Friends, as I take a look at this Sabbath lesson’s “The Week at a Glance: What are the causes of the difficult times that we experience through our lives?” I am discouraged myself. I just got off the phone with a friend, who lost his son a year ago, and has had a wife in and out of the hospital since Thanksgiving. He has his own health issues, and now he just informed me this evening, his wife is back in the hospital with a broken hip. Speculation is she broke her hip in the hospital that just sent her home last week. I don’t have all the answers, if any at all, because at this point I am crying out to God, “How much is one family supposed to take?”
I have to be honest, the last several years have been good to me. But I remember going through the fire and asking God how much more I was supposed to take. Friends told me my trials were so I could develop patience. I told them if everything would just go my way I wouldn’t need patience! Friends told me God was working on my character. So I woke up the next morning and suggested to God we just take a break from working on my character for a while. Just let me enjoy life for a while. It seemed everything was a crisis, a trial or some moral dilemma. I just wanted to enjoy the carefree days of my youth again. But while I may have more questions than answers tonight I have learned a few things about what causes the difficult times in our lives, or why they come our way.
Sure we have all seen the Facebook meme, that says “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is because we are stupid and make stupid choices.” As funny as that may sound there is a lot of truth to that. Sometimes we create our own problems. Years ago I was going through a breakup with my fiancée, and had lost my job. Nothing was going right. I moved to a new apartment and changed banks. I threw the old checks away in the apartment dumpster. You guessed it. As if I did not have enough going on, now I had to take off from my new job to go to the police station on several occasions and prove to them I did not write those checks. That had nothing to do with God working on my character. It had nothing to do with my former girlfriend or my job. There was a reason for it all though. The reason for it all was because I made a stupid choice and threw the checks away without shredding them. Still I survived everything. Even Agur, who shared his wisdom in Proverbs said,
I am too stupid to be human, and I lack common sense. Proverbs 30:2 NLT
Sure enough sometimes our own stupidity is the only reason for our problems. Good news is God looks out for stupid people like Agur and me. By the way I realized my own foolishness. I did not need anyone to tell me, and I do not need to tell anyone else they are stupid. Only a narcissist will try to make someone else feel stupid. And actually I don’t feel stupid. I know I am not alone. I just thought while we are looking for reasons for difficult times, we can’t ignore this explanation.
Another reason for difficult times is it does indeed increase our faith. When you were in school you may have noticed the math books often had the answers in the back of the book. But your teacher did not want you to just write the answer down. She wanted you to work the problem out and show why “X” is the answer. You worked the problem out, not to find the answer as much as you did to find out why it was the answer. The Bible tells us Jesus is the answer. But we need to work out our problems in life for the same reason we needed to work out our math problems in school. So we know why Jesus is the answer. In Mark 4:35-40 Jesus tells His disciples to cross the lake in a boat. A huge storm comes. Jesus knew that storm was coming when He told His disciples to cross the lake. After calming the storm Jesus asked His disciples why they didn’t have any faith. But weren’t they showing faith when they asked Him to calm the storm? Sure, but that is not what Jesus was talking about. When Jesus said, “Where is your faith?” He was asking them why they needed Him to calm the storm, instead of just riding out the storm with Him. After all, sailboats can’t get anywhere without some wind. Sometimes its the storms that get us to where we need to be. Why should Jesus calm a storm He just sent them into? The storm was there for a reason. We show more faith and growth when we ride the storm out with Jesus, instead of asking Him to calm every little wind that blows our way. I am reminded of a saying, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” Maybe instead of asking God to calm every storm we should ask Him for dancing lessons.
But my friend’s phone call tonight is still on my mind. After all they have been through I don’t think God needs to work on their faith and character anymore, but then again I am not God and I really have no clue. I do remember a similar experience with my own mother. She had tons of health issues, and had been battling cancer when she fell and broke her hip. Again I thought, come on God! How much more can my poor mother take! My mother ended up making it through not one but two hip surgeries. I was sure the broken hip was going to do her in. But it didn’t! I honestly believe the rehab made her more strong and determined! My aunt who was a nurse agreed with me. Instead of killing her it made her stronger. She lived several years after the broken hip. When she was diagnosed with cancer she was given 2 to 3 years to live, and that was if she took the treatments. She refused the treatments and lived 12 more years. I truly think the broken hip gave her a reason to fight and get some of those 12 years.
After all, I remember when I got sick many years ago and had to go to the emergency room. I did not have good insurance like I do now and was left with quite a bill. I called a friend who was remodeling their home and asked if I could work on the side for them to earn the extra money to pay the medical bill. In the end I made way more money than what I owed on the medical bill. My trip to the emergency room created an opportunity to get a side job where I not only paid the bill, but turned my whole financial situation around for the better.
Sometimes we go through difficult times to grow our faith and develop our character. Sometimes it is so we can be more sympathetic to others.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT
Its very important we assure others who are suffering that they are not suffering alone. Of course that does not mean we have to “one up” their suffering. Actually when people are suffering they don’t need us to share our problems, they just need us to listen to theirs. But we need to know we are not alone in suffering. In the movie Black Hawk Down, an entire military troop is injured. The general tells the private to take a Humvee load of injured soldiers to the hospital. The private protests, “But sir I am injured.” To which the general responds, “Everyone is injured!” We may have to be injured caregivers at times, but even then we are not alone.
Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. 1 Peter 5:9 NLT (last part)
Satan wants us to feel alone and isolated in our sufferings, but our sufferings should actually bring us all closer together.
Job’s friends did a miserable job of trying to comfort Job with all their philosophy. I doubt I have done any better at answering Sabbath’s question at a glance, concerning what causes difficult times. Like I said earlier, after getting off the phone tonight with my friend I have more questions than answers about why God has allowed them to suffer so. But while I don’t have the answers, God has given us some promises.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18 NLT
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 NLT
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT
Please pray for my friend who called me tonight, and for his wife. Please pray for everyone who has had more than their fair share of difficulties lately. By the way, I said earlier, “to be honest the last several years have been good to me.” Well to be more honest, God has always been good to me, All. The. Days. Of. My. Life.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6 NLT
If not before, when we get to God’s house, we will understand better why we went through such difficult times, and we will have many triumphs to celebrate. We will also see that even in the difficult times, God’s goodness and mercy were with us, all the days of our life.
Friday’s section of this week’s lesson asks the question, “Once Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared that now Joseph would get revenge. What does this teach about the guilt that they still harbored? What does Joseph’s reaction teach us about forgiveness for the guilty?”
Maybe the brothers had a hard time believing Joseph had forgiven them because they had a hard time forgiving themselves. For spiritual growth and health I think its important to not only forgive others, but also to forgive ourselves.
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV
Ever been haunted by your past? Sometimes I will have a flashback of some off-the-cuff smart remark I made to an elder when I was kid, and I will still cringe and want to go hide under a rock 40 years later! I believe Paul’s history of persecuting Christians may have haunted him too. Except for the fact that Paul never persecuted the Christians. That was Saul. Paul was a new creature,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV
Saul the persecutor was converted, and became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 233
God wants to give us all a fresh, new start.
The story goes of a man who was driving down an old highway out in the country when he accidentally ran over a cat. He pulled over and inspected the cat, which sure enough was dead. He looked and saw a house in the distance at the top of a hill. He took the dead cat to the door and knocked. An old lady answered the door, and he said, “I am sorry Ma’m is this your cat?”
“Well it was she responded.” The man told her how sorry he was that he had just hit and killed her cat. She forgave him and they both took the cat to the backyard and buried it. A few weeks later the man found himself driving past the house again.
The terrible memories came back again, and he drove up to the house, went in the backyard, dug up the dead cat and took it to the front door again. When the lady answered, he started telling her all over how sorry he was! She reminded him she already forgave him and she helped the man bury the cat again. A few more weeks went by and the man found himself driving by the house again and once again was overcome with grief, and went and dug the cat back up and took it to the house. By this time the woman was fed up and ordered him to stop bringing the dead cat to her door!
God does not want us bringing dead cats to His door either. Don’t go digging up what His grace has buried. He wants us to leave our dead cats behind us and press for the goal. God wants to make you a new creature, just like He made Saul a new creature and turned him into Paul.
Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me. Genesis 31:7 NKJV
I love how Jacob realized that, even though Laban had cheated him, Laban was not able to hurt him. In Genesis 33, when Jacob tries to repay what he has cheated Esau, Esau tells Jacob that he has plenty and does not need to be repaid. God took care of Jacob when Laban cheated Jacob, and God took care of Esau when Jacob cheated Esau.
But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” Genesis 33:9 NKJV
This is an important lesson on what our attitude should be towards those who have wronged us.
Don’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.” Wait for the Lord to handle the matter. Proverbs 20:22 NLT
A while back, after a friend had wrongfully taken money from me, I was reading,
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Romans 12:19 KJV
While I had read this many times before, this particular time I saw it in a new light. Yes, it is true that people will hang on their own gallows, Yet rather than just seeing those who have wronged us getting paid back for their wrong, I saw God was telling me, He would repay me what my friend had wrongfully taken.
In Philemon 1:17-18 NLT Paul is pleading for everyone to give Onesimus a second chance in the ministry. Paul tells them,
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!
Likewise I heard God telling me in Romans 12, “if your friend has robbed you, don’t worry. I will pay you back what they owe you. Don’t take it out on him. Leave him alone, and let Me make it right.”
That is exactly what happened. Right after I read Romans 12, another friend called who had bought some new furniture and wanted to give me their old furniture even thought it was still in excellent condition. God has continued to bless me in many other ways. God has more than paid me back for what my friend had stolen from me.
You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.
In 1969, 7 -year old Niki was in the hospital having some tumors removed from her throat. While in the hospital she met Charita, another girl her age, who had a rare form of cancer. Niki found out that because of the cancer Charita would never be able to have children of her own. The two girls formed a friendship, and one night while the two of them were alone in their hospital room, Charita was crying. Niki came over to Charita’s bedside to comfort her. She told her not to cry and that when she got married and had her own baby she would let her mentor her baby and if it was a girl would even name it after her.
After their stint in the hospital Niki and Charita kept in touch until 6 months later when Charita’s family moved from Los Angeles to New Mexico. In 1983 Niki married and in 1987 had a daughter whom she named Charita. Niki then went on the Unsolved Mysteries show looking for her childhood friend Charita so she could help mentor little Charita. In 1990 Niki and Charita were happily reunited.
In a world where people will make empty promises just to get whatever they want, 7-year old Niki stayed true to her promise even as an adult, and became married and with a child. While it’s true that our promises are like ropes of sand and we can only trust God’s promises (2 Peter 1:4) It is also true that by God’s grace we too, like Jesus and 7-year old Niki , can stay true to our word. After all, even while the Bible teaches us not to put trust in ourselves or anyone else, the Bible also speaks of those who “keep their promises even when it hurts.” Psalm 15:4 NLT
This week millions are studying the promises God made to Abraham. One of the ways we reflect the image of God is by being men and women of our word. Sure, we make mistakes and have made broken promises. This is one reason why I am careful about making promises. Instead of promising to help a friend, I tell them I will try, but make it clear I am not making a promise.
God’s promises are the only promises we can rely on. Still, by God’s grace, we can be men and women of our word. By God’s grace, we can be faithful to our promises even if it hurts.
Can you share a time when someone showed you God’s love by staying true to their promise?
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. Genesis 12:1 NKJV
Some people can’t wait to get away from home. As soon as they turn 18 they marry or join the army and get stationed on the other side of the world. After being so far from home, some return as soon as they can. Others stay away forever-by choice.
Some people never leave home. I have friends who I grew up with in Tulsa, Oklahoma who never left Tulsa. I am glad they are still there for me to visit when I return home to see dad. I meet them at our favorite restaurants that are still standing from the previous century. They watched me move off to Texas and then Florida, all the while staying in Tulsa. I am proud of my native Tulsa, and am always glad to visit, but I can’t imagine myself living all my life in one place. Then again, the Tulsa I visit now is not the Tulsa I grew up in. Dad doesn’t live in the house I grew up in. The stores we go to weren’t around when I was kid. I visit my childhood church, but its like going home to strangers. The people there now never knew me, which is fine, I love meeting new people, but you know what they say, you can never go home again.
So I wonder about Abraham. Was he happy to leave home and go on an adventure, or was he afraid to leave home? Did he miss his family and friends? Did he miss the old places where he would hang out?
I grew up in Tulsa always dreaming of living in Dallas. When we went to the baseball and football games there I was always impressed with the modern architecture. It just seemed like the place to be. Tulsa had the minor league baseball team for the Texas Rangers major league team at the time. So when the Tulsa players got good they went to Dallas. I knew people in the Oklahoma Adventist conference who went on to the Union conference in Burleson, close to Dallas. Somehow I had it my mind that once you “arrived‘ you ‘arrived” in Dallas. So you can understand how happy I was when I had the opportunity to be a Bible Worker in Fort Worth, which is Dallas’ neighbor.
I remember when I left home, mom cried. I did not realize at the time how cool it was having my own apartment in Tulsa, but having my parents right there in town to see at church and meet for dinner and even run into at the store by chance encounters. At the time I could not appreciate all of that and was just excited to begin my new adventure. It wasn’t until years later when I stood at my mother’s coffin that I finally understood and appreciated her tears that day I moved away.
So I “arrived‘ In Dallas. Actually it wasn’t Dallas, it was Fort Worth. And fact is, I never “arrived.” I just thought I had. My new church district fell in love with me right away and I thought I was doing great! I was living the dream in the Dallas area. The people loved me so much I thought I must be a legendary Bible Worker. It took a few years for me to grow up and realize I was no legend. I was not even one of the better Bible Workers. I had all kinds of weaknesses and faults. Finally one day I woke up and realized these people don’t love me because I am good. They love me because they are loving people. I realized they were not encouraging me because I was good. They were enduring my follies, and patiently encouraging me because they saw my potential for good, if I ever grew up. Living in the Dallas area was good for me. Not because I had arrived like the sports stars who moved from Tulsa to Dallas, or the local Oklahoma conference officials who got called up to the union office. Living in Dallas was good for me because it got me away from home so I could grow up. I thought I had grown up and left home, but actually God had me leave home so I would grow up.
I wonder, did Abraham grow up before or after he left home? How did his ordeal in Egypt help him grow up? His actions in Egypt showed he had not arrived yet.
After more than ten years in the Dallas-Fort Worth area it had become home. I pictured myself living all my days in Texas. God had other plans. He let me live ten years where I had always dreamed of living but now He was calling me to another land. An opportunity came to serve as a Bible Worker in the Tampa Bay area. I had no interest. I did not know anyone there. Before I moved a friend assured me, “you will get to Tampa and make friends and start doing things with them there and that will become your home. You won’t miss Texas anymore.” Well I knew my friend was right, and that was what scared me! While my feet were still on Texas soil, the thought of feeling at home in another place terrified me.
After much fleece setting and protesting on my part I was on my way to Tampa. It was much farther from home. Like I mentioned earlier, you had people moving from Oklahoma to Texas all the time for various reasons. I had connections in Texas from Oklahoma. I was only four and a half hours away from home, which made weekend visits easy. It wasn’t until I moved to Tampa, Florida that I realized how close I was to Tulsa while in Texas.
When I left Texas people told me how easy it was for me to up and move to a strange new land because I was single. They thought being single made it easy. No, it made it hard. When you have a family and you move to a strange new place at least you have your family. I had no one. Just me all by my lonesome in a strange new place. In Texas I had connections from Oklahoma as well as all the friends I made in over ten years. In Tampa I had no connections and no friends. God knew what He was doing. I had even more growing up to do. Now I have been in the Tampa Bay area over 18 years. I went from being a total stranger all alone, to now not only having friends in my own church, but in most all the neighboring Adventist churches as well. My friend was right. I am comfortable and happy hear now. This is home. When I moved from Texas to Florida I knew exactly how many baptisms I had. Now over 18 years in Florida I have literally lost count. God moved me here because there were people He needed for me to reach. He also knew I had more growing up to do that would never happen if I stayed so close to home.
Did Joseph have more growing up to do when He was sold as a slave into Egypt? Did he have even more growing up to do in prison? Did God allow all of those things to happen to Joseph to help him grow up? Is that why God has some of us move around so much? By moving two times God has helped me to grow personally as well as help more people. Meanwhile thanks to Facebook, cell phones and plane tickets home is never far away. I still have my friends in Tulsa and the Dallas area. When I vacation and travel from Tampa to Dallas and then to Tulsa and back to Tampa again I never feel like I am leaving home or going home. Its all home now. I have a home that encompasses Oklahoma, Texas and Florida. I know God is with me wherever I go and He is what makes it home. God is my home. He is everywhere.
Abram had to leave home so he could grow in faith. Abram had to leave home so he could meet those God wanted him to meet. More importantly Abram had to leave home to go home. Ur was not his real home. Canaan was his real home.
I understand that while God calls some of us to the other side of the planet that He also calls some, like the demoniac in Mark 5 to go back home. Either way God was calling the demoniac out of his comfort level as it may have been awkward for him to go home after all the embarrassing things he had done. This is for sure, God will call us out of our comfort level to help us grow up and be all we can be for Him. That being said, I would like to ask you a question from Sunday’s section of this week’s lesson,
What might God be calling you to leave behind? That is, what part of your life might you have to abandon in order to heed the call of God?
Main Theme: God has a plan for His loved ones.
Read Together: Genesis 12:1-9. Define the main idea of this passage.
Study: Why did God call Abram to leave his country and family? How did Abram respond?
Apply: What might God be calling you to leave behind? That is, what part of your life might you have to abandon in order to heed the call of God?
Share: Your friend is given an opportunity to serve a couple of years in the mission field far from home. A decent salary and travel and lodging are all provided. Your friend acknowledges that it looks like God is leading in this venture, but your friend does not want to leave a comfortable home, as well as family and friends. What can you share with your friend?
Read Together: Genesis 12:10-20. Discuss the key idea in this passage.
Study: Why did Abram leave the Promised Land to go to Egypt? How did the pharaoh behave in comparison to Abram?
Apply: What should this story teach us about how easy it is, even for faithful Christians, to stray from the correct path? Why is disobedience never a good choice?
Share: Your friend acknowledges that we are saved by faith, but says that a lack of obedience shows a lack of faith. Do you agree with your friend? Why or why not?
Read Together: Genesis 13:1-18. Discuss the main idea of this passage.
Study: What does this story teach us about the importance of character?
Apply: How can we learn to be kind and generous to others, even when they aren’t that way to us?
Share: Your friend asks, “How can we reach wicked cities with the Gospel if we are counselled to live in the country and stay away from such places?” What do you tell your friend?
Read Together: Genesis 14:1-17. Define the main idea of this passage.
Study: What is significant about this war taking place just after the gift of the Promised Land? What does this story teach us about Abram?
Apply: What kind of influence do our actions have on others? What kind of message are we sending about our faith by our actions?
Share: Can you think of a friend who needs to be encouraged by the fact that God has a plan for their life? Can you reach out and encourage your friend this week?
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” Hebrews 11:8 NKJV