Elevator Etiquette

going up3Genesis 41

In chapter 41 Joseph goes from slopping swill for the inmates in prison to crowds parting to make way for his chariot.  Was there ever such a sudden elevation in all of history?

“So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’  Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.” (Genesis 41:41-42)

What do you do when you are suddenly on top after being on the bottom for so long?  Here is some Elevator Etiquette from the Life of Joseph:

1.   Maintain Humility

I once took a ride on a coaster called The Volcano.  It was a VERY quick assent.  During that Volcano ride – it was hard to maintain my perspective… Am I up? Am I down? Rapid promotion can do that to you… you become disoriented.   Imagine how Joseph must have felt!

 Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.  ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph relied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer He desires.'”  (Genesis 41:15-16)

Joseph exuded confidence that the God who was with him in prison would also be with him on this “all important job interview!”  He didn’t need to wring his hands in worry… or fear that he would say the wrong thing… He could be confident… because his confidence wasn’t in himself

2.  Tell the Bad With the Good.

There was an old radio commercial I remember where a CEO shouted:  “I don’t want any YES MEN in my organization.”  To which his staff responded:  “YES SIR!”   Most organizations are actually FULL of “yes men”… parroting back what their bosses desire to hear.   If you begin to reach the top you will get this feeling that you don’t want to leave your perch.  Maybe you’ll just down play the bad news and feast on the good for a while! Not so with Joseph. Look at his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream:

The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. [27] The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.  (Genesis 41:26-27)

Do shortcut your integrity… even if what you have to say might not be pleasant to some ears.  As author Dr. Henry Cloud is fond of saying:  “Reality is your friend.”

3.  Be a Good Steward

It is helpful to remember this on your elevator ride to the top: Wealth isn’t yours to squander; and you may need some of that wealth tomorrow.  Joseph lived by these principles.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt.  During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully.  Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it.  Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.  (Genesis 41:46-49)

Joseph’s plan to store up in the prosperous years so that they might survive the lean ones… is still a good one. Now matter how golden we imagine our futures… we can only see so far. Being prepared is a Biblically sound idea!

4.  Share the Wealth

 With all the perks that came with Joseph’s new job, he never forgot that first and foremost in his job description was to be a blessing to the world.

“When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt.  And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.”  (Genesis 41:56-57)

We can either treat our homes as a treasure chest… or a store house. When we treat them as a treasure chest… we invest time and energy protecting our stuff… and life can become a hassle. When we treat them as a store house… we realize that God can bless others through the “stuff” we are temporarily holding for him… and life becomes a blessing.

I was so moved when I heard the following story in  Skip Heitzig’s book,  Jesus Up Close.  He told the story about a man named Josh who was sailing down a Chicago neighborhood street in his two-month-old, 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE when  a brick sailed through the air and struck its shiny, black passenger door. Brakes slammed, gears ground into reverse, and tires spun the Jaguar back to the spot from which the missile had been launched. The young executive jumped out, grabbed the kid, and pushed him against a fender. “That’s my new Jag,” he shouted. “That brick you threw is gonna cost you lots of money!” “I’m sorry, mister! No one would stop! I didn’t know what else to do,” the youngster sobbed, pointing. “It’s my brother. He rolled off the curb, fell out of his wheelchair, and is hurt. He’s too heavy for me. Please, help me lift him back.” Josh’s head of steam evaporated. Straining, he lifted the boy’s brother into the wheelchair, wiped the scrapes and cuts with his handkerchief, and checked to see that there was no serious injury. He then watched the younger brother push the wheelchair down the sidewalk toward their home. Josh never did fix his door. He kept the dent to remind himself not to go through life so fast that someone would have to throw a brick to get his attention.”  (Skip Heitzig)

Okay… so the elevator doors are opening.  Let me hold the door for you.  “Going Up?” I ask.  Somewhat embarrassed you respond:  “Yes…” Great!  But just remember… don’t let your success destroy your humble confidence… or let it tear at your desire to speak up for the truth… or let it stop your from displaying good money management skills… or… above all this… I say this to you as you enter the threshold… don’t let it keep you from blessing others!

Rise up and bless the world. That is your calling!

Blessings!

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Why Do GOOD Things Happen to BAD People?

unfairGenesis 36

I know you’ve heard the question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  It is a question that books have been devoted to.  And if you ever come close to a satisfactory answer to that question (as if that were possible)… there remains one more question that will STILL drive you nuts:  “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

If good people have to have hardship… that may be hard to swallow… but… so be it.  It helps them grow.  It produces compassion in them.  They endure in hope.  But why do evil people sometimes receive no such resistance?  Why is it smooth sailing for them?  Don’t they need even more so:  to grow, to learn compassion and to experience hope?  We reach the point of sympathizing with the Psalmist:  “…I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  …always at ease, they have increased in wealth.  ” (73:3-4, 12)

Case in point:  Genesis 36.  All one finds when they read this often skipped over chapter of the Bible is a long list of Jacob’s brother Esau’s property, sons and animals.  It is pretty dry reading unless you really examine closely this spreadsheet.  It is then you realize that Esau was loaded!  Money in those days was measured in how many children you fathered, the amount of deeds you possessed and how many flocks and herds were grazing on your property.  Esau, in the eyes of the ancient world, was a very successful man.  And yet God would say of him:  “Esau I hated.”  (Malachi 1:3 and Romans 9:13)  God must be very gracious indeed to spoil a man He hated with such degree of prosperity.

But it really shouldn’t surprise us… Jesus taught us that His Father “…causes His sun to rise  on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”  God is remarkable good to even those who don’t think to thank Him (or refuse to thank Him) for the rich blessings He sends their way.  (Romans 1:21)

Here is a warning here for us as believers.  We might be tempted to envy the “Esau”s of this world, but we must not be quick to equate material success with spiritual success.  The disciples in Jesus’ time stumbled on this issue as well.  When Jesus said that it was more difficult for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, the disciples gasped and asked Him:  “Then who can be saved?”  Would we gasp if we saw who was in and who was out of favor with God?  Would many of the elite of this world be left off the “truly blessed” list?

Lael F. Arrington wrote about a time in her mid-twenties when she was trying to choose a life partner.  She wrote:  “On the same weekend in November one fellow I was dating told me he loved me, and the other fellow I was dating asked me to marry him.  Both were intelligent, tall, handsome, witty and charming. The first fellow was quite successful already. Our times together were spent at country clubs, elegant parties, and lovely dinners. The second fellow was scrimping by in seminary, and our time together was spent over a bucket of chicken on a study date—he was writing papers and I preparing lecture notes for the high school classes I taught.

          The first fellow and I did not share the same spiritual heritage or level of commitment, but the second one and I did. In fact, his level of commitment was greater than mine at the time and required a great deal of sacrifice. He wanted to teach and train Christians on the mission field. The lap of luxury looked much more appealing than a vow of poverty. But… when it came down to making a decision, I could not walk into the future and not share my past. After trusting Christ, it was the biggest decision of my life.

She continued:  We still get the bucket of chicken, and many nights are study nights… But the blessings flowing from that decision are a source of profound and continuing joy.  (A Bright Tomorrow, p. 12.)

In whatever financial circumstance you find yourself, rejoice in the fact that God does not hate you… but loves you with the most intense love.  That in and of itself is a blessing that all the land, sheep and children in the world can’t come close to rivaling.

Blessings!

 

Leaving Home

leaving home2Genesis 28

I left home in 1988.  I had already graduated from college… but had been a commuter student.  I still remember the day that I flew out of the TriCities airport in East Tennessee heading toward seminary in California and freedom.

It was a huge moment for me.  I was finally on my own.  On the plus side: all decisions were now my own; plans didn’t need to be checked with anyone; and I could set my own bedtime.  On the minus side: all decisions were now my own; plans didn’t need to be checked with anyone; and I could set my own bedtime.

I was older than some of you were when you left home. Perhaps it was when you went to college or when you got your first apartment or when you got married.  But still there was this mixture of loneliness and joy and wonder and terror. The only way was forward… but forward was so unknown.

Jacob here is a biblical character in a time of transition. He has had to leave everything he knows and set out to find his future. There is no indication in the story thus far that Jacob believes in the God of his father… at least at this point in his life.

Maybe some of you relate.  In church you know all the right answers to keep others believing that you still believe.  But you are really just relying on mom and dad’s faith.  You haven’t personally flexed any spiritual muscles yourself.  Let me warn you: the path ahead of you is going to test it.

Here are two tips for you (or for you to share with a certain someone) regarding leaving home:

1.  Know Which Ladder Leads to True Blessing.  (v. 10-12)climbing a ladder

You are going to be trying to climb the ladder of success in whatever field you pursue. Better wages, better advantages, more vacation time and a slew of other things will tempt you to jettison your morals and values to attempt to pull yourself up just one more rung up in the corporate climb. And it isn’t just the perks. “Money is…” Dennis Kozlowski (ex-CEO of Tyco convicted of stealing some $600 million from the company) stated “…just a means of keeping score.”

But remember the words of Jack Higgins, the renowned author of The Eagle Has Landed, who once said that the one thing he knows now at this high point in his career that he wished he had known as a small boy is this: ‘When you get to the top, there’s nothing there.’

Note what happens in Jacob’s story:

10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Jacob sees a different ladder here. It wasn’t one leading to riches and wealth and fame. After his attempt at being Esau, he is run out of town.. sent out to seek his fortune with just his staff in his hand.  He didn’t even have time to bring his camping pillow… a rock had to do.

But there in the wilderness Jacob saw a vision of the ladder which leads to true blessing.  Before him stands the famous “Jacob’s ladder.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it or grown up singing about “climbing Jacob’s ladder.”  But if you notice here… Jacob isn’t anywhere on this ladder.

Here is Jacob… so used to grabbing for what he wants… receiving the blessings of God… with his feet still on the ground.   When we gather in worship on Sunday morning it is a time when we step off the ladders of success we are faced with in school or on the job every day… and we approach the ladder to heaven by which God blesses our lives.  And we learn it is all received by grace.

2.  Cultivate an awareness of God.prayer2

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Leaving Home for many means leaving childhood behind… church and God as well. Because those things aren’t… well… relevant .  God is something from childhood… best forgotten.   But the best thing about Jesus is that he comes to us where we are at EVERY STAGE of our lives. What lay ahead for Jacob? He had yet to find a wife… a job… colleagues… friends… wealth… purpose. And it was there that he met God on his journey.

Now is the day for you to have that epiphany! God is right there with you at the study desk… When you are choosing electives…. When you are deciding what you want to do with your weekend. But we miss him because we fail to use proper disciplines in our lives… attending worship services… reading the Bible… Prayer… hanging out with Christian friends.

Philip Yancey:  “I have learned to see prayer not as my way of establishing God’s presence, rather as my way of responding to God’s presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it. .. prayer means keeping company with God who is already present.”

As I think about it… we all need these two tips.   These temptations might be crucial to deal with when leaving home… but they continue throughout our lives.

Are you climbing the right ladder to the blessing?  Are you aware of God’s presence along the way?  I’ll say it again:  “Today is the day for that epiphany!”

Blessings!

 

Help for Hurry Sickness

Genesis 11:1-9                                                                                               hurry                                                      When did we ever get so busy?

Many of us suffer from what Meyer Friedman called “Hurry Sickness.”  In his book, Treating Type A Behavior-and Your Heart, he defines it as “a continuous struggle … to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.”

How do you know if you have it?  Here is some of the items on his self-test:

     – If the person equal distance in the line next to you at the grocery store leaves the store while you’re still in line, you feel depressed.

     –  If you don’t get three phone calls and lunch completed during your short trip in the car, you don’t feel accomplished.

     –  If you speak sharp words to your spouse and children even when you know they’ve done nothing to deserve them.

     –  If you hurry your children along.  Setting up mock races (“Okay kids, let’s see who can take a bath the fastest”) in order to help you get through it faster.

     –  If you find you have stopped caring for people.  (I heard about a cartoon of a business man talking on the phone while looking at his calendar: “No, Thursday won’t work for me. How about Never? Is never good for you?”)

     –  If you flop into bed with no sense of gratitude and wonder for the day, just fatigue.

If this is you:  You may be attempting to do so much and to be so much that the hurry sickness is indeed taking its toll on you.  Stop, take a step back and look at what it is you are building.  Could it be but an attempt to recreate Babel’s tower?  Remember that old story tucked away in Genesis 11?

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (11:1-4)

There are many parallels between the industrious people of that day and those with “hurry sickness” today.

1.  They weren’t building something that was going to last.

In verse 3, Moses states that the builders weren’t even using materials that would stand the test of time.  Brick was used in the place of stone and tar was used in the place of mortar.  If the successful world you are creating is built on the shoddy materials of poor relationships, awful health habits and ill-fated bridge burning, your tower is destined to collapse around you.  Your fate will be as the fate of the builders in Shinar: An uncompleted tower.  Success is elusive even to those who pursue it with the most zeal.

2.  They were overreaching.

Verse 4 says that the group was interested in building a tower whose top will reach into heaven. (A gate to God if you will.) Now that is ambitious!   You might think:  “What’s wrong with ambition?  Isn’t that how things are done in today’s world?”  Well the problem with ambition is when it causes you to attempt to succeed beyond the healthy boundaries God sets for us. It is okay to dream, but what happens when our dreams punch through the sky? When our ego is not satisfied with the success God sends our way but craves still more?  When ever elusive success begins to unravel the threads of the rest of our existence?

3.  Their Goal was to Exalt Their Own Name

The greatest fear that many of us have is that we will walk off the stage of this world, unnoticed. We won’t be remembered. We will have lived and died a “nobody.”  But if you are ambitiously burning the candle at both ends to leave some kind of legacy, could it be that you are only leaving a “legacy of ambition?”

I love the words of Mrs. Charles Cowman in her classic devotional work: Streams in the Desert : “I was never of any use until I found out that God did not intend to make me to be… great.”

4.  Their results were “under-whelming.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 

They wanted to reach God but had underestimated his greatness.  He had to stoop down to look at their construction.  You can be working hard and still discover, too late in life, that you have not accomplished God’s goals for you.  It seems what you were building was not an altar to God, but a tower to self – just as insidious as the one in Babel.

______

You know the end of the story.  God came down and confused their language and separated them.  I’m sure they were confused… they had thought they were getting ahead in the world… and now they were thoroughly lost in the world.

Today you will lay down bricks to the monument which is your life.  Is your workmanship shoddy or sure?  Is it a monument to hurry or heaven?  Stop, take a step back and look at what it is you are building.