Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sportin a tude

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” Deuteronomy 30:19
Isn’t that interesting?  Life and death mirrors blessing and cursing in that verse.  Do you think that means that if we choose a negative attitude – an attitude of cursing – that we also choose death?  That seems awfully harsh.  But a little research told me that in the Bible the word ‘rejoice’ comes up 240 times while ‘grieve ’ only got 47 hits.  I know that’s not an exhaustive study, but it tells me that the writers of the Bible spent more time telling us to be joyful than to be sad.  But doesn’t that seem a little artificial?  I mean, if I walk around acting happy all the time, aren’t folk going to think I’ve got some reality impairment? 

But have you ever noticed a person who walks around acting grumpy all the time?  Nobody thinks there’s anything wrong with him (or her).  That person might even describe himself as a ‘realist’ while I, the person acting happy, am often described as ‘having my head in the clouds’, or not facing the truth, or a nut-job.  Hm, what’s up with that?

So what do we do with verses like James 1:2   
“Reckon it nothing but joy, my brethren, whenever you find yourselves hedged in by various trials.”Weymouth New Testament; “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” 1Peter 4:13; Romans 12:12, “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”; “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:” 1Peter 1:6; and 2Corinthians 7:4 “Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.”? 
Okay, now that’s just crazy, right?  It’s one thing to choose blessings when things are going well, but being joyful when things are rotten?  How is it possible to “count it all joy” when we really feel like giving up or “bless those who curse” us when our heart is broken?   I think our mental picture of the incurable optimist who walks around smiling and whistling all the time is one of things that makes this seem hard.

But that’s not really an accurate picture is it?  I mean, look at Job.  He had huge things to deal with, not even counting his “friends”.  He didn’t deny any of the bad stuff that was going on or act like everything was okay.  He wept; he agonized; he mourned…but he never let go of God.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t feel like rejoicing or blessing during that time but look what he said: 
“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21 
Job chose blessing; Job chose life even though he didn’t understand the whys or the wherefores what was happening to him.  Wow.

In Romans 5:3-5, Paul writes, 
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  
He’s telling us two things.  One, we can “glory in tribulation” because we know that it is bringing us step by step closer to who God wants us to be.  And, two, that the Holy Spirit is right there with us, giving us the grace we need to bless the name of the Lord in even the toughest spots. 

Unfortunately, even though everyone faces trials, not everyone is drawn closer to God by going through them.  It is possible to leave God altogether and become bitter…to choose cursing and death.

My brother sent me a story this week that fits very well right here.

A young woman went to her mother started complaining about her life.  Everything in her life was so hard.  She didn’t know how she was going to make it, and she wanted to give up.  She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed like whenever she managed to solve one problem, a new one popped up.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water, put each one on a burner and turned it on high.  When the water in the pots came to boil she put carrots in the first pot, eggs in the second, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. (I know, but the story doesn’t work with Postum) Then mom sat down at the kitchen table and let each pot boil. 

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots, the eggs out and placed them in separate bowls. Then she poured the coffee into a cup. 

At that point, she turned to her daughter, she said, “'Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the young woman replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. When she did, she noticed that they were soft. Then her mom asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter tasted the coffee. “But, mom, what’s your point?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. But each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. After twenty minutes in the boiling water, however, it softened and became weak.
The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, its inside became hard. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
”Which are you?” mom asked. 'When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think about it. Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity wilt and lose my strength?  Am I more like an egg that starts with a malleable heart that changed through some trial, until it became hard and stiff? Do I look the same on the outside, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hard heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? Instead of being changed by the boiling water, the bean actually changed it. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you begin to sing and praise God, witness to those around you? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
“The Lord does not desire His people to be sad and disconsolate. He does not want His obedient followers to cover the altar with their tears, but to walk happily and cheerfully along. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ He says, ‘but in Me ye shall have peace’ ‘"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.’ ‘"These things have I spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’” The Signs of the Times, February 10, 1909, "Rejoice in the Lord Alway" Mrs. E. G. White

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