Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mirror, Mirror!

How honest is your mirror? Has it ever lied to you? Sometimes when we look at the way some people leave their houses, we might think their mirror has not given them an accurate picture of how they look. In those cases, though, it’s usually the mental picture that is faulty, not the mirror’s reflection.

Often our own mental picture of ourselves is different than reality.

“Here's some good news: if you're like most people, you're way above average—at almost everything. Psychologists call this the state of ‘illusory superiority.’ (It's also called ‘The Lake Wobegone Effect,’ from Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town where ‘all the children are above average.’) It simply means that we tend to inflate our positive qualities and abilities, especially in comparison to other people.
“Numerous research studies have revealed this tendency to overestimate ourselves. For instance, when researches asked a million high school students how well they got along with their peers, none of the students rated themselves below average. As a matter of fact, 60 percent of students believed they were in the top 10 percent; 25 percent rated themselves in the top one percent. You'd think college professors might have more self-insight, but they were just as biased about their abilities. Two percent rated themselves below average; 10 percent were average and 63 [percent] were above average; while 25 percent rated themselves as truly exceptional.
“Of course this is statistically impossible. One researcher summarized the data this way: ‘It's the great contradiction: the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.’ Christian psychologist Mark McMinn contends that the ‘Lake Wobegone Effect’ reveals our pride. He writes, ‘One of the clearest conclusions of social science research is that we are proud. We think better of ourselves than we really are, we see our faults in faint black and white rather than in vivid color, and we assume the worst in others while assuming the best in ourselves.’”[1]
The church of Laodicea, in Revelation, seemed to have much the same problem. The prophet John the Revelator was told to write to them and tell them, 
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…” Revelation 3:17
The Laodeceans hadn’t looked in a mirror in a while, had they? Oh, wait, that describes us, doesn’t it? Ouch!
“The Laodicean message must be proclaimed with power; for now it is especially applicable. Now, more than ever before, are seen pride, worldly ambition, self-exaltation, double-dealing, hypocrisy, and deception. Many are speaking great swelling words of vanity, saying, ‘I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.’ Yet they are miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” E.G. White, The Review and Herald, September 25, 1900.
Wow, “miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” – not a flattering spiritual picture, is it? How in the world did we end up so confused, so far off the mark?

I believe that it’s mostly human nature (meaning our sinful nature) to get to a point where we feel like we’ve “made it” and want to just maintain the status quo from that point on. The problem is, there is no such thing, as spiritually making it. The moment we stop learning, seeking and expanding our relationship with Jesus, we immediately start sliding away. There are no spiritual plateaus.

Meanwhile, we also have to battle against western society’s constant message that we’re all good enough, just the way we are. Spiritual growth (in the Christian sense, anyway) is a waste of time.

An article in USA Today tells about something called “spiritual apathy” that is spreading across America. People who fit the description of being spiritually apathetic aren’t atheists, "They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven, or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose. Their attitude could be summed up as 'So what?'"

The author of this article, Cathy Lynn Grossman, offers these statistics to prove her point. (Hold onto your seat, they’re pretty disturbing!)
“44 percent of respondents told a Baylor University study that they spend no time seeking ‘eternal wisdom,’ and 19 percent said, ‘It's useless to search for meaning.’
“46 percent of respondents told LifeWay Research that they never wonder if they will go to heaven.
“28 percent told LifeWay that ‘it's not a major priority in my life to find deeper purpose.’
“18 percent denied that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.
“One professor of religion concluded, "The real dirty secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal.’”[2]
Seems like Laodicea could be a synonym for everybody’s favorite descriptor, “post-modern” or even “post-post-modern” (actually heard someone use that the other day. Time to think of new term!)

So, once we’ve taken that dreaded look in our spiritual mirrors and realize we’ve been lying to ourselves, what can we do? How can we find our way back to where we need to be?

Well, the message to the Laodicean church was harsh, but it wasn’t without hope.
“I counsel you to  buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Revelation 3:18-21
Well, that’s a relief! Everything we need to fix our miserable, poor, blind, and naked situation, we can get from Jesus. In fact, He’s the only One who can help us. All we have to do is open the door of our hearts to His gentle knock and invite Him into our lives.

Which sounds like a better place to end up? Miserable, poor, blind, and naked? Or sitting on Jesus’ throne with Him, holding His fire-refined gold, healed from our blindness by His eye salve, and clothed in His white garments?

Let’s all keep an honest eye on our spiritual mirrors. I don’t want to have a skewed picture of where my relationship with Jesus is, do you?

“Therefore, be zealous and repent.” Who’s with me?

[1]"Study: Self-Images Often Erroneously Inflate," ABC News (11-9-05); Mark McMinn, Why Sin Matters (Tyndale, 2004), pp. 69-71 
[2] Cathy Lynn Grossman, "For many, 'Losing My Religion' isn't just a song; It's life," USA Today (12-25-11)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Revival of Hope

I don’t know about where you live, but where I live it seems like a lot of people are feeling pretty hopeless about their futures. Everywhere they look bad things are happening, and they don’t feel like they have any control over their own lives and their own futures.

According to Tara Parker-Pope of the The New York Times (May 2013), "suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade." Here are the stats behind this trend:
“From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent.
“More Americans now die of suicide (38,364) than car accidents (33,687). That's 3,026 more people who die from suicide each year than in car crashes.
“The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicides jumped by nearly 50 percent.
“The suicide rate for middle-aged men was three times higher than for middle-aged women.
“Researchers claim that the reasons for suicide are often complex, but this article focused on two factors—the stress of the economic downturn and the widespread availability of prescription painkillers. But it also hinted that deeper issues like failed expectations and a loss of hope might be a root cause for the increase in suicides. Dr. Julie Phillips, a researcher from Rutgers University, says, ‘The boomers had great expectations for what their life would look like, but … it hasn't turned out that way.’ Dr. Phillips warns that future generations will be facing the same conditions that lead to this sense of despair.”[1]
How do you feel about your future? Do you ever feel hopeless? I think most of us do from time to time. What I find though, is that those hopeless feelings catch up with me when I start looking at my life here on earth and forget that Jesus has promised something better.

I often wonder how it would be to live without the hope of Jesus and Heaven. Have you ever thought about that? It’s hard for me to imagine because I don’t remember I time when I didn’t know Jesus – I am grateful for that blessing. There are many of you, though, who have come to know Jesus later and have had to live without that hope.

I read a story about a man named Laureano and his wife, Consuelo. In 1966, they decided they had had enough of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

They spent several months collecting bits and pieces of scrap metal that they could put together to make themselves a little boat … a very little boat. It was hardly big enough for the both of them – more of a kayak, really. It was powered by a little lawn mower engine.

They left Cuba in September, sitting back to back in their boat, just wearing their swimming suits. They could only fit enough food and water for one or two days.

It turned out that they floated out in the middle of the Straits of Florida for more than 70 hours before the U.S. Coast Guard finally rescued them somewhere in the Florida Keys.

Why would two people take such a risk? They could have starved to death, or drowned, or been eaten by sharks.

When someone asked Laureano that question many years later, this is what he said,
“When one has grown up in liberty, [you] realize it is important to have [freedom]. We lived in the enormous prison which is Cuba, where one's life is not worth one crumb. Where one goes out into the street and does not know whether or not one will return to one's home, because the political police can arrest you without any warning and put you in prison. Before this could happen to us, we thought that going into the ocean, and risking death or being eaten by sharks, is a million times better than to stay suffering under [political oppression].”[2]
Laureano and Consuelo had no hope of a future in Cuba; they had to get to a place where they could have hope.

You and I don’t have any hope of a future on this earth. We are living under the cruel and unreasonable government of Satan. Under his regime, there is no hope for anyone. Our only hope for any kind of future is through Jesus.

Zechariah paints a beautiful picture of our lives in the New Earth in Zechariah 8 (yes the whole chapter – it’s not that long, you can read it.)

Here are some of my favorite parts:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the Lord of hosts, the Holy Mountain.’
“Thus says the Lord of hosts:  ‘Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age.
The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.’” Zechariah 8:3-5
Isn’t that a great picture? Jesus living with us in a new place where there is no sin. That is certainly something that I hope for.
When this world gets too much for us, there’s something we need to remember.
Sometimes it feels like I'm watching from the outside
Sometimes it feels like I'm breathing but am I alive
I won't keep searching for answers that aren't here to find
All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong
So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I'm lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.
All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong
When the earth shakes I wanna be found in You
When the lights fade I wanna be found in You
All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong.”[3]
My hope is in Jesus. Is yours?

[1] Tara Parker-Pope, "Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.," The New York Times (5-2-13)
[2] Matt Woodley, managing editor,; source: From a plaque and display in the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia
[3] Jason Roy, Where I Belong, Listen to the Sound, 2011

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Wax On - Wax Off

If you don’t understand this cultural reference, it’s from the movie, The Karate Kid. The main character in the movie is a teenage boy, Daniel who has just moved to town and is getting bullied. In order to stop it, he wants to learn karate. He meets up with the manager of his apartment building, Mr. Miyage who agrees to teach him. One requirement of this agreement is that Daniel must obey Mr. Miyage’s instructions even if they don’t seem to have anything to do with learning karate. Daniel agrees and the first thing Mr. Miyage does is hand Daniel a sponge and tells him to wash and wax his collection of classic cars. Mr. Miyago gives very specific instructions – one hand he’s to make wide circles to the right to put the wax on and with the other make wide circles to the left to take it off. He is also to breathe deeply, in through his nose and out through his mouth. Mr. Miyage watches him carefully and when Daniel forgets the instructions, Mr. Miyage calls out to him, “Wax on – Wax off,” while making the required motions.
“In the weeks that follow, Miyagi gives Daniel further chores to complete with similar instructions on technique: sanding a walkway that leads around Miyagi's backyard (landscaped to be a Japanese garden), staining the fence that surrounds his property and painting his house. With each new chore, Daniel's frustration grows at the seeming lack of any karate training and Miyagi's minimal praise of his work. One night, after finishing the painting of Miyagi's house, Daniel expresses his frustration to his teacher. Miyagi tells Daniel to show him how he washed and polished the cars. … and orders Daniel to show him the motions he'd been using to do the chores. Daniel quickly realizes that the chores … were also practice for defensive moves, exercises to build muscle tone and build his reflexes. After a few minutes of practice, Miyagi suddenly yells and throws several punches and kicks at Daniel, all of which Daniel blocks easily.”[1]
It turns out that what Daniel had been doing for all those weeks was building muscle and stamina, yes, but also created muscle memory. You may have heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect,” but really practice just builds muscle memory. Muscle memory is what helps us be able to ride a bike, even if we haven’t been on one in years, for example, or play the piano or type – excuse me, keyboard without looking at your hands.

Most of us count on muscle memory to be able to perform specific actions without having to think about it. I remember when we used to go ingathering (If you don’t know what that is, ask an Adventist older than 45.) Some of us would walk from door to door while some would ride in the back of a pick-up truck that drove slowly down the streets. The folks in the truck would be singing Christmas carols. I was always amazed that one of the carolers would bring along either her knitting or crocheting (I don’t remember which), and while she sang, her hands would be busy doing her needlework…in the dark! This same person could play the piano for church and carry on a conversation with someone at the same time...still boggles my mind!
Anyway, those are all the good things about doing something over and over until you don’t have to think about it anymore. There’s also a downside – you don’t have to think about it anymore and when that happens in your worship experience, you have a problem.

At the beginning of Zechariah 7, a delegation come to Jerusalem to ask the priests a question.
"Now in the fourth year of King Darius it came to pass that the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chislev, when the people sent Sherezer, with Regem-Melech and his men, to the house of God, to pray before the Lord, and to ask the priests who were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and the prophets, saying, ‘Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?’
Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, ‘Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me?”’” Zechariah 7:1-5
During all the time they had been in exile in Babylon, God’s people had fasted in the fourth month to remember when the walls of Jerusalem had been breached, in the fifth month to remember the destruction of the temple, in the seventh month for the Day of Atonement, and in the tenth month they fasted to mourn the siege against Jerusalem. The Day of Atonement was the only fast commanded by God through Moses.

Through Zechariah, God points the delegation to the purpose of their fasting. Were they just going through the motions? Were they thinking about the things the fasting was to commemorate? Or was it just one more thing to check off their To Do lists?
“According to the [New York] Times, people are paying as much as $3,484 a week to visit health spas where they go without food. One spa in Desert Hot Springs, California, is booked through October with a clientele that includes celebrities Ben Affleck and Courtney Love. Fashion designers and mortgage brokers have joined the fasting trend. Instead of stuffing themselves with steak and lobster, they subsist on apple-celery cocktails, herbal teas, laxatives, bee pollen, blended soups, and water mixed with squeezed lemons, Celtic Sea salt, and honey.
“… Fasters claim that a 4- to 30-day regimen not only helps them lose weight but has spiritual benefits, as well. ‘It used to be that people who came in to fast talked about weight loss,’ said Stephanie Paradise, owner of the New Age Health Spa in Neversink, N.Y. Now, she says, it's about ‘detoxing the mind, body and spirit.’
“Not all of the fasters are doing it for spiritual reasons, however. Natalia Rose, a nutritional consultant, appeals to their vanity. She organizes four-day fasting weekends for women that include motivational trips to a fashionable department store, to ‘remind them what it's all for.’”[2]
For the Jews, fasting wasn’t the point – remembering how God had led and taken care of them was.
Going to church every week, in and of itself, isn’t the point. Especially not if we’re just going through the motions or if we’re just going to see our friend and have social time.

Turning off the TV on Sabbath doesn’t make God happy if we sleep the day away or spend that time anxiously waiting for sundown so we can do what we really want to do.

Calling ourselves Christians doesn’t make God happy, especially if we’ve become just “Cultural Christians,” who look and act like Christians, but without any relationship to Jesus Christ. Cultural Christians are just going through the motions because that’s what their parents and friends do.

We need to make our relationship with Jesus a daily conscious choice and stop just going through the motions.

[1] The Karate Kid, IMDb, Copyright © 1990-2013, Inc.,
[2] Peter Larson, "Fashionable Fasting," the PRISM E-pistle (9-3-03); submitted by Marshall Shelley, Wheaton, Illinois

Monday, June 3, 2013

Call off the Search … Significance Found

Many of us, especially in “First World” societies, devote a considerable amount of time, money, and energy to discover and maintain some reason to be on this planet. In fact, a few years ago, California state legislator, John Vasconcellos, put together a task force to promote self-esteem (a feeling of significance) for the school children of California.

While that sounds like a really great idea, in actual practice what has happened is that people who work with children (guilty) have promoted self-esteem based on pretty much nothing – in sports, everybody gets a trophy, just for showing up; in the classroom, teachers aren’t to use red pens to grade papers because that might cause a student to feel bad, etc.

Over the years, we’ve found that this artificial significance has often harmed rather than helped students because in the real world there are people who win and people who lose, and there are right and wrong answers. And when faced with those realities, many who have grown up during the self-esteem experiment find the world an extremely harsh place and become frustrated and disillusioned.

On the other hand, generations before the self-esteem movement, were taught that their significance lay completely in their abilities and achievements – getting good grades, going to the right schools, or getting the best jobs. Many of these folks also ended up frustrated and disillusioned.

Leonard Woolf, an author, publisher and literary editor, said in an article in Wireless Age,
“I see clearly that I have achieved practically nothing. The world today and the history of the human anthill during the past five to seven years would be exactly the same if I had played Ping-Pong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda. I have therefore to make a rather ignominious confession that I have in a long life ground through between 150,000 and 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work.”[1]
So where does our significance, our worth come from? Society, as a whole, continues to struggle with that question. I think I might know at least a little part of the answer, though. In my opinion, when the theory of evolution became the primary explanation for our existence, there was no longer any particular reason for humans to be on this planet and so we had to start manufacturing reasons. If we are just one more species of animal, why are we here as opposed to any other species? Yet no other animal seems to feel the need of a purpose the way humans do.

On the other hand, if we were specifically created to be companions of God, then our search for significance is over! Most of us have seen the movie, Toy Story. Pretty early in the movie, Buzz Lightyear, a toy astronaut, is convinced that he’s a real astronaut and space hero. Meanwhile, Woody, a toy cowboy, tries to convince him that he’s just a toy.

Buzz, trying to prove that he’s real, tries to fly. When he fails he dejectedly admits that he’s “just a stupid, little, insignificant toy.”

In an effort to cheer Buzz up, Woody says, "Look, over in that house, there's a kid who thinks you're the greatest, and it's not because you're a space ranger; it's because you're his."

If our significance is based on who we are rather than whose we are, we will probably have, at some point, a crisis as to our place and purpose in this world. Mark Hall of the Christian group, Casting Crowns has written a song called, “Who Am I,” that talks about where we can find our significance.

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who You are
I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
Vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I'm calling
Lord, You catch me when I'm falling
And You've told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

I am Yours
Whom shall I fear
Whom shall I fear
'Cause I am Yours
I am Yours[2]

 “Though you are one of the teeming millions in this world, and though the world would have you believe that you do not count and that you are but a speck in the mass, God says, ‘I know you.’”[3]
Isn’t that amazing? God knows me. God knows each of us, individually and personally. He knows our wants, our heartbreaks, what makes us laugh … He made each of us to fill a specific place in His kingdom, and if we’re not there, He will miss us.

We don’t need to struggle with our self-esteem, our purpose in life, or our significance in the grand scheme of things. We just need to remember that we are God’s children, His treasures. He wants to spend eternity with each and every one of us.
“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. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.” John 3:16-17 AMP

[1] Leonard Woolf, Wireless Age, Sept-Nov 1998
[2] Mark Hall, Who Am I, Casting Crowns, 2004
[3] D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, The Best of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 7