Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Internal Consistency

“Internal consistency is the extent to which tests or procedures assess the same characteristic, skill or quality.”

“How well each item relates independently to the rest of the items on the scale and how they related overall.”

In the world of psychology, we would say that the Bible has excellent internal consistency – 100%, in fact.  Even if one person wrote it over a reasonable amount of time (20 to 50 years, maybe?), you couldn’t expect that kind of accuracy.  But the Bible was written over a period of about 1300 by nearly 40 authors and it has perfect internal consistency.  That, by itself, should, repeat should, convince everyone that it is inspired by God.

In case that’s not enough to convince you, an article called “Fulfilled Prophecy: Evidence of the Reliability of the Bible” by Hugh Ross, Ph.D. might help.  Dr. Ross states that there are about 2500 prophecies throughout the Bible and about 2000 of them have already been fulfilled…without even one mistake.  Do you know any psychics who can claim anything near that?  Check out Nostradamus.  He made literally thousands of predictions, but from what I could find, nobody is willing to come up with a percentage of right/wrong ones.  The ones that do seem to be right tend to be out and out hoaxes that someone wrote after the fact, or are counted as right because he used such vague language.  According to one writer, Barbara Mikkelson:

“A prediction that can only be interpreted after the events it supposedly foresees have occurred is not a 'prediction' at all. If I could spew out a thousand vague 'prophecies' and not have to explain what they meant until after the events they supposedly predicted had occurred, I'm sure I could manage a pretty impressive record for accuracy too.”

Even more modern psychics can only get about 60% accuracy, even with considerable fudging and vagueness.  God’s prophets have a stunning 100% accuracy record.  Amazing!

Dr. Ross states that
“the probability of any one of [the 2000 fulfilled prophecies] having been fulfilled by chance averages less than one in ten (figured very conservatively) and since the prophecies are or the most part independent of one another, the odds for all these prophecies having been fulfilled by chance without error is less than one in 102000 (that is 1 with 2000 zeros written after it)”

Here are a few of the prophecies that Dr. Ross mentions as being the most spectacular – that is they are extremely specific, were predicted longest time before the event and/or have the most “supernatural” involvement.

Daniel predicted that the Messiah would begin his public ministry 483 years after the issue of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, as well as the crucifixion of Christ just before the 2nd destruction of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25-26).

Probability of chance fulfillment=1 in 105.

Bethlehem named as the birthplace of the Messiah, 700 years before His birth (Micah 5:2).

Probability of chance fulfillment=1 in 105

 Zechariah’s prediction that the Messiah would be betrayed for the price of a slave (30 pieces of silver) and that the money would be used to buy a burial ground for Jerusalem’s poor foreigners (Zechariah 11:12-13)

Probability of chance fulfillment=1 in 1011.    

Both David and Zechariah describe Jesus’ death 400 years before crucifixion had been invented.  They also stated that His body would be pierced, but no bones would be broken (Psalm 22 and 34:20; Zechariah 12:10)

Probability of chance fulfillment=1 in 1013

 Isaiah named Cyrus as the destroyer of Babylon and the man who would release the Jews “150 years before Cyrus was born, 180 years before Cyrus performed any of these feats (and he did, eventually, perform them all), and 80 years before the Jews were taken into exile”

Probability of chance fulfillment=1 in 1015.

Dr. Ross ends by saying that the probability of just the prophecies he lists in his article (13 altogether) is about 1 in 10138.  
“…this probability can be compared to the statistical chance that the second law of thermodynamics will be reversed in a given situation (for example, that a gasoline engine will refrigerate itself during its combustion cycle or that heat will flow from a cold body to a hot body) - that chance = 1 in 1080.  …the Bible record may be said to be vastly more reliable than the second law of thermodynamics.”
By the way, my (or your) chances of winning the lottery are 1 in 107.  Wow…maybe I should buy a ticket!  The odds are looking pretty good.  Ha!

Anyway, based on those statistics, I feel pretty comfortable in believing that the 500 prophecies that are left unfulfilled at this time, will be fulfilled with 100% accuracy.  What do you think?

If you’re interested, one website called Fulfilled Messianic Prophecies ( lists about 200 prophecies by text with the text that tells the fulfillment of that prophecy…check it out!

OK, so, how can anybody not see the truth here?  Isn’t it amazing that people still don’t believe that the Bible is inspired and true?
But you know those folks, right?  They will fight about absolutely everything!  If you say something is black he (or she) will say it’s white.  No matter what you say, he’ll say the opposite, just to argue.  My dad used to say that people like that would argue with a tree if they couldn’t find a live person to argue with.
Well, there are people who will refuse to be convinced of the truth and reliability of the Bible, no matter how often you or I show the proof: they won’t believe it.  Mrs. White talks about these guys.
“Some look at us gravely and say, ‘Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?’  This all probable, and the mind that is so narrow that it will hesitate and stumble over this possibility or probability would be just as ready to stumble over the mysteries of the Inspired Word, because their feeble minds cannot see through the purposes of God.  Yes, they would just as easily stumble over plain facts that the common mind will accept, and discern the Divine, and to which God’s utterance is plain and beautiful, full of marrow and fatness.  All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth.”{Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p.16}
She goes on to remind us not to get all wrapped up in criticizing the Bible but to read it as it is.  If we start sorting through trying to figure out what’s inspired or not inspired then we “have stepped before Jesus to show Him a better way than He has led us.”{1SM17}

Well, I know I’m not qualified for that job!  Are you?  YIKES!

I think it all comes down to this:  The Bible is the only book that can lead you and me to Jesus and, through Him, salvation.  Is that something you’re willing to miss out on just to argue about who wrote what, who was inspired or not inspired, and where the punctuation ought to be?  I think we should follow Ellen White’s advice and “cling to your Bible, as it reads…obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost.”{1SM18}


Sunday, April 24, 2011

I Wanna Be Different – Just Like Everybody Else

Commentary for Sabbath School Lesson dated 4.24.11

I have a question for you:
"How does being chosen by God make your life different from people who do not claim Jesus as their Savior?”[1] 
Maybe the question should be, “Does being chosen by God make your life different …?”  What’s that old saying, “If I were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?”  Or, do I try to blend in with the folks around me?  It seems like almost my whole life, people have thought of me as a goody-two-shoes – at times it’s been complimentary and other times as an insult.  When I was in school, I hated the thought of being different in any way.  I wanted to dress like everyone else, wear my hair like everyone else.  Even now, I am really uncomfortable if I feel like I’m not blending in.  Trust me, I will never be accused of being “fashion forward.” 

I know, most teenagers go through that period where they want to wear what all their friends are wearing, while insisting they’re expressing their independence.  If you spend any time at all watching teenagers and young adults, you’ll notice pretty quickly, that there are specific groups that you can recognize by the clothes they wear.  There are the rockers who tend to wear t-shirts and/or jackets with band names on them; the goths who like wearing lots of black, the skateboarders in their baggy clothes, and so on. But does the way someone dresses tell us anything about what is important in that person’s life?  Should we, who see ourselves as children of God look/act/think differently than folks who don’t think of themselves in those particular terms?

I believe that this question is more complex than it looks initially.  It’s easy to say an emphatic “YES! Christians should be different in every way.”  And I can totally see that point-of-view.  But then I am faced with some examples that seem to point me in another direction.  I don’t claim to have any final answer on this issue at all…if you do, I’d be interested in hearing from you.  In the meantime, I’ve got some examples from both sides.

Remember when Moses was up on the mountain talking to God and getting the 10 Commandments and Aaron was supposedly holding down the fort with the children of Israel?  The people got impatient and decided that they wanted a god they could see, that they could carry around with them.  And Aaron went and made the statue of the golden calf.  What, in the world, was he thinking?  It’s not like he didn’t know better; he was second in command to Moses!

I have an opinion here; I think he didn’t want to be the bad guy.  I think he wanted to be liked by the children of Israel more than he wanted to be respected.  He valued the acceptance of the Israelites more than he valued the God.  And it got him into trouble.

On the other hand, when Jesus was on earth, He hung out with people that were considered socially unacceptable.  He dressed like they did, from what we know.  He came across as one of the crowd.

Missionaries regularly do much the same thing:  
“Several years ago I was visiting Manila and was taken, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump and saw something beyond belief. Tens of thousands of people make their homes on that dump site. They've constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. And they send their children out early every morning to scavenge for food out of other people's garbage, so they can have family meals. People have been born and grown up there on the garbage dump. They have had their families, their children, their shacks, their garbage to eat, finished out their lives, and died there without ever going anywhere else, even in the city of Manila. It is an astonishing thing.
But Americans also live on the garbage dump. They are missionaries, Christians who have chosen to leave their own country and communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it. That is amazing to me. People would leave what we have to go and live on a garbage dump.”[2]
What if, though, the Americans came to the garbage dump to minister to those people who live on that dump, began to prefer living there and refused to leave?  What if Jesus had decided that He’d rather stay here on earth than to go back to Heaven?

There is a strange psychological thing that happens when people have been held hostage for a while.  It’s called the Stockholm Syndrome.
"The term Stockholm Syndrome first occurred in 1973 at an attempted bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. A man tried to rob a bank, and the police caught him inside. He took three female hostages and one male hostage and held them for 131 hours, during which time he terrorized them. He fired his Russian automatic assault weapon at them. He threatened to kill them on numerous occasions. He put nooses around their necks and threatened to hang them. But he didn't harm any of them.
"When he finally surrendered, something very unusual happened. We expected the hostages to be antagonistic toward the hostage taker. But instead they said they feared the police more than the hostage taker. They also said they didn't hate the hostage taker. They refused to testify against him. One of the ladies became engaged to this hostage taker, and as far as I know, she's still engaged to him.
"The FBI analyzed thousands of hostage situations since that time. We found this happens very frequently. So we asked psychologists, 'What happened? What causes this?' They said in hostage situations, with a high level of life-threatening stress and positive human interaction, the people's ego-defensive mechanisms come into play. There is denial of what is happening and regression to a different emotional state. The hostage will eventually begin to transfer his hatred; This guy doesn't really want to hurt me; and begins to hate the policemen. And something else very important begins to happen; a love relationship begins to take place. And this love relationship is like what happens between a young child and a mother. The mother is protecting the child from the terrifying world and providing all its needs.”[3]
So, who do we identify with most—Our captor or our Rescuer?  Who do we look and act more like?  Who do we want to spend our time with?

“… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. … Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:9, 12

[1] Debbie Battin Sasser, “The Priestly Garments 
of Grace, Lesson 5, April 30, 2011,” Collegiate Quarterly – Teachers’ Guide
[2] Leith Anderson, "A God's-Eye View of Christmas," Preaching Today #208
[3] Ted Childress, former FBI hostage expert, speaking as part of Donald Hoke's sermon, "The Stockholm Syndrome," Preaching Today, Tape No. 30.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wasting the Breath of God

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
(2Ti 3:16-17 ESV)

Can you think of a time in your life when you did not have a Bible in your home somewhere?  I’m not saying that you actually read it…but you had one, right?  At least one, probably a whole shelf full of them!  Can you imagine NOT owning even one Bible?  Would your life be different in any significant way?

I’m sorry to admit that for years, my life would have been exactly the same whether or not I owned a Bible.  Oh, I still went to church and all, but I rarely opened a Bible.   I just came across an Internet question from a girl who just became a Christian.  She says she’s heard that we don’t really need our Bibles, they’ll just confuse us and the Spirit will guide us in the way we should go and she wonders if that’s true.  Hmmm.  What do you think?

Lots and lots of people in other parts of the world don’t have Bibles.  According to one Bible distribution web site, “People all over the world live and worship God without even one page of the Bible to read and grow on.”  In fact, the Wycliffe Bible translating people have done the math
There are 6,500 “living” languages in the world.
2,212 (or 35%) of these languages have some Scripture:
      366 have the whole Bible
      928 have the New Testament only
      918 have some smaller portion of the Bible
4,288 languages have no Scripture at all.

Do those statistics surprise you?  They certainly did me!  Meanwhile, the average American has, according to one survey three Bibles and another says as many as nine.  We’re not talking just Christian Americans here, but Americans…Christian, atheist, agnostic, whatever. 
No matter whose numbers you use though, we may have them, but we’re not studying them!  As primarily English speakers, we have more than 450 different versions and translations to choose from. 

According to an article from the 2006-2007American Family News Network by a Michael J. Vlach:
92% of American households own at least one Bible.
59% report they read their Bibles at least occasionally (down from 73% in the 80’s)
37% say they read their Bible at least once a week (down from 40% in 1990)
Those who say they read their Bible regularly admit to spending about 52 minutes per week.  If we make a difference between actually studying and just reading the Bible, the numbers really drop, which may explain the following:
50% of adults interviewed nationwide could name any of the four Gospels of the New Testament
37% could name all four Gospels
42% were able to name as many as five of the Ten Commandments correctly
70% were able to name the town where Jesus was born
42% could identify him as the person who delivered the Sermon on the Mount
34% believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and should be read literally
25% believe that man was created, in his (or her) present form, 10,000 years ago
38% of Americans believe the entire Bible was written several decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection
12% believe that Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc
49% believe that the Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil
75% believe that the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves.
Are you thoroughly depressed yet? Isn’t it ironic that in some parts of the world, people will do with out food for several days to get even a part of the Bible, and we are using our 3 to 9 per household as coffee table decorations and dust collectors.  Remember when your mom used to try to get you to eat by saying there were starving children who would gladly eat what you didn’t want?  There are people starving for scripture while we let our Bibles decay on bookshelves.

We are so blessed to have unlimited access to the Word of God.  I love the way the English Standard Version says:  “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”  So, if people are able to come to a saving knowledge of Christ without the Bible, why did God give us this incredible gift?   Ellen White says,
“But that which above all other considerations should lead us to prize the Bible is that in it is revealed to men the will of God. Here we learn the object of our creation and the means by which that object may be attained. We learn how to improve wisely the present life and how to secure the future life. No other book can satisfy the questionings of the mind or the cravings of the heart. By obtaining a knowledge of God's Word and giving heed thereto, men may rise from the lowest depths of degradation to become the sons of God, the associates of sinless angels.”--CT 53, 54 (1913). {1MCP 90.4}
Wow!  That’s power!  But if we never open our Bibles and learn what God has to tell us, are our stacks of Bibles doing us any good?  One of the articles I read this week talks about the lack of Bible Literacy in America.  That author feels that that is THE problem in the Christian church today.  He (or she) says that today’s Christian cannot explain to someone else why he (or she) believes that what he believes is true.  Even people who come to church every single week, for the most part, are not studying their Bibles at home.  This author feels that Bible illiteracy is the main reason that we don’t share our faith, and why, when pressed, many of us can’t defend it.  According to him, it’s “no wonder that 50 to 80 percent of Christian youth abandon their faith within the first years of college.”

What a tragedy!  What a waste of God’s gift to us.  What will make us take advantage of this resource?  Do we need a more modern version of the Bible?  I came across an Australian Slang Bible that the author was convinced was going to get more people involved in reading the Bible.  If we could have somebody read it to us would that help?  There are MP3 Bibles, cassette Bibles, CD Bibles.  You know you can even buy little bits of the Bible on CD at the Dollar Store.  And then, on the Internet there are so many places to use the Bible.  We really have no more excuses for not reading.

What about an organized plan of study?  Do you have one?  Other than the Sabbath School lesson, that is?  I have a schedule for reading through the Bible in one year, but really no actual study plan.  Do we need one or is the Sabbath School Lesson enough?  Is there such a thing as too much Bible study?  Or do we stop to soon?  Read this:
“There are many mysteries in the Word of God that we do not comprehend, and many of us are content to stop our investigation when we have just begun to receive a little knowledge concerning Christ. When there begins to be a little unfolding of the divine purposes to the mind, and we begin to obtain a slight knowledge of the character of God, we become satisfied and think that we have received about all the light that there is for us in the Word of God. But the truth of God is infinite. With painstaking effort we should work in the mines of truth, discovering the precious jewels that have been hidden. . . . Jesus meant just what He said when He directed His disciples to "search the Scriptures" (John 5:39). Searching means to compare scripture with scripture, and spiritual things with spiritual. We should not be satisfied with a superficial knowledge.  “We do not half realize what the Lord is willing to do for His people. . . . Our petitions, mingled with faith and contrition, should go up to God for an understanding of the mysteries that God would make known to His saints. . . . An angel's pen could not portray all the glory of the revealed plan of redemption. The Bible tells how Christ bore our sins and carried our sorrows. Here is revealed how mercy and truth have met together at the cross of Calvary, how righteousness and peace have kissed each other, how the righteousness of Christ may be imparted to fallen man. There infinite wisdom, infinite justice, infinite mercy, and infinite love were displayed. Depths, heights, lengths, and breadths of love and wisdom, all passing knowledge, are made known in the plan of salvation.  “He who desires the truth in his heart, who longs for the working of its powers upon the life and character, will be sure to have it. Says the Saviour, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’” (Matt. 5:6).
That I May Know Him,

Monday, April 18, 2011

Butterfly Effect

Commentary on Sabbath School lesson for 4.23.11
“On an ordinary winter day in 1961, an MIT meteorologist named Edward Lorenz ran some routine experiments and found some unusual results. Lorenz discovered that seemingly tiny and insignificant changes in his data could produce huge differences in the final result. At first, Lorenz and other scientists in the field of chaos theory called this ‘the sensitive dependence on initial data.’ Fortunately, later on Lorenz used a simpler term—‘the butterfly effect.’ In 1972, Lorenz presented a scientific paper entitled ‘Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?’ According to Lorenz's theory, the butterfly's wing-flapping doesn't actually cause a tornado, but it can start a chain reaction leading to giant changes in world-wide weather patterns. In others words, even tiny, insignificant movements or actions can produce huge changes that affect millions of people.
“The Bible often describes a similar "butterfly effect" for the spiritual life. According to Jesus, the spiritual butterfly effect occurs when we do small things—making a meal, visiting the sick, befriending the lonely, opening our home to a guest, praying with a friend—for ‘insignificant’ people, which makes a huge difference in God's eyes. But according to Jesus, there's also a reverse butterfly effect: consistently failing to display small acts of kindness (i.e. living an unkind lifestyle) has a profound loss of opportunity in the spiritual realm.”[1]
Way back in the early 1900’s, a boy, probably around 14 years old and his little sister were about to be confirmed into the Lutheran church in Central Illinois, just like their older brothers and sisters had.  Except that the boy, Carl, just felt like the things he was learning weren’t right, somehow.  As he and his sister, Mary, discussed what they were learning, she agreed the things didn’t fit together the way they should.  When the time for confirmation came, Mary went through with it, not knowing what other options there were.  But Carl refused, based on nothing more than a feeling.

Needless to say, his father was furious, but life went on.  A few years later, Carl was apprenticed to a carpenter in Chicago and went to live with his older sisters there.  The carpenter was a Seventh-day Adventist.  Through that carpenter, Carl became a Seventh-day Adventist and then, he brought his immediate and extended family.  Because of Carl’s decision, three generations of family are part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“Life, as we all know, doesn’t come sealed off in distinct and separate categories or sections. Everything impacts just about everything.  In fact, Einstein’s theory of general relativity teaches that all matter in the universe has a gravitational pull on all other matter. That is, your body exerts a gravitational pull not only on your neighbor but on the sun and everything else in the created world, as well.
“Of course, we don’t need a lesson in physics to recognize the reality of how the deeds and actions of one person can radically, and even tragically, impact others, even generations later. Who we are, where we are, why we are what we are—these all have been affected to some degree by the actions of others completely out of our control. Thus, we need to be careful regarding the things we say and do; for who knows the impact (short-term and long-term, and either for good or for ill) that our deeds and words will have on others?” [2]
What a huge responsibility!  When Jacob gave Joseph the coat, do you think it would have made any difference to him if he had known just how much resentment his older sons were already holding in their hearts? 
“Had Jacob known the real feeling of his sons toward Joseph, he would not have trusted him alone with them; but this they had carefully concealed. …
“His brothers saw him approaching; but no thought of the long journey he had made to meet them, of his weariness and hunger, of his claims upon their hospitality and brotherly love, softened the bitterness of their hatred. The sight of the coat, the token of their father’s love, filled them with frenzy. ‘Behold, this dreamer cometh,’ they cried in mockery. Envy and revenge, long secretly cherished, now controlled them.”[3]
Mrs. White says earlier in the passage that the same spirit that had motivated Cain was also working in the hearts of those older brothers.

What those brothers did next was horrible.  They only wanted to be rid of their pesky little brother, but their actions have been felt by everyone, all the way until today.  Their actions changed them, their father, Joseph.  Those could all have been very negative changes, but thankfully, God was there to turn what could have been an absolutely tragic set of circumstances into a huge victory for His chosen people.
“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  ‘So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.’”  Genesis 45:5-8
What we do affects not only ourselves, but the people around us…not just today but every day between now and when Jesus comes.  It’s a huge responsibility, but thankfully, we don’t have to carry that responsibility by ourselves.  If we’ll ask, the Holy Spirit will direct our intentions and actions – perfecting and filtering as we go through our daily lives.

If God could bring good out of Joseph’s story, He can bring good out of our stories as well. We can’t anymore be perfect than Joseph’s father and brothers could be, but 
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  1 John 2:1-2
Scientists might use the Butterfly Effect to explain parts of the chaos theory, but I’m so glad that my God is not a god of chaos but of order.  He knows the end from the beginning and He will guide me every step of the way.  There is nothing chaotic or mysterious about God’s plans for you and me…
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.”  John 3:16 The Amplified Bible

[1] Kenneth Chang, "Edward N. Lorenz, a Meteorologist and a Father of Chaos Theory, dies at 90," (4-17-08)
[2] Alan Hecht, “The Coat of Different Colors”, The Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, page 42
[3] E.G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, page 210

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Infinite Influence

“Solomon’s repentance was sincere; but the harm that his example of evil-doing had wrought could not be undone…“His influence for good was greatly weakened. …he could never hope entirely to destroy the baleful influence of his wrong deeds…“Among the many lessons taught by Solomon’s life, none is more strongly emphasized than the power of influence for good or for ill.  However contracted may be our sphere, we still exert an influence for weal or woe.  Beyond our knowledge or control, it tells upon others in blessing or cursing…“That our influence should be a savor of death unto death is a earful thought, yet it is possible.  One soul misled, forfeiting eternal bliss—who can estimate the loss!  And yet, one rash act, one thoughtless word, on our part may exert so deep an influence on the life of another that it will prove the ruin of his soul.” Prophets and Kings,pp84,85
Anyway, something frightening happened over the next three years; we became absolutely best friend, and she was baptized into the Adventist church.  I say frightening because when we talked about what had led her to be interested in learning more, she explained that it was because she had watched me over the years and had seen something there that she wanted in her own life.  WHOA!!!  I started rewinding those years to find out what I had done/not done that would have shown anything worth wanting and what I saw was not what I would describe as good.  I hadn’t witnessed to her; I hadn’t even invited her to church.  I think the only time we ever discussed anything even remotely Biblical was to argue about evolution vs. creation.  And yet, she did come to church.  Amen!
Now I know that the Holy Spirit is in charge of these things (Praise the Lord), and that my friend just thought she was seeing me and was really being led by the Holy Spirit. 

But that sense of responsibility has never left me.  I’m not saying that I always exert the best, or even the right, influence, but when I remember that experience, I am awed at the power of one person watching another person.  I’m also terrified.  What a huge responsibility!

Think about the week that just ended.  What kind of influence have you been?  What kind of influence have I been?  Can I be better this coming week?  What do I need to do differently?  God is longing for us to ask exactly those kinds of questions, because He has so much He wants to give us.
“He longs to give you understanding in temporal as well as in spiritual matters.  He can sharpen the intellect.  He can give tact and skill.  Put your talents into the work, ask God for wisdom, and it will be given you.”  E.G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 146

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Clinging to Inadequacy

Commentary on Sabbath School lesson for 4.16.11

“Surrender don't come natural to me
I'd rather fight You for something
I don't really want
Than to take what You give that I need”[1]
These are some of the words for Rich Mullins’ song “Hold Me Jesus”.  Mullins has really caught the essence of our constant struggle with God:  He wants to give us eternity and we want the here and now.  I have to mention the show Hoarders: Buried Alive again.  Somehow their experience seems to parallel, on an individual scale, how all of humanity has been acting since Adam and Eve took a bite of whatever fruit that was.

So, here’s this person who has “collected” so much stuff that he (or she) cannot walk through his own house without stepping on things.  There are whole rooms that are completely unusable.  It seems like most of the time, there is very little of value in the house, just tons of things the person is afraid to get rid of, for whatever reason. The person has usually come to the point where he is either going to lose his home or his family because of the mess.

Enter the psychologist and the professional organizer, both of whom specialize in hoarders and they start trying to help the hoarder.  The organizer will pick up some random thing off of the top of a pile (maybe a plastic hanger that’s broken or a stray glove) and ask the hoarder if he can get rid of it.  Amazingly the hoarder, who knows that losing his family and/or house is imminent, will hold this bit of garbage and really struggle with being able to let it go. One man was on the verge of losing contact with his wife and little boy because of his hoarding.  They had already moved out of the house.  The father had one whole room filled with nothing but toys that he had bought for his son…but he had never given any of them to his son…the son he was going to lose all contact with.

Aren’t we just a whole lot like that?  Our lives are filled to overflowing with trivia that is separating us from God.  We invite Him in to help us de-clutter, but everything He asks us to get rid of, we want to hang onto.  Meanwhile, He’s waiting to give us eternal life.
“[In an article for Decision magazine], Samuel Kamaleson illustrates [the difficulty of submission] through a Christian folk story from South India. … it opens with a young boy who loved to play marbles. He regularly walked through his neighborhood with a pocketful of his best marbles, hoping to find opponents to play against. One marble in particular, his special blue marble, had won him many matches.
During one walk he encountered a young girl who was eating a bag of chocolate candy. … he had a weakness for chocolates. As he stood there interacting with the young girl, his salivary glands and the rumbling in his stomach became uncontrollable, and he thought to himself, I have got to get my hands on those chocolates.
“…he asked the girl, ‘How about I give you all these marbles for those chocolates?’ She replied, ‘Sounds fair to me.’
He put his hand in his pocket, searching for the distinguishing cracks on the surface of the blue marble. Once he identified the blue marble with his finger tip, … and pulled out all the other marbles.
“As he handed the marbles to the girl in exchange for the chocolate, the boy thought his plan was a success and turned to walk away. As he began to eat the candy, he suddenly turned to the girl and asked, ‘Hey, did you give me all the chocolates?’
“Our fallen nature persuades us to posture ourselves in the same deceptive and defiant attitude as the boy in this story. We want everything the kingdom of God has to offer. … we want all our prayers to be answered, we want to ‘feel close’ to Jesus, …—we want it all. But we are unwilling to give up everything for it. Many times there is a ‘blue marble’ in our lives that we seem unwilling to offer to the control of Christ. …”[2]
Adam and Eve had been wearing garments of light and they gave them up for fig leaves.  They traded everyday face-to-face communion with God for a piece of fruit…hm. When the One who could save them came looking for them, they hid.

It wasn’t until Adam and Eve spoke to God and confessed what had happened that they found out that God already had a plan to rescue them from their sin.  Adam and Eve had tried to fix things by sewing fig leaves together, but they didn’t realize the full cost of what they had done.  What they had done could not be fixed without the shedding of blood  --  fig leaves just were not going to cut it.
“He who would become a child of God must receive the truth that repentance and forgiveness are to be obtained through nothing less than the atonement of Christ. Assured of this the sinner must put forth an effort in harmony with the work done for him, and with unwearied entreaty he must supplicate the throne of grace, that the renovating power of God may come into his soul. Christ pardons none but the penitent, but whom He pardons He first makes penitent. The provision made is complete, and the eternal righteousness of Christ is placed to the account of every believing soul. The costly, spotless robe, woven in the loom of heaven, has been provided for the repenting, believing sinner, and he may say: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).”[3]
Are you ready to give up your fig leaves for a perfect robe of righteousness?  I am.

[1] Rich Mullins, “Hold Me Jesus”, A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band (1993)
[2] Christopher L. Heuertz, Simple Spirituality (IVP, 2008), pp. 116-117; Samuel T. Kamaleson, "Mangoes and Marbles," Decision magazine (January 1978)
[3] E.G. White, A New Life, p. 23

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Don’t Worry. Be Happy!

Easy for me to say, right?  But not really practical.  You’ve probably heard the intentional mis-quoting of Rudyard Kipling:  “If you can keep your calm when those around you are losing theirs…you clearly don’t understand the situation!”  We all worry, don’t we? (I hope I’m not the only one!)  Some of us worry more than others, for whatever reason, but we all worry about something.

What do you worry about?  Money? School? Kids? What to make for supper? What to wear to work or school?  Whether to buy this brand or that brand of cereal?  Does your shirt match your pants? Do you worry so much that you can’t enjoy anything?  Do you worry that you worry too much? 

So, do you think worrying is a problem?  One psychologist told me that worrying, like guilt, is what gets most of us off the dime.  Worry is what motivates us to make good grades; get up and go to work every morning; or pay our bills. If we didn’t worry or feel guilty about things, we’d never accomplish anything at all.  That’s disheartening isn’t it?  I’d like to think that I do things for loftier reasons than worry and guilt.  How sad…if it’s true.  What do you think?

Then, there’s the philosophy on the popular book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s all small stuff.  That’s kind of the other extreme, isn’t it?  It’s right up there with the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” philosophy.  Is it possible to just make up your mind one day that you’re not going to worry about anything any more?  How do you do that?

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where George’s father was trying to find peace and calm by saying to himself, “Serenity Now!”  whenever he felt he was loosing his cool.  Hilarity ensues as tension mounts and Mr. Kostanza tries to force himself to remain calm.  Each time he says, “serenity now”, it’s louder and more frantic until he’s yelling. And, of course, it doesn’t work.  I don’t believe that someone can just tell himself (or herself) not to worry and then not worry.  I’ve met people who are trying to live like that, haven’t you?  They go around pretending not to be worried about anything while their world is falling down around them.  Not a good place to be.

Bummer, I don’t think I want to live with either of those options.  Worrying all the time, about everything would be exhausting and depressing!  But then so would forcing myself not to worry.  Thankfully, as Christians, we have a third choice.
So I say to you, Take no thought for your life, about food or drink, or about clothing for your body. Is not life more than food, and the body more than its clothing? See the birds of heaven; they do not put seeds in the earth, they do not get in grain, or put it in store-houses; and your Father in heaven gives them food. Are you not of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought is able to make himself a cubit taller? And why are you troubled about clothing? See the flowers of the field, how they come up; they do no work, they make no thread: But I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God gives such clothing to the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is put into the oven, will he not much more give you clothing, O you of little faith? Then do not be full of care, saying, What are we to have for food or drink? or, With what may we be clothed? Because the Gentiles go in search of all these things: for your Father in heaven has knowledge that you have need of all these things: But let your first care be for his kingdom and his righteousness; and all these other things will be given to you in addition. Then have no care for tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Take the trouble of the day as it comes.” (Mat 6:25-34 BBE)
I heard a pastor say one time, that there are 365 “Fear not” verses in the Bible – one for every day of the year.  I’m trying to confirm that…still counting, but even if there aren’t exactly 365, there are a bunch of them.  That pastor said that God put those there to prove to us that we don’t need to worry. 
“God cares for everything and sustains everything that He has created…No tears are shed that He does not notice.  There is no smile that He does not mark.  If we would but fully believe this, all undue anxieties would be dismissed.  Our lives would not be so filled with disappointment as now; for everything, whether great or small, would be left in the hands of God, who is not perplexed by the multiplicity of cares or overwhelmed by their weight.  We should then enjoy a rest of soul to which many have long be strangers.”p471-472Mind, Character and Personality, Volume 2
The question is not, then, “How do I stop worrying?” but “Do I trust God?”  That’s a much easier question to answer.  My personal experience tells me that I can trust God.

But that raises another question.  If there are 365 fear nots in the Bible, that would imply that God really, really doesn’t want us to worry.  So is it wrong to worry?  Ellen White says in The Youth’s Instructor/January 23, 1902 “The Fair Flowers of Promise", 
“God is dishonored when we fret and worry.  Thus we show that we are not trusting in Him but in ourselves.”  Another time she tells a friend “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, but cease worrying.”(2MCP467.3)
I’m not sure whether or not worrying could be considered a sin, but I think it, at best, is a waste of time and, at worst, can separate us from God. 
“When we take into our hands the management of things with which we have to do and depend upon our own wisdom for success, we are taking a burden which God has not given us and are trying to bear it with out His aid.  We are taking upon ourselves the responsibility that belongs to God, and thus are really putting ourselves in His place.  We may well have anxiety and anticipate danger and loss, for it is certain to befall us.  But when we really believe that God loves us and means to do us good, we shall cease to worry about the future.  We shall trust God as a child trusts a loving parent.  Then our troubles and torments will disappear, for our will is swallowed up in the will of God.(2MCP468.3)
I don’t want to do God’s job, do you?  And if it’s not my job, then I don’t have to worry about it!  Cool.  That makes not worrying a whole lot easier than I thought.  What a relief!  Because we have lots of proof in the Bible that God only wants what’s best for us.  He is our Good Shepherd and our loving Father.  Jesus gave His life to give us the best future He could and He wants our present to be good as well. 
For I am conscious of my thoughts about you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you hope at the end."  (Jer 29:11 BBE)
If you’re not convinced yet, that God is taking care of us so that there is nothing left for us to worry about, here’s one last E. G. White quote:
“Our heavenly Father measures and weighs every trial before He permits it to come upon the believer.  He considers the circumstances and the strength of the one who is to stand under the proving and test of God, and He never permits the temptations to be greater than the capacity of resistance.”(2MCP473.2)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Your Spiritual Footprint

Commentary on Sabbath School lesson for 4.9.11

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to one state or the other.”[1]
Ok, I want to make sure you really read C.S. Lewis’ quote, so go back and read it real quick.  No, really.  It’s important; I’ll wait right here…

Done?  Good.  So, isn’t that just a little bit terrifying?  “Every time you make a choice…”?  Now, I don’t think Lewis means when you’re deciding which socks to wear or what to have for supper.  But we do make a whole lot of decisions every day that seem innocuous but turn out to have huge implications.  Look at Eve – her decision to take a stroll through the garden without Adam probably didn’t seem all that important to begin with, but look how that turned out.

Then there’s Lucifer.  The first time he realized that he was different from Jesus; could he have made a less damaging decision?  What if he had decided it was ok that Jesus got all the glory because he (Lucifer) was just a created being?  What if he’d decided that being sparkly didn’t make him equal to Jesus?  That’s pretty hard to imagine, isn’t it?

If you’ve ever played in a band or an orchestra, you remember that, when the group is playing a piece of music, all the parts are important.  It doesn’t matter how small or quiet the part is, it has to be played when and how the score says.  Just because the trumpets play the loudest doesn’t mean that their part is any more important than any other part.  It’s just the most noticeable. 
“German orchestra violinists are suing for a pay raise, claiming they play many more notes per concert than their colleagues do. The 16 violinists point to their less-busy colleagues who play flute, oboe, or trombone.”[2]
What if those violinists decided that they should get paid more than the conductor and start a campaign to discredit the conductor?  That would be a terrible mess!  And it would ultimately destroy that orchestra, just like Lucifer’s decisions caused huge repercussions that we experience every day of our lives. 
“Lucifer might have remained in favor with God, beloved and honored by all the angelic host, exercising his noble powers to bless others and to glorify his Maker. But, says the prophet, ‘Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness.’ Verse 17. Little by little, Lucifer came to indulge a desire for self-exaltation. ‘Thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God.’ ‘Thou hast said, ... I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation ... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.’ Verse 6; Isaiah 14:13, 14. Instead of seeking to make God supreme in the affections and allegiance of His creatures, it was Lucifer’s endeavor to win their service and homage to himself. And coveting the honor which the infinite Father had bestowed upon His Son, this prince of angels aspired to power which it was the prerogative of Christ alone to wield.”[3]
What kind of decisions are you and I making that could lead us into that dangerous neighborhood?  Do we sit in church and think about how we could have done a better job on the children’s story than that person?  Or do we make snarky comments about the special music?  Do we criticize the pastor because of his preaching style?  Those are all decisions that will lead us away from a relationship with God.  And our choice to make those comments probably won’t just have negative effects on us and our own walk with Jesus, but it’s very possible that those comments will damage other people’s relationship with Jesus.
“During a 1923 training exercise, a naval destroyer called the USS Delphy led a flotilla of seven vessels down the California coast. The USS Delphy was captained by Lieutenant Commander Donald T. Hunter, an experienced navigator and instructor at the Naval Academy. Without warning, about half way on their training mission, a thick blanket of fog descended on the ships. In the midst of the fog (Hunter claimed it looked like "pea soup"), Hunter couldn't get an accurate evaluation of his location. Contrary to Hunter's calculations, the lead ship was headed right into Devil's Jaw, a scant two miles off the California coast. But that didn't stop Hunter from plowing ahead. That is not surprising, for Hunter was known for his self-confident decisiveness and what others called his ‘magic infallibility’ to guide his ship.
“Traveling at 20 knots, suddenly the USS Delphy smashed broadside into the rocky Point Arguello shoreline. The force of the massive collision of welded steel and jagged rock split the hull of the USS Delphy in half. One by one, the other destroyers followed the Delphy's lead and smashed into the rocks. Twenty-two naval men died. The accident resulted in the loss of all seven ships. It still stands as one of the worst peacetime naval disasters in history.”[4]
Lucifer took a third of the angels.  Critical whispers and gossip have destroyed many churches and the salvation of countless people.
“Global warming seems to be on everyone's mind. … [It] is all very interesting (and controversial, no less), but it really gets one to thinking about a more inconvenient truth—sin.
“For every act of rebellion—every vicious word, every selfish act, every unhealthy state of mind—we further impress our own personal footprint in the wide, growing path of spiritual destruction. By just one misstep, these are the wages: the world will never quite be the same again—and not for the better. …
The good news, of course, is that we can leave another print of an entirely different kind. With every act of redemption … we can further impress the personal footprint of the One who walked before us, ushering in his new kingdom alongside him. By just one sure step, the world will never quite be the same again—and for the better indeed.”[5]
Which creature are your choices leading you toward becoming? What’s your spiritual footprint?

[1] C. S. Lewis
[2] "Violinists Say Pay Far from Noteworthy," Chicago Tribune (3-24-04)
[3] E.G. White, Darkness before Dawn, page 2
[4] Robert McKenna, The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy (McGraw Hill, 2003), p. 97; Charles Lockwood & Hans Christian Adamson, Tragedy at Honda (Naval Institute Press, 1986), pp. 29-49
[5] Brian Lowery, Associate Editor,