Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Keeping Up Appearances

Have you ever noticed that humans, as a group, tend to be extremely superficial and shallow? We expend enormous amounts of time, money, and energy making sure that we look a certain way – wear particular brands of clothes and shoes, dye our hair, even have surgery. We go to great lengths to change our outsides…but do almost nothing to change what really matters.

Even back in Jesus’ day, folks gave more attention to how they looked. This is what Jesus had to say to some people who worried too much about appearances:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:25-28
In many parts of the world, packaged foods are required to carry a list of ingredients used in the making of that particular food. The ingredients are listed in descending order – the ingredient that’s listed first is more than any of the other ingredients in that particular product.

Say for example that you’re shopping for orange juice. All of the packages look inviting – pictures of bright, juicy oranges and tall glasses of orange juice with just the right amount of condensation on them. The packaging people have done their research, but it you look carefully at the ingredient lists on the package, you’ll find a very different story.

One package has this list: “water, high fructose corn syrup and 2% or less of each of the following: concentrated juices (orange, tangerine, apple, lime, grapefruit), citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), Thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), natural flavors, modified cornstarch, canola oil, sodium citrate, cellulose gum, xantham gum, sodium hexametaphosphate, sodium benzoate to protect flavor, yellow #5, yellow #6.”

Um, where’s the orange juice? If you look closely it’s listed third: “2% or less … concentrated juices (orange…)”.

Pick up another juice container and check its ingredients list: “100% pure squeezed pasteurized orange juice.”

Wow! If you just looked at the pictures on the packaging, you wouldn’t be able to tell that one of the bottles of juice is going to be much healthier than the other. One is going to be much more expensive as well, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

Anyway, one of those containers is actual orange juice and the other is basically a chemical cocktail made to look and taste like orange juice.

If I came with the ingredients of my heart and mind listed on a label, what would you learn about me by reading it? What would be the first ingredient listed? Would I be able to call myself Jesus-flavored or Jesus-filled? Would my packaging match my ingredients? Or would I be like the Pharisees, “whitewashed tombs … full of dead men’s bones?”

The next question is, how do I become Jesus-filled?
“As we behold Jesus in His Word, we are changed. New thoughts replace old ones. By beholding Him, we become more like Him. ‘It is a law both of the intellectual and the spiritual nature that by beholding we become changed. The mind gradually adapts itself to the subjects upon which it is allowed to dwell. It becomes assimilated to that which it is accustomed to love and reverence. Man will never rise higher than his standard of purity or goodness or truth. If self is his loftiest ideal, he will never attain to anything more exalted. Rather, he will constantly sink lower and lower. The grace of God alone has power to exalt man. Left to himself, his course must inevitably be downward.’” (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 555)
“By beholding we become changed.” Doesn’t that sound simple? Everything we put in our brains, pushes us in on direction or the other – either to a closer relationship with Jesus or leads us farther away from Jesus.
Not too long ago I heard a Native American story called “The Wolves Within.”

In the story, a little boy comes to his grandfather because he is angry at a friend. The grandfather admits that he, too has struggled with feelings like hate and anger. He tells his grandson that those emotions only hurt the person who experiences them. Holding on to those emotions is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.

The grandfather continues, “It is as if there are two wolves inside of me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when none is intended.

“But the other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into fits of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate consume him. And he is helpless because anger doesn’t change anything.

“It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me because both of them are trying to dominate my spirit.”

The boy studies his grandfather for a few seconds and then asks, “Which wolf will win?”

With a smile, the grandfather says, “The one I feed.”

Many of us grew up singing the song, “Oh, Be Careful Little Eyes.” It reminds us to guard the information that enters our mind no matter which pathway it follows.
“Oh, be careful little eyes what you see …
Oh, be careful little ears what you hear …
Oh, be careful little hands what you do …
Oh, be careful little feet where you go …
Oh, be careful little heart whom you trust …
Oh, be careful little mind what you think …”

Paul gives us some advice on how to feed the good wolf. In Philippians 4:6-9, he says, 
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
And in Romans 12:1-2,
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Have you ever been homesick? It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it? Do you remember the first time you spent a night away from home on your own? The first few weeks of college were really hard for me. I know I must have called home so many times, just to hear the voices of my family.

That’s what homesickness really is, right? We don’t usually miss the actual building or even the place so much as we miss the people whom we love and whose presence helps us feel safe and loved. With the electronics we have today, homesickness is more easily treated than it was a few years ago. Can you imagine leaving your family when your only contact might be a letter that might take months to get to you?

Growing up I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about growing up in frontier America. It all sounded so exciting – traveling in a covered wagon, building your house out of whatever was available, contending with wild animals, weather and insects… But thinking about it now, I really can’t imagine how difficult it must have been leaving everything and everyone you had ever known and loved and going someplace about which you knew absolutely nothing, knowing that you would almost certainly never see the people you had left behind ever again. I don’t believe I could have done it.

For some people it’s easier though. I don’t believe my older son has ever been homesick! He just has this adventurous streak that helps him enjoy discovering new places and people more than he misses the folks at home – no offense to the people at home, he is just having a great time where ever he is.

For other folks, I’m thinking of the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, the urge to leave home is overpowering. I guess instead of being homesick, they’re sick of home.  The man/boy in the story couldn’t stand to be home another minute, could he. He couldn’t get away fast enough.
“Then He said: ‘A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country …’” Luke 15:12-13
Have you ever tried to figure out just what was so awful at home that he felt the need to leave the way he did? It seems like he just felt like living at home was just too boring and restrictive. The next part of verse 13 says that he “wasted his possessions with prodigal living.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe I ever looked up the word “prodigal.” I think I just always assumed that it meant someone who left home and then came back. Not so!
“prod·i·gal adjective \ˈprä-di-gəl\
1: characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure : lavish <a prodigal feast> <prodigal outlays for her clothes>
2: recklessly spendthrift <the prodigal prince>
3: yielding abundantly : luxuriant —often used with of <nature has been so prodigal of her bounty — H. T. Buckle>”[1]
So, did you know that’s what prodigal meant? Come on, be honest.

Anyway, based on that definition, I’m pretty sure he didn’t feel homesick … at first. He was too busy “sowing his wild oats.” Once all the money was gone, though, things started to get real! “But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.” Luke 15:14

How long do you think that took – “to be in want?” How long do you think he spent crashing on each friend’s sofa until they’d all had enough of him? How long do you think he kept telling himself that all this was just a minor setback and he’d be back on his own soon? How long do you think he looked for a job before he finally settled for working on the pig farm? How long do you think it was before he allowed himself to think that he might have made a mistake in leaving home?

This is how Mrs. White describes the story.
“This younger son had become weary of the restraint of his father’s house.
“Having obtained his patrimony, he goes into ‘a far country,’ away from his father’s home. With money in plenty, and liberty to do as he likes, he flatters himself that the desire of his heart is reached. There is no one to say, Do not do this, for it will be an injury to yourself; or, Do this, because it is right. Evil companions help him to plunge ever deeper into sin, and he wastes his ‘substance with riotous living.’...
“The precious years of life, the strength of intellect, the bright visions of youth, the spiritual aspirations—all are consumed in the fires of lust.
“… The youth who has boasted of his liberty, now finds himself a slave. He is in the worst of bondage—‘holden with the cords of his sins.’ (Proverbs 5:22.) The glitter and tinsel that enticed him have disappeared, and he feels the burden of his chain. Sitting upon the ground in that desolate and famine-stricken land, with no companions but the swine, he is fain to fill himself with the husks on which the beasts are fed.” (E.G. White, A Call to Stand Apart, p.12)
That’s homesick! Maybe part of homesickness is feeling like we can’t go home for one reason or another. When I went to college, I didn’t have a car to go home whenever I wanted. The prodigal son knew he could get home…he just was pretty sure he wouldn’t be welcome there. He didn’t know, then, that his father had been watching the road every day for him. In a way, his father was homesick for him.

Do you realize that no matter how far we’ve wandered from our Heavenly Father or how we’ve wasted our lives in “prodigal living,” the way back to Him is just one step.
 “Out in the wilderness wild and drear,
Sadly I’ve wandered for many a year,
Driven by hunger and filled with fear,
I will arise and go;
Backward with sorrow my steps to trace,
Seeking my heavenly Father’s face,
Willing to take but a servant’s place,
I will arise and go.
 “Why should I perish in dark despair,
Here where there’s no one to help or care,
When there is shelter and food to spare?
I will arise and go;
“Deeply repenting the wrong I’ve done,
Worthy no more to be called a son,
Hoping my Father His child may own,
I will arise and go.
“Sweet are the memories that come to me,
Faces of loved ones again I see,
Visions of home where I used to be,
I will arise and go;
“Others have gone who had wandered, too,
They were forgiven, were clothed anew,
Why should I linger with home in view?
I will arise and go.
“O that I never had gone astray!
Life was all radiant with hope one day,
Now all its treasures I’ve thrown away,
Yet I’ll arise and go;
“Something is saying, “God loves you still,
Tho’ you have treated His love so ill,”
I must not wait, for the night grows chill,
I will arise and go.
“Back to my Father and home,
Back to my Father and home,
I will arise and go
Back to my Father and home.”[2]

[1] Prodigal. (n.d.). Retrieved August 30, 2013, from
[2] T.O. Chisolm & George C. Stebbins, The Prodigal Son, Tabernacle Publishing Co., 1914