, Jesus demonstrated quite vividly at the cross, that He values us above His own life.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Hebrews 12:1-3
In everyday life, people talk about self-esteem to discuss our own calculation of our own value or worth.  About 20 or 30 years ago, some folks, somewhere decided that everybody needs to feel valuable and so they started all kinds of projects to develop people’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, the self-esteem wasn’t built on anything of value.  It was just self-esteem for self-esteem’s sake.  That’s usually not a good thing!  Check out this example of someone who esteemed herself more highly than she ought:
“Florence Foster Jenkins, a soprano, loved to sing—especially the great operatic classics. She inherited money when she was in her 50s, which funded her musical career. It wasn't long before her popularity skyrocketed, holding annual recitals at the Ritz-Carlton in New York throughout the 1930s and 40s. But as one writer puts it, ‘History agrees, with hands held over its ears, that she couldn't sing for sour apples. Jenkins' nickname, behind her back, was 'the Tone-Deaf Diva,' or 'The Terror of the High C's.’ The writer adds that if you ever hear one of her old recordings, all that you'll hear will be ‘squeaks, squawks, and barks.’
“But get this: she didn't ever grasp that she was bad! When people laughed and hooted as she sang, she took it to be delirious enthusiasm for great music. She thought they loved her and her music.
“In 1944, when she was 76-years-old, she did a benefit concert for the armed forces at Carnegie Hall in New York. Thousands lined the streets to get tickets, and the performance sold out in minutes. The recording of that concert is still the third most requested album from Carnegie Hall recordings, punctuated by a painful rendition of ‘Ave Maria.’”[3]
Our self-worth or self-esteem can’t come from anything we have or do; it has to come from the value that Jesus puts on us.  Check out what author Mark Galli has to say abou it.
“I look at myself some days and it's hard to imagine that I am a miserable offender and that there is no health in me [as the Book of Common Prayer suggests]. I go to church. I read my Bible. I help at the homeless shelter once a month. At home, I do the dishes, take out the trash, and don't beat my children. I don't even ground them. Most nights, when I close my day with prayer (see there, regular prayer—another jewel in my crown), I usually have nothing but peccadilloes to confess—a little sloth here, some impatience there.
“…Others still fight not false guilt but spiritual despair. They believe, rightly so, that true religion is about love and grace. But they've heard a rumor that the Lord is a holy God, and they suspect that they just may be miserable sinners. So they spend their days making sure these two combustible ideas never mix—something repentance tries to do—because if they ever did, such people fear that the resulting explosion would blow their faith to smithereens.
“Add to this the twentieth-century fascination with self-esteem and a society hooked on affirmation steroids, and it is no wonder that we have created a faith that can hardly pronounce the word.”[4]
Does your self-esteem come from within yourself or from your value to Jesus Christ?  Remember: 
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” 1 Peter 2:9
Jesus loves us not because we are worthy to be loved, but because we are His.

[3] Doug George, "Florence Foster Jenkins: She played Carnegie Hall and she really couldn't sing a note?" Chicago Tribune (11-20-09)
[4] Mark Galli, Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love an Untamable God (Baker, 2006), pp. 34-35

Thursday, February 24, 2011


How much of your life is motivated by greed?  Do you think there are people out there who are completely motivated by greed?  Bill Gates?  Donald Trump?  They seem like nice enough guys.  They give a bunch of money to charities.  It doesn’t look like they’re taking advantage of anybody to get more money.  Maybe they’re just really good at what they do.

Do you know anyone who you’d describe as greedy?  How would you define greed?   Somebody who wants more and more money, no matter how he (or she) gets it?  Or is that too narrow a definition?  Is it the driver who won’t merge at the end of a line of cars, but goes all the way to the front of the line and noses his way in there? (One of my pet peeves, obviously)  Can we always tell a greedy person just by looking?  Maybe not.  I’m thinking that probably all of us are greedy, otherwise, why would it bother me that that driver got in line in front of me?  Have you ever seen kids at a party with a piƱata?  YIKES!  Never mind that we give kids a big stick and tell them to break something that someone made, but when it does break, we encourage our kids to get in there and grab as much candy as they can…hmmm. 

OK, so we’re all selfish, envious, and greedy, does that mean that anything we do to make money or make ourselves a better life is wrong?  Maybe…maybe not.  We’ve all heard about those folks who become so consumed by making “a better life” for their families that they completely lose touch with their spouses and children.  Their families feel cheated because all they really wanted was their mom or dad to spend some time with them.  Solomon found out that money and things weren’t what he really wanted at the end of his life.  God built us for relationships…with Him and with other people.

One of the questions that I might ask a student that I’m working with is, “Do you feel lonely even when there are other people around?”  And, kids being kids, he (or she) will usually look at me like I’m nuts and say, “No.”  But, sometimes, I’ll get a yes response and then I know that there are bigger issues to talk about.  So what do you do when you wake up some morning and realize that you are alone, even in a life full of people – wives, husbands, kids, friends, acquaintances, people you work with – alone.  How does that happen?

Sometimes, I think we are so busy just staying on schedule that we don’t have time to let other people in.  You meet folks in the hallway at work, and you nod and ask how it’s going, but neither of you expect or want any real kind of answer.  At home, you get up early, come home late, and with the kids’ homework, making/eating supper and the other evening type chores you may have in your life, you fall into bed without really talking to anyone again – and before you know it, you’re pretty much alone. 

Isn’t it wonderful to know that there is one day each week when we can pull away from deadlines, timelines and all the worldly things that clutter our lives?  What an incredible gift God has given us!  We have 24 hours to fill our loneliness with Him, with fellowship at church, and time with our families.  Saturday night the whirlwind starts up again, but for a little while, we have time. 

When my brother was just starting out as a pastor, he had a sermon in which he asked everyone in the congregation to take his shoes off, like God asked Moses to do at the burning bush.  His point was that any place where God had been was holy ground, and, if you think it through, then the Sabbath is the holy ground of time.  I liked that image so much that I wrote this “Psalm for the Sabbath”:
In the day of God’s Love, there is peacefulness.  Unlike all others is the day of the Lord.  In it He sings of His love for me.  I will not miss the Glory of the Sabbath; I will celebrate the majesty of God.Speak of the Sabbath with reverence; it is the Holy Ground of time… the most sacred room in the house of the King.  In that room you may whisper your praise to the Father and His ear will hear.And in that room, the voice of God will answer and say, “Welcome to my sacred place…my holiest of times.  Here we will speak together of love.  And, because you have elected to come, you are blessed above all others.“Then, when My holiest of rooms has passed, you will have, within yourself, a sacred room of your own that I have filled with strength and hope enough to last until my castle of solitude returns.”“Be at peace, My love will always stay in that room.And, my heart will answer, “Most blessed and joyous of days, hasten.  To be praised is the solitude of the King.”
I know it seems so obvious, and we look at Solomon and think that he’s such a dummy for loosing sight of what’s important – the only important thing – but don’t we forget almost everyday?  And we don’t have nearly the excuses that Solomon could claim!

I really believe that loving the Sabbath as a gift from a God who loves each of us and wants the very best for us, is the keystone of so many other things that we search for and long for.  And we can definitely break the bonds of oppression, greed, loneliness, and succession that Solomon is talking about in Ecclesiastes 4.  Sabbath is a day that brings everything back into perspective after Satan has done his best to skew them during the week.

I’m sure that it’s possible to go through the motions of keeping the Sabbath and not let yourself become engaged in the blessings and fellowship, but I would think that that would be really torturous.  I remember when I was a kid and only came to church because my mom made me and I could hardly stand to sit through church.  Sometimes I thought I would go crazy!  But as I grew older, I started to find reasons to enjoy Sabbath…one of them was, I didn’t have to do any homework on that day!  That was enough for me for quite a while!  In college (in Keene), I knew kids who were so driven that they would study right through Sabbath.  Well, firstly, I was never that driven to get a good grade, just ask my mom, and secondly, I think they were missing the point of going to an Adventist institution!  Also, they came out of the Sabbath more exhausted than when they started.  They may have gotten better grades that I did, but I learned to love the Sabbath and the blessings that come with it.  I learned to treasure that special time with God that I don’t always have time for during the week (I know; I’m working on it)

I think keeping Sabbath as though it is “the holy ground of time” is a big part of fixing what’s broken in me.  Sometimes, I get frustrated thinking that the stuff I need to get done this week can’t wait till sundown, but I’ve got to remind myself that Sabbath is a lot like tithe.  Earthly mathematics would tell us that it’s impossible to have more after you give something away.  But with God’s mathematics, when we give back our tithe, we don’t have 10% less; we have all we need.  When we spend our Sabbath’s learning to love God more, we don’t have 1/7th less time to get all the other stuff done…  “The things of earth will grow strangely dim, by the light of his glory and grace.”

We won’t be oppressed because the Truth has set us free.  We won’t be greedy because God has filled our hearts with His contentment.  We won’t be lonely because He promised to be with us and in us always.  And we don’t have to worry about who will succeed us because we are God’s children, and He will make that decision.  Isn’t God good?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In The Moment…

“Just live in the moment.”  Have you ever heard anybody say that?  Do you think that’s really possible?  Now, I listen to The Dog Whisperer (because my dog needs him), and he says that dogs “live in the moment.”  I believe that because dogs have no self-awareness.  They know who feeds them, that it’s time to take a nap, and that something needs to be barked at.  That’s about it.  But dogs don’t plan what to make for dinner, what to wear to church tomorrow, or where they want to go on Saturday night.  But people do…I don’t think we can help it!  Can you think of anybody, no matter what he (or she) says, that truly lives “in the moment”?
The problem is, we, as humans, have to make plans!  In fact, what happens to people who don’t make plans?  They have a really hard time, don’t they?   It’s kind of a depressing way to live when you think about it.  If you live “in the moment”, you’re kind of denying that the future exists.  As Christians, we absolutely can’t live like that because the future is what gets us through the moments.  The future is our hope; it’s what we live for – our future with Jesus.
The thing is, if somebody can convince himself that all that’s important is right here and now, then he can ignore any consequences for what he chooses to do at any particular moment.  Things that happen become luck or coincidence rather than the leading or chastening of God.  I do know several people who think like that.  But if we have no choice about what happens in our lives, then we are helpless victims living in a hopeless world.  If we are at the mercy of circumstance, then what’s the point?  We might as well be animals because they don’t have any control over their lives either.
That’s the natural progression of a society that has taken the God of Creation out of life.  I don’t believe that Solomon went so far as to deny that God exists…he just lost sight of Him for a while.  The effect was the same though.  Solomon came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much point in anything because we are all going to wind up dead, so why bother.
Well, for one thing, God told us in Genesis that we aren’t like the animals, that we are like Him and better than the animals. 
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.  And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.”  Genesis 1:26-30 KJV
How wonderful!  We don’t need to look for meaning in each moment, because God, by creating us in His image, worked meaning into our DNA.  We don’t have to search for meaning, find excitement or build a legacy because God has given it to us.  Our legacy has almost nothing to do with right now and everything to do with eternity.  Look at these quotes from Ellen White:
Next to the angelic beings, the human family, formed in the image of God, are the noblest of His created works.--RH Dec. 3, 1908. {TA 48.2} The Lord . . . had endowed Adam with powers of mind superior to any living creature that He had made. His mental powers were but little lower than those of the angels.--RH Feb. 24, 1874. {TA 48.3} God created man for His own glory, that after test and trial the human family might become one with the heavenly family. It was God's purpose to repopulate heaven with the human family.--1BC 1082. {TA 48.7} The vacancies made in heaven by the fall of Satan and his angels will be filled by the redeemed of the Lord.--RH May 29, 1900. {TA 49.1}
So, let’s not live “in the moment”, let’s live for eternity!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bounce - Back - ability

Commentary on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 2.12.11

That would be the word I just made up as a synonym for resilience.  Some other synonyms, according to Wikipedia are "psychological resilience", "emotional resilience", "hardiness", "resourcefulness", and "mental toughness",[1] and it seems to be a pretty big deal at the moment. Especially when we’re talking about kids.  See, everybody is trying to figure out why some kids turn out alright, even when they get teased and bullied while others bring guns to school and start killing people, and still others quietly kill themselves. 
Resilience isn’t just important in childhood, and it didn’t just become something to think about.  Even way back during Bible times, some people experienced some really terrible things and still turned out okay.  A couple of examples would be Joseph, Ruth, oh, and let’s not forget a biggie: Job.
What makes the difference?  Well, believe it or not, one excellent explanation comes from M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Signs.
Signs is the story of the Hess family, … who wake up one morning to find a 500-foot crop circle in the middle of their cornfield. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), his brother Merril (Joaquin Phoenix), and Graham's two children, Morgan and Bo, watch TV news reports with growing alarm as they learn that the crop circle in their corn field is similar to others around the world, all the products of an alien invasion force. On the TV screen they see 14 lights in the night sky over Mexico City, visual evidence of the invaders.Merril turns to Graham, a former pastor who has lost his faith, for some comfort.“… ‘People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than a coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence that there is someone up there, watching out for them.‘Group number two sees it as just pure luck, a happy turn of chance. You can be sure that the people in group number two are looking at those 14 lights in a very suspicious way. For them, their situation is 50/50. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own.“‘And that fills them with fear. But, there's a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those 14 lights, they're looking at a miracle, and deep down they feel that whatever's going to happen, there will be someone to help them. And that fills them with hope. So what you have to ask yourself: What kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, and sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or look at the question this way. Is it possible that there are no coincidences?’”[2]
What do you think?  Would you agree that one of the reasons some people bounce back from huge amounts of adversity is that they believe that they aren’t all alone – that Someone is watching over them?  These people can say with the psalmist:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.” Psalm 46:1-3
Does it help you to remember that you’re not going through life all by yourself?  Does it comfort to know that
“We are assured and know that God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.”? Romans 8:28 Amplified Bible
When I think about how many times that one Bible verse has given me comfort, I have to wonder, where does someone who does not believe in a loving God find comfort during difficult times?  Where can someone who believes that, as the character in Signs says, “whatever happens, they’re on their own”?
I believe that the only reason Joseph could hang on at all with all the ups and downs he experienced was to know that no matter where he was, God was with Him.
“As the caravan journeyed southward toward the borders of Canaan, the boy could discern in the distance the hills among which lay his father’s tents. Bitterly he wept at thought of that loving father in his loneliness and affliction. Again the scene at Dothan came up before him. He saw his angry brothers and felt their fierce glances bent upon him. The stinging, insulting words that had met his agonized entreaties were ringing in his ears. With a trembling heart he looked forward to the future. What a change in situation—from the tenderly cherished son to the despised and helpless slave! ...   
“His thoughts turned to his father’s God. In his childhood he had been taught to love and fear Him. Often in his father’s tent he had listened to the story of the vision that Jacob saw as he fled from his home an exile and a fugitive.... 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.”[3]
I’m probably, once again, over-simplifying what other folks see as a very complex set of issues, and I’m sure there are many reasons that some people find the resilience to bounce back from emotionally devastating experiences.  I believe, though, that people who believe that the world they live in is only a string of astronomical and biological accident, have nowhere to hide when circumstances become difficult.
“Faint not. Cast yourself at the feet of Jesus, who has been tempted, and knows how to help such as are tempted.... Plead your case before God, through Jesus, until your soul can with confidence rely upon Him for strength, and you feel that you are not left to do the work of overcoming alone. God will help you. Angels will watch over you. But before you can expect this help, you must do what you can on your part. Watch and pray.”[4]
That’s where bounce-back-ability  comes from!

[2] Signs (Touchstone Pictures, 2002), rated PG-13, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
[3] E.G. White, Conflict and Courage, page 73
[4] E.G. White, The Faith I Live By, page 224

Monday, February 7, 2011

What makes you happy?

Do you know?  Have you spent a lot of time looking for what makes you happy?  Some people do.  Some people don’t do anything else.  Have you ever known anybody like that?  Solomon was kind of like that.  Searching for happiness became a lifetime quest.   Do you think he found it?
Even with all his wisdom, Solomon looked for happiness in pretty much all the same places that us poor, not-wise people do – education, power, love, fun, food, money…Individually, probably none of us looks in all the places that Solomon did, but, then again, he was a king, he could look everywhere!  Actually, though, I think most of us are doing our best to keep up with Solomon. We have lots of places we can look for happiness.
To make things harder, almost everything in our American “post-Christian” culture screams at us to do more, to buy more, to eat more, to play more.  Look at the commercials on TV – during the day, the ads tell you that this school can help you get the job that will make you happy, or that this lawyer can get you money because someone else has made you unhappy.  In the evening, the ad-writers really get pushy!  You have to drive this car.  You have to drink this drink.  You have to eat at this restaurant.  Just put “happiness” into your favorite search engine and you will find literally millions of hits with titles like: “Finding True Happiness and Self-Actualization”, “Authentic Happiness: Using the new Positive Psychology”, and “How to Be Happy and Have Fun Changing the World”.   Better yet, I found out that there is such a thing as “Gross National Happiness” listed on Wikipedia, about which there are international conferences (three so far).  You’ll also be glad to learn that there is a map of global happiness where you can find out where your country ranks on the continuum of Subjective Well-being (a fancy way of saying “happiness”).  Oh, and this brilliant statement, “Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”  And, of course, this one, “True happiness lies within you.”  Uh-huh.  Anyway, the google search was pretty funny, in general, but also kind of sad.  There are entire organizations devoted completely to defining, finding and quantifying happiness, and, although I didn’t actually check all 55,500,000 hits, not one of the ones I check made any mention of God.  Doesn’t look like we’ve learned much in the all the years between Solomon and today.  Ouch!
When we say we’re looking for happiness, what are we really looking for?  Because happiness, in and of itself, is pretty easy to find, on a moment-by-moment basis.  I mean, an ice cream cone can make me happy.  So does a Marx brothers’ movie, a really good book, a new outfit, and laughing with my family.  So, I’m thinking maybe happiness isn’t the right word for what we’re looking for.  It’s just not a big enough concept.  We’re looking for something higher and deeper and more lasting than happiness.  I think we’re looking for the  “…peace of God, which passeth all understanding, …” Philippians 4:7, and “…a glorious joy that can't be put into words.” 1 Peter 1:8
Those are two things I don’t think you’ll find at the international conference on Gross National Happiness or within yourself.  Those are things that can only come from God.  And I think that’s what Solomon learned and was writing about in Ecclesiastes – there is no happiness or joy or peace outside of a relationship with God. 
Is it possible for us to learn that lesson any other way than experientially?  Can we learn from Solomon, from reading Ecclesiastes?  Or must we each find our own way by stumbling through all of the temporary, earthly happiness traps that Satan sets for us?  Logically, I have to believe that if we weren’t meant to learn from the experiences in the Bible stories, then they wouldn’t be in there! 
So where does that leave us? 
Hopefully, we’re not following the cereal ads and soft drink ads, looking for something as transient as happiness, when what our hearts are really longing for – what Solomon finally realized he couldn’t go on without – is the joy and peace of knowing Jesus as a friend and an advocate.  No amount of experiencing, conferencing or discussing the paths to happiness will get us to where we want to be.  “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Have you seen it?  The head-bob and the eye-roll?  You, the adult, have just said something that your teen has deemed – uh, less than intelligent or, at least, not pertinent to his or her current life situation.  I hate to admit, though, that I have also performed that little operation as well.  Usually just in my head, though.

But what is it that makes “WHATEVER” so incredibly infuriating?  Is it the palpable boredom? Apathy? Disdain? Disrespect?    The “I care so little about what you’re telling me that I can’t be bothered to argue about it” attitude?  All of the above? 

I think that’s kind of Solomon’s attitude toward everything in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes.  “I did it all; I have it all; I know it all; and it’s all boring.”  But how did Solomon get to that point?  I mean, he knew God; he knew what God wanted from His people, and, somehow, it wasn’t enough.

Aren’t we, as Americans, in the same place as Solomon?  We have so much that we’ve become bored with everything.  We know what God wants from us, but we can’t be bothered to do it.  Apathy…the malady of the post-Christian world.

I heard the term “post-Christian” used several years ago.  I’m not sure I really understood what it meant at the time, just that it was describing “the modern age”.  But in the last couple of years, that term has popped into my mind more and more often.  Then, when the boys and I went to Scotland this Thanksgiving, I really got it.  I read several articles this week about what “post-christian” means to other people, and it was all pretty disturbing and sad. 

I could really feel it in Scotland.  We were surrounded by all of this history, these beautiful old castles, museums, and churches.  The castles are protected and restored.  The museums carefully kept.  But the churches are nightclubs and movie theaters.  In one of the articles I read this week, I learned that less than 5% of the population of England attend church regularly.  I couldn’t find the statistics for the US, but I hope we’ve got more than 5%!!  That is SO sad, though, isn’t it?

Post-Christianity was mentioned in magazine articles in about 1962.  Imagine how much more post Christianity we are now!  YIKES!  According to Nathan Glazer,
  “…religion has suffered crushing blows and plays a completely different role in the world today [1957] from that which it played only a hundred years ago. 
“The great change is that hardly any significant number of people now interpret life in the terms proposed by the major religions.  They no longer live for salvation, no matter how defined, but for life on this earth, in this world, interpreted in purely non-religious terms.”  Nathan Glazer, American Judaism 
There’s a big problem with that whole way of thinking, though.  If we live for today only, like Solomon did for a while, and we no longer think in terms of salvation, then we have that “God-shaped-vacuum” that we, as humans, need to fill.  Satan has an infinite number of substitutes that he wants us to try to fit into that vacuum.

One of the biggies is the new age movement.  Instead of the God of Heaven, we can become gods on our own.  So, if we are our own gods, then we can decide what is right and wrong for ourselves.  That clears the way for moral relativism where even truth as an absolute is rejected.  Follow that trail, as many do today, and we end up being our own lawgiver, priest, therapist and best friend.  Do we need anybody else at that point?  In one of the articles I read this week, I found this:
“Americans have adopted a therapeutic worldview which has transformed all issues of right and wrong into newly created categories of authenticity, self-esteem, codependencies, and various psychological fads which basically tell us that we are victims, not responsible moral agents.  A cult of self-worship has developed, substituting a search for the inner child in place of the worship of the transcendent God.”  R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Transforming Culture:  Christian Truth Confronts Post-Christian America
We get all wrapped up in trying to fill the holes in our lives with anything we can find and trusting in our own power and wisdom. And that’s where we find Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  Ellen White says that Ecclesiastes 
“was written by Solomon in his old age, after he had fully proved that all the pleasures earth is able to give are empty and unsatisfying.  He there shows how impossible it is for the vanities of the world to meet the longings of the soul.”  3BC1164.6
Is it any wonder that Solomon sounds really depressed and fatalistic in Ecclesiastes?    He finally learned that without God, there really isn’t any point in anything.

Jesus is pleading with us, calling us back to the Father, reminding us of how much He loves us and all He’s done to save us.  He has tears in His eyes and nail scars in His hands and feet… 
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”  Matthew 23:37
Could you really shake your head and roll your eyes and say, “Whatever…”?