“THE COMPARISON CONUNDRUM”

DECEMBER 16th, 2018                                                                                PASTOR DON PIEPER

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Dealing With Your Feelings                                                     James 3:7-18/Luke 1:5-8,11-3,17-23

 

                                                THE COMPARISON CONUNDRUM

 

            At Thanksgiving we're supposed to feel thankful, at Christmas, the emphasis is on being joyful and at New Year's, that of being hopeful, but often our feelings are out of sync with the season.  So how do you deal with those feelings?  One woman wrote her pastor, telling of her conflicting emotions:

            “It just doesn't seem like life, or God, is fair.  Instead of feeling thankful or joyful at this time of year, the truth is, I feel resentful.  I look around at other people who have it better than I do and I wonder why God doesn't improve my situation.  I feel like I got a raw deal...” 

 

            The woman in question is a case study of  the comparison conundrum.  Left unchecked, it's a way of thinking that can rob us of any chance at being truly happy.  It’s because comparing always leads to coveting, and coveting always leads to conflict.  As James puts it: “For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil.”   (James 3:16)                               Perhaps a demonstration of this in action might help.   Consider life as a minion....

                        [DVD clip from the film, Despicable Me;                                          ]

 

            “Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder...” (James 3:16)

Any parent with more than one child can attest to the truth of that.  Consider Linus and Lucy...

 

Linus:              You think you're smart just because you're older than I am!  You just happened to be

                        born first that's all!  You were just lucky!   I didn't ASK to be born second! 

                        I didn't even get a chance to fill out an application!           (Parables of Peanuts, p. 281) 

 

            The truly tragic element of the comparison conundrum is that it not only affects our human relationships, but also that with God.  I read of a woman who was visited by her pastor in the hospital.  After sharing communion he took her hand in his and gave her a smile before parting. 

            Her roommate's husband also visited, wearing his clerical collar as he was also a pastor.  He gave his wife a hug and a kiss when he entered and again just before leaving.  Later, the first woman began to vent: “No more!  That's it!  I'm leaving my church!”         'But why?' the other asked. 

            “It's not fair.  I tithe and everything but my pastor isn't nearly as friendly as yours is!” 

 

            Zachariah's encounter with the angel, Gabriel, shows how the comparison conundrum can affect our faith.  Luke describes Zachariah and Elizabeth as being “righteous in God's eyes” and obedient to God's word.  Then, a few verses later, we hear how Zachariah fails to believe the angel's message and, as result of his disbelief, is struck dumb for the duration of his wife's pregnancy.  Is it just me or does that strike anyone else as odd?  I mean, we were just told how devout and faithful he is...! 

 

            Contrast his response to that Mary.  When she receives the news that she, a virgin, will give birth to God's son, her initial response is similar to Zachariah's, “But how can this happen?”  (Luke 1:34)           But ultimately, Mary comes to a place of quiet resolve and acceptance as she later declares:

“I am willing to accept whatever the Lord wants.  May it happen just as you have said.”  (Luke 1:38)

                                                                                     

            So where lies the difference in Zachariah's attitude and response with that of Mary?  Luke pro-vides three clues.  The first is found in a slight variation of the question both asked.  Zachariah asks, “how can I know this will happen?”  (Luke 1:18)  While Mary's question is one of confusion and wonder the added words, 'I know', in Zachariah's question point to unbelief and a request for proof.   

                                                                                    -2- 

 

            The second clue, as noted, is the consequence.  Mary finds her voice in her trusting resignation that the shame and scorn she will soon endure for being pregnant without being married, does not com-pare with the joy of knowing she will be an instrument of God's plan, evident in her singing one of the most famous songs in all of scripture: The Magnificat, that begins: “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

                                                                                                                                                (Luke 1:46)                 Contrast that with Zachariah, whose disbelief in God's promise results in his losing his voice.  “Since you didn't believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.”                                                                                                                                        (Luke 1:20)    

            The third clue is found on the lips of his wife, Elizabeth, who refers to her “disgrace among the people.”  (Luke 1:25)  There it is – the comparison conundrum!  They've been compared to others who've raised children while Elizabeth has remained barren and Zachariah apparently got hooked. 

 

            “How can I know this will happen?”    We've been praying for a long time for a child and God has never responded before.  And besides, look at all our neighbors – their kids have kids of their own, for crying out loud!”  (Luke 1:18)

            There's an undercurrent of resentment here and the result of his resentment towards his neigh-bors is his doubting Gabriel's good news, culminating in his being impaired to fulfill his obligations as priest.   Can you imagine my standing up here and pantomiming my message for 9 months?  Our feel-ings of resentment and jealousy hinder not only our relationships with one another but also with God. 

 

            One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small boy into bed.  She was about to turn off the light when he whimpered, 'Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?'

 

            His mother smiled and giving him a hug, said, 'I can't dear.  I have to sleep in Daddy's room.' As she turned off the light she heard a shaky, little voice say, 'the big sissy!' 

 

            Giving into jealousy and resentment not only impacts our human relationships but with our heavenly Father as well.  So what can we do?  Consider the Biblical Resentment Treatment Program, which comes with at least three applications.  First we need to realize...God has a good plan. 

 

            In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote, “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)

            To overcome jealousy and resentment I need to realize that God has a plan for my life.   Maria Von Trapp, made famous by the film, The Sound of Music, was lied to by the Hollywood machine and was tricked into selling the rights to her story for a fly in the bucket, later wrote this:

 

            “While my family could have held it against me, reminding me daily that they could now be sitting back and taking it easy instead of working so hard, but they all forgave me long, long ago.  That alone is worth the experience of that fated mistake.  Then there is the countless letters from all over the world, telling me that watching “The Sound of Music” has strengthened their trust in God or made them think for the first time in their life that God is Somebody who can be trusted.

                                                                                     

            One person wrote: “The most important thing in life is to find out what is the will of God and then go do it. If it has turned out in the case of the Trapp family so well and so successfully in their lives, then maybe I'll try too.”   Letters like this make me fold my hands and say from the bottom of my heart, 'Dear Lord, thank you for the Sound of Music.”                  (Maria Von Trapp)

                                                                                    -3-

            That which had caused her initial shame and resentment, having been taken advantage of to the amount of millions of dollars, Maria came to realize that God had a plan for her life and would use that experience to her gain.  She came to realize, God had a good plan for her life. 

 

            Its a common theme throughout scripture such as in the story of Joseph and his jealous brothers. Out of jealousy of their father's preferential treatment towards Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery leading to his living apart from his family in the foreign country of Egypt, where God blesses him and he winds up at the head of Egypt's government, second only to pharaoh.  But only in retrospect does he come to see how God used their evil act and his own loss to further his plan: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good, so that the lives of many people might be saved thru me.”

                                                                                                                                    (Genesis 50:20)

            The second anecdote to resentment is to rejoice in what you've been given.  Instead of worrying about what I don't have or have lost, instead of looking at what others have, I rejoice in my blessings. That's exactly what Elizabeth does.  She rejoices, first alone, and then later with Mary. 

                                                                                   

            Later, Zachariah praises God as well, having regained his voice upon the birth of his son: “Praise the Lord...because He has visited His people!”  (Luke 1:68)

            Jesus, in his parable of the prodigal son, underscores the same as the older son, filled with resentment, is approached by his father: “Look, son, you and I have always been close, and everything I have is yours.  But today we celebrate because your brother was lost but now is found!”  (Luke 15)

 

            But be forewarned – the idea of rejoicing in what you've been given will be sorely tested.  Not only will you go thru seasons of loss and longing but for months, marketers and advertisers have been planning on how to feed feelings of discontent, looking for creative ways to trigger feelings of jealousy, envy and selfish ambition, to make you long for what others have and you don't.  They want you to buy into the when-and-then-trap – literally.  You know the appeal – when you get this or that, then you'll be happy; but joy, which runs far deeper than circumstantial happiness, does not come to us by getting whatever we want but by being content with what we already have and by joining in all of creation as it finds its voice to bring God glory. As the angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven..!” 

                                                                                                                                                (Luke 2:14)

            The third antidote to jealousy and resentment is to refocus.   Instead of focusing on yourself and your problems, turn the focus onto God's purpose, and how you're uniquely poised to help others...  As the apostle Paul so poignantly put it: 'God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When others are troubled, we're able to give them the same comfort God's given us.'

                                                                                                                                    (2 Corinthians 1:4)

            Stephen Covey was taking the subway train home when a man with four small children got on. The man sat next to Covey as his children ran up and down the aisle, yelling.  One child grabbed a newspaper out of the hands of one passenger while his sibling knocked over a sack of groceries of another.  Meanwhile, their father did nothing, staring blankly out the window. 

 

            Annoyed and resenting the disturbance, Covey tapped the father on the shoulder and spoke his mind: “Excuse me, sir.  Don't you think you should do something about your children?”  

            The man turned and replied, 'I guess you're right.  Admittedly I'm not sure how to best handle the situation.  You see, we just came from the hospital.  My wife, their mother, died about an hour ago.'

 

            At that moment, everything looked different.  God offered Covey a fresh perspective.  His focus shifted from his own discomfort and annoyance to the man's grief, and that of his children.   If you ask for it, God will provide it, and sometimes he'll provide it, even without asking – a chance to refocus. 

                                                                                    -4-

 

 

            Three antidotes we glimpse in the back story to Jesus' birth: 1) Realize … God has a good plan in the works; 2) Rejoice … in the good things God's already provided; and 3) Refocus … on the big picture, letting God use your struggles as a means for reaching out and helping others in a world of hurt. 



Don Pieper

My family has been serving here at Redeemer for the past 21 years.  My wife, Claudia, and I particularly love worshiping with the Redeemer family and seeing people come to faith, as well as growing in faith through our Alpha Course, small group ministries, youth group and such.