Friday, February 25, 2011


First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Self Esteem”
For the week of February 20-26, 2011
The Bible tells of great men and women who seemed to have an abundance of confidence, and moved forward unflinching in the face of overwhelming circumstances.  
What is the secret of this kind of assurance? Where did they get the confidence that is not concerned about what others think? How could they move forward in the face of controversy, ridicule, and even threats? Did it have anything to do with self esteem?
Let us look at what it means to “esteem”. It means to place value, worth and confidence upon the object.   It is to hold in high regard. It is to honor that which you hold in your mind as a valued treasure. So then, “self-esteem” is to assume value, honor and confidence in yourself, in your own views, and ideas, to view yourself as worthy compared to anyone else around you. It would lead us to honor self. 
To learn where the biblical “greats” got their confidence and success, we must understand the biblical truth about “self-esteem.” This is one of the gospel’s paradoxes. A paradox is a statement or proposition that, on the surface, seems self-contradictory or absurd. One gospel paradox is: “To truly live, you must die.” Correctly understood, this truth is powerful. Galatians 2:20 explains that in order to have a life of happiness and peace and eternal life, we must first “die” to self, and all selfishness. This makes room for the power and peace of Christ to work in us.    
The gospel’s paradox regarding self-esteem goes something like this: “In order to understand your value, you must recognize that you are totally unworthy.” When we see that in ourselves there is nothing to recommend us to God, we begin to find our true self worth in the value that God places on us. The great men of the Bible stood tall before the rulers of the earth because they understood that their value was not in that by which men measure. It was not in anything which they themselves could do. They were secure in the value God places upon those who trust in Him. Paul put it this way: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all the saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ...” (Ephesians 3:8). 
Elijah, one of the greatest of the prophets, knelt humbly before the King of the universe. “The servant watched while Elijah prayed. Six times he returned from the watch, saying, There is nothing, no cloud, no sign of rain. But the prophet did not give up in discouragement. . . . As he searched his heart, he seemed to be less and less, both in his own estimation and in the sight of God. It seemed to him that he was nothing, and that God was everything; and when he reached the point of renouncing self, while he clung to the Saviour as his only strength and righteousness, the answer came….We have a God whose ear is not closed to our petitions; and if we prove His word, He will honor our faith” (Ellen White, Our High Calling, page 133).
Many scriptures speak to the question of how we should “esteem” ourselves and others. Romans 12:10 says, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.”
In Philippians 2:2-4 we find the following: “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”  
Then there is Romans 12:3,16. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith… Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” 
It appears that the Bible writers were inspired to be more concerned about arrogance than about low self esteem as in Galatians 6:3 which says, “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”
Paul, who wrote more of the Bible than anyone else, seems to have benefitted from his own counsel for he says in Ephesians 3:8, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” To “esteem” ourselves and others appropriately, it would seem, is to have the mind of Christ! 
What, then, is the issue behind that which is called “low-self esteem?” Counselors and pastors find their offices filled with people who are struggling with what is clinically called “low self-esteem”.   Depression is on the rise, and eating disorders abound.   What is really happening in these situations? 
Those who do not see themselves in their total unworthiness, cannot appreciate the great worth that God, from His heart of love, has placed upon them as His own. God did not decide to purchase them as His own because they had proved anything with regard to their goodness or talent. He died for us “while we were yet sinners,” that we might know how much we were valued in spite of our wretchedness. 
The real issue is that human nature tries to hang on to the very things we must let go of, in order to find what we are longing for. We all long for love. We long to feel that we are valuable to someone.    A person with “low self-esteem” is often struggling to validate the self, and to find others who will then value that “self as much as they do. Some put themselves down, speak of themselves as being ugly, etc., in hopes that someone will respond in a way which validates them. The scripture tell us that “no man ever yet hated his own flesh.” Ephesians 5:29. The real problem with low self esteem is the malady of “self love”. It is all about us. It’s all about how bad life is for us. 
Do we have needs? Absolutely! But the need is not filled by looking to have self validated. “Self” is the monster in this scenario. This monster that lives within each of us is never satisfied, and because of its ferocious appetite for more, no matter how much it is fed, it always craves more. No amount of compliments or attention can fill the void.
When our attention is turned away from self to the gospel – the good news that is God’s heart of love, we begin to find the solutions we so desperately need. When we realize that God is reaching out to us, as unworthy as we are, and that He loves us even though He knows all about us, we start to realize that we don’t have to prove anything to anyone in order to have value. We are already loved. We have been purchased as God’s own, that we might be sons and daughters of the King of the Universe. If we will allow that fact to sink down into our hearts, we will “love him, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19.    Then our worth, our confidence is in what God thinks of us, the value that He has placed upon those who are unworthy. When we understand the love wherewith we have been loved, nothing is too much to give back to the one who has loved us so!
 “The less we see to esteem in ourselves, the more we shall see to esteem in the infinite purity and loveliness of our Saviour. A view of our sinfulness drives us to Him who can pardon; and when the soul, realizing its helplessness, reaches out after Christ, He will reveal Himself in power. The more our sense of need drives us to Him and to the word of God, the more exalted views we shall have of His character, and the more fully we shall reflect His image” (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, page  65).
--Debbi Puffer

Thursday, February 17, 2011


First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
For the week of February 13 - 19, 2011
Resilience is a characteristic we all wish we had. We think of resilient characters in the Bible or in modern life and sometimes we wish that we were more like them. There was Martin Luther King, who was threatened, beaten and jailed. He always seemed to bounce right back and say, “We shall overcome.” Princess Diana was despised and rejected of men, (at least one man, her husband), and yet she went about doing good with a cheerful smile and a positive message. President Abraham Lincoln was a resilient character. He lost many a political race before he finally won the highest office in the nation. There are many who under difficult circumstances displayed a robustness of heart and a determination that we wish we all had in the face of extreme difficulty.
There was Job who endured unimaginable sorrows. The loss of ten children in one day was enough to break the spirit of most mortals. Yet he soldiered on even after his wealth was gone, his health failed and even his wife suggested he should curse God and die. Job said, “He knows the way that I take” (Job 23:10). And “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). It is comforting to know that even when every human soul has forsaken us and we are tempted to believe our case is hopeless, God understands what we are going through and He stands by our side. He weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice.
Joseph was dealt a difficult lot. After being sold by his half brothers and betrayed by his master’s wife, Joseph had reason to believe that doing right wasn’t worth it. In the prison he could have found many reasons to become bitter. Yet he kept his head up. He looked out for those around him and showed genuine concern for other prisoners. This led to disappointment as the prisoner forgot him for two years after he was released, but it eventually led to his freedom and exaltation to an office next to Pharaoh. If Joseph hadn’t had the resilience to show concern for two fellow prisoners who were troubled by their dreams, perhaps he would never have become the prime minister of Egypt. Perhaps we would never have heard his story.
 Naomi is an encouraging figure to consider. She apparently lost everything when she lost her husband and two sons. Yet in the end she discovered that she had not lost everything. One daughter-in-law had seen something in Naomi’s devotion to her God which was worth risking everything to understand. Naomi must have had a resilient spirit. She must not have looked utterly cast down. She must have retained the peace that passes understanding to provoke such a beautiful response from Ruth.
Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God,
Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.
Such words of devotion are more than any mere mortal could ask of another. Ruth’s devotion is a pledge that each of us should take toward the Lord. “Entreat me not to leave you….” It must have been a most resilient spirit that provoked such earnest devotion. Would to God each of us might show such resilience.
This devotion of one woman to her mother-in-law resulted in blessing to the world. Ruth became one of the grandmothers of the Messiah. God honored her recognition of her mother-in-law’s faith and gave her a special place in history. When truth is modeled with resilience, it is a powerful witness to those around us.
Esther is one of my favorite Bible characters. Her decision to appear before the King even if it should mean her death is a foreshadowing of the commitment of Christ to go to the cross even if it should mean His eternal death. Yet that moment was not the only admirable decision of Esther’s life. She had made many decisions before that one which modeled the characteristic of resilience. Both of her parents had died while she was still young. That alone was enough to break the spirit of many children. But she had followed the council of Mordecai and entered upon a daring, high risk proposal and become the queen of the kingdom of Medo-Persia. Every step along the way required a faith and resilience of character which excelled that of her peers. And each of those steps strengthened her for the ultimate decision to risk everything for her nation. If she had not made the Lord her habitation; if she had not dwelt under the shadow of the Almighty, she would not have known what to do when the crisis hour arrived. Daily she had lived for God until the final moment of truth came. Thus is must be with each of us.
Resilience is certainly a good word to describe the life of the apostle Paul. Considering all of the difficulties he faced, one wonders how anyone could have continued to fight “the good fight”. Yet Paul tells us the secret of his courage. He was determined to have but one achievement at the end of the journey.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3:8-9).
Paul understood that enduring those trials got him no merit at all. It was by faith that he soldiered onward. No matter how the enemy attempted to discourage him, his mission had to be completed. His purpose was to be found in Christ. That must be our purpose. When the difficulties of this life thicken around us and we are tempted to give up or express our hopelessness and frustration, we must remember we are on a mission. Our mission is to be found in Christ. This does not mean having a flawless record. It means continuing to fight the good fight until the Lord gives us relief. This is the secret of resilience.
“In these dreadful hours we must learn to trust, to depend solely upon the merits of the atonement, and in all our helpless unworthiness cast ourselves upon the merits of the crucified and risen Saviour”  (Ellen White, God’s Amazing Grace, p. 114).
--Mark Duncan

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Hope Against Depression

First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Hope Against Depression”
For the week of January 6 - 12, 2011

Our lesson for this week is entitled, “Hope Against Depression.” However, in the light of this cosmic Day of Atonement, a more apt title might be “Hope in the Face of Depression.” 

None of us likes to suffer. We want deliverance if we can have it. In fact, many insist on deliverance. But what if God is looking for an Honor Guard; a person or group of persons who would be willing to endure suffering on behalf of Christ, to bring honor to Him and be witnesses in the vindication of His character?

Morris Venden told the story of a young man who developed a terminal childhood disease at age 18.  A senior in high school, he was popular, and felt he was too young to die.  He went for all the usual treatments, but still his disease progressed.  Finally in desperation he requested that the elders anoint him with oil.  The ceremony was held at his hospital bedside, and the hope of friends and family soared.  Still his condition worsened, and steadily he deteriorated.  He wondered what he had done wrong, whether he had un-confessed sin I his life, and if God was even listening to him.  His emotions swung between hope and despair.  Friends and classmates continued to visit him and pray.  In fact, as news of his illness spread, prayer chains sprung up throughout the states, as students, faculty and friends alike pleaded with heaven to restore this young man’s health.  Unfortunately, nothing seemed to avail, and yet, the petitioners continued on.

As the young man continued to grow worse, he shared his concerns about his eternal destiny with his friends.  Someone came along and said, “Just make sure you have all your sins confessed.” But that didn’t seem to help very much.

One day the pastor of his church was able to communicate the good news to him that our eternal destiny is not based on anything we have done, but on what Jesus has done. He explained that we may rest in a continuing acceptance of Christ’s work.  Like a revelation, the light shone through.  Excited, the young man stopped looking to himself for some kind of salvation, and instead looked to Jesus.  What peace he found; how he rejoiced ! 

The patient’s health continued to worsen.  Despite this, he lived in joy. He began to ask his friends and classmates to meet him ‘up there’ because he wanted to ‘hang out with them there’.  Hearing of this, the pastor asked if he could meet with him a few more times to document what was happening.

“Have your thoughts changed?” he asked the young man. “Oh yes in three ways,” was the reply.  “My primary goal was to have fun, then to get things, and lastly to be cool; now I’m convinced that there’s only one thing that is important, and that is to know Jesus.” 

Although this young man now had peace concerning his eternal destiny, he would still occasionally awaken at night with overwhelming fear, saying, “Mom, I’m afraid, I don’t want to die at 18.” 

Awakening next to his hospital bed, his mother would calm his fears by answering him: “Son, if you do, you’ll awaken to look into the face of Jesus, and Jesus will look into your face. Can you try and visualize that?”

“Ok mom” he answered. 

“Ok, mom, I feel better,” He would say. 

Another occasional nightly occurrence was that he’d awaken with the question which inevitably brought discouragement and darkness, “Why me, why me?”  Then one night the Holy Spirit said to him the same statement made to John the Baptist, “Of all the gifts heaven can bestow, fellowship with Christ in His suffering is the most weighty trust and the highest honor” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 200).  After pondering the Holy Spirit’s reply, the young man finally came to this conclusion. “If God needs someone to go through an experience like this, and still love Him and trust Him just as much, then why not me? Why not me?” The young man decided to be God’s Honor Guard.  Like John the Baptist, his story has become an inspiration to many other young people in trying situations. 

We have thought for a long time that if we have enough faith we will be healed, or delivered.  But it takes a strong faith to not be healed, and to not be delivered.  Although depression is not a terminal illness as such, who is to say that God does not want to use the sufferer, as he is suffering, to be His honor guard?  In Philippians 1:29, the apostle Paul has written, “For unto you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”  We are further counseled that we may suffer for the gospel’s sake.

Let’s look at a few of God’s people who suffered depression:  Job, who was the most righteous man on earth at the time, suffered situational depression as a result of the simultaneous loss of his children, his servants, and his cattle.  Then, as if that weren’t enough suffering, there came the countless boils. Finally Job suffered the loss of loving support from his wife, who urged that he curse God and die. Did Job have the symptoms associated with depression?  Yes he did.  He lost sleep, he was despondent and in despair. Likely he lost his appetite. He complained of fatigue. 

Did Job endure? Yes, he did.  And God said of him, Job 1:8, “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God and eschews evil.” He vindicated God’s character in His suffering.

Then there is Elijah the prophet of God who suffered depression after a long day of standing, apparently alone, against the prophets of Baal. After slaying those prophets, and then running ahead of King Ahab’s chariot through the blinding rain into the city, he got the news that the Queen intended to murder him. Elijah was so depressed, he asked God to take his life.  But God did not.  In his suffering, he was God’s honor guard, vindicating His name.

And how about John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus? Of him Sister White says in the Desire of Ages that he suffered doubts, anxieties, a bruised soul, bitter disappointment, and great sorrow.  On page 190, she says, “There were hours when the whisperings of demons tortured his spirit and the shadow of a terrible fear crept over him.” Yet, he endured as one of God’s honor guards, suffering for Christ’s sake, until his life was taken from him. For him, there was no visible deliverance. He was an honor guard.

Lastly, we consider Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death:…” He felt so alone, and requested his disciples to please stay and watch with Him.  Stressed, they fell asleep, while three times He pleaded with the Father to let the cup pass from Him.  “But no way of escape was found for Him.” So great was His agony that great drops of blood fell from His pores upon the ground.  According to Sister White, a mighty angel was sent to steady Him in His suffering.  Christ was depressed, for Sister White further says that after the angel strengthened Him, “His agony did not cease, but His depression and discouragement left Him” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 680). He was the Father’s supreme honor guard, vindicating His character Satan before the universe. The accusations of Satan were permanently invalidated.

What about you and me? Are we willing to consider that God may need us to suffer for His sake?  Have we considered that He may need us to be His honor guard?  For the joy that was set before Him, Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame (Hebrews 12:2) to save us, and vindicate His Father’s honor.  If we love Him, can we do any less? 
--Raul Diaz

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Good Thinking

First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Good Thinking”
For the week of January 30 – February 5, 2011
Thinking is the highest mental activity present in man. All human achievements and progress are products of thought. Culture, art, literature, science and technology are all results of thinking.
Thought and action are inseparable – they are two sides of the same coin. All deliberate action starts with deliberate thinking. In order to do something, people should first see it in the mind's eye – imagine it, think about it first, then do it. All artistic and scientific creations first occur in the mind before being given existence in the tangible world. There is need for good thinking and correspondingly good mental health.
Upon being asked to put together a collegiate class on mental health, I pondered awhile on what the study of the human mind is. The unconverted mind is “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). To study this mind is to study enmity and evil thinking. Turning from psychology which deals primarily with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders of the carnal mind, I decided to put together a course designed for college students based on the scientific study of the nervous system, especially with respect to its structure and function in the brain.
What, then, is good mental health? This question led me into a study of the mind of Christ. He is our example in all things. He demonstrated the best mental health which follows good thinking.
The study of Christ’s mind is the study, not merely of intellectual elements, but also of spiritual dimensions. As we study His mind we are to “let” that mind be in us as it was in Him (Philippians 2:5). The context of Philippians 2:5-8 reveals what the mind of Christ is.
“The Bible teaches us about the connection between thoughts and actions” (Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, January – March 2011, page 46). Thoughts are “the root of behavior” (Ibid page 47). This is seen to be true of Christ. His thought processes led Him to go into conference with the Father about the needs of fallen mankind. After considering our plight, Christ’s compassionate thoughts towards us turned into definite action. He chose to step down from His exalted position, give up His form as God and exchange all this for the form, nature and position of fallen man. His downward path did not stop with His incarnation. From birth He continued downward even to the death of the cross. He took our nature in order to die.
In verse six Paul wrote that Jesus “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” Jesus laid aside the independent use of His own attributes as God. Remaining equal with God was not something He clutched as a “right.” He willingly gave up equality with God and entered the human race in order to save us. This was in sharp contrast with another mind grasping for equality with God. Lucifer exalted himself in his thoughts and consequent behavior. He rejected the idea that he was a mere light bearer and not the Light of the universe.
Unlike Lucifer who said in his mind “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14), Jesus, being God, relinquished his rightful position. In Isaiah 53:12 Jesus is portrayed as being “poured out.” Later Paul wrote that He “emptied” Himself (Philippians 2:7 NRSV).
Jesus is the God-Man. He is forever God, but He joined Himself to humanity. He permanently became human, and took human nature to the shameful death of the cross. We must always remember that crucifixion was the most degrading form of execution. It was reserved for non-Roman criminals who were either slaves or persons free, but of the lowest status. The journey of the Son of God from heaven to the cross is a demonstration of His self-sacrificing mind.
Christ voluntarily stepped down to the likeness of man in order to be the Representative and Savior of the fallen race. Thousands of years preceding the Incarnation the rebellious mind of Lucifer started a war in heaven. These two minds faced each other, first in heaven, then on earth.
In heaven Lucifer exalted himself, in his carnal mind, to the likeness of God, even boasting in his thinking: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13–14). He had “I” problems.
Somewhere along the way, I learned that personal pronouns such as “I”, “my” and “me” used once in 26 words is normal. If used once in 12 words, the mind is abnormal. The Lord, through Isaiah, reveals that Lucifer used personal pronouns once in 7 or 8 words, revealing that he has severe mental problems. This is the carnal mind.
This is the mind Satan passed on to Eve, then through her influence to Adam. This couple, originally created in God’s image, was given power akin to their Creator – “individuality, power to think and to do” (Ellen White, Education, page 17). This ability was corrupted through Satan’s instrumentality. Instead of thinkers, Satan’s design was, and is, to make men and women reflectors of other person’s thoughts.
God’s plan for man’s redemption is simply the restoration of God’s original plan in our creation – that we should be in the image of God, with individuality and unique but Christ-like thinking and doing. This new creation is brought about through the power of God’s word, which produces good thinking. A word is simply a thought made audible. When studying and receiving the Word of God, the renewed mind will reflect His mind both intellectually and spiritually. As the mind of man is brought into contact and connection with the thoughts of God as revealed in His word the human mind will be strengthened and expanded. This produces thoughts of truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, agape and excellence as depicted in Philippians 4:8. This is good thinking.
And so, of the two minds which shall we choose to “let” in – Christ’s or Satan’s? One is good thinking; the other evil thinking. One is life eternal; the other is eternal death (Romans 8:6). “Choose you this day” which mind will be in you!
                                                                                                                       --Jerry Finneman