Released from the Prison of Our Past

Known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”, The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum( ADX), is prison just outside of Florence, Colorado. It was built in 1994 at a cost of $60 million dollars. ADX was designed to house the worst of the worst offenders. Most prisoners enter ADX with multiple life sentences. They’re the kind of people that even other high security prisons don’t want to be responsible for.(1)

The prison itself exists in a desolate geographic area, designed such that once inside, a person loses all sense of direction. There are no windows, except a few small openings facing the sky directly above. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls. Each cell comes equipped with a set of double solid steel doors, thus preventing inmates from seeing or communicating with one another. Inmates are permitted solo workout sessions in an indoor “gym”, a windowless concrete cell with a single pull-up bar for up to one hour per day. (2)

All meals are provided via a slot built into the interior door, visible only after a guard opens the exterior door. Inmates sleep on concrete slabs covered by a thin mattress. The exterior of the prison is surrounded by a series of twelve-foot fences festooned with coils of deadly sharp razor wire. The facilities and grounds are covered with thousands of motion detectors, cameras, and pressure-sensitive sensors. This is not a place anyone would ever wish to end up in. It was once described by former warden Robert Hood, as a “clean version of Hell.” To date, no serious escape effort has ever been attempted much less succeeded.(3)

The future is bleak for those incarcerated in ADX. A hopeless place to spend the balance of one’s life. The only way an inmate leaves ADX is after they’re dead. They will never again taste the freedom that was once theirs.

There are different kinds of prisons in this life. Some are tangible like ADX, while others are virtual and personal. Often these virtual prisons are built from the artifacts of one’s own past.

For many, our pasts can lock us out of the present. In effect, we become a prisoner, securely locked from the present, prevented from experiencing a life filled with true freedom in the present. As is often the case, many have pasts filled with hurt and disappointment. In some cases, our pasts include some form of physical or emotional trauma.

At times we can believe that we’ve conquered the hurt from our early life experiences, only to discover later, that despite our best efforts, there exists of an ember of our past which has remained alive and unquenched.

For these situations, it only takes the right set of circumstances to fan this ember into the flames of disappointment and hurt, to relive the pain experienced over a lifetime of trauma. It’s here that the abused sometimes becomes the abuser, becoming the very person they had most despised. For some, a sense of real peace about their past is often just out of reach.

The scriptures remind us of this generational cycle of hurt that so easily is passed from parents to children, often through multiple generations. God warns about such a possibility when he expressed caution to those that chose to reject and hate him. He said; “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Exodus 20:5, NIV)

The “punishment,” or practical consequences of a parent’s choice to hate God, impacts their children, but not all children, only those children that become adults and continue to actively model their parent’s hatred towards God.(4) But when children in subsequent generations are able to break the cycle of hatred, then the effect is to experience God’s love for many generations to come:

“but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6, NIV)

If you judge yourself to be held captive by some sort of trauma in your past life, and if you seek to genuinely be the one to break the cycle, then the logical question to ask is: “How does one proceed? “

In the very first step, we must surrender our lives totally and completely to God. We need to become followers of Jesus. It’s only from this relational perspective that we have the beginnings of real change available to us.

We then need to understand and apply the principles and power of forgiveness that the scriptures teach, followed by the establishment of healthy boundaries in all our relationships.

One of the most powerful tools we can use to break the cycle of hurt and to free us from our past, is found in the principles of forgiveness that scriptures call us to seek out.

Peter once explored this topic of forgiveness with Jesus, as captured by Matthew in the Gospels:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

In Peter’s day, there was a rabbinic perspective that one need only to forgive another three times, and then afterword’s, no more forgiveness should be offered up. (5)

At the time he was asking these questions around the topic of forgiveness, Peter was in the process of growing in his relationship with Jesus. He had observed that Jesus often approached faith in a non-legalistic way. Jesus consistently approached life from the perspective of God’s grace and love. In a way, Peter was attempting to seek out the rules around the boundaries for forgiveness. Peter clearly felt it pretty good to suggest that he might consider more than doubling the number of times one might offer forgiveness, from three to seven times!

He was likely surprised by Jesus’ response, when Jesus said “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In this expression, Jesus was communicating that there are no practical limits to forgiveness. In fact, living out forgiveness was one way that the followers of Jesus conducted their lives. It’s a distinctive of the Christian faith. The backdrop of course, is found in the ultimate reality that each of us have been forgiven by God with his unlimited grace. Thankfully, God hasn’t limited the number of times he has forgiven me.

The Apostle Paul further helps us make that connection between our forgiveness to others and Christ’s forgiveness towards ourselves when he wrote:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

You see, when we fail to forgive, in a way we’ve taken on the weight of the offense in our own lives. Ultimately, such a choice can’t help but become expressed in our behaviors. It impacts our hearts and our minds. Sadly, such unresolved offenses can end up driving us to becoming the person we’ve most dreaded.

God reminds us that harboring our feelings in this way is not healthy, and in the end, the offense is not ours to carry. Ours is to release it to him and to allow God to deal with the offender. Paul further shared:

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV)

Our part in this life is to act on God’s desires through faith, to prayerfully ask for his grace in our lives to forgive others, thus allowing us to be released from our past.

In all of this, we must be prepared that our release of forgiveness towards others may not result in a reciprocal response from the offender. Even as we forgive the offender, the offender may not respond in kind or even acknowledge the offense perpetrated against us.

We furthermore must accept that only God can change their hearts, and therefore their ways of living. (Just as he changed our hearts which has lead us to change our lives and enabled us to offer forgiveness to others.) Even as we have forgiven them, they may remain the person they are, and they may in some ways continue to offend us. The Apostle Paul recognized that this was possible. His counsel was to not worry about how the other person might or might not respond. The point is, you have done in faith as your Lord has asked, having forgiven the offender and having turned the matter over to the Lord for final resolution. Paul shared:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

The second key step is to establish healthy boundaries in all of our relationships, but particularly with those that have or continue to offend towards us, even after we have forgiven them, perhaps multiple times.

It’s not practically possible in this allotted space to expand on this very important topic of relational boundaries. For those of you who are interested, I highly recommend the following resource:

“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of your life.” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, published by Zondervan, 2017.

Cloud and Townsend explore this topic in depth, and I believe that this topic, coupled with the application of forgiveness towards those that have offended or harmed us in our past, offer a great start towards freeing our present from the prison of our past.

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(1) “Five Most Inescapable Prisons in the World,” Google,accessed August 18, 2018, -https://www.mazim.com/maxim-man/5-most-inescapable-prisons-world.html
(2) “Inside Americas Toughest Federal Prison,” NY Times, accessed August 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/3015/03/29/magazine/inside-americas-toughest-federal-prison.html
(3)“Fast Facts Supermax Prison,” FoxNews, accessed August 18, 2018, https//www.foxnews.com/story/2006/05/04/fast-facts-supermax-prison.html

(4) Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T, Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 1996), Deuteronomy 24:16.
(5) Gary M Burge, Jesus The Middle Eastern Storyteller,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2009),p.72

Continue reading “Released from the Prison of Our Past”

Restored From Loneliness

I read a news story posted on the WebMD website about a survey on loneliness in the United States. It concluded that our nation faces:

“widespread loneliness, with nearly half of Americans reporting they feel alone, isolated, or left out at least some of the time. The nation’s 75 million Millennial’s (ages 23-27) and Generation Z adults (18-22) are lonelier than any other U.S. demographic.

In addition, of the 20,000 people sampled, 54% of respondents said they feel no one knows them well, and four in 10 reported they ‘lack companionship,’ their ‘relationships aren’t meaningful’ and they ‘are isolated from others.’ Douglas Nemecek, MD, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health, said the findings of the study suggest that the problem has reached ‘epidemic’ proportions…’. Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,…’(1)

Initially, I was somewhat surprised to see such results, particularly in the younger generations that seem so “connected” via phones, tablets, computers, and other tools that grant them access to a myriad of social media sites.

One would think that our newfound capacity to communicate would have reduced our sense of loneliness. In fact, the average person in the U.S. is more connected than anytime in our country’s history. Statistically, a typical American today comes into contact with more people in a single year than most did over an entire lifetime 100 years ago. (2)

Data from just one social media company, Facebook, illustrates the degree by which we have adopted our connected lifestyles. In the U.S., 156 million unique monthly visitors access Facebook each month.(3) A disproportionate number of these are younger people, presumably the most connected of all in our society. 48 million users or 88% of all 18–29 year old’s, and another 52 million users or 84% of all 30–49 year old’s are among those that connect regularly with Facebook.(4) (5) And that’s just one social platform among many where such connections occur.

In the presence of this data, how is it possible for our country to be facing an “epidemic” of loneliness along with its accompanying health consequences?

All of this caused me to ponder what loneliness really is. One of the more common clinical definitions I found in several resources described loneliness as a condition …marked by painful feelings of sadness and longing and almost always by the absence of, yet felt desire for, relationship with others” (6)

Bottom line: Without meaningful relationships we’ll quickly find ourselves living in a state of misery.

Social media often gives us the appearance of meaningful relationships, but in reality, social media “relationships” are a far cry from the depth and quality of real-life relationships. We as human beings are living, breathing, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings. We’re fundamentally designed to live in relationship and community. We have a basic built-in need to interact with one another in real-time. To live outside of this reality is to promote isolation, and isolation fosters loneliness and stress.

To illustrate the stress of isolation on the human mind; many years ago an English doctor built an experimental room to test its effects. This soundproof room was more akin to a large box suspended by a series of nylon ropes. Volunteer subjects were all given padded gloves and translucent goggles to eliminate the sense of sound and sight. All meals were eaten in the isolation chamber and the volunteers were observed via a one-way screen. Volunteers were allowed to exit the experiment at anytime. In the end, most could not tolerate more than five hours of isolation. In fact, even after as little as an hour, with the knowledge that they could exit at any time, most volunteers had increasing feelings of panic and anxiety.(7)

No doubt, numerous factors contribute to the high level of loneliness being experienced by our society today, yet I couldn’t help but notice that the very same demographic experiencing the highest levels of loneliness, are coincidentally the same groups that are increasingly distancing themselves from God’s offer of a loving, meaningful, and personal relationship with their creator.

About a third of older Millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26. Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion, or they describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years. (8)

The religiously unaffiliated population – including all of its constituent subgroups – have grown rapidly as a share of the overall U.S. population. The share of self-identified atheists has nearly doubled in size since 2007, from 1.6% to 3.1%. Agnostics have grown from 2.4% to 4.0%. And those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” have swelled from 12.1% to 15.8% of the adult population since 2007. Overall, the religious “nones” have grown from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population.(9)

To be sure, there are many drivers that no doubt contribute towards a society plagued with loneliness. However, we can be rest assured that loneliness was never part of God’s original plan for us.

A few examples:

1. God desires to partner with us in carrying the burdens of this life:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”-(Matthew 11:28)

The rest implied here isn’t like a vacation, rather it’s a type of rest that gives us room to breath and strength to continue, it allows us to manage through the challenges of life that often weigh upon us. Jesus has access to the Father and the resources of the Father, His invitation is extended to everyone that recognizes their spiritual need for a relationship with Christ. Our access to Christ, means our access to the Father and his resources. Christ equates the Christian life with spiritual rest which does not allow us to escape the hard life, rather to experience rest and refreshment in its midst. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

2. God is committed to walking beside us through all of time.

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20b)

One of the great hallmarks of a meaningful relationship is when one chooses to come along side another over a lifetime. I know of several friends and married couples that have successfully navigated the challenges of their lifetimes through loving mutual support found in their relationships. Yet even this level of dedication to one another, pales compared to the promises of Christ. Christ promises to not only walk with us through this finite human life, but to remain with us through all of time and eternity.

3. God loves us with a deep sacrificial love that goes beyond any human capacity to love.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

God loves you and I in the ultimate sense of the word. His love for us is sacrificial in nature. It has no bounds in terms of his sacrifice, which has afforded us the opportunity for an eternal relationship that starts the moment we say “yes” to his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation.

4. God’s love for us is perfect.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

God is capable of loving us more perfectly than any human being could love another. This is so, because only God can know our hearts and minds with absolute completeness. No human relationship can claim that level of relationship. Only God can know our heart in its totality, capturing and understanding all of our true motives and feelings.

5. God has demonstrated his love and desire for us to be in relationship, even when we were living outside of relationship with him

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

God desires a relationship with us entirely on the basis of grace, our relationship is not founded on how good a person might be, or how many good things I’ve done in this life. It’s founded entirely on his grace. This is evidenced by his intentional love for you and I, even in the face of our rejection of him.

6. God enables us to grow and fulfill our God given purposes in life whenever we choose to walk in relationship with him. In so doing, we are connected to him in a deep and powerful way.

“I am the vine, you are the branches, if you remain in me and I in you will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

No other relationship in the world can enable us more than our personal relationship with God. When we are close to God and surrendered to him in our personal relationship, his character will be expressed and lived out in our lives. The Apostle Paul included in his list of qualities that God values, such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Galatians 5:22-23)

Among these qualities, the one held the highest is love, but not in an emotional sense, rather in an outgoing and self-giving series of actions sense.

Are you one of the lonely?

I encourage you to look deep into to your heart and be totally honest with yourself.

If you find that you are lonely, feeling disconnected and living out your life without deep and true purpose, then the first step is to move towards total surrender of yourself to Jesus, for he loves us without condition or pretense.

If you already have a relationship with Christ, but perhaps have grown distant, then take a moment and pray, ask God to help you drop your guard and allow him full reign in your life. Let no aspect of your life be off-limits to God, put it all before the cross. He can’t fix our hearts until we allow him in to do so. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart as we speak, don’t ignore him, don’t turn aside, he loves you and desires more than anything in this world to welcome you into an abiding eternal relationship with him.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

If you have never followed Christ, and you sense the desire to do so, then pray and ask God to receive you into his family. Commit your life and surrender it totally and completely to Christ, trusting in faith that the work Christ did on the cross for you will be sufficient to save you for eternity.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

You can talk to God by praying, using your own words. There are no special formulas. Just pray from your heart to God, and He will save you. If you feel lost and just don’t know what to pray, here’s a prayer of salvation that you can pray:

“Dear Lord,

I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. -Amen”

Because we know that we are designed to be a people in relationship, if you prayed this prayer, or if you have recommitted your life to Christ, you need to find a Bible believing church that you can join in your area. Perhaps where you live there are no formal churches to attend, (Often this is the case for those living in countries where Christianity is feared by the authorities and has been banned.) if so, ask God through prayer to find a way for you to connect with other believers. He will honor your prayers.

Once you find either a church or a group to fellowship and pray with, commit to meeting regularly and supporting one another. Study the scriptures and allow God’s word to grow within you as he grows in relationship with you.

Only through the power of Christ will you be released and restored from the grip of loneliness.

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(1) Tate, Nick. “Loneliness Rivals Obesity, Smoking as Health Risk.” WebMD, WebMD, 4 May 2018, http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20180504/loneliness-rivals-obesity-smoking-as-health-risk.
(2) ibid, 754
(6) S. A. Cappa, “Loneliness,” ed. David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 698.
(7) Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 753.Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 753.
(9) ibid

Opt Out of the Fear Prison

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5)

It’s hard to escape the reality of the news these days. The world around us seems so out of control. Even close to home I sense the stress of a broken society. It’s reflected in our abandoned value systems where we once cherished character traits such as honesty, truthfulness, and honor in our word to one another, along with commitment to respect those in authority over us, whether at work, school or even in our homes. We have become disconnected from a system of values that were ultimately founded upon God’s principles for successful living.

We instinctively sense and the scriptures confirm that “God is not a God of disorder,” so when things are in disorder and disarray we know something is very wrong. Scriptures tell us that when individuals care more about themselves, abandoning Gods values in favor of pursuing self through envy and selfish ambition, “then we find disorder.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, James 3:16)

Such disorder leads to fear, which drives its own set of unhealthy behaviors that are manifested and reflected all around us.

Fear is an interesting topic. There are different kinds of fears in life, and not all fears are bad. Some fears are about the physical world we live in; fear of fire, heights etc. When viewed in context I would characterize these as “safety fears.” They remind us to respect the physical laws of our world so that we lessen the chance of hurting ourselves in our day to day living.

In the spiritual realm there’s something I describe as “reverent fear,” it’s a respectful fear of God, acknowledging His vast creative and saving power in our lives. This type of fear is one that helps us recognize God’s role in our lives, it reminds us of our total dependency upon God’s grace and provision for everything, even the very breath we take.

Then there is what I would call “foreboding fear.” This type of fear is the fear of an unknown, a dread of impending or possible distress or misfortune that might befall us in the future. It’s often founded and reflective of many underlying and deep personal fears within ourselves. It builds until it’s resolved, and until it is resolved, it can grow and become a paralyzing fear. It’s the kind of fear that can isolate us from those around us. It’s also the kind of fear that if left unchecked can take over and overshadow any joy that we might have in our lives.

This kind of fear is a type that the Evil One would desire believers to embrace, because it signifies that our reliance and confidence in the Lord has been replaced by the temporal concerns of this life, even if those concerns are of a great value and weight.

The Apostle Peter faced such fears. He and many others had been rounded up by the government because of their faith in Christ. (Acts 12:1-19)  King Herod saw that the popular religious leaders reacted favorably to the arrest of James, brother of John, and so he had Peter arrested as well.

Peter found himself in prison, alone with his fears, locked and shackled with a bunch of guards to keep an eye on him until after the Passover celebration was completed. He may have been there for several days; plenty of time to think about life and how brief it might soon become.

While he was in prison his brothers and sisters in Christ were praying for him. Prayers are to bring glory to God, and He always answers our prayers, even if we may not always understand the answers at the time.

God had plans for Peter that had yet to be fulfilled. He allowed Peter to remain a prisoner right up to the last minute, until the night before his trial which would have no doubt ended poorly. That night, God sent an angel who freed Peter from prison and allowed him to escape. Not for Peter’s sake, but for the future purposes that God had in mind for His kingdom.

Peter was genuinely surprised by his escape and it was clear that he did not fully grasp what God had in store for his future.

I’ve often wondered what Peter might have been pondering while in prison. Perhaps he reflected on his trust in God for all of the past parts of his life, which included the complete and total forgiveness of his past sins. Perhaps he thought about the fact that he also trusted God for his future, when his physical body would one day die and be received by Jesus into Heaven. Hopefully after all of his pondering and thinking while he was in prison, that he concluded that even in his current state, as hopeless as it might have appeared, that he should feel the peace of trusting Jesus for the present since he had already trusted Him for his past and his future.

Of course such trust for the present can only be possible after we’ve resolved in our minds and hearts that the God we worship is big enough and powerful enough, and loves us enough to always be with us no matter what may happen in this present earthly life.

I cannot say with certainty that either I or my family will remain safe from harm’s way in this world. Even Jesus himself was not kept from death, yet in His death we now find life. But I can say with certainty that I have had to make the intentional choice to trust God for whatever future might unfold for either myself or my family.

Our walk with Jesus is a continuous journey of surrender…and surrender again, and again. Ours is to surrender the very people that we love the most. Our Heavenly Father did exactly that with His son Jesus. He surrendered that which was closest to Him, the person he loved the most. And he did that for you and me and the countless many who would come to follow Christ in the years to come.

My prayer is that the Lord would give you peace and security in your heart and mind, and that in that peace your strength and hope would be renewed.

 

Overcoming the Pack

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)

Wolves succeed in part because they hunt in numbers. They surround, overwhelm, and overpower their prey. It’s one thing to deal with a lone wolf, but altogether a different matter when it comes to dealing with an entire pack of wolves.

Jesus recognized that in many ways, as his disciples went out to share the wonderful message of the Gospel, they too would be venturing out as sheep among wolves. The Gospel message is all about bringing humanity into a personal relationship with God, but it was being presented to a world of people longing for hope, but often attempting to secure it on their own without the power God.

The disciples were few and the culture of their day hosted many different philosophies, religious, and even governments that not only rejected the message of the gospel, but actively sought to harm the messengers, the disciples themselves. Clearly the disciples would be more than outnumbered. It was within this context that Jesus shared with them that what they were about to undertake, would be akin to sending defenseless sheep into the face of a pack of wolves. It would take divine wisdom, trust, and reliance upon God, for the disciples to navigate in such a hostile environment.

Some years ago, I saw a nature show that tracked the exploits of a wildlife photographer and the challenges he had in obtaining video and pictures of wildlife in their natural habitats.

It had been a long week in the woods for the photographer, and he had yet to catch any decent video or pictures. At one point, on his last day out in the woods, he climbed high upon a rocky outcropping, and found himself overlooking a large valley that led to a huge lake at one end. Much of the valley floor was covered in an immense green meadow ringed by tall aspens, whose leaves shimmered with the gentle movement of the afternoon breeze.

It was from this position that he unexpectedly heard the sound of brush being crushed down, and the din of many feet, moving quickly and with purpose.

That’s when he saw the lone deer emerge from the woods, panting heavily. The deer paused for a moment, and then ran across the open meadow for all he was worth.

Moments later, with camera running, the photographer captured the remarkable images of a pack of wolves breaking out of the tree line into the meadow in pursuit of their prey. The exhausted deer continued to run across the meadow, but the wolves paced themselves; the deer was tiring. They sensed the end was near.

The wolves had hunted together many times, and at this point in the hunt, they knew the key was to entrap the deer, to completely overwhelm him. The wolves fell into a half-moon formation to prevent the deer from outflanking them, to drive the animal straight ahead along the shore of the lake. They had been relentless in their pursuit. No amount of effort on the part of the deer seemed to have allowed him to elude these seemingly tireless hunters.

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In another part of the world, a different drama was unfolding. United States Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, had just completed the final pre-flight check of his F16 fighter jet. Moments later, he took off from the Aviano Airbase in Italy, serving as wing-man for his friend Captain Bob Wright.

The pair were on a mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were part of a broader NATO operation to prevent the warring factions from using their military aircraft against one another.

Unbeknownst to either pilot, one of the factions, the Serbs, had secretly moved a surface-to-air missile launcher into position to attack NATO fighter jets. The Serbs had observed that the fighters followed a predictable route and schedule; this routine had made the fighter jets vulnerable to attack.

Low cloud cover prevailed that day, as the fighters flew their route at 26,000 feet. The largely routine patrol was abruptly interrupted, when O’Grady’s on-board warning system told him they had been fired upon by surface to air missiles, but due to deep cloud cover below the aircraft, the pilots were unable to visually see the missiles in time to completely avoid them.

The first missile blew up harmlessly between both aircraft, missing their intended targets. However, the second missile hit O’Grady’s fighter with such force, that it blew his aircraft into two pieces. Both parts of the flaming aircraft plummeted towards the earth on a five-mile decent to the surface below. As Captain Wright looked helplessly on; the flaming aircraft parts were quickly swallowed into the clouds and disappeared from sight; he never saw a parachute deploy from O’Grady’s aircraft.

Within hours of the crash, William O’Grady, Scott’s dad, was contacted by the military. They shared the sad news that his son had been shot down, and that they had no indication that he had escaped from his burning aircraft.

Six days later, William O’Grady received a phone call from the military, instructing him that he was to receive an official message that could only be delivered in person. He feared the worst, he had known that the type of career Scott had chosen was inherently dangerous, he braced himself for the news he anticipated he was going to receive.

A short while later, a government car arrived at his home, and three blue uniforms emerged; one of the officers wore a chaplain’s cross on his collar.

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Our world is filled with risks and dangers. Jesus recognized this when he sent the twelve disciples on their mission to share the Gospel to a world that needed Christ desperately.

While the dangers we face in our lives may not be as literal as wolves or missiles, they can still do great and lasting harm.

One of the trends observed of our country, has been a societal movement towards becoming increasingly cynical.

Paul Miller, author of “A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World,” suggested that in recent times, our country has moved from viewing life from an optimistic perspective, to a more cynical point of view.


“Cynics imagine they are disinterested observers on a quest for authenticity. They assume they are humble because they offer nothing. In fact, they feel deeply superior because they think they see through everything. C. S. Lewis pointed out that if you see through everything, you eventually see nothing.” (Miller, p.91)

He shared that bitterness is the “stepchild of cynicism. “

It’s no surprise that society has gravitated towards this viewpoint of life. Daily we are faced with a constant deluge of negative news, news that has the potential to dampen our spirit and move us towards the slope of cynicism. It’s an easy step to take, but a dangerous place to live.

If the pressures aren’t bad enough for the average person, there are those whose daily jobs expose them on a regular basis, to the worst that our lost society has to offer.

This constant exposure can harden even the strongest of hearts and make us cynical and bitter. These traits, which if left unchecked, will seep into every relationship we are engaged in. If you’re a police officer, medical emergency worker, firefighter, solider, or have some other job that constantly and deeply exposes you to the harshest circumstances that this world can dish out, then you are especially at risk for falling into the spiral of cynicism and bitterness.

Cynicism, it’s a predator, a wolf that will never be satisfied, it has an appetite that’s endless. Our world can and will feed it relentlessly. It has the potential to bring incredible harm to those relationships that we are called to guard and cherish the most. Our husbands, wives, children, our Lord Jesus Christ, these are the critical relationships that we must protect.

Like the deer, endlessly pursued by the pack of wolves, the solution to living in this world exists outside of us. The only hope we have is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There are times when we feel helpless and hopeless that God will knock on the door of our hearts. But he will not enter unless you open the door and invite Him in. The answers can be right in front of us, but in the moment, we might not choose to acknowledge God’s desire to be the way out. Perhaps at times we allow our pride to get in the way of the still and quiet voice of our Lord as he calls out to us, and we miss His invitation.

Jesus spoke of the snake as being shrewd. In this case, shrewd referred to the wisdom he called the disciples to exercise. Wisdom to help them anticipate and manage the dangers they were certain to face in this life.

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As I continued to watch the video of the deer being pursued by the pack of determined wolves, I begin to perceived that the deer recognized his situation for what it was.

The wolves were trying to run him to the edge of a lake and trap him. But as they closed in for the final chapter, the wearied deer suddenly stopped running, as if to take one last stand before succumbing to his hunters.

My heart stopped, I know wolves have to eat, but I really didn’t want to watch what was about to unfold. I started to reach for the channel changer, but before I could, I saw the deer glance at the lake, and then crouch for a moment before springing a jump that landed him far from the shoreline into the water. He started to swim with a renewed level of determination, wisely, not parallel along the shore of the lake, where he might tire and die, rather straight across the lake towards the other side, a distance of nearly a mile or so.

The wolves were completely caught off guard by this unexpected tactic, and not being that confident, or willing swimmers themselves, they only ventured a short distance into the water in pursuit of the deer before turning back. They were left to pace back and forth along the shore as they watched the deer swim away.

In the end, the deer made it across to the other shore, climbed out of the lake, shook off the water from its brown coat, took one look back towards the opposite shore, where the wolves remained, and bounded into the woods to safety.

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The three blue uniforms that emerged from the car, including the chaplain, came not to deliver news of Scott O’Grady’s demise, rather to deliver amazing news to William O’Grady, of his son’s incredible story of survival, and ultimate rescue.

Evidently, Captain O’Grady, after plummeting into the clouds, had been able to eject from the flaming wreckage of his F16 fighter jet. He suffered minor burns in the process, but was able to parachute into hostile territory successfully.

As he floated down from the sky, he could see a convoy of trucks carrying troop’s, intent on his capture, driving on the roads below him. He landed near some woods several hundred yards from the road where the trucks had stopped, and deposited their complement of troops.

As he broke free from his chute harness, he could hear the many soldiers moving in his direction. They knew where he had landed. He was emotionally exhausted, and physically spent. He prayed. He ran a short distance into the brush and realized he would never be able to outrun the hunters. He quickly dodged into some brush, curled up into a ball with his face down, using his camouflaged gloves; he covered his ears and the back of his neck. He froze and silently prayed.

The searchers came within feet of him, but miraculously, during the next several hours never saw him. They had even brought in search helicopters. He remained in his frozen state until nightfall. Then with great caution, he started a slow nightly journey towards a distant hill that offered a possibility for a rescue by helicopter.

For the next six days, he endured a relentless search by enemy soldiers. During this time he maintained radio silence to avoid capture. He had been trained to delay using his emergency radio right away, as historically, pilots that failed to do so, were often captured, as their radio signals often gave their position away to the enemy searchers.

During the six days on the run there were many close calls, but in the end, he was able to communicate with his rescuers using a quick radio transmission. His friends and colleagues were absolutely shocked to hear his quiet voice over the radio after having heard nothing for days. Immediately, after learning of his survival, a  daring rescue operation was set in motion.

The entire operation involved two contingents of U.S. Marines, Navy ships, and some forty support aircraft. The rescue itself was a harrowing experience for everyone involved. Shortly after landing and pulling O’Grady in, the massive Sea Stallion rescue helicopters lifted off and immediately came under intense fire from both small arms and shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles. The helicopter pilots executed several trained evasion maneuvers to avoid the missiles, while door gunners returned fire to the ground. After a forty-five minute flight they touched down on a U.S. Navy Ship. O’Grady was safe.

The night William O’Grady was notified of his son’s dramatic rescue, he was able to see Scott on TV, looking weary, but healthy. It was a night in which he gave a very special thanks to God.

As for Captain Scott O’Grady, he continued to serve his country, and returned to flying F16’s until he left the service, where upon he enrolled and completed a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. He concluded that his survival and ability to avoid capture had been fully in God’s hands. It was God who gave him the optimism and hope to prevail in a very hopeless and difficult situation.

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You and I face the wolves of cynicism, pride, and hopelessness every day. We can’t go it alone against such a pack. We must look outside of ourselves for our strength, wisdom, and the ability to remain optimistic. Jesus is a bright light in an already dark and evil world. It is incumbent upon us to live our lives in like manner. The One we must look to for strength is Jesus Christ. It is only from Him that we may derive our power to live our lives to the full each day, and into the dawn of eternity.

Speaking for myself, I could not imagine awaking to a day without Jesus at my side. When the Lord and I are in sync, when our relationship is healthy, then optimism and hope abound, even if there are days when I feel like I’m surrounded by a pack of wolves and can’t seem to see a way out.

Like the deer, when all seems lost, take heart, God presents a way for us. And like Captain O’Grady, we have to make a choice every day to trust Him for the moment, a hard thing if I’ve allowed cynicism to enter my life and dampen my love for Christ and my optimism for life.

But if we do choose to trust Him, then the peace of Christ will have no boundaries, as we allow His wisdom to be our guide and source of daily renewal.

Copyright FullLifeWord 2015