Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who Am I?

Ok, so how many of you have seen the movie The Runaway Bride?  Julia Roberts Richard Gere – not much to complain about … except that Julia Roberts plays a woman with a particular personality type.  Maggie (the girl played by Julia Roberts), is the absolute epitome of the phrase “all things to all people”.
Have you ever met anyone like that?  He (or she) shapes himself into someone he thinks you want him to be.  If you say you like jazz, this person likes jazz.  If you like anchovy and garlic pizza, that becomes his favorite food.  You’ll never have any arguments with him because he will always find someway to agree with you.

Oddly enough, he’s not doing this consciously at all.  In the world of psychology, this is called low ego strength.  (In the 70’s and 80’s it was called “co-dependency”)  When a person has low ego strength, he really has no sense of himself—his feelings, his likes and dislikes, opinions.  He is open to being led by the people around him.  In The Runaway Bride, Ike (Richard Gere) demonstrates to Maggie that she is so dependent on other people to define who she is that she doesn’t even know how she likes her eggs fixed.  She has always just “liked” them the way her boyfriend liked them.  When her boyfriend changed, so did her egg preparation preference. 

Psychologists will tell you this is NOT a healthy way to live; we can’t make everybody happy all the time.  So, then why does Paul say in I Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”?  Is he saying that we should be chameleons like Maggie? Is it more of a cultural thing (When in Rome…, and all that)? Or none of the above?  What do you think?
Well, apparently there are folks out there who assert that Paul was telling Christians to be “situational pragmatists”.  Well, first I had to look up what that meant—if you already know, go ahead and skip down a few lines, but for the rest of us:  A situational pragmatist is someone who goes through life like a chameleon, continually changing to match his environment, for the sole purpose of convincing other people of his ideas.  Remember the Nixon years and the phrase “The end justifies the means.”?  That is a situational pragmatist’s mantra. But I don’t believe it was Paul’s, do you?  He never pretended to be something he wasn’t or to believe something he didn’t, just to get folks to become Christians.

Ellen White describes Paul’s approach to his mission like this:  
"We know that the apostle did not sacrifice one jot of principle. He did not allow himself to be led away by the sophistry and maxims of men.  He was not to coincide with the suppositions and assurances of men who were teaching for doctrine the commandments of men…” The Southern Work, p76
Another interpretation of Paul’s statement “all things to all men” is that Paul was keeping up with the cultural changes around him so that his message remained “culturally relevant”.  I have to say that this particular angle has taken up a lot of webspace.  People feel very strongly about what they believe Paul would/would not have condoned if he were around today.  Would he have added other-than-hymns music to his worship services? One pastor went so far as to comment, “I think he’d be the first to be thrown out of the church today for disobeying the law.”

Mrs. White explains it a bit differently in Sketches From the Life of Paul: 
“…his purpose to become all things to all men as far as he could do this and not sacrifice principle,…”.
So, Paul wasn’t a chameleon and he wasn’t a pragmatist, so what was his point?
“He [Paul] did not approach the Jews in a way to stir up their prejudice. He did not run the risk of making them his enemies by telling them the first thing that they must believe on Jesus of Nazareth; but he dwelt on the promises of the Old Testament scriptures, which testified of Christ,… Thus he led them along …, showing them the importance of honoring the law of God. He also gave due honor to the ceremonial law,… After dwelling upon these things, evincing that he had a clear understanding of them himself, he brought them down to the first advent of Christ, and proved that in the crucified Jesus every specification had been fulfilled. This was the wisdom that Paul exercised. He approached the Gentiles, not by exalting the law at first, but by exalting Christ,… Thus he varied his manner of labor, always shaping his message to the circumstances under which he was placed; and, yet,… many would not be convinced. There are some who will not be convinced by any method of presenting the truth. The laborer for God should, nevertheless, study carefully the best method, in order that he may not arouse prejudice or stir up combativeness unnecessarily. Let him give the people evidence that he is a true Christian, conscientious, desiring peace and not strife, and that he has a love for their souls. Thus the confidence of the people will be gained. Canvasser, December 11, 1890

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Under New Management

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 10.1.11

Let’s start with a story told by Stuart Briscoe in “Christmas 365 Days a Year:”
“Let me put it to you with the story of a simple, illiterate man who was converted through the work of the Salvation Army. He went regularly to the Salvation Army citadel. One day he came home rather disconsolate.
“His wife said, ‘What's the matter?’
“He said, ‘I've just noticed that all the people in the Salvation Army wear red sweaters, and I don't have a red sweater.’
“She said, ‘I'll knit one.’ So she knitted him a red sweater.
“The next Sunday after he went to the citadel, he still wasn't happy.
“His wife said, ‘What's wrong this time?’
“He said, ‘I just noticed all their red sweaters have yellow writing.’
“They were both illiterate, but she said, ‘Don't worry about it. I'll embroider some writing on for you.’
“She had no idea what the yellow writing on the red sweater of a Salvation Army man said--Any of you know what it is? They have a yellow circle, and in it, BLOOD AND FIRE. That's their motto. (Unbutton the jacket of a Salvation Army man when he's ringing his little bells sometime; tell him you're just checking.)
“The man's wife had no idea what the letters said, and she couldn't read anyway. So copying a sign from a store window opposite their home, she embroidered the words of that store sign onto his red sweater.
“When he came back the next Sunday, she said, ‘Did they like your sweater?’
“‘They loved my sweater. Some of them said they liked my sweater better than their sweater.’
“What neither of them knew was that the sign on the store window she had copied read, THIS BUSINESS UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.
“That's what it means to get saved. That's what it means to get converted. That's what it means for the Holy Ghost to come upon you: this business under new management.”[1]
Isn’t that great?  When we see an “Under New Management” sign on a business, doesn’t it bring hope?  It lets us know that no matter what our experience has been with that business in the past, it will be different from now on. 

It’s the same for people too.  Of course, we don’t have to hang a sign around our necks, but when we’ve turned our lives over to Jesus, we can let people know that their experience with us will (hopefully) be different from now on.

Think about Saul, for example.  He was an extremely loyal and steadfast Jew.  So much so that he was kind of in the frontlines of the Jews who were trying to eradicate the new Christian believers.  The first we hear of him in the Bible is when he’s guarding coats at the “trial” and execution of Stephen. 
“…, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” 
That is the last time Saul and Stephen saw each other.  Now imagine this, Stephen is walking around Heaven and coming the other way he sees the man he knows as Saul.  What do you think would go through Stephen’s mind at that point?  (Of course, this is earthly thinking here.)  Do you think he might, for just a fraction of a second, entertain the thought that this must be some kind of joke?  that there must have been some huge mistake?  After the initial shock, Stephen and Saul/Paul would have a good talk and it’d be ok, because Stephen would find out that Paul is “under new management.”

Even more amazing though is that Paul would be able to thank Stephen for having a part in his conversion.  “Wait, what?” you say.  “Saul was with the guys who murdered him.”  Well, true, but check this out:
“The martyrdom of Stephen made a deep impression upon all who witnessed it. It was a sore trial to the church, but resulted in the conversion of Saul. The faith, constancy, and glorification of the martyr could not be effaced from his memory. The signet of God upon his face, his words, that reached to the very soul of all who heard them, except those who were hardened by resisting the light, remained in the memory of the beholders, and testified to the truth of that which he had proclaimed.          
“… Saul seemed to be imbued with a frenzied zeal at the scene of Stephen’s trial and death. He seemed to be angered at his own secret convictions that Stephen was honored of God, at the very period when he was dishonored of men.”[2]
Having read that, I thought, for the first time, that even though we talk about sudden or Damascus Road types of conversions, that’s not really the way it works.  The Holy Spirit was working in Paul all along.  The Damascus Road experience was just the culmination of that work…the “under new management” sign hung in the window. 

That gives me so much hope!  God never gave up on Paul, even when he was running around actually supervising the killing of Christians.  The Holy Spirit stuck with him, even when Paul was at his absolute lowest point.

What an amazing God we believe in.  He sends the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts and to convict us even when we are doing absolutely everything we can to avoid surrendering our hearts and minds to Him.  And another thing I just realized is that even though my conversion experience or your conversion experience doesn’t look as dramatic as Paul’s, we are each led to that exact point in time where we can make our own Damascus Road decision to either walk with or walk away from God.  Do you realize that Paul could still have chosen to continue to work against God?  Paul could have decided he’d been struck by some freak bolt of lightning.  But praise God he didn’t!
“There comes a crisis, a moment when every human soul which enters the kingdom of God has to make its choice of that kingdom in preference to everything else that it holds and owns.”[3]
I believe when we compare notes in Heaven, we’ll find that we share the experience described by Francis Thompson the author of the poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” 
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; / I fled Him, down the arches of the years; / I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways / Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears / I hid from Him, and under running laughter.” [4]
We’ve all run from Jesus because we weren’t ready to surrender, but now it’s time to put a sign on all our hearts:  “UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.”

[1] Stuart Briscoe, "Christmas 365 Days a Year," Preaching Today, Tape 135.
[2] E.G.White, The Spirit of Prophecy, Volume 3, page 299.
[3] Catherine Booth. "William and Catherine Booth," Christian History, no. 26.
[4] Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Picture This --

Samson is sitting in s therapist’s office, right after the whole Delilah episode.  See, the prison where the Philistines have put Samson, provides psychological services for the inmates.  Who’d a thunk it?

Anyway, Samson’s sitting there, blind, chained, and humiliated.  His head is in his hands.  “How did I end up here?”  he asks. “I was the strongest, most powerful man in the country.”

The therapist starts his (or her) search, “Well, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  Tell me the first thing you remember.”

SAMSON: “The first thing?  Hmmm.  That would have to be my mom and dad teaching me the conditions of being a Nazirite; how God had chosen me for a very special purpose.  They told me the same things everyday.”

THERAPIST: “Nazirite?  I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of that before.  Can you tell me more about that?”

SAMSON: “Sorry, I forget that most folks haven’t heard about nazirites.  Anyway, every morning and evening, my parents sat down with me and told me about the day an angel of the Lord came and spoke to my mother.  The angel told her that I was supposed to be a nazirite for my whole life.  That is a person who is set apart for a special job.  My job was to work toward delivering the Jews from the Philistines.”

THERAPIST: “That sounds like a huge responsibility.  What are the conditions of being a nazirite you mentioned?”

SAMSON: “Oh, well, I can’t touch a dead body of any kind; I’m not to drink any wine or strong drink or even have any contact with grapes in it; and I was never supposed to cut my hair.”

THERAPIST: “Oh, well, that last one seems to have been compromised, how did you do on the other two?”

SAMSON: “Funny you should ask.  I guess I spent a bunch of time trying to show God that I was in control of me and that He wasn’t.”

THERAPIST: “You were asserting your independence.  That’s a healthy response to a restrictive home situation.  Experts tell us that…”

SAMSON: “Hey! Whoa, wait a minute.  I didn’t say my home situation was ‘restrictive’.  Those experts don’t know what they’re talking about.”

THERAPIST: “Well, you implied that your parents implemented overly strict rules and expected unwavering adherence to those rules.  That certainly doesn’t sound like a home where you were loved unconditionally.  It appears to me that your parents expected way to much from such a young person and withheld their love when you didn’t attain their expectations for you.”

SAMSON: “Trust me, you don’t understand anything about my parents or me.  I’m the one who messed up here, not them.  And they’ve always loved me, no matter what stupid thing I got myself into.  So, don’t even go there, okay?
“I just thought I could have things both ways.  I kind of wanted to be God’s instrument to free the Jews, but only as long as it didn’t interfere with me having fun, ya know?
“That’s really the whole thing.  I liked the attention I got for being really strong and having long hair.  I liked the attention the girls gave me.  I liked messing with the philistines and tormenting them.  But it looked like being ‘God’s instrument’ was going to be pretty dull.  So, I went to the next town to parties and stuff and had fun.
“When I think about it now, I hate how much I must have made my mom and dad worry.  I was really awful to them.  It breaks my heart.  I wish I could change that.”

THERAPIST:  “So, what will you do now?”

SAMSON:  “Talk to God.  Do the work the best I can, and wait for God to show me what He wants me to do.”

THERAPIST: “God?!  But He’s the reason you’re here, isn’t He?  He let the Philistines capture you and blind you.  Don’t you think it’s time for you to get your own revenge?”

SAMSON:  “Have you been listening to me at all?  God didn’t leave me; I left Him.  I don’t have time to think about revenge.  I just need to find my way back to God.
I think we’re done here.”

Have you ever experienced anything like Samson?  Well, you know, not the tearing apart the lion and killing the Philistines and all, but waking up one morning and realizing that you’re a million miles away from where you thought you were going?   About all you can do is shake your head and wonder how you got there…and how you can get back to where you started going the wrong direction.  It feels like a hopeless situation doesn’t it?  But it’s not.  Samson’s story shows us that it’s never hopeless to try to find God again.  A song that used to be on the Christian radio station (if I could remember anything about it but this one line, I could find it and print all the words for you, but anyway) that said that no matter how far we’ve run away from God, it’s only one step back.  Wow!

Isn’t that amazing?  God doesn’t make us crawl hundreds of miles back to Him or swim great oceans, or fly over canyons; we just have to change our direction…and He’s right there.  What a comfort.

The truth is that He never once abandoned us; we thought we were abandoning Him.  In The Ministry of Healing we read this
“Even when we are in a relationship that is ungodly, God does not abandon us.  Instead, he provides a way of escape from the situation.“Whatever your anxieties and trials, spread out your case before the Lord.  Your spirit will be braced for endurance.  The way will be open for you to disentangle yourself from embarrassment and difficulty.  The weaker and more helpless you know yourself to be, the stronger will you become in His strength.  The heavier your burdents, the more blessed the rest in casting them upon you Burden Bearer.”
God not only CAN rescue us; He WANTS to rescue us.  And as soon as we are rescued, we are “set apart” for a special purpose.  And, according to an author named David H. Roper, we, like Samson, have three conditions for our “set apart-ness”.  #1–Don’t look back…that part of our lives is dead.  We don’t want to have anything to do with our old lives.  #2–Don’t try to find joy or our sense of well-being anywhere except the spirit of God; not in wine or any other earthly source.  #3–Admit that we are weak beings who cannot do anything except with God’s help. (The nazirites long hair was supposed to by a symbol of weakness.)

Remember this: 
“…for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.”  
And the point is, like with Samson, David, Solomon, Mary Magdalene or you and me, that how many times we fall isn’t nearly as important as how many times we get back up and get back on track with Jesus.  How else could we find Samson’s name in the faith chapter: 
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”  Hebrews 11:32
“Faith is trusting God--believing that He loves us and knows best what is for our good. Thus,…, it leads us to choose His way. In place of our ignorance, it accepts His wisdom; in place of our weakness, His strength; in place of our sinfulness, His righteousness. Our lives, ourselves, are already His; faith acknowledges His ownership and accepts its blessing. Truth, uprightness, purity, have been pointed out as secrets of life's success. It is faith that puts us in possession of these principles.
“Every good impulse or aspiration is the gift of God; faith receives from God the life that alone can produce true growth and efficiency.“… To every promise of God there are conditions. If we are willing to do His will, all His strength is ours. … As surely as the oak is in the acorn, so surely is the gift of God in His promise. If we receive the promise, we have the gift.     Faith that enables us to receive God's gifts is itself a gift, of which some measure is imparted to every human being. It grows as exercised in appropriating the Word of God. In order to strengthen faith, we must often bring it in contact with the Word.” {Ye Shall Receive Power, p.196}

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Meet me in Heaven

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.24.11

I’ve noticed that when we (meaning the Christians who I know) talk about our first day in Heaven, we usually describe an experience akin to a family reunion – looking for and finding family members and old friends, meeting our Bible heroes and peppering them with questions, meeting our guardian angels and getting the behind-the-scenes versions of our lives.  Don’t misunderstand, that all sounds amazing, and I believe we will get to do all of those things; I’m just not sure any of those things will be our priority.

It just occurred to me that instead of the ecstatically, joyful and noisy scene I just described, our first day in Heaven might be more of a take-our-breath-away kind of experience.

The group, MercyMe, sings a song that asks many of the same questions that I find myself asking when I try to picture my first meeting with Jesus.
“I can only imagine / What it will be like / When I walk / By your side / I can only imagine / What my eyes will see /When your face / Is before me / I can only imagine / … / Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel / Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still / Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall / Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all / I can only imagine / … / When that day comes / When I find myself / Standing in the Son / I can only imagine / When all I will do / Is forever / Forever worship You / I can only imagine / …”[1]
I’m really curious about what our worship will look like in Heaven.  Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time picturing it with my limited human experience.  Will we have structured worship services with opening prayer, special music, scripture reading, and then Jesus will speak?  Or will it be more of a concert setting:  Jesus steps out and the crowd goes wild?  Will we follow Him around like the people did when He was here on earth – wait outside His door all night so we can be the first in line in the morning? 

None of those really seem right, do they?  They’re all very earthly styles of worship.

What will worship in Heaven look like?  The book of Revelation actually gives us several examples.  Let’s have a look.
“Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.’
“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:  “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:8-11
“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’  Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:  ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”  Revelation 5:8-14
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’  All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’”  Revelation 7:9-12
“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.’
“And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:  ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.  The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.’  Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.”  Revelation 11:15-19
Anybody else see a pattern emerging here?  There is nothing boring, passive or insipid about the worship described here.  Nobody here is sitting in the balcony texting his (or her) friends.  Nobody is dozing off or wondering what’s for lunch.  The worshipers here have no doubts about who God is and what He has done:  He is the Creator, the Messiah, the Lamb, the Redeemer.  He is the Eternal Commander who has won the battle between good and evil.  No being in the entire universe will ever question His God-ness or goodness ever again.
“Worship is bending low before our Maker, recognizing and acknowledging His holiness and our creatureliness. It is submitting to His sovereignty, responding to His majestic presence.”[2]
Yeah, I’ll “meet you in Heaven, and we’ll hold hands” and sing songs together, … eventually.  But at first I’m not sure we’ll even know that anyone else is there.  We’re only going to know that our Savior and Redeemer is there and He is going to be the only Person we can see.  “Pray that we all will be there.”

[1] MercyMe, “I Can Only Imagine,” Almost There, 1999.
[2] Richard M. Davidson, Andrews University, Worship in the Old Testament, p. 3.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The World's Hardest Job

OK, so, which do you think would be harder, being the guy how led several million Israelites out of Egypt or the wife of the guy who led several million Israelites out of Egypt?  Yep, that’s what I thought too.

Have you ever had to stand back and watch while someone you loved and cared about had to take a risk?  Maybe it’s being in a play, playing basketball, preaching his (or her) first sermon, being elected president of the United States, or being chosen by God to go back to Egypt and chat with Pharaoh.  That’s one of the hardest things in the world, isn’t it?  You’re more nervous than he is, aren’t you?  Butterflies in your stomach, weak knees, profuse sweating, heart palpitations…you’re a nervous wreck.  He, however, looks calm, cool, and collected.  That’s so not fair.

Now, when things go well, the pressure of watching your loved one doing his thing is bearable.  But then things start going badly:  he forgets his lines, misses what would have been the winning basket, gets stuck during his sermon, his approval rating tanks or the Israelites start whining.  That’s when things begin to get uncomfortable; certainly for the person in the thick of the difficulties, but also for the person who has to stand by and take it.  Excruciating, in fact.

Think of Moses and Zipporah.  They had forty pretty easy years together-just the sheep, Zipporah’s sisters and at least one brother, Jethro, and the two boys.  They all seemed to get along pretty well.  When you think about, Moses probably had spent more of his life with these people than he had with his own family (birth or adopted).  He had worked beside these people, eaten with them, laughed and cried with them; Moses knew Zipporah’s family on a really personal basis.  They probably had inside jokes and funny old memories that his own family back in Egypt would not understand.  In many ways, I believe Moses felt more closeness with this family than with his own…to begin with anyway.

But then, God gives Moses a mission and things begin to happen pretty quickly; Moses and his wife and kids head off for Egypt.

Now to be really honest, I don’t get this whole circumcision, husband of blood thing AT ALL!  I do take comfort in finding out that almost nobody else gets it either.  Some people say that the angel was trying to kill Moses’ son, Gershom, that it was Moses who was circumcised, that Zipporah was honoring Moses by putting the blood on his feet, or that she was angry at him for making her do what he should have done.  There’s another whole theory that God was trying to kill Moses because Moses had been reluctant to take on this mission.  I think those are all things we’ll have to ask Moses and Zipporah about when we chat with them in Heaven.  All I think I understand about this episode, is that Zipporah did what she had to do to save her husband’s life, even though she probably wasn’t thrilled about doing it or understand all the why’s and wherefores of it.  She saw what had to be done and she did it.  Wow.

Zipporah doesn’t come into the story again for quite a while.  Again, there are lots of theories.  Some say that Moses divorced her at that point…but then why did she come see him again later?  Mrs. White says that Moses realized that the things he was going to have to do to get through to Pharaoh were going to be too hard on her.  He probably also knew that he couldn’t be distracted from his mission, even by his own family.  Another thing, and this is just me, Moses might have been a little reluctant for his birth family to meet Zipporah, and with good reason, as it turned out.  Whatever the logic was, Zipporah goes back to Midian and Moses heads on to Egypt.  That must have been tough.
When Zipporah and Moses meet up again, Zipporah has to realize pretty quickly that her quiet shepherdess life is completely over.  Now she is traveling the desert with the leader of several million whiney people who wanted Moses’ attention all the time.  They wanted more food, different food, water; they wanted Moses to settle their petty little arguments – all day long, everyday!  Oh for a couple hundred nice quiet sheep!!!

Do you remember how angry you were the first time one of you kids told you that somebody at school didn’t like him (or her)?  Or later, when somebody he was dating broke his heart?  He probably got over it before you did, because he’s interacting, crying, healing, meeting new people, and hopefully studying; while all you have to go on is that one bit of information, that one interaction when he was the most vulnerable.  He can move on much more easily than you can.  Imagine Moses and Zipporah in their tent ready to go to sleep and Moses is decompressing from his day.  Zipporah listens and gets pretty angry and frustrated with these people who are eating up all of her husband’s time.  Moses can get a good night’s sleep and go out and do it all again tomorrow, but Zipporah has time to stew about each slight and complaint.  Thankfully she went and vented to her dad who had some pretty great advice about how to delegate authority so Moses could stick to the important business of getting all these folks to the Promised Land.

You know what’s really great though, is that Moses took the advice.  How many of us would have just brushed Jethro’s advice off?  I mean what did he know?  He’d never led millions of people through the desert.  God hadn’t called him to free the Israelites from slavery.  He was just some small town priest from some backwoods town. Moses knew two things, though.  First, he knew his father-in-law well enough to know he was a smart guy; he’d already learned a lot from him.  And, second, he knew that God was the One who was really in charge; and if He chose to give Moses advice through his father-in-law, he’d be glad to take it.

Moses shows the advantages of having a great support system for somebody who is in a position of authority.  He didn’t ever just set out to do this on his own.  He worked with his own family – Miriam and Aaron.  He worked with his in-laws – Jethro and Hobab (Zipporah’s brother).  He worked with the Israelites by delegating authority over the people.  And probably most importantly, Moses wasn’t a control freak, an easy trap to fall into when a person holds that much authority. 

Another great thing is that Zipporah worked hard to make Moses' life easier not harder.  And isn’t that the best way we can serve each other, by making each other’s lives easier?  “Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”  Galations 6:2 

Zipporah could have whined to Moses that he never paid any attention to her and the boys; that he’d dragged them out into the wilderness without discussing things first; that he cared more about these strangers than he did about her.  When Moses’ brother and sister got ugly about her, she could have jumped into the fight and told them what she thought about them…but as far as we know, she didn’t give into that mentality.  She supported her husband in the mission he had accepted. 

I’d be willing to bet that she didn’t always like the way her life was going, but that didn’t change her mind about her mission—to be a blessing to her family. 
The wife can be a comfort, a blessing, standing by the side of her husband as his safe counselor, her influence keeping him to the right, to honesty and purity and godliness.”--Letter 41a, 1888, p. 5. (Written at Burrough Valley, Calif., July 7, 1888, to Brothers and Sisters at Fresno.)
“Here is the wife, the queen of the home--the blessing of God can rest upon her that she may be a sunshine, a sunbeam, in the house. Never, never, in any way, speak in a manner that would irritate. The voice is a talent; it is a talent of God. It is to be so cultivated that it will bring peace and harmony and light and love.” {2SAT 271.3}

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Feel the Bubbles

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 9.17.11

We, as Christians, talk quite a bit about having faith.  It’s one of those things that is kind of hard to explain to someone who considers himself (or herself) a “non-believer.”  Faith is a word that really isn't explainable, kind of like “Gesundheit” or “Fahrfugnugen.”  If you speak German, you understand what those words mean, but it’s really difficult to translate them to someone who doesn't speak German.

Some folks describe faith as the same as belief.  The problem is, beliefs can change.  As children many of us believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and just as many of us, no longer believe in those things.  Belief cannot often stand up to uncertainty, while faith does.

At the same time, faith is not the same as blindly following and just accepting what someone tells you.  There is room for questioning and fact-checking in faith. It seems, then, that people who live by faith, often have to put up with some uncertainty, and that is often uncomfortable.

Look at the early Christians.  First, their belief that Jesus was the Messiah had to become faith because everything they could see and hear pointed to Jesus being dead.  Once they’d gotten past that hurdle, people started arresting the disciples, throwing them into prison and pretty much anything else unpleasant these folk could think of to get the disciples to quit talking about this crazy new religion.  I don’t think just believing that Jesus was a great guy would have done the early church members much good.  They had to have real faith the Holy Spirit would be right there with them as they experienced the things they did.

One of the most amazing things to me is that, not only did the faith of the early Christians hold, they were able to praise God along the way.  I have to admit, I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but doesn’t asking, “why me?” end my worshipping?  Or is there a way to continue worshipping while questioning?

Elizabeth Elliot was a missionary whose husband, Jim Elliott was killed by the Indians he was trying to be a missionary to.  She has asked that same question along the way.  Here’s her take on it:
“It is always best to go first for our answers to Jesus himself. He cried out on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It was a human cry, a cry of desperation, springing from his heart's agony at the prospect of being put into the hands of wicked men and actually becoming sin for you and me. We can never suffer anything like that, yet we do at times feel forsaken and cry, ‘Why, Lord?’
“The psalmist asked why. Job, a blameless man, suffering horrible torments on an ash heap, asked why. It does not seem to me to be sinful to ask the question. What is sinful is resentment against God and his dealings with us.”[1]
In some ways, our uncertainty could help us become closer to God.
“Drawing on the Jewish tradition of exploring God by intense study of the Scriptures, author Rob Bell points out that ‘the rabbis even say a specific blessing when they don’t understand a portion of the text. When it eludes them, when it makes no sense, they say a word of thanks to God because of the blessing that will be theirs someday. “Thank you, God, that at some point in the future, the lights are going to come on for me.”’—Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Zondervan, 2005), pp. 68, 69. Approached in this way, what we don’t know or understand can actually be a trigger for worship.”[2]
Okay, that may be going a little too far.  I can see having faith when I don’t understand, but worshipping too?  That could be tougher.  What do you think? 

Isn't it when we can’t see what’s up ahead that we hold on even more tightly to the person who knows where he’s going?  God promises that He will guide us, even (or especially) when we don’t know the way.
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,  along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”  Isaiah 42:16
That is an amazing promise, isn’t it?  I mean, even if we don’t know anything else, we know that God promised to lead us where He wants us to be, and we can worship Him for that.

In Christian Reader, Lindy Warren quotes Steven Curtis Chapman:
“I have learned that we can control where we allow things that we can't understand to fall. They either fall between us and God, and we become angry. Or we allow these things to fall outside of us and press us in closer to God.”[3]
Where would you rather be when the tough times fall?  I know where I want to be.
“I have never been scuba diving, but I'm told that it's a blast. Strapping on those life tanks and exploring the water world below sounds like fun. I had a conversation once with a former navy diver about diving deep—really deep.
“He told me that he had been in situations so deep and dark that it was almost impossible to keep from becoming disoriented and confused. What a terrifying feeling—being under water, unable to see your hands in front of your face, not knowing which way is up, panic engulfing you. I immediately interrupted my friend, ‘So what did you do?’
“‘Feel the bubbles,’ he said.
“‘Feel the bubbles?’ I asked.
“‘That's right. When it's pitch black and you have no idea which way to go, you reach up with your hand and feel the bubbles. The bubbles always drift to the surface. When you can't trust your feelings or judgment, you can always trust the bubbles to get you back to the top.’
“[As Christians] we need a way to determine what is real and true. Sometimes in life we get disoriented and desperate. At other times, we find ourselves drifting aimlessly. God knew that we would need advice and instructions about how to live. In the 66 books of the Bible we have a reality library—stories, letters, guidelines, and examples from God that tell us what is true and real.”[4]
Learning to worship, praise and feel the Holy Spirit even when we don’t know where God is leading us and don’t understand why He wants us to go there, is like relaxing and feeling the bubbles—letting the Holy Spirit guide us.

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart (Vine Books, 1995)
[2] Nathan Brown, “Worship in the Early Church,” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide
[3]Lindy Warren, "Steven Curtis Chapman's Silent Nights," Christian Reader (March/April 2002), p. 59
[4] Terry Carter, Scott Duvall, and Daniel Hays, Preaching God's Word (Zondervan, 2005), p. 41-42

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

“Now is the winter of our discontent”

Rachel, Leah and Jacob…probably one of the saddest stories in the Bible, don’t you think?  But I just read a couple of things that helped me think of this story from a completely different direction.  Very interesting!

Typically, each person plays an extremely stereotypical role:  Jacob is the love-blinded hero, just trying to do his best with the cards he’d been dealt; Rachel is the tragic love interest who cries a lot and dies young; and Leah plays the evil step-sister (ala Cinderella) by flaunting her blessings in front of poor Rachel.

But look at the story from the perspective of a gentleman named Richard L. Strauss (not the composer).  He’s a Christian author who has written a book called, Living in Love: Secrets from Bible Marriages, that covers thirteen important couples of the Bible.  Sound familiar?  Anyway, he has an extremely interesting take on the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

(You can find the complete book, along with many of his other books, as well as a bunch of other interesting stuff, for free at

To start things off, Mr. Strauss compares Rachel and Jacob’s initial relationship to that of the football hero and homecoming queen—that is, based on physical attraction and not much else.  The only salvation for the relationship at all was the enforced seven year engagement that forced them to get to know each other.  He also includes something that I’ve always felt:  that Leah really loved Jacob and that’s why she went along with Laban’s plan.  Imagine how she must have felt when she heard Jacob yelling at Laban about being tricked.  Ouch!

Now, something I’d never thought of before was that maybe God’s best will for Jacob was to be married to Leah only and that he should have accepted the trick as God’s will. But, Jacob being Jacob, he was going to get what he wanted no matter what it cost anybody.  Hm.  Something to think about.

It is under the stressful situation of a two wife household Strauss believes that Rachel’s true nature begins to show.  So, here’s Rachel who has been the favored daughter, the favored wife, the beauty of the family, wealthy and she tells Jacob, “Give me children or else I die.”  Genesis 30:1  According to Strauss, this is Rachel’s way of saying, if I can’t have what I want, when I want it, I’d rather be dead.  Never mind that Jacob was willing to work fourteen years to be allowed to marry her, she wanted what Leah had—children. 

The spirit of discontent governed Rachel’s life and, probably, made the people around her miserable as well.  Even when Rachel has a son, she names him ‘Joseph’ which means “may he add” and says “May the Lord give me another son.”  Genesis 30:24
“A beggar standing on a street corner commented to his friends, ‘“If only I had a hundred dollars, I would never complain again.’  A businessman walking by over heard his statement and interrupted the conversation.
“’Excuse me,’ the man said.  ‘Did you say if you had a hundred dollars, you would never complain again?’
“The beggar replied, ‘You heard right, mister.’
The man pulled out his wallet, handed him one hundred dollars, and said, ‘I’m glad I can have a small part in bringing happiness to the world.’
After the man walked away, the beggar turned to his friends and remarked, ‘I wish I had asked for two hundred dollars!’”  Kent Crockett, I Once Was Blind But Now I Squint
So, what does it mean to be discontent?  From the dictionary I get this definition:  “a restless desire or craving for something one does not have” and these synonyms: “uneasiness, inquietude, restlessness, and displeasure”.

At the same time, though, we have to be very careful to separate “good” discontent from “bad” discontent.  The “good” kind is what triggers motivation toward change and better things.  But the “bad” kind, well, it’s the basis for every sin, war, murder, or whatever other bad thing you can think of.  For example, why did Lucifer fight with God?  He had become discontent or dissatisfied with his place in the Heavenly hierarchy.   Why did Eve take the fruit?  Why did Cain kill Abel?  Why did Hitler invade Poland?

Guy R. Finnie classifies discontent as “carnal” and “spiritual”.  He defines “carnal discontent” as a person who is completely involve in himself (or herself).  This kind of discontent grows out of covetousness, craving what someone else has, even if what we have ourselves is actually better.

Satan has made sure that society today is built almost exclusively on creating discontentment.  What else is advertising?  If the advertiser shows us enough times that we can’t be happy if we don’t use a particular brand of some product, then we begin to believe that the advertiser is right.

Look at some of the books we read and the movies and shows we watch.  A lot of them center around beautiful men and women with lots of money falling in love, never doing housework, not needing a job, and living happily ever after.  If we look at that kind of life enough, even though it’s imaginary, it can make our lives seem pretty drab and unhappy.  We become discontented with the way we’re living.  As a consequence, we overspend, we hate our jobs, our marriages end, and we want maids to do the housework.  In fact, we become very, very unhappy with what God has given us.  We start thinking more about ourselves and how to get happier, and that’s just not the way Jesus wants us to live.  “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

Read this fable by Jackie McCune:
The Silver Shoes
Once, before this, in the Town of Discontent, lived a little boy named Saad.  Now Discontent was not always the name of the town; it was once known as Pleasant.  It was an unusual town because everyone who lived there always wore silver shoes.  You see, there was a shoemaker in Pleasant who made silver shoes for everyone and all he ever charged was a smile.The silver shoes were unusual because they never wore out.  Another unusual thing about them was that they were always the right size no matter how big the people’s feet were.  Whenever a new baby was born in Pleasant the parents would take the baby to the shoemaker and he would make a pair of beautiful silver shoes.  Somehow, as the baby grew, so did the shoes.But one day, another shoemaker came to Pleasant.  He opened his shop right next door to the maker of the silver shoes.“Come and try on MY beautiful shoes, he called to the people as they walked by his shop.  “They are gold and they have jewels that glisten like all the colors of the rainbow.”The people of Pleasant thought the shoes were indeed very beautiful.  Why, some pairs even had three or four jewels on each shoe!  Everyone rushed into the new shoe shop to buy shoes, but when they smiled at the new shoemaker and started to leave, he said, “That will be $10.00 please.”“The old shoemaker only charges a smile,” they said.“But his shoes all look alike,” the new shoemaker said.  “That’s true,” the people would say, and then they would pay the $10.00, take their shoes and rush home to try them on.Now when Saad was born, the town was still called the Town of Pleasant and Saad was named Happy.  True to his name, he was a happy little boy.“Lets take him to the NEW shoemaker,” said his mother.  “I like all the pretty jewels he puts on the shoes he makes; see how mine sparkle?”“Ten dollars is a lot of money,” said his father.  “But if that’s what you want, we will get them for Happy.”They took Happy to the new shoe shop and he was fitted with a beautiful pair of gold shoes with red and blue jewels.  But a few months later they were too tight and Happy began to cry because his shoes hurt his feet.“I don’t have $10.00 to buy another pair right now,” said his father.“But he must have shoes,” cried his mother.His father thought for a moment, “Well, we do have the money we saved for his new bed.  We could use some of that.”So back they went to the new shoe shop.  But when another few months had gone by, the second pair of shoes was too small, and Happy was not happy, because his feet were hurting again.“We must go back to the old shoemaker,” said his father.When they came to the place where the old shoemaker had been, the shop was empty.“Oh!” exclaimed his mother, “What will we do?”“There is nothing we can do,” answered his father.  “We have no money to buy from the new shoemaker and now the old shoemaker is gone.  Our son will have to be without shoes; and so shall we, for our shoes are wearing thin and it will not be long before we will have to throw them away.All the other families in Pleasant found themselves with the same problem for they too had been attracted by the sparkling shoes and, because no one came for the silver shoes anymore, the old shoemaker had moved on to another town.And so it was that the Town of Pleasant became the Town of Discontent and Happy became Saad.
And then there’s this to think about:
“There should be less anxiety for external appearances, but more earnest effort to secure practical comfort in every room throughout the house. … more time devoted to the training of the children, to the preparation of simple, wholesome food, and to the general economy and comfort of the household, would make happy hearts and pleasant faces in the home. … There should be less display of superficial politeness and affection toward strangers and visitors, and more of the courtesy that springs from genuine love and sympathy toward the dear ones of our own firesides.
 “…But it is so flattering to the pride of some persons to exhibit a certain extravagant and fashionable style of living for the benefit of occasional guests, that they are willing to sacrifice the peace and comfort of the household for this empty gratification. … They have no connection with the real joys of life; they interfere with domestic quiet, and unfit the mind for the homely but pleasant duties of practical life.“…Decorations of dress and houses do not make people happy; but the lowliest dwelling may be beautified, and the poorest family be made rich, by the possession of meekness, kindness and love. Pleasant voices, gentle manners, and sincere affection that finds expression in all the actions, together with industry, neatness, and economy, make even a hovel the happiest of homes. The Creator regards such a home with approbation; and the inmates, though they have not "that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, and of putting on of apparel," have that which is far better.-- "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.""’Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ It is ‘profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.’ We should open our hearts and houses to the Lord. …It refines the taste, sanctifies the judgment, and brings peace of mind, and in the end, everlasting life. {ST, October 2, 1884